When it comes to driving finishing nails, leave the hammer in the toolbox. Power nailers can be set to deliver a clean anchor with minimum effort. Try to anchor the door close to the middle of the jamb, just offset from the door stop.
Photo by Kurt Anderson
The good news: Installing a pre-hung door, complete with jamb and lockset components, is a straightforward project that can be completed in under an hour. The catch: That’s true only if you have a perfectly square and level rough opening. Thankfully, all cabins are masterpieces of architectural engineering … or not.
Some of you have to deal with slightly off-spec rough openings or doors that are warped or wrong-sized. But don’t despair. The truth is, a perfectly balanced, smooth-opening door is the result of some polished handyman work. And while sticky or self-shutting doors might not manifest symptoms for years down the road, the root cause often goes back to the installation process.
A few simple steps will ensure the only door frustration you’ll encounter is the sadness in having to close it behind you when you leave the cabin to head home.
Pick the right door
A door jamb is the wooden (or metal) frame to which a door is mounted. Unless you are content with the existing jamb and only need to replace the actual door, you want to go with pre-hung door, complete with jamb, hinges, and (for exterior doors) sills. Resist the urge to save a few bucks by creating your own lockset holes and hinge recesses; this option exponentially increases the number of tools, time and skill required.
Doors are ordered by rough opening size (including room for the frame) — typically around 2½ inches taller and wider than the actual door. Most doors are a uniform 80 inches tall, but range widely in width. A 32-inch door, then, would have a rough opening of 34½ x 82½ inches.
Exterior walls are often thicker than interior walls; one of the most common mistakes is ordering a door made for a 4-inch interior wall when you have a 6-inch-thick exterior wall. It’s always a good idea to use your tape measure both in the cabin and at the lumberyard pick-up — transporting a door to the cabin should be a one-way trip.
Speaking of transport, it’s essential to keep the door flat and in the original packaging until installation. Store in a dry location, as dampness can quickly cause warping in wood doors.
Once you’ve got the right door, measure level on the rough opening to see just how many shims you’re going to need. (If you were the original builder, you may want to check the level bubble when you’re alone.) Use the level on the inside of the rough opening and the floor. If the top door header is level, but the floor is uneven, you may need to cut the bottom of one jamb to get a flush fit.
Carefully unwrap the door and set into the rough opening. Make sure the door is flush with the walls, then use a couple finishing nails (hinge side) and some shims (lockset side) to temporarily hold it in place. If the hinge side of the rough opening is vertically level, simply install the hinged edge jamb flush to the wall, without any shims.
If the hinge side needs adjustment, install a set of shims at each hinge. The door will need at least four shims on the lockset side; any less than this and you’re begging for a sticky door. Longer shims can make adjustments easier; install one on each side and tap slowly, shifting the door to a level, balanced position. When the door is properly set it will stop at any point in its swing, with no rubbing on the floor or jamb.
Looking good? Now is the time to install your door hardware, which reduces freeboard and can turn that seemingly perfect fit on its head. Be sure to insert the strike plate screws perfectly level to prevent rubbing. Make your final shim adjustments, if necessary, and then drive finish nails through the jamb (and shims) into the rough opening studs.
A great way to firmly secure the door is to remove one short screw per hinge, then replace with a long screw that attaches to the rough opening stud. Score the shims with a utility knife and snap off flush with the wall. Install the molding and trim, then find your hammock, kick back and relax. You deserve it; you’re officially a free-swinging door installer.
Kurt Anderson is a freelance writer whose cabin door is always open to visiting in-laws … especially when they bring a cooler of cold beer with them.