Ask the Builder
The Tricks to Fitting A Pre-Hung Door Just Right
Q: DEAR TIM: I need to know how to install a pre-hung interior door. Is this job as easy as the salesman made it out to be? I am suspicious, as it seems that you need skills. What can you share so that I might have a fighting chance as I wrestle with this? -- Bill F., Greenville, N.C.
A: DEAR BILL: Installing a pre-hung door is not a job I would entrust to a rookie carpenter. The job involves all sorts of little challenges that are solved with tricks that come with lots of experience. To end up with a door that fits perfectly without rubbing, you need to know some of these tricks.
In other words, the salesman either thought you were a seasoned carpenter or just needed to make a sale. However, I will try to help as much as possible.
I am going to assume that you purchased the right size door and that it is handed correctly -- that is, that it swings the correct way. It is common to purchase a pre-hung door that swings the wrong way. To determine proper handing, imagine looking at the door from the side where the door swings towards you. If the doorknob is on the left side of the door, it is a left-handed door. If the knob is on the right, it would be a right-handed door.
Pre-hung doors often come from the factory with the jambs a little long. This is done intentionally so that you can install the door in places where there will be carpet and not have to cut off the bottom of the door. The goal is to have about a half-inch of space between the bottom of the door and the top of the carpet or any finished flooring material. The jambs don't have to touch the subfloor where there's carpet, but they must be in contact with hardwood flooring, ceramic tile, cork or other finished floors that are typically smooth.
Before the door is installed, make sure the top and bottom are painted. That seals them to prevent warping. You can just put the door flat on the ground and open it to check to see if this was done at the factory.
Pre-hung doors typically come from the factory with a 1/8 -inch gap between the edges of the door and the door jamb. The doors are almost always perfectly square, so the challenge is to square up the jamb within the rough opening so the gap between the door and the jamb stays consistent. The biggest challenge is cutting the lengths of the jambs correctly so the gap at the top of the door is correct. If one leg of the jamb is too long, you will end up with the door rubbing against the top jamb or a large gap between the door and the jamb just above the doorknob.
It is important for the door jambs to be installed plumb. Use a four-foot level to see how plumb the rough jamb opening is on the hinge side of the door. Use wood shims with the level and tack the shims against the rough jamb until the level is plumb. It is best to install shims at the same height as the door hinges.
Put the door into position, slide it up against the shims, and see how things look. You know you are in great shape if the gap along the hinge side of the door and the top of the door are the consistent 1/8 -inch. Don't worry for now about the gap along the doorknob side of the door. This is the least important jamb.
Use 10-penny finish nails to attach the hinge jamb of the door to the rough jamb. Carefully nail through the jamb and into the shims. Do not drive the nails completely into place. Leave at least 1/2 -inch of the nails exposed in case you need to make adjustments to the length of the door jambs or you have to move the jambs slightly in and out so the door fits perfectly. Once all adjustments are made, all shims are in place and the door fits well, then you can drive the nails home, recessing the nail heads with a nail-setting tool.
Tim Carter can be contacted via his Web site, http:/
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