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How To Repair Pocket Doors

How to restore the smooth roll and click of the perfect pocket door. By The OHJ Technical Staff

    Pocket doors make an elegant, versatile statement that is unique to old houses.

    Pocket doors make an elegant, versatile statement that is unique to old houses.

    Few things are more elegant—and elusive—than the smooth roll and click of pocket doors in perfect working order. Some old-house owners never have a moment’s trouble with their pocket doors; others struggle with doors that stick, balk, bind, scrape, gap, make noise, or won’t move at all. Before you begin to troubleshoot your pocket door problems, determine what kind of doors you have.

    Pocket doors come in two basic types—floor-track and top-hung. More common in mid-19th-century houses, floor-track doors roll in and out of their pockets on sheaves, or rollers, that ride on a metal track. The track is usually recessed into the floor, although sometimes the track rests directly on the surface.

    Late in the 19th century, top-hung doors superseded the floor-track type. In top-hung doors, the carriers containing the rollers, or wheels, run in an overhead track in a recess above the doorway soffit designed for the purpose. Top-hung doors are far more common than floor-track doors.

    Thanks to a proliferation of pocket-door hardware manufacturers in the late 19th century, the mechanisms vary more than those for floor-track doors. That said, there are three basic types: single roller, double roller, and trolley style. By shining a flashlight up into the track above your doors, you should be able to tell which of the three types you’ve inherited.

    Floor-track and all three types of top-hung doors tend to suffer from the same sorts of problems—sticking, warping, rolling too far or not far enough, and damaged or missing rollers or tracks. In many situations, the solutions are the same, even if the mechanisms that control movement differ.

    Many of the clearances around a smoothly operating pocket door are only about 1/4″. If your doors stick, balk, or refuse to come out at all, building settlement is probably to blame. Begin with the obvious: If your house has had a lot of alterations, the doors could be nailed in place or sealed up. Look for nails through door edges or a stop piece or furring strip nailed across the door opening. Next, use a flashlight to check for broken plaster or other debris inside the door pocket. Floor-track doors that refuse to budge may have jumped the track. Lift and rock the door to get it back on track. Floor-track doors also have a guide pin that slides in a slot at the top of the door. If the door has slipped off the pin, wiggle the door around to get it back on center.

    If a top-hung door is balky, it may be binding either on the track above or on the floor below. Fortunately, the height of the rollers is adjustable. Locate the slanted screw mechanism on top of the door just inside the recess area. If the door is scraping against the floor, turn the adjustment screw so that it pulls the door upward. Tap some shims under the door to hold it about 1/4″ off the floor. After you’ve raised the door and removed the shims, make sure the door hangs at least 3/16″ off the floor. If the door is too high, adjust the screw to lower it. Be careful not to unscrew it completely, however, or the door will fall off!

    As buildings settle with age, floors have a tendency to bow in the middle or at the edges of a room. Both conditions can cause your pocket doors to gap when closed, especially if they’re floor track. You can help your doors hang straighter by shimming under the track.

    If a top-hung door gaps, check to see that the roller mechanism is securely fastened to the top of the door and that the door itself is not warped. Adjusting the roller height may help alleviate the problem. The stop moldings along the side jambs or along the top track may be loose or warped; carefully remove them and re-nail them in the correct alignment.

    Published in: Old-House Journal 2005 Restoration Directory

    { 5 comments… read them below or add one }

    Catherine December 26, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Looking you someone in the Hudson Valley who can restore 18th century pocket doors; contact by email. Spring project 2012

    DON SWEENEY August 22, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    I’M TRYING TO REHANG TOP HUNG POCKET DOORS. THESE DOORS WERE REMOVED OVER 25 YEARS AGO. I CAN’T FIGURE HOW TO GET THE “SLOTTED SECTION” OF THE ROLLER MECHINISM INTO THE “LOOPED” SECTION OF THE MOUNTING BRACKET THAT IS MOUNTED ON TOP OF THE DOORS.
    ANY HELP YOU CAN GIVE ME WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED

    DON SWEENEY

    Dan Miller September 25, 2013 at 12:49 am

    This guy travels the country fixing pocket doors:

    Stephen K. Thorp
    http://www.fixpocketdoors.com
    Restoration and maintenance of vintage pocket doors
    cell 617 792 4676
    machine 617 327 4183
    stephen@fixpocketdoors.com,

    Dan Miller September 25, 2013 at 12:57 am

    In the 50′s the owners of the house next door to ours took out the pocket doors to modernize and create a bedroom to change the home into a two unit. They nailed the pocket doors to the ceiling of the attic.
    When we bought the house we took them down, cleaned up the original false graining and I rebuilt the curved frame and casigns. They still make the track and wheels they run on. Here is a slide show of the transformation.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/31300792@N08/sets/72157632455995339/

    TONY IN ST LOUIS January 15, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    I wish i could video tape how i got my pocket doors on track. First off their single wheel hung from the top, then whom ever had the house took the screws off both the front and back wheels. Trust me you won’t fine any replacment screws at home depoe, lows or and mom & pop hardware stores. The threds they made back then for some strang reason are very diferent then nowdays. I couldnt find any screws at the old anqtue salvage yards and if i did, i had to buy the entire door. It took me 2-3 mounths to find the screws but they were bent and the others that wasn’t didnt fit. The guy was so nice that he went in the back ,took off the entire wheels off a pock door thats been setting out side seems like for years. They had so much rust on them but i clean them up just fine and sprayed them down with w-d 40. On to how i installed them. First off i had to take up maybe 3 floor planks from the 3rd fllor to accesess over the doors, i raised or shimed the door all the way up thinking i could easly put the whels on track,NOT because the door will be too high raising the loops on top making it impossible to aline the wheel on the track while pushing the wheel housing slots into the loops because that metal peace that sets in the middle of the wheel frame stops it .What you have to do is let the door all the way down to the floor,then put the wheel on track and slightly set the groved slots just on top of the loops, making sure the slots are just resting ontop of the groves, let it set there then go and raise or shim your door up about 1/4 from the bottum. Go back and the wheels should slid wright in perfectlly, dont exspect the slots to slid all the way maybe 1/8 to 1/4 into the loops. Then just put your screws in all most all the way in and you can adjust from there. It’s easy to access the screw to the front wheel from the floor but the back wheel screw can be tricky but the wheel installs just the same. soDON SWEENEY i hope this helps, it works. glad i took physics in high school and happen to be machanically incline.

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