Convenience always comes at a price! Most doors are installed pre-hung. They are slapped into place and held with nails. Ugh!

I rarely purchase pre-hung doors! They are awkward to transport and store. Factory spacing between the door and its frame is often not to my liking. Furthermore, the whole assembly needs to be taken apart before finishes can be applied. When the frame is installed, fastener nails are visible and must be puttied.  Corrections can’t easily be made later on.

Here, with the aid of photos, I’ll explain how a door is hung “my way” – cleanly, with crisp spacing between the door and its frame. The pan-head screws that attach the frame to the wall will be hidden by door stop! If ever there is a call-back, I can make minor adjustments fairly easily. Here with words and illustrations, I show you, step-by-step, how I install doors.

Apply finishes to both the door and the jamb pieces (sides and top). In this case we have painted door frames and stained door slabs, with oil-rubbed bronze hardware.

Set up the hinge cutting jig to yield a routed hinge pocket that is slightly larger than hinge length. Set the jig for the correct hinge depth.  Mark hinge locations on the door. Be careful to select the correct door edge (based on swing and factory bevel). It’s easy to make a mistake!  If you make a mistake, it can be corrected using a set of larger, square-leaf hinges. Hinges are typically set 7” from the top of the door, 11” from the bottom, with the third in the center. Rout hinge pockets in the door and install hinges.

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Clamp the hinge jamb to the door, and set the rabbet cut for the head jamb 1/8” above the top of the door slab. With a fine pencil, mark hinge locations on the jamb. Now carefully clamp the hinge-cutting jig to the jamb, centering it over your pencil marks, and route hinge pockets. I use a 5/8” round-over bit and make my cuts in one motion. One can adapt round-over cuts for use with square-edged hinges. Drill pilot holes for the hinge screws.

Cut the head jamb to length. Note that many doors have a slight bevel on the lockset side, assuring that the door does not bind on the frame as the door is closed. Most door slabs are sized 3/16” less than their nominal size. Thus, a 36” door slab actually measures 35-13/16”. The 3/16” gap takes care of the spaces needed on the hinge and the lockset sides of the assembled door/frame.

Measure the width of the door on its widest face. Add the depth of two side jamb rabbet cuts and an additional 1/8” (space on the lockset side). Usually this formula yields Door Width + ¾””. Cut the head jamb to this length. Lay the jamb pieces aside. Do not assemble them just yet, because it may be necessary to slightly adjust the length of one jamb side in order to accommodate a non-level floor.

Go to the framed wall opening and make level marks on each side. Take measurements to the floor and write the lengths down. Let’s say that, facing the framed opening, the left measurement is ¼” shorter than the measurement on the right. In other words, the floor sags towards the right side. You want the top of the door frame to be level, so you need to cut off ¼” from the bottom of the left (short measurement) jamb.

Assemble the door frame on the floor using screws. The photo shows a partially assembled frame, with pan-head screws, drive and drill bits, a plywood block with screw that holds the door frame in place, a DeWalt driver and an oscillating cutter (for cutting off exposed door shims). I use an awl to mark for hinge screw pilot holes. I want my screws to be slightly off center, so that they “pull” the hinge tightly into its pocket.

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Now it’s time to set the door frame in the rough opening. This is where the “fun” begins!  Take note of how much larger the rough opening is relative to the outside dimension of the door frame. This will determine the thickness of shim blocks on the hinge side. On the hinge side, take a plumb reading. Mark the center of the hinges on the wall. Install shim blocks on the wall stud at these locations, making sure they are lined up and plumb. I prefer to not install shim blocks on the opposite side just yet.

Place the door frame in the opening, and install 8 stop blocks with screws on the four corners of the door frame. I prefer to install them 1.5” off the door frame ends. This arrangement leaves rooms for door shims.

With the door frame temporarily secured, step to the side and visually check the alignment of jamb sides. Make minor corrections using shims between the stop blocks and the jamb assembly. This step is important because it determines how the lockset edge of the door lines up with the door frame.

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Pre-drill three counter-sunk holes for washer-head screws, that will hold the jamb to the stud on the hinge side, and fasten the hinge jamb to the stud. Using a level and/or the laser beam as straight edge, make sure the hinge jamb is perfectly straight, top to bottom. If this is not the case, the hinges may squeak!

Hold the door (with hinges attached) in place. A wood shim at the bottom raises the door to its approximate location. Fasten the door to the routed hinge pockets in the jamb. This may require temporarily loosening the hinge screws on the door, in order to create a bit of wiggle room. Once the hinge leaves are properly seated in jamb pockets, all screws are firmly tightened. A long screw is installed through the top hinge and into the wall stud. It prevents the door (especially a heavy door) from pulling away from the wall.

Now the rest of the door frame is shimmed and screwed in place. Measure, mark, and pre-drill for countersunk washer-head screws. All screws, properly placed, will be hidden behind door stop.  At this stage a lot of “fine tuning” is required, so that the door is perfectly set in its frame and all reveals (spaces between door and frame) are even and the door and the frame line up evenly.

Now stop blocks are removed and shims are cut. It’s time to admire your work. Hanging and installing a door is like tuning a fine instrument!  No two installations are alike because of the variables that come into play. This truly is skilled work!

I suggest keeping the door slab hung whilst trim and door stop are applied. This way one can keep a constant eye on the alignment between the door and its frame.


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