Barn Door Installation: Demystifying Sliding Door Layout for Perfect Results Every Time

There are many issues that arise when people are trying to install barn doors. With their recent rise in popularity, many carpenters avoid hanging them because they’re frustrating and not as profitable as other tasks. However, with a systematic approach, any sliding door with any hardware kit can be installed with minimal frustration.

Most issues have to do with the layout of the hardware. Affordable kits are produced overseas, but documentation leaves much to be desired. Custom kits that are fabricated to fit a specific application come with no instructions whatsoever and the stakes are much higher with the high expense of custom metalwork. Using this method I hope you’ll find it you can hang any sliding door any hardware kit by making a few calculations.

First, let’s have a look at the factors affecting layout:

Installing a Barn Door

Installing a Barn Door

The Rough Opening

The opening may be wrapped in drywall or simply left as exposed studs intended for a jamb or pre-hung door. Rough openings intended for bypass sliding doors are different from those intended to have doors hung and cased because their height takes into account standard door heights plus the hardware track and rollers, spacing off the floor, and tolerances are generally tighter for “plumb” where the doors strike.

Similarly, a sliding door requires a perfectly plumb jamb to look as good as possible. When a door overlays or insets into an opening, the margins have to be much tighter because there is not room for error. Even a tiny gap is a tapering black line against bright white paint. Plan to rework this rough opening when planning for a barn door, either by shimming out drywall and retaping and texturing, or adding a jamb and casing–my preferred option.

Overlay, where the doors meet the margins of the opening, is important for a number of reasons. First of all, privacy is determined by the overlay of the door. What is the point of installing a barn door over a bathroom opening if anyone standing beside the door can clearly see in? When privacy is required, start with a generous overlay. 2″ is usually about right. If width is already limited in the doorway consider adjusting the stand off distance. We’ll get to that in a minute.

If overlay is important, height is critical. 80% of the issues carpenters have when mounting barn doors are with height and finding support at that height. I’ve seen 30-year carpenters mess this up! And it’s no wonder…there are only about 6 different factors determining the height of the barn door.

Height of a Barn Door

  • The finished floor surface. I allow up to 3/4″ for high pile carpets to avoid premature wear or dragging. In production home building, it’s common to allow much more. One of the most common call-back items for a new construction finish crew is cutting down doors for carpet, especially sliding doors.
  • Next, allow for the center guides. There are several styles of centering guides, but I prefer a floor-mounted T-shaped bracket that rides into a dado* on the bottom of the door. Allow for the thickness of the floor mounting plate.
  • Leave a small margin between the mounting plate and the bottom of the door, like 1/8″, and use a countersink screw so the cap head doesn’t drag.
  • The slab height is added to the height of the flooring change, the thickness of the flange, and the margin to give you a starting point for the track hardware.

Track Hardware Height

  • Rollers mount to the door slab. Most are through-bolted, some are top-mounted and screwed or lagged. I’ll focus on through-bolted rollers here, but these principles apply to both styles.
  • Through bolts need meat for provide strength. Mount rollers to the stiles, centered horizontally. Shoot for 1″ of wood between the top bolt hole and the top of the stile, but don’t drill yet!
  • Top of stile to inner groove or the roller wheel is critical. Clamp the roller in place at this position and measure from the top of the stile to the inner groove of the roller wheel. This distance must be greater than your track rail width by the difference between the roller groove and outer flange for you to be able to install and/or service the door successfully. While it is possible to cheat here by installing the rollers with the slab and track in place, it’s not advisable. At minimum, the top of the stile must be away from the outer roller flange by the width of your track rail.
  • Now, set your rail height off the door height and mark the center of the bolt holes. If they fall above the rough opening you’re good. If not, there are a few adjusting points.
    • Cut down the door. If the top and bottom rails are equal sizes, this is not advisable. Many doors traditionally have wide bottom rails for this very reason.
    • Raise the track and raise the rollers by the same amount. This means a weaker through-bolted connection, but this isn’t an issue for all but the heaviest barn doors.
  • If your track is below the rough opening height, pad down the opening. Plywood, 2×4, of whatever is necessary, but make it sturdy if you’ll be mounting through it, and avoid driving lags between the header and blocking.

Stand Off Distance

  • Barn doors stand off the wall some distance depending of a few factors:
  • The size of the stand-off spacers in your kit
  • The thickness of the door slab
  • The rough opening trim (casing)
  • Baseboard on adjacent walls and/or quarter round or shoe moulding
  • Track hole spacing to stud framing, or blocking

Making A Structural Connection

To achieve a solid connection is existing door openings, a common trick is to apply a board across the span of the track rail. With a solid connection at every stud position, the mounting lags can go anywhere along the span without worrying over studs. If the client prefers the look of a drywall surface here, it’s possible to add blocking behind the drywall, patch, float, and texture the drywall and lag through as usual. Keep in mind, you’ll need to add spacers to account for the thickness of the drywall as it’s very compressible and could compromise the hold–causing the door to sag.

Other Tips for Barn Doors:

Never use a hollow core door for this! I’ve seen hacks specify hollow core doors for this application and they always fail. Through bolts collapse the slab, bottom guides blow through the bottom rails, the door rollers are sticky because they’re not under enough load, etc.

Team lift these onto their tracks, use airbags, or use a door lifting lever such as those produced by Trend to save your back.

Build a centering jig and use a spiral upcut straight bit for your router to cut a bottom groove. Add sacrificial blocks at the ends of the stiles to prevent he inevitable blow-out. Take light passes to avoid the bit straying. Even better, use a slotting cutter bit and a wide, sturdy router baseplate.

When drilling for through-bolts in the field, start with a small pilot bit and drill through both sides, gradually sizing up to you final size. This keeps the holes in the same plane and prevents blow-out.

And finally, just assume that the painters are going to lose some of your hardware or screw up a roller or two. Keep an extra kit on hand for emergencies.

 

* If you want to get into semantics, a groove in the bottom of a door isn’t technically a dado, but give me a break.