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How To Repair and Adjust Pocket Doors

How do you repair pocket doors? My bathroom door jams and sometimes goes off the track.

Since there are different hardware styles for the rollers on pocket doors, each case is unique. From a "generic" standpoint, the major problems faced by pocket door owners involve the adjustment of the rollers, their attachment to the door, lubrication and defects or looseness in the track. I suppose toys jammed into the pocket can be added to this list, too!

Problems with the rollers...

Some types of rollers are made of two parts... a base attached to the door and the roller itself screwed to or threaded into the base. With time and use, these parts can actually separate from each other or go out of adjustment. If the door is not hanging straight, one of these problems is likely. Compare the functioning and malfunctioning rollers to decide which problem you have. 99% of the time, the problem roller is the most difficult to get to... the leading roller in the wall. Ain't life grand!

Damaged or worn roller wheels and lack of lubrication can also cause a pocket door to malfunction. Use silicone spray or grease as lubricants.

The most common installation error is also a manufacturing error... the screws supplied to or used by the contractor are too short or have too fine a thread to carry the weight of the door indefinitely. It is sad and not uncommon to find metal stud drywall screws... long enough but with a uselessly-fine thread for holding wood securely... holding the upper roller brackets to the door. If you have a pocket door that was rarely used for years, but suddenly fails when it begins to be "tested" by greater traffic... this would be the first thing to look for.

There is a type of roller that adjusts by simply sliding the roller bracket up or down against the door-attached bracket and using a bolt to hold them in place.  If these loosen up, it is impossible to adjust or reassemble without disassembling the frame or cutting a hole in the wall (below).

Problems with the track itself...

Loose screws or bolts holding a multi-section track together can cause binding in the rollers and/or sagging in the track. Sometimes these bolts can hit the rollers and derail them. The track may have loosened from its supports within the pocket, causing the door to rub on the floor. or bolts or even a physical bend or distortion in the track itself.

Access, access and more access...

All of these repairs require access... you must be able to get your fingers or a tool to the affected parts to make the proper repair or adjustment. Though some types of pocket door frames have some room to work if you are dexterous, this is the exception... not the rule. Many pocket doors can be adjusted with special tools from around the top of the pocket frame with the door in a partially closed position. These tools are often specially angled wrenches designed to fit into that little gap. These tools are part of the assembly kit supplied with the pocket door, but are rarely given to homeowners by the builders. Without these proprietary tools, you have to improvise with or modify standard tools.

One way to increase access is to remove some of the molding around the frame to allow removal of the door. When the "1/2 jamb"... the open side of the vertical jamb that the door slides through... and the corresponding case molding are removed on ONE SIDE of the door, the door can be tipped outwards from the bottom. The rollers can be then lifted and removed from the track. This is similar to the way closet sliding or bypassing doors are removed.

The difficulty of getting the molding off properly and without damage increases if the frame is painted, because the order of assembly is not as obvious as if it was a stained finish. Obviously the casing molding comes off first, but the next piece may be either a side piece or a top piece. Careful examination and gently prying with a 3" putty knife to break the paint seal will usually reveal the secret!

When all else fails, cut a hole through the wall...

If your attempts at repair through disassembly of the frame are stymied by limited access or a gazillion coats of paint, or if you would just prefer not to tear the frame apart, the alternative is to cut a hole into the wall to allow adjustment of the hardware within the wall. Drill or cut a 3" to 4" diameter hole at the proper height on the side of the door that allows the best view of the track and hardware. However, if one side of the wall is wallpapered, cut through the other side of the wall to save the paper... if and only if you are confident the repair can be done that way. YOU have to examine the hardware and make this determination yourself.

(NOTE:  A few of my customers opted to cover the holes in their wallpaper with pictures or artwork!  Be sure any hangers you use don't interfere with the door operation!)

Look inside the wall and try to locate the hole so your access is not restricted by the framing.  However, don't worry if you are off a little, since you are going to do a repair anyway.  Boring a second hole is not the end of the world!

There is no magic bullet in pocket door repair...

Pocket doors are meant to last a lifetime without repair, but poorly designed hardware and installation errors sometimes cause them to fail, leaving us to do the best repair we can.

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Jerry Alonzy, the founder of Naturalhandyman.com

Written by Jerry Alonzy

Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.

As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+.