About six years ago, I remodeled an Avis car rental office. Prior to the remodel, the office had a showroom of cars on display, complete with showroom-style glass so that the cars could be seen from the road. Avis wanted to give the office a softer, more residential look, so the glass was removed, a wall was framed, and double-hung windows and vinyl cedar shake siding were installed. At the time, I figured my only option was to install a metal residential door—a typical one you’d find in a home, made of galvanized light-gauge steel—and a wood frame. I didn’t know I could get a raised panel commercial steel door with glass back then!
This decision to use a residential door in a commercial setting was a mistake from day one. The overall construction of a residential door is incapable of standing up to the demands of a commercial setting, and it affected the door’s usability and overall integrity. And because the door was relatively light, and there was a closer attached to it by code, the door would slam shut when it was left to close automatically. It shook the entire office, and caused a major disruption to the workday.
Of course, more recently, I received a phone call from the Avis office, asking me to return to look at the residential door I installed years ago.
|This is what the job looked like when I returned to it. The door had obviously seen better days.
I knew this time we’d need to install a commercial steel door and frame. After all, there is a reason why steel doors and frames are used in commercial settings—they’re strong, durable, fire resistant, and heavy enough that when you attach a closer to them, you can gear them down so they don’t slam shut all the time.
Why Steel Doors and Steel Jambs
This was my eighth steel-door installation. I could’ve used a TiC article before I did my first one! Unlike wood, there is no forgiveness when working with steel. This can make it a daunting task for those of us who are primarily familiar with wood. My hope is that this article will help a residential contractor become more familiar with the proper steps of installing a commercial steel door, and installing a continuous hinge for a steel door.
Continues hinges aren’t very common because they’re expensive. But they’re something that I often recommend to my customers because they are such a good product (I used Steelcraft-brand for the doors, and Select Hinges for the continues hinge on this project.) Steel doors are very rugged, and heavy! Their weight can often lead to failure at the three hinge points, depending on how roughly the door is handled. That’s why I like the continuous hinge—it’s more like a piano-hinge, which gives you full contact up the side of the door and jamb, making it nearly impossible for it to come off its pivot point and cause problems. In fact, two of the replacement doors I have done actually had continuous hinges. In both cases, I just ordered new doors and reused the hinges! More often than not, you’ll replace the door because of rust and overall wear before you’ll replace the hinge.
Before Heading to the Jobsite
Most of the time, if a project requires painting, I’ll do it myself. For this job, the first step was to paint the door and jamb for finish installation. I knew that, unlike wooden doors, there weren’t going to be any adjustments or areas I would be able to plane down for a perfect fit. Also, being an active business, there would be no way to paint the door in-place after installation.
I used my trusty door horses (a tip from Fine Homebuilding!), which allowed the door to pivot so I could easily access both sides at the same time and lay it flat to dry. I sprayed an oil-based paint with my HVLP sprayer, giving it a perfectly smooth finish.
|I then installed the crash bar, lockset, and kick plate before bringing it to the site. This would make for one less thing to do onsite. Also, because of the way the strike plate was fastened, there would be no need to install it in-place.
On the Job: Preparing the Opening
When I got to the jobsite, I began by removing the old door and preparing the opening for the new installation. I started by removing the exterior and interior moldings, taking care to not damage the interior wall.
One obstacle was the A-frame awning, which had been installed a few years earlier. Unfortunately it was built on the ground and fastened to the wall right over the siding and upper door molding. I decided to work around this problem, since it was more important to get the door back in the opening before the end of the day.
|After removing the remaining screws in the jamb, I made a cut with my circular saw at the bottom of one side, which made removing the old jamb much easier.
|Then, with a flat bar, I removed all the old glue from the sill that had been used to help fasten the old sill plate in place.
At this point, it was important to make sure I had enough clearance on either side for the jamb to slip over both the interior and exterior sheathings. You want to have plenty of clearance. When it’s time to put the jamb in place, you’ll fight it the whole way if it’s too tight. When I placed the door order, I specified that the wall was 6 ½ in. thick (½ in. exterior sheathing, 2×6 stud, and ½ in. sheet rock).
|After I drove in screws to refasten both the interior and exterior sheathings, I had between 1/4-1/8 in. clearance…
|…which was perfect—I’d rather fasten the exterior side tight to the wall for weatherproofing purposes, and shim out the interior, than have the whole jamb be too tight.
Plus it allowed room for the Vycor waterproofing I installed around the rough opening.
|As always, a dry fit is needed to find any obstructions.
|The jamb wouldn’t sit flat in the door opening because of the tile and grout, so I scribed and cut the floor edging and grout back with a grinder, allowing the jamb to sit on the floor.
Next I applied the waterproofing sill membrane. Luckily the sill was already pitched toward the outside for drainage.
Most waterproofing membranes are applied with a pressure-activated self-adhesive. I find that when the temperature outside is cooler, it doesn’t adhere as well as it would on a hot summer day. To aid the process, I like to use spray glue, which ensures a good bond between surfaces. I also like to use it in places that don’t see a lot of sun. On this project, I used the regular 3M spray glue found at the local hardware store.
I typically use spray foam insulation around all doors and windows. But due to the way steel jambs are installed, I find the best way to add insulation on jambs like these is to use pieces of fiberglass batt insulation, cut from the roll. I set the jamb on top of the fiberglass and used it as a cutting guide to ensure a snug fit. I then applied spray contact adhesive to the inside of the jamb and set the fiberglass pieces in place.
Using the adhesive keeps the fiberglass in place while you’re handling them (otherwise they’ll just fall out). I cut the fiberglass approximately six inches from the floor, and I used spray foam at the bottom to give it a much better seal for moisture and insects.
|Using my track-saw, I trimmed the threshold down to the appropriate length—something you have to do every time.
(By the way, is there something the manufacturers know that I don’t? I can never figure this out: there is only one possible length that will work for a 3-0 door, and yet it’s manufactured about a half inch longer. For what purpose?! But I digress.)
|Finally, I installed the jamb. The head jamb for these frames had little ears that slip into each side, bringing the whole frame together.
|It’s best to install one jamb leg first, nearly straight, then slip the top jamb over the header and slide it down to engage the tabs in the jamb leg.
|Then I installed the opposite jamb leg, engaging the tabs, and raised the head jamb as I slid it over the wall. Overall, as long as you have enough clearance, the process is relatively easy.
|If it’s tight…you’re going to have problems.
|The jamb had an adjustment screw that pushes against the jack stud to drive the whole unit together securely. This secured the header to each side. But it’s important to know that the setscrew is threaded counter-clockwise.
Installing the Hinge on the Jamb
Next, I installed the hinge on the jamb. After removing the cover that hides the exterior fasteners, it was time to attach the hinge to the frame.
|I used a shim to hold the hinge up about 1/8 in. from the threshold, allowing me to mark all the centers of the pilot holes with a fine point nail set.
|The manufacturers provide self-tapping screws, but you still need a good 1/8 in. pilot hole. There are many holes that need to be drilled, but at this point you can just install a few screws at the top, one in the middle, and a few at the bottom.
Installing the Door on the Hinge
It was then time to install the door. The hinge came with two center punches and two types of screws for mounting it to the door.
|I should also note that, when I paint doors offsite, I wrap them in cellophane for transport—I’ve learned the hard way that it’s worth the extra time to protect your work.
Using the small center punch provided with the hinge, I marked locations for the small self-tapping pan-head screws and drilled pilot holes. I used a minimal number of those screws to temporarily secure the door so that it would hang properly with an appropriate reveal.
Next, I removed the small screws and placed the door on a set of sawhorses. After removing the hinge from the jamb, I placed the hinge on the door so that I could locate the through-holes that had to be drilled for each sex bolt. The sex bolts are what really secure the hinge to the door.
|I marked locations for the sex bolts using the larger center punch.
|I then drilled pilot holes for the sex bolts, guiding my 1/8-in. bit with a speed square to be sure the holes were perpendicular to the door.
|I finished the holes using a step bit.
A step bit is extremely handy when you’re installing steel doors. It doesn’t dull quickly, like other bits. Most steel doors are made from a thin sheet of metal, so using this bit works extremely well for boring large holes.
Now this is important: If there is going to be a kick plate on the inside of the door, you want to refrain from drilling the last through bolt. Otherwise you’re going to drill right through your kick plate, and it won’t look very good. Instead, you can simply use a self-tapping screw, which the manufacturers provide.
When drilling the holes, you’ll naturally create metal shards just as you make dust with wood. By force of habit, I would either wipe or blow them away. But both of these methods aren’t good when working with metal.
|The metal is a little too heavy for blowing, and wiping only leaves little white scratches in the paint, especially on a black door. The best solution is a paintbrush.
After setting the hinge, the glass was next. You need to apply some window glazing to the exterior side of the flange. Window glazing wasn’t provided with the door or the glass, and I couldn’t get it from my supplier, so I got some from my local glass company. I then positioned the glass and snapped on the interior flange.
Then it was time to set the strike plate. The instructions say to drill and tap for a 12-24 bolt.
|Then I tapped the threshold into place and screwed it down. Instead of using the screws they provided, I got some stainless steel screws at the store and used those, just to avoid rust.
One typical challenge when using the continuous hinge comes when attaching the sweep seal. Typically, the seal would go from one end of the door to the other, and you’d just screw it in place.
However, this hinge goes all the way down to the bottom of the door, forcing you to stop the seal at the hinge. I suppose you could cut the hinge, but that’s not something I’m comfortable doing, and it would risk weakening the hinge and its function-ability. Instead, I measured from the hinge to the end of the door and cut only the aluminum, leaving the rubber at full length.
After screwing the sweep seal in place, I cut back the rubber just enough so a little of it could go behind the hinge. This way, there wouldn’t be an open gap or little, unsecure flap of rubber that would eventually rip off over time. I then removed a few of the lower screws on the hinge and pried the hinge up a bit to tuck the rubber underneath.
Finishing the Interior
Because most walls vary somewhat in thickness, I always order the metal frames wide enough to cover the widest part of the wall.
|Before securing the jamb to the interior wall, any gap between the jamb and the wall must be shimmed or the jamb will deflect. To do this, I measured the gap, scribed it on the board, and cut it freehand on the tablesaw.
|And then I slipped the shims behind the jamb. Only then could I drive the screws home and ensure a nice, tight fit.
The last step was installing the door closer and applying the jamb weather-stripping. I used the Greenlee drill bit set again for securing the door closer, which required holes tapped for machine bolts. The closer had two adjustments: one for speed and one for back-check. I adjusted both until the door swung clean and clear to the jamb, and until it slowed slightly and latched securely without slamming.
Lastly, I installed the jamb weather-stripping with self-tapping pan head screws.
A couple days after the installation, I checked in to see how it was working out; the employees confirmed that it was much quieter and less disruptive. Most importantly, I’m confident that it will hold up to commercial use.
• • •
Dylan Chagnon lives and works in southern New Hampshire. He started his company, Chagnon Construction, 6 1/2 years ago, shortly after graduating college.
During college summer vacations, Dylan worked in the construction industry, learning framing, roofing, and a little finish work. He grew up very involved with his father’s commercial floor-cleaning company, which planted the seeds of pride in work, business ownership, task management, and quality expectations. Dylan’s persistence and willingness to take on jobs he’s never done before has allowed him to develop and maintain a good client base, while continuing to broaden the services he can provide.
When he is able to find some free time, he enjoys playing guitar, going to concerts, and when the weather is nice, cruising around in his 1959 Chevy Bel-Air.
Dylan thanks his father for teaching him the importance of managerial and problem-solving skills, which would otherwise have taken years to develop, probably an entire career.
Dylan also wishes to acknowledge Darrin Wason, for giving him the opportunity and start in the trade, and Ray Blake as well. The skills and overall method of building that Dylan learned through the years of working with them (although framing) were, without a doubt, fundamental cornerstones of Dylan’s methodical approach to any project.