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Installing Sidelight/Door/Sidelight Units

For the 2014 IBS show, Plastpro asked me to produce a special presentation on installing an SDS unit. They shipped me all the materials so I could practice the presentation and shoot a video before the event. I was kind of surprised when the freight delivery arrived and the package was so small—the entire unit came knocked down, which reminded me of the olden days.

A Note from the Publisher:


Many people have asked about my new home and shop, so we’re publishing a new series of articles. You’ll notice I’m using a lot of Katz Roadshow-sponsored materials in these articles—for example, the doors in this article are manufactured and provided by Plastpro. We choose our sponsors carefully, from among the best manufacturers in the industry, and that’s why I chose to use their products on my own home, too.


When I started working as a finish carpenter, all door jambs came to the jobsite in rough lengths. We cut and assembled all the frames. Back then, when the world was all black-and-white, we installed the frames bald, with no molding attached, which made it very easy to flash the jambs and waterproof the openings. Then we cut and installed all the brick mold or stucco mold. Later, after the stucco was applied to the exterior, we returned and mortised the jambs for hinges. We scribed the doors, mortised for hinges, bored for locks, and then hung the doors. But these days, it’s rare for a carpenter to see a knock-down frame, let alone a frame without molding already attached; manufacturers and distributors ship pre-assembled units to the jobsite, and most of them are pre-finished, too!

(Note: Click image to enlarge)

(Note: Click image to enlarge)

I’ve heard and joined a lot of conversations about the future of carpentry—how carpenters today are really nothing but installers. Nothing illustrates the problems associated with that trend better than pre-assembled exterior door units. Some of the techniques I once used to adjust a mulled door unit can no longer be employed. But some still can. In this video, I demonstrate how pre-assembly doesn’t always make a carpenter’s job easier, how progress isn’t always a good thing, and I share a few techniques that every door installer should know.

Click here to read a related article, “Problem-free Prefit Doors.”


19 Responses to “Installing Sidelight/Door/Sidelight Units”

    • Gary Katz

      Thank YOU Craig. I hate to think where I’d be if it weren’t for you.

  1. big Bob

    Every once in a while, a service person can’t figure out why I’m buying a door “slab”. Many have no idea how to hang a slab from scratch. Thanks for producing this…..

  2. j watson

    Hi Gary—

    Door hanging is one of my favorite carpentry jobs, but I mainly do rehangs in existing jambs these days. I used to enjoy installing and fitting double-hung window frame and sash. Not much call for that these days, except for old homes whose owners want to retain the original true divided lights.

    I’ve found that I can’t get the same accurate fit in any pre-hung unit I’ve used and I certainly don’t get the same satisfaction when I’m done. (It’s not about me, I know!)

    Part of the process of “dumbing-down” the installation of millwork is the lowering of expectations on the consumer end. If the people don’t know, the people don’t care. How we got here is a subject that could fill volumes.

    Apart from all that and the difficulties in getting a good,waterproof installation, the weight of these pre-hung, pre-finished units is obscene.

    I would have never thought twice about hanging double doors with operable sidelights in a 10ft. opening by myself. It would take at least two guys and a forklift to do the same job today. At some point when enough backs are trashed , the market might demand it

    I like that the Plastpro unit comes knock-down, I hope more manufacturers consider KD units.


    • Gary Katz

      Knock down units are available everywhere. You just have to ask for it. Same with brickmold. If you don’t specify that you want the frame shipped without the brickmold installed, it will come installed. Same with thresholds and frames: if you want Endura thresholds or Framesaver jambs, all you have to do is ask. Most pre-fit door distributors have access to just about everything. Know Huttig is a national distributor–they supply lumberyards all over the U.S., and they stock a variety of different door components, same with Orepac. I think Bluelinx does, too? But I’m not sure. I’m sure you can find a distributor near you–the internet is a powerful tool! :)

      • j. watson

        I very much appreciate the info. None of my door suppliers ever mentioned the option of getting KD components, and I never encountered anything other than complete units on projects where others did the ordering.

        I guess they should schedule in some time in the field assisting an installation!

        As always, a visit to TiC is time well spent.

        Muchas gracias,


  3. Dave

    Did the whole door unit shift 1/4 inch at 16:02 while Gary was driving screws? Did that cause the problem with the door not being flush that he identifies at 17:30?

    • Gary Katz

      No. What I think happened was the screw fell into an existing hole. I can’t tell you how many times those doors and jambs were installed–I know for sure 12 times in three days for one show. :) And no, that did not have any affect on the door not meeting the jamb plumb.

  4. Shane G

    Gary, this cracks me up!!! You do an excellent job of explaining the installation, pro and cons, all while being pleasant and somewhat humorous.

    This not only is a how to video, it’s also a good advertisement for Plastpro and a Public Service Announcement for the door manufacturers.

    And, I love your progress commentaries.

  5. Jason Laws

    I have to admit that almost every door that I have “installed” has been prehung. The one time I had the chance in a house we were building, the more experienced carpenter present sent me away to do the prehungs (he didn’t like show others how to do things – protective). I also find flashing an exterior door difficult to flash and some of these doors are very heavy.

    I do think the trend is towards speed and profit, not so much craftsmanship. Another example would be truss roofs. So many houses are built this way that there is often no chance to learn to do some rafter cutting. One thing that is nice about finish work is that you have to slow down and think differently. ( I don’t mean that you don’t have to think when doing other carpentry jobs at all – just different) In our fast paced world, are we simply producing button pushers? It is kind of like using CNC machines in woodworking – what fun is that and where will the skills go.
    So, if any of you show up on a jobsite of mine and can hang a door, I will ask for an informal class and be happy with a new skill!!

    Jason Laws
    Plain In Maine
    Amity, Maine

  6. Nick Markey


    Thank you, thank you very much. I definitely pulled a few new tricks from this as well as honing a few old ones a bit cleaner in my head.

    Well done.

    Nick Markey
    Charlton, MA

  7. Joe g

    Thanks for the great learning experience. I just wish you were doing videos forty years ago. I saw you at a roadshow last year and the info was invaluable, on hanging doors. I have sped up my install like crazy. That being said, I don’t think many carpenters have much say about ordering Kd units unless they are the GC or owner of the company. Also I would bet ordering kd would add to lead time. Thanks again for sharing the knowledge.


    • Gary Katz

      Thanks. I’m glad you got something valuable from the video.
      Yes, as I said in answer to another comment, KD units are available everywhere, it’s just that somehow it became the norm to take critical installation procedures away from finish carpenters who work on the jobsite–I guess someone who didn’t know much about door hanging, thought it would be so much faster if the brickmold and the sidelights were already installed. But they didn’t know that, in order to install doors efficiently and precisely, each of those components–and others– must be installed in the proper order.

  8. Russell Marino

    Thanks Gary, for the door hanging videos. They have been vary helpful for me in moving up the ranks. So my question is that you never mention hanging the doors plumb as the framing is not a lot of the time. My foreman is telling me i need to follow the wall that is out one half an inch and bend a hinge pin. So I just shake my head and hang the 8′ door plumb. What is your take?

    • Gary Katz

      Good question. Your foreman is right. And your foreman is wrong.
      I like telling the story of the Andersen patio door unit I installed, following the out-of-plumb wall. The wall was only out about 1/2 in. in 8 ft. but the doors swung by themselves, one open and one closed. You can’t bend some of the adjustable hinges used by manufacturers today–and you definitely can’t bend the hinge pins. The homeowner complained to Andersen. I met the rep on the jobsite. He criticized my workmanship with the homeowner standing there. I had to reset the doors and install tapered jamb extensions, which I thought was worse but since I had never explained the situation to the homeowner before installing the doors, I had no choice. She didn’t really understand what tapered jamb extensions were, but since the rep had convinced her I’d done a bad job of installing the doors, she was confident and certain that the job would be better once I installed the extensions. Of course, once she saw them, she wasn’t so sure–I could tell in the way she looked long and hard at the finished casing, but didn’t say a word. It was really my fault. I should have explained it all to her before I fastened the jambs. So…the lesson is, have someone else make that decision, not you.

      And since I can’t ever shut up, especially about progress: These new hinges are another sign of progress. They’re designed to make it easier for carpenters to install doors. Especially if the carpenters aren’t experienced enough to know that the sills must be installed DEAD LEVEL. Adjustable hinges make small adjustments in door height possible, but at a cost. You can’t bend the pins, which means the doors must be installed perfectly plumb or they will open/close by themselves. Adjustable hinges are also very sensitive. It’s easy to strip them.

      I’m much more in favor of standard hinges and teaching installers all the really cool and really great adjustments you can make while installing doors.

  9. David Arth

    Great info and very logical. I was curious if you view windows and patio doors with nailing fins the same as you view brick mold? In my mind, I would have to have some assortment of shim sections if I only have access to the interior side of the jam.

  10. Chu Ngo

    I am a homeowner and love to watch your video. I have plans to
    do a replacement for my entrance door. I wonder how the door frame is affected when there is 1/8″ clearance between opening and the frame, then we fasten side jambs with screws # 1 and #2 . Will it be pulled away toward studs?

    I appreciate your answer .
    Chu Ng

  11. Jim W.

    I love your videos. I just wish I could hire someone in my city with your knowledge, but I can’t. So I do it myself with the lap top near by. It’s so rewarding when it turns out perfect. It takes me much longer to do than you, but I do get good results. Thanks so very much.

    • Gary Katz

      Congratulations! That’s the WHOLE POINT. Learning how to do something even if you make mistakes, then looking back and your work and feeling good about it. Feeling good is good.


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