Pocket doors are interior doors that slide into a shallow slot or “pocket” inside a wall. They are practical options for tight spaces that may not be able to accommodate conventional, swinging doors. You may find yourself needing to remove a pocket door for a flooring project, paint the door, or replace it due to wear and tear, but how do you do this exactly?
To remove a pocket door, determine how the door is attached to the rollers, remove the trim, and then lift the door out of the tracks. This is a relatively easy do-it-yourself project.
However, there are a few different considerations to take when removing a pocket door. As pocket doors were quite popular in the 1800s, especially in Victorian homes, and later made a resurgence in the 1950s, some older door installations vary from current installations. The purpose of removing the door needs to be considered to be sure any parts you need to reinstall the door are not damaged, and if you’d like a more thorough explanation, please follow along.
Determine Mounting Hardware
You will find that your pocket door is installed in one of two ways. Older pocket doors are normally installed on a J-Track. The J-Track is a long metal piece of hardware with a shelf where the wheels glide across the track as it opens and closes.
Newer pocket doors are installed and operate using a trolley system. Unfortunately, several different mechanisms are used for these sorts of trolley systems, which makes it difficult to determine a “one-size-fits-all” approach for removal.
As you read along, you will see a general explanation of how to remove a pocket door and special considerations for doors using a J-Track and doors using a trolley system will be noted. You will also learn how to remove the track itself if you are needing to replace it or perhaps are installing a different type of door.
Gather Tools Needed
Removing a pocket door requires a few basic handheld tools. These tools are needed mostly for the next step of removing the trim that secures the door. The tools you will need are:
- Power drill
- Utility knife
- Flat bar
- Pair of pliers
If you are doing more than just removing the door itself, like removing the whole pocket door track or cutting the door for a flooring project, a table saw, and wallboard saw will also be helpful.
If your door is on a J-Track, you will want to determine what side of the trim needs to be removed. First, you need to observe the J-Track that acts as the transit system for your pocket door. The trim that is on the opposite side of the “J” (so on the flat side of the J-Track) will be the trim you remove so you can easily lift the door out of the track.
If you are working with a newer pocket door that is operating on a trolley system, you can remove the trim on either side of the door frame and still be able to remove the door easily.
It is important to work slowly while removing trim, especially if you plan to reinstall the pocket door. Going too quickly through this process can easily ruin the finish on both the trim or the door itself.
The following process is what will allow the door to be pulled out from the wall. The trim, normally thin rounded pieces, is what keeps the door secure in its tracks and keeps it from swinging back and forth as it opens and closes.
You will need to remove the trim from the top and likely both sides of the door frame. However, depending on the width of your trim and door, there is a chance that removing just a single side of trim will be enough for you to remove the door.
- Before using your tools to remove the trim, look to see if there is a small plastic guide at the bottom of the door. Remove this first using either a power drill or a screwdriver.
- Next, you may want to cut along the paint line with a utility knife to create a clear divide between the small piece of trim you will be removing and the wall. This is especially important if the trim is caulked.
- There are a few ways you can remove the trim. Perhaps the easiest way is to simply insert a flat bar between the trim and the wall and start to hit the flat bar with a hammer. This hammering will put the flat bar between the trim and the wall and will start to loosen the trim. When there is a clear separation between the trim and the wall, flip the flat bar, and using the other end, start to pull the trim slowly outward.
- Continue this process from the top corner to the bottom of the trim, keeping the trim in a single piece and inserting the flat bar to repeat the process about every eight to ten inches. When you come across a nail in the trim, it becomes particularly important to take your time with this process to keep the trim from splitting.
- Once the trim is removed, if nails remain in the wall, go back with your pliers to pull the nails out.
The following video, “Trimming, removing a pocket door” from American Trade Masters, gives a good demonstration of this process. Watch the video starting at 1:58 for the quickest explanation.
Swing Door Forward and Lift Out of Track
This step is for doors that are operating on a J-Track. If you are removing a door on a trolley system, skip ahead to the next step.
Once the trim is fully removed, you will close the pocket door completely. Then from the bottom of the door, you will pull the door outwards towards you. Some doors may be tight in the door frame, so take your time with the process if you need to preserve the door.
After you have been able to swing the door outward, you will push the door upward to lift the wheels out of the J-Track. This may take time and some extra maneuvering to be sure the door is at the right angle to be lifted out. Also, try to assess the weight of the door before taking on this project on your own in case you will need help once the door is released.
Release Trolley Mechanism
If you are removing a newer pocket door that uses a trolley system, it’ll likely be helpful to have help. This process involves releasing a lever or pin that is securing the door to the track, and the door will then be released. Having another set of hands will stabilize the door to make this a safer process and protect and preserve the door.
Different manufacturers use different systems and mechanisms. But a commonly used hanger set is pictured here.
As you can see underneath the brass piece of this hanger set, there is the white plastic piece with the middle’s gray lever. By using a screwdriver and pressing into the gray piece, this hanging mechanism will drop, releasing the pocket door. Not all hanger sets will look exactly like this one, but with careful examination, it should become clear where the lever is, and many times it can be simply released with a screwdriver.
It is important to note, depending on the age of the trolley system, it may take a bit of elbow grease to release the hangers. This method is not always as simple as removing a pocket door from a J-Track so do not hesitate to hire help if you have a difficult time. Too much force could result in breaking the hanger set which could lead to a bigger project.
Full Removal of Pocket Door and Track
If you need to remove a pocket door completely to install a conventional swinging door or to replace the track, the process becomes a bit more complicated. Here are a few considerations:
- When removing a pocket door, it is important to note that if you are replacing it with another pocket door, you must make sure the hanging mechanisms match the track. Many are not interchangeable, and it will not be worth your while to replace the whole track with a new pocket door.
- Older tracks may not seem as functional and may become noisy or “sticky” over time. In this sort of situation, it may make sense to remove the whole track. If you find yourself in this situation, read on.
Here is a step by step guide if you need to remove both the pocket door and the existing track.
- First, follow all steps previously outlined to remove the original pocket door.
- Use a stud finder to find the internal track. With a pencil, mark the location of the studs and internal hardware.
- Next, using a drywall saw, cut a square opening around where the framework is. Make sure the hole is large enough to accommodate your power drill or screwdriver. An important note is that this drywall area can be used after replacing the track or door to fill the hole in the drywall you have just created. Take care to be sure this square of drywall does not get damaged.
- Remove all screws from the track. You will have access to screws through the opening in the wall and also be sure to remove all screws in the track at the top of the door frame.
- Now, with all screws removed, you can easily slide the existing track out of the wall.
This easy-to-understand YouTube video shows this whole process.
An alternative method to removing the door and track is simply leaving the door and sealing up the pocket with new trim. Simply hiding your door away will keep you from having to cut into your drywall. This method is practical if you are replacing the pocket door with a conventional swinging door, as there will be no need to replace the existing track.
As mentioned, removing a pocket door is a relatively simple task, especially if you are familiar with basic home improvement projects and handheld tools. However, it is always helpful to have an extra set of hands and eyes for these sorts of projects.
Normally, pocket doors are shallow, lightweight doors, but there is a chance you may come across a more solid wood pocket door that would require more manpower.
After following this guide, you may find yourself wanting to hire help to complete your pocket door project. Most local, independent contractors or handymen will be able to help you with this sort of task. Also, if you have questions about specific hardware, especially a unique hanging set for a door operating on a trolley system, a phone call to any hardware store should help answer your questions.
The practicality of pocket doors for small spaces is hard to beat. By following these few relatively easy steps, removing a pocket door is not too difficult of a task. Hopefully, this step-by-step helps you accomplish this simple DIY home project.