Setting Commercial Doors

Advice for experienced residential carpenters on working with steel door frames and hardware on commercial jobs. March 26, 2010

I have set many knock-down steel jamb doors. This is the type where the two legs and the header are separate parts. I'm facing setting steel slab-jambs. This is the type of jamb where the legs and header are all one piece. They are fastened by 3 lag bolts in each leg. I've usually seen these set prior to building the partitions around them. They are usually tack welded to the steel structure temporarily.

Several of the exterior doors for my project are slab-jambs. The exterior walls are approximately 12" masonry with a PT 2x8 shot in around the RO. The inside dimension of the RO is approximately 1/4-1/2" larger than the outside dimension of my slab-jambs. This leaves no framing inside the pocket of the jamb leg?!

I can see that snugging the top 2 lags will lock the jamb in place as the lags pull against each other. That works... Snugging the other 4 lags will keep the bottom of the jamb legs from closing up. That works... But there is nothing tight behind the jamb to keep the jamb legs from spreading, especially under the weight of the open door?

I know I've seen door jambs flopping around in doctor's offices, but I can't see leaving a door this poorly set. I was thinking about recreating the clips that you get with knock-down jambs. The clips slide behind the jamb leg and allow you to fasten the legs to the jacks. I thought typical framing hurricane straps might work great. Any other ideas?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From Gary Katz, forum technical advisor:
What's the thickness of the jamb - finished dimension from face of jamb to face of jamb? What's the interior and exterior finish on the masonry? Other than that, the only issues I see are hardware related. Is that jamb prepped for surface mounting... Is it drilled and dimpled or countersunk on the stop?

From contributor J:
The steel frames you are talking about are common in commercial work. They normally are set, blocked, shimmed, etc. and then the inside of the frame is grouted solid to the masonry. I would be very surprised if your specs don't call for grouting. It is very messy, time consuming and a pain in the butt.

From contributor R:
It's been awhile since I did a commercial job with those doors. And when I came onto that job the frames were already in. The super told me that they had set the frames and then poured concrete down inside to fill the space between the jamb and the frame. My job was to case them with 1x4 like the other doors in the building that had standard wood jambs. They had blueboarded and plastered up to the jamb edges. I don't know if the concrete is a standard part of the install or something that the super came up with on his own. All I know is it worked for the jamb and made my life real tough.

From Gary Katz, forum technical advisor:
We set drilled and dimpled hollow metal frames in masonry walls all the time. It's extremely common. Using just a rotohammer, a few cedar shims, and expansion bolts. Finishing with an adhesive sealant. But I've never seen it done with wood bucks. I'd need to know exact dimensions of things in order to understand the situation.

From contributor D:
I've seen dimpled used as described on wood framed warehouse buildings. The detail showed a 2x6 wall with the frame set to the inside with drywall tucking into the inside throat. The outside detail showed brake metal wrapping the corner of the wall and tucking under the casing and a caulked joint. Each frame was supplied with the requisite 6 sleeve anchors which were useless in that application. I found some drywall clips, bent them around the wood studs on the inside and nailed them flat on the outside. After the drywaller came by and boarded the inside, I came back, checked it for plumb, level and alignment, then shimmed the outside and ran some appropriately large screws into the dimpled holes.

Sometimes you have to think creatively. Look at the drawings, consider the intent of the design, then regardless of what was supplied, draw from your experience and find a way to fasten the sucker. Small commercial jobs often don't get the detailed thinking regarding fastening frames that big jobs do. Half the time the suppliers send the wrong fasteners or the wrong frame types and you're stuck drilling the holes in the frames or welding the frames to steel bucks.

From the original questioner:
I appreciate all your responses! I didn't end up having to set these doors. A different lead carpenter/crew got sent to this job. I passed these ideas along to them. Even though I didn't have to do it, I always want to figure out situations that I haven't run into before.

From contributor Z:
Can someone help me? I am a master trim carpenter. I have been in the carpentry business since 1984. Throughout the years, I have installed thousands of kitchen cabinets, including interior and exterior door installation, base, crown molding, wainscoting, custom staircases, etc. I do not have any problems measuring and pricing any job in this area.

Last year, I finished a very complex trim job for a guy who happened to be a major general contractor who moved from New Jersey to Texas. He was pleased with my work and asked me if I had done any commercial work. I replied, "No." He told that if I wanted to give it a try I should submit a bid for installing commercial doors and hardware.

The door install and hardware are for a new hospital being built here in Texas. I believe this is out of my comfort zone. I have never installed commercial doors. I have no idea how to price for door and hardware installation labor. Nevertheless, I cannot let this potential opportunity go without at least getting some info from the commercial door installer pros out there. Right now, work is very scarce here in Texas. Can someone help me with pricing and installation tips? How different is it to install commercial doors from residential doors, besides the obvious (weight difference)? Do I need special tools? Manpower should not be a problem. Should I just let it go, or should I give it a try?

From Gary Katz, forum technical advisor:
"Never, never give up!"
- Winston Churchill

Go for it. You can't learn unless you do it. Bid the job by estimating how many doors you can install in one hour or one day and applying your day rate to that amount. That's how we started our business almost thirty years ago. We still use the same work-around whenever we get into a pinch with something we're not familiar with.

Let me know what type of door and jamb the job is using, though it really doesn't matter that much. A Timely metal jamb (light steel) or Western Integrated jamb (aluminum) take about the same amount of time. There are some good tricks. We use a hollow core 3/0 door with holes cut in it top and bottom to make it lighter, and a level screwed to the middle so we can stick it in the jamb, plumb the legs, and screw off the head and legs without the doors even on the job. About 20 minutes at the most per opening. Most of our jobs, the doors come pre-finished and we install them later.

If the doors come unfinished, we stand them on edge with the mortises sticking up and mount all the hinges at once, while foot-soldiers haul the doors off to openings using drywall carts or door dollies (get a door dolly!).

Hanging the doors alone is easy - one man can tip the door up to the hinge mortise and screw off the top hinge, then push the door plumb with a foot and get the other hinges.

I think if you figure 15 doors/day for two guys you'll be fine. But you could easily install a lot more. I've had many 30 door days with a helper. That doesn't include the hardware. We install the doors first, then go back with a hardware cart and do the locks and closers, etc. If the contractor is friendly, maybe you could do it time and material?

From contributor D:
You are going to see a lot of hardware you aren't familiar with and there is quite a learning curve to that. You'll get a hardware schedule along with the plans, which are the primary documents you use to determine which bit goes where. You will get a master copy of the schedule and a packing slip copy with delivery status with every hardware delivery. There is a lot of lead time on door hardware and a lot of the hardware they use in the hospital is very specialized, so it comes in dribs and drabs, which can be a major pain.

You will also have to coordinate with the guys who install electronic operators and the alarm guys/electricians and receive and distribute hardware for them.

Usually managing the hardware room on a hospital job is a full time job for one guy, and not many guys are good at it. The hardware supplier can either make your job easy or hell on earth. Single pieces of hardware can cost thousands of dollars, so you have to stay on top of things and track exactly what goes in and out of the job (i.e. carefully checking through each shipment as you receive it and not letting guys pull their own hardware).

I once got blamed for losing a package of 4 x $450 SS continuous hinges. The GC's laborer received and signed for the package and said he left it in my hardware room. All the paperwork pointed to the package being on site. I was at the hardware supplier's loading dock picking up stuff for another job when I found the package in a corner on the dock. They had reordered the hinges and I was going to be back charged. That's just one incident. You are going to get to know the project coordinator and hardware consultant on the job very well.

All I am saying is be aware of what you are getting into. Unlike residential, even butt hinges aren't interchangeable even if they're the same size. With all the electrified hardware in hospitals these days, you have to look out for more than lightweight/heavyweight/NRP. A lot of hinges are current transfers now.

If you feel up to the job or have someone who will manage the job for you, give it a try but be careful what you get yourself into. A hospital door installation is a very difficult start to commercial door hardware.

Another thing to consider is that unlike other occupancies, the door installation is interlocked with the smoke detection/fire alarms and the key component in fire separations and to getting an occupancy certificate. Modern hospitals have negative air pressure in the rooms and positive air pressure in the corridors, which can be a real pain getting closers adjusted for and doors to latch. It's definitely not the best place to start installing commercial doors.

From Gary Katz, forum technical advisor:
Contributor D is absolutely right about the hardware. If the hardware supplier is tight and knows the business, they'll ship all the doors, jambs, and associated hardware to the job labeled for each door opening. When we bid labor and material, we break down the hardware and label it exactly that way, even the hinges and door stops. When we bid labor only, we specify that all the material must be delivered to the job in a timely manner and labeled for each door opening.

Your plans and the door/hardware schedule are the code for deciphering the job, but the door/hardware supplier should be working with you.

I've found that commercial work, especially a large job, is a good place to learn because there is so much repetitive work. Once you figure out how to install the smoke hold-opens, or the panic hardware, there's going to be another dozen pairs of the same thing and you'll pick up the pace and the profit as you move along.

I usually get our crew organized and busy doing relatively simple but hugely repetitive work, then tackle something out of the ordinary and difficult with another experienced carpenter.

From contributor Z:
I really appreciate the info. Thank you. I hope I can return the favor someday.