This Old House master carpenter Norm Abram shows how easy it is to reuse and modify an old closet door to fit the door opening to a master bedroom.

Do you have an old door that’s in great shape and want to reuse it for another door opening rather than throw it away? Not only can retrofitting and transforming an old door save you lots of money, but it’s also a relatively easy DIY project that doesn’t require a lot of skill—although it does take patience.

According to international code standards, interior doors (the ones that allow passage from one room to another) are required to be at least 80” in height and 32” wide. To make your doorway accessible, a 36” door is ideal. Closet doors, on the other hand, do not have the same code requirements and come in a range of sizes.

Because doors come in different sizes, the door may need to be trimmed or modified to fit the opening. And while this DIY can mostly be completed by one person, it’s handy to have another person help hang the door when it comes to the install.

Steps for Repurposing an Old Door:

In this video, Newton homeowners Joe and Liz hope to save as much as they can from the old house. They also want to pitch in to help keep construction costs down. Kevin O’Connor finds Joe helping Norm Abram install an old closet door in the new master bedroom entry, but first, the door needs to be trimmed down. Then, Norm shows Joe how to re-mortise for the new hinges with a chisel. They screw in the hinges and install the door.

Here are the steps they follow:

Step 1: Fit an old door in a new opening

  • Place the old door in the new opening and check for tightness and even spacing around the edges, paying close attention to the top where the door frame meets the jam.
  • To make the top of the door level with the jam, measure and mark the distance from the bottom of the jam to a place on the door with a tape measure. Here, Norm measured ¾” from the top.
  • Using a circular saw, trim the top of the door to create an even edge. FYI: It’s better to have a smaller gap at the top of the door rather than the bottom as a larger gap at the bottom of the door is less noticeable.
  • Place the newly cut door in the opening to check the spacing and the fit.

Safety Note: When cutting an old door, use respirators to avoid inhaling harmful toxins and dust like lead paint.

Step 2: Installing new hardware on an old door

Note: If the swing of the door changes, you’ll need to re-mortise new hinges.

  • Fill in the space left by the old hinges with a wood patch, called a “Dutchman.”
  • To position the new hinges, measure a ¼” margin with a combination square and mark the edge with the pencil.
  • Center the new hinge over the wood patch, lining up the edge of the hinge along the new margin line. Score the top and bottom of the hinge with a utility knife.
  • While a jig or a router would work, Norm uses a wood chisel and hammer to tap into the scored utility lines, setting the parameters of the new mortise.
  • Using the same technique that was used to set the parameters, tap across the margin line where the edge of the hinge will go.
  • Make a series of cuts, about ¼” apart, inside the mortises’ parameters. Use the same consistent taps along the way to make the depth of the cuts consistent and easier to remove.
  • With the wood chisel, carve out the cuts.
  • Place the new hinge into the new mortise space to check the depth—it should be flush with the wood edge.
  • Attach the new hinge with screws—favoring the inside portion of the screw holes to keep the hinge nice and tight.

Step 3: Installing the new (old) door:

  • Place the door in the door opening.
  • Shim the bottom of the door to raise and hold it for the right spacing at the top of the door.
  • Mark the location (top and bottom) of the hinges on the door jam with a utility knife.
  • Remove the door from the space.
  • Repeat the mortise steps from above on the door jam for the hinges.
  • Screw the hinges on the door jam.
  • Guide the door onto the hinges. Once hung, check the open and closing function as well as the spacing around the edges.

With just a little bit of patience and time (and the tools you most likely already have at home), reusing an old door in your home will not only save you money, but it also means one less item in the landfill.


Tools Needed:

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