Cutting a new doorway. Old House Remodeling:

Cutting A New Doorway
In A Non-Load-Bearing Wall

In This Article:

Old studs are cut short and new studs and header are installed. The wallboard is secured to the new studs and the opening is cut out.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 3 (Intermediate) Time Taken: About 2 Hours

By , Editor



While turning a second-floor apartment kitchen back into a bedroom, the owners of this century-old house decided to relocate the entrance to the room. When used as a kitchen it made sense to connect the room directly to the living room. But when used as a bedroom that close connection isn't so desirable.

Since there was a step down to get into the room, placing a door in the previous entryway would complicate matters, since a door should not open over a step. Furthermore the living room could benefit from a longer uninterrupted wall, which gave the homeowners more options for placing furniture.

The room after the plaster and lath had been removed.

The door opening on the right had been covered over by a previous owner. The other opening, covered with plastic, had been the entrance to this room.

Since the room was plenty big for a bedroom, (about 12' x 14') we decided to devote some space to closets. We chose to put a closet directly behind covered-over doorway, and build an adjacent closet for the bedroom.



The first step in cutting a new doorway is to lay out the location of the opening. These red lines indicate the approximate location of the new rough opening.

However, these marks are NOT the lines where the studs will be cut.

Since we were installing a 32 inch door, I laid out the opening to be 34 inches wide. The height of the opening was 82 inches above the sub-floor.

Location of new door opening.

I had to be careful when laying out the top of the opening. I couldn't simply measure 82 inches up from the floor because the floor wasn't level. I measured 82 inches up from the higher side of the opening, then marked the top line with a level.

The 82 inch height of a rough opening is a standard dimension for ordinary 6'-8" (or 80 inch) high doors. If a different door height was being used, I would obtain the height of the rough opening by simply adding 2 inches to the height of the actual door (not the height of the door plus the jamb).


This diagram should help explain the proper layout methods for framing a door opening in a non-load-bearing interior wall. This diagram shows a bottom plate, which many older houses lack. Consequently the new studs need to sit directly on the subfloor.

NOTE: This diagram shows a rough opening height of 82 inches. Beware that sometimes an 82 inch tall rough opening might not be enough, and the only thing worse than excess space above a door jamb is not enough room to install the door. Lately, I've been framing rough openings about 83 inches high, unless I have the pre-hung door in my hands and I know a shorter opening will work and still leave room to adjust the vertical position of the door jambs during installation.

MORE NOTES: The side jambs on some pre-hung doors can be as long as 81-3/4 inches, because the manufacturers often provide an inch or more of side jambs that extend below the bottom of the door. I understand that these jambs are made long so carpet can be installed after the doors are installed. The thickness of the finish flooring must be considered when framing a rough opening for an interior door. To be on the safe side, I suggest using an opening height of 83 inches.


Cutting Old Studs:

The old studs needed to be cut at the top edge of the header, which is 85 inches above the subfloor (82" rough opening height plus 3" for the double 2x4 header)

After I marked the new end points of the original studs, I cut them with a circular saw, which can only cut about 2½" deep.

To complete the cuts, I used a reciprocating saw with the blade mounted upside down.

Cutting old wall studs to frame a new door opening.


I put a metal-cutting blade in the reciprocating saw and reached behind the studs to cut the nails that held the lath to the studs.

This step wasn't entirely necessary, I just felt like doing it this way.


With the two studs removed, the new opening began to take shape. Wall structure after studs have been removed.



When cutting studs in a non-load-bearing partition, there is normally no need to support the structure above. If a stud is under any serious load, the reciprocating saw blade will be pinched as the cut is completed, and the saw will shake the operator instead of cutting the wood.

If there is any chance that a partition supports some load, the weight of the overhead structure needs to be supported by temporary bracing, and the loads need to be transferred all the way to the foundation, which may require additional bracing in rooms below.

For more information about supporting load-bearing walls, read this article about cutting a big opening.



Framing The New Structure:

To make the "header", I attached two pieces of 2x4 together using 3" deck screws.


Since I didn't have a helper at the time, I held the header in place with one of the old studs that was removed earlier.


Supporting a door header during construction. A closer view of the header.

Since this is a non-load-bearing interior wall, the header can be made from two 2x4's laying flat.


Got A Load?

A header in a load-bearing wall is usually made from a pair of 2-by boards standing on edge, with a plywood spacer to create the required overall thickness. Of course, the height of the header (i.e. 2x6, 2x8, 2x10 or 2x12) depends on many factors, such as length of the opening, floor loads overhead, roof loads, etc. Load-bearing headers are beyond the scope of this article... there are lots of books about framing carpentry that discuss this topic.


I installed the trimmer stud on the left side, but to conserve space I used a 1x4 instead of a 2x4. You can't do this on a load bearing wall.

I placed the trimmer stud in position on the right-hand side... it's not fastened yet.


Wall framing for a new door opening in an existing wall. I added a king stud (full length stud) beside the trimmer stud, and screwed them together.


To fasten the header boards to the studs, I drove 3" deck screws through the ends on an angle. This is just like toe-nailing... I guess it could be called toe-screwing... but that sounds kinda weird.

I pre-drilled the holes for these screws to prevent the wood from splitting too much.


After I made sure the new studs were plumb, I secured them to the structure by driving 3" deck screws on an angle into the sub-floor.


Cutting The Opening:

To transfer the corner points to the other side of the wall, we drilled through at the corners and at a few points along the sides of the opening.

But...old plaster often has sand in it, so drilling through plaster can ruin drill bits. I used a carbide-tipped masonry drill bit.


Fastening existing wallboard to new framing before cutting opening. On the other side of the wall, we drew some lines to indicate the approximate location of the new opening.

Then we secured the wall surface to the new studs with drywall screws. This must be done before cutting the opening, or else the plaster will crumble.

This wall consists of drywall over plaster with a layer of paneling added just to irritate us. We used 2" drywall screws to make sure they would reach into the framing.


Using the stud edge as a guide, we carefully cut the plaster with a reciprocating saw and a long wood-cutting blade.

There are carbide-coated blades for cutting plaster, but the one I have isn't long enough to cut from the back side using the stud as a guide. This blade got dull quickly and I had to throw it away when we were done.

The other alternative is cutting from the front side, but it's very difficult to keep the cut close to the studs. And cutting from the front side would create more sawdust, and we were trying to minimize dust in this project.

Cutting new door rough opening with a Sawzall.


The last cut we made was the center section of the top. This prevents the panel from swinging away like a hinge.

We carefully lowered the cut-off piece down to the floor, then broke up the plaster and drywall.


After the new opening was cut out, we covered it with a sheet of plastic.

There are two doorways visible here... the doorway on the left will become the entrance to a hall closet. This doorway required some special attention because the old studs were leaning quite badly.


Faming Another Opening -
A Closet Door:

Years ago somebody had simply chopped off the studs to frame a new doorway. This wasn't even the original entrance to the room... there was another old doorway visible elsewhere.

So we had to work with these cropped-off old studs (red arrow). We couldn't remove them all because the old lath is nailed to them.


The lower section of the same stud. We had to use spacers of  varying thickness to get the king stud perfectly plumb.

In the top picture you can see a 3/4 inch thick spacer, and in this picture there is 1½" spacer (a block of 2x4) with another thin piece of plywood. This is so typical of old house remodeling.

And that isn't the end of the hassles. The old studs were between 3¾" and 3-7/8" thick, and new studs are normally 3½" thick, so either the old studs had to be planed down, or the new studs built up with a layer of thin plywood so the drywall would have a uniform nailing surface.

In this closet, we chose to plane down the old studs because there wasn't much total area to remove. I think we simply used a chisel.

For the other side of the door opening, we attached the trimmer stud to the king stud with a bunch of 3" deck screws.


The trimmer/king stud combo was installed adjacent to the studs for the first opening. We also replaced one of those cropped-off studs over the closet door, because we installed a short piece of top plate... because 8-foot long studs were just a bit too short to reach. The hassles never end!

Note how the old studs protrude beyond the face of the new studs.


After the closet door opening was framed, we built a short partition from 2x4's and tilted it into place.

The width of the wall between the two doorways is important, because if that narrow section of wall is too skinny, it will be difficult to install the trim around the doors.

As we were framing this, we knew that the door casings were going to be either 3½" or 4" wide, a bit wider than the standard 2¼" casing.


Old House Remedy -
Making New Studs Thicker:

When all the framing was done, we went back and added a spacer of 3/8" plywood (arrows) on the face of the new studs.


We used 1½" 18 gauge staples to fasten the filler strips, because it's fast. Of course, the filler strips can also be nailed by hand with small framing nails.



This is a photo of the same doorway when the remodeling project was almost done.

Don't ask about the color... I didn't choose it.


The door after completion of the project.

The casing on the left side of the door had to be ripped narrower, yet it doesn't stand out. If we hadn't left enough distance between the doorway and the partition, this casing could have looked really dumb.

New door after installation in existing wall.

We had just over 2 inches of wall between the corner and the door rough opening. After the door was installed, the jamb gave us slightly more than a half inch of additional surface to cover with the casing, so the 3½" fluted casing only needed to be ripped to about 2¾ inches.


Tools Used:

  • Cordless Drill/Driver
  • Basic Carpentry Tools
  • 4' Level

  • Miter Saw
  • Reciprocating Saw
  • Circular Saw
  • Pneumatic Stapler

Materials Used:

  • Lumber, 2x4x8'
  • Plywood Scraps
  • 3" Deck Screws
  • 2" Drywall Screws

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Written July 31, 2006