How to Frame for a New Exterior Door

Whether you're remodeling your home or just want an additional entry, we'll show you the easiest way to frame for a new exterior door.

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If you're looking to add a new exterior door to your home, you've come to the right place. We'll walk you through the entire process—from cutting through drywall to making the frame. Expect to spend a full day on this project, and make sure you're comfortable removing wall materials, cutting lumber, and building a wall framing.

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What You Need

  • Tape measure
  • Stud finder
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • Framing square
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Flat pry bar
  • Hand drywall saw
  • Circular saw
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Framing lumber (either 2x4 or 2x6)
  • Header lumber (2x6 or larger, plus 1/2-inch plywood)
  • 3-inch screws
  • 16d and 12d nails

Editor's Tip: When picking lumber sizes, consider the door size. A 2x6 header is strong enough for a 3-foot-wide door opening. If you are cutting a larger opening (as for a patio door), install temporary supports and use larger lumber. You may choose to use an existing wall stud as a king stud, in which case you can cut the opening 1-1/2 inches inside that stud and slip a jack stud into the wall. After framing the opening the bottom plate will be cut and removed.

Before You Begin: Examine the Situation

Once you've determined the location for a new entry door, check for obstacles in the wall. Often a quick look from the basement or crawlspace will tell you what's hidden inside the wall above. But expect the unexpected when cutting into a wall and work carefully to avoid damaging utility lines.

Water pipes or electrical cables can often be moved without a great deal of difficulty, but check with a plumber or electrician first. Drainpipes and heating or air-conditioning ducts are difficult to move; if one is in the way, you may have to relocate the doorway.

Also determine what sort of stairway you will need outside. By looking at an existing door's bottom in relation to the house's siding, you can tell how high the stairway will need to be. Consult manufacturer's instructions for the correct width and height of the rough opening you will frame. The method shown here minimizes drywall work.

Bonus: How to Install a Storm Door

Step 1: Plan the Opening

Use a stud finder to determine the locations of your studs and plan the opening. Use a level to draw lines for the final rough opening and check for square, plumb, and level. Draw lines 1-1/2 inches outside these from floor to ceiling. Cut out and remove the drywall.

Step 2: Cut Through

Use a circular saw, then a reciprocating saw, to cut through each exposed stud in two places. If you are confident of your measuring and cutting skills, you can cut the bottom of these studs to serve as the bottom of the cripples, but they must be cut straight and square.

Step 3: Pry and Mark

Pry away the studs and pull them off the bottom plate. For safety while you work, pound exposed nails out of the exterior wall or bend them. Then, mark the locations of king and jack studs. Studs are 1-1/2 inches thick. Check that the distance between the jack studs equals the width of the rough opening.

Step 4: Assemble Main Studs

Assemble a king-and-jack-stud combination. Cut the jack stud to the height of the rough opening, minus 1-1/2 inches (to allow for the thickness of the bottom plate). Cut the king stud to reach from the bottom plate to the top plate. Place the jack stud on top of the king stud and nail or screw the pieces together.

Step 5: Attach Studs

Tap the king-and-jack combination into position and use a level to check that it is plumb. Place the jack stud about 1/4 inch inside the layout line (it will move over when you drive the fastener).

Step 6: Secure Studs

Angle-drive nails or screws to attach the studs to the bottom plate. Also angle-drive fasteners down through the faces of the studs. Attach them to the top plate the same way. If you will use an existing stud as a king stud, cut a jack stud and attach it to the existing stud. Carefully align the front edge of the jack stud with the front edge of the existing stud.

Step 7: Construct Header

To construct a header, cut two pieces of 2x6 (or larger) to the width of the rough opening, plus 3 inches (to allow for the thickness of the two jack studs). Cut 1/2-inch plywood spacers. Working on the floor, stack the pieces with the crowns facing the same direction (see next step) and use a square to make sure they are aligned. Fasten the pieces by driving two 3-inch screws or 16d nails every 8 inches or so.

Step 8: Determine Crown

Sight along the header to determine its crown, where it bulges upward in the middle. Place the header, crown side up, on top of the jack studs. You may need to tap the header into place.

Step 9: Attach Header

Attach the header with angle-driven screws or nails. If you have removed a wide section of drywall, you can instead drive fasteners through the outside face of the king studs.

Step 10: Check Angles

Check that the opening is square, level, and plumb. It need not be perfect, but it should be pretty close. If you have doubts set the door temporarily in place to make sure it will fit. If the opening is not square, you may be able to remove fasteners at the top and move the king studs over.

Step 11: Cut Cripple Studs

Cut short cripple studs to fit between the header and the top plate. Tap them in where the old studs used to be. Drill pilot holes (short pieces like this are prone to splitting) and attach with angle-driven screws or nails. Then, use a reciprocating saw to cut the bottom plate straight down to the floor. Pry the plate out. 

Step 12: Drill Through Siding

Drill 1-inch holes through the siding at each corner. Slip a reciprocating saw blade into a hole and cut through the siding, using the jack studs and header as guides. (If you have stucco siding, first cut away the stucco.

Step 13: Dispose of Siding

Have a helper or two catch the siding and sheathing section as it falls. Cut the section into disposable pieces and cart it away to the trash.

Bonus: How to Work with Balloon Framing

Most homes have platform framing, with studs that span between a bottom and top plate. Some older homes have balloon framing, in which the studs travel up through the floor and the ceiling, with no plates. If you have balloon framing, you will need to cut the studs to the height of the floor joists (that is, the bottom of the subflooring). Also cut and install short cripple studs for each side and cut a piece of subflooring to fit.

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