Quarantine Day 56: A DIY Project Mushrooms

sliding glass doors
Four panel sliding glass doors.

We’re eight weeks into our stay-home period so to console ourselves, and to support a local restaurant, we got take out for only the second time.  We ordered online, drove to the restaurant, and they came out and stuck it in our car.  The restaurant itself is not letting anyone in, but they had a cash register outside so you could walk up and order. 

The takeout is pretty damn good.  Clearly, we’re going to have to do this again.

A Project Mushrooms

You know how a small project can sometimes mushroom into a huge one?  We’ll, that’s what happened today.  (Sorry to get your hopes up If you were thinking this was about mushrooms.)

Our house has sliding glass doors from Andersen Windows.  There are four panels of glass, the outside ones are fixed, and the inside two are the ones that slide.  These doors were made in 1988 and over the course of their life, they kept getting harder and harder to slide open.  It had gotten to the point that my wife was unable to open the door on the left and had to always use the other, whcih also took some tugging.

So we do some Googling and determine that the rollers inside the door probably need to be replaced.  We browse their web site and talk to the nice customer services folks at Andersen, and they sell us the replacement rollers and point us to a video on how to remove your door and replace the rollers. Looks easy!  A week or so later, the spare parts arrive and we decide today is the day.  I’m going to be doing the work, but my wife needs to be there to help removing the doors, which are heavy and unwieldly.

First step is to remove a piece of molding that is screwed in with a dozen screws and bonded into place with 30 years’ worth of paint and caulk.  No problem, that’s what they make utility knives for; I cut, peel, and slice through the paint and then unscrew the screws and with very little additional effort, and the molding comes off, just like it is supposed to.  We set it aside.

A Bump in the Road

The next step is to tilt the door out and lift it from the track.  This is the first serious complication: The door cannot be tilted out because whoever installed it 30 years ago put on molding that hang down so far that the door bumps into it.  To remove the door, we have to remove the molding.   That’s 12-feet of molding, which probably has 24 or more nails holding it in place. 

I picture the damage that I might cause by prying 24 nails out of the molding and it is not a pretty picture.  I wonder if I could gently push or pry the molding away from inside the door frame, but there’s really only a quarter of an inch to work with, and I can see doing irreparable damage.

After some head scratching and some appropriate use of the F-word, we go in from above the molding, where any damage will (hopefully) be out of sight, and slid down behind the molding to cut the nails off and free the molding from the wall.  We successfully remove about two thirds of the nails, which are sufficient to allow us to lift the molding out of the way and remove the door on the right.  Progress – Whew!

Following the helpful video directions, we lie the door on our sawhorses and pop out the two old rollers and insert the new ones.  It’s not quite as fast in real life as it is on the video, but we manage.  One of the old rollers was totally locked up and would not roll at all, so we are hopeful this is indeed the root of our problem.  In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about this project as we carefully insert the door back into place and test it out.

It rolls a little better than it did before.  Maybe.  We think. Maybe not. Huh.

Things Get Worse

Further investigation ensues — which includes measuring, head scratching, and looking for spots that rub — until we determine that the primary reason the doors are difficult to open is that the header over the door way has drooped in the middle, and the door way is so tight that the original doors are too tall to fit unless you jam them in there.

I picture the need for a 20 ton jack to lift the header.  Hopefully they used a 12×2 or something strong, but who really knows?  I don’t want to actually have to remove any drywall and look back there.

We take the easy way out and shave the door a couple 16ths of an inch.  Better, but not perfect.  We shave off another 32nd, and it rolls like it was brand new.  Whew! 

We’re feeling good.  We know what we’re up against now, and we go for door #2.  Only problem is, we can’t get the left-hand door out of the track.  It’s wedged in there pretty tight.  In fact, we note that the door has actually bowed inward over time due to the pressure from above.

One Down, One to Go

Once again, I picture the need for that jack.  I also make a note never to install a sliding glass door in a 12-foot hole in the wall unless I have a good steel beam as my header, and maybe not even then.  Later, I realize that this is why most houses that need that much doorway have two separate doors next to each other with a load-bearing pillar in between them.  I curse the original builder, who is lucky we don’t know his name.

With some careful prying and (ahem) application of force, we manage to free the door without any visible damage. 

We are now experts at replacing rollers, so we zip through that at a speed that approaches the pros in the video.  We set the Makita planer on the top of the door and plane off 5/32nds.  The door still doesn’t fit.  We plane off another 16th of an inch.  The door fits, but doesn’t slide well.  We plane and fit again and end up taking off more than a quarter of an inch all together, which not only allows the door to slide, but should do so even if the door frame settles a bit more.


Reassembly goes smoothly.  The molding all fits back into place.  We carefully drive new finishing nails without denting the molding.  We caulk and we agree that it looks pretty good.  The only thing we didn’t do was paint, and it will need a touch up.  But this one-hour job took all afternoon, so painting will have to wait.  Assuming the old paint I have stored in the basement is usable, of course.  But that’s a story for another day.

More work than we bargained for, but at the end of the day, we felt like we had accomplished something. And you know, after 56 days of not leaving the property, that was a good feeling.

If you want to join us as we experience quarantine, feel free to read our earlier diary entries.