Cat Door

The strangest projects tend to be the most fun. Jas salvaged a cat door from another project and asked me to install it in an existing basement window opening. His criteria were a tight fit and easy removal.

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My basic frame for the cat door.

I measured the opening within 1/16 inch, then used 1×2 lumber to frame the world’s smallest stud wall. I added an extra stud to the left side to space out the door from an existing window latch. The cat door is shorter than the opening, so I installed it at the bottom of my frame, then closed the gap with a couple more pieces of 1×2. I had to pre-drill all my nail holes to avoid splitting the wood.

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In progress. (I wrote the cat’s name above the door for fun.)

A couple finishing touches help the cat door fit snugly in the opening. I used a chisel to carve out a space for that window latch on the left side. Then I ran the right side of the frame through a table saw several times to create a quarter-inch groove that accepts the tongue of the sliding glass window. Installation is easy – just slide the frame into the opening and pull the window tight against it. Sebastian should be pleased.

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Cat door installed in the sliding window.

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Lessons Learned

This story is a continuation of Fit and Trim. Go ahead and read that post if you haven’t already, then come on back.

Over the course of a week I spackled, sanded, and painted David’s door frames so they look good as new. Well, not quite. The frames look better now than when they were covered with dog claw marks, and David is pleased with them, but I would be embarrassed to offer this product to a paying client. Which leads me to two lessons I learned for future projects.

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Spackle fills unsightly gaps. Sanding makes the transition smoother.

Lesson 1: A seam is hard to hide. Plenty of things make it difficult to align trim pieces perfectly, including shim thickness and strength of the hammer on the finish nails. And David’s doorway trim has a fluted shape that makes the seam even harder to mask if adjacent pieces don’t line up perfectly.

I did the best I could to spackle over the location and then sand that spackle smooth, but the change in plane is still pretty obvious. This was a budget project. Next time I’ll insist on replacing the entire trim length.

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Close, but no cigar.

Lesson 2: Measure the doorway. The carpenter’s creed is “measure twice, cut once,” and I always do. But in this case there was kind of nothing to cut. I removed a piece of trim and installed an identical piece of trim – what could go wrong? As it turns out, a lot.

The master bedroom door is 30 inches wide, so the opening had better be just over 30 inches wide, top to bottom. Imagine my disgust when, after I spackled and sanded and painted three coats on the new trim, I reinstalled the door and couldn’t get it to close. I chiseled out the bottom hinge further, but the swinging door still hit the bottom trim rather than sliding in. Finally I measured the bottom of the doorway and discovered somehow I’d made the opening only 29¾ inches wide.

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The location I chiseled out for the hinge.

My repair wasn’t hard: pry off the trim, take out a spacer, nail the trim back on, MEASURE, spackle and sand and paint the edges again. David got some longer hinge screws to help seat the door, and now it closes tightly. But the ordeal took time, and time equals money, not to mention materials and customer satisfaction.

I’m a forever student of carpentry, and I’m grateful I got to learn some lessons while the stakes weren’t too high.

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Master bedroom door, properly closed and tenant ready.

Fit and Trim

David’s dogs did a number on the trim pieces around some doorways in his old house. The scratch marks were unsightly and he wanted to get rid of them before renters move in for the winter. I agreed to help him replace the trim.

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The damage.

Step 1 was to assess the damage. Determined they may be, but the dogs can only reach about three feet off the floor. I proposed to cut out just the lower, damaged portion of the trim, and then to spackle and paint over the joint after I installed a new piece. The partial replacement won’t be aesthetically perfect, but it saves a lot of time and material cost compared with replacing an entire length.

Step 2 was to remove the damaged trim. It looks like a single part, but the trim for one doorway actually consists of NINE pieces of wood! There are three lengths (left side, top, right side) with three faces each (facing outside the room, across the threshold, facing inside the room). The pieces are typically held to the wall’s structural frame using tiny finish nails, which are nearly invisible once a painter covers over them. I worked a cat’s paw behind the wood and pried the damaged areas out from the wall. Then I took a sawzall and cut out the damaged areas, careful not to nick the wall or the undamaged areas.

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Damaged trim removed from the doorway. I had to take the door off, too, for access.

Step 3 was to cut and install new trim. David brought the cut-out pieces to Allen Lumber and came home with stock lengths of trim having the same shape. Then I performed that familiar sequence: measure, cut, install. For each doorway I had to install the threshold piece first, since the outside and inside pieces sandwich the threshold piece in. I also needed to shim out each threshold piece from the jack stud anywhere from ½ inch to 1½ inches to match the width of the doorway.

One threshold piece presented an additional challenge: the door itself. I unscrewed the hinges from the trim and set the door aside. When I replaced the portion where the bottom hinge fits in, I needed to carve out a new niche for the hinge. There’s probably a tool out there that cuts perfect hinge niches, but I don’t have one, so I did the best I could with a hammer and chisel. The result was an indentation one sixteenth of an inch deep in the rounded-rectangle shape of the hinge.

But I haven’t reinstalled the door yet. I want to paint the new trim first, and before I paint it I need to spackle it smooth. That is a tale for another time.