I need weird sliding fancy doors.
September 9, 2005 3:40 PM   Subscribe

Ignoramus DIYer wants sliding, hanging, swinging homemade translucent doors!

I've been obsessed with this project for months, but don't even know where to start.

My apartment is basically a floor-through, and I'd like to divide it up more. Due to awkward configuration, installing regular doors in the archways on butler/kitchen hinges, or a regularly hinged door in the one central doorway, would just be weird and wrong. So what I'd really like to make -- or, really, what I'd like to buy in parts and then install -- are plexiglass or metal-sheet doors that hang from a track. It hangs; it slides forward to cover the door opening, it slides back to hang against the wall. Should be easy: a 4 by 8 foot sheet of plexi, attached to an overhead rail, etc. (It gets a little more complicated with the larger double-door archway openings; I've been figuring I'd do one door on opposite sides of the same wall, and they'd overlap a bit but with a gap "between" the two doors?)

But: how stable is it to drill and screw into plexi, without it cracking? If I buy sheets of quarter-inch or half-inch plexi, do I need to drill into them with something special? And what kind of track mechanism can I get? How, DIY-ers, would I even conceptually think through a project like this? It's just a teeny bit beyond me.

Also, there are a couple rooms that have windows between the rooms -- the kitchen has an old pass-through window to the dining room and the bedroom has a window into the living room. (Yes, it's weird in here.) I'd like to make a sort of window that closes to "cover" the space from one side and swings out to "open," made of plexiglass and hinges. Can plexi screwed to hinges handle the wear and tear of movement? Have you seen anything like this? I've been offhandedly Googling for months, and haven't seen anything at all--any thoughts really appreciated.
posted by RJ Reynolds to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
I think what you want is here. Half inch plexi will be very heavy, be warned. You probably want 1/4 or slightly thicker. Drilling shouldn't be a big issue, you can probably do it w/ a standard high speed drill bit and a regular drill. You could consider getting some metal sleeves (or sleeve washers) for your holes to take some of the wear and tear off the plexi itself. Check out the bits and bobs section of your local hardware store (go to a big box store if you can't find it at true value).

Plexi should be able to take being screwed to hinges. You could consider gluing some wood to either side of where you want to drill your holes if you're worried about wear and tear. In fact, if you're very concerned, drill the plexi bigger, then glue and drill wood with a smaller hole and the plexi will never even see the bolt.

Hope that makes sense!
posted by daver at 3:57 PM on September 9, 2005

Best answer: Speaking as someone who was in this exact same situation two years ago, and is sitting next to a pair of what you're talking about, I'd say don't do it unless you've got a lot of money and can pay for expensive stuff (or you are just really looking for a big project and have the time). Here's some tips anyhow:

  • Quarter inch plexi is going to be super heavy, way too heavy for those home depot slidey door kits. You're going to need a track on the floor, which may kill the project. All the wall/door plexi in my house is 1/8".
  • 1/8" Plexi is very fragile. You can definitely drill it, but if there's any load/stress on the holes, they will crack. Get a scrap piece to get a feel for it. Drilling through plastic is also weird cause of the melt/burn issues with the speed. Cutting it is a whole other matter. Try to get the plexi pre-cut to size. Doing something like cutting out a two inch hole for a pipe or a handle is a nightmare.
  • 1/8" plexi has no structural integrity. It will wave in the breeze like a sheet. You may need to build some sort of a frame.
  • For some reason "smoked" or otherwise abraded plexiglass costs like 2x more than clear plexi. One way to deal with this is to get an orbital sander and go to town on it, both sides. This is very time-consuming and messy, however.


They sell kits for the sliding overlap time doors and sliding-hinge-in-the-middle type doors and they are cheap. These kits come with a bunch of limits written on the side regarding weight and clearances that you'll think are totally fungible. They are not totally fungible. This will probably have significant impact whether you go thin+frame or thick+no frame. Again, plexiglass is really heavy. In general, though, I'd say get one of these set ups. Way easier than cobbling together a bunch of random parts, and possibly cheaper. The only limit is that they are not very burly.

Door Frames

If you decide you're going to go 1/8" plexi and that you need a frame, well, I'm going to take you at your word and assume you really are an ignoramus DIYer. If so, building a perfect rectangle 8 feet long and however wide is way harder than it sounds, especially if you don't have good tools. First of all, you may be tempted to use extremely thin dimensional for stylistic reasons, which makes drilling and strengthening with screws a real problem. Next, the wood won't be straight from the store. Not straight enough for the scale you are talking about, anyway. So then you get into ways to force it square, but there's the fundamental rule that a rectangle is an unstable shape. It wants to buckle. Beyond that, the combination of door movement and frame-non-squareness is going to cause the plexiglass to pull on its screws somewhere in the whole deal, and by virtue of plexi's brittleness, those screws won't be very tight, so they may pull out, causing the whole thing to look assy. I started to realize after doing this and a couple other home-made door and plexiglass wall projects that normal construction methods are more or less expressly designed to deal with the fact that your skills and the materials involved introduce error at every step of the process, so they cover it. Put studs all one way, no one cares how bendy they are, because they are going to be covered with sheetrock. Sheetrock doesn't fit quite right at the top, doesn't matter cause it will be taped and spackled and sanded, and so on. Building a hanging, sliding door, that's huge, out of plexiglass is the opposite: it magnifies the errors you bring in at every step. So you have one little corner thats kind of weak and it explodes five steps later.

In conclusion, my take on it now is that there's a reason that these things are expensive when they are premade (premade in your size means you'd have to custom order them). So I'd say unless you have a lot of free time and just think its fun to work on, it doesn't make sense to do unless you can hire someone to do it well or to buy the already-made doors.
posted by jeb at 4:21 PM on September 9, 2005

Response by poster: I've never been so thoroughly and utterly and quickly scared off a project in my life. My God! Sounds like I better devote my time to something simpler... like building a car. Thanks!!!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:13 PM on September 9, 2005

you may want to post your question in apartmenttherapy.com . Interior design folks over there have lot of creative ideas about getting jobs like these done in different ways including sources for buying things ready made.

Sometimes you just need to look at things differently than the traditional ways and you can end up with interesting results.

My 0.02 advice would be not to get scared away. You might enjoy the process actually. I am somebody who enjoys projects like these. They take me forever to finish. But it is still fun. :-)
posted by flyby22 at 6:43 PM on September 9, 2005

Why don't you do just the swinging hinged panel and see how you like working with the material? I would say your project is doable. It's just that it's not a quick half a day project.

There exists "U" shaped aluminum chanel that is sold in hardware stores as plywood edging. It you can locate some it would make a pleasant, handsome reinforcement for three sides of your panel, assuming you're thinking square.

Try looking at some "piano hinge" type hinge for the hinged side. A piano type hinge will run the full length of the hinged side which means you can transfer the weight and stress all along the entire hinged side, not just at one or two points. On the other face across from the hinge run a strip of metal or wood all along paralell to the hinge. Fasteners will go into the hinge, through the plastic, and fasten to the strip on the other face. Now you can tighten down your fasteners and the strip will act as a giant washer, distribute the pressure along the whole side of the material.

I've worked with plexi. Feel free to write me off line if you care to. kenmce(at)spamcop(dot)net
posted by Ken McE at 7:13 PM on September 9, 2005

Response by poster: Oo! Piano hinges! That's what those things are called. Ahhh, excellent. Okay, I've gotten over the shock and I've steeled myself to soldier on....
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:51 PM on September 9, 2005

Armor all is the coolant for drilling and sawing plexi,
posted by hortense at 8:55 PM on September 9, 2005

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