Adding Windows and Doors to Your Wooden Backyard Shed

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Finish your shed with a sliding window.
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Doors take a rough beating. Build with sturdy wood.

See “How to Build a Shed Step by Step” if you are starting from the beginning.

So summer has passed (along with your sunburn), you’ve
recuperated from building your shed with last issue’s
plans, and you’re rarin’ to install those doors and
windows. Or perhaps you’re looking to replace the ones on
your barn or other wooden-frame building. Good news: The
plan below can save you from $100 to $600.

The door is the sort you see in photos of pioneer
cabins–made of vertical wood planks held together by
a boxed Z-brace. The window, a glazed sash or solid
shutter, slides in a simple frame. Both are made with
straight cuts in stock materials and are surface-mounted;
neither requires precision carpentry. Although they can be
fastened with nails, self-tapping deck screws installed
with a power driver are easier to use and can be removed if

The Rough Opening

Doors and windows fit into a rough opening designed in (or
sawed through) wall sheathing and the vertical frame
members, or studs, that support it. A 15″ window will fit
between conventional studs placed with centers 16″ apart,
and a 30″ door or window will fill the space left after
removing one.

If you’re only interested in building a door for people to
enter and exit through, your door can be as narrow as 24″;
however you’re better off with an opening that’s 30″ to 33″
wide, and larger if you’re planning to admit a walking
tractor or garden cart. Make double doors for an opening
wider than 36″ and up to 60″ across. The door should be
high enough so you can get through without knocking your
hat off (6′ 8″ is the most common house door height, but 6′
4″ is ample for most people).

The structural support provided by studs removed for the
rough is replaced by a header of two sandwiched 2 x 4s or 2
x 6 boards. These are placed on edge above the opening,
which is supported by posts of paired 2 x 4s at each side.
When cutting, make sure you won’t be severing corner posts
or studs that support a horizontal carrying beam for the
roof or an upper story. If in doubt, call in a pro to
advise whether you should install A-frame supports. If wall
is sheathed inside and studs are hidden, use a magnetic
needle to locate the vertical nail line. If possible, use
existing studs to frame the door; cut sheathing so it is
the size of one new frame board’s width (1 1/2″ if using 2
x 4s), from existing stud so door frame will be covered.

When sawing into walls, use cheap throwaway blades (no loss
if ruined on a nail). A reciprocating saw is made for rough
cutting, but its narrow, easily deflected blade can leave a
ragged edge. To guide it, tack (fasten temporarily with a
partly sunk nail) a straight board with one edge that’s
half the width of the saw’s foot plate from the cut line.
Drill holes in corners of the cutout to admit the blade.

Set a circular saw to cut 1/2″ deeper than the sheathing’s
thickness. Get a secure footing and a firm grip on the saw.
To start the cut, tip the saw up on the front edge of the
foot plate and, moving forward slowly, lever the blade down
and into the wood. Cut slowly, pressing hard against
sheathing. Saw carefully and salvage what old wood you can;
I’ve paneled den walls and built picture frames from
weathered barn board. Planks come off framing with a
judiciously used pry bar, but nailed-on particle board or
plywood is hard to remove intact. Don’t bother trying to
salvage interior sheathing of gypsum wallboard or plaster
(although bone-dry wood lath that holds plaster in older
buildings makes great kindling for the wood stove).

With sheathing off, mark level cut lines on exposed faces
of studs and saw slowly to leave a flat and level cut
surface (a handsaw works best). For a door, pry studs off
the sleeper (the horizontal board along the floor that
supports the studs). If sleeper juts above floor, use the
handsaw to cut out the section of sleeper in the doorway.

The Door

Being alternately opened and closed, rain soaked and sun
baked, and swung on by kids, doors lead a rough life. To
last, they must be sturdily built. Nominal 6″wide (actually
5 1/2″) boards are best. Narrower boards can slip, canting
(tilting) the door, and wider boards can warp.

Don’t use that silky smooth, but soft and thin, pine
shelving available at building supply centers. A good choice
is outside-stored 5/4″ x 6″ (actually 1″ x 5 1/2″) decking
made of rot-resistant cedar or pressure treated (PT)
lumber–fir or yellow pine treated with CCA
preservative. Better yet is 5/4″ tongue-and-groove hard
pine, in which a 1/2″ spline (wood strip) is milled into
the edge of one board so it fits into a groove in the next.
A 30″ door can be made from six 4/5″ x 6″ x 8′ T&G
(tongue and groove) planks for under $20. T&G locks
along the edges to make a solid, weather-tight door, but it
should be painted or soaked with deck preservative against
wet rot.

For Door Frame:

Cut two 2 x 4 jack studs to reach from the floor to the top
of the rough opening, narrow edges facing out. Rest them on
floor in new frame. Cut two 2 x 4s, one to fit atop the
sleeper outside of each jack stud, so they reach to the
horizontal frame member above. Fasten jack and outer studs
together (flat sides facing each other); use four 12d nails
or 2 1/2″ screws. Fasten paired studs to sleeper and upper
horizontal frame member with holed metal truss plates on
both sides Measure a header: two horizontal 2 x 4s (2 x 6s
in any structure but a low shed) laid together, on edge
with flat sides facing each other, atop ends of jack studs
so they fit snugly between the long, outer studs. Trim
lower ends of short studs above rough opening so they are
the same width as header boards. Fasten header boards
together and then to studs using truss plates.

If you are cutting into a standing wall, incorporate the
following directions to those above:

Mark and cut rough opening on sheathing using carpenters’
level and framing square to assure that the top is
horizontal, the sides are vertical, and the corners are
90°. In Step A, place studs at cut edge of sleeper with
their inner edges flush to margin of rough cut in
sheathing. For Step E2, trim short wall studs above rough
by the width of header. After fastening header boards to
studs, fasten them to sheathing every 4″.

To Build Door:

The door is hinged to the outside of the building. Planks
are cut to length and tacked to sheathing. The door is
framed in place working through the door opening.

Attach frame boards to planks with fasteners inserted from
the inside-out, and attach externally mounted hardware with
unremovable one-way screws or lock nuts. This will keep
your eight-year-old (or others) from disassembling the door
and taking the lawn tractor for a joy ride.

Steps for construction:

A. Select enough vertical door boards so their combined
width would fill the rough opening, plus at least 5″ from
side to side. They should be at least 3″ longer than the
rough is high.

Trim ends square and so they are 2″ longer than rough
opening is high. Trim outer long edges of the two side
boards equally so the total breadth of door is 4″ wider
than the rough.

B. Tack a length of 2 x 4 to the floor inside rough
opening, front edge even with edge of floor. This will
serve as a support cleat to hold bottom of door boards.

C. Set door boards square and centered over outside of
rough cutout, bottoms resting against cleat and just a hair
above the floor inside. Tack to sheathing at top and sides.
Tack bottoms to cleat.

D. Working inside the building, make door frame from 1 x 4

Cut four boards to frame inside top, bottom, and sides of
door. Set frame boards 1/4″ in from sills and header, and
cut corner joints at 45° for best looks and strength.

E. Fasten border/frame to door planks from the inside with
drywall screws long enough so they don’t quite pierce outer
trim boards. Set screws 1/2″ from inner edges, two to a
plank at top and bottom, and every 6″ down sides.

F. Fashion a diagonal brace from a 1 x 4. Angle down from
the top of the latch side of the door to the bottom of the
hinge side. Cut snug, with corners at a 90° angle so
ends butt equally to both top and side frame boards. Fasten
from inside using two screws to a plank.

For External Trim to Border Door:

A. Cut 4″- to 6″-wide boards the same thickness as the door
to frame outer sides and top of door opening. Top board
should extend across top of side boards.

B. Fasten trim to sheathing, inner edges 1/4″ from edges of
door. A double row of screws set every 4″ down trim
(through sheathing and into studs) is especially important
on the hinge side.

C. Hang door to trim using three flat hinges, one set at
mid-door and the others 8″ to 10″ from top and bottom.

D. Fasten latch to door.

E. Fasten latch plate to adjoining trim so latch fastens

Finally, remove tacks holding door to sheathing and cleat
in door sill. Open door and remove cleat. Trim below door
if building lacks skirt boards.

Selecting hardware and fasteners

Don’t cheapen the looks of your handcrafted door with shiny
metal “economy price” latches and hinges sold in shrink
packs. The little screws that come with them are worthless,
and the thinly plated steel will show rust the second year.
Heavy-duty, hot-dip galvanized hinges will hold up but will
make your door look like a field gate. I’d suggest buying
black-iron hardware costing just a few dollars more.

For Double Doors:

(Install double doors in any rough opening much wider than

A. Measure, cut, and assemble as if making a pair of
opposed single doors.

1. If using T&G, trim 1/2″ off the inside edges of
inner boards and off the outer edge of outside boards on
each door.

B. Leave a 1/4″ seam between the two middle boards (seam
located at center of cutout).

C. Frame doors individually and fasten Z-braces angling
down from inner latch to outside hinge sides in a pyramid

D. Outside, fasten a 1 x 4 closing strip along inner edge
of right-hand door so it juts out 1 1/2″ to overlap and
close the lefthand door.

E. Fasten trim boards around doors, and hinge both doors.

F. Fix latch to closing strip on right hand door and latch
plate to a block of wood on left door.

G. Put a D-shaped handle on the left hand door.

Selecting hardware and fasteners

Butterfly-type flat hinges will do for lightweight doors.
Use long strap or T-hinges if door takes much effort to
lift. With heavy doors, fasten 2 x 4 stiffeners between
studs inside sheathing behind hinges; fasten hinges with
screws long enough to bite into the 2 x 4s.

Secure double doors by affixing large, gate-size throw
bolts (vertically) to top and bottom of door without the
closing strip. Drill holes in header and floor to accept
extended bolt. Buy a latch that accepts a padlock.

A Sliding Window

Windows too can be installed into an opening cut into a
standing wall. A wood/glass window sash, a sheet of clear
plastic glazing, or a metal-framed glass pane from an old
storm door can be fixed, hinged on any side, or put in a
pair of channels to slide back and forth. Make them any
size you like, but 24″ square is good for a small shed. Put
one or two windows in the wall if you have an end located
door, one to each side of a central door. Cut the rough
opening 2″ smaller in both dimensions than the window

Frame a window opening that displaces wall studs with
doubled studs at the side and 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 header at top
(as for door). Trim short (cripple) studs below rough by 1
1/2″ so you can install a single 2 x 4 atop them–2 x
4 laid flat and cut to fit snug between jack studs. All
around, align inner edges of frame even with edges of
cutout. Nail frame joints; from the outside, fasten frame
to sheathing every 4″.

For Shutter:

Your tiller or lawn chairs don’t need light to see by, and
glazed windows aren’t essential in a barn or shed. A
shutter, cheaper and less fragile, will serve as well.

A. Cut shutter to be longer and wider by 2″ than rough
opening. Make it of plywood or of horizontally butted
T&G boards; trim away milled edges at top and bottom
trimmed. Half-inch, outside-glued plywood alone will make a
stiff shutter, but fasten two squares of 3/8″ or 1/4″ ply

B. Frame it to join several boards or to keep plywood from

1. On a flat worktable, arrange boards horizontally.

2. Fasten with a boxed Z-frame of 1″ x 3″ boards. This is
similar to a door, but locate top and bottom frame boards a
good 1″ from the upper and lower edges, leaving a lip to
slide in the channels.

For Frame:

Build a pair of channels for the shutter to slide in. For
greatest security, fasten with screws from inside.

A. Center window or shutter, frame facing out, over rough
opening. Tack it on level, setting tack nails through
middle of sides. If tacking a glazed, wood-framed sash,
drill pilot holes at outer edges of frame, using small

B. Make slides. From a 2 x 4 or by layering scrap plywood
(better), fashion two wood strips–in length, 2″ more
than twice the window’s width, 2″ wide, and thicker than
window frame by 1/4″.

1. Fasten one strip to sheathing along bottom of tacked-on
shutter, one end even with edge of window, longer end
extending out along slide path. Hold a straightedge and
carpenters’ level under to assure that strip remains
straight, and level all. 2. Fasten the other strip 1/4″
above window, ends even with lower strip.

C. Put vertical stop blocks at each end of the strips.

D. Cut two keeper boards of 1 “-thick lumber (or 1/2″
plywood) as long as strips, but 1” wider.

1. Fasten them atop strips so they hold window in.

E. Remove tack nails; window will slide freely in the

F. Fasten a thin strip of aluminum flashing (like a roof
over the top of an upper channel). This will keep water
from swelling the wood so shutter binds.

To secure a sliding window or shutter, drill a slightly
down-sloping hole through sheathing, through lower edge of
window sash or shutter, and into the keeper board. Close
window, put a nail into hole, and window will stay closed.

Finish your shed with a sliding window.
Doors take a rough beating. Build with sturdy wood.

Originally published as “Sheds Part II” in the October/November 1993 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.