(Door) size matters

Skill level skill3

Forget Masters and Johnson or Dr. Ruth. Where size really matters is shower doors.

With the basin for our new shower glued down just as nice as you please (see “Basin or Mason“), we turned our attention to walls and doors. The walls were going to be covered with 1” glass tiles.

12" x 12" sheet of glass tiles for the shower
12″ x 12″ sheet of glass tiles for the shower

My ever-loving wife, “Jenny Mae” (not her real name), wanted frameless glass doors because they look the best, which they do. It turns out you can get them either “exact fit” or with side pieces that can adjust an inch or so wider or narrower. The side pieces kind of clutter up the clean look so we opted for the exact fit.

Measure twice (OK, about 10 times) and order once

Frameless DreamLine shower door
That’s a fine looking shower door right there, I don’t care who you are, that’s a fine looking shower door.

The pressure was on this Math major to measure the door opening precisely. The rough opening was 60″. The tiles are glued on sheets of 1/2″ thick Hardibacker, which is like cement backer board but a whole lot lighter and easier to work with. Two sides make it 1″. Subtract that from 60″ and we should order doors 59″ wide. Done.  

The fur starts to fly

The next step is to get the walls ready for the tile. But before you screw the 1/2″ backer board to the studs, the instructions said to put 1/4″ furring strips on the studs to keep the backer board inside the little walls of the shower pan. For those of you animal rights activists, furring strips are strips of wood not whatever else you might be thinking. 

furring strip
Furring strip on a stud

You want to end up with perfectly straight walls and that typically involves using different thicknesses of furring strips and lots of strings and a level to make it happen. Jenny Mae was kind enough to give me a hand.

Those of you keeping score at home have probably already spotted the trouble.

Somewhere during that process I realized that the furring strips were reducing the size of the opening by a good 1/2″ and my 59″ glass doors weren’t going to fit in a 58 1/2″ space. This was going to take some creative engineering.

I probably slept a few hours the next couple of nights but it seemed like I was adding and subtracting all day and night trying to create 1/2″ out of nothing, or rather, turn 1/2″ of something into nothing. The thought of how much those doors cost and having to order at least one new one would make many spouses have a hissy fit with a tail on it but my ever-loving wife, Jenny Mae, said, “You’ll figure it out. You always do.” Jenny Mae is nice that way.

Take a Quarterback

That’s when I remembered that Hardibacker comes in 1/4″ thickness in addition to the 1/2″. The walls really needed to be 1/2″ thick so they wouldn’t flex, but for the studs around the doors 1/4″ would be perfectly adequate and that would give me back the 1/2″ I lost to the furring strips. A smooth transition between the 1/4″ and the 1/2″ might even make it look artsy. (Generally, I don’t do artsy but I was desperate here.)

Hardibacker on walls
Hardibacker screwed to walls. Notice change in depth in bottom right corner

I screwed the Hardibacker to the studs through the furring strips. If you look in the bottom right corner of the photo you’ll see the start of the art work.

The next photo shows a close-up of the joint between the 1/4″ piece and the 1/2″ sheets that form the rest of the wall. I put a little shim on the left edge and bent the thinner piece so that it matched the thicker sheet on the left and used lots screws to get the curve right. 

1/4" meeting 1/2"
Close-up of 1/4″ Hardibacker meeting the 1/2″ panels

Then I made sure the gaps between the tiles would follow the shape of the joints.

Tiles make a smooth curve between the different wall thicknesses
The 1″ tiles make a smooth curve between the different wall thicknesses

The result is a smooth transition from thick to thin that leaves enough room for the glass doors.

And the waviness adds a little style to the project.

In the future, however, I’m tiling the walls first and then measuring for the doors because size matters and artsy is just too much work.


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