How to Build a Wall-to-Wall Closet

Steal a few feet from the end of your bedroom and add a wall-to-wall closet system. Here are the step-by-step instructions.

Step 1: Closet planning and prep work

This closet isn’t complex. An energetic beginner could complete it successfully in about four weekends. You probably don’t need a building permit for the closet, but if you add closet lighting you’ll need an electrical permit. Contact your local building department to be sure.

In addition to basic carpentry and drywall tools, you’ll need a circular saw to cut the framing lumber, a drill to drive screws and a power miter box to cut new trim. You could install the doors and trim with hand tools, but a pneumatic nail gun and power miter box will make the job a lot easier and more enjoyable. You can rent a nail gun and compressor and a power miter box.

Find a good closet location. You can easily modify our plan to build closets wherever they’ll fit. Reduce the door width to fit narrower rooms, or build a closet with one set of doors. If you’ll be hanging clothes, make sure the closet interior is at least 26 in. deep. Adjust the closet dimensions to avoid conflicts with electrical boxes, heat ducts and windows.

We chose hinged double doors for our closet because they’re sturdier and less troublesome than bifold doors. Order your doors prehung from a full-service lumberyard or home center. For 2x4 walls with 1/2-in. drywall on each side, order doors with 4-9/16 in. wide jambs. Request roller catches at the top of the doors to hold them shut. Remember, though—hinged doors need space to swing open. If floor space is limited in front of the closets, consider bifold doors instead. Ask for rough-opening dimensions when you order the doors

Then get started with the prep work. If your room is carpeted, roll the carpet back out of the way and pry up the tackless strips (wear leather gloves—the barbs on tackless strips are wickedly sharp). Protect hardwood, tile and vinyl floors by taping down two layers of heavy kraft paper plus a layer of thin plywood or hardboard. Carefully pry off the baseboard with a flat pry bar. If you plan to reuse it, pull the nails through the backside.

Figure A: Closet Framing Details

Refer to this illustration when framing your closet.

Note: Figure A can be downloaded and printed from Additional Information below.

Figure A: Closet framing details

Use only fluorescent lights in closet and confirm the electrical box location with your local electrical inspector.

Step 2: Frame the walls

Use a stud finder to locate and mark the framing members where the new wall butts into the existing walls and ceiling. If possible, attach the new wall plates and studs to existing framing members with 3-in. screws. Otherwise, use the method shown in Photo 4.

If you plan to add closet lights, locate an electrical box that can provide a power source and plan the cable route. If you’re unsure how to do this, call a licensed electrician to help you wire and install the lights. Photos 1 – 4 show how to chalk lines for and attach the top and bottom plates. Use perfectly straight 2x4s when you plumb up from the bottom plate to mark the ceiling (Photo 3). Be precise—mistakes here will cause crooked walls that will haunt you when it comes time to install the doors.

With the plates installed, completing the walls is a simple matter of measuring for and cutting the studs, door trimmers and cripples to fit. Add about 1/16 in. to your measurements when you cut the studs. It’s much easier to toe-screw tight-fitting studs. Attach the studs to the walls with construction adhesive and toggles or by nailing to an existing stud. When you use toggles, hold the 2x4 in place, drill the toggle locations (about 2 ft. apart with a 1/4-in. bit through both 2x4 and drywall). Then remove the 2x4 and drill the drywall with a 5/8-in. spade bit. Mount the toggles to the 2x4 (Photo 4), spread the adhesive, and shove the toggle wings through their holes.

Pick straight lumber for the studs and trimmers and cut up crooked lumber for the short cripples. See Fig. A for trimmer stud and header lengths. Measure for the cripples after you install the header.

Step 3: Install the doors

If you want closet lighting, rough in the electrical cable and boxes now and have your work inspected before you hang the drywall. Hang, tape and sand the drywall. Then prime and paint the walls before you install the new doors and trim.

The type of floor covering in your room will affect how you install the door jamb. For hard surfaces like wood flooring or ceramic tile, set the jambs directly on the floor. If your floor is slightly out of level, you’ll have to scribe and saw off the bottom of one of the side jambs to make the head jamb level. If your floor will be carpeted, shim under one side jamb to level it (Photo 7). The carpet and pad will cover up the shims. Allow about 1/2-in. clearance to the finished floor. For thick carpet, you may have to raise the entire door frame with extra shimming. Measure the carpet height and door clearance to find out.

Follow the steps in Photos 7 – 11 to install the door jambs. The strategy for getting a strong, square frame is to shim the door frame at the top and bottom and behind each hinge location (Photos 8 – 10). Initially drive one 8d finish nail through each set of shims. Don’t cut them off yet. Rehang the doors and check the fit. In most cases, you’ll have to adjust the jamb by driving the shims in or out to get the doors to line up. Your goal is to create an even gap all around the doors. When you’re happy with the fit, add a second nail at each location and a 3-in. screw through each of the top hinges into the door trimmer stud (Photo 12). Score the shims with a sharp utility knife and snap them off flush with the jambs.

If the doors don’t quite close flush with each other at the bottom, either the jamb is twisted because the walls are out of plumb, or the doors are warped. In either case, the solution is to push the top and bottom of opposing jambs in opposite directions until the doors line up (Photo 11). This may make installing trim more difficult, since the jambs will no longer be exactly flush with the drywall.

Install door trim and baseboard that match the trim in your room. If you’re not experienced in carpet installation, call in a pro to cut, stretch and re-lay the carpet.

Then measure the closet interior and go shopping for closet organizers. We outfitted our closet with off-the shelf Melamine components available at home centers and lumberyards.

Additional Information

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