Notes from Windward: #70


Doorway to a Studio

Opalyn describes making a container more useful

     We have several shipping containers we use for storage or workspace. Most of them are on fairly level ground and a few short rail road ties provide a level platform and step into the container.

sometimes a single step suffices

     However some of the units are not on level ground and climbing four or five feet up into a unit does not make for easy access to a studio or workspace.

climbing on board

     Adding a door at the ground-level end of a container makes for safe and quick access.

finished entryway to Sarah's studio

     I started by collecting a few tools and supplies including a worm-drive circular saw, a metal cutting disc, a skill or reciprocating saw with metal blades, a hand grinder with a metal cutting/grinding wheel, hearing protection, eye/face protection, a tape measure, a sharpie marker, and a cup of coffee. A framed door and at least two 2-bys are also needed.

tools and supplies

     We decided to use a 36" x 80" framed door from a lumber store. It requires a rough opening of 38" x 82.5". Shipping containers have a "corrugated" structure and it is preferable to cut the rough opening through two exterior panels. Cutting a rough opening to size can prove to be challenging given the widths of the corrugation. However if you plan to sheath the walls (exterior plywood and interior drywall for example) you can cut the opening wider and use 2x6 or 2x8 to provide the "stick frame" to secure the door frame.

corrugation and cut lines

     I quickly discovered that jeans, a long sleeve shirt, gloves, and a hat are needed to keep the metal shards off my skin during cutting and grinding. With the worm-drive circular saw powered up and my protective clothing/gear in place I set up to do a plunge cut. This is where you line up the cutting disk with your cut line and plunge the circular saw blade into the metal wall. Once the blade is through I stop and check to make sure the sparks have gone out instead of smoldering in the grass or the wooden floor of the container. Then I make a second slice on the other vertical cut line and get the two horizontal cuts (top and bottom) started as well.

     If I make the two vertical cuts near the top of the doorway it is easier to draw the skill saw down instead of pushing up. I also leave an inch or two intact at the corners to help stabilize the cut piece while finishing the other cuts then freeing the bottom of the doorway first.

     Have a helper ready to catch the piece as you cut the two upper corners then the two of you can set aside the free piece of corrugated metal.


     In reviewing the steps, now is a good time to sheath the exterior if you plan to hang plywood or OSB. One and a half inch thick foam insulation is cut to fit the recesses in the corrugated wall using a table saw set at an angle of 15° and set/glued in place before the OSB is hung. Drilling pilot holes through the OSB and metal container then using "HardieBacker" screws is what I've found that works well.


     Now it is time to grind the floor/threshold smooth.


     Next is "stick framing" for the door. Decide the width for the "2-bys" and cut them to length (about 85"). The width of your 2by is determined by subtracting the rough opening from the actual opening then adding the width of overlap between the metal and wood and dividing the number by two. Clamp the 2by in place and check the rough opening.


     If it all looks good then drill three 1/4" holes through the metal and 2by attaching them with 1/4" carriage (if sheathed) or standard bolts just long enough to secure the wood and metal. You can also use a spade bit and drill out the depth of the nut so it will be flush with the 2by once tightened. If needed, you can cut the bolt flush with the 2by using a metal hacksaw. This provides a smooth surface to attach drywall if you choose and prevents having a nut and bolt sticking into the room to catch on.


     Place the door into the rough opening and shim it as necessary to level the door also testing the swing of the door then screw the door frame into the stick frame and seal with caulking.


Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71