Troubleshooting Hinge Problems

This story provides solutions to the most common door hinge problems.

Intro

To get that satisfying "thunk" when a door closes -- rather than rattles, squeaks, or scrapes -- there must be an even gap between the door and the jamb all around; the hinges should be flush with the jamb and move freely; and the stop and the strike plate should be correctly aligned, so the door's latch easily clicks into the hole in the strike plate when the door closes.

The door itself may be solid-core, hollow-core, or made of panels. Hinges are attached to the jamb, which is attached to the house's framing on the sides and above. An interior door usually has two hinges and a heavier exterior door usually has three. Usually there is a gap between the jamb and the framing, which is filled with shims positioned near the nails.

Stop molding is positioned so the door bumps against it when closed. If the stop is too tight, the door will be difficult to close; if it is too loose, the door will rattle. On the latch side of the jamb, a strike plate is positioned over a hole in the jamb; the door's latch bolt engages a hole in the strike plate to latch the door. On an exterior door there is often a dead-bolt lock as well. The holes and strike plate must be correctly positioned for the door to close properly.

Hinges are attached to the other edge of the door with screws. They grab effectively only in solid wood (not particleboard). Long screws can be used if the door is solid wood, but shorter screws are used for a hollow-core door or a solid-core door with a particleboard core.

A squeaky hinge may only need a squirt of the right lubricant. If you see rust, first use penetrating lubricant to free rusted parts. Then apply powdered graphite or silicone lubricant for a longer-lasting solution. Also use lubricants to free a balky latch bolt.

On the jamb leaf of a hinge, long screws are effective if they can reach house framing. Where the screws would go into drywall, shorter screws are just as good.

Tightening a loose hinge: Step 1

If a door binds, open it, grasp the knob, and lift up to see if a hinge is loose. If one is loose remove two or more screws and try driving in longer screws.

Tightening a loose hinge: Step 2

If that does not solve the problem, trim pieces of shim or other small wood pieces to fit tightly in the holes (matchsticks or golf tees work well). Tap the wood in and use a knife to cut it flush with the jamb.

Tightening a loose hinge: Step 3

Drill a pilot hole in the center, taking care to hold the drill level and straight as you work. Drive new screws. Check the door for binding and correct any problems; if the door sticks, the screws will come loose again.

Shimming a hinge: Hinge leaf is recessed

If a hinge leaf is recessed below the surface of the jamb or the door edge, the door will not close well and the hinge will bend when you close it. Use a hinge leaf as a template to make a cardboard shim that you can slip behind the leaf.

Shimming a hinge: Hinge leaf is recessed at top or bottom

If the hinge leaf is recessed only at the bottom or the top, insert a shim behind only part of the hinge leaf.

Shimming a hinge: Bend hinge knuckles

You can adjust a door slightly to the left or the right by bending the hinge knuckles. With the door closed slip an adjustable wrench over the door leaf only -- not the jamb leaf -- and bend.

What If... The pin is stuck?

If a hinge pin is stuck and will not come out when you tap it with a screwdriver, first try squirting with penetrating lubricant. Wait about 10 minutes and try tapping again.

If it still will not come out, it may be easier to remove the screws from one leaf, which will allow you to remove the door.

Squeaky hinge

It is usually easiest to replace a rusty hinge. However, if the hinge is of a style that is hard to replace, disassemble it and clean with solvent and a toothbrush. Allow to dry, then polish with very fine sandpaper. Apply lubricant and reassemble.

What If... A door opens or closes itself?

An older home may have a doorway that is out of square or out of plumb so that the door opens or closes by itself. Purchase a spring hinge, which can be adjusted to correct the problem.


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