Troubleshooting Door Problems

This story provides solutions to the most common door 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.

Adjusting a stop: Step 1

If the stop is keeping the door from closing all the way or if it is too far away so that the door rattles, move the stop. First score the paint line where the stop meets the jamb. Then tap in two putty knives and begin prying.

Adjusting the stop: Step 2

When the separation is large enough, insert a flat pry bar. Keep one putty knife in place to avoid damaging the jamb. Gently work your way down the stop until you can remove it completely. Remove the nails.

Adjusting the stop: Step 3

With the door closed reposition the stop, place a cardboard shim between the stop and the door, and drive new nails. Touch up the paint as necessary.

Removing a door: Step 1

To remove a door, support it at the bottom on the latch side with shims. Tap the pin up with a hammer and screwdriver and pull it out. On some hinges you must tap a nail up through the bottom of the hinge first.

Removing a door: Step 2

With the pins removed you can simply pull the door out. Put the pins back into hinge leaves so you will not lose them.

A door that rattles: Strike plate is recessed

If a strike plate is recessed (as often happens when the doorway is painted several times), remove the screws, pull it out, and make cardboard shims to fit in the mortise. Use as many shims as needed to bring the strike flush with the jamb.

A door that rattles: Latch bolt does not align

If the latch bolt does not align with the hole in the strike, preventing it from latching, you may be able to solve the problem by filing the strike plate.

A door that rattles: Reset strike plate

If that does not solve the problem, move the strike plate. Use a knife and chisel to cut a mortise and enlarge the hole if needed. Drill pilot holes and reattach the strike plate. Fill the exposed mortise area with wood putty and sand smooth.

Planing a binding door: Step 1

If a door binds and a loose hinge is not the problem, close it until it just touches the jamb (don't force it closed) and use a pencil to scribe a line where the door needs to be trimmed. The ideal is a 1/8-inch gap between the door and jamb at all points. Mark both sides of the door.

Planing a binding door: Step 2

Adjust a plane so the blade barely protrudes beyond the base. Test on a scrap piece of wood; the plane should easily produce very thin shavings. Readjust as needed. You can use a shaping tool, but the resulting edge will require sanding to make it smooth.

Planing a binding door: Step 3

Set the door on the floor so it is stable. Hold the plane flat on the door edge and press down as you push forward. Don't force the plane; use moderate pressure. Plane with the grain. If the plane chatters or gets stuck, plane in the opposite direction.

Planing a binding door: Step 4

Plane down to the scribe lines. Sand the edge smooth and slightly round the corners with a sanding block. Finish the edge to match the door.

Planing the top or bottom of a door: Step 1

At the top or bottom of a panel where the horizontal rails and vertical stiles meet, plane across, rather than along, the grain of the stile. First use the plane or a sanding block to bevel the outside edge so it won't splinter.

Planing the top or bottom of a door: Step 2

Plane the rail in both directions. The plane will chatter as it crosses the end grain, then begin shaving smoothly as it reaches the stile. The result at the rail will be somewhat rough but sandable.

Cutting a door: Step 1

Cut an interior door bottom 1/2 inch or so above the flooring or threshold. Mark the cutting line, then scribe about 1/16 inch above the cutline with a utility knife. This is especially important when cutting across the grain or cutting a plywood veneer.

Cutting a door: Step 2

Start the cut with a square as a guide. Stop the saw after cutting 3 or 4 inches. Remove the square and push a straightedge against the base of the saw.

Cutting a door: Step 3

Clamp the straightedge at one end. Measure to be sure the circular saw will cut along the cutting line -- 1/16 inch below the knife line.

Cutting a door: Step 4

Set the circular saw's blade about 1/4 inch deeper than the thickness of the door. Make the cut, holding the saw's baseplate against the guide.

Cutting a door: Step 5

Use a sanding block to smooth the cut edge and slightly round the corners.

Extending a door: Step 1

In an older home with an out-of-square door frame, the top of a door may be out of parallel with the top of the frame. Measure the distance between the top of the door and the frame; subtract 1/8 inch.

Extending a door: Step 2

For an interior door 1-3/8 inch thick, rip the extension piece from 2x lumber (which is 1-1/2 inches thick). Cut using a circular saw or a tablesaw. For an exterior door, rip stock to the thickness of the door to cut the piece.

Extending a door: Step 3

Apply wood glue to the top of the door. Attach the extension piece by drilling pilot holes and driving finishing nails or screws. Plane or power-sand the piece on both sides so it is flush with the door. Fill the joint with wood putty and sand again before painting.


Comments (12)
7931101636
pbshank97456 wrote:

Have an exterior steel door w/window that sweated on exterior so much that water came inside doorway. Winter has been extreme here this winter...is the door ruined? or just because weather so extreme?

3/13/2014 11:05:01 AM Report Abuse
makflyingbutch wrote:

I'm remodeling the bathroom and I have to move the door frame and door over 2 inches or so for the new bathroom sink and counter could you give advice as to the process and steps that I need to do to accomplish this?

3/4/2014 11:58:00 AM Report Abuse
fmuffner wrote:

door closes but comes open with vibration.

9/23/2013 07:15:32 AM Report Abuse
48margee wrote:

During wind storm, wind blew storm door open, split door casing at the closure site. How do I fix it?

9/3/2013 10:45:34 AM Report Abuse
johnczar wrote:

Great! Love all door fix solutions

12/27/2009 09:44:53 PM Report Abuse
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