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Determining the Hand or Handing Of A Door

I've been asked so many times how to determine the swing of a door, or its "handing", that I have finally broken down and posted this explanation.  My appreciation to the Brockway Smith Company , a.k.a. Brosco, for allowing us the use of their text and graphics.

Some sites have tried to explain handing in reference to your location inside or outside the room. This can be confusing since there are circumstances when it is difficult to determine which room to use as a reference point (such as doors between adjacent rooms).  This is the best graphical explanation I've seen, including graphics.  Thanks, Brosco!!

If you are determining the handing of an exterior door before ordering one, be sure to read my note below in the "Exterior Door" section!

Regarding the installation of locks...

Most common round-handled locksets are reversible.  However, if you are installing curved lever-style locks, knowing your door's hand is important.   Both privacy (bedroom - bathroom) and keyed locksets have different inside and outside handles.  The lockset should have the hand noted on the packaging. There is more info about lock handing at the end of this article...

First, the SIMPLE WAY to determine door handing...

IF YOU ARE REPLACING AN EXISTING DOOR:  With the door open, stand with your back against the hinge jamb.  If your left hand is nearer the doorknob, then the door is LEFT-HANDED.  If your right hand is nearer the doorknob, then the door is RIGHT-HANDED.

IF YOU ARE INSTALLING A NEW DOOR AND JAMB IN A ROUGH OPENING:   Decide which side of the frame will have the door hinges.  Stand with your back against the hinge-side of the frame and extend an arm in the direction you wish the door to open.  If you extended the left arm, then you need to order a LEFT-HANDED door set.  If you extended the right arm, then you need to order a RIGHT-HANDED door set.

IF THE DOOR IS GOING TO BE AN EXTERIOR DOOR...  Though exterior doors typically swing inward, outswinging exterior doors are available.  So be sure to add "inswinging" or "outswinging" to your notes before ordering!

And, for those of you who like pictures, a Graphical View Of Interior Door Handing...

When the door opens toward you and the knob is on the left hand side, it is a LEFT HAND DOOR.
When the door opens toward you and the knob is on the right hand side, it is a RIGHT HAND DOOR.

Interior door handing diagram

Exterior doors... slightly different specifications from interior doors

To order the correct exterior door, you need to know both the desired handing and whether it is inswing or outswing.

You are standing inside the house...

When the door opens toward you and the knob is on the left hand side, it is a LEFT HAND INSWING DOOR.
When the door opens toward you and the knob is on the right hand side, it is a RIGHT HAND INSWING DOOR.

When the door opens away from you (towards the outside) and the knob is on the right hand side, it is a LEFT HAND OUTSWING DOOR.
When the door opens away from you (towards the outside) and the knob is on the left hand side, it is a RIGHT HAND OUTSWING DOOR.

(Note from NH:  Most interior doors are identical on both sides, but some exterior doors have a definite inside and outside.  So it is important to know not only the handing but whether the door is "inswing" or "outswing" when ordering.)

Exterior door handing chart

A final word about door handing...

Some knowledgeable do-it-yourselfers use other methods to determine door handing.  One common alternative is to note the location of the hinges as opposed to the location of the lock.  To summarize this method...

1) If the hinges are on the left side when you walk through a door, it is a left-hand door.
2) If the hinges are on the right side when you walk through it, it is a right-hand door.

This is a perfectly fine method if it helps you remember. However, to be true to our handymen ancestors, the terms "handing" and "hand" of a door refer to the hand you pull the door open with.

Otherwise, they would have called it "hinging". 

SPECIAL ADDITION... PURCHASING LOCKSETS CAN BE CONFUSING!!

One reader had some confusion about the description of door handing on a door lock website....

Dear NH,

I am confused by the term left hand door and right hand door even after your rather clear explanation.  The reason I am still confused is that this directly contradicts the information on DirectDoorHardware.com .  I want to place a lever handle on an interior door.  The door pulls toward you from the outside.  The handle is on the left indicating a left hand door.

The hinges are on the right.  The DirectDoorHardware.com site explains this as a right hand door.  I want to get a lever handle from them.  Which is it?

JO

Dear JO,

The problem is in their description of "handing".  They are determining handing based on the lockset orientation you need to choose, not using the typical industry standard for handing.

The diagram below courtesy DirectDoorHardware.com

Door hand diagram for locksets

What they call "left-hand outswing" is (in the door industry) actually "right-hand outswing".  The left hand inswing and outswing (per their diagrams) use the exact same lockset (with the key on the outside).  In other words, the lockset handles look the same but the latch plate is rotated 180 degrees so it latches properly.

I guess they changed the standard handing conventions to make is easier for the customer who doesn't know anything about handing to order.  Otherwise, they would have to call each lock both left and right handed, adding to the confusion.  Based on the description of your door, it is indeed a left-hand outswing, but for ordering purposes from this company, indicating "right hand" in the order follows their modified convention.

NH

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Jerry Alonzy, the founder of Naturalhandyman.com

Written by Jerry Alonzy

Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.

As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+.