Interior and Exterior Door Closing, Sticking and
Be sure to scroll down... there may be more than one question on this page!
My front door does not lock properly. Our builder returned and
made some sort of adjustment a year or so ago but the problem has recurred. The
deadbolt works, but the regular entry latch doesn't seem to catch all the time.
How can this be fixed?
This is a problem that is peculiar to owners of new homes. This
is happening because your new home is in a state of flux. Wood framing is drying
out, the foundation is settling… in other words things they are a-changing!
Aside from the more obvious manifestations, such as mysterious cracks appearing
in walls, odds are ALL of your doors have changed from their originally
installed condition. Of course, the doors that no longer work correctly will get
your attention first!
The changes in the door frame have caused the door latch to hit
the strike plate rather than entering the hole in the plate, preventing the lock
from working. If you look at the door from the hinge side when it is almost
closed, you can see how the latch aligns with the strike plate. It may be above
or below the centerline of the strike plate depending on how your house has
There are two ways to do this repair, depending on the severity
of the misalignment. Small errors can be corrected by first removing the strike
plate and then enlarging the opening enough to allow the latch to engage.
Holding the strike plate in a pair of Vice Grips or in a stationary vice is
helpful when performing this repair.
If the settlement is severe, though, this repair won't work
since you might have to file off so much metal that you would hit the screws
that hold the plate onto the door frame! Not a good plan! Instead, you will have
to relocate the strike plate on the door frame either higher or lower. This will
require some wood filling and painting to restore the frame to it's original
We have a beautifully stained oak front door. Lately, the door has begun to
rub on the top edge of the door frame. This is starting to damage the finish. Is
there anything that can be done to stop this from getting worse?
Oak, hmmm? My handyman intuition tells me that your problem may relate to the
weight of the door. Oak doors and some solid-core flush doors can weigh up to a
hundred pounds. This weight takes a terrible toll on hinges and on the frame
itself, which might have been designed for doors half the weight. Consequently,
the door will tend to sag from the top, causing the top of the latch-edge of the
door and/or the bottom of the latch side to rub.
I am with you... no sense getting involved in refinishing if there is another
method that can hopefully yield the same result! So, before we jump to any
premature conclusions, why don't you make a visual inspection of the door when
it is in the closed position. Now look at the hinge side of the door. Does there
seem to be a greater gap between the door and the frame at the top than at the
bottom? If so, the hinge, frame or both have begun to distort from the door's
Replacing the hinges may be futile unless you have a much heavier-weight
hinge installed. There is another repair I have used successfully on sagging
doors. Look at the top-most hinge and you will see that it is attached to the
door jamb with either three or four screws. Remove one of the screws closest to
the center of the door jamb and replace it with the same size screw but long
enough to extend through the door jamb and into the door frame. I always carry a
number of #10 x 2 1/2" flat-head brass wood screws for this very repair. The
door jamb should be pre-drilled so the oversized screw doesn't split it, but the
frame need not be predrilled. Tighten the screw in until you can see the hinge
being pulled slightly back towards the frame and STOP! Test the door, and you
should find that it now clears the latch-side frame with no rubbing. If you
overtightened the screw, you might cause the top of the door to rub, so don't
I have a crack in my bathroom wall that leads from the ceiling
to the top of my bathroom door. In the winter, the crack expands
so I cannot totally close my bathroom door. In the summer, the
crack contracts and the door closes normally. My house is 30 years
old, and we have a slab foundation. How can I fix this crack so my
door shuts normally all year long? Your help would be much
Thanks for writing. Many homes have similar "seasonal
fits"... wild expansion and contraction in doorframes and
moldings. I have seen homes where crown moldings (the moldings
around the top of the walls) separate from the ceiling up to a
half-inch in the summer, only to settle back in the winter! So
take faith... you are not alone!
Frankly, it is impossible for me to tell you how to fix the
seasonal movements since there are many possible causes. You may
be able to slightly modify the structural frame above the door to
take the pressure off the doorjamb. This would require at the
least the removal of the doorframe moldings and probably some of
the wallboard. Then again, there may also be other framing
problems that may need the trained eye of an engineer to discern.
However, if your interest primarily lies in the repair of the
symptom… the difficult door… here is my advice.
I am going to assume that, with 30 years under its belt, your
home is stable and not in need of serious structural assessment.
With that as a disclaimer, the best and most efficient way to
solve your problem is to deal with it when it is at it's worst.
For example, if the rubbing problems manifest themselves
mid-summer, then that is when you should do the repair. If you try
to do the repair during the season when the door is working
properly, you may either 1) over cut the door or 2) under cut the
door. Hey... what's the point, right?
The repair itself is not complicated. Get up on a step stool
and see just where the door is hitting the frame. There will be
telltale-signs such as damage to the paint (or stain) on the
frame. You need to make a judgment as to how much of the top of
the door needs to be trimmed off to allow for proper closing.
Usually, it is the latch-side that is the culprit though the
rubbing area can extend almost all the way to the hinge side! Once
you determine how much of the door top needs to be removed to
allow for proper closing, make a mark with a pencil on the door.
The trimming can be done with the door on or off, depending on
the amount of wood to be removed and (of course) the tools you
have available. If the trimming required only involves around half
the width of the door and is less than an eighth-inch in maximum
thickness, I would normally leave the door on the hinges and use a
belt sander with a fairly coarse grit belt (36 to 50 grit) to trim
the top of the door. I use dust collection equipment and drop some
tarps on the floor to catch the wood dust. Be warned... belt
sanders can be quite heavy so it takes a strong, steady hand to do
this repair "au naturel". Steady back and forth
movements allow the sander to give a taper to the sanded area.
Keep the sander moving, but spend more time in the areas with the
most material to remove. If you need to practice, put a 2x4 in a
vise and go for it!
An aside... some folks are under the mistaken impression that
the top of a door can be "planed" with either a hand or
power planer. No way, Jose... a plane will rip the bejesus out of
the door, especially the edges of the door where the wood grain is
vertical. Planing is only for the edges of a door, regardless of
the type of door you are working with!
If the door requires more severe trimming, remove it from the
doorjamb by extracting the hinges and place it across two padded
sawhorses or on a clean, covered tabletop. Then, I would use a
circular saw (with a saw guide clamped to the door) to cut off the
excess wood. The guide is important since the cut is usually at a
slight angle. Even after over 20 years in the business I still
prefer to use a guide... the chance for error is minimized. A
trained hand on a circular saw is a marvelous thing. However, when
you are making a very thin cut, it is too easy for the blade to
wobble. The result could be a very amateurish-looking cut! When
placing the guide, be sure to allow for the thickness of the
blade... the "kerf" in technical terms.
Certain types of doors tend to chip when crosscut. Birch veneer
on flush (flat-faced) doors is especially chip-prone. To
counteract this tendency, make a "precut" with a utility
knife along the cutting line most of the way through the veneer.
Taping the area with masking tape and cutting through the tape can
also help to minimize chipping, though this method is less
You mentioned in your last newsletter that using a plane to shave the tops
or bottoms of doors was not desirable. I will have to strongly disagree
with you on this one!
Take an opportunity to view one of the video tapes on tuning a plane and
watch them plane curls off end grain with a run-of-the-mill #4 plane. I
also use a sharp (key word here) low angle block plane when only a few lick
But by and large, I use my Makita motorized plane all the time to plane the
tops and bottoms of doors. All you have to do is go from one stile almost
all the way to the other and then move to the other side and come back to
finish it off. With my plane I can take off less than 1/64 of an inch per pass.
I use the plane to clean up my saw cuts and to save on dust when sanding.
Typically I will saw, then motor plane and then use the block plane to
chamfer the edges, before I give it a light sanding with an orbital sander
or a sanding belt on a block of wood.
Try it you will like it. It is very fast and loads less dust.
Thanks for writing. You caught me making a cardinal mistake... I expressed
a strong personal preference as a rule! Bad handyman! To clarify... IF the
homeowner has a very sharp hand plane or power plane, freehand cuts can
indeed be made across the grain as you describe... inward towards the center
of the door. In fact, a person can plane across the entire piece... even
off the edge and against the grain... if a piece of pine is strongly clamped
at the edge of the door (level with the edge to be planed). The clamped
wood prevents splintering as the plane moves off the edge of the door by
offering support to the weak end grain.
However, in my specific example... "tapering" the top of a door
begun rubbing due to settlement of the home... a plane would not and, in my
opinion, should not be the first choice of a tool to use. Most minor door
rubbing on the top does not require cutting completely across the top. Hand
and power planes can be "finessed" to make slight tapers or cut a
of wood off the very end of a rubbing door, but they are specifically
designed to make a cut of uniform thickness across a surface... hence my
preference for the belt sander for very minimal wood removal or a circular
saw for more substantial cuts. I am sure a skilled craftsman as yourself has
no problem doing this. However, the potential for serious damage to the
door wielding a plane this way is much greater for the novice than with a
belt sander (or circular saw with a guide, for that matter).
It is a rare and unusual circumstance that the entire width of a door needs
to be planed EXCEPT during installation OR if the installation was somehow
botched by the carpenter. Bottoms of doors are another issue. Usually
cutting at the bottom is precipitated by changes in the flooring...
installation of new, thicker carpet can cause doors to rub. In this case, I
have found that sometimes a taper cut is required. Even when a straight cut
is needed the amount to be removed can be too much to make planing a
practical solution. Again personal preference... I would rather make one
cut with a circular saw than twelve passes with the planer.
I also own Makita 3 1/4" motorized plane, and find it useful in some
situations... for example when taking a smidgen more wood off a door edge
AFTER making the initial taper with a circular saw. But frankly, the power
planer is a messy tool, turning every bit of wood into a flying chip! Not
my first choice when used inside the home! The dust collection system on
the sander is fairly efficient... on the planer nonexistent! So yes, I use
the planer, but sparingly.
I respectfully must stick with my feelings towards planing tops of doors,
though. It is just as easy to use a circular saw for cuts fully across and
don't have to futz with planing back from the edges as you describe. Using
a 7 1/4" thin-kerf 36 tooth Matsushita carbide combo blade in my trusty
circular saw, one cut and it's done. Sometimes I even end up with a useful
piece of kindling!!
I doubt that very many do-it-yourselfers (aside from cabinetmakers) keep a
hand plane of the sharpness and quality you describe. It's not that the
tools don't work... they do with a bullet! I just feel uncomfortable
inferring someone purchase a block or power plane they will rarely use
instead of a great multifunction tool such as a belt sander... again in my
Home repair is like politics... both sides can make reasonable arguments and
both sides can be right at the same time. This is one such case! All
DIYers find comfortable ways to solve problems but there is always room for
divergent views and alternate methods. As with many letters I publish here,
yours offers food for thought and a sound alternate opinion. Thanks very
much for expressing it!
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