How to Repair Doors

By: Editors of Consumer Guide & Walter Curtis

Loose hinge screws can be tightened by filling the hole with wooden toothpicks dipped in glue and trimmed flush.
Loose hinge screws can be tightened by filling the hole with wooden toothpicks dipped in glue and trimmed flush.
Image © Publications International, Ltd.

If fences make for better neighbors, then doors make for happier families -- but not if your doors are squeaking or sticking. The truth is, repairing or replacing a door is relatively easy and requires only a few common tools and a couple hours of your time. In this article, you will learn all aspects of door maintenance, from unsticking a door to installing a lockset. Let's begin with some general door-fixing tips:

  • If you're trying to remove a door's hinge pin and the pin won't budge, press a nail against the hinge bottom and tap upward against the nail with a hammer.
  • For better control when lifting a door off its hinges, remove the bottom pin first. When replacing a door on its hinges, insert the top pin first.
  • You do not need to worry about oil dripping on the floor if you quiet a squeaky hinge by lubricating its pin with petroleum jelly rather than oil.
  • If you need to plane the bottom of a door because it scrapes the threshold or the floor, you can do so without removing the door. Place sandpaper on the threshold or floor, then move the door back and forth over this abrasive surface. Slide a newspaper or magazine under the sandpaper if it needs to be raised in order to make contact.
  • To remove 1/2 inch or more from a door, score with a utility knife to prevent chipping, and finish with a circular saw.
  • When you've fashioned a door to the exact size for hanging, bevel the latch edge backward to let it clear the jamb as it swings open and shut.
  • Before you replace a door that you have planed, seal the planed edges with wood sealer. If you don't, the door will swell and stick.

Unsticking a Door

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Doors, like windows, stick for a number of reasons -- from poor construction to extreme humidity. In most cases, it's easy to unstick a stubborn door. To diagnose the problem, close the door, watching it carefully to locate the binding point.

If there's a gap between the door and the frame opposite the binding edge, the hinges probably need adjustment. If you can't see a gap anywhere between the door and the frame and you had to slam the door to close it, the wood has probably swollen from extreme humidity. If the hinges and the wood are both in good shape, the door frame itself may be out of alignment; check the frame with a carpenters' square. Once you know the problem, you are ready to find the best home improvement solution listed below.

To fix a door with poorly adjusted hinges, examine the hinges for loose screws, both on the door and on the frame. Securely tighten any loose screws. If a screw doesn't tighten, the screw hole has become enlarged. When the hole is only slightly enlarged, you may be able to correct the problem by replacing the screw with a longer one, but make sure the head is the same size.

Another option is to use a hollow fiber plug with the old screw. To do this, spread carpenters' glue on the outside of the plug, and insert the fiber plug into the enlarged screw hole. Then drive the screw into the hole. If the screw hole is badly enlarged, you can use wood toothpicks to fill it in. Dip the toothpicks into carpenters' glue and insert them around the screw hole. Let the glue dry, then trim the toothpicks flush with the surface. When you drive the screw into the filled-in hole, it should hold securely.

If the screws are not loose, the hinges may have to be readjusted on the door frame. Close the door, watching to see where it sticks and where it gaps. If the door is tilted in the frame, it will stick at the top on one side and at the bottom on the other, and there will be a gap between the door and the frame opposite each binding point.

If the door hinges need shimming, open the door as far as it will go. Push a wedge under it to hold it firmly. At the hinge to be adjusted, loosen the screws from the hinge leaf on the door frame, but don't touch the screws in the door itself. Cut a piece of thin cardboard to the same size as the hinge leaf, and mark the location of the hinge screws on it. Cut horizontal slots in the shim to fit over the screws; slide the shim over the screws behind the loosened hinge leaf. Keeping the shim in place, tighten the screws to resecure the hinge. Remove the wedge holding the door and close the door. If the door still sticks, but not as much as it did before, add another shim under the hinge.

If the door sticks even after shimming, or if there is no gap anywhere around the frame, you'll have to remove some wood at the binding points. Use a block plane on the top or bottom of the door or a jack plane to work on the side. If the door sticks at the sides, try to plane only on the hinge side; the latch side is beveled slightly, and planing could damage the bevel. Use the plane carefully, removing only a little wood at a time. Keep your cuts even across the entire binding edge.

If the door sticks because the frame is out of alignment, there's not much you can do to fix it. At the binding point, set a piece of 2x4 flat against the frame, and give it several firm hammer blows. This may move the frame just enough to solve the problem. If this doesn't work, you'll have to adjust the hinges or plane the edges to allow for the unevenness of the frame. The door may end up slightly crooked, but it won't stick.

So far we've discussed some fairly cosmetic changes to your doors. In the next section, we dive a little deeper and learn how to completely replace a door or lockset.

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How to Hang an Interior Door

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Hanging or installing a door isn't as difficult as it may seem. Replacing an existing door is easy if the new door core is the same size. Installing a door in a new partition wall is also very easy if you buy a prehung door so you don't have to build the door frame yourself. In fact, you probably can tackle this home improvement project in an hour or two if you have the necessary materials and tools ready.

Installing a Prehung Door

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Prehung doors are the easiest to install. These doors come already set in a frame, and one side of the frame has been trimmed with molding. Usually, the hardware has been installed, too, making the process even easier.

To buy a prehung door, you need to know the size of the rough door opening. There are approximately 3 inches at the side jambs and 11/2 inches at the head jamb for fitting purposes. To install a prehung door:

Step 1: Set door into rough opening and vertically level, or plumb, door jamb sides, filling any gaps at top and sides with cedar shingle shims.

Step 2: Nail head and side jambs to rough framing, using 16d finishing nails. Countersink nail heads into face of jambs with nail set. Fill holes with wood putty.

Step 3: Nail finished casing or molding to doorway with 10d finishing nails. Countersink nail heads, and fill with wood putty.

Step 4: Apply wood sealer to both sides of door and top, bottom, and side edges. Seal casing and door moldings, too.

Installing Folding Doors

If you need a door where there just isn't room for it to open, consider installing a folding door. A bifold door uses only half the space of a regular door. Bifold doors are available with two to eight panels; two panels fit a standard door opening. To install a bifold folding door:

Step 1: Measure the inside of the door opening. Subtract 1 ¼ inches for vertical clearance and ½ inch (or, for a four-panel door, ¾ inch) for horizontal clearance. Buy a door cut to fit this size opening; make sure the panels are already hinged together and the necessary pivots are included.

Step 2: Insert the top pivot bracket into the metal track that guides the door, as directed by the manufacturer. If you're installing a four-panel door, insert the second top pivot bracket into the other end of the track as directed. Set the track in position across the inside top of the door opening, with the edge of the track flush with the edges of the jambs. Mark the location for screw holes along the track and set it aside.

Step 3: Drill pilot holes for screws as directed by the manufacturer, and fasten the track into place. For a two-panel door, from the top pivot bracket at the corner of the opening where the door will fold together, drop a plumb bob from the center of the pivot bracket to the floor. Set the bottom pivot bracket on the floor at this point, so that the holes in the two brackets line up exactly. Mark the screw holes for the bottom pivot bracket. Drill pilot holes for the screw and screw the bracket into position on both the floor and door frame. For a four-panel door, install the second bottom pivot bracket tin the same way, aligning it exactly under the top pivot bracket at the other side of the door frame.

Step 4: Determine the position of the bottom pivot bracket or bracket as before, but don't attach them. If you're installing the door in a carpeted area, allow adequate clearance over the carpeting. Trace the outline of each bracket exactly on a block of scrap wood that is the same thickness as the carpeting. With a handsaw, cut the block of wood to the same size as the bracket. Cut out a similar size section of carpet, set the block in place and screw the bottom pivot bracket into the block and the door frame.

Step 5: Fold the door panels together. The pivot panel have pivot pins at top and bottom to fit into the pivot brackets; the guide panel has a wheel that moves along the track. Se the bottom pivot pin into place in the bottom pivot bracket and tilt the folded-together door into the door frame. Slide the top pivot bracket over the top of the bracket. Tilt the door slowly into position, sliding the top bracket back toward the pivot corner. Insert the guide wheel in the track as soon as the angle of the door allows. Open the door to bring it firmly upright. If you're installing a four-panel door, repeat this procedure to install the second pair of panels on the other side of the door frame.

Step 6: Test the door for proper operation. If it sticks or doesn't hang evenly, adjust it according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Step 7: Attach doorknobs provided on both sides of the hinge joint. Mark and drill pilot screw holes, if necessary, then screw in the knobs with the screws provided. If you're installing a four-panel door, attach doorknobs to each set of panels. Close the door and attach the aligner plates provided to hold the panels firmly together.

Installing a Lockset

Once you've hung a new door, you need to fit it with a lockset.

Some doors come predrilled for standard-size locksets. Other doors require you to drill the holes yourself, using a template provided by the lock manufacturer. With any door, you need to cut mortises, or holes, in the door edge for the lockset and in the frame for the strike plate that engages the lock's bolt.

Here's how to install a lockset:

Step 1: Wrap the paper or cardboard template that comes with the new lockset around the edge of the door according to the manufacturer's instructions. If necessary, use tape to secure the template. The template will be used to locate two holes: one hole for lock cylinder and the other for edge of door for bolt. Mark the centers for these two holes on the door.

Step 2: Use a power drill with hole-saw attachment to drill the hole the size specified for the lock cylinder. Be careful not to damage the veneer on the opposite side of door. When you see the point of the drill coming through, stop and finish boring from the other side.

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Step 3: Drill a hole the appropriate size for the bolt into the edge of the door until you reach the cylinder hole. Use the combination square against the edge of the door and the drill bit to keep the bit at a right angle to the door. Smooth the edges of the holes with sandpaper.

Step 4: Insert the bolt into the hole, and place the bolt plate in position over it. Trace the bolt plate's outline on the edge of door. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to remove the bolt and mortise edge for the bolt plate so it will be flush with the surface.

Step 5: Use a chisel to cut the mortise. Insert the bolt and plate in the mortise, and drill the pilot holes for the mounting screws. Install the screws to secure the bolt in place.

Step 6: Insert the outside lock cylinder so the stems or connecting bar fits into the bolt assembly. Attach the interior lock cylinder, and secure it with the screws.

Insert the bolt assembly and trace its outline over the edge of the door; remove excess wood to mount the assembly.
Insert the bolt assembly and trace its outline over the edge of the door; remove excess wood to mount the assembly.
Image © Publications International, Ltd.

Step 7: Locate the proper spot for the strike plate on the jamb, and drill the proper-size hole in the jamb. Using the strike plate as a pattern, mark the jamb for mortising, and cut the mortise. Install the strike plate with screws so it fits flush with the jamb.

Now you know how to repair your doors if they are squeaking or sticking, and, if a door is giving you real problems, you know how to pull it out and install a completely new door.

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