7 easy fixes for common door problems

When planing a door, time of year matters

If you have some doors around your house that aren’t working quite right, don’t despair. There are a number of quick and easy fixes that will take care of whatever’s sticking, squeaking, swinging or otherwise ailing your doors.

The door binds in the upper corner of the jamb: This is a common complaint, since the weight of the door wants to pull it down at an angle from the top corner, opposite the upper hinge. This causes the door to bind against the jamb in that corner. To fix it, remove one or two of the screws that hold the hinge to the jamb.

Replace these screws with new ones that are long enough to reach all the way through the jamb and into the stud behind the jamb; predrill new pilot holes through the existing holes in the jamb to make it easier to drive the screws.

These new, longer screws will pull the jamb back up against the stud and take the angle out of the door frame, relieving that pinch point in the corner.

The door binds against other parts of the jamb: First of all, ask yourself when this started happening. Is it only in the winter? If so, it’s probably due to seasonal swelling, which happens when the wood absorbs moisture from the air.

Check to see if the door is being directly exposed to moisture, such as a drip from a leaky gutter, or perhaps it’s constantly shaded by overhanging trees and rarely dries. If you can identify the cause of the seasonal moisture, correct it.

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Be careful about planing a door during the winter: When it dries out again, it’ll be undersized for the opening.

If the binding isn’t seasonal, look for stress cracks in the drywall or moldings around the door. This can indicate settling issues, which may be caused by shifts in the home’s foundation, or simple drying of the wood framing, especially in newer homes.

If the settling doesn’t continue and the binding doesn’t worsen, you can relieve the bound area by tapping against the frame with a hammer and a block of wood, or by removing the door from its hinges and planing it a little. If the settling is worsening, consult with a contractor or structural engineer.

Door won’t stay latched: If the door won’t stay latched, or if it needs to be pushed hard to get it to latch into the strike plate, first look at the way the door is fitting in the jamb. If you see that it appears to be leaning down at the upper corner, try installing longer screws as described above.

Otherwise, it’s a matter of readjusting the strike plate. Site the latch to see where it’s hitting the strike plate, to try to determine if the plate needs to move up or down. If necessary, try coating the latch with lipstick or crayon and then closing the door — the resulting marks on the strike plate will help indicate where it’s hitting.

If only a small adjustment is needed, try grinding the opening in the strike plate to make it larger as needed. Use a small file or a rotary tool with a metal grinding bit. If a larger adjustment is needed, unscrew and remove the strike plate, then reposition it on the jamb and reinstall it. You may need to chisel the jamb slightly to accept the plate in its new position.

Screws are coming out: If the screws that hold the hinges are coming out of the jamb, or you’ve had to reposition the strike plate and the screws want to go back into the old holes, you need to create new wood for the screws to grab into. This is easily done by drilling out the old screw holes to the size of a standard hardwood dowel, typically 3/8 inch. Apply glue to the dowel, insert it into the hole, allow it to dry, then cut it off flush with the surrounding surface. Drill a new pilot hole into the dowel, and reinsert the screws.

Door swings and won’t stay open: This is caused by a door that’s out of plumb in its opening. To correct it, you need to insert a small amount of shim between the back of the hinge and the door jamb — usually the bottom hinge. To do that, loosen the hinge screws almost all the way, so that you have some play between the hinge and the jamb.

Insert a piece of wooden shim or other material, such as small pieces of plastic laminate, behind the hinge, then retighten the screws. You may need to adjust the amount of shim to get the door to swing correctly, and you may also need to add a small amount of shim to the center hinge as well.

The door latch hits the strike plate: This is caused by a strike cylinder that’s worked loose, or by a loose doorknob. If the strike cylinder that goes into the edge of the door is held in place with a small rectangular plate and two screws, first try tightening the screws.

If they’ll tighten and hold OK, that will pull the cylinder back into the door and hold it. If the screws won’t hold, then you’ll need to install dowels as described above.

Many newer doors have strike cylinders that are drive-in, meaning they’re held in place by a friction fit in the hole that’s drilled in the edge of the door, rather than by screws. They’re also held by tension on the doorknob, which is what the strike cylinder is connected to. First, loosen the screws holding the doorknob, so that you have a little play in the knob.

Set a block of wood against the strike cylinder, and tap it with a hammer to drive it back into the door until it’s flush with the door’s edge. Finally, securely tighten the doorknob’s screws to hold the knob and cylinder in place.

The door hits the wall: You need a door stop. There are three types of door stops available, depending on the situation. The simplest is a solid or flexible stop with a screw on one end and a rubber cap on the other, which is screwed into a pilot hole that’s drilled into the door or into the baseboard.

Another style is a hinge stop, which is used when you want to stop the door before it can open far enough to contact a stop on a wall. To install this type of stop, remove the top or center hinge pin, slip it through the hinge stop, then reinstall the pin in the hinge.

The hinge stop has an adjustable rod that screws in and out to contact the door at different points, allowing you to stop the door’s swing exactly where you want it.

The third type is called a floor stop. Floor stops are attached directly to the floor, and are the strongest of all the stops, making them especially well suited for commercial applications. On the downside, because they sit directly on the floor, they can sometimes be in the way.

Floor stops typically have a long pin that fits into a predrilled hole in the floor for strength, along with a screw that secures it to the floor.

Remodeling and repair questions? Email Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com. All product reviews are based on the author’s actual testing of free review samples provided by the manufacturers.

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