Some Carpenter’s Tricks for Adjusting Interior Doors
The change from summer to winter, or winter to summer, affects many parts of our houses - mostly due to changes in humidity. As wood absorbs moisture from the air or gives it up, it swells and shrinks. Floors and walls move - drywall nails pop, cracks appear in corners or drywall seams, and doors stick when opened or closed. It is difficult to prevent drywall problems - sooner or later your house will settle, and such problems will be fewer. Otherwise, you just keep repairing them (or not, depending on how much they bother you).
Door problems, however, can be managed. If you are careful not to overcorrect, sticky doors can be made to open and close smoothly using one of just a few tricks. Remember that, as the door has swelled during periods of higher humidity (these may come during the summer), it will shrink when the humidity falls. So don’t adjust, shim, plane or sand too much. There may be too much slack in the drier season. Here are a few tips for dealing with sticky or "out of whack" doors.
Step inside the room (the side from which you can see the hinge pins), close the door, and examine the gap between the door and frame. Check to see if the door is sagging - that is, it no longer fits in the frame squarely. If it sags, tighten the screws on the top hinge first.
If the door still doesn’t fit squarely in the frame, adjust it by shoving thin cardboard shims between the hinges and the jamb. Playing cards work well as shims.
If the door rubs or sticks because the frame has gone out of square (perhaps a wall has shifted or a floor has sagged), or the door has swelled due to high humidity, take down the door and plane or sand the edge that sticks. Be sure to repaint or varnish every raw-wood edge, including the top and bottom, to seal it so the door won’t absorb moisture and swell again.
Old screw holes, especially for the top hinge, often become stripped, and you can’t tighten the screws. If this is the case, plug the old screw holes with toothpicks or wooden match sticks dipped in carpenter’s glue. When the glue dries, shave off the ends with sharp chisel or utility knife and drill new pilot holes for the screws. Then screw the hinge into place again.
Additional tricks to tighten a loose hinge leaf include:
-Drive a long screw (the same diameter but at least 2-1/2 inches long) through the frame and into the wall stud behind. Angle it slightly to make sure it penetrates the stud. Avoid overtightening this screw, because it can pull the frame out of square. This trick works only with the hinge’s inner screws (the ones toward the center of the door jamb). The outer ones won’t hit the stud.
-Simply drill a new screw hole in the hinge. To make the screw fit flush, you have to countersink the hole, using a metal countersink bit.
If your door won’t stay shut, the latch is probably out of alignment with the latch plate (often called the strike plate). Check the wear marks on the plate as the door closes. To make small adjustments, it’s easiest to file the edge of the hole in the latch plate. Move the latch plate only as a last resort, because it can turn into a big job. You’ll have to rechisel its mortise (the pocket cut into the jamb, into which the plate fits), then fill the old mortise and redrill screw holes.
If the old plate and jamb are worn or damaged, replace with a slightly larger latch plate. It looks best if it completely covers the damaged area.
A well-adjusted door shouldn’t rattle every time you walk by. Most latch plates have a flange you can bend slightly to solve the problem.
Another solution is to move the doorstop tighter against the door at the bottom. Cut through the paint or varnish on both sides of the stop with a utility knife so it can break free. Then rap it over about 1/8 inch with a block and hammer. Test the door; it should hit the stop and latch at the same time so it remains tight. Finally, drive a couple 1-1/4-inch finish nails through the stop to anchor it in its new position.