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Understanding Interior Doors

Almost every modern wood panel door has a vertical-stile and horizontal-rail framework. This construction helps counteract the wood’s tendency to shrink, swell, and warp with humidity changes. With a panel door (right), you can see that framing. Spaces between frame members are paneled with wood, louvered slats, or glass. Smooth-surfaced “flush doors” hide their framing beneath two or three layers of veneer. Alternating the veneer directions minimizes warping. A solid-core flush door has a dense center of hardwood blocks or particleboard; a hollow-core door uses lighter material in the interior, such as ribbons of corrugated cardboard or rigid foam insulation.

Panel doors. Made of milled pine components, panel doors are easy to plane and, if necessary, cut down to fit an opening. Cheaper types are made of molded hardboard.

Hollow-core doors. Covered with oak, birch, or lauan-mahogany veneer, hollow-core doors are inexpensive. They are difficult to cut down, though, because there is only 2 to 3 inches of framing at the top and bottom.

Freeing a Binding Door

When a hinged door sticks, don’t be too quick to take it down to plane its edges. Many difficulties are better corrected by making minor adjustments with the door in place. Most problems result from one or more of the following causes: loose hinge screws, paint that is too thick on the jamb and/or door edge, improperly aligned hinges, an improperly aligned strike plate, a frame that is out of square (usually because the house has settled), or warping of the door.

Tools: Flammer, nail set, chisel, wedge, plane, and screwdriver.

Where's the rub? If a door sticks or refuses to fit into its frame, open the door and pull up on the handle, then let go. If either hinge is loose, screws need to be tightened. Next close the door as far as it will go without forcing it, and carefully examine the perimeter. Look for an uneven gap along the hinge jamb; this means that the hinges need attention. If the door seems too big for its frame—or out of square with it—-mark the tight spots, then sand or plane those spots.

1. Shim the door. Loose hinge screws can cause sags. To tighten them, first wedge the door open under the latch edge. (Hinges usually come loose for a reason—often because the door binds when it is closed. After tightening the screws, take steps to make sure that the door does not bind.)

2. Plug the screw holes. Remove the screws and plug their holes with glue-coated golf tees, wood splinters, or dowels. Drive new screws into each plug. If this does not work, try driving longer screws. Make sure the screws are driven straight, so their heads are flat; angled screw heads can cause the door to bind.

3. Shim out a hinge. If the door binds on the hinge side, scrape and sand away any built-up paint on the edge of the door and the jamb. A hinge leaf should be flush with the surrounding surface. If either leaf is set in, remove the screws, insert a cardboard shim, and rescrew.

1. Plane the door top in place, if possible. If the door binds, gently close the door and scribe a cut line at all points where binding occurs, using the jamb as a guide. Usually you won’t have to remove the door from its hinges to plane the top or the latch side. First bevel any edges to prevent splintering.

2. Tap out the hinge pins. To trim the bottom or an edge you can’t reach with the door in place, remove the door. Shim the bottom of the door so it is stable. Use a nail set or screwdriver to hammer out the hinge pins, bottom first, then the top. If the hinge is rusty and the pin is stuck, try squirting with penetrating oil. If that doesn’t work, you may need to remove the screws from one hinge leaf.

3. Plane the door. Brace the door for planing. Avoid planing the hinge side, if possible. If you must do so, first remove the hinges. You may have to reset the hinges afterwards.

Correcting Strike Problems

When a door will not latch, or if it rattles when latched, examine the strike plate attached to the jamb. Minor adjustments often will solve the problem. If the latch does not engage the strike plate, determine if the latch is too far from the strike. Scratches on the strike plate probably mean the latch is hitting the strike but missing the hole. A door that does not fit snugly against its stop molding almost certainly will rattle. To silence it, move the strike plate or reposition the stop.

Tools: Screwdriver, file, drill, and chisel.

File and move the strike plate. If the strike plate is off only 1/8 inch or so, remove the strike plate and enlarge its opening with a file. You may need to chisel away some wood when reinstalling. For bigger shifts, relocate the strike. You’ll need to extend the mortise.

Shim the strike. If the strike is too far away to engage the latch, first check if the hinges need to be shimmed out. If the hinges fit properly, shim out the strike using thick cardboard.

Silencing Squeaky Hinges

If a hinge squeaks, it may be under extra pressure because the door is binding. Or the hinge may be rusty because of damp conditions. Cleaning and lubricating may solve the problem; but in the case of bad rust, you’re better off replacing the hinge. You might solve the problem by oiling with the pin in place. Spread a cloth on the floor and squirt some penetrating oil into the moving parts. Open and close the door to work the lubricant in.

Tools: Hammer, nail set, drill, steel wool, and wire-brush pipe cleaner.

1. Clean the pins. If oiling does not quiet a rusty hinge, shim the bottom of the door so it is stable. Remove the hinge pin. Clean the pin with steel wool. Poke out the pin hole with a wire-brush pipe cleaner.

2. Put graphite on moving parts. Coat moving parts with graphite. When you replace the pin, don’t drive it tight; leave space for prying it out again and adding more graphite in the future.

Lubricating Balky Latches

Old latches have springs that may break. If lubricating a latch does not free it, remove the unit and take it to a locksmith, who may be able to repair it. Or consider buying and installing a replacement. A latch that has been painted is in danger of binding. Remove all paint by carefully scraping with a chisel or by using a wire-brush attachment on a drill. If you’re going to use powdered graphite to lubricate the lock, place a newspaper under the area to protect carpeting.

Tools: Screwdriver.

Apply graphite to latch. Turn the handle to retract the latch bolt, then puff powdered graphite into the works. Turn the handle repeatedly to work the bolt back and forth, and apply more graphite if needed. If this does not solve the problem, you may need a new latch.

Apply graphite to thumb latch. Lubricate a thumb-operated latch lever by puffing graphite powder into the lock body. Move the latch up and down to work in the graphite. Wipe away any excess.

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