Your Guide to Troubleshooting Door Problems

Whether it doesn't close all the way, refuses to latch, or rattles on contact, we have solutions for all your door problems.

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Few things are as frustrating as an uncooperative door. Maybe it doesn't close properly, or maybe it doesn't open smoothly—whatever the issue, we're here to help. We'll help you troubleshoot the problem, then show you how to fix it. How-tos include adjusting the stop, removing a door from its hinges, planing a door, and much more.

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A Few Door Basics

To get that satisfying "thunk" when a door closes—rather than rattles, squeaks, or scrapes—there must be an even gap between the door and the jamb all around; the hinges should be flush with the jamb and move freely; and the stop and the strike plate should be correctly aligned, so the door's latch easily clicks into the hole in the strike plate when the door closes.

The door itself may be solid-core, hollow-core, or made of panels. Hinges are attached to the jamb, which is attached to the house's framing on the sides and above. An interior door usually has two hinges and a heavier exterior door usually has three. Usually there is a gap between the jamb and the framing, which is filled with shims positioned near the nails.

Stop molding is positioned so the door bumps against it when closed. If the stop is too tight, the door will be difficult to close; if it is too loose, the door will rattle. On the latch side of the jamb, a strike plate is positioned over a hole in the jamb; the door's latch bolt engages a hole in the strike plate to latch the door. On an exterior door there is often a dead-bolt lock as well. The holes and strike plate must be correctly positioned for the door to close properly.

Hinges are attached to the other edge of the door with screws. They grab effectively only in solid wood (not particleboard). Long screws can be used if the door is solid wood, but shorter screws are used for a hollow-core door or a solid-core door with a particleboard core.

A squeaky hinge may only need a squirt of the right lubricant. If you see rust, first use penetrating lubricant to free rusted parts. Then apply powdered graphite or silicone lubricant for a longer-lasting solution. Also use lubricants to free a balky latch bolt.

On the jamb leaf of a hinge, long screws are effective if they can reach house framing. Where the screws would go into drywall, shorter screws are just as good.

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What is Door Binding?

A binding door may need to be planed, but often simpler repairs will solve the problem. If a door binds on the latch side at the top, the upper hinge may be loose; tighten the screws or repair the screw holes. If it binds on the latch side at the bottom, you may need to fix the bottom hinge screws.

If the door binds along the latch side, the hinges may need to be set deeper or the strike plate may need to be set deeper. If the hinge side binds, one or both hinges may need to be shimmed out. If there is binding along the top or the bottom, the door needs to be planed or trimmed.

How to Adjust a Stop

Step 1: Score and Pry

On the latch side, a door is cut at a slight bevel to make it easier to close. If the stop is keeping the door from closing all the way or if it is too far away so that the door rattles, move the stop. First score the paint line where the stop meets the jamb. Then tap in two putty knives and begin prying.

Step 2: Remove Stop

When the separation is large enough, insert a flat pry bar. Keep one putty knife in place to avoid damaging the jamb. Gently work your way down the stop until you can remove it completely. Remove the nails.

Step 3: Reposition the Stop

With the door closed reposition the stop, place a cardboard shim between the stop and the door, and drive new nails. Touch up the paint as necessary.

How to Remove a Door

Step 1: Tap the Pin

To remove a door, support it at the bottom on the latch side with shims. Tap the pin up with a hammer and screwdriver and pull it out. On some hinges you must tap a nail up through the bottom of the hinge first.

Step 2: Pull Off the Door

With the pins removed you can simply pull the door out. Put the pins back into hinge leaves so you will not lose them.

How to Fix a Rattling Door

There are three main reasons your door is rattling: the strike plate is recessesd, the latch bolt does not align, or the strike plate needs to be reset. 

If a strike plate is recessed (as often happens when the doorway is painted several times), remove the screws, pull it out, and make cardboard shims to fit in the mortise. Use as many shims as needed to bring the strike flush with the jamb.

If the latch bolt does not align with the hole in the strike, preventing it from latching, you may be able to solve the problem by filing the strike plate.

If neither fix solves the problem, move the strike plate. Use a knife and chisel to cut a mortise and enlarge the hole if needed. Drill pilot holes and reattach the strike plate. Fill the exposed mortise area with wood putty and sand smooth.

How to Plane a Binding Door

Step 1: Mark Trim Lines

If a door binds and a loose hinge is not the problem, close it until it just touches the jamb (don't force it closed) and use a pencil to scribe a line where the door needs to be trimmed. The ideal is a 1/8-inch gap between the door and jamb at all points. Mark both sides of the door.

Step 2: Adjust Plane

Adjust a plane so the blade barely protrudes beyond the base. Test on a scrap piece of wood; the plane should easily produce very thin shavings. Readjust as needed. You can use a shaping tool, but the resulting edge will require sanding to make it smooth.

Step 3: Plane the Door

Set the door on the floor so it is stable. Hold the plane flat on the door edge and press down as you push forward. Don't force the plane; use moderate pressure. Plane with the grain. If the plane chatters or gets stuck, plane in the opposite direction.

Step 4: Sand Smooth

Plane down to the scribe lines. Sand the edge smooth and slightly round the corners with a sanding block. Finish the edge to match the door.

How to Plane the Top or Bottom of a Door

Step 1: Bevel the Edge

At the top or bottom of a panel where the horizontal rails and vertical stiles meet, plane across, rather than along, the grain of the stile. First use the plane or a sanding block to bevel the outside edge so it won't splinter.

Step 2: Plane the Rail

Plane the rail in both directions. The plane will chatter as it crosses the end grain, then begin shaving smoothly as it reaches the stile. The result at the rail will be somewhat rough but sandable.

How to Cut a Door

Step 1: Mark and Cut

Cut an interior door bottom 1/2 inch or so above the flooring or threshold. Mark the cutting line, then scribe about 1/16 inch above the cutline with a utility knife. This is especially important when cutting across the grain or cutting a plywood veneer.

Step 2: Saw Door

Start the cut with a square as a guide. Stop the saw after cutting 3 or 4 inches. Remove the square and push a straightedge against the base of the saw.

Step 3: Clamp and Measure

Clamp the straightedge at one end. Measure to be sure the circular saw will cut along the cutting line—1/16 inch below the knife line.

Step 4: Make the Next Cut

Set the circular saw's blade about 1/4 inch deeper than the thickness of the door. Make the cut, holding the saw's baseplate against the guide.

Step 5: Sand Edges

Use a sanding block to smooth the cut edge and slightly round the corners.

How to Extend a Door

Step 1: Measure Door and Frame

In an older home with an out-of-square door frame, the top of a door may be out of parallel with the top of the frame. Measure the distance between the top of the door and the frame; subtract 1/8 inch.

Step 2: Rip and Cut

For an interior door 1-3/8 inch thick, rip the extension piece from 2x lumber (which is 1-1/2 inches thick). Cut using a circular saw or a tablesaw. For an exterior door, rip stock to the thickness of the door to cut the piece.

Step 3: Attach Extension

Apply wood glue to the top of the door. Attach the extension piece by drilling pilot holes and driving finishing nails or screws. Plane or power-sand the piece on both sides so it is flush with the door. Fill the joint with wood putty and sand again before painting.

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