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Fix Sagging or Sticking Doors

Fix tight doors by tightening hinges and jambs—sanding is a last resort.

This post shows you how to fix a sticking door in most cases without removing the door. Get instant results and enjoy a trouble-free door.

Overview

It seems that when a door is difficult to open or close, everyone calls the handyman or carpenter to plane down the doors so they move easily.  Although that will work, there are a few much easier ways to fix it.  Don’t get me wrong, if the cause for the door to stick is the house settling and the jamb is out-of-plumb, then that is the only option.  But usually, it is something much simpler and easier to fix.

Option 1 –Tighten Screws

Since the doors constantly open and close, the screws become loose and the hinges are no longer tight to the jamb.  Tighten these screws by hand (not a power tool) to prevent the screws from being stripped or the wood is damaged.  If the screw turns easily, then you may want to fill the hole with some glue or wood putty before tightening.  If you find a screw or hole that’s already stripped, try these fixes:

  1. Replace stripped-jamb screws with 3-in. screws. These long screws run through the jamb and into the framing behind it.
  2. If the screw hole is stripped in a solid door, predrill with a 1/8-in.bit and drive in a screw that’s an inch longer than the original.
  3. If you have a hollow-core door, reinforce the screw hole. Dip toothpicks, wood splinters or my favorite a golf tee in glue and use them to fill the screw hole. Then drive in the original screw.

Door hinges aren’t truly adjustable. But by driving a long screw through the jamb and into the wall framing, you can pull the hinge and jamb toward the framing and slightly reposition the door. Before you drive a screw, close the door to determine exactly where it rubs against the jamb. If it rubs near the top of the side jamb (which is most common), draw in the upper hinge. If the door rubs at the lower side jamb or head jamb, draw in the bottom hinge. If the door rubs all along the side jamb, draw in all the hinges. Often, you can move the door up to 1/8 in. with this method.

To use this technique, remove a screw near the middle of the hinge (rather than the top or bottom screw). Drive in the 3-in. screw with a drill. When the screw is snug against the hinge, give the screw another quarter turn. Close the door to check the fit. Continue tightening and checking until the door no longer sticks. Keep an eye on the door trim as you tighten—if you begin to create gaps at the trim joints, stop. It’s rare, but you might find that you can’t draw in a hinge at all because the jamb is already tight against the framing or shims.

Fixing a Sagging, Self-closing Door

Doors in older houses sometimes close on their own because they’re out of plumb. If the wall is out of plumb or the house has major settlement issues, you may need to do major work to fix the problem, but if the door slowly moves to the closed position and the wall is still plumb you can usually solve the problem by tweaking the hinges a little.

Check the gap at the top of the door. If it’s wider at the doorknob side, remove the center screw at the top hinge and replace it with a predrilled 3-in. screw angled slightly toward the middle of the jamb. The screw will pull the jamb and door tighter to the framing and hopefully fix the problem.

If the door still creeps closed (but less so), go to the “Kleenex box” shimming technique. Put one shim behind the middle hinge and two shims behind the bottom hinge.

Drill through the jamb

Predrill a 1/8-in. hole and create a recess for the screwhead with a countersink bit. Then drive a 3-in. screw into the wall framing to draw in the jamb.

This is really just another version of the hinge adjustment described above. By driving a long screw through the “latch” side of the jamb (rather than the hinge side), you can often draw in the jamb and give the door a little extra space. Try this only if drawing in the hinges doesn’t work; it leaves you with a large screwhead hole to cover. Countersink the screwhead with a countersink bit (about $8 at home centers). Drive a screw near the middle of the area where the door is rubbing. You may need to add a second screw. Tighten screws gradually and watch the trim to make sure you don’t open joints. Cover the screwheads with wood filler and then sand and paint or stain the filler to match.

Plane the door with a belt sander

If your door still sticks after you’ve tried tightening and driving screws, you’ll have to plane it. Start by scribing the door where it rubs against the side or top of the jamb (Photo 1). A carpenter’s compass is the best tool for this ($3 at home centers). Then remove the door. The best tool for “planing” the door isn’t a plane, but a belt sander. You could also do the job with a hand plane or an electric planer. Belt sander prices start at about $50. Begin with a 50-grit sanding belt. This coarse belt removes wood fast. Keep the sander moving so you don’t grind a hole in one spot. Some older doors have a beveled edge, but don’t accidentally create a bevel if the door didn’t originally have one. When you’re about 1/16 in. away from the scribe line, switch to an 80-grit belt and sand to the line. Finally, use a 120-grit belt to smooth the door’s edge.

If you sand the area around the mortise that holds the door latch, you might end up with a latch that protrudes. Solve this problem by deepening the mortise with a sharp chisel. The belt sander will leave sharp corners on the edge of the door. Round them slightly by making a couple of passes with 120-grit paper.

Hang the door back on its hinges to check the fit. Don’t be surprised if you have to remove the door and sand off some more. If there’s a 1/8″ gap between the door and the jamb, you’re ready to paint or stain the sanded edge. You can remove the door or finish it in place. If the top or bottom edges of the door are unfinished, paint or varnish them. A coat of varnish limits shrinking and swelling because it slows moisture movement in and out of wood.

Tips for Removing and Rehanging Doors

I’ve spent much of my carpentry career working alone, and the most important thing I’ve learned about removing doors is to get a helper whenever you can. A second set of hands means less damage to the door, walls and your back. Here are some other tips that save time and trouble:

If you plan to remove the knob and latch, do it before you remove the door. They’re easier to remove when the door is standing upright.

Support the swing end of the door with shims. Just slip them under the door; don’t force them in tight. The shims keep the swing end from dropping as you remove the hinge pins.

Tap pins up and out of the hinge knuckles with a long screw, bolt or screwdriver. My favorite pin pusher is a worn-out 7/32-in. drill bit.

Remove the bottom pin first and the top pin last. Be ready to catch the door as you remove the top pin.

Hinge pins can be stubborn but resist the urge to give them a hard whack. Hard blows go off course and dent woodwork.

If you find that the hinge knuckles won’t slip back together, loosen the screws on one hinge a little. The hinge leaf will move slightly and mesh with its partner. Tighten the screws when the door is in place.

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Charles Bellefontaine CMI, CPI, ACI

Charles is a home inspector and a home inspector trainer. He started as a professional home inspector in 1993. He works for Chicagoland Home Inspectors, Inc. and Bellman Group, Inc. He has earned the title of Certified Master Inspector (CMI) from the Master Inspector Certification Board. He earned the title Certified Property Inspector (CPI) from the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. He earned the title ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI) from the American Society of Home Inspectors. He served as a Director and Officer of the American Society of Home Inspectors. He hs a tremendous passion about the home inspection profession and prides himself on helping his clients with the biggest purchase of their lives.

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