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Adjusting A Sticky Door

Freeing Your Door
Doors often stick because they’re no longer sitting correctly on the hinges. The first step to success in this project is to figure out where the door is holding up. Open and close the door until you can find the one or two spots where it is binding.

You May Have Encountered The Following:

  • If the door sticks along the outside of the upper lock stile and along the bottom rail: Tighten the screws of the upper hinge. If that proves insufficient, place a very thin shim of sheet brass or 3 or more layers of smooth, dense cardboard (like the kind used for soft-cover books, cereal boxes, file folders, etc.) behind the lower hinge and reinstall.
  • If the door sticks along the lower outside of the lock stile: Tighten the screws of the lower hinge. If needed, install a very thin shim behind the upper hinge.
  • If the door sticks along the hinge stile: Place a very thin shim behind both hinges and make sure the screws are seated tightly. If that fails to offer an adequate improvement, remove the door and plane along the hinge side. Always plane incrementally to ensure you don’t make the door too small for the frame.
  • If the door sticks along the lock stile: Remove the door and plane the lock-side edge. If this fails to do the trick, you’ll have to remove the hinges and deepen the mortises, which are the recessed blocks that house the hinge plates. To deepen a mortise, hold a sharp wood chisel bevel-side down at about a 30-degree angle and carefully shave away a layer of wood. Do not use a hammer for this process or you may make the mortise too deep. Smooth the new mortise surface turning the chisel bevel-side up and holding it almost flat against the surface. It may be a hassle, but do only a layer at a time and reinstall the hinges and the door each time until the door moves freely.

Tip: If you need to plane a door in only one small area, make guide marks on both sides of the door before you remove it from the frame. When planing the door’s stiles (long sides) always plane the direction of the wood grain using long smooth strokes. When planing the top or bottom of a door, always shave from the edges toward the center on both sides to protect the tops of the stiles.

  • If the door sticks along the top: Use a doorstop to hold the door open and plane along the top edge, moving from the outside corners toward the center. If this proves difficult, you’ll need to remove the door first.
  • If the door sticks along the bottom: Remove the door from the frame and plane the bottom edge, shaving from the outer corners toward the center.
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