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Fix a Door That Won’t Close

Solve door latch problems fast

fix a door that won't closeFamily Handyman
When houses settle, doors can settle along with them, resulting in misaligned door latches. Solve the problem with a file, a chisel, and a dab of lipstick (any shade will do).

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Photo 1: Lipstick test

Smear lipstick on the latch and stick masking tape to the strike plate. Close the door to determine where the latch contacts the plate.

The results

When you close the door the lipstick will smear the strike plate as it slides across it, showing exactly where the misalignment is.

Photo 2: Filing the strike plate

Remove the strike plate, place it in a vise and enlarge the hole with a file. You may also have to enlarge the hole in the doorjamb.

Photo 3: Remortise the strike plate

Mark the new position of the strike plate and enlarge the mortise with a chisel


You may also have to enlarge the latch hole in the jamb.

It’s really frustrating when a door won’t close!

When a door latch won’t catch, It’s because the latch doesn’t align with the hole in the strike plate. Sometimes you can clearly see the misalignment. If not, do the “lipstick test” (Photo 1).

Tighten the hinges first.

If you find that the latch contacts the strike plate too high or too low, make sure all the door’s hinge screws are tight. If that doesn’t solve the problem, try this trick: Remove one of the screws on the jamb side of the hinge and drive in a 3-in. screw. The long screw will grab the wall framing and draw in the whole doorjamb slightly. To raise the latch, do this at the top hinge. To lower the latch, do it at the bottom hinge.

Enlarge the strike plate hole.

If long screws don’t solve the too-high or too-low problem, measure the misalignment of the lipstick marks on the strike plate. If the latch misses the strike plate hole by 1/8 in. or less, remove the strike plate and enlarge its hole with a file (Photo 2). A half-round file (sold at home centers and hardware stores) matches the curve of the latch hole.

Move the strike plate.

If the latch contacts the strike plate at the correct level but doesn’t go in far enough, or if the latch strikes more than 1/8 in. too high or too low, you’ll have to reposition the strike plate. You can move it up or down and in or out. Use a sharp chisel to enlarge the strike plate mortise (Photo 3). Then hold the strike plate in place and drill new 1/16-in. holes for the screws. Install the strike plate and fill the gap in the mortise with wood filler. Remove the strike plate to paint or finish the patch.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Cordless drill
  • Drill bit set
  • File
  • Hammer
  • Vise
  • Wood chisel

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Lipstick
  • Wood filler