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How to Repair Interior Doors

Simple solutions to the four most common door problems

FH01JUN_REPDOO_01-3Family Handyman
Doors that won't shut or latch properly are annoying, but once you diagnose the problem the fix is usually easy. Even if your door has been binding for years, we'll show you how to identify the problem and repair it quickly and inexpensively.

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Problem: Door binds along outside top edge

Loose hinge screws

Screws in the upper hinge have stripped or loosened and the door is sticking at the top edge.

Photo 1: Drive in a long screw

Remove the loose screw and drive a No. 8, 3-in. screw into the trimmer stud closest to the stop to ensure a good bite. Brace yourself against the latch-side jamb and push hard to avoid stripping the screwhead.

When a door binds, it almost always sticks along the latch side near the top. You can usually see the wear there. Check for loose screws in the top hinge plate. Tightening the screws may work for the short term, but they often come loose again because the original hole is stripped. Rather than trying to repair the hole in the wood, replace one of the loose screws with a longer one. The intent is to drive the new screw beyond the existing jamb and into the trimmer stud behind. In order to hit the stud, choose the screw hole closest to the stop (Photo 1); otherwise, the new screw will likely miss the stud altogether. Make sure the new screw is long enough to get through the jamb, the shim space and into the stud. A No. 8, 3-in. will usually do just fine.

Problem: Door binds along bottom edge

Latch-side bottom edge

The lower door jamb is out of plumb and the door is catching at the bottom.

Photo 2: Renail the jamb

Pry out the inside casing with a stiff putty knife, then drive a 10d casing nail through the jamb and existing shim into the trimmer stud. Punch the nail slightly below the wood surface with a nail set, then putty the hole, sand smooth and refinish with varnish or paint.

If the door rubs on the latch-side bottom edge, look for fastener failure again. In most cases, the lower jamb has shifted or pulled loose from its nails, resulting in an out-of-plumb opening. To reset the jamb, pry away the bottom section of casing and renail the jamb (Photo 2). If there are no shims, install them if necessary to allow for a 1/8-in. gap between the closed door and the jamb. Then nail with 10d casing nails and tack the casing back into place.

Problem: Door binds along entire edge

Occasional binding

The whole door is binding along the edge, but only when the weather is humid.

Photo 3: Sand the edge

With the door installed, mark the trim line with tape, using the jamb as a guide. Then remove the door, support it, and sand down to the tape with a belt sander.

If the door is binding along the entire length of the latch-side edge, and you’ve tried the first two solutions, the door has probably swollen from high seasonal humidity. First check to make sure all the edges are either painted or varnished.

When a door isn’t sealed on all four edges, moisture can enter and swell it as much as 1/4 in. so it will no longer close. If your door isn’t well sealed, wait for the dry season to see if it will shrink back to a good fit. Then seal it with a good primer/paint or stain/varnish combo.

If you want immediate results, you’ll have to remove the door from its hinges and plane or sand down the latch side, removing just enough material so that it can shut smoothly once again. Remove as little as possible to ensure a tight fit, then seal unfinished edges with paint or varnish.

To support the work, we used a clamping- style workbench to hold the door on end and adhered masking tape to the rubbing edge as a guide for the belt sander. You can substitute a hand or power planer for the belt sander, but the sander gives you better control over the amount of waste you remove. Once you rehang the door and are happy with the fit, reseal the sanded edge to keep out moisture.

CAUTION!

If your home was built before 1978, the paint may contain lead, a hazardous material. Either have it tested (contact your local health department for testing labs) or follow safe scraping and sanding techniques recommended by your local building department. Dispose of the waste according to local regulations.

Problem: Door doesn’t latch

Misaligned strike plate

The latch won’t catch unless you lift or slam the door.

Photo 4: File the strike plate

Clamp the plate in a vise and file down the side that needs to be enlarged. Choose a flat metal file approximately the same width as the strike opening to make filing easier.

If a door doesn’t latch, either the door or the frame has shifted, resulting in the misalignment of the strike plate and strike, or bolt. The quickest and easiest solution is to file the strike plate.

An easy way to tell where the problem lies is to apply lipstick to the protruding bolt, then shut the door. The lipstick will mark the strike position onto the strike plate and show where it needs to be filed (Photo 4).

Once you reposition the strike plate, you may have to remove some wood behind it to allow the bolt to penetrate the jamb freely. If the misalignment is more than 1/8 in., shift the position of the strike plate in the jamb, rather than filing it.

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
  • Belt sander
  • Block plane
  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Drill bit set
  • Dust mask
  • File
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Safety glasses

Required Materials for this Project

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

  • 10d casing nails
  • 3-in. screws
  • Lipstick
  • Paint or varnish
  • Shims
  • Tape
  • Wood putty