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How to Repair a Binding Wood Door

The Old House Web

This procedure includes guidance on inspecting and repairing a door thatbinds or rubs unnecessarily. Some causes of a binding door may include paintbuild-up, thermal expansion or swelling of the wood, loose hinges, a worn hingepin, or an open joint between the rail and stile. See below for guidance onexamining the cause of the problem so that the appropriate repair can be made.


The parts of the door assembly involved in this procedure are the door unitand door frame.

  • The door unit is composed of a head rail, lock rail, bottom rail, lock stile, hinge stile, muntins, and panels. The door unit assembly is held together by mortise and tenon joints.
  • The frame is composed of the jambs, head jamb, stop, and blocking. The cuts made on door and jamb at hinge side are the hinge mortise and the cut made on the jamb at latch side is the strike mortise.

Ideally, a door should hang with a 1/16 to 1/8 inch uniform gap around thedoor between the door and the jamb.

A door should swing smoothly and silently on its hinges, latch firmly, andremain fixed when closed.


A. Wood screws

B. Wood dowels

C. Wood wedges

D. Wood glue

E. Wood filler


A. Screwdriver

B. Drill

C. Vice

D. Plane

E. Clamps

F. Level


To discern the problem, watch the door operate as it is opened and closed afew times. Note the location of any binding or rubbing, or if doors bindinconsistently from top to bottom or hinge side to latch side.

1. If the door binds evenly along the latch side and head, the problem may becaused by paint build-up, or seasonal expansion. 2. If the door binds along thetop of the latch side and/or on the floor, the problem may be a loose upper orlower hinge, a worn hinge pin, or an open joint between the upper rail andstile.

  • A loose lower hinge is usually a problem with wide throw hinges on entry doors, causing the door to sag. This is evident by the door resting against the jamb on the hinge side.
  • The joint between the upper rail and the stile may be forced open by the weight of the door or warping in the stile or rail.

3. If the door drags on the floor and a gap exists on the latch side of thehead or when a door binds at the latch side of the head and a gap exists at thefloor, the cause is building settlement. This situation can be differentiatedfrom loose hinges by the gap between top of door and head jamb.


For paint build-up:

This is typically the cause of binding doors.

1. If the paint is loose and flaking, carefully remove it from the matingsurfaces using a paint scraper. TAKE PARTICULAR CARE NOT TO GOUGE THEWOOD SURFACES.

2. For paint build-up that cannot be easily removed using a scraper, removeexcess paint using heat or chemical removers.

For a door that swells from seasonal expansion:

The door must be carefully removed from the frame, planed, and reinstalled.Planing should be performed during the peak of the humid season when the woodhas expanded fully.

For a loose upper or lower hinge:

1. Check for loose top hinge by opening the door partially and pulling up onthe knob and pushing in toward the top. If the hinge moves, it is loose.

2. Tighten screws as much as possible. If the screw holes have been stripped,install longer screws, or drill new pilot holes for screws

  • For stripped screw holes in the door STILE: Resecure the hinge to the stile using longer screws. This method is suitable for the door stile because the stile is made of solid wood and can accommodate longer screws. NOTE: SCREW HEADS MUST BE SMALL ENOUGH TO FIT FLUSH WITH HINGE LEAVES. A PROTRUDING SCREW WILL UNDO REPAIR BY FORCING HINGE OUT OF ITS MORTISE.
  • For stripped screw holes in the JAMB: Resecure the hinge to the jamb by filling in existing holes and drilling new screw holes. NOTE: INSTALLING LONGER SCREWS IS GENERALLY NOT ADEQUATE FOR RESECURING THE HINGE IN THE JAMB AS THE JAMB IS TYPICALLY NOT WIDE ENOUGH (3/4") TO ACCOMMODATE LONGER SCREWS.
    1) Remove the hinge and drill out existing screw holes in the jamb.
    2) Insert glue-soaked dowel into the hole and allow to dry.
    3) Re-drill pilot holes for new screws and re-install hinge.

For a worn hinge pin:

1. Check for worn hinge pin by lifting and pushing door. If there is nomovement in hinge leaves but knuckle moves or is misaligned, the hinge pin isworn.

2. Make sure pin is fully inserted. If needed, straighten bent hinge pin orremove hinge and straighten bent knuckles with vice.

3. If the pin is all the way in and knuckles are still loose, the pin orwhole hinge must be replaced. Replacement pin and/or hinge should match theoriginal.

For an open joint between upper rail and stile:

Remove paint and any filler or caulk from previous repair. Before proceeding,understand joint type.

1. To repair a through tenon joint, remove old wedges and work joint open todislodge glue.

  • Glue all exposed areas of tenon joint and clamp tightly.
  • Make new wedges slightly longer than needed and drive glue-soaked wedges in tight. Remove any excess glue.
  • When the glue dries, chisel off ends of wedges flush with the edge of door.

2. To repair a rail tenon joint (tenon reaches only partially through thestile):

  • Reglue all exposed areas of joint and clamp tightly.
  • Peg connection through stile and tenon with wood dowel. The dowel will show on the surface of the door. -OR- Countersink 2 long wood screws through side of stile and face of tenon. Fill the hole with tinted wood filler.

For a gap at the top due to building settlement:

1. Check for frame squareness with level at head and jambs.

2. If gap between door and head is small enough so that one cannot seethrough the frame into other room, carefully remove the door from its frame,plane the bottom of door and leave the frame out of line.

3. If one can see through the gap into other room, the frame must be rebuilt.

For a gap at the bottom due to building settlement:

1. Check for frame squareness with level at head and jambs.

2. If not level, the door must be reframed. NOTE: Planing the dooris not an option here. Planing the narrower top rail of the door would leave itdistorted and unsightly and weakened if the tenon is exposed.

Source: U.S. General Services Administration Historic Preservation TechnicalProcedures

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