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More fixes for old doors that stick

Scott Gibson, Contributing Editor

There are a few doors in our house that habitually catch in their openings -- more so in summer than winter, but a pain all year round. What's the best way to trim a door so it fits correctly?

You may not have to trim the door at all.

Start by checking for built-up paint on the edges of the door and in the jamb. Especially in older houses, scraping away multiple layers of old paint will give your door the space it needs to open and close cleanly.

If paint isn't the problem, next check on the the hinge side of the opening for loose screws. Over time, some of them may have worked their way out, allowing the door to sag against the jamb.

If that's the case you can try tightening them back up. You may be lucky to find the screws still grab and your job will be over in five minutes.

More than likely, though, the wood will be just plain worn out and offer nothing for screw threads to engage.

Restore the jamb with dowels

Assuming that's what you find you'll have to repair the jamb with wood plugs.

Start by opening the door and propping up the outside corner with wood wedges, cardboard or whatever you can find. This prevents the door from moving around while you work.

The damage could be on either the door or the jamb, but let's suppose it's on the jamb. And probably at the uppermost hinge.

Remove the screws holding the hinge leaf to the jamb and swing the hinge out of the way.

Cut sections of 3/8-in. or 1/2-in. hardwood dowel as long as the jamb is thick. Bore holes of corresponding size into the jamb where the screws have been removed and glue in the dowels. Yellow carpenter's glue will work just fine.

When the glue has cured (let it dry overnight), pare the ends of the dowels back so they're flush with the surrounding wood. Then drill new pilot holes for the screws and remount the hinge.

A self-centering Vix bit will help you get the pilot holes in the right places.

If you do trim the door, proceed cautiously

Does your door still bind? Sometimes joints in the door itself may loosen - and get filled with paint - over the years. (OHW Publisher Ken Holmes recently wrote a story on how to clean and re-glue joints in an old door.)

Alas, sometimes doors still don't fit - and you have no recourse other than to cut it to size. Just like people, doors can sag over time.

Start by making sure the gap between the door and the jamb on the hinge side is a uniform 1/8 in. top to bottom. Then, with the door closed in its opening, mark the offending corners that bind so there will be a 1/8-in. gap on the top and on the strike side of the door.

I'd make the gap on the bottom a little wider, and make sure to account for any carpets that might get in the way.

Remove the door and put it on the pair of sawhorses your assistant has thoughtfully located nearby. Old towels or packing blankets will protect the door from scratches.

(I'd avoid using the dining room table as a work surface as I did in our first house. Before I knew it, I'd plowed a 4-ft. groove through the top of a table with my trusty circular saw. The freshly antiqued table was on loan from my wife's parents.)

Make a cut line before using your saw

If only a small amount of material has to come off - let's say 1/8 in. or less - it's probably faster and safer to plane the door than cut it with a saw.

That's assuming your hand plane is sharp.

If more material has to come off, use a circular saw with a sharp blade. Clamp a guide board on the door so you get a straight cut, and use a sharp utility knife to score along the cut line first.

Masking tape will prevent the shoe of the saw from scratching the door, and the knife line will prevent the wood along the saw line from splintering.

When you're finished, use fine sandpaper to clean up the edge and apply clear finish or paint to slow down the absorption of moisture.

That's one reason doors stick in the first place.

About the Author
An accomplished woodworker and carpenter, Scott Gibson is the former editor of Fine Woodworking magazine, and a former editor at Today's Homeowner and Fine Homebuilding magazines. He also is former managing editor of the Kennebec Journal, a daily newspaper in Maine.

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