Don't reach for the plane, quite yet

By Gene Austin

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Rainy spring and hot humid summer weather not only makes many of us damp and uncomfortable, but sometimes brings an irritating byproduct -- sticking doors. Moisture in the air is absorbed by the wood in some doors. The wood swells and the doors become difficult to open and close.

Some doors stick even in dry winter weather, of course, so a balky door can be a year-round problem.


The first impulse of many do-it-yourselfers is to shave some wood off the door edge with a plane or rasp, but this often isn't necessary. Following are some simpler steps to take before removing any wood.

Check the hinges. Some doors are quite heavy, and constant opening and closing puts strain on the hinges that can cause screws to work loose. Loose hinges let the door sag against the frame and stick. Simply tightening the screws will cure many sticking doors. If the screws seem loose in their holes, however, the repair might be short-lived. For a more lasting repair, remove the old screws one by one and replace them with screws of the same diameter but one-half inch to one inch longer. Screws with oversized holes also can be tightened, at least temporarily, by inserting several pieces of toothpicks or some steel wool into the hole.

Check the finish. Lumps or thick drips in paint or varnish on the edges can make a door stick. Use a sharp wood chisel or knife to carefully peel off defects in the finish that could cause sticking. In many cases, if care is used, this can be done without removing the finish to the bare wood. If the bottom of a door is sticking because it rubs the threshold or floor, tape a piece of sandpaper (course side up) to the floor so the sticking point will pass over it. Open and close the door over the sandpaper several times to remove material from the bottom edge of the door.

Try some lubricant. Determine where the door is sticking and lubricate the area so it slides easier. Rubbing some soap or wax on the sticking area often will reduce sticking. Silicone spray lubricant, which is sold at most home centers and hardware stores, also can be used to lubricate doors.

Try shims. Putting a thin filler or shim behind one of the hinges often will free a door that sticks near the top or bottom of the latch side. Note that the hinge located diagonally from the sticking point is shimmed, not the hinge opposite the sticking point. The effect of shimming in this manner is to tilt the door slightly so it fits more squarely in its opening.

First, determine the location of the sticking point by opening and closing the door several times. If the door sticks at or near the top of the latch side, open the door and remove all of the screws from the leaf of the hinge that is attached to the door jamb at the bottom (not the leaf attached to the door). Put a piece of thin cardboard (poster board or the cardboard used to pack new shirts works well), of the same size as the hinge leaf, into the mortise where the leaf fits.

Screw the hinge leaf back into place and try the door again. If the door still sticks at the top, but not as much, add a second shim over the first at the bottom of the door. If the door sticks at or near the bottom edge of the latch side, shim the top hinge.

If a door still sticks after the simple remedies are tried, there are only a few options. One option, if the door sticks only in humid weather, is to wait for fall and drier air, when the door will shrink and repair itself. Another is to pinpoint the exact areas where the door is sticking, and then remove some wood. If the door sticks at points along the latch edge, it often is possible to remove wood with the door in place.


Put a wedge under the bottom to hold the door in a good working position, then use a plane, rasp or coarse sandpaper to remove enough finish and wood to make the door open and close easily. Sand the bare area with fine sandpaper, then refinish to match the rest of the door.

Don't leave any part of a door unfinished, including the bottom edge, because bare wood will absorb moisture much more readily than finished wood.

If wood must be shaved from the top or bottom edge of a door, it is best to remove the door and place it horizontally on a convenient working surface.

The simplest way to remove a door is to pry or tap out the hinge pins. Sometimes the pin can be pried out of the top of a hinge with a flat-bladed screwdriver. In other cases, especially with painted hinges, it might be necessary to tap the butt of the screwdriver with a hammer to get the pin to slide out. Care should be used to avoid damaging the finish of the hinges.

Once the pins are out, the door can be lifted off the hinges and carried to the work site.

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