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fixing stuck door/jam in old house?

March 2, 2005

Hello all

We are the new owners of a house built in 1939 and it has all of its original doors, along with beautiful glass knobs. There are a couple of doors that really stick and make a big scraping sound when you open or close them. We are gearing up for stripping wallpaper and painting and I'm wondering if there is something not very destructive we can do to these sticking doors? Like sanding? Do you do the door or the jam? I'm worried that we're damaging something when we open and close them, plus I'd like to not have to tug on them to get them open or closed. The only sad part about having all these wonderful doors is that the bottoms were sawed off to make way for the pile carpet that covered the whole house. We ripped out the carpet because there were beautiful oak and fir floors throughout the house, but now we'll just have to live with the 3 -4 inch gap on every door above the floor!



Comments (13)

  • chloecat

    You can plane the areas of the doors that rub. That's what we did with our doors that had frames that were no longer square.

    You mean there is a three to four inch gap at the bottom??? I think I'd be looking for salvage doors to replace them. That's big enough for a cat or small dog to crawl under!!!

  • Carol_from_ny

    One of the major reasons doors stick it mositure. If your door bottoms or tops haven't been stained or painted along with the rest of the door your going to have problems. Besides the sanding where they catch you need to seal the doors so there is no exposed wood.
    Another reason for doors that catch is structural changes. Some are normal due to age but others can be a sign that your foundation and or support beams need attention.

  • joed

    It depends on where they rub. If they rub at the top then sanding or planing could be the answer. If they rub on the side then the screws in the hinges could loose.

  • housekeeping

    I agree with all of the above reasons about door sticking and possible corrections. But since you are the new owners, I'd wait awhile. In our 1840-ish house there some doors which don't operate very well in certain seasons, but are fine the rest of the time. We have lived here for a long time and it is predictable. Early diagnosis of the problem, and corection by sanding or planing might make things worse and not fix the problem. Try just living with it for a bit.

  • trilliuminpdx

    Thanks for all of the replies. I think I'll take the suggestion to wait a while to heart, we moved into the house in November, so I'll see how the doors behave in the somewhat drier summer. I believe that they mostly are scraping/rubbing near the bottom on the side, not the top or bottom of the door, so I'll also check for loose screws (hee hee).


  • judeNY_gw

    The screws may not appear loose but if you can lift the door with the doorknob then your hinges are loose. In my house it is not a matter of tightening the screws. The screw holes in the door frame need to be repaired which can be as simple as glue and wood slivers in the screw holes. You can lengthen your doors by adding a piece of wood to the bottom of your doors and simple molding to hide the seam. If you pick the right molding they will look fine.

  • Guy_DoorandWindows

    First of all planing the door should be your last choice in fixing this problem. To many people do this without checking whats really wrong. The problem isn't really moisture at all most the time. It's usually the house moving in temperature changes of the seasons. It's also the weight of the door on old hinges. Check your hinges for wear. Just grab the door edge and push the door up and down. If there is wear then replace hinges. If not make sure all the screws are tight. They loosen up over time. The heavy door will cause the top hinge to sag. Today all new doors come with a three inch screw for the top hinge. Those older doors should have two in the top and one in each of the others. If the door is rubbing at the bottom then put the screw in the bottom hinge first. Just use a cordless screw gun and don't strip out the screw. I use #2 square bit screws for good tork. You will feel the frame pull in. So just let it snug down a bit. Close the door and check your reveal (the gap between the door and frame). The reveal should be at least an eighth of an inch to a quarter inch. It should be even from top to bottom. After you get the bottom hinge done then do the top one. Adjust and close the door after each tightening of the screw. Ounce you get this done it will never really move again. This should help you without planing the door. Good Luck!!!

  • ginam_oh

    Another reason not to plane or sand them down: after years of this (as the house continues to settle you may need to repeat), you will eventually have trapezoidal-shaped doors. That is what we moved into in our 1890s farmhouse in Fort Worth; after we had the foundation leveled, all of our frames were (mostly) square again, leaving really oddly shaped doors hanging in those frames.

    What others have suggested about waiting is also a good idea. Our bathroom door would stick during some seasons and not during others. Once we knew when it would/would not happen, we were fine with it and just told guests who came to visit whether they'd need to keep an eye out for the door opening up on them... :)


  • Michelle Downs

    I agree with GinaM Do not plane the doors...your floors may be uneven. Put a level on the floor and you will be suprised at the slope on some of your floors. If you have severe slope on your floors have the foundation checked too. Many older homes have piers or foundation walls that have shifted and caused sagging floors. You may need to have it jacked up if it's really bad. Also, do not try to replace the doors because no doubt your door frames are also out of square. If you are going to refinishes them anyway add a strip of wood to the bottom to get rid of the gap and then paint the whole door.

    Guy has great advice on the hinges but I wouldn't replace them, I would just try longer screws. Most of the hinges in older homes are a style that cannot be replaced.

  • chloecat

    If you're not going to jack up your foundation, plane the doors.


  • scandalouslyglam_maine_rr_com

    Dont forget to plug the existing holes in the door frame and door before replacing the hinge or the screws! I just shave off a few tin, 3 inch long pieces off an old pine or fir 2x4. Then a good glob of wood glue and tap it in with a hammer. You may need more than 1 per hole. There should be at least 3 inches for it to go in flush with the casing. Another good house hold product to use is toothpicks! By doing so your screws will have brand new wood to grab into rather than looking for the same old holes! My doors stick too!

  • mcgarrie

    If you want to keep the old hinges and hate the 6 layers of paint.... Soak them in Lestoil. Its a little messy But smells piney fresh! It takes off the paint, the metal keeps its patina and wont rust after treatment! If they are brass you win!

  • jan9

    Cutting the door is the last thing to try. Sometimes the doors were set so poorly that you'll have to plane the door a bit but get it as close as you can by working on the hinges first. Check the screws first. When I find a loose screw I usually just use a longer screw. Number 9 wood screws are usually the right size. Buy some 3 inch screws for the jamb side hinge leafs. 3 inch screws will reach through the jamb to the framing. You can, carefully, pull the hinge side jamb back a bit with a 3 inch screw.

    Next examine the mortising. The mortise is that cut away that the hinge leaf fits into. The face of the hinge leaf should be exactly flush with the jamb or the edge of the door respectively. If the hinge leaf is inset then a paper shim can be inserted behind it to bring it flush. If the leaf is proud of the surface then take a sharp chisel and cut the mortise deep enough for the leaf to be flush.

    Taking care of the hinges will fix most sticky doors.

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