5 steps to a fixed door jamb

How to repair and prevent fussy jambs

By Charles LongCharles Long

110_RandyCraig_door

Photo by Randy Craig

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Last spring, you pulled on the handle and the door grabbed its frame, twisting and complaining. It opened with a shudder and a squawk and got better by itself when the air turned hot and dry. Now, it’s sticking again. Here’s the diagnosis:

1. Check the sill with a level or square to see if the frame has shifted. The door might be fine and the sticking caused by spring heaving at the cottage underpinnings, a more serious problem that won’t be solved by fixing the door.

2. Check the gap between door and frame on the hinge side. If the gap is wider at the top than at the bottom, and if that gap narrows when you lift the door by its handle, then the top hinge is working loose. Back out the screws, plug the holes tightly with matchsticks and glue, and re-set the screws. If the holes are really chewed up, use longer screws to reach into the frame or reposition the hinge higher on the door.

3. The hinge-side gap is straight but, when you lift the handle, the door comes free from where it’s binding – at the bottom. The door joints may be loose and sagging. The easy fix doesn’t work if there’s glass involved, but with a plain screen door you can span the lower half diagonally with a turnbuckle and pull it back into square.

4. The sill, the hinge, and the joinery prove solid, but a high spot on the door is binding. With the door closed and you on the outside, mark the bind (where the door touches the frame) with a pencil. The problem is almost always on the outer stile, the long vertical piece that extends top to bottom. Remove the door, set it on its hinge side, and brace it between your legs while shaving off the high spots. What you shave with depends on exactly where the high spot lies. If it’s on the long edge of the stile, plane the marked section. If it’s at the top or bottom of the door, you’ll have to cut across the grain at the end of the stile; use a rasp, sander, or circular saw to trim to your mark.

5. Finally, try the door. When the fit is perfect, seal any trimming around the edges with shellac, varnish, or primer and paint. Otherwise, the raw wood will soak up humidity, swell, and jam the door shut again next spring.

This article was originally published on March 30, 2008


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Charles Long