How to Fix a Sticky Door
Sometimes it’s the little things that are the most aggravating. Count among that number the stubborn, or "sticky," door. As the fit of a door often changes gradually, we sometimes don’t notice the developing problem. And then, by the time we get around to fixing it, it may have gotten to the point where you’re throwing a shoulder into the door just to close it. Don’t let that willful slab of lumber get the better of you. You can fix it—really. Here’s a brief guide to determining why your door is acting unruly, and how to put it back in its place.
Blame the Weather
When dealing with a door that has started to stick, one of the chief suspects is excess humidity. If your door and doorframe are made of wood, and your weather conditions are hot and humid, the door may have swollen, causing it to stick in the frame. If your door only sticks in warm weather, and then corrects itself when the weather cools, then humidity is very likely the problem.
You might want to shave the door down a bit for a better fit. However, don’t plane the door in hot weather, as you might shave too much, and end up with a door that then hangs too loosely when the weather cools and the door returns to its normal size. But what if the problem doesn’t clear when the weather does?
I know! It’s the Hinges!
Yeah, probably. If the weather conditions can’t account for the stickiness, the culprit may be sagging hinges. Hinges see a lot of heavy use; screws gradually loosen themselves, and then begin to pull away from their mortises.
First, check that all the screws holding the hinges to the doorframe are nice and tight. Open the door and try to move the hinge plate with your hand. If you can manage to move the hinge plate at all, you’ve found a problem. Frequently, screw-holes become too large for the current screws to fit snugly, as they often work themselves loose. If this is so, replace them with a longer set of screws to ensure a tight fit.
Check the Mortises
Still having problems? If the hinges aren't flush in their mortises, it can cause the door to bind. This could also account for any loose screws. To remedy this, you’ll have to remove the hinges and temporarily take down the door.
When the door is off the hinges, examine the mortises. If the depression is too shallow, the hinge can stick out and interfere with the smooth operation of the door. Use a hammer and chisel to deepen a shallow mortise. Alternatively, if the mortise is too deep, you may need to put a shim beneath the hinge to bring it up to a level flush with the frame of the door. You can purchase shims of varying thickness from hardware stores. Test the shim against the hinge before you screw it in to make sure you have the depth right. Then restore the hinges, rehang the door, and then test it to see if you’ve solved the problem.
Darn It! It Still Sticks!
It’s ok, be cool. Think of how much fun we’re having! No? Well, let’s try another solution. At this point you'll probably need to plane down the edges of the door. Before taking the door down, identify the trouble spot. Rub some chalk on the edge of the door in the likely area, then open and shut the door a couple of times. The chalk will transfer to the jamb at the point where the door sticks.
If the idea of taking down the door and using a wood plane is intimidating, there is one more thing to try. Rub a bar of soap or an old candle in the area where the chalk showed the door to be sticking. Sometimes the lubrication does the job. If this fails, you'll have to shave down the area.
A Close Shave
Use a pencil to carefully mark the door where the chalk test showed contact on the jamb. This is the area where you'll want shave the door.
If you have the clearance for it, leave the door in place as you do this. If not, take the door down and lay it across sawhorses or a large, flat surface. It’s a good idea to remove any weather stripping or hardware that might get in the way.
Carefully use a wood plane to shave down the offending edge. Go slowly, using a thin cut at a 45-degree angle, and always follow the grain of the wood to avoid splitting. This is careful work, so don’t rush it. If in doubt, err on the side of caution. You can always take it down and shave it again if you’re not quite there, but if you shave too much…Well, you can’t put the wood back on the door.
Now, reattach the door to see what a great job you’ve done. If the door opens and closes like a bank vault, you’re almost done. You still need to seal and finish the shaved areas to block out moisture. Prime and paint the newly bare edge to help the door retain stability. Allow the door to dry thoroughly before shutting it again.
And that’s it! Now close the door, and revel in the satisfaction of a job well done, you talented handy-person you.
Get a free subscription to Homeminders’ home management system (no credit card required)