Our 1905 house still has its original quarter-sawn oak door. We added stained glass for privacy because we’re close to the street, and we love the way it looks. But the door drags and makes an awful sound when we close it because the upper hinge is loose. When we tighten the screws, they just pull out. My husband wants to plane the door down so that it works better, but I don’t want to damage the door. Help!
Jambed in Jamaica Plain
First, congratulations for preserving your original front door! Not only is the wood most likely hardy, old-growth timber, an original door adds to the exterior aesthetic. Many people assume old doors need to be replaced with newer ones, but with proper maintenance and weather-stripping, they work just as well.
Hopefully, your husband hasn’t gone after the door with his plane yet, because once you rectify the problem’s root cause you’ll discover that shaving down the door isn’t necessary. Sometimes replacing the screws with longer ones will work, but most likely it won’t—and using wider ones will restrict the closing of the hinge.
By using the tips at right, your door will swing as it did a century ago.
1. Take the door down from the jamb. Use a large, flat-bladed screwdriver and hammer to gently tap the hinge-pins out of the hinge plates. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Remember, these doors are heavy; when you pull it away from the jamb, you might need help.
2. Remove the screws that won’t tighten and the hinge plate(s). If you find that someone has put cardboard shims between the plate and jamb, save and reinstall them. It’s likely that the original carpenter placed the shims there.
3. Drill each hole with a 3/8-inch diameter bit. Go deep, at least an inch or more.
4. Insert a 3/8-inch wooden dowel covered with Gorilla Glue into each hole. Wipe up excess glue, as it does expand a bit, or you’ll have to scrape it off after it dries. You’re going to have to wait overnight, so push the hingeless door back into the jamb and secure it with a large object so that someone doesn’t accidently push it in (and obviously, restrict access from the front of the house).
5. The next day, place the hinge plates back in their mortises (the hole that they should be seated in) and mark where new pilot holes for the old screws should be drilled. Then, reinstall the hinge-plates and re-hang the door.