A guide to some of the common problems with wooden doors. Solid wood doors vary greatly in quality, but no matter the quality of the wood, there are some common problems that can affect any door over time and daily use. These problems might be caused by a lack of maintenance, or simply by heavy use.
Most of these common problems are relatively quick and easy to fix, but it is still important to understand what causes them and how to avoid them becoming a problem again once in the future.
Common Problems with Wooden Doors – Solved!
From doors that wont stay closed, to squeaky hinges and stiff locks, these step-by-step guides will help you diagnose and fix those annoying problems with wooden doors in your house.
Door is Binding on One Side
Doors that bind (or catch) on one edge when being opened and closed is quite a common problem, especially if the door has been painted and repainted several times. To fix this:
1 Use a small hand sander or a surform plane to strip the paint off of the edge that is catching. Avoid using paint stripper or a heat gun for this, as you want to avoid damaging the paint on the door faces (unless you plan to repaint the whole thing).
2 Smooth and tidy the stripped surfaces with glass-paper, and make sure that the door opens and closes without catching or binding. There should be a gap of at least 2-3mm all the way around the edge of the door when it is closed. To make sure, run a thin knife blade around the edge of the door when it is closed.
3 If you need to sand or plane away any areas where the gap is not big enough. Check again, and then prime and paint the stripped areas in a colour that matches the rest of the door. Make sure to let the paint dry completely before closing the door.
Door is Binding at the Bottom
A common cause of wooden doors suddenly beginning to bind or catch along the bottom edge is damp being absorbed up through an unpainted bottom edge. To fix this:
1 Carefully undo the screws fixing the hinges to the frame and lift the door away. Lay the door flat on a bench or something similar and inspect the bottom edge. If it looks damp and swollen, you will need to dry it.
2 The best way to do this quickly is to use a hot-air gun, just be careful if the rest of the door is painted. When the wood seems completely dry, carefully sand away any very swollen areas with a hand sander or glass-paper.
3 Seal the bare wood on the bottom of the door with to coats of quick-drying wood primer. This should be enough to stop the problem repeating, but if you wish, give the edge a coat of whatever paint has been used on the rest of the door.
4 Rehang the door and check that the problem has been solved. If not, remove the door again and plane off a few millimetres from the bottom (always plane from the edge to the center, to avoid splintering of the edges). Again, paint the planed areas with undercoat and rehang the door.
Door is Binding at the Top
If a door is binding at the top, it is normally due to dampness making the wood expand slightly. You can normally fix this by sanding or planing off a few millimetres from the top edge. This can often be done by using a stepladder and wedging the door open to work on it. If not, take it off its hinges and plane the area, then rehang it.
The reasons doors slam can be anything from exterior windows or doors being left open, other draughts, moody teenagers… The easiest way to stop them slamming, rather than try to stop all the possible causes, is to fit a door closer.
You have a choice of fitting a concealed closer, which involves drilling into the frame of the door, or fitting an external door closer, which is attached at the top of the door and to the frame. You can read our complete guide on fitting a concealed door closer here.
A squeaking door is usually very easy to fix. If the door has standard pin hinges, liberally spray them with an aerosol lubricant (WD40 or similar), making sure to direct the spray right in to the hinge. Move the door backwards and forwards to work the lubricant in, and then wipe away surplus with kitchen paper or an old rag.
If the door has rising hinges, open it and lift it off the hinges. Smear the hinge pins with grease or petroleum jelly, making sure to cover the whole pin. Rehang the door and wipe away any excess grease that has been squeezed out.
If the door continues to squeak, or starts to squeak again soon after you have oiled it, consider replacing the hinges. Very old and corroded hinges will tend to squeak more than shiny new ones.
Door Latch Won’t Engage
If your door keeps opening unexpectedly after you close it, it means that the latch isn’t engaging properly (or at all). This can be due to the door sagging on the hinges slightly over time, or even just a poorly fitted striking plate (the metal plate fitted to the frame that the latch engages with when the door is closed).
1 If the latch sometimes engages, it is likely that the misalignment is only small (you can sometimes look at the edge of the latch a see where it has been worn slightly more). This can sometimes be fixed by loosening the screws that hold the striking plate and moving it up or down slightly, before tightening again.
2 If this doesn’t help, remove the striking plate and use a small metal file to enlarge the opening that the latch is supposed to fit into when the door is closed.
3 If the misalignment is more severe, you will need to re-position the striking plate in the frame. Remove the plate and, using a small chisel and mallet/hammer, extend the recess where the striking plate sits.
4 If the striking plate has only moved a small amount, you will need to drill out the old screw holes, and fill them with glued dowel, matched to the size of the holes. Create new pilot holes for the screws and reattach the striking plate in its new position.
Stiff Lock or Handle
1 If the lock is surface-mounted (also called a Rim Lock) on the face of the door, use an aerosol lubricant with an applicator straw to spray inside the latch mechanism, keyhole and anywhere else you think there are moving parts. Work the lock and the handle a few times to distribute the lubricant inside the mechanism.
2 If this does not help, unscrew the lock from the door and remove the plate that covers the mechanism. Make sure you note the position of all the parts inside in case anything is dislodged (take a quick photo on your phone), and then lightly grease the components.
3 Check that any bolts or screws inside are not loose, then replace the cover plate and attach the lock to the door. If this still does not help, you can buy and fit replacement Rim Locks quite easily and cheaply.
4 If the stiff lock is a Yale-type cylinder lock, do not spray normal aerosol lubricant inside the keyhole, as it can attract grit and cause further problems. Instead, use a silicone lubricant or PTFE dry powder.