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Repairing an Exterior Door on Your Historic Building | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Repairing an Exterior Door on Your Historic Building

Repairing an Exterior Door on Your Historic Building | Wisconsin Historical Society

If the door of your historic house or building is not closing freely, it is usually because the door is binding or rubbing against the door jamb or the bottom threshold. This can happen as your historic house or building settles over time, or if excessive moisture is causing your door to swell. Doors tend to swell in the humid seasons and shrink when the weather is dry.

To fix a stuck or binding door, you need to plane the door edges until you have a reveal on all four edges of the door (two sides, bottom and top of the door). The reveal should be not less than 1/8 inch and not more than 3/16 inch. This reveal range will ensure your door will shut properly year around.

Gather Your Tools and Supplies

To fix a stuck or binding exterior door, you will need to gather the following tools and supplies:

  • Small block plane or an electric hand plane
  • Straight and Phillips screwdrivers
  • Hammer
  • Pair of sawhorses or a bench
  • Carpet pads or cardboard
  • Paint or natural finish to match your door color

Determine Where the Door is Sticking or Binding

Before you start planning the edges of a stuck or binding door, you must determine where your door is binding or rubbing. If you look at the edges, top and bottom of the door, you can often see areas where the paint or natural finish is wearing off more than the surrounding finish. These are the areas where you'll need to plane off some excess wood.

Fix a Door that Sticks or Binds on the Sides

EnlargeDoor repair

If your door is sticking on the side of the door, use a block plane to shave the edge without removing the door. Source: Bob Yapp

If your door is binding on the sides of the door, you can fix the problem without taking the door off its hinges.

Use a small block plane with a very sharp blade to plane off the high spots on either or both side edges. Take a small amount off with each pass of the block plane.

Once you've planed off the high spots, try the door until it closes without touching the door jamb. Re-paint or finish the planed areas to match the door color.

Fix a Door that Sticks or Binds on the Top or Bottom

EnlargeDoor repair.

If the door is sticking at the top or bottom, remove the door hinge pin with a screw driver and hammer. Source: Bob Yapp

EnlargeDoor repair

Once the door has been removed, use an electric planer to plane the top or bottom edge of a door. Source: Bob Yapp

If your door is binding on the top or bottom of the door, you should take the door off its hinges before you plane the edge.  Follow these steps:

  1. Set up two sawhorses or a bench in an area where you have enough room to set the door in a horizontal position and work on the top or bottom edge with a planer.
  2. Place carpet pads or cardboard on the sawhorses or bench to protect the paint or natural finish of your door.
  3. Use a screwdriver and a hammer to tap the pins out of the door hinges.
  4. Remove the door and set it horizontally on the sawhorses or bench.
  5. If you are right-handed, plane the door edge from right to left. Before you plane the bottom or top edge, plane a small area on the left side of the door from the edge inward. This will prevent you from splitting off the edge of the wood when you plane from right to left with the block plane. If you are left-handed, reverse this process.
  6. Repaint or refinish the planed edges and reinstall the door.

The information presented here is not intended to provide comprehensive technical advice or instructions on solving historic preservation issues. Any information contained or referenced is meant to provide a basic understanding of historic preservation practices. Read full disclaimer.