How to Adjust a door that doesn't open or close properly, or for a better fit

Doors that don't open or close properly do my head in!

You can adjust a door several different ways and get it swinging properly every time.

Old doors especially can suffer over time and so on this page I'll cover off adjusting single or bi-fold plus new or old timber doors;

  • Adjusting new doors so they work right
  • Fixing old doors that have problems
  • Fixing doors that hit the frame when you try and close them
  • Fixing doors that don't latch properly when you close them
  • How to stop a door from opening or closing on it's own

More often than not when hanging doors they won't initially open and close perfectly and the margins are uneven (you want an even gap between the door and frame all the way around). A door rarely fits 100% perfect first time. There are a few reasons, causes and solutions to choose from.

Old doors not closing properly

Old doors can 'drop', and common problems/symptoms when this occurs are that the top of the handle side of the door hits the top of the frame stopping the door from closing. It can also be the case in this instance that the bottom of the handle side starts rubbing on the floor/carpet etc.

More often than not this is because the screws (normally in the top hinge but sometimes all of them) have worked their way loose with the constant weight of the door opening and closing over the years. The constant stress has caused the hinge screws to pull out of the frame

Often when you attempt to tighten these hinge screws they just spin/turn in the hole and don't grip.

That's because over time the threads have pulled through the timber leaving very little if anything to grip.

To adjust a door in this instance, I either use longer wood screws and try to fix deeper through the frame into the timber stud that the frame is fixed to. Or alternatively plug the screw holes with lots of matchsticks. I squirt some wood glue in to the screw holes then bang in as many match sticks as I can get into each hole. Snap off the ends, or cut them off flush with a sharp chisel/knife.

how to adjust a door

Once the glue has dried and you wind the screws back in they should have something solid to grip to. A red Rawl plug sometimes works and does the same job too, but I think matchsticks last longer because you can really beat and wedge them in there.

Adjusting a door by the hinges

It can be the case that a door springs open on its own, and this could be because the hinges are chopped in too deeply causing the edge of the door and the frame to 'bind' against each other when the door closes. Because there is no gap, the door wants to spring back open.

There is another way to adjust a door using the hinges, when the door is the right size and swinging OK like this but doesn't sit perfectly in the frame.

In this case you want to adjust a door so it moves left or right and therefore sits more centrally within the frame. Good quality hinges like the ones with washers tend to be thicker so installing some better hinges may solve the problem. Or you could unscrew them and put thin cardboard behind to pack them out and make the hinge side gap larger instead.

If the problem is the gap between the frame and door on the hinge side is too large, chop the hinge deeper into the frame to close it slightly.

I fit my door linings so they are slightly too wide. If the opening is too wide after you've hung the door loosen the screws and wedges can be banged in between the lining and wall. This is why I install the architrave last, allowing me the opportunity to square or straighten the gap and frame up around the door first.

When the architraves are installed the wedges are cut off and covered.

Adjusting a door that is too wide

If the lining is tight and the door is too wide it will need to be removed and the edge trimmed in most instances with a planer (electric or smoothing hand plane). If you have a Door Saddle and Block mark the door where it touches the frame, remove it , place in the saddle and plane the doors edge.

If the door just clips the frame as it closes rather than adjust a door in this instance you may get away with just applying a leading edge. A leading edge is planing more off the side of the door edge that closes first, so it is tapered. This allows a tighter gap to be achieved when the door is closed.

Fixing a door that swings open/closed on it's own

To adjust a door that swings open or closed on its own it is probably because the door lining/frame is out of plumb. The easiest way to sort this if you have loose pin hinges is to remove a pin (knock it out with a nail punch) and bend it slightly by hitting it with a hammer to increase the friction, then put it back in.

Otherwise, you can unscrew the lining and move it so it's plumb. Both sides will need to be done in order for it to stay in 'wind'. This may mean more work when you come to fit the architraves, as you'll need to rebate the back of them with an electric plane.

If the door is already finished and decorated you will need to move the hinge and not the frame. If the door swings open on its own, unscrew the bottom hinge (and the middle hinge if it has one).

Next, move the hinge out a little, away from the doorstop and screw it back on. This will leave a little gap where the hinge was chopped in. Check to see the door stays open and that it still shuts properly. If not, the doorstop may need adjusting the same way too.

How to adjust a twisted door or out of wind door frame. 

In this instance, when you close the door against the stops, you have to push it quite hard for the latch to locate and hold the door closed. When you push the handle down, it may spring open a bit too.

The picture above is slightly exaggerated, but shows how a door looks when it's twisted, or the frame is 'out of wind'. 

Sometimes when you close a door the top for example will touch the doorstop and it will feel closed but then you have to push the handle hard for the latch to actually click, locate and hold the door shut. You can check this is the case by standing inside the room and slowly closing the door. As it approaches the stops, slow down and stop as soon as it touches. You should notice that there's a tapering gap. This is because the door, frame or door stop are 'out of wind' (out of parallel), or the door is twisted (usually from being stored incorrectly). You can't 'untwist' it but you can adjust a door like this so it closes correctly.

There are three potential ways to adjust a door in this instance;

  • Move the frame

If the decorating hasn't been done yet you might get away with moving the frame a bit. By unscrewing the frame and moving the top of the hinge side out you can bring the leg so it's parallel with the other one. Trial and error and checking as you go will help get it perfect.

how to adjust a twisted door
  • Move the doorstops

In other instances, it may be easier to move the doorstop. Take it off, de-nail it and close the door. Then re-fix the stops with the door shut, leaving a 1-2mm gap all the way around to allow for paint. Fix them tight if no decorating needs doing afterward.

  • Throw the hinges

If you don't want to cause any re-decorating you can adjust a door by the hinges. Unscrew the top hinge from the frame only and fill the screw holes with matchsticks. Move the hinge away from the doorstop a little, and screw it back up. This will leave a little gap where the hinge is in the frame like the picture below and cause the doors edge to be sticking out from the hinge side of the frame a little when it's closed. It should help it close better without damaging the paintwork though, and is probably the quickest and easiest way to adjust a door when the frame is out of wind.

how to adjust a door

How to adjust bi-fold doors

Bi- fold doors can be a nightmare to set up right. I try to talk customers out of having them because they are fraught with problems and unless you buy a very expensive high quality track or pre-made setup they are usually disappointing. The way they work is to have a pivot at the top and on the bottom edge the side where the hinges would normally be. These often have a bracket on the floor with different positions to place the pivot, so moving the pivot point will move the top/bottom of the door towards or away from the frame. At the top of the frame there will be a track and a guide on the top of the door that slides along the track. The guide is adjustable with two spanners that will lift or lower the doors edge. There may be a cover over the track to remove so you can get to the nuts to tighten or loosen them.

How to adjust a door latch that doesn't work properly

Click here for more help fitting or adjusting a mortise latch

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