22 May 2009


The house has a beautiful old (huge) front door that gets comments from many visitors. Not clearly visible in the pictures is that the door use to hang the other way and it was switched probably well over 60 years ago. It needs some refinishing and a couple of accent bits but those can come later. Meanwhile, functionality is obviously paramount.

A few months back, though, the door began rubbing in its frame more and more. Mishandling (slamming) didn’t help things and the situation got worse. I took a look at the frame and found a couple of things. First, there are at least three different types of screws in the hinges, indicating it was patched over time and probably not in the best way.

Second, the door stop was adjusted at some point and when it was reattached to the frame – with just a screw or two – it wasn’t properly lined up.

Straightening the stop was an easy fix, and it made it a bit easier to close the door. But it was still rubbing, and getting worse. The top hinge was the worst culprit, and I tried a temporary solution of tightening the screws as far as they’d go. This helped, but was definitely temporary – and more slamming worsened the problem quickly. Soon, the screw holes – already over-wide and partly stripped from the patch jobs – weren’t holding the threads and the door was essentially leaning on two hinges.

Talking with several friends and carpenters the diagnosis wasn’t great – while some were more than willing to help make it happen, we were talking about replacing an entire side of the door frame. It would be time intensive. With expert friends, it might not cost too much, but it would still be a pretty big project.

Fortunately I emailed one other friend to confirm the diagnosis – O.T. emailed right back with a quick, simple, cheap fix he’s found extremely effective: chopsticks. Worth a try, he said, before getting into a costly, big repair.

Rather than pack the old screw holes with putty or replace the entire frame side to give the screws something to sink into, all that might be needed is enough strong wood to surround most of the threads. Typical takeout chopsticks are still bamboo, which is very strong.

A few quick steps and this job is done:

1) Pull one screw at a time. Push in a chopstick as far as it’ll go, mark off.
2) Cut the stick – heavy kitchen shears worked for me. Because of the thickness of the hinges, I clipped at least 1/4″ shorter than my mark – cutting short in this situation is fine – cutting too long will just screw you over since it’ll be hard to pull the chopstick back out.
3) O.T. said wood glue couldn’t hurt – I used it on about half of the sticks, just a quick coat on two sides.
4) Put the shortened stick all the way in (use another chopstick to firmly seat it). If you used wood glue, you might as well wait a little while for the glue to dry. Otherwise, just put the screw back in – I felt immediate results with the hinge tightening back into place.
5) For really drilled out holes or thick diameter screws, multiple chopstick pieces can be necessary.

Doing this repair is pretty easy, but it only works if the screw holes are at least the diameter of the chopstick. Doors are often hung with heavier screws, so you’ll probably be fine – I would have been very reticent to drill out the holes if the chopsticks didn’t fit.

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