Sliding doors aren't always open-and-shut case to solve

April 17, 2004|By ROB KASPER

LAST WEEKEND I was face down on the floor, a position guys often find themselves in on warm spring weekends.

Many forces can take a man down over a weekend. One is fall-on-your-face exhaustion. Another is a swarm of young children descending on a prone papa. A third is an irresistible urge to take an afternoon nap, especially after beer at lunch.

At various times in my life, I have been felled by these forces. But last weekend none of these suspects was the culprit. Instead, a sliding glass door had me on my stomach playing peekaboo with its adjustment screw. That's the screw that controls the position of the rollers in the bottom of a sliding door, making it taller or shorter.

Using a flashlight, I could see the head of the screw buried deep within a hole in the side of the door frame. But when I stuck a screwdriver in the hole, my vision was blocked. I was working belly-flopped and blind. Sliding glass doors are one of life's contradictions. They hold out the promise of easy and joyful interaction with nature. Yet when they fail as this one did, when they refuse to close correctly, you end up prostrate before them.

Sliding doors, also known as patio doors, can be one of the hushed wonders of the domestic world. They welcome light and air into the house. They beckon you to step out of your dark, cold abode and lounge on the sunny deck, the welcoming patio, or the fragrant back yard.

That is how they behave when they are young. But as they age, old sliding doors are, I have been told by teen-agers, a lot like old dads. They start slowing down, they groan when they move and at times are less than joyful to live with.

An old groaner had me on the floor last weekend. It was a door that opened onto an elevated porch at our "getaway" cottage on the Eastern Shore. Getaway houses are another of life's contradictions. You go there to escape the burdens of work, yet when you arrive at your hideaway you are toting a bulging toolbox and a list of chores that fills two pages.

This particular door, a 25-year-old metal frame unit made by Peachtree, had been sending out warning signals. Instead of sliding with quiet power, it had begun to balk. It rolled reluctantly and, once it got moving, sounded like a midnight freight train.

I tried a couple of quick remedies, cleaning the tracks and lubricating them with graphite. These measures provided only short-term relief.

Moreover, a bigger problem emerged, namely the door's latch would not line up with its strike plate. That meant I couldn't lock the door unless I first lifted it up. When the door rested in this odd uplifted position, it put strain on the latch.

Eventually the lock broke. A trip to the locksmith - another example of getaway weekend fun - yielded a new lock. But when I installed the lock in the old door, the new lock still wouldn't line up with the strike plate. That is when I got down on my belly to search for the adjustment screws.

I pursued the sliding glass door literature I had found on a couple Web sites (the at-home section of and .com/howtoscreen.asp). I read that the rollers or wheels the doors roll on can be adjusted by turning special screws. These screws, the literature told me, could either be in plain view, just above the corner of the sliding door, or hidden behind plastic plugs in the bottom and sides of the door.

Mine were hidden better than Osama bin Laden. Eventually I did locate one screw in a deep hole tucked in the side of the door. Reaching it required finding a very long Phillips screwdriver. When I turned the screw, the situation did not improve. The door still groaned. The latch still would not line up unless I lifted it into place.

When I got back to Baltimore, I called Will Werren, a Fallston resident who calls himself The Old New England Carpenter. Werren had recently installed a new sliding glass door in the home of someone I knew.

Yesterday, when I got him on his cell phone, Werren told me that while he had "put in a ton of sliders" around Baltimore, he actually preferred swinging doors. Doors that swing open, rather than slide, are more stable, more secure, he said.

Nevertheless, he listened to a description of my slider woes, then came up with a diagnosis.

"Your rollers are shot," he said. The normal life span of a sliding door is about 20 years; my door and its parts were living on borrowed time.

"Rollers, just like the wheels on a streetcar, wear out with use," he said.

He outlined a plan of action. I could take the door off by turning the adjustment screw until the door was at its lowest point in the track. Then he said I could lift the door up, and tipping it slightly inward, lift it out of the lower track.

Once the door was off, I could install new rollers, then have the door back in place.

Or, as Werren put it: "You take everything apart. Put it all back together. And if it still doesn't work, you call the doctor."

That sounded like a pretty big project to me. One that could swallow two or three getaway weekends.

To be continued ...

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