`Click' of door could signify a major shift in attitude

September 18, 2004|By ROB KASPER

THERE ARE few sounds more reassuring to a homeowner's ear than the "click" of a door as it latches.

There are few sights more pleasing to a father's eye than seeing his kid pick up a tool and fix something.

Recently I experienced both sensations. A door that had refused to stay closed was repaired so that its latch slid smoothly into place. Moreover, one of my sons did the fixing.

The wave of joy I felt as the repair was completed was probably an overreaction. The task involved was pretty simple, a quick job.

But the deed could be ripe with symbolism and that possibility overwhelmed me. Could it be that this repair effort was the sign of a major shift in attitude? Was it the end of an era?

Like many parents I have marveled over the years at the ability of my offspring to avoid noticing things around the house that need tending to. For example, when a light bulb burns out, sometimes rather than replacing it, I will keep a vigil, wondering how long it will be before anyone else in the household will notice the patch of darkness. Usually I end up waiting about a week, then grabbing the ladder and replacing the bulb myself.

I recognize that in the family dynamic, I have made home repair my turf. It is turf I am more than willing to share. Until recently I haven't had many takers.

Then, about a month ago, an event that might be a seismic shift in home-repair geography occurred.

My younger son, 19, then still on summer vacation from college, announced that a bathroom door wasn't closing properly, and before I could say "I'll put it on my jobs list," he had tools in his hands.

I followed him into the bathroom and scoped out the problem. The door's latch, or striker, was too high when it hit the strike plate. The strike plate is the metal frame sitting over a hole notched in the door frame. It is supposed to "catch" the latch and hold it in the hole, keeping the door closed.

The usual cause of a balky door at this time of year is humidity which is carried into the region by a tropical storm, or this year, by the hurricane of the week. When this happens, the wood in the door swells and the door binds. Yesterday, for example, as Ivan made its presence felt in the region, most of the doors in my house were sticking. Usually I remedy a binding door by turning the air conditioning to high, by lightly sanding the edge of the door, or by waiting until the weather changes.

But this door problem was different. The striker and strike plate were out of line and the bathroom door would not stay closed.

First, my son and I eyeballed the latch to see how much it was missing the strike-plate hole. If it was off by less than 1/8 of an inch, we could simply file the strike plate down, in effect widening the hole. But this was a bigger mismatch, and we had to reposition the strike plate.

My son removed the screws holding the strike plate to the wooden door frame. Next, using a wood chisel and a portable drill, we lowered the hole in the wood by about 1/4 inch. Sometimes when you deepen a strike plate, you have to fill in the top of the hole with wood putty, then wait 24 hours for the putty to dry before reattaching the plate. But in this case we lucked out. There was enough wood at the top of hole to hold the strike plate in its new, lower position. We drilled holes for the strike plate, then screwed it into place.

The door announced the success of our efforts with a resounding "click."

As the kid helped me put the tools away I felt satisfied. A door had been fixed, but more importantly a step had been taken in the maturation process. After years of behaving like a hotel guest, a kid has seemingly joined ranks with the innkeepers, the folks who keep things running. Changing light bulbs could be next.

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