Freeing up a stuck door brings closure, temporarily

April 09, 2005|By ROB KASPER

AFTER THE RAIN fell last weekend, the front door wouldn't close. That is one of the rhythms of life on the homefront.

The door, a double door that faces the street and opens into a vestibule, is a barometer of the Maryland mood. When the air is heavy with humidity or rain, as it was last week, the door balks. When the weather improves, so does its behavior.

It would make some sense to allow the door to move through this cycle uninterrupted. But I can't. Just as Sisyphus was doomed to roll a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down the hill as he reached the summit, so I am fated to tussle with a door that won't close. Over the years, the two of us have squared off, like Frazier and Ali, in some epic battles. In the midst of our most recent contest, I paused to massage my knees and to consider the philosophical question of why I am working so hard to close doors rather than open them. Opening doors, I surmised, is what excites you when you are young; getting closure matters more as you age.

Having read reams of door closure literature, I suspected that culprits behind the recent trouble were either the door hinges, the latch or the stop.

When a door displays this particular misbehavior - not allowing its latch to settle in the strike plate box - the usual suspect is a loose hinge.

Sure enough, one day this week when I attempted to tighten the screws holding the lower hinge in the door jamb, they turned freely, like the Miss USA contestants will twirl Monday on the Hippodrome stage. In a beauty contest, twirling is a good thing. In door hinge screws, it is not.

The twirling screw meant that the wood in the side jamb was too old and weak to hold the screws. The hinge holes had to be plugged. This, too, was a situation I was familiar with. When you have an old house, and mine is so old that there are inscriptions on the hinges that look like they might been written in Latin, you get used to plugging hinge holes. (For newer door jambs, just use longer screws in the hinges.)

Of the two ways to plug hinge holes, using wooden dowels or wooden matchsticks, I chose matchsticks. Having removed the two loosest screws from the lower hinge, I jammed the matchsticks into the vacant screw holes, then snapped them off flush. You use the same stuff - and snap technique - when you fill the holes with small wooden dowels. Using dowels takes longer. You are supposed to dip the dowel ends in glue and wait for the glue to set before snapping. But I couldn't wait for glue to set so I went with the matches.

The idea behind both techniques is to give the hinge screws some fresh wood they can sink into. That is what I did the other day. When I had completed my labors, the door hatch held, barely, but enough to give me a sense of victory. When the door closed firmly, I felt as if order had triumphed over chaos, as if progress had been made on the path to civilization.

A few days later, however, the rain returned, the sag was back and the door once again refused to close.

This left me with several options. I could remove the door from its hinges and plug up all the hinge holes with fresh wood. This was not likely. The door is massive, about 10 feet tall and weighs about as much as Tony "The Goose" Siragusa. Removing the door looked like too much work for too little reward.

Another option was to reposition the strike plate box so it would be more accepting of the latch. This was unappealing because it would go against tradition. The strike plate box that caught the latch was an ancient structure. It had held its position, on the companion double door, for an eternity, since long before there was cable television. Moving it seemed taboo.

Instead I lifted my eyes toward the heavens until they rested on a strip of wood at the top of the door frame known as the stop. Many layers of paint were covering this strip of wood. The build-up was probably preventing the door from stopping before it reached its correct position. Removing the thick paint would require getting a paint scraper, a mask, and an hour or so of hard work.

There was also the option of letting the door heal itself, of waiting for warm weather to shrink the swollen wood. I probably should rely on the sunshine cure. But I won't feel fulfilled until I spend hours scraping, until I finally hear the front door go click, until I temporarily get some closure.

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