Ill-fitting doors are irritating to use, ungainly to look at, and ineffective at keeping out draughts.

Knowing how to adjust the frame, straighten the door, or, if need be, how to replace it entirely, may sound complicated. In fact, the techniques required – planing, chiselling and sawing – are nothing more than basic carpentry.

R eplacing old doors that squeak, stick or let in draughts is one of the quickest ways of improving your home. And whether you’re changing a bedroom door, cupboard door or front door, large or small, the techniques are the same. They involve nothing more complex than planing, chiselling and sawing.

Recently there has been greater aware-ness of how doors can make or mar a house, and there are now many different styles to choose from. There are, however, only two basic types for rooms or entrances to houses: the traditional panelled door, and the flush door. Though plain, the flush offers a wide choice of finishes – including adding your own mouldings to make up panels!

Doors described as external are thicker, heavier and tougher, more resistant to weather and burglars. Unless you want to soundproof a room, you’ll only waste money if you buy an external door for use inside the house where a lighter one will do – and you might even damage a light partition wall by overloading it with a door that’s too heavy.

Sometimes local building regulations insist on a fire-resistant internal door: normally where it opens onto the stairwell of a modern three-storey building (or an old two-storey one with a loft conversion), and where it separates your home from a built-on garage. If you have to put these in you have to make adjustments to the frame and change the hinges as well.

Look first at the frame

Before you do anything at all about a new door, you should take a long hard look at the frame in which you intend hanging it. If it’s badly damaged or out of square by more than 25mm (1 in) you should consider replacing it altogether. This is not as difficult as it sounds, for if you shop around you can find sections of framing, and even complete frames, ready shaped to blend with every style and accommodate every type of door. On the other hand, the frame may only need surface blemishes repaired to be in good enough shape to take the new door. Taking off the old door may prove tricky if the screws are stuck fast; but, once it’s done, you can make good the frame with wood or cellulose filler so it will look as good as new when painted. It makes life easier if you can reuse the old hinge recesses, but if they’re too chewed-up you’ll need to pin and glue in bits of wood before filling them.

You may have to renew the doorstop -(draught-excluder) the part which the front of the door actually hits when it closes – if the new door is a different thickness from the old or won’t lie flush with the outside frame. You can buy suitable planed wood in various thicknesses. If the old doorstop isn’t removable (it may be made all in one with the frame) you’ll need to add another piece, flush with it, before attaching a new doorstop bead. This should only be lightly nailed until the door is hung, for its position may have to be altered.

The hanging process

Even once you’ve got the frame right, and you’ve chosen your new door for the exact size of opening, it may still not quite fit. This could mean offering it up to the door-frame, marking it with a pencil and planing or sawing it down to make adjustments. As this can be time-consuming, and demanding on the arms, it’s best to work on it next to the place where it’ll be hung. Panel doors, especially, are heavy; and another pair of hands can be very useful at strategic points – for example, when the hinges need to be held exactly in the right place to be screwed in.

Chocks and wedges are also very handy for holding the door steady when planing and chiselling, and for supporting the door in the opening when you’re marking it so the clearance is right above and below. Luckily these are made from scraps you’ll probably have around – small pieces of 3mm (Vsin) hardboard, for example, can be stacked to give the right thickness for the space that should be above and below the door.


Panel doors have two vertical stiles and horizontal rails that enclose panels of plywood, solid timber or glass. Moulded panel doors have the classic look but each face is shaped from a sheet of wood, fibreboard or plastic which is bonded to a timber frame.

Flush doors have a narrow timber frame around a solid, semi-solid or cellular core. They are faced with plywood or hardboard; many have thin lipping; some are reinforced where hinges and locks are to be fitted. Fire-resistant doors are usually flush, but are thicker and more robust. They should be used with hardwood one-piece rebated frames.


Internal doors 125mm-150mm (5in-6in) from the top. 175mm-230mm (7in-9in) from the bottom; use 75mm (3in) or 90mm (31/2in) steel or brass butt hinges. Heavy doors or external doors need a third hinge halfway between the other two. Use 100mm (4in) steel or brass butt hinges.

Altering dimensions

Enlarging a door, by adding a strip of wood, carries the risk both that it will be too obvious and that it will eventually fall off. But the job can be tackled fairly easily if you first plane the edge of the door straight – keeping your finger at the side of the plane will prevent it falling off the narrow surface. Next, cut your strip to length and plane it to the exact extra size you require – making sure it’s a little proud of the door thickness on both sides. Glue and nail it on, and lastly plane it flush with the door face so that when painted it makes an inconspicuous join.

More commonly, however, you’ll have to make your door smaller. To take off large amounts you’ll need a ripsaw or a powered circular saw; guide it along a batten firmly cramped to the door. After sawing, plane the edge smooth.

Alterations like this are relatively easy on panel doors – but remember to saw similar amounts off both opposite edges to avoid lopsidedness, and be careful not to destroy the joints. A flush door, unless the core is solid, is a very different proposition. A cellular core (made of wood strips lami-nated together or a honeycomb of kraft paper), a narrow timber frame, and the hardboard or plywood faces are all there to make the door lightweight. And you risk mutilating any or all of them if you try to alter the width (the height’s all right, for you can make a new piece to glue and nail in at the top or bottom if you need to).

So, if you need to take off more than a little, buy a panel door. If you must have a flush door and you can’t get one that fits or is about 10mm (3/sin) larger, buy one slightly undersize and add lippings all round to make up the extra height and width.

A fitting finish

Once the door fits the frame you can add the hinges. If you’re re-using the existing hinge recesses in the frame, support the door in the opening parallel to the upright and mark on it where their tops and bottoms are. If you’re cutting new ones, mark their positions on both door and frame.

Remove the door and, using a try-square and marking-gauge, mark out all new recesses – a hinge should fit flush with both the door edge and the edge of the frame. Carefully chisel out the recess and screw one side of the hinges to the door, checking that they lie neatly in place.

The standard steel or brass butt hinges you need can be bought anywhere. Another option is self-closing ‘rising butts’ which will carry the door clear of the floorcovering as it opens, and enable it to be lifted off if necessary without unscrewing them – good if you’re redecorating. If the door’s not going to have a lot of weight put on it (eg, on a cupboard) light and shorter hinges are best. Choose those that can be surface-mounted and you won’t have to chisel out recesses.

Support the door in position again, and fix the hinges to the frame with one screw each. See whether the door swings and closes properly; if not, you can take it off again and make various adjustments to the way the hinges sit in the frame.

The final step is to fill any defects, to sand the door down, and to paint or varnish it. On an external door in particular, make sure you include the top and bottom edges in your treatment (the bottom will have to be dealt with before the door is hung) so that damp cannot penetrate and swell or rot the door.

Hinges should not be painted as this can interfere with the pivot action – and the constant friction of the door will cause the paint to chip anyway. If made of ferrous metal, they can rust, so they should either be primed with a metal or rust-inhibitor primer or coated with a clear lacquer. A non-ferrous metal like brass won’t rust but it can tarnish, so clear lacquer is a good idea in this case.


– use a screwdriver that fits the slot exactly (scrape out any paint first)

– if the slot is damaged make a new one with a hacksaw at right-angles to the old

– if the screw won’t budge put the screwdriver in the slot and tap it with a hammer or mallet; or heat the screw with a blow-torch, then leave to cool and contract before trying to remove

– the last resort is to drill out the screw using a power drill.


If the door swings open or closed by itself the hinges are not taking the weight equally. To do this they must be vertically above each other, so you’ll have to move one of them either backwards or forwards across the frame.

If the door sticks at the lock edge you can either deepen the hinge recesses in the frame or shave a little off the lock edge.

If the door springs open when you shut it the hinge recesses are too deep. Pack the back of the hinge with a piece of cardboard cut to the shape of the recess.

If the bottom of the door isn’t parallel with the floor glue and pin on a wedge-shaped lipping. When planed flush and painted it should not be seen.

Remember to make all the adjustments while each hinge is held only by its central screw. Only when the door fits well should you drive in the rest.

Choosing Doors When Decorating

You’re redecorating a room, but the door is shabby or ill-fitting or both and you don’t want it to spoil your new look. Don’t worry – you’re not stuck with it, and you certainly don’t have to replace it with one the same.

Before choosing an alternative, look at these pictures, and go to a good stockist. A glance at the , range available will soon show that a door is more than just a way of plugging an entrance, and will also suggest how doors can be used to create striking features.

Even a flush door (with or without a window) can be most effective, either because of a rich grain pattern or as a vehicle for a large rectangle of colour. And with panel doors the variety is inexhaustible. They usually have six, eight or even twelve panels arranged in one of several different styles, and as many as fifteen if glazing is included.

Glass, of course, can be in large or small panes, either clear or frosted in a number of textures. It may consist of just one piece at eye level; it may fill the top half of the door, or all of it. External doors, particularly, are available glazed in charming semi-circular patterns, and either partly or fully bow-fronted.

Materials range from fine hardwoods such as Brazilian mahogany, intended for a clear varnish finish, via softwoods of various qualities, to plywood, hardboard and plastic-impregnated mouldings, ready for painting.

So the choice is yours. A doorway can always lead to something exciting!

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