Doors - Keep Them Shut
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Doors - Keep Them Shut

In this article, techniques are described to correct a misalignment of a door latch that causes a door to not remain closed.

Doors are great for keeping things not wanted (e.g. burglars, weather, noise, unwanted animals, and unwanted family) outside and away from you on the inside. Of course, doors, like many features in the home, do not always operate as designed and, therefore, may require maintenance.

One customer complaint I heard often was that an exterior door would not remain closed unless a secondary lock was engaged. Normally, this was not the only reason for a house call, which was fortunate since the “fix” usually only took a few minutes, and I had a minimum charge. Now, I am going to share my trade secrets with you so next time a door won’t stay closed, you can make your own repair and save a call to a handyman or locksmith.

 Picture 1

I like to call this problem a “failure to close condition” (FTCC). This acronym use only saves me keystrokes and is not a common industry term. (Using this term in hardware store conversations will brand you forever as a doofus). FTCC usually involves a misaligned striker plate. The striker plate is the piece of metal that is attached to the door frame into which the latch engages when the door is closed (see Picture 1). A FTCC can occur when the latch hangs up on one of the edges of the striker plate, thus keeping the latch from engaging into the mortise (mortise is a fancy carpentry word for the hollowed-out portion of the door frame under the striker plate). Natural movement usually causes the latch to hang up on either the lower edge or the edge in the direction the door swings. Careful inspection between the gap at the latch will usually reveal the edge that is keeping the latch from engaging.

If the upper and lower edges of the striker plate do not appear to be the cause of the problem, then a strong screwdriver and a hammer may fix your problem in mere minutes. Look at the striker plate and identify the small tongue of metal that protrudes into the mortise. This will be on the edge toward which the door swings. Take your screwdriver and position the blade on the tongue as diagramed (see Picture 2). Give your screwdriver a whack with the hammer, and then give the door a test shut (I recommend doing this with a lifelong, guaranteed screwdriver since screwdrivers are not made to whack with hammers). You can repeat this process until you get the door to latch or you break something. In the second case, you will have to head to the hardware store for replacement parts or tools. Remember not to use the term FTCC.

If the problem appears to involve the top or bottom edges of the striker opening, it is easiest to use a file to enlarge the opening. I like to use a ¼ inch, round file as it is small enough to give me room, and yet, cuts quickly. Striker plates are usually made from fairly soft metal, so filing is not as laborious as you might imagine. You may also have to file or chip out the wood from the mortise if your adjustment is larger, which also makes the round file a good selection. Of course, these days, many people have power drills and roto-tools which can be used effectively with grinding wheels for this same purpose. They also can be used effectively to destroy the finish on your door and make modifications to your fingers that require stitches, so use these tools with caution.

Hopefully, you can now shut the door which will not pull open without a twist of the knob or latch. If not, then you may have greater alignment issues that can be solved easily. If this is the case, then you can look for more Factoidz on DIY door adjustments or call a pro for help. Good luck. D.B. Sweet ©2010

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