A door or doorway designates the passageway from one space to another. Between the interior space of a home or dwelling and the exterior space where the home is set, such as in an apartment building or the neighborhood, an exterior door permits a person to move from one space to another. Within the home we also have privacy doors, closet doors, and pantry doors. Doors can be flat, have raised panels, have glass inserts, or slide into the space between two walls. Doors can fold or be “bi-folding”, as is commonly seen at closets, or consist of two doors that open in the middle, as are commonly called “French doors”. Today I would like to discuss the hanging of a typical privacy door as would be seen at a bedroom or bathroom, with a doorknob on one side and hinges at the other.
A well hung door is a level door. We “hang” doors because they swing from hinges on a jamb. If your hinge-side jamb is perfectly level in two directions and you open a door an inch, it will stay there at one inch. If you open it three inches, or all the way, the door will remain precisely where you left it if it is level. Doors that swing open or mysteriously slam shut are not level. A perfectly level door is the goal of hanging doors.
I would like to digress here for a moment and talk about the marvel of a well hung door in a well built, old house. It is still fairly common to find old Craftsman style homes here in Seattle with doors that perform nearly identically to the day they were hung. The craftspeople who made these doors selected the straightest boards to mill, join, and cut, and properly protected from moisture and abuse, are as flat as the day they were hung. They swing with ease, and click to a close. If a home has been properly maintained, and roof run-off hasn’t undermined the foundation, causing walls to settle unevenly, or support posts haven’t rotted from contact with soil or concrete, these old doors in those old walls made by people of greater craft than me will probably hang for another hundred years.
You will need to use shims to raise the jamb, as well as to hold it level when it is secured to a stud. I use two shims, sliding them together so they create a flat surface behind the jamb. It is not necessary to do this, but it does make the door more flat against the stud, which if its not creates problems that you might have to correct later.
Use good screws of gauge 10 or 12 of at least 2 1/2 inches. Some people nail them, but screws make it easier to manipulate and correct any problems. Screw through the thick part of the jam, and use wood filler or spackle to fill before painting.
Some people will probably hang their doors a little differently than I do, but here is how I do it:
1) First, put a level across the floor between the two studs in the doorway. If the hinge side is level or slightly higher, proceed with the instructions. If the hinge side is lower, be prepared for an extra step. Another nice trick is to put the level on the stud that will hold the hinge side of the jamb. I like to begin shimming and screwing at the area that protrudes the most into doorway.
2) Next, remove the door from the jamb, and carefully place the jamb in the doorway, being careful not to let the joints at the top pull apart. Put the hinge pins someplace intelligent. If the hinge side is lower than the latch side, place two shims below the hinge side of the jamb and adjust them until the hinge side is level.
3) This is the most essential step. You want the door to be level on the inside of the jamb, where the door will sit when closed, and on the outside of the jamb, the thin side, when the jamb faces the room. Pick your spot to secure your first screw. I like to use three screws, and I typically put them beside or near the hinges as those points have the most stress against them. I put my first screw into the area that protrudes the furthest into the doorway, as the shims will be the thinnest at that point. Putting two shims behind this point, center the entire jamb within the doorway, holding the shims in place with pressure from your hand. Use the level and get it as close to level as you can, but recognize the second screw is when you need it to be perfect. Drive the first screw through the jamb and into the stud.
4) Now you can relax a little as the jamb is not going anywhere. Using the level on the inside and the outside of the jamb, set it perfectly level. Place two shims where you want to set your next screw. Make the shims ever so slightly proud of where level is because they will compress a little bit when you drive the screw. With the shims in place and more pressure holding them in place with your hand or foot, double check the level on both sides and drive the screw. Any digressions from level can be adjusted by pulling the screw out and adjusting the shims, but be careful, if you are out of level on the thin side you need to set a screw in another hole, as the old hole will just pull your jamb out of place again.
5) If you are happy, set the third shim which is fairly easy and then hang the door.
6) If you need to, correct any problems now. Seriously, do it now. You should play with the door and the loose side of the jamb (the latch side) and see how it looks and works.
7) Next you want to set the reveal around the door so that an equal space surrounds the door between the jamb on the sides and top. First check the reveal along the top. If your hinge side was higher, you will need to shim the latch side up a little. You don’t need to screw the top of the jamb. Then, using shims and pressure from your hand, foot, or knee, set shims and drive them with screws so the reveal is the same all the way around the jamb. If your reveal is too tight, the door will rub; too loose and it won’t look or feel right when you close the door.
8) Now you can trim out your door and put in the hardware.
There are so many different challenges you might come across that will require in-the-moment decisions to be made. With experience and observation of problems with other doors, you will begin to see what a door needs. Sometimes the studs within the doorway will not be perfectly parallel to each other, and this will create a twist in the jamb that won’t let your door close properly. Knowing your goals: a perfectly level jamb in two directions, an even reveal around the door, and everything in the same plane without twisting, and using your tools to observe the variations and challenges ahead of you will help you be a successful hanger of doors. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t see all the problems you need to address until the door is hung and not functioning properly. Often, it is better to start over completely. That is why step 6 is where you need to get a feel for whether your door will work or not.