When John S. contacted me about his front entry door, I told him what his options were. His front exterior door, solid wood, had for years been swelling in the summer months.

I have worked with John previously (see the attic remodel before and after here), and I know his story well. He lives in a three-story Fells Point Federal (Baltimore); he has been there for about 10 years.

Like many today, he is looking to save a buck on home repairs, but never at the cost of an inferior job. So I laid out some options: 1.) I could refer him to a handyman I know 2.) I could give him a detailed set of instructions so he could tackle the fix himself, or 3.) I could come down, and we could do it together.

I asked him a few additional qualifying questions, including what he had tried. It was there that he assured me he wanted a professional to take a look. Could I come? I said sure. And this is how we chose to adjust his wood exterior door.

How to Adjust Exterior Wood Doors

Wood Doors Expand and Contract

With this door, wood, it will expand and contract with changing weather conditions. And for John here — and though all six sides of the door seem thoroughly painted, the humid summer months mean an expanding door, and a slightly sticky fit.

They say you should always be able to fit a coin between the edge of the door and the jamb. I was always taught 1/16″ at each side on installations. (OK for an exterior door — you might want to use a dime.) And at his latch-side jamb, we certainly couldn’t get a coin in there (quarter, nickel, or dime). So we had to take some action.

With door fixes, I always start at the hinges. In this case, the screws seemed snug. I had come with a bag of 2 1/4″ #9 (and will someone please tell me what the deal is with #9 screws for hinges). We were going to take these longer screws and set them in the middle holes of each hinge. The hope was to suck the hinges back just that much to give us an extra fraction of an inch of clearance. Did it work, in this case, maybe the width of a hair. Better, but . . . .

How to Adjust Exterior Wood Doors at Hinges

To Plane or Not to Plane that is the Question

At this point, I told John — something had to give; it’s either the jamb or the door. And I went through the operation, talking out the options. With that, we stepped back and took a look. The door itself had a good bevel on it, and had not previously been “worked.” The jamb, however, was a little wavy. I could see it with my eye, and once I pointed it out — guess what, he could see it too.

This tells me that the jamb (maybe not property nailed, poorly installed to begin with) was possibly the element that was moving. We would place our attention here.

Now, the barbarian fix, and not wanting to get into removing the door trim and resetting the jamb, would be to cut the caulk at the door casing, and give the, then freed, jamb a couple good whacks with a block and a hammer. Later, we could hide some inconspicuously placed screws in the reset jamb.

As with many of the houses in Fells Point, a neatly set transom above, and the jamb running all the way up overruled that thinking. So in the end — and since we only needed to gain the smallest amount of clearance, we decided it was preferable to give the jamb some light sander work. (This worked for me mainly because I could see the irregularity along the door casing’s reveal.)

Another un-job

As I was just about to run out to my truck to grab my sander, John stopped me. “I can do this,” he said. “Anyway, I need to make sure we have paint before I do anything.”

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And there you have it, building moxie. You see, John is totally capable; I know it. He has a good eye . . . . He just needed someone to come out and re-assure him that he could do it. Not an issue of skill, but of confidence. My charge for the day — $0.

The chance of assisting when he goes to do his planned kitchen remodel – priceless.

To read more from us on exterior doors, please see our category – Exterior Doors.

>> More Moxie (Related Links):

Historic Fells Point (In the early part of the decade, I lived a few blocks from John).