If you’re a typical consumer (like me) the last thing you want to do first when you get a new toy, entertainment device or car is read the owner’s manual.  It’s more the American way to just dive into the enjoyment of the new diversion, learning as we go, and maybe unintentionally breaking something in the process.  Reading the instructions is always a last resort.

If you’ve ever purchased an IKEA furniture product, you know that “reading the instructions” is not even an option:  Basically, there’s nothing to read.  Although putting together an IKEA cabinet, for example, is pretty straightforward, the task is next to impossible without the so-called assembly instructions.  And the instructions contain no words.  In typical European (IKEA is made in Sweden) style, the instructions take the form of pictograms.  I have installed kitchen accessories in the past made in Germany or Austria that were the same format:  numbers and line drawings but no words.  (In one case a dimension for locating a drilled hole was specified to the half millimeter!  This kind of precision is laudable, but, good grief!)  What have they got against some explanatory text?  Americans are not big readers, but their attention span, analytical skills and patience are also in short supply…

Recently I assembled some IKEA furniture for a client.  As I went through the thinking process to decipher and figure out the meaning of the various pictures and symbols in the instructions, it occurred to me that some explanation – in the form of words – was necessary to more easily grasp what IKEA was trying to “say” with its picture puzzle.

Allow me to digress by saying (read:  “writing”), there ARE words in the assembly instructions.  109, to be exact.  That is, 109 English words which are translated over four whole pages into 33 – count ’em – 33 different languages!  Doing the rough math, this adds up to about 33 x 109 or 3,597 words comprising three small paragraphs which can be summarized as “Important!  Buy the right screws!  If you think the cabinet is too heavy, add legs!  If you are uncertain about the ability of the wall to support the weight, add more screws!”  You’d think IKEA could assume most of the world understands English and devote a little more space to words actually telling us something we didn’t know, like how to put the damn cabinet together!

I have to admit, the drawings of the humans (you and me) are cute.  They smile when things go right, like when your friend shows up to lend a hand, and frown in multiple expressions when things go south, like when you break something by hitting it on the floor.  There’s a depiction of a confused consumer looking at the instructions with a baffled look on the face and a “?” in a thought bubble.  Beside that is a drawing of a happy-faced goober holding a telephone with a direct line to “IKEA.”  But no phone number appears anywhere in the assembly instructions.

By chance I assembled the three pieces of furniture on carpet; the pictogram advises this to avoid damaging the “wood” parts as they are not real wood and can be dinged up if banged around on the hard floor.  Lay out a rug or at least some cardboard to soften the blow and protect the floor.

I started the operation by, believe it or not, “reading” the assembly instructions to familiarize myself with IKEA-ese.  Then I unpacked all the parts and fasteners.  I grouped all the identical parts together for organization and to make sure I had the amount of each noted in the instructions.  Better to find out at the start that you’re missing a screw, than an hour into it and wonder if you accidentally kicked it under the refrigerator…

The drawings are adequate but study them carefully as they are relatively small in size and so it might be easy to miss a detail, like a hole the size of a fly speck, or this period.  There are multiple holes typically, so lay out the pieces according to the drawing and note which holes are being referenced in the current step.  The picture has a helpful rotating arrow to show you which way to turn the screw (rolling eyes emoticon…)

A slot head and a Philips head screwdriver are listed (read:  “pictured”) as tools to use for assembly.  Only one operation has a picture warning “do not use a screw gun.”  I used a screw gun with a Philips driver for every operation.  In a future article I’ll discuss using the clutch on a typical screw gun to ensure you don’t overdrive the screw and strip the threads in the hole or worse.  If you are familiar with this feature, go for it.  Otherwise, get out the Ben-Gay and Ace bandage(s) for your wrist(s) to treat the carpal tunnel syndrome resulting from turning all those screws in by hand.

As you proceed through construction, frequently examine your work and make sure everything is fitting together evenly and equally.  These are precision-made parts; everything should line up and be square.  If something doesn’t fit or work properly, you probably used one piece where another is supposed to go, or put it on backwards, or upside down or both.  Take a break if you get frustrated, except if you live in Colorado, Washington or Amsterdam, then wait until you’re finished to “take a break.”

The plastic inserts that accept the bolts holding the drawer fronts on should be tapped in flush with the surface of the drawer front.  The picture shows using a hammer and board to transfer the hammer blows; the idea is to not mushroom the plastic before it seats in the hole.  A plastic hammer works well for this and you don’t need the board.

You’re probably getting good at this by now, so I’ll leave you with the drawer adjustments to figure out on your own.  There are only six of them depicted in three drawings.

Go figure.

PS  If you have any left over parts, just kick them under the refrigerator…



The Ins and Outs of Doors, Part 2

It was a dark and stormy night.  Without a sound, the study door began to slowly swing open until it struck the wall with a soft “clunk.”  A rush of cold air entered the room, sending chills up my spine.  Was this the spirit of a long-dead lodger, a disembodied specter, or the ghost of Christmas bills past due?

Doors seeming to open or close of themselves might be the source of at least some if not most of the reports of ghosts and hauntings over the many centuries to the present.  It’s a common phenomenon with a cause based squarely in the world of the living.  It’s even got a name:  ghosting.

Part 1 covered the ins and outs of properly installing an interior pre-hung door.  This post covers some of the idiosyncratic issues associated with doors, their diagnosis and repair, and how to retrofit a new door slab to an existing jamb.

Doors that ghost are leaning, perhaps imperceptibly, as a result of shoddy installation or natural movement of the structure over time. Fixing doors that ghost can be a bit of a project, but worth the effort to eliminate the annoyance and potential embarrassment of a door opening unexpectedly, especially a bathroom door…

Believe it or not,  I have two doors in my home that ghost open.  And, yes, one of them is a bathroom door.  The other is a bedroom door.  The bedroom door also does not latch when closed against the stop.  We’ll fix that, also, but first let’s exorcise the ghost.

Fixing a door that ghosts can be as easy as removing the middle (or top) hinge pin, supporting it between two scraps of wood and striking it with a hammer.  This action puts a slight bend in the pin; when reinserted in the hinge, the bend creates just enough friction to overcome the tendency for gravity to open (or close) the door.  Because of its simplicity, it’s worth trying a second hammer blow to make a larger bend; just don’t take it to the extreme of bending it into a “C” or “U.”

If the lean angle is significant, the above technique might not work to stop the door’s movement.  Now comes the fun part:

Carefully pry the casing away from both sides of the door and remove it.  You’ll want to slice the paint seams with a razor knife to avoid tearing away paint, etc.  Taking time and care to do this will avoid damaging the trim pieces and allow you to put them back neatly when done.  Remove nails from the jamb; the nails that stay in the molding can be reinserted in their holes when replacing the casing.  (Hey, I made a rhyme…)

Now you have the area around the door jamb exposed.  If there are issues with the door slab not touching the stops evenly all the way around (see Part 1), now is the opportunity to fix that as well.

Note which way gravity is causing the door to swing.  Move both jamb legs to make the door plumb; use a long level to find plumb.  It should now not ghost.  You might have to split and remove shims to free up the jamb to move.  Keep the nails in place; they will hold the structure and bend enough to move the jambs plumb.  Replace the shims snugly, add a new nail or two, replace the casing and take the dog for a walk.  Good boy!

The bedroom door doesn’t latch because the bolt doesn’t line up with the hole in the strike plate.  The easiest way to make them line up is to take off the strike plate, make the hole in the jamb larger in the location it needs to be, cut the mortise for the plate in the new location with a utility knife and/or sharp chisel and attach the plate with screws in the new location.  (Old screw holes causing problems?  See below…)  You can dress up the old mortise cut with wood filler.

On the other hand, it would be a great learning experience to remove the problem door from its rough opening and reinstall it following these guidelines in Part 1.  There is no better teacher than experience.

A replacement slab door should be sized precisely based on the old door it is replacing.  Measure the height, width and thickness of the old door slab.  The direction of swing and “handedness” (left or right) can easily be determined by simply backing your rear end up to where the so-called butt hinges are on the jamb and noting whether the door swings to the left or right.

This is called the “butt-to-butt” method for obvious reasons.  When you put in the order for the new slab, this information will save mistakes and misunderstandings.  Also, a picture is worth a thousand words:  Make a plan drawing (“bird’s-eye view”) of the room and door and take that with you to the door store.  (Whoops, I did it again…)

To digress:  The absolute simplest, fool-proof way to ensure an accurate replica of the former door is to give it to the fabricator/lumber yard/door store which is supplying your new door.  Then, it’s all on them and nothing can be lost in translation.

If you are doing the mortises for the hinges, measure their locations carefully on the old door and duplicate them on the new door slab.  The lockset borings will probably also be duplicated, but check the specs (there I go again) that come with your new lockset hardware.  A spade bit is used to bore the bolt hole in the edge of the door, 7/8″ or 1″ diameter depending on the specifications of your lockset.  The handle hole requires a hole saw of the correct diameter, usually 2 1/8″.  Start the big hole on one side; bore through until only the pilot bit comes through the other side.  Now cut the hole from the other side using the pilot bit hole to avoid blowing out (splitting) the wood when the hole saw emerges.

Hinge mortises can be drawn with pencil and cut out free-hand with a trim router set at a depth equal to the thickness of the hinge leaf.  Use a straight bit of the same radius as the corners of the hinges to route the round corners easily.  Square corners can be cut out after routing with a knife or chisel.

The face plate on the latch assembly requires mortising as well; this is best done with a razor knife to cut the outline, and a sharp chisel to remove the wood to depth.  No face plate — just a round insert?  Skip this step.

Bore hinge screw holes with a drill bit smaller than the hinge screws; the screw holes should not be deep or large to ensure the screws get a good bite on the wood.  I’ve install umpteen doors that came from the factory with screws that were spun in their holes from overzealous workers using a drill motor to tighten the screws on a Friday afternoon trying to finish up before the corner bar fills up with hockey fans watching the big game.  Oh Canada.

If you encounter a screw or two (I can’t stop myself) that spins as you tighten it, the fix is easy and reliable:  Grab some wooden toothpicks from the local bar; remove the loose screw; add copious amounts of carpenter’s glue to the hole and toothpicks; jam the toothpicks tightly into the hole; break or cut off the toothpicks; replace and tighten (not over-tighten) the screw; go back and finish your beer.

No Disassembly Required

No Disassembly Required

A door that rattles when closed needs a simple fix;  the bolt and strike plate are mismatched.  Look inside the strike plate hole; see the metal tab?  If it has a slot, take a slot screwdriver and gently pry the metal tab  “out” a tad.

No Slot

No Slot

No slot?  Remove the strike plate and use pliers to bend the tab a tad (that’s more alliteration than rhyme, but who says poetry has to rhyme?)  The door should now close with a little shove and a soft “clunk.”

(If a door opens by itself in an empty house, does it make a sound?  Yes.  Clunk.)

Finally, here is a short list of related issues that will keep your interior doors working perfectly long into the future:

  • Avoid hanging anything on the door, like clothes racks and children.  Sagging and loose hinge screws will ensue.
  • Lubricate moving parts occasionally.
  • If the door begins to rub or stick, fix it right; don’t butcher the door with a saw!
  • Declaw your pets; better still, train them, except cats, which is impossible.
  • Keep a key or unlocking tool handy to avoid having to tear down the door to free someone like that guy at the Olympics.
  • On painted doors, install with a bit wider reveal to prevent sticking as you add more layers of paint over the years.
  • If your bathroom door opens by itself unexpectedly, keep the lights off while you’re in there.

More on doors (this is getting old) later.

The Ins and Outs of Doors, Part 1

Borrowing from the effusive Sally Field, “You like me!  You like me!” I am just cresting 3,000 views in one year (I assume this is good) and, turns out, the subject of doors is the most popular view to date!  Following your lead, this post covers basic installation techniques for interior doors.

Door installation is as much an art as a skill.  Rarely is the rough framing into which the door is placed square, plumb or level.  In remodeling, this can be due to settling and movement of the house over time; on the other hand, in all the time I worked as a trim carpenter in new construction, I never saw a framer (the guy who builds the walls) use a level or a plumb bob to ensure the walls and door openings were not leaning, twisted or shaped like a trapezoid.

In new construction you begin by assessing the rough opening.  The rough opening is the hole in the wall built by the framer where the door will be located.

Measure the inside width of the opening from stud to stud, top, bottom and middle.  This dimension should ideally be about one half-inch to one inch larger than the width of the door in its frame (jamb.)  You will need this extra space to place shims in order to square up the door so it will operate perfectly.  Measure the outside width of the door frame (jamb) from the outside of the hinge jamb to the outside the latch jamb to check the door width.  These vertical jambs are also called “legs.”  You should have a 1/4″ – 1/2″ gap all the way around if everything is sized correctly.

Measure the height of the rough opening; this number should be a bit taller than the overall door height (Remember:  “door” refers to the door slab hanging on its hinges inside the jamb or frame.   This is referred to as a “pre-hung door.”  We’ll discuss hanging a replacement slab in an existing jamb later…)  The top piece on the door jamb is called the “header.”

Go get your levels.  For door installation close is close enough, so if the bubbles are intact and there are black lines on either side of the bubbles, your level will work fine; we’re not building a boat here, as they say.  An assortment of 2-foot, 4-foot and 6-foot levels will come in much handier than one of those 6-inch levels which fits neatly in your tool box but is about as much help in hanging doors as a one-armed wallpaper hanger.

Levels should be accurate; the best way to ensure accuracy is to spend a little more for a good set.  Keep in mind the maxim about tools:  You get what you pay for.

Set the pre-hung door unit aside and just work with the rough opening for the moment.  Place the 6-foot level vertically on the hinge side of the rough opening; get rid of any protrusions like nail heads, staples and dried drywall mud so the level sits flush with the stud.  Note whether the surface is plumb (straight up-and-down.)  If it’s plumb…Frank Lloyd Wright built the house.  Use cedar shims to space the hinge jamb away from the rough opening the distance you measured earlier.

The shims are wedge-shaped; put them together to make flat surfaces to go against the stud and the jamb.  Nail the shims to the stud at the same heights as the hinges on the door.  They will stick out on both sides; you will cut them off later.

If the stud is not plumb, arrange the thicknesses of the shims to make a plumb surface (the shims) to attach the door jamb to.  This is where the wedge shape comes in handy.  Use your level to find plumb after installing, say, the top set of shims, then fit the correct thickness of shims between the stud and the level at the other end.  That makes the middle set easy to fit.  Now you have a plumb surface to fastened the hinge jamb to.

Now you are ready to put the pre-hung unit in its hole.  Man-(or woman-)handle the door into the rough opening.  This is easiest done with the door closed and secured by a plastic or wood “bolt” through the lock set hole into the jamb hole.  Some pre-hung doors come with a screw or nail through the jamb header or leg into the door edge; make sure you find and remove these first to save time and aggravation.

Align the outer edges of the hinge jamb to the wall surface on each side.  Drive one nail through the stop (the small board the door closes against) at the top hinge location, through the shims, pinning the door frame to the stud.  Now you can operate the door to see how to adjust it during installation for perfect operation.  I usually add one more nail towards the bottom, not through the shims, to add stability and ability to make adjustments in the door geometry.

Align the latch jamb with the wall surfaces; “capture” or hold it in place with shims top, middle (behind the latch bolt hole) and bottom friction-fitted between the jamb and the stud.  You will adjust these (see below) for proper gap, a.k.a. the reveal, around the door so it’s even, not too large, and not too snug.  Kind of like Goldilocks’ porridge, but different.

Close the door.  What?  You didn’t take out the temporary bolt yet?  Okay.  I’ll wait…

Close the door.  Gently.  Does it “clunk” pleasantly when it hits the stops, hitting the stops all the way around?  Yes?  Nail it all off and go take a smoke break if you live in Colorado.  Or Amsterdam.

Does it hit the stop at one place but not uniformly around the perimeter?  To fix that, nudge the jamb legs in and out, top and bottom until the door hits the stops all the way around.  This will put the jamb either sticking out past the wall surface, or a little behind the wall surface.  You will deal with this when you trim out the finished door with casing.  Welcome to my world.

Now you can think about seriously nailing the two legs through the shims.  Before you put all 6 X 3 = 18 (yes, 18) nails in the jamb, start with one through the jamb at each set of shims.  Remember the gap?  If it’s uneven when you close the door and exam it all the way around, pry the jamb away from the shims to adjust it until it’s a consistent 1/16″ to 3/32″.  Too large will A.  look ugly; B.  transmit more sound and drafts; and C.  look ugly.  Too small will cause the door to rub and bind.  Adjust shims accordingly for a perfect fit.

You may notice the reveal at the top is a pie-wedge, i.e., uneven.  Adjust the shims behind the bottom hinge, adding thickness or taking it away to even up this gap.  This technique rotates the door slab to change that gap.  You might need to tweak the middle hinge shims to compensate for the bottom movement.  The bolt holes in the slab and the latch jamb should now be aligned.

Almost done.

Finish the installation by installing the remaining nails:  Three at each shim location, one each side of the stop and one through the stop.  If the header (remember the header?) is bowed up or down, shim and nail where it works to get rid of the bow.  Use the 2-foot level to check.

One more potential issue you may face in installing an interior door is a sloped floor over the width of the rough opening.  Use one of the shorter levels to test this before you begin.  Lift up the low end of the level, center the bubble and estimate the amount the floor is out of level across the opening.  This will be the distance between the bottom of the level and the floor on the low side with the level level.  Using a saw, neatly cut off this amount of wood from the bottom of the jamb leg on the high side.  This will compensate for the slope.  I do not recommend cutting the bottom of the door to match the slope of the floor; this is difficult to do neatly, and only draws attention to the slanted floor.  No one looks at the bottom of the door anyway…

Okay, enough for now.  Later we’ll get into a few more tricks and tips that will make you the Dior of Doors.

Oh come on!  Fashion IS Art!

Turning Wasted Space Into…

Can you find where the old trash compactor use to live?

Can you find where the old trash compactor used to live?

The gap left behind after the Sub-Zero refer bit the dust.

The gap left behind after the old Sub-Zero refrigerator bit the dust.

My solution to fill the void in Judy and Dale's kitchen.

My solution to fill the void in Judy and Dale’s kitchen.

Did you guess right?  Third space from the right is now a functional cabinet with two roll-out shelves!

Did you guess right? The old compactor space  is now a functional cabinet with two roll-out shelves!  (see above)


Squaring and Repairing Old Doors

Old wooden doors can be restored to form and functionality with some effort and ingenuity.  There is a wealth of good information available in print and in the cybrary on the topic of restoring old wood to its former function and beauty, so I won’t attempt to reinvent that wheel here.  As such, I’ll link you to a few good sites on the topics of repairing split door panels, replacing rotten wood with solid wood and tightening up loose rail and stile joints.

This article focuses on Victorian-style entry doors, but the information transfers to period interior doors, and doors in general.  Just about any larger city in the country has a plethora of houses constructed in the Gilded Age before the turn of the previous century.  Many of these fine dwellings have been restored to their original opulence and beauty.  Many more, unfortunately, suffer the ravages of time:  peeling paint, rotten wood, deferred maintenance, modern “improvements,” and, well, old age.  Exterior doors suffer from exposure to the elements, and, as one of the most utilized components of the structure, experience constant use and abuse throughout the life of the house.

Here’s a pictorial guide to the terminology defining the different parts which make up many doors, especially vintage ones:

Cabinets are my stock-in-trade, but I have a special place in my heart for doors:  I’ve installed umpteen million in new construction and remodels; repaired, refinished, rehung, refurbished, rebuilt, reused, recycled, reclaimed, remodeled, restored, reinvented and replaced at least as many.  I know doors.  I know doors so well, I could have been Jim Morrison.

You should not have to accept as inevitable an old door that sticks, rattles or just plain won’t open (or close).  This is not only a serious aesthetic problem, as the door looks like crap, but a security issue as well.  Exterior doors must be functional:  they are the last line of defense against criminal intrusion after the fence, the dog(s) and the camouflaged bear pit in the yard.  Oh, wait a minute:  this is the Obama era.  The last line of defense is a good offense, i.e., a Glock, SKS or the “fashionable” AR-15 (or all three.)  At one time the best defense against burglary and home invasion was a properly installed dead-bolt lock in every exterior door.  Times have changed.

Repair of a sagging, out-of-square door literally coming apart at the seams is specialist work.  The average DIYer (unless they read this) probably won’t be able to come up with a satisfactory solution.  Cutting or planing the part of the door that rubs or sticks only enhances the visual blight (it’s still sagging) and doesn’t address the real issues.  Alternatives to repair also have their downsides, but if you’re made of money, or don’t care about retaining the original look of your house (shame on you), you can consider the following:

  • Reproductions
  • Architectural salvage
  • New (modern)
  • Custom millwork

Reproduction doors are available, but in limited sizes and styles.  In the 19th Century, door factories turned out a wide variety of door styles and finishes, many up to 10 feet in height.  Companies competed fiercely for the business of the Industrial Age homeowner.  Today’s reproductions have many of the features of original products, like solid wood construction, no veneers, specialized joints holding the parts together, and period hardware.

Although you will likely find a style that appeals to you, finding an exact duplicate of the original door is improbable.  Standard sizes are 36 inches wide by 80 inches tall.  Fewer stock choices are available in other widths and heights.  Old-school doors came from the factory complete with stain and finish:  plan to do this after delivery, as modern reproductions are shipped unfinished.  Plan to spend between $1000 and $10,000, or more, for your dream door.  At that price, you would hope the manufacturers would find a way to make the door look “old,” but it will look brand new.

Architectural salvage outlets can be found in many cities as the source of period doors and lots of other stuff that might fit your vintage home’s decor.  Of course, the selection will be limited to whatever the local “deconstructors” have acquired in your region in any given time period.  The condition will be “as found,” and, because of the stuff’s rarity and uniqueness, it won’t be bargain priced.  Again, you might be able to locate a piece that suits your needs and taste, but you’ll have to look long and hard for it probably.

New, modern doors look so out of place in truly vintage decor that you will most likely think twice about taking this route.

You may hook up with a contractor or designer who has a source for custom made millwork, and can design and specify a particular door style, wood species and finish to replicate your basket case of a door.  I’ve seen custom made furniture that attempted to pass as antique in look and style, down to the fake wear and tear of “distressed” wood.  This is usually accomplished by striking the wood with a bag of carefully selected bolts, screws and other pieces of metal in a random pattern.  However, just as the term “random pattern” is an oxymoron, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the piece is a new construction.

So you’ve decided to keep “Old Saggy” in the family for some reason if only to preserve the original character and provenance of “this old house.”  Good for you!  Now the fun begins…

If the door is still tight and square, try this:

Tighten all hinge screws by hand;  a power screwdriver might spin them and ruin the threads cut in the wood holes.  Before doing this, support the door from underneath so that it sits square to its opening; you might notice some or all hinges are loose at this point, a good sign of an easy repair.

Almost certainly, some of the screws will not tighten up.  This is also an easy fix, but you will have wait until some glue dries to proceed:  Remove the screw from the bad hole.  Whittle (you know how to whittle, don’t you?  You just put your lips together and blow) a plug the size of the hole diameter and depth, or use a dowel.  Put carpenter’s (yellow) glue in the hole and on the plug.  Insert the plug in the hole.  Wait for the glue to set.  Drill a pilot (smaller) hole for the screw and replace the screw.  Do this with any other suspicious screw hole, or renew them all just to be thorough.  With the door open and supported, tighten all the hinge screws in the door and jamb.  Did this trick fix the sag?

The hinges are tight, but the door butt joint seams are separated.  What will you do?  Butt seam separation sounds serious.  And it is.  Just hope it never happens to you or a member of your family.  The door is one thing; your family is quite another.

If the door is sticking because the rail and stile have come apart, the fix is also pretty straightforward.

If the gap between rail and stile is small, open it up carefully to permit a little light cleaning of the gap.  You also need some room inside the gap to introduce a fair amount of glue to make the repair permanent.  Yellow glue should be fine, especially for interior doors, but you’ll want to consider using an exterior–grade outdoor yellow glue, or a water-resistant glue like polyurethane for exterior doors.  Polyurethane glue reacts with moisture to harden, then becomes a moisture-resistant joint.  Use a spray bottle to moisten the interior surfaces of the gap before adding the glue.

Use air pressure from a compressed air blow gun to remove loose dirt and particles from the gap.  Tiny scrapers can be fashioned from small nails, or dental tools.  Clean the gap thoroughly, then blow it out again.  Remove any drips or chunks of dried finish that might interfere with the glue bond.  (Use polyurethane glue sparingly:  a very thin coating on all surfaces will be adequate as this glue expands to fill tiny voids of 1 millimeter or less.  If the glue squeezes out of the joint, wait until it has partially hardened to ease removal.  Or use lacquer thinner sparingly to remove wet glue.)

Use a toothpick or wood splinter to apply the glue to the interior surfaces of the gap; avoid getting the glue on the door face itself.  You can “spread” the glue by partially closing the gap with pressure or hammer blows (protect the wood), then prying the gap apart a bit to check coverage.  When, like Goldilocks’ porridge, the amount of glue is “just right,” pull the seam together with clamps and go have a beer.

For insurance you might want to add a glued dowel inserted from the door edge through the joined stile and rail, or a long wood screw, countersunk and filled.

This should be a relatively permanent fix for a door coming apart at the seams.  However, a worst-case scenario, where the door is sagging because it not only has come apart, but has also changed shape from a rectangle to a trapezoid, requires more resources and ingenuity.

Unfortunately, this is where the intermet came up short;  I don’t know if I’m the first and onliest person to make this type of vintage door repair, but when confronted with the challenge a couple of years ago, I definitely felt as if I was reinventing the wheel.  To this day, I can’t find a standard graphic or reference to this technique, so I guess I’ll have to actually draw something myself.

"Old Saggy"

“Old Saggy”

How to Repair Old Saggy

How to Repair Old Saggy

The drawing above shows the problem:  joints at the rails and stiles have loosened up and failed, causing the weight of the door to deform the door into a trapezoidal shape.  The low side will always be opposite the hinges.  This door will never function properly without the little operation depicted on the right.

Firstly, the drawing on the right is a plan view, a.k.a. a “bird’s eye” view; you are looking at the door laid flat on the floor or workbench table.  The large perimeter rectangle in the drawing represents some kind of solid surface to brace against.  When I did this repair in my shop, I braced against the foundation walls surrounding the concrete floor pad.

You can see the door can be nudged back into shape using a hydraulic jack strategically placed at the low corner.  A hydraulic jack, or “bottle jack,” rated at 6-9 tons is strong enough to push the door members back into square.

Brace the other three corners against movement so all the force can concentrate at the one point.  You can add additional braces to secure the door from unwanted movement; do not place a brace on the end of the stile opposite the jack.

Work in stages.  The door will move towards square slowly.  Some pressure will build up in the structure, so occasionally stop applying pressure and gently tap the door parts with a non-marring hammer.  This will relieve pressure and move the door some more.

The door shown in the drawing is a six-panel door without window glass.  Even if the window is intact in the deformed door, remove it prior to beginning this task.  Otherwise, the window, which is probably original to the house and fragile, will shatter.  Replacement glass made to look like 150-year-old glass is available, but spendy.

When the door is back in shape, release it from its bondage and repair it as discussed earlier.  Refinishing might be the next step in restoring your door to its former glory.

Keeping any house in good order and functional is a challenge with modern structures, let alone houses built in the time of clapboard and gingerbread.  It’s never too late to catch up on some of those 150-year-old deferred maintenance projects.  After all, what else are weekends for?

All Nailers Great and Small

Since 1950, when the first pneumatic nail gun was introduced on the market, nailers have grown in popularity among professionals and DIYers to the point where the hammer is fast becoming a museum piece.

Unlike the real custom nail gun in the photo above, real nail guns come in a variety of calibers, better known as gauges.  Let’s cover the various types of equipment using nail gauge as a guide, and along the way we’ll learn the features and applications of each one.

A digression:  Like all tools, not all nail gun brands are created equally reliable and durable.  I went through two – count ’em – two Bostitch 18 gauge brad nailers before realizing the problem I experienced was somehow tied to the flawed design of this tool.  Right out of the box, each of these new nail guns misfired, that is, when the trigger was pulled, no nail came out.  Usually this can occur in older, well-used guns due to wear on the so-called driver.  The driver is moved down onto the nail head by pressure when the trigger is pulled.  If it’s metal shape is worn from countless up-and-down trips in its guide, the driver can “miss” the nail and skip off.  This shouldn’t happen with a new tool.  On the other hand, I have had excellent service life and durability with both Porter Cable and Senco equipment.  I looked up the replacement parts list for a typical 18 gauge Bostitch brad nailer like the ones I owned, and, interestingly, part number 5 on the exploded diagram (an O-ring in the driver mechanism) wasn’t even listed in the parts list!  O-rings are easily replaceable, but they have to also be available!

(How funny!  I just searched “Stanley Bostitch BT1855K” and looked at “Customer Reviews:”

  • “‘This gun consistently won’t fire.’  (5 reviewers made a similar statement.)”
  • “‘…this one was so frustrating to use.’  (4 reviewers made a similar statement.)”
  • “‘I am going to return it…’  (1 reviewer made a similar statement.)”

‘Nough said.  Read my article on tools for more sage advice…)

Framing Nailers

The biggest guns used for construction and framing actually don’t have a “gauge,” per se.  Generally, they can use nails of more than one shank diameter, unlike smaller nailers that are limited to a particular gauge.  My Porter Cable framer can fire nails ranging from .113 inches to .148 inches in diameter, and 2 to 3 and 1/2 inches in length.  The nails typically come in a sleeve (stick or strip) of 25 or so individual nails held together (“‘collated”) by a plastic band.  Loading any gun is the same:  Pull back the spring-loaded feeder, drop in the strip of nails (pointy end down…) and release the feeder.

Collated nails come angled (20°-34°) or straight depending on the design of the magazine.  Wikipedia says, “Shank styles include plain, ring annular, twisted, etc. and a variety of materials and finishes are offered including plain steel, galvanized steel, sherardised steel, stainless steel, etc. depending on the pull-out resistance, corrosion resistance, etc. required for the given application.”  In case you are wondering:  sherardising is a form of galvanizing for resistance to rust.  (I was…)  Other construction nails come in coils to reduce the frequency of reloading; this is especially helpful in high volume tasks like roofing.

Another (brief) digression:  Nail guns, whether powered by air pressure, electromagnetism, flammable gas or gunpowder are a leading cause of injuries related to tool uses.  Between 2001 and 2007, nail gun injuries among workers and consumers (DIYers) doubled, according to the CDC and NIOSH.  Much of the blame can be traced to rapid fire “bounce firing” in which the gun fires when the trigger is pulled and then the nose piece contacts the work, versus a “sequential-trip” firing mechanism requiring the nose piece to contact the work first before the trigger is pulled improving control.  (Senco actually offers free replacement parts if the trigger type you have is not to your liking.)  Be informed and be forewarned:  Nail gun injuries are horrific.  Don’t be a statistic!

16 Gauge Nail Guns

Known as finish nailers, 16 gauge tools use smooth nails with a minimal head to allow the head to be countersunk below the surface of the wood. This is accomplished in two ways.  In air tools, the pressure from the air compressor should be set roughly between 70 and 120 pounds per square inch (psi); there should be no need to readjust this once set as the compressor will bring itself up to pressure when the pressure falls below its set point.  The depth of the nail head is controlled by a depth adjustment on the tool.  Again, once trial and error determines the correct adjustment, no further adjustment is required.

Finish nails come in variety of lengths ranging from 5/8 inch to 2 and 1/2 inch.  These are used to fasten interior trim molding, window sills, jambs and headers, door frames, crown molding, etc.  A wise old carpenter once told me, “Remember:  you have to fill all those holes with putty,” so less is more.  If you strive to hit the stud behind the drywall at each point, fewer nails can be used.  Techniques to accomplish this include laying out a tape on the floor and noting every 16 inches (or so) there is a stud location; and using a stud finder.  Don’t do what an extra laborer did on one job I was on:  He marked the location of each stud on the stain grade base molding with ball-point pen!  Buy ’em books and buy ’em books and all they do is eat the covers…

Finish nails are also used to fasten sub-tops and underlayment when you don’t want a nail head protruding proud of the surface.

Protruding nail heads (called “shiners”) can be set with a couple of sharp blows with a hammer on the right size nail set.  Then the fun begins:  puttying all the holes…

18 Gauge Nail Guns

Known as brad nailers, 18 gauge tools do the same jobs as finish nailers with one advantage:  the holes are smaller requiring less putty.  They are harder to see from a distance and therefore add to the clean look of the new decor.  Brad nailers come in lengths similar to finish nails, so can be used for the same tasks generally.  A wise old drywaller once told me, “You know 18 gauge nails will hold that trim just as well as those 16 gauge spikes, and the holes are smaller…”  I didn’t immediately mend my ways (because I didn’t think of it first), but eventually came to see the wisdom of his advice.

Further, smaller brad nails are ideal for fastening thin material like screen molding and 3/16 inch finished panels.

23 Gauge Nail Guns

At one time I disparaged this size gun, known as a pin nailer or “pinner,” as a toy more suited to building little wooden do-dads and thing-a-ma-jigs.  Then a wise old contractor (who was paying my contract) suggested I use one of these little gems to affix rope trim to a flat spot on the crown molding I was installing on some kitchen cabinets.  The issue was the rope trim was fragile, and larger nails caused it to split and blow out.  The tiny headless pin nails are ideal for this application.  Each is about the size of a sewing needle; available lengths are limited due to their small diameter, which can take only so much driving force before bending.  I now own this little baby of my family of nail guns; I use it for rope trim, beading, screen molding, drawer box construction (with glue), repairs, veneer, and a bunch of other tasks where a larger nail won’t do.

The best part:  The nail holes are essentially invisible, filled or unfilled.

As I said, I own at least one of every size of common nail gun known to man or woman.  There are just no substitutes for the efficiency and utility of the various sizes and features.  (Try driving a 1 inch, 2d common wire nail with a hammer; you’ll be screaming obscenities after hitting your hand on the first or second blow…)  Other types of nail guns are more specialized:

Hardwood flooring nailers take the work (and there’s a lot of it) out of installing floors.  Activated by air pressure and a sharp blow with a rubber hammer, these tools drive and set flooring nails through the tongue of the boards at the proper angle and depth.   A job that could take many days only takes a lot of days.

Powder actuated tools are used for driving hardened nails into concrete and other tough substrates for fastening wall plates and brackets to other-than-wood surfaces. A sharp blow to the loaded tool fires a cartridge to propel the fastener home.

Staplers are handy when fastening non-electrical wire, wood edging on plastic laminate counter tops and other tasks (like sheathing) where an extra-firm grip is required and the staple wire won’t show or it doesn’t matter.

Palm nailers are compact tools that “hammer” (40 hits per second) nails into wood.  The nailer straps to the hand, and is air-powered.  The advantage is their usefulness in tight spaces.

Most nail guns are pneumatic and require an air compressor to use.  Buy a good one, because they go through repeated cycling during use to keep the air pressure at the optimal level.  Compressors are usually oil filled, so maintenance is paramount for a long service life.  Drain the condensed water from the pressure tank(s) regularly to avoid internal corrosion.

What more to say, but that a wise old…

Oh, forget it.

Safety = Un-Common Sense

Safety signs are a commonplace in business and industrial settings where some aspects of the work are dangerous or risky to some degree.  This could range from slipping on a wet floor to losing a limb (or two) in machinery.  Signs attempt to warn workers about the potential hazards, and are quite wide-ranging in their ability to cover the waterfront of possible issues.

Educational signs do their best to inform workers, but it’s a known fact of human nature:  Nobody reads signs!  Or instructions, or labels, or the Bible, for that matter.  Signs are designed to catch the eye with bright colors and pithy slogans (“Think Safety,” “Think Safety First”), but unfortunately, they fall down on the job as truly preventative measures.    (I do vividly remember a poster from grade school depicting a little boy, horrified look on his face, flying through the air at the observer having been struck from behind by an oncoming car.  He was walking with the traffic, not against it as recommended.  Now notice how many people of all ages do that, cross arterial streets in traffiic with baby strollers, walk at night in black clothing, or ride bikes like traffic rules don’t apply to them…)  It really comes down to this:  You are responsible for your own safe work practices, signs or no signs.

And no signs is pretty much the case in the home and shop, where the same kinds of debilitating and horrific accidents occur as in your worst case OSHA-be-damned coal mine or Chinese sweat shop.  I’m talking about crushing, maiming, falling, shocking, puncturing, tripping, lacerating, ripping and tearing of perfectly good body parts that, unlike salamanders, skinks and sea stars (say that five times fast) don’t grow back.  Oh, wounds might heal, but flesh-eating bacteria might get there first, so, why take the chance?

The best defense is a good offense (Vince Lombardi?), so instead of relying on signs and posters, make a commitment to yourself to look out for number one, and protect everybody around you in the process.  Another sad fact of life:   would-be rescuers who rush in to help an injured or trapped person in a dire circumstance more often than not end up fatalities, burning to death or asphyxiating in the same situation the victim ended up in.  First responders (whose job is to show up for work in a dangerous situation) are trained to “protect yourself first.”  What good are additional preventable injuries or deaths?  You are not invincible; you are totally vincible.

So, how to develop this Un-common Sense of Safety?  Awareness of hazards in the shop and home is a logical starting point, and I’m not talking about putting up a bunch of home-made signs all over the place (nobody reads them, remember?)  Make an inventory.  Take the time to look for and imagine unsafe conditions, practices and equipment present or possible in your work area.  There are myriad opportunities for mistakes and mishaps in the simplest environments, not to mention one where a multitude of power tools are in use, each one capable of inflicting its own brand of death and destruction.  And it could literally be a brand if you accidentally sear your flesh with a soldering iron or propane torch!  Cedar wood smells great when burned; epidermis – not so much.  Start your inventory with a list of general hazards, real or potential, then look at the real world in which you work and hobby to find and note the lurking dangers around you.

Let’s just summarize the potential problems you might look for and find, although the lists are not exhaustive, and there is some overlap:


  • Frayed, cut or torn electrical cords
  • Loose wires
  • Poor lighting
  • Overloaded plugs/circuits
  • Water on the floor
  • Extension cord usage
  • Wires under foot
  • Damaged outlets
  • Dust in motors


  • Missing or broken guards
  • Exposed moving parts
  • Rotating parts
  • Inaccessible power switch
  • Movement after being turned off
  • Noise
  • Pinch rollers
  • Uneven floor or support
  • Jerry-built or jury-rigged equipment
  • Confined (tight or cramped) spaces
  • Heavy parts


  • Trigger safeties broken or removed
  • High heat
  • Loose parts
  • Direction of exhaust ports
  • High air pressure
  • Noise
  • Trigger locks
  • Fumes and particulates
  • Downward cutting
  • Moving work into tool
  • Pulling tool towards body parts

Sharp Stuff

  • Blade changing practice
  • Handling and storage
  • Securing the workpiece
  • Visual impairment at speed (blurring)
  • Proximity to digits and limbs
  • Direction of cutting or slicing force
  • Posture
  • Guards and exposed edges

Eye Protection

  • Flying chips, sawdust, turnings and grinder debris
  • Paint mist
  • UV radiation
  • Poke in the eye with a sharp stick, screwdriver or pencil
  • Eye glasses
  • Fatigue
  • Exhaust ports and air pressure

Hearing Protection

  • Impact sounds
  • High decibel sound
  • Saw and router operations
  • Compressor noise
  • Rotary and multitool operation
  • Grinding

Respiratory Protection

  • Fumes, mists, particulates, fibers
  • Carbon monoxide


  • Cold
  • Hot
  • Cramped
  • Crowded
  • Cluttered
  • Slip, trip and fall hazards
  • Head hazards
  • Chemicals
  • Heater
  • Ventilation
  • Weather
  • Dust and debris


  • Radio
  • Headphones
  • Telephone
  • Television
  • Children
  • Other workers
  • Spouse
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Worries
  • The Big Game
  • Barking dogs

When the inventory is complete, review it enough to familiarize yourself with each of the items posing a potential risk to your health and safety.  Then, invest in some personal protection equipment (PPE), fix broken cords, add extra lighting, reorganize cramped spaces, buy a fire extinguisher, install a dust collector, clean the wood stove chimney, wear gloves when handling sharp blades, be rested, relaxed and “in the moment” when operating tools.  Cultivate spatial awareness:  what is behind you, underfoot, overhead, to the right, to the left?  Concentrate on the task at hand having planned it out thoroughly beforehand.  Work as distraction free as possible.  Do all the other stuff on your list that gives you the Un-common Sense of Safety because you made it part of who you are and what you do.  Do it for yourself, do it for your family and do it today.

Or you could GMO with a skink…