On the House Repairing a cabinet door By James and Morris Carey

by James and Morris Carey
Friday December 21, 2001

We both are adamant about quality, and that includes cabinetry. Nothing bothers us more than second-rate cabinet displays in home centers. They look good from a distance, and some even look pretty good up close. But, when you know what you’re looking for, most of what you’ll find are poorly constructed products with mediocre finishes, made with inferior raw materials. The unwary consumer is fooled by their cutesy designs and slick looks — all sizzle and no steak. 

Good cabinets can last for generations, and that makes them them a bargain. The best value usually is measured by weighing both cost and lifespan. In as little as a year, junky cabinets often begin to fall apart. Screws come out of hinges whether the cabinet is of poor quality or good, but in high-quality cabinets, repairs usually are far easier to make. In fact, with cheaper cabinets repairs often can be extremely difficult and costly. 

Why all the discussion about quality? We want to share with you how easy it is to repair a cabinet door, and how to diagnose and repair a couple of other common problems. We had to begin with a warning because the cabinets that need these kinds of repairs the most are the ones that are most difficult, and sometimes impossible, to repair. In fact, when trying to make a repair on a bargain-basement cabinet, there is a risk of doing more damage than good. 

Diagnosis usually is not as complex as you might think. In most cases what’s wrong is fairly obvious. How hard can it be to diagnose a loose hinge or a missing screw? But, there can be challenges. For example: It can be difficult to determine exactly where a door is rubbing or sticking. In such situations we turn to our special diagnostic tools and equipment. We head for the pantry or the medicine cabinet for a little flour or talcum powder or a stick of good old-fashioned writing chalk. Here’s why. Talc, flour or chalk on a door edge will be rubbed off in the area where a door is sticking. Here’s what to do: 

• Apply the powder to the damaged area. 

• Open and close the door a few times (the powder will be rubbed off in the exact area where the door is rubbing the frame. 

• Use a sanding machine or a plane to shave the high spot away. 

You can shave either the door or the frame, depending upon which will be least visible. All that’s left once the door fits again is to touch up with stain and varnish or paint. You don’t want to make a repair and not reseal the repair area. Unfinished wood is a major candidate for moisture damage and swelling. 

A loose hinge usually means a loose screw — sometimes a damaged hinge. If the screws are all tight and the hinge is wobbly, chances are you will have to replace the hinge — a rare problem. Usually it’s a loose screw. First, try retightening the hinge screws. Often, especially with good quality cabinetry, that’s all you’ll have to do. If any screws are stripped, the task becomes more difficult, but not impossible. Here’s what to do: 

• First, remove the hinge (at least the side where the screws are loose). 

• Next, dip toothpicks in glue and wedge as many as you can in each stripped hole. 

• When the glue dries, use a razor knife to cut off the excess toothpicks. 

• Flop the hinge back into place and reinstall the screws. It is important to wait until the glue is completely dry. Reinstalling the screws before it dries can make things worse than they were before you started. 

Often doors warp and swell or shrink. This changes how they fit in an opening. A gap at the perimeter of the door can result. Here are a couple of conditions and a couple of ways to make a repair. 

When a gap occurs along the top of the door (opposite the hinge side) you can: 

• Shim the bottom hinge, or countersink the top hinge. 

If a gap occurs at the bottom edge of the door (opposite the hinge side) you can: 

• Shim the top hinge, or countersink the bottom hinge. 

To shim a hinge, loosen the screws that hold it in place and insert a shim (matchbook cover or a thin piece of cardboard or plastic) between the hinge and cabinet frame, and retighten the screws. It doesn’t take much. 

To countersink a hinge, remove the hinge from the frame (normally you don’t have to remove the entire door), and chisel away a slight bit of wood from the area beneath the hinge. Then, refasten the hinge. Use a sharp chisel to remove only a very thin layer of wood. As with shimming, a very small amount goes a long way. 

Trick: Often applying a slight amount of pressure to the opposite side of the door will close a gap sufficiently. This takes a gentle hand and only works with certain types of hinges.  

Using force can unhinge a door, so be gentle. Shaving, shimming and countersinking always work, even when you are less than gentle.