Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How To Unstick Metal Security Doors

All homes "settle" in their foundations over time.  As they settle, doors that previously had easily and effortlessly swung open and closed and windows that previously had slid in their frames sometimes can begin to stick, and move less easily.  Walls and ceilings can begin to show cracks as well.  Seasonal heating and cooling can also cause expansion and contraction, and lead to increased friction and binding on sliding surfaces.  This posting will concentrate on how to "unstick" a metal security door that has begun to stick, or freeze up, in its frame.  If your door is sticking as well, and you don't want to hire someone to come fix it, and you have the right tools and safety equipment, a few neurons to rub together, and about 10 minutes, you too can fix your sticking screen door.  As always, if you follow these instructions, and you hurt yourself or destroy something, it is not my fault, and you should have hired a contractor with more sense.  No warranty or liability is stated or implied, and you affect these repairs at your own prerogative.


First, gather the necessary tools.  A good pair of safety glasses is absolutely required.  You'll be removing metal and making sparks.  Wear a long sleeved shirt if you don't like to have small bits of hot metal impinge upon your forearms.  Get a ladder that is tall enough to give you stable access to the top of your door.  Refer to yesterday's post (link here) about how to easily block your door open.  And finally, you'll need a metal file, or Dremel tool, or whatever tool you prefer to easily and conveniently remove sheet metal without hurting yourself or the door.

Next, Identify WHERE the door is sticking.  Look for bare, shiny metal where the door meets the door frame. Low grade, unpainted steel loves to rust, even in low humidity like Arizona has, it can hardly resist forming a dull brown ferrous oxide.  If you find rusted surfaces, and you use that door often, that is not where the door is sticking.  If you find bright, shiny surfaces that look like rubs, then Bingo, you've found the culprit.  Our door was easily found at the top corner of the door and frame.  Note the shiny triangle.
Inside looking Out, and Up, to the corner of door and door frame
Also, note the multiple seals.  The hairy looking stuff and the expanded foam looking stuff are what is keeping insects and other critters from crawling around the metallic screen door.  You don't want to damage those, and give desert critters a path into your home, unless your dog or cat enjoys being vigilant at your front door in order to kill black widows, wood scorpions, mosquitoes, or other creatures that try to get in.
Inside, looking Out and Down at the door jamb.  Note the think rubberized black seal that runs along the bottom of the door.   Try not to cut into, deform, destroy, or damage that.

Now, get your Dremel tool,. or your manual metal file, and your ladder. Put on your safety glasses, and carefully begin to remove the metal on the door that was causing the binding.   Try not to let the tool take off too much metal at one time.   I used an old sanding attachment at first, to slowly remove less than a millimeter (about 0.04 inches) of metal along the leading and trailing edges of the top of the door.
I checked the progress of metal removal frequently, to make sure I was taking off nearly equal amounts of metal all along the edge.  Use the "offending" door frame - it is still nearly linear, and much harder to evenly chamfer - to gauge how much it is still binding, by closing the door - try not to lock yourself out of the how and avoid embarrassment.
Now, if you really want to, you can elect to loosen your door hinges, and attempt to raise or lower your door incrementally.   This will not be easy, and it is a 2 person job - one to hold the door and one to tighten and loosen the hinge hardware.  Also, if it's a security door (as mine is) the hardware is "tamper proof" and cannot be easily loosened or removed (like the screws on public bathroom stall doors with rounded off slots).

So your door closes easily now (we hope), but perhaps your dead bolt may be sticking?  You can use your Dremel tool or metal file to carefully vertically elongate the hole in the door jamb (the strike,or gâche or Placa Hembra),  Be careful not to grind against the forward or rearward portions of the strike as that's the part that actually LOCKS your door.  To the left here is a picture of using the Dremel tool with a mild sanding disk that pretty much just disintegrated as minimally buffed and polished the strike's hole.  See below for the "cut off disk" that had to be wielded with much more care and precision to avoid DIGGING INTO the metal of the strike.  Keep the RPMs low on your Dremel tool to minimize the risk of DIGGING IN or Catching the disk on the sheet metal of the strike.  And, as always when grinding on metal, wear safety glasses - or, be happy becoming blind or severely optically injured / impaired.

You can use a manual hand file of course, but you'll need a great deal of hand strength, and more patience and time than I had (or have).  Good luck with that.  it'll work.. it'll just take a very long time.
So now you will not have to spend another weekend listening to your spouse complain that "this door never used to stick" and "I think I might break off the key in the lock it is so hard to turn!", etc.  The door will be functional, safe, and you'll save yourself 100s of dollars on a contractor.

Again, if you hurt yourself doing this, or damage your door, it's not my fault.  This advice is free, and worth what you have paid for it, so don't try and sue me if you're not smart enough to do it yourself or to hire a competent contractor to do it for you if you're naturally accident prone, clumsily, or mechanically disinclined. 

May your doors close smoothly, and your home be secure!

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