Hinges – now that’s exciting How do you spell THRILLING – I’ll bet it’s H-I-N-G-E-S! Now we’re talking. Of all the front door restoration and refinishing questions we get, hinges is one of them. So, with all the interest and excitement surrounding hinges why not blog about them?

Believe it or not, hinges are really quite interesting. They’re virtually unseen and unless they’re rusty they go unnoticed. For as little attention as they receive they play a vital role in every single room in your house. There are a wide variety of hinges, here’s a small assortment:

·       Butt hinge – the most common type

·       Flush hinge – also pretty common

·       Ball bearing hinge

·       Case hinge

·       Hospital hinge

·       Strap hinge

·       Olive knuckle hinge

·       Pivot hinge

·       Rising hinge

·       Butterfly hinge

·       Bifold hinge

·       Barrel hinge

Again, this is just a small sampling, the list could go on and on. Nearly all these hinges will have, roughly, the same components. Let’s take a look at these pieces and what they do.

Click for a diagram of a hinge – you’ll have to scroll down once the diagram appears.

Each hinge will have two leaves, sometimes called wings. One leaf, or wing, is screwed into the edge of the door and the other into the door frame. The leaves make up the largest component as is most visible when the door is open. Each leave will have 3 or 4 countersunk holes for the screws that hold it to the door or frame. The hinge knuckle is the part you see when the door is closed. It’s the round part that is on the inside, between the door and the frame. Well, they’re on the inside if it’s a residential property. On commercial properties, where doors almost always open outward, the knuckle is on the outside. The final part of the hinge is the pin. Chances are very good that you’re familiar with a hinge pin. Perhaps you’ve removed a hinge pin to attach a door stop to keep it from hitting the wall. Or, if your door squeaked when opening/closing you may have taken out the pin to oil it. (Actually, the door isn’t squeaking at all, it’s the hinge, but let’s not get technical.) The pin, as you no doubt know, is the small rod that inserts into the top of the knuckle and holds the two leaves together. Some hinges have ball bearings, others have pin-set screws and others have decorative pin heads. Knowing the 3 basic components, leaf, knuckle, pin, puts you well ahead of most homeowners when it comes to hinge knowledge.

What can we do with all this knowledge? Well, let’s look a few common hinge-related problems that you may encounter and how you can now, with your new-found knowledge, fix them.

·       Squeaky hinge: The top hinge bears most of the weight so when there’s a squeak, start here. To remove the hinge pin just put a nail at the bottom of the pin and hit the nail with a hammer to force the pin up. Sometimes they’re in there quite tightly so don’t be shy.  If the bottom of the knuckle is closed you’ll have to remove the pin from the top. A pair of diagonal pliers works great. Simply insert the sharp blade of the plies between the knuckle and the pin head, then tap upward on the pliers with a hammer. Lacking a pair of diagonal pliers, try gripping the pin head with conventional pliers. Sometimes inserting a screwdriver between the knuckle and the pin head will get things started so you can grab the pin with the pliers.

·       Door Swings on its own: You’re in your sitting room, den or bedroom and you want the door open. You open the door and leave it open but before you know it the door has swung, on its own, so that it’s almost closed. Sure, you could use a brick or a door stop to keep it open but that’s a hassle. Here’s a quick way to fix this dilemma. Remove the middle hinge pin – it’s the easiest one to access. Next, put a very slight bend into the hinge pin. An easy way to do this is lay it on your driveway, or any piece of concrete, and hit the middle of the hinge with a hammer. Remember, you don’t need much of a bend. Now, re-insert the pin. Since it has a slight bend it should be pretty tight so you’ll need a hammer to get it all the way in. The bend increases the friction between the hinge knuckles and the pin and should keep your door in the position you desire.

·       Door seems ‘springy’ just before it latches.  When you’re closing a door does it seem to push back just before it latches? Sure, it latches fine but you have to push it that last couple inches. If you just gently push the door it won’t latch on its own, you really need to give it a big push to get it to latch. You’ve looked at the area between the door and frame and there are no areas where it’s rubbing, nor are there scrape marks on the door edge or frame. What’s probably happening is that the hinge is in the closed position before the door is all the way to the stop (the molding that prevents the door from swinging further.) Perhaps the hinge pocket isn’t exactly the right angle, there’s something between the pocket and the leaf, or the frame has twisted ever so slightly. Before removing hinges, straightening the frame or chiseling hinge pockets, try what’s called Busting a Knuckle. The end goal is to bend the knuckles so they’re lined up with the hinge leaves in such a way that the door can close all the way before the leaves come in contact with one another. You can buy a special Knuckle Buster tool or use vice grips to individually adjust each knuckle. Before you go to these extremes, try this simple method. Open the door about half way. Take something round that’s about the diameter of a small screwdriver shaft and hold it tight against the knuckles on the inside of the top hinge. The head of the screwdriver might get in the way so I find that a long Allen wrench work great. A 16 penny nail would probably work just as well. Now, with your Allen wrench or nail against the knuckles, begin to close the door. It should stop well before it gets to the frame. Push gently but firmly against the door. This is pulling forward the knuckles on the hinge leaf which is attached to the frame. Don’t try to close the door all the way – you don’t want to pull the hinge out of the frame. I find that pushing the door with a fair amount of pressure and then ‘bouncing’ it a few times does a good job. Remove your wrench/nail and see if the door closes properly. If not, do the same to the middle hinge and, if necessary, the bottom. If it still springs before latching repeat the process with a larger allen wrench or nail.

·       Cleaning a painted hinge: On a recent project the homeowner wanted me to also remove the hinges from several interior doors so she could clean them. Removing them was a pain because there were so many coat of paint on the hinges, see next bullet point. She mentioned to me that she heard boiling hinges is a great way to remove paint. I had tried a number of techniques such as chemical stripper, organic stripper and Coca-Cola (I really did – it didn’t work), but hadn’t heard of boiling. When I came back to complete the project she showed me the hinges. They were perfectly clean and she said it worked like a charm. It took a few hours, she said, but by putting them into a crock pot she let them safely soak and boil until they were clean. You can bet I’ll use this technique from now on.

·       Pay it forward: In the preceding point I mentioned the challenge of removing hinge screws that are covered with coat upon coat of paint. This is common in older homes. Sometimes you can’t even see where the screws are because there’s so much paint. Most of the time you can see where the screw is but the groove is completely filled. Here’s what I do to get at the screws that has saved a ton of time. In the past I’d chip away at the paint with a utility knife and screwdriver, which took forever. Then I had an idea….why not use a Dremel tool to grind away the old paint. A Dremel is a small rotary tool to which you can attach a variety of tips that are designed to file, shape or grind. A small grinding head quickly removed the paint from the screw heads. A fine point helped get the paint out of the groove so it would receive a screwdriver. It’s not enough just to clean out the groove, you gotta clean the entire screw head or the paint makes it next to impossible to turn the screw. Finally, and this is the pay-it-forward part…. Now that you’ve removed the old, slotted screws just throw them away. Replace them with Phillips head screws. Just take one of the old screws to Home Depot, Lowes, Menards or your local hardware store and have them match a Phillips head of the same size and color. These are much easier to work with and you’re doing a favor for the next guy.