Fix for Short Doors
Tom Silva tackles the unwanted door gap
A mold problem last year prompted us to remove all of our carpeting and put in hardwood floors. Now there’s a big 1 3⁄8-inch gap at the bottom of the interior wood doors. How do you close up these gaps and still have the door look okay?
—Jimmy Jones, Garner, NC
When it’s shut, a door should clear the floor by about 1⁄4 inch, or ½ inch if the door swings over an area rug. So, yes, the gaps under your doors should be much smaller.
My favorite way to close up gaps on painted doors is to screw a filler strip to the door’s bottom edge, and then paint it to match. If your doors aren’t painted, you might want to consider doing so—it’s next to impossible to make this repair blend in on a clear-finished door. But if painting is out of the question, then you may have to take out the existing doors and put new ones in their place.
To make the repair, begin by measuring the gap beneath the door on its latch side when the door is closed, and when it’s open. If there’s a difference between those measurements, it means that the floor is pitched and the filler has to be cut to the shorter measurement.
When selecting stock for the filler, I look for a stable, straight-grained wood, like kiln-dried poplar. It should be about 1⁄8 inch thicker than the door, about 6 inches wider, and, as noted earlier, the same dimension as the shorter gap measurement. The extra thickness allows me to sand the filler flush with the door on both sides, without removing any wood from the door. The extra length allows me to cut the filler exactly flush with the door sides. And using a filler that’s the same size as the gap allows me to trim 1⁄4 inch (or ½ inch) off the bottom of the door and get a clean surface for a good glue bond.
Take a door off its hinges, set it up on sawhorses, and trim the bottom with a track saw or a circular saw and saw guide. For the best results with a circular saw, use a sharp, new blade and apply painter’s tape over the cutline to prevent splintering.
Center the filler on the bottom of the door, clamp it in place, and use a countersink bit to drill three evenly spaced pilot holes through the filler’s bottom edge and partway into the door. Make the countersinks deep enough for the screwheads to be slightly recessed. Next, using the holes in the door bottom as guides, drill three pilot holes as deep as the thickness of the filler. Apply a bead of wood glue to the filler, stick it to the door, and hold it in place with three flathead wood screws. If any glue squeezes out, wipe it up with a damp rag.
While the glue dries, plane the filler until the plane’s blade begins to scratch the paint on the door faces. Switch to a random-orbit sander with 60-grit paper to make the filler flush and remove the door paint, then sand with 80-grit and 120-grit papers. (If the doors are old and test positive for lead paint, take the appropriate precautions when cutting and sanding.)
Trim the filler’s overhanging ends flush with the door sides, and fill any voids in the filler’s end grain with a paste made of wood glue and sawdust.
The door will be ready to paint after this one last step: Line up a rafter square with the inside edge of a door stile. Run a utility knife alongside the square to make a straight, shallow cut in the filler. Do the same thing front and back on both door stiles. These cosmetic cuts create the illusion that the stiles run from top to bottom, the way the door was originally built.