Guide: How to Adjust Door Hinges

Don’t let a sticking door inconvenience you. So many homeowners have to deal with their doors and cabinets failing to open and close as they should. Leaving you wondering how to adjust door hinges. But a more important question is, “What’s the cause?” The answer is likely to surprise you. Getting a door to set right in its frame — once and for all — is possible.

What does that mean? When installed correctly, and you use the proper hardware, you won’t have to know how to adjust door hinges in the first place. But it sounds like you already have the issue. So let’s go over it.

The Root Cause of the Rub

First, you have to determine where the door is rubbing; dragging on the floor, and sticking on the top or sides will determine how you proceed. We’ll take the hinges in or out a little if the door is jamb binding or hinge bound.

Remember the door, frame, and hinges are a system. A movement on the top left, for instance, causes an opposite movement on the lower right. The door is a rectangle within another rectangle. You want the gap between the two to be even. There are two pivot points that you can use to align or realign a door: the top and bottom hinges. 

But what’s causing the rub? 

It may sound counterintuitive, but your adjustable hinges are likely the cause for the hinges needing an adjustment in the first place. The problem comes from the design. 

You see, adjustable hinges put the weight of the door on adjustment pins, which will wear down quickly because they are small pins with a lot of weight on them. Over time, repeated opening and closing overstresses the weight-bearing point — those thin, weak pins. 

The whole reason you need to adjust them is that the weight of the door will quickly bend and wear them down, causing doors to sag.

In short, the problem is the hinge, not other common excuses like:

  • “Settling foundation”
  • “Regular maintenance”
  • “It just happens over time”

Once you locate the sticking points and think about the direction you need the door to go, scan the content below, find what you need to do, and make sure you have what you need before you proceed. You can resolve some issues with a hammer and rigid flat tool. Other problems require more elaborate solutions.

Yes, these hinges are (as the name suggests) adjustable. However, even after adjusting, the material and nature of adjustable hinges means the problem will come back and likely worsen each subsequent time.

If you’re in a pinch, we will cover a bit of what to do to get the door functioning.

But First, a Long-lasting Solution

Beginning in the next section, this resource covers adjustable hinges and only applies to adjustable butt hinges (the ones using small pins to uphold the weight of the door). A better, long-lasting solution would be to use a sturdy design, like SOSS hinges. 

With our heavy-duty hardware, the weight of your doors won’t rest on pins, but on solid steel plates. Once properly installed, SOSS hinges never need adjusting. There are reports of SOSS hinges in houses over 100 years old where the doors open and close perfectly.

So if you really want a long-term solution to drooping doors, consider switching from hinges that wear down in a matter of months to a solution that lasts decades — with little to no maintenance.

Until then, and if you’re in a pinch, here is a quick guide on adjusting butt hinges.

How to Adjust Door Hinges

Tighten all the screws on both plates: Screws on the door and jamb sides should be flush with the plate. The hinge plates themselves need to be set into the wood at a thickness equal to themselves: totally flush. Take care not to over-tighten, as stripping the threads out of the jamb or door will cause big problems.

If the hinge plates sit in too deep a channel, you can insert paperboard cut to size under it to shim it up. Make sure cardboard isn’t corrugated and cut it carefully to size. Stack it until the hinge sits even with the wood.

Problem: Top gap or a space on the opposite side of the top hinge

Temporary Solution: replace a screw in the top hinge with a 3-inch

  • Screwdriver
  • Three-inch screw

Using a screwdriver or power drill, remove the top hinge’s middle screw and replace it with a three-inch wood screw. Be sure you drive into the framing.

The top gap or space along the opposite side should now close up. If the problem is jamb bound or sticking on the knob side, we can employ the spread or the squeeze.

Let’s look at the squeeze and the spread methods, a slight push or pull when the door is hung up on the strike or jamb side.

Problem: The door hangs against the strike (knob) side

Temporary Solution: The Squeeze

Strong Warnings

  • Always bend the knuckles attached to the door. 
  • Never bend the knuckles attached to the jamb.
  • You always need to pop the pin 2/3rd of the way out – it needs to remain in the top two hinge segments, leaving the bottom sections free.
  • NEVER attempt a squeeze with the pin still in the way.

If you are not careful in this next part, you can damage the hinge or the wood, so be sure you are not moving things too hard; better a few small adjustments than a single big one.

  • Wrench, either crescent or set
  • Nailset, chisel, flathead screwdriver, or narrow putty knife

Adjust a crescent wrench or choose a size that fits the hinge knuckles: the bending part where a pin goes through the middle.

  1. Get your nail set or hard, flat substitute, and wedge it between the top of the pin and the top knuckle of the top hinge.
  2. With your hammer, pop the pin 2/3rds out, so it’s only threading the top two knuckles- leave it stuck there.
  3. With your wrench, bend the knuckles towards the door a little. Do this with all the knuckles attached to the door; make sure the adjustment is slight: just off true from the others. The topmost should be the hardest to budge because the pin is still engaged, and the bottommost is easiest because it doesn’t have metal on one side. This should leave all the knuckles just a tiny bit off-true toward the door.
  4. With your hammer, drive the pin back down into the hinge, and the knuckles will tighten up, pulling the door back toward the jamb side.

Note: Again, this only applies to butt hinges. SOSS Invisible Hinges don’t have pins and never need adjusting. The SOSS hinges rest on a stack of all steel plates that take many years before wearing down.

Problem: Tight on the jamb (hinge) side

Temporary Solution: The Spread

  • Nailset or Chisel
  • Hammer

Soft brass or bright brass dent easy, so use the butt end of a wooden shiv or block of wood instead of a nailset.

  1. Locate the hinge across from or next to the sticking point
  2. Open the door halfway
  3. Jam the nailset hard against the barrel of the hinge and close the door on it gently.
  4. Do this in two or three places, careful not to tighten too much

Problem: Adjustable invisible hinge

Temporary Solution: Up or Down, forwards or backward, and left or right

Adjustable invisible hinges are all the rage because the manufacturers claim if the door doesn’t close correctly or begins to sag that you simply turn a few adjustment screws to align the door. What they don’t explain is the entire weight of the door rests on a few adjustment pins hidden inside the hinge. These pins are relatively thin and over time will easily wear down or give out. When that happens the door begins to sag and you need to make adjustments to pull it back into alignment. Over time these adjustment screws get weaker and weaker and eventually there isn’t enough left of them to adjust. Only replacing them will solve the problem.

The SOSS Invisible Hinge doesn’t use adjustment pins. The entire weight of the door rests on a stack of interlocking steel plates that don’t wear down or bend easily. Once they are installed the first time correctly they will not need to be adjusted and will last many years and far beyond the life span of adjustable invisible hinges.

Problem: Reposition a hinge

Temporary Solution: wood plugs

  • Power drill
  • Wood plugs the same size as the screws
  • Utility knife or chisel
  • (as needed) New hinge

If the wood has become stripped and the screws can no longer gain purchase, or someone did not hang it correctly in the first place, you sometimes have to reattach a hinge entirely.

  1. Remove all three screws from the door-side hinge plate
  2. Hammer your wood plugs into the holes left behind by the screws
  3. Use the knife or chisel to make sure the plugs are flush with the surrounding surface
  4. Reposition, double and triple check the new position, and drill holes
  5. Screw the hinge back onto the door

Long-Term Solution? Switch to SOSS Hinges

If you’re interested in installing a door once, and never having to adjust your hinges, use SOSS hinges for your new build or remodel.