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Project Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Project Time: 1 hour

Tools and Materials:

(May be a combination of any of the following:)
Longer hinge screws
Powdered chalk
Soap or a candle
Wood glue
Wood filler
Toothpicks or dowels
Safety goggles


If a once-perfect door begins to stick, chances are that either the wood has begun to warp or the hinge screws are coming loose. And sticking cabinet drawers and doors aren't just a nuisance, they can also be eyesores if they appear misaligned when closed.

Sticking drawers can be blamed on loose or worn runners or cleats, or on structural problems. For minor or occasional sticking, seasonal humidity may be the culprit. The following techniques will help you diagnose and correct troublesome doors and drawers.


1 . Doors

1) Tighten the Hinge Screws

Hinges and catches typically are strong enough to resist even constant opening and closing, but the weak links are the hinge screws. When they begin to work loose, the door starts to bind, which applies more stress and causes more binding.

Your first step should be to tighten the screws and see if the door realigns. For more permanent holding power, install larger screws that can bite into fresh wood. Alternately, remove the door, fill the holes with wood putty or glued-in toothpicks or dowels trimmed to size, and reinstall the screws.

If the hinge screws aren't the problem, you'll have to either plane the door, straighten out its warp, or shim the hinges.

2) Unstick a Door

To find out exactly where the door is sticking, coat its edge with powdered chalk. (Fig. 1)

Start planing where chalk has rubbed off on the cabinet, and gradually work away from the high spot. (Fig. 2)

When a cabinet door binds and sticks at the bottom, plane the bottom corners and tighten screws in the upper hinge. (Fig. 3)

When a cabinet door binds and sticks at the top, plane the top corners and tighten screws in the lower hinge (Fig. 4).

Alternatively, if the door is too tight at the top, remove it and slightly deepen the top hinge mortise with a chisel. (Fig. 5)

If the door gaps near the top, remove the hinge screws and insert a cardboard filler in the mortise. (Fig. 6)

3) Straighten a Warped Door

You can try several things to straighten a warped cabinet. Some woods have grain with a built-in bias that's almost impossible to straighten once it has curved. Try using a combination of water and heat by soaking down the concave side of the warp with wet cloths and drying out the other side with a heat lamp. The door will need to be forced straight and held there--for example, with pieces of 2x4 and clamps.

Another approach is to suspend the door between two supports with the concave-shaped warp turned upside down. The idea is to overload the warp at its highest point with something heavy, such as a concrete block, and leave it in place until the warp flattens out. In fact, you should let the warp overcorrect because some of the original bend is bound to return once you unload the weight and reinstall the door. It's also a good idea to add a diagonal back brace to stiffen a panel. Use glue and screws to secure the brace.

2 . Drawers

1) Repair a Drawer

To check an uncooperative drawer, you'll need to empty it and pull it out to examine the hardware.

Wooden runners may have shiny spots indicating uneven wear--they can be easily lubricated or planed. Sometimes lubricating the cleats and runners does the trick--try running a bar of soap or a candle over them. (Fig. 7)

If lubrication doesn't work, you can plane or sand the runners slightly, test-fitting the drawer as you go. (Fig. 8)

Metal or plastic runners and cleats need to be checked for level, for loose or missing fasteners, and for broken parts, which should be replaced. Loose screws should be replaced with larger screws, or the holes should be filled. Bearings can be cleaned with ammonia and relubricated if they're not rolling properly.

If a drawer is jamming because its bottom has bowed out (due to being overfilled), you can take out the bottom and reinstall it upside-down. To do this, you may have to carefully knock apart the corner joints to free the bottom. Check for small brads or nails that are often inserted as insurance against glue failure, even in well-made dovetail joints, and pull these first.

If the wood splits during this process, remember that it, too, can be reglued when you reassemble the drawer. The bottom should not be glued into its slot; therefore, it should be easy to remove and reinstall.

2) Rebuild a Drawer

Remove nails on the drawer bottom or corners. If necessary, separate the corner joints, slide out the bottom, and reglue the sides so that they're square. (Fig. 9)

Slide the drawer bottom back into its slot, but don't glue it in place. Drawers can be cut low in back for bottom repairs. (Fig. 10)