There are many ways to hang doors, but few guarantee a
perfect fit on the first try. Through trial and error over the
years, however, I’ve developed a technique that’s
foolproof and fast, especially when hanging a new door in an
Scribing the Door
existing jamb is almost always slightly out of square, the
first step is to scribe the door to fit the opening. Before
scribing a raised panel door, cut any excess height off the
bottom so that the door can be held against the opening without
projecting above the jamb. This ensures that only a small
amount of wood will have to be removed from the top of a door,
keeping the width of the stiles and rails about the same.
Next, stand on the stop-side of the opening, and pull the
door against the jamb, then secure it with a door hook (see ).
Now adjust the door until it’s perfectly centered in the
opening (see Figure 1).
1. After marking the door with an X for
reference, use a door hook and shims to hold the
door against the jamb, then make adjustments until
the stiles are of equal width and parallel to the
jambs (top). Use a set of scribes to mark cut lines
on the door, making sure to allow for the thickness
of the carpeting or saddle at the bottom
Start at the head of the door by measuring the width of the
top rail at both sides of the door, then measure the width of
both stiles at the top and bottom of the door. Unless the jamb
is terribly out of square, you should be able to adjust the
door in the opening until the stiles are the same width and
parallel to the jamb. I use a small prybar to move the door
left or right in small increments, and long tapered shims
beneath the door to adjust the height.
If the jambs are grossly undersized and a lot of wood has to
be planed off the stiles, then make sure that the lock stile
will be at least 3-7/8 inches wide. This is the minimum width
necessary for some locksets, like Schlage deadbolts, which are
3-5/8 inches deep.
Scribe All Four Sides
Before scribing the door, I always mark a large "X" — in
pencil or with two pieces of tape — on the hinge stile
near the top of the door. This prevents dumb mistakes, like
hinging the door backwards or upside down, or drilling for the
lockset 36 inches from the top of the door instead the
For scribing, I prefer to use a set of $2 scribes made by
General Tool Co. Although any pencil fits them, I like to use a
mechanical lead pencil, because a broken lead is easy to fix.
Adjustable scribes are also handy at the bottom of the door,
where they can be spread to accommodate the thickness of the
floor covering, which varies from 1/4 inch for vinyl to 1-3/8
inches for carpet. For exterior doors, you’ll also need
to know what type of door shoe and threshold will be used.
I like to leave a gap around the door slightly smaller than
1/8 inch. To scribe the stiles, I spread my scribes 3/16 inch
apart because I bevel both stiles so that they’ll never
rub or bind on the jamb (called jamb bound), and the leaves of
the hinges will never touch (called hinge bound). The 3/16-inch
spread of my scribes works well for a typical 3-degree bevel,
which grows almost 1/8 inch longer on the hinge side (long
point of the bevel) than on the stop side (short point of
bevel), where the scribe marks are made. Be careful to hold the
scribes perpendicular to the jamb, and press just hard enough
to leave a clean sharp line — pressing too hard might
accidentally close the scribes. If the grain in one area
interferes with the lead, scribe in the opposite direction.
At the head jamb, squeeze the scribes completely closed,
because the top of the door doesn’t get a bevel. If the
top of the door doesn’t reach the head of the jamb,
spread the scribes so that they just reach the top of the door
where it’s farthest from the jamb. This ensures that you
will remove a minimal amount of material from the top rail.