Hanging a Salvaged Door

We’re old hands at hanging the doors we salvage. Years ago, we bought six interior doors that matched originals elsewhere in our 1885 row house. We just installed the last of them for a bathroom closet. Here’s what we’ve learned.

First, the jamb opening should be as square, plumb, and level as you can make it; otherwise, you’ll need to make adjustments to the door. Choose a door that’s the same size or slightly larger, as free of warping as possible. We strip old paint and repair loose joints at the beginning, then reglue, apply epoxy, fill in old hinge mortises, and do a sanding. 

The salvaged door being stripped.

Wendy & Alex Santantonio

We chose antique, cast-iron hinges, a little tricky to work with. To mark locations, one of us held hinges in place while the other made pencil marks on the jamb. We cut mortises using a standard mortising template and a router with collared bit. Setting the correct depth on the router is key. Alex used a plunge base with the setting zeroed out, the bit flush with the jamb. He pulled the stop on the plunge base up slightly and used one side of the hinge to set a gap between the router stop and the base. After removing the hinge, he let the bit plunge all the way down to the stop to reach the perfect depth. (Save settings for mortises on the door.) After chiseling out excess material in the mortise, we mounted jamb side of hinges into the door frame.

The mortise template in place on the jamb.

Wendy & Alex Santantonio

The door should be a little tight in the opening. Using a small laser measure, we determined height and width of the jamb opening. We measured at three places across top of jamb, and three down the sides. If it is seriously out of square, make a template of the opening (use thin MDF); use it to transfer measurements to the door.

The mortise template has rounded corners; use a chisel to square up the corners.

Wendy & Alex Santantonio

To trim the door, start at the top, then remove a similar amount from the bottom. We marked a cut line, then used a track saw to remove excess. Before trimming the sides, we measured the total amount to be removed, then split the difference between the two sides before first cut.

Using a track saw to remove excess is more accurate and less messy than cutting with a circular saw.

Wendy & Alex Santantonio

To mark hinge locations on the door, place door in the opening and force it to the top with shims. Pencil locations of hinge mortises on the jamb, top and bottom. Transfer marks onto side of the door with a carpenter’s or rafter square. Tack hinge template to side of door. With router set as before, cut mortises; chisel any excess material and mount hinges. Then test-fit the door.

Placing shims under the door during hinge fitting ensures there won’t be a large gap at the top of door.

Wendy & Alex Santantonio

The hinges may add width. If so, close the door as far as possible and mark a new cut line top and bottom, based on where the edge of the jamb sits. Cuts can also minimize a minor out-of-square in the jamb. Pop the door back on the hinges.    

Mortise hinge cut into the door.

Wendy & Alex Santantonio

hinge installed
The hinge installed in the door.

Wendy & Alex Santantonio

door on its hinges
The door on its hinges, ready for paint and salvaged rim locks.

Wendy & Alex Santantonio

See a shop tour: Vintage Doors


Tags: Architectural Salvage door OHJ August 2021 salvage

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