How to Fix a Door That Wont Latch

How to fix a door that wont latch

Hello and welcome to my world! A door not latching can leave you in a world of pain, as there could be about 25 different reasons for this.

I’ll go through them all, starting with the most common, based on my own experience as a joiner in the UK – so you can hopefully get to your answer as fast as possible! As there is nothing more frustrating in this world than a door won’t latch.

How to remove a door handle and latch assembly

How to disassemble door latch and handle assembly

Is the door catching on the frame

When approaching any new door, I always give it a quick once over. The first thing I do is check the clearance around the door, between the door itself and the door casing/lining/frame.

Look at the door in its entirety and check that, there is around a 2mm gap between the door and the door casing and that the door swings freely over the floor. If the gap on the latch side is greater than 2mm, check the latch will extend out far enough to locate into the keeper in the door casing.

Often the door is catching elsewhere preventing it from latching so it’s always a good place to start. If you are happy that the door moves freely enough in and out of the frame/casing/lining you are in with a good chance of it being the latch.

2mm door gap
2mm door gap between door and casing

How to plane a door down

To plane a door down simply wedge it open so it holds in an open position, then proceed to glide over the door with a power plane trying to keep the planer at 90 degrees to the face of the door. Its always best to take small amounts off, especially if you are new to it. Even I normally only ever take off 0.5mm at a time, keep checking to ensure you are not taking too much off.

How to plane a door down whilst on the hinges

Gap too big on the latch side of the door

If the gap is too big (usually becomes a problem at around 5mm) on the latch side of the door, then the latch may not come out far enough to locate into the keeper in the door frame. You have three options at this point.

Option 1: (Best) You can pack out behind the hinges to bring the whole door closer to the latch side.

Packing hinges out by 2mm
Packing hinges out by 2mm

Option 2: (Easy) You can pack out behind the keeper if it has been chiselled into the frame too deeply

2mm Plastic Packer behind keeper
2mm Plastic Packer behind the keeper

Option 3: (Rare) If the latch has been chiselled into the door too deeply, you may need to take the handles off and put some packing behind the latch and re-fit the door handle assembly.

2mm Plastic Packer behind latch
2mm Plastic Packer behind the latch

Only one door handle works on one side of the door

If the door will only open from one side, the spindle has slipped out of the handle, failing to turn the latch. Both handles should always work together as the spindle connects them both, this is a more common problem on external doors as they are thicker

If only one door handle retracts the latch and the other feels like nothing is happening then the spindle has worked its way loose.

This is an easy fix, you can either order a longer door spindle or find some way to centre the spindle between the two handles. Maybe with some cardboard packing or by putting a dab of silicone in the square spindle hole, but I didn’t tell you that.

This is more common on external doors as they are often thicker. Internal doors are most commonly 35mm thick in the UK and external doors are most commonly 44mm thick in the UK, this means that they will fit the rebates of standard off-the-shelf, internal and external door casings/linings/frames.

Spindle too short
Door handles turn independently – Spindle cut too short

Does the latch retract freely

This is a simple one to figure out, take the door out of the frame and turn the door handles. You should be able to see the latch retracting in and out smoothly. If the latch does not retract in and out, the only thing it can mean is a new latch is required.

I have developed this handy Rhyme….. to help you remember

Handle down, latch-up, that’s the way we like to shut!

When replacing the new latch it is always a good idea to check that the springs are still working in the door handles!

If its janky or gritty when you turn the latch, then it’s a sign that the latch is a worn and good idea to replace it anyway. If the latch fails it will trap you in/out of the room and you could end up causing more damage to the door and its surroundings trying to break in. That’s not including any inconvenience or psychological damage caused.

As the latch and handles work together in synchronicity to turn the spindle it may be worth replacing the handles as well. If the spring goes in the latch it puts more burden on the springs in the handles and visa versa. . If you are replacing the latch and have old door handles it could be worth replacing the full set in order for them to function sufficiently well into the future.

latch function
latch functioning properly

Is the keeper in the right position (Height)

The door keeper is the little metal plate that fits flush into the door casing, that the latch then locates into when you close the door (all being well). If the keeper and latch do not line up then there is no chance of the door closing. Doors can drop over time, usually on the latch side which is not supported mechanically by any hinges, so it has all the weight of big old mama gravity weighing down on it.

The keeper can be heightened or lowered depending on which is appropriate but you will require a hammer and chisel and your toolbox. You can see in the picture below the keeper needs to be raised up.

Door handle keeper
Door handle with the keeper in the wrong position – set too low

Is the keeper in the right position (Distance from Rebate)

The keepers’ purpose as its name suggests is to keep the door securely in the frame. If it is set too far away from the rebate the door will clatter around at the gentlest of breezes. If the keeper is set to close to the rebate then the door will not latch.

The door should make a satisfying click just as the door meets the casing and latches.

It’s a bit of a dark art to get these in the right position the first time. There is no greater satisfaction when hanging a door than when it latches into the keeper on the first try, trust me!

Door latching like a good door should!

Sam Wood

Wood by name, wood by nature. I am a fully qualified, time-served, award-winning joiner with an NVQ Level 3 in Carpentry and Joinery as well as an HNC in Construction. Beyond my joinery qualifications, I have also earned a degree in building surveying. I believe these qualifications make me perfectly positioned to provide expert advice on many different areas of DIY as well as share all of the tips I have picked up in over a decade working on building sites!

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