Replacing a Door Jamb

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Dear NH,
Need to know how to replace a door jam on my daughter's bedroom door. Her older brother and his friend bashed into the door (it was locked) and all but destroyed the door jamb. We've nailed it on a hundred times to no avail ... the wood of the jam is split, etc. I'm a single mother and do not want to pay someone to do what I think I can do myself. But, knowledge is power, so I first wanted to ask the pros... you!
LR from Madison Heights, Michigan

Sometimes you can save the expense and labor of replacing the jamb by a three step REPAIR... gluing, nailing, and filling. The first thing to do is to see if you can get the pieces to fit back together reasonably well. It doesn't have to look great... just "together". If there are big gaps with broken pieces of wood missing, it can be filled with a two part product called Minwax High Performance Wood Filler. It is a stinky-as-heck product that sets in about ten minutes, but it sticks better than many glues, fills holes, and can be sanded.

With a door jamb, you have to both nail and glue. The glue will do most of the work, but the nailing is necessary to hold the pieces together while the glue dries. So apply your adhesive, either regular wood glue or HP Wood Filler, and then press the broken parts together. Drive a few thin nails through the broken part into a solid part. If this cannot be done, just hold the wood in place while the HP Wood Filler dries... it won't take long. Sand the HP Wood filler as soon as it is hard enough... it continues to harden for an hour or more, and will eventually get so hard that it will not sand very well. You might have to fill/sand a couple of times to get it nice and flat. Once painted, if you did a good job, the repair should be almost invisible.

On the other hand, replacing part of a door jamb requires the following steps... at a minimum:

  1. Use a putty knife to break the paint seal between the jamb and the door mouldings (or casing). You will also have to break the paint seal between the mouldings and the wall.
  2. Gently pry the mouldings attached to both sides of the broken section of jamb away from the jamb and the wall a quarter inch or so, exposing the nails.
  3. Using a hacksaw blade mounted in a special saw handle (available at any hardware store), saw each of the nails, sliding the saw blade between the wall and the moulding. Remove the moulding. Doing it this way instead of trying to pull the nails out saves the face of the moulding so you keep the moulding intact and have less repair later.
  4. You will now see how the side jamb is interlocked with the top jamb. You will have to break the side jamb apart to free it from the top jamb. First, cut horizontally across the side jamb with a hand or power saw within a few inches of the top jamb. You can now pry the bulk of the side jamb from the wall. Then use a wood chisel to split the remaining piece apart so that it can be removed.
  5. The board you use for the replacement jamb should be designed for that purpose. These specially made "raw" jambs are available at any lumberyard. However, there are only certain sizes available. If your jamb is an odd size, you will have to make one from a board... usually pine.
  6. Cut and nail the new jamb in place. It does not necessarily have to interlock with the top jamb as the original did. You can just press it tightly against the top jamb and nail it into the frame. Of course, you will have to use wood spacers at the top jamb and the side jamb so that it is even with the door. Use the door as a guide to position the new jamb.
  7. Install a new stop on the door jamb.
  8. Position and install the lock strike.

I could go into more detail, but hey... I'm not trying to write a book here! The point is for you to understand why I always think REPAIR first instead of REPLACE in most any job I tackle. Replacing a door jamb is not a monumental carpentry job, but it is a more time consuming, expensive, and skill- intensive job than a repair.

© 1999 G.G. ALONZY

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