Door and Frame Alignment Primer

By Brian Rhodes, Published Aug 20, 2013, 12:00am EDT

Effective access control is only as good as the doors being secured. Most designers and installers focus on great hardware and world-class systems, but they potentially negate those benefits by hanging them on flawed openings. The way the frame and doors are situated can be the different between a trouble-free system, and one fraught with perpetual malfunctions and failures. In this note, we take a critical look at the alignment of doors and frames, and how to adjust them to make things right.

Good Foundations

A good hardware install depends on a good mounting surface, and doors/frames are critical components of any access control system. However, it is not until access control systems are installed that many flaws become issues. Generally doors and frames are installed by general construction laborers, like carpenters or framers, and if the door opens/shuts and locks properly, the install is considered 'good'.

However, with electronic access control, the relationship between doors and hardware is amplified. The mounting tolerances are tighter, the precision is greater, and the potential for underlying door problems to wreak havoc are tremendous. In many cases, the EAC installer may need to correct flaws that have not been issues before, but probably existed for several years beforehand.

Door/Frame Alignment

Most lock manufacturers just gloss over the importance of making sure your frame and door are well adjusted and aligned, but failing to check this likely translates into trouble. There are a few key steps and common handtools that are invaluable for checking this:

  • Frame Squareness
  • Door Alignment
  • Door Closure

The five and a half minute video below covers these first steps:

Frame Squareness: First, make sure the frame is installed squarely. If the frame is not square, the door cannot be installed correctly and locks binding with frames are a likely result. A framing square (speed square) is a cheap and quick way of checking this, to confirm that the frame sides are perpendicular to the top and floor. Checking both the front and back of a frame is also important, as they can be welded or installed with a warp.

Our test door was 'factory welded', which means it was likely bonded together in a fixture designed to minimize 'out of square' conditions, but sloppy storage or installation can still cause the frame damage. 'Knockdown Frames [link no longer available],' or site welded frames can change squareness from opening to opening and problems may not be noticeable to the naked eye, so checking with a tool is critical:

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If a frame is out of square, whacking it into place with a rubber mallet [link no longer available] or bending it with a prybar generally fixes slight issues. However, if a frame is 'far out' of squareness, completely uninstalling and/or rewelding the frame may be necessary.

Door Alignment: Another quick, but key check to make is to confirm the door is hung correctly on the hinges. Take a look at the gap between the door and frame. This measurement, typically between 1/8" - 1/4", should be even on all sides. If one side is tight and the other side has a wide gap, this likely means the hinges are not supporting the door properly.

Construction site door installers generally do not check or adjust for this when hanging doors: if it swings shut, they move on. However, not squaring the door to the frame misaligns the lock hardware and strike.

If a door is not aligned correctly, starting by loosing/tightening the hinge screws, up to dropping the door and rehanging it on the hinges may be required. Any frame misalignment can amplify this issue. In many cases, small gaps can be fixed by installing hinge shims between the hinge and frame.

Door Closure: Another critical check is to confirm the door is fully flush with the frame when closed:

Flushness can be checked by taping the latch down and shutting the door. If the door leaf sticks out even 1/16", this can cause a problems in latching the door locks with the frame. Usually this condition is corrected at the hinges also, especially focusing on how they are fastened to the door. Backing off hinge bolts or tightening others generally pulls the edge of the door flush, however if the leaf is warped, replacement may be required.

Avoided Problems

The payoff for making the door and frame correct are sidestepping access system performance problems down the road. Common problems arising from maladjusted doors include:

  • False Alarms: Access system rely on 'door status' contacts to feedback whether a door is close or not. If these contacts aren't properly aligned, the system will generate substantial false alarms about the security state of the opening.
  • Doors Unlocked: If locks are not properly aligned, they may be unable to latch properly and the net result may be an inadvertently unlocked door.
  • Doors Cannot Unlock: Likewise, if door alignment is off, conditions like preload can actually prevent electric strikes from unlatching.
  • Weak Locks: If doors do not match frames squarely, the bonding force of maglocks with accompanying armatures is derated. Keeping those components aligned is critical in ensuring the lock is indeed secure.
  • Premature Component Failure: Overtime, even 'low tech' components like hinges and keyed locks will improperly wear due to door issues and potentially void product warranties. Keeping the alignment true adds lifespan to the entire opening.

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