A Locksmith Looks At Hinges

March 1, 2016
Be prepared to address any issues that you may find affecting all types of hinges used in commercial establishments – especially replacement when warranted.

Most locksmiths have wrestled with a door to keep it ajar while servicing a lock in need of their specialty.  Maybe you found it helpful to use an errant door closer parallel arm bracket in the truck to place under the door to hold it clear of the frame as you worked there. Maybe you’ve looked at the door in the frame and noticed the door wasn’t as straight as it should be… or maybe somebody placed an object between the door edge and the frame to hold it out, stressing or bending the hinges – and now the door doesn’t want to close. What about hinges? 

Among the many good companies that supply quality hinges and other door hardware,  it’s interesting to note where one major hinge manufacturer, Hager, they got their start.  From their website   http://www.hagerhinge.com/   you can learn:

“Charles Hager left Germany in 1848 and made his way to New Orleans by sailing vessel. He then traveled to St. Louis by wagon and quickly began work for a blacksmith. Only a year later, the blacksmith headed west for the gold rush and Charles bought the shop. He realized that his training as a blacksmith and wheelwright would put him in good stead as the flood of Easterners poured through St. Louis, headed west. And he was right. The onslaught of gold seekers and settlers came and Charles Hager forged wheel rims and hardware for their Conestoga wagons. He hammered out his old worn out files into knives that were used by fur traders and mountain men. His business grew and the skill and quality he built into his hardware also built his reputation. As St. Louis grew, so did the company that bore his name: C. Hager.

By 1878, the blacksmith shop had taken on a new look and a new name: C. Hager and Sons Hinge Company. It was a family business now, a growing enterprise that was specializing in the manufacture of quality hardware. In 1894, Hager began producing hinges for wooden beer cases for a brand new St. Louis beer: Budweiser. The Anheuser Busch brewery is a neighbor of Hager still to this day.”

While you probably haven’t concerned yourself with wooden beer cases, you should know what kind of hinge you’re faced with on the door in front of you, and how to assess and service it as needed. 

If you’re faced with a door at a commercial establishment, chances are that the door will be 7 feet high and have three 4 ½ x 4½” hinges installed.  A common rule dictates that there will be a hinge for every 30 inches of door height.  If the door is of standard weight with a low frequency of operation, there will be a ‘PLAIN BEARING’ hinge, while a door of average use should be equipped with BALL BEARING hinges. Hinges will usually be manufactured of brass, or some form of steel material and polished or plated as the application dictates. 

Entry doors that receive a high usage should be found to have Heavy Weight Ball Bearing hinges and probable a setscrew to keep the pin from being disengaged.  This non-rising pin “NRP”  feature is available on other hinges as well, when ordered; the hinge pin has a groove cut in the pin to accept the tip of the setscrew when it is secured and this keeps the pin from rising out of the hinge as the door is repeatedly used – or, as a security measure to keep the door from easily or surreptitiously being taken down. 

The plain bearing hinge is 3-1/2” high while the ball bearing hinge is 4-1/2” and indicates the usual screw pattern.  The screw pattern on the hinge leaf will differ depending on the size of the leaf, as seen above. 

Door hinges are ordered by size, such as 4 ½” x 4 ½”4" x 4", 3 ½” x 3 ½”, or 3 ½”  x 3”, where the first number is the height of the hinge leaf and the second number is the width of the complete open hinge laying flat. A new set of hinges, most often, is furnished with both wood AND 12-24 machine screws. Measure before ordering!  Depending upon the application, the tips of the leaf can be left straight or radiused  – usually non-radiused on a steel door application.  When replacing hinges, take note of the radius on the edge of the leaf ( ie. 5/8”, ¾”, or? )  and the screw hole pattern.  A common sight on commercial doors is a hinge that has not had the pin driven down after the door has been installed to the frame. While the door should still operate normally, for the most part, the pin – especially if any binding takes place - can continue to rise up and, if not serviced can eventually allow the hinge leaves to disengage. 

In some locations it is common to find a door that is needed to swing completely out of the frame opening to allow FULL CLEARANCE for movement of carts, stretchers, wheeled appliances, tools and such. Here you will find ‘SWING CLEAR’ hinges that do just that. 

In still other areas, such as closets, customer areas, and others you can come across the ‘SPRING HINGE’ that has an adjustable, wound spring to close the door after it has been released as you go through the opening.

You will find any and all of these types of hinges in both commercial and residential applications and should be prepared to address any issues that you may find affecting them – especially replacement when warranted.  Hinges get lubricated at the factory…. and then NEVER AGAIN, leading to all sorts of issues that can easily be resolved by:

  1. Supporting the door
  2. Removing the hinge pin
  3. Cleaning and lubricating the hinge pin
  4. Reinstalling the hinge pin and checking your work.

Depending on application I use Lubriplate or automotive wheel bearing grease to lubricate hinge pins. 

Hinges do come loose  on doors in normal use. If you look at the wood screws supplied you will see that they are just long enough to engage the frame and go no further.  Rather than apply glue or any other fancy fix, find a hinge screw hole that is over the stud behind and use a longer screw(s) there – such as 1 ¾” . Where you have screws come loose on metal doors/frames, first ensure that no cross-threading has taken place and the threads are still correct. If such is not the case, use a threading tap and/or die to correct the threads. Then tighten the screw securely after, perhaps, an application of a drop of blue thread sealing compound to the end of the screw before installation.

When working around residential wooden or composite doors, you are sure to come across a door whose hinges feature BOTH 3 ½” or 4” radiused AND square corner leaves! This hinge exists because, at the factory, a router is used to prepare the frame, thus the radius, and the door edge is ‘stamped’ thus a square corner hinge leaf is used; BOTH on a single hinge.  This is the COMBINATION HINGE.

Of course, you can plan on seeing combination hinges elsewhere, too. 

In situations where it is not possible to remedy a bad top 4 ½” or 5” hinge situation by remedial repair, a consideration is the installation of a handed REINFORCING PIVOT HINGE. 

The reinforcing pivot hinge is designed for installation at the top edge of the door just above the defective hinge, where a hinge or mounting cannot be saved.  Properly installed, according to the supplied instructions,  it will allow the door and related hardware to be saved and continue to function as designed without further expensive replacement.    

Now, go forward with this knowledge and get in the ‘swing of things.’