This Side Up

The secret to opening doors...knowing the right hinge


My brother-in-law stood back, looking at the nearly completed house.

It was a shared dream that took root last year as a tree house. Emails bounced between the kids and the grandkids. Initially it was not much more than a platform in one of the many trees at what was once my father’s property and now is owned by my sister, Claire, and me. The plan grew from there.

Soon, there were suggestions of swings, something large enough so a couple of grandchildren could spend the night and naturally, if there were going to be walls and a roof, there had to be a door and windows.

Then there was the question of where to locate it.

It was a given that it would be in a tree, but what tree? Pines are sappy. The oaks are tall and there are few lower branches for climbing. The front yard apple tree offers great climbing but would a tree house be overpowering and look out of place?

There were other considerations. Parents thought the tree house should be in view of the main house and not too far from other activity. The grandkids were excited about the woods or being close to the lake.

With so many ideas, I doubted a plan would emerge. Might this become one of those family stories recalled in years from now that lives in our imaginations?

Edward took the practical approach. He started on the ground and with plans. In fact, he began at home with access to his shop and with a lumberyard a short drive away.

His plan was simple – let’s start with a house somewhat smaller than the common garden shed. He would give it a door in the front and small windows on either side. It might evolve into the trees from there, who knew.

During the spring Edward worked on gathering the components from lumber to nails, screws to asphalt shingles and hardware. He and Claire delivered it all in a trailer that then became the bed from which it was to rise. I wish I had been around for those first days of building. From accounts, while Edward did the heavy lifting and the actual construction, the grandchildren, joined by cousins, jumped in. Edward handed out hammers and nails, along with bits of wood, and let them go. Everybody got to participate.

By the time I got to see the house, it had walls and a roof. It was perched on its trailer, ready for delivery to a corner of the yard, visible from the house and in proximity to the woods where it could end up.

Last weekend Edward planned to work on the house, putting on the door and the windows that were hinged wooden inserts that could be swung open from the inside.

This is basic, but that’s not to suggest shoddy or unplanned workmanship. This house is built to last. Screws, not nails, have been used throughout. The flooring is pressure treated wood, the roof is supported by multiple cross beams. This is going to be here for some time.

But even the most well thought out plan isn’t fail-proof, as this “little house” was to teach us.

“Just a few things left to do,” Edward said, as we looked over the house and I opened and closed the one window closure he had installed. The door was next on his schedule. He had designed it to be converted into a Dutch door at the appropriate time with cross members fortifying what would become the lower section.

“We’ll wait on that,” he said. “Let’s go with this for a starter.”

I held the door in place. It seemed a good fit.

Edward got out the hinges, roughly positioning them, before cutting a section to strengthen the inner jam. The piece fit precisely and using a couple of screws, we anchored it in place. The next step seemed easy enough, mount the hinges and the door would swing freely in place.

I held the door while Edward affixed the hinges.

It looked perfect, or so we thought.

I went to open it, but the door was frozen in place. We looked at each other, puzzled.

Edward tried opening the door. The outcome was the same.

Had the hinges been improperly mounted? We checked, but couldn’t find anything out of place. Just to be sure we reversed them with precisely the same outcome. Perhaps the reinforced jam prevented the door’s edge from swinging clear. We removed the reinforcement. Again the door refused to open.

Flummoxed, I stuck my head through the window and watched as Edward pulled on the door. I didn’t come up with an answer. Edward looked. He couldn’t find a reason for it not to work.

But yet the window Edward installed swung open with the least of effort. The difference was obvious although it took us an hour to realize it. The window “door” was mounted with strap hinges whereas we had spread book hinges flat attempting to use them as strap hinges. Mounted flat in pairs, the book hinges bind.

Pleased with finally having solved the riddle, we mounted strap hinges and the door swung freely.

It’s not the satisfaction I had expected from working on this “little house,” but then I should have guessed even something as simple as mounting a door can offer a lesson and discovering the answer with Edward made the time truly rewarding. Use the right hinge and opening doors is simple.


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