Make Sticking Deadbolt Work Smoothly

By James Dulley

October 10, 2013 4 min read

Dear Pat: Over the years, I have installed deadbolts on all the exterior doors for security. Now some of the deadbolts do not extend completely or are difficult to turn. Can I repair them myself? — LeAnn

Dear LeAnn: The problem you are having with the deadbolts is very common and should be corrected for security reasons. When a deadbolt does not extend completely, it is easier for someone to force it open. Often, it is difficult to determine how far it extends in the doorframe. Actually, there may be only a fraction of an inch of contact holding it closed.

Unless you purchased very inexpensive deadbolts, they should last and function well for many years. Some cheap ones, though, can be shot after only a couple of years of hard use. In the future, when buying deadbolts, do not scrimp on the quality to save a few dollars.

The first step for this repair project is to determine the cause of the problem with your deadbolts. Open the door and try to operate the deadbolt with the key. If it operates smoothly, this tells you the problem is with the alignment hole in the doorframe. If it still operates badly with the door opened, the deadbolt itself may be defective.

Most deadbolts come pre-lubricated from the factory with grease inside of them. If the deadbolt is difficult to operate, but still extends with the door opened, it may just require some lubrication. Many dry or wet lock lubricants are available at most hardware and home center stores, or you may be able to find some lock grease at a locksmith shop.

If the deadbolt will not extend completely when the door is open, there is something seriously wrong inside of it. You can attempt to take it apart and try to find the problem, but your chances of repairing it are not good. It is best to buy a high-quality deadbolt to replace it.

If the deadbolt works fine with the door open, then you must try to find the cause of the alignment problem that is making it stick. The tolerances between the deadbolt and the hole of the strike plate in the doorframe are relatively tight. If something has moved or changed shape since it was installed, this can easily be the cause of the problem you are experiencing.

One common problem is the screws in the top hinge of the door have become loose. This allows the door to hang crooked in the frame affecting where the deadbolt extends. Try tightening the screws in the hinges and give the deadbolt a try again.

If this cured the problem, remove the screws from the hinge again and replace them with longer ones that reach all the way through the frame into the 2x4 wall framing. Over time, screws that extend only into the doorframe can repeatedly become loose with increasing frequency.

The door itself may have become warped with seasonal changes in humidity and just normal wear and tear. If this happened and the door otherwise still seals and operates well, use a hand grinder and wood chisel to widen the opening in the strike plate and doorframe. The moisture, which caused the warping, typically enters from unsealed top and bottom edges. Sand and seal these edges with paint or urethane.

Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit To find out more about Pat Logan and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


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