Door Closer Basics
Types of Door Closers
A door closer is a spring-loaded hydraulic device that closes a door automatically. The most common kind of door closer is the surface mounted door closer, so called because it is mounted to the surface of the door or header. Also available are concealed overhead door closers that are mounted inside the header above the door or inside the door itself, and floor closers that are installed beneath the threshold. Pictures of the different types of door closers are shown in the sections following.
(Note: You can also check out my related article on Door Closer Adjustment.)
Surface Mount Door Closers
Surface mounted door closers are by far the most common kind of door closers. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Unlike concealed door closers for which doors are almost always prepared by the door manufacturer, surface mounted door closers need no special prep.
As shown above, surface mounted closers can be mounted in standard, top jamb or parallel arm configurations. Standard configuration is used on the pull side of the door whereas parallel arm and top jamb installations are for the push side.
Not shown are surface mounted track closers which use a single arm and a slide track instead of the double lever arm shown in the pictures at right.
Non-track surface mounted door closers are available with different kinds of arms that perform different functions. These functions are discussed below in the section called, "Arms."
Concealed Door Closers
Examples of two kinds of concealed door closers are shown in photos above. There is a third kind, the overhead concealed-in-door door closer, but since it is so rarely used I did not include a photo here. An example of a concealed-in-door closer is the LCN 3130 series.
Concealed door closers can be used on single acting doors - doors that swing one way - but they are always used when a door is "double acting," that is, a door that swings both ways, in and out. They are often used in high traffic applications, such as the front door of a large office building. As you see above, surface mounted door closers are not about to win any beauty contests. Concealed closers offer designers a cleaner looking finished opening than surface closers.
Floor closers are almost always used with pivot hinges as opposed to butt hinges. Pivot hinges can be stronger and more durable than butt hinges.
What You Need to Know to Order
Here is a list of information that you need to know before you order a door closer:
- Interior or Exterior Door?
- Left-Hand or Right-Hand swing?
- Door closer to be mounted on the push or pull side?
- Door width?
- Pivot hinges or butt hinges?
- What is the door made of? Wood? Hollow metal? Glass and aluminum?
- If there is glass, what is the size of the piece of material onto which you want to mount the door closer?
When you have this information, you are ready to call your hardware professional. If you are unsure what kind of closer will best suit your application, your hardware professional can suggest one based on the information above.
In the pictures of surface mounted door closers at the beginning of this article, the closers all have what is called a standard, double lever arm. This arm is pictured at right. Below it are shown a few examples of optional arms that are available to give surface mounted door closers more functionality.
- Hold Open Arm: Most door closer arms are available in a hold open version. Usually, they work by friction. Opening the door to a certain degree tightens a nut which causes the arm to stick at a point, holding the door open.
- Dedicated Parallel Arm: Called by LCN an Extra Duty Arm and by Norton a Parallel Rigid Arm, this arm is for an extra sturdy, parallel arm only application door closer.
- Stop Arm: Called a Cush'n'Stop arm by LCN and a Closer Plus arm by Norton, this arm doubles as a stop to keep the door from opening too far and perhaps hitting a wall.
Surface Mount Track Door Closers
Above is shown the LCN 4040XPT track door closer, and example of a surface mounted track closer. Track closers are used with there are space restrictions that do not allow an arm or parallel arm shoe to protrude past the reveal of the door, or as an aesthetic choice.
Track closers generally are generally somewhat less powerful than their cousins that have traditional arms.
At the bottom of the column of pictures of door closer arms is a drawing of an LCN 4040XP door closer from the LCN catalog, parallel arm mount, on a plate that is called a "drop plate." It is used to provide a surface to which you can attach the door closer when the surface of the door is too narrow to do so. In the illustration, the 4041 is mounted on an aluminum-and-glass storefront door. The aluminum is too narrow, so the 18PA plate attaches to the aluminum of the door and the 4041 attaches to the plate.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
MY door closer will not fully close the door. I have tried adjusting it, but no adjustment works. Is it time for a new door closer? Or am I missing something?
It could be some things. First, remove the door closer and see if the door shuts with little effort or needs some force to close fully. If the door does not swing well, or a bent hinge or sprung frame causes resistance, these factors can significantly inhibit the closer's ability to close and latch the door. Sometimes the solution is to fix or replace the door and/or door frame.
Air pressure can also be a factor, as I mentioned in the article. Significant air pressure that opposes the motion of the closer can be a severe problem to solve.
If the door swings well and there is no air pressure problem, it sounds to me like the arm may not be installed correctly, or perhaps the closer is not installed correctly. If you can download the manufacturer's install instructions, you can check the mounting hole locations and see if they are right. Also if the arm is installed at the wrong angle on the spindle, the closer may not work correctly.Helpful 4
The arm is not level after it is fastened into the door frame. How can this be addressed if the door frame is not a smooth surface, but more like crown molding?
When a decorative molding makes door closer installation challenging, you can 1) use parallel arm installation on the push side of the door, or 2) if the molding is made of wood, cut into the decorative molding on the header to make a flat place to install the shoe. It is very difficult to pull off option 2 and have it not turn out like the hack job it is, but sometimes there is no choice. For example, on an exterior in-swinging door, one cannot install the closer out in the weather.
A second choice for option 1 would be to use a track closer instead of a parallel arm.
Another, much more labor-intensive solution is to use a door closer that is concealed in the door, header, or floor. If you have a lot of extra time and money, a concealed door closer will do the job.Helpful 2
The door closer arms are not arrayed at the acute angles shown in your illustrations, or in the manual's illustrations. Could this be affecting how difficult the door is to open?
It certainly could.
I have an entry door with a 140mm reveal. The door frame is only visible down each side. Could you recommend a door closer that will work with this setup?
Your question prompts me to ask a question. Is this reveal on the pull side? If you are mounting the closer on the pull side of the door, having a reveal that is several inches deep is a problem. However, if you are mounting the closer on the header (also called top jamb installation), there are many closers that have extended arms for this application.
In older buildings, I have run into unique situations that prevent any kind of satisfactory install. One can either improvise or compromise. Maybe the compromise is using a corner bracket in an opening that is not tall enough to allow a corner bracket, or maybe it is opting for spring hinges instead.
One thing to avoid is installing the closer contrary to the installation instructions with the idea of adapting the closer to the non-standard situation. This always results in the closer not working properly.
Does having a door closer propped open and under constant tension effect it?
I'd say no, not significantly. If it were held open for several decades, it might have some effect. In most closers, the vulnerable aspect is the hydraulics, not the spring. If a closer is installed incorrectly and forcibly opened until it's stopped by the spring, over and over, after a while that might damage the spring.
© 2008 Tom rubenoff