Determining left and right hand doors

How do you keep them straight? (From WOODWEB's Architectural Woodworking Forum) March 5, 2003

What's the best way to distinguish between left-hand and right-hand doors in the shop? I seem to recall that a "L/H swing" door has hinges on the left, assuming you face the door from the side the butts of the hinges are exposed... is this correct?

Forum Responses
(From WOODWEB's Architectural Woodworking Forum)
In order to distinguish a LH from a RH door, do this. Fold/cross your arms in front of you Indian style. Now using your elbow to represent the hinge, swing your left hand away from your body. That is a left hand door. If you swing your right hand away from your body, then itís a right hand door. This is the way Iíve taught the guys in the shop and it seems to work.

From contributor D:
Here is the way we do it: Open the door and put your butt up to the butt hinges. If the door is at your left, it is a left hand door; right hand... This works well - we have customers out there standing in door frames calling in hands all the time. This will also work for pairs as far as the active/passive doors. Things get confusing in commercial work where they talk about right hand reverse, etc. and so forth. You might get definitive answers at a commercial hardware distributor site. Von Duprin comes to mind.

Left hand? Left swing? Left hinge? Inswing? Outswing? Everybody does it different, it seems.

What works for us is: When you look at the door and you can see the hinges, what side are they on? After that has been established, it is very hard to make a mistake about which way it operates. It's similar to cabinet door hinging.

We use contributor D's method with an easy-to-remember saying - Butt to butt, hand to hand.

I chose a door that I hung several years ago - I remember clearly and that it was a left-handed door, and I can see that door in my mind. I know that any door that swings that way is a left-handed door.

The only time that the inswing and outswing door is an issue is when you have an exterior pre-hung door with a threshold that is designed for water runoff. Calling cabinet doors left and right and getting cabinet makers to call them the same thing as carpenters who hang passage doors might be like herding cats. The folded arms thing is a good illustration. I am sure there are thousands of city desk employees at lumberyards who would pay huge money for that word picture. I agree that the commercial architects I have worked with and the commercial door and hardware people are a good resource for this one. I got a business card sized plastic card with all the options named and pictured from a door supplier I worked with several years ago.

From contributor B:
When the door is opening towards you:
If the knob is on the left it is a left hand door;
if the knob is on the right it is a right hand door.

Butt to butt, hand to hand. The simplest and best way to figure it. Well put.

The way contributor B explained it is the way I have always remembered it. Easy to explain and just as easy to remember... Whatever hand the knob is on with the door swinging toward you is the "hand" of the door.

One thing that never fails when asking someone this question is "clockwise or counterclockwise." Everyone understands a clock; you can then call it what you wish. The important thing is to relay information correctly. I was brought up with butt to butt, but some people have a problem with that.

There are four handing terms:
Right Hand
Right Hand Reverse
Left Hand
Left Hand Reverse

You determine handing by facing the side of the door you'd approach to enter a room, the keyed side of the door or from the outside of a room/building.

With hinges concealed from view on your RIGHT and the door swinging away from you, it is a RIGHT HAND.

With hinges visible and on your RIGHT and the door swinging toward you, it is a RIGHT HAND REVERSE.

With hinges concealed from view on your LEFT and the door swinging away from you, it is a LEFT HAND.

With hinges visible and on your LEFT and the door swinging toward you, it is a LEFT HAND REVERSE.

If only to add to the confusing confabulation, I would like to iterate a bit further. When milling butts and bevels to swing doors, a RH and a LHR would appear to be exactly the same as would a LH and a RHR. The difference will apply to the lock mortise and hardware. So it goes like this: if you are just going to drill a hole for a knob, there is still no difference. It's when you are prepping doors for full mortise lock boxes and other types of commercial hardware such as crash bars, etc. that you really have to pay attention. It pays to learn and understand the correct terminology to avoid expensive milling errors.

This is an exact quote from Audels Carpenters and Builders Guide, 1951. "Contrary to the impression of many mechanics that the hand of door means the knob or hand side, which has been the cause of expensive mistakes, and thus this plan showing that the hand of door always means the hinge side or edge, whether opening from or toward you. So let it be understood that when a lay out man goes through a job and marks the door openings R, it means that the door is to be hung with the hinges to the right, and swinging in (from you). If marked R.R. it means that the door is hung on the same stile or jamb, but opening toward you."

It goes on to describe the left hand side in similar fashion with an excellent plan view of both scenarios. This set of books is an excellent resource for anyone in the building trades. I have the 3rd edition, which has more "old timer" info than the newer editions, which read more like handy homeowner books.

I was always told that it means the hand that you use to pull the door open.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:

The correct, no-fail way to determine door handing: With the door swinging toward you, what side is the door knob on or leading edge? That determines the swing of all doors. Knob or leading edge on left is left, and vise versa.

Comment from contributor C:
I just had a discussion about this very thing with a guy at work. Thirty five years ago I worked at a lumber yard/hardware store and the standard is that you put your back to the side you want the hinge to be on. The swing of the door depends on which arm you swing out from your body - the arm swung matches the swing of the door. I think someone else mentioned this as "butt to butt." It's an old standard that works, but I have to agree with another forum answer - cabinets don't really need to be "swinging" in one direction or another, depends on the plan/design. Besides, it's awfully hard to stand up in a 24" cabinet!

Comment from contributor E:
Sorry everybody, but I see it differently! I sell doors and door furniture in Australia and a right hand door (speaking from the perspective of selling the handle) is when the handle is on the right *when the door opens away from you.*

Comment from contributor F:
You determine a door hand from the outside of the room. The reason you need to know the difference between a left-hand door and a right hand reverse is the application of handles and locksets and keying. As far as the butt hinges go, there is really no difference between a left-hand door and a right-hand reverse. The easiest way to remember if you are just describing the hingeing of the door is to consider which hand you would use to open it and walk through.

Comment from contributor G:
Reading through the comments leaves no doubt that there is no agreement on this subject. Why don't we adopt the following convention?

HLOI - hinge left (door) opens inside
HLOO - hinge left opens outside
HROI - hinge right opens inside
HROO - hinge right opens outside

Even though it appears that the first and third are the same, and the second and fourth, it does make clear which side of an exterior door is which, so that door hardware (locks and bolts) is correct. Does this makes sense?

Comment from contributor R:
There are two ways to determine door handing.

Commercial - from the outside of the door. While pushing the door away from you, if the hinges are on the right, it is RH; if they are on the left, it is LH.

Residential - used by door shop operators who hang residential doors because the door machine looks at the door from the inside. It is the reverse of commercial method. When standing on the inside of the door looking at the barrel of the hinges, facing the door, pulling the door to you, handing is directly related to your hands. RH if hinges are on right, etc.

Comment from contributor O:
Contributor B is correct. Many are being confused by the "swing of the door" and the "hand of the door". A butt to butt configuration determines the swing as left or right hand. The side of the hinges determines the hand. For example, an outswing door with hinges on the right as viewed from the outside (actually a left hand swing) is called right hand reverse. Confused yet?

Comment from contributor I:
I have been selling millwork to both residential and commercial customers for many years. It seems the easiest way for most people to understand handing is to stand with the door pushing away from you, the side with the hinges is the handing. Then all that needs to be determined is in-swing or out-swing. For interior doors the swing doesn't really matter as it can be installed either way. For cabinetry and casement windows the swing (out) is always the same, so all that needs to be known is the hinge side from the exterior and handing can be determined quite easily.