The Garage Door Spring

December 27, 2010

The design for the new garage featured a single ten-foot garage door. It needed to be that size because I have a trailer almost eight feet wide.

But it couldn’t be just any door. It had to be a bit special. Internet searches proved fruitless until I finally spotted the perfect 10X7 in a Kijiji ad in Lakefield. It claimed to be a mahogany-paneled door, but the two-tone photo made it clear that it had luan panels and some white wood I couldn’t identify for its rails and stiles. Nonetheless, it looked good, though the price was steep.

We towed the trailer to Lakefield and bought the door from a custom house builder who had it left over after a change in plans. Considerable research traced it from Stewart Garage Doors Ltd. to its original builder, a small factory in Toronto. The wood other than “mahogany” turned out to be hemlock, admired by the builders for its strength and resistance to rot.

I spent two weeks applying the latest opaque stain to it in preparation for installation day. But then came the sheetrock which dragged on until Roz fitted and screwed the bottom foot around the walls on Christmas Day.

So yesterday we began. The door went together quickly and well until we came to the spring-loaded gizmo that mounts above the door to serve as a counterweight.

The instruction booklet from Stewart’s was obviously never intended for use.

“Professionals install these doors,” the builder had told me. Nonetheless I resolved to rely upon the burnt-fingers method and twenty-five years of experience repairing an ancient 17′ plywood monster. It didn’t have this spring-around-a-shaft mechanism, though.

The Internet provided several good videos on the subject, most of which emphasized the sheer insanity of torquing the spring with anything except a pair of purpose-built 1/2″ steel rods. Pieces of rebar and screw drivers were uniformly dismissed as insanity likely to maim, if not kill. I took that part seriously and made two fine bars, even marking the ends with tape to indicate when they were fully inserted into one of the four holes to turn the end of the spring.

Stewart’s let us down at a critical point. By following their instructions to the letter, I was doomed to fail. When I tightened it, the spring eventually gave a terrifying lurch and crawled up both of its hubs, jamming against the adjusting mechanism on one end and the stationary support on the other. Now what?

Charlie and I managed to pry up the door and escape the garage, but a night of worry produced no real alternatives. By morning, though, contributors responded to my plea and explained that I had probably assembled the thing backwards. They suggested a couple of websites which provided good information. Charlie returned and we went from there.

The spring was partially blocking one of the four holes into which I needed to insert the two winding bars in turn. A couple of seconds at the grinder created a flat 1/8″ deep area on the other end of a winding bar. This allowed it to slide by the offending spring and deep into the hole in question. We were back in business, only this time on the right side of centre, rather than the left. (Conservatives reading this will no doubt clap with glee at the irony.)

Winding this spring is difficult and dangerous. Fastening the little gibs on the hubs is equally stressful, as they must be torqued with a tiny wrench to between 22 and 44 pounds, but the hollow jackshaft keeps collapsing underneath them, so it’s very hard to know how tight to make the screws. Then try it with the end of a large spring up against the square gib so that it makes a loud “sproing” every agonizing quarter-turn.

Part of the burnt-fingers methodology involves frequent stops for feedback. This meant many attempts at raising the door to see if the spring was tight enough yet. Each time we had to fasten the shaft again with the vice grips, inserting a rod to hold things, then back out the gibs and torque the spring yet another turn or two. Force required and stress created increase exponentially throughout this process. Misadventures with these springs resulting in amputation or death are widely reported on home improvement sites.

By the middle of the afternoon, though, Charlie and I were still very much alive with all of our fingers, and the door operated acceptably. On we went to the remote opener. Charlie had never installed one of these before, so he watched a bit bemused as I whipped the familiar parts together. I had installed two.

But he was on hand for the heavy lifting. The simple way to install an opener involves assembling this long beam, bolting one end to the opener mechanism and the other to the garage wall above the door. Then you lift the unit into place and fasten it with metal straps to the ceiling. This is a breeze if you have someone to hold the unit in place.

After the stress of the counterweight, the electronics can wait for another day. The safety beam can be tricky, and training the cars to talk to the opener requires Charlie’s brand of patience.

As for that infernal spring, by the time we’d figured out how to deal with it, the job was done.

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