Photo by Gary Campbell
You’re quietly sipping coffee at the kitchen table when a herd of adrenaline- spiked kids stampedes toward the door. With the reflexes of a cat, you yell, “Don’t let the screen door slam!” But before the word “slam” passes your lips they’ve flung the door open and they’re halfway to the lake.
Its spring stretched to the limit, the door pauses tauntingly at its apex. As it starts to close, you cringe in anticipation. The door accelerates with unbridled authority until – BANG! – it slams shut.
Ears ringing, you wonder, will they ever learn not to slam that door? The good news is, yes, they will learn. The bad news is, they won’t learn until they have a cabin of their own.
Who cares if the door slams? Maybe it falls under the category of stuff we don’t sweat at the cabin. And of course, it is one of the ubiquitous sounds of summer.
On the other hand, slamming screen doors can injure little fingers, kink dogs’ tails and snap fishing rods. Not to mention damage the door itself. Eventually its hinges will tear loose, it will sag out of square, and you’ll have mosquitoes attending your open house.
Fingers and tails heal themselves. Broken fishing rods are easily replaced. Not so the screen door.
You’d think replacing it would be straightforward, but when the hardware store is two hours away, you can bet your last dry match you’ll buy a door that’s too big. You’ll have to trim it, sand it, install it, test it, remove it and repeat repeatedly. Your weekend is shot.
A little prevention in the form of a pneumatic door closer can save the door and your weekend. But they look out of place on a simple wooden screen door. And they’re not inexpensive.
I have a better solution.
Back in the 1930s my great grandfather used an ingeniously simple device to dampen the sound of his cabin’s screen door slamming shut. It consisted of a rubber ball impaled on a metal rod that dangled from a hook in the door’s frame.
When the open door started to close, centrifugal force would swing the ball out enough to come between the door and the door jamb. After hitting the ball, the door would bounce back just enough for the ball to return to its resting position and the door would close quietly.
What genius! What simplicity! And so cheap!
I immediately resolved to find one for my cabin. I searched hardware stores, big and small, urban and rural but couldn’t find anyone who had ever heard of such a damper. After a year of searching, I found an antique hardware dealer on the Internet who not only knew what I was describing – he had one.
I bought it and installed it on our door. Unfortunately the rubber ball had hardened with age so the door slamming on the ball was nearly as loud as the door slamming without the ball.
So, figuring I’d never find another damper, I made one. It’s simple, inexpensive and effective. Here’s how I did it:
- 1 ball
- 1 poultry needle
- 1 small bead
- 1 ½” screw hook
A 1 1/2" squash ball is perfect. It is large and soft enough to dampen the door, yet heavy enough to swing out while the door is closing. Sports stores sell them for about $2. For the rod I chose a 4-inch poultry needle because the end is already looped. You’ll find them at your grocery store’s meat counter.
Drill a hole straight through the ball. The hole should be slightly larger than the needle but smaller than the bead. Thread the ball and the bead onto the needle, making sure the ball rotates freely. Use pliers to bend the point. The pendulum you just made will swing from a hook screwed into the door’s side rail, roughly midway between the top and bottom. To position the hook, insert a pencil through the needle’s loop. Hold the pencil point against the closed door, allowing the ball to swing freely. When you find the spot where the ball is just barely touching the outer door jamb, that’s where you’ll put the hook. Screw the hook in only far enough for the needle to hang vertically. That’s all there is to it!
This little project got me thinking. It seems we tend to value things just because they are new. Newer somehow equals better. I suppose that’s usually true (I don’t pine for slide rules or carbon paper) – but it isn’t always.
Take this door damper for instance. With its elegantly simple design, why don’t we find them in every hardware store? There is a real beauty in its simplicity.
I now have two of these dampers installed at my cabin and they work flawlessly. But let me warn you: If you make this damper, you may find that you miss the sound of your screen door slamming. After all, what better exclamation is there of the carefree spirit of the cabin? If that’s the case, toss the squash ball to the dog and enjoy the simple pleasure of hearing your screen door slamming shut.
Gary Campbell enjoys his simple, but DSL-equipped, log cabin in Maine.