I have been asked about door handing SO MANY TIMES over the years…hopefully with your help we can address the questions once and for all.  Leave me a comment if I forgot anything! 

The hand of the door opening can impact the preparation of the door and frame for hardware (ie. function holes on the wrong side of the door), installation of the hardware with the key cylinder on the correct side of the door, and helping to ensure that the correct doors and hardware are delivered to the jobsite.  When I started my first job as a door and hardware detailer, I thought the proper way to hand a door was to use the “butt-to-the-butts” method, where you stand with your back against the hinge jamb and the direction the door swings determines the door hand.  While this method is often used for residential doors and works for some commercial products and situations, it doesn’t apply all the time.

When I’m walking someone through the process of handing a door, here are the steps I use:

  1. Stand on the secure side (AKA outside or “key side”) of the door and face the door – or imagine yourself doing so.  I define the secure side as the side where you would insert your key (this is different from the “secured side,” addressed here).  If the door has a passage set, imagine where the secure side would be if the door had a lock.
  2. While facing the door on the secure side, take note of the hinges.  Are they on your right or your left?
  3. If the door swings away from you, it will be a left hand (LH – hinges on the left) or a right hand (RH – hinges on the right).  If the door swings out toward you, it will be a left hand reverse (LHR – hinges on the left) or a right hand reverse (RHR – hinges on the right).

A few things to note:

  • For pairs of doors, you are handing the active leaf, which is the leaf with the lockset – the inactive leaf may have flush bolts.  For doors with panic hardware, the active leaf may have a key cylinder on the pull side and the inactive leaf may be “exit only” with no cylinder on the pull side.  A pair with push/pull hardware or the same panic hardware on both leaves may be called “both active.”  Pairs where you can identify the active and inactive leaves will be left hand active (LHA), right hand active (RHA), left hand reverse active (LHRA) or right hand reverse active (RHRA).  Most pairs are either right hand active (RHA) or right hand reverse active (RHRA) because of traffic flow.
  • Double-egress pairs have one leaf that swings toward you and one that swings away.  These are typically RH/RH – both leaves right hand, although on occasion I have seen LH/LH double-egress pairs.  When panic hardware is used, RH/RH double-egress pairs are called LHR/LHR.
  • Panic hardware and fire exit hardware (panic hardware that is listed for use on fire doors) will always be left hand reverse (LHR) or right hand reverse (RHR) because doors with panic hardware are always outswinging.
  • Door closers are always left hand (LH) or right hand (RH) because they are not affected by the door swing.  One exception would be double-acting closers, which are not handed.
  • Some products are non-handed or can be handed in the field.  For example, a door that will have a cylindrical lockset will be the same if it is a left hand or right hand reverse, and the same if it is a right hand or left hand reverse, because the preparation for the lockset is the same on both sides of the door.  The exception to this is if the door has a glass kit or the frame has a sidelite.  When there is glazing, the screws will typically be on the inside.
  • “Tos and froms” cause a fair share of confusion.  These are found on door and hardware submittals – for example, “exterior from lobby” or “corridor to classroom”.  The to or from designation refers to the direction of the door swing – the door is swinging from the lobby to the exterior, or to the classroom from the corridor.  Doors that are LH or RH will be “to” and doors that are LHR or RHR will be “from.

Here’s a cheat sheet to help with handing:

Door Handing Chart

And a practice exercise (click image to enlarge or download the plan here):

School Partial Plan

Here are my tos and froms for some of the doors on this plan…do you agree?

  • D103 – Corridor D103 – Corridor E116 – RH/RH (or LHR/LHR if panic hardware or fire exit hardware is used)
  • D104 – Lobby D101 from Stair D104 – RHRA
  • D115 – Lobby D101 to Bank D115 – RH
  • D122 – Corridor D102 from Cosmetology D122 – RHR
  • D122B – Lobby D101 to School Store D122B – LH
  • E101A – Exterior from Vestibule E101 – RHRA
  • E101C (assuming push/pull hardware) – Vestibule E101 from Lobby D101 – Both Active
  • E103A – Student Dining E102 to Servery E103 – RH
  • E111 – Corridor E110 from Toilet E111 – LHR
  • E120B – Dining Area E126 from Culinary Arts Kitchen E120 – RHR

Thank you to DRA Architects for allowing the use of this floor plan for educational purposes.

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