How to Break Down a Door
Give the door a well-placed kick or two to the lock area to break it down.
Kicking is more effective than running at the door and slamming against it—your foot exerts more force than your shoulder, and you will be able to direct this force toward the area of the locking mechanism more specifically.
In newer construction, “contractor-grade” hollow-core doors may be primarily corrugated cardboard covered in vinyl, with only thin strips of wood along the edges. (Tap on the door; if it sounds hollow, it’s cheap.) For these doors, a swift kick in the middle of one of the door “panels” should easily make a hole, allowing you to reach through and open it from the inside.
If You Have a Screwdriver
Probe the emergency access hole.
Look on the front of the doorknob for a small hole or keyhole. Most interior doors have what are called privacy sets. These locks are usually installed on bedrooms and bathrooms and can be locked from the inside when the door is shut, but have an emergency access hole in the center of the door handle that allows entry to the locking mechanism inside. Insert a thin screwdriver or probe into the handle and push the locking mechanism, or turn the mechanism to open the lock.
Breaking down an exterior door requires more force, as they are of sturdier construction and are designed with security in mind. You can generally expect to see two kinds of latches on outside doors: a knob lock for latching and light security, and a dead-bolt lock for added security. (On older homes they may be part of a single lockset called a thumb turn.) The knob lock keeps the door from swinging open, and will also keep the door handle from turning. The dead bolt set is used in conjunction with a knob lock and forces a steel bolt into the doorframe.
Give the door several well-placed kicks at the point where the lock is mounted.
An exterior door usually takes several tries to break down this way, so keep at it.
If You Have a Sturdy Piece of Steel
Remove the lock.
Wrench or pry the lock off the door by inserting the tool between the lock and the door and prying back and forth.
If You Have a Hammer and a Screwdriver or Awl
Remove the hinge pins.
Place the awl or screwdriver underneath the hinge, with the pointy end touching the end of the bolt or screw. Using the hammer, strike the other end of the awl or screwdriver until the hinge comes out. Remove the pins from the hinges and then force the door open from the hinge side. (The method works only on doors that open out.)
ASSESSING AMOUNT OF FORCE REQUIRED
Interior doors in general are of a lighter construction than exterior doors and usually are thinner—one and three-eighth inches thick to one and five-eighth inches thick—than exterior doors, which generally are one and three-quarter inches thick. Older homes will be more likely to have solid wood doors, while newer ones will have the cheaper, hollow-core models. Knowing what type of door you are dealing with will help you determine how to break it down. You can usually determine the construction and solidity of a door by tapping on it.
HOLLOW CORE is type is generally used only for interior doors, since it provides no insulation or security, and requires minimal force. These doors can often be opened with a screwdriver, or easily penetrated with a well-placed kick.
SOLID WOOD These are usually oak or some other hardwood, and require an average amount of force and a crowbar or other similar tool.
SOLID CORE These have a softwood inner frame with a laminate on each side and a chipped or shaved wood core, and require an average amount of force and a screwdriver.
METAL CLAD These are usually softwood with a thin metal covering, and require average or above average force and a crowbar.
HOLLOW METAL These doors are of a heavier gauge metal that usually has a reinforcing channel around the edges and the lock mounting area, and are sometimes filled with some type of insulating material. These require maximum force and a crowbar.