The Doors
February 21, 2005 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I have a home with old school door handles on the bathroom/bedroom doors. It's the push button type lock with no lock on the outside, or even screws on the handle. How would I open this up without breaking down the door?

My friend is really good with using a credit card on locks, but the door frames are so deep the only door he is able to open is mine. Short of replacing the door handles (insufficient funds), what can we do if this happens again? A couple weekends ago an inebriated girl locked herself in my friends room and passed out, we were really worried until eventually she came to and let herself out. There's obviously some hazards involved.

If the inevitable happens would a locksmith simply break the handle off with a saw? Would calling a locksmith even do anything? Is there something we could do that doesn't involve an expensive locksmith call?
posted by geoff. to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Does the exterior door handle have a hole on it's surface facing directly outwards? I know I used to be able to open such a lock with a very slender screwdriver - or virtually any implement able to fit in said hole - by just probing around inside the knob while jiggling it back and forth with my other hand.
posted by John Smallberries at 5:10 PM on February 21, 2005

Couldn't say how to open it from the outside when it's locked, but to remove it, there may be a small hole on plate (the bit of the doorknob that's on the door that doesn't turn.

If that's the case, that whole plate probably unscrews, insert a stout rod in the hole and turn. This should give access to the screws and mechanism.
posted by Capn at 5:18 PM on February 21, 2005

if it's the kind of handle i'm thinking of then you can remove the mechanism by doing two things (i can't remember the order):

- unscrew the plate on the edge of the door where the "tooth" of the lock sticks out.

- pry open the round moulding that surrounds the shaft of the handle and is against the door. this will pull away from the door, revealig more screws and/or a clip that lets you remove the handle (try both sides, but it's probably the side with the lock that's critical).

once you have it removed you can replace it with a more modern lock of the same type (they sell them in diy stores) that either has the hole mentioned above or an exterior key. note that these are a different kind of lock (different shaped hole in the door) from the kind that generally have a longer, thinner lever-like handle. you need to replace with the same kind.

in general if you have access to both sides of the door and the key (if the lock has one) then you can remove the mechanism without the need for a locksmith. just play around, losening whatever screws are visible, prying off covers, etc.

this is asusming the hole isn't there. if it is, that's all you need, of course.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:20 PM on February 21, 2005

We had these growing up. I think they are designed to be opened easily. We would slide a butter knife or a credit card under the lock and giggle it while moving upward, pressing against the door frame. What you need to do is press the bolt back into the door. Our locks worked on a spring, and it luckily it was quite easy to open them. My older brother used to lock the bathroom doors and climb out the window.

You might feel better if you practice this with someone on the other side of the door. But please, warn this person. (
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:25 PM on February 21, 2005

No there is no hole on the handle at all. There's no way to pry the handle off the shaft. The only screws are on the side of the door... which obviously cannot be accessed if the door is locked.

I don't think I made this clear as the door locks from the inside only, the exterior has no locking mechanism.
posted by geoff. at 5:32 PM on February 21, 2005

Huh. I've never seen a door with no unlocking mechanism on the other side. I'd almost say that your door has one handle from two different sets. Push button locks have holes on the other site, they're for privacy, not security.

To make it lock, but easier to jimmy open, you could glue a block of something into the hole where the "tooth" goes. Even jamming welll cut pieces of cardboard in would do the same thing. Put enough in so that the tooth can only slide in a small distance. It exposes the curved part of the tooth, and makes it easier to open. You can even put so many that it really doesn't locky firmly at all, and a firm tug will open it.

The easiest/cheapest thing is probably just to tape the tooth back, and put a hook and loop on the inside of the door.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 5:51 PM on February 21, 2005

geoff - I think the point was that there might be a hidden unlocking mechanism somewhere on the door. However, you might look into replacing the actual lock mechanisms on the doors themselves, which could potentially allow you to keep the vintage handles and improve the safety of the doors.
posted by SpecialK at 5:55 PM on February 21, 2005

If you don't mind losing the current knob, for about $10-12/ea your local home improvement store is full of bathroom door knobs that do have that discrete screw hole on the outside center of the knob. Many even conveniently include a mini-screwdriver.

Cheaper than having to one day call a locksmith or replace the door.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 6:15 PM on February 21, 2005

Look carefully at the stem of the doorknobs - both of them. if there's a screw, remove it, and unscrew or pull off the knob. If there's a small hole, push a straightened paper clip into it and pull on the knob. If there's any other kind of irregularity, try to figure out how you can manipulate it to release the knob from the shaft it turns.

If you get one knob off, the other one should pull out, with the shaft. After that, remove the screws from the edge of the door and pull the latch mechanism out of the door. You should be able to disassemble the mechanism and disable the lock.

If none of that works, keep a stiff, curved wire handy. This should be small-diameter wire, smaller than a coat hanger. If the door is locked and you need to get in, feed the wire up or down behind the latch plunger, grasp both ends of the wire, and pull it toward you to force the plunger back into the door.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:43 PM on February 21, 2005

Try reversing the latch part.The thing that sticks out.When you close the door you have to turn the knob and to open the door just push .Iput mine in by accident this way and its impossible to get locked in.
posted by hortense at 10:09 PM on February 21, 2005

My son kept locking himself in his room and refusing to open the door. It was openable from the outside, but a real pain. I took off the lockset, and when apart it was obvious how to defeat the locking mechanism. I used a Dremel.

If you can't afford a new lockset (essentially a door handle set) you may not have access to a Dremel-like tool. You may consider visiting a building supply recycling place to find a replacement. New, internal locksets of poor quality can be had quite cheaply though.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:57 PM on February 21, 2005

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