Need to lock an interior door of an old house
May 1, 2012 6:49 PM   Subscribe

I need a way to lock an interior door of an old house with old doorknobs. It has a skeleton lock but we have no key. Can we replace an old knob like this?

Basically we just need to close off a room while we're not home so nosy people (housekeepers, for example) don't pry. It's not intended to keep burglars out. It can and should be temporary since we're renters. It doesn't matter if it looks really ugly in the meantime. mr. desjardins is pretty handy.

mr. desjardins says this is not standard size and we can't just replace it with any old knob, alas I have come to you.

It's imperative that this happen by next Friday so if we have to special order an antique knob from Germany, we need another option.
posted by desjardins to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
If you had a big ring of keys of the sort (sometimes available as curios at antique shops or on ebay), there's a pretty fair chance you would find one that works. They're pretty simple. My grandparents had similar old locks, and random keys worked not infrequently on them. A well-heeled locksmith (particularly one that had been around for a while) might have some standard sizes for sale.
posted by LucretiusJones at 6:57 PM on May 1, 2012

Skeleton locks tend to be standard, with only a few variations. First find an old skeleton key and see if it works, you can probably find one fairly easily. If you do need to replace the whole door, yes, these old locks are not the same as modern ones. You would have to either cut the door, or find a different vintage lock and knob to fit, which again, wouldn't be too hard, but does require a bit of handiness and searching on your part. You shouldn't have to order an antique knob from Germany. These kinds of knobs are common, you just have to look in the right places.
posted by catatethebird at 6:58 PM on May 1, 2012

Could you forget the doorknob altogether and just install a lock hasp on the door and door frame, then use a padlock?
posted by decathecting at 7:00 PM on May 1, 2012

I would go to Clinton Street Antiques (on first) and ask if they have either 1) a bunch of skeleton keys that you can try or 2) a replacement lock set with a key. We were able to get a door knob there for our old front door and they seem like the kind of place that just might have a box of skeleton keys.
posted by sulaine at 7:02 PM on May 1, 2012

What LucretiusJones and catatethebird, basically.

Or you can replace the whole locking mechanism.
It looks to me like a mortice lock . You can get one new from a restorations style place for about A$30-45, or possibly take the old lock in to a proper locksmith and get them to try out a variety of keys.

(I am not a locksmith, not am I your locksmith, but I played one on the weekend).
posted by Mezentian at 7:04 PM on May 1, 2012

You don't need a different knob. Keys for that kind of lock are very simple to make. Just take the lock off the door and give it to a locksmith. I'd probably get a blank key and cut it myself with a hacksaw and file.
posted by anadem at 7:07 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

(oh, and that's replace the LOCK, not replace the door)
posted by catatethebird at 7:08 PM on May 1, 2012

It's a mortise lockset. You can replace the whole thing, either with something designed to look old, or with modern hardware. Some of the best high-security locksets are in the mortise form-factor.

Big-box stores probably won't have any examples, but any local locksmith should have some. You can find them online as well.

In my experience, depending on the age of the original, you may need to shim or chisel to get a good fit, and may have to do some work behind where the knob plates are now. Save the old one for when you move out.
posted by graftole at 7:15 PM on May 1, 2012

Home Depot sells skeleton keys. We recently needed a second key for a lock like that (60 years old) and the one we bought at HD worked perfectly.
posted by kimdog at 7:15 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please for the love of god do not replace the door, the lockset, or whatever. THat's vintage stuff that's hard to replace. Unscrew the setscrews on the doorknob, remove it, remove the covers, remove the lockset using the screws on the edge of the door, and take it to a locksmith. Please. As a restoration-minded old-house-owner, I beg you.
posted by notsnot at 7:53 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

May not even need to take it to a locksmith. Take it to a local quality hardware store (not "Home Depot" but a real hardware store like "Ace Hardware" or "True Value") and they often have a selection of them available.
posted by jgreco at 7:59 PM on May 1, 2012

Response by poster: When you all say "take it to…" what's the "it"? The doorknob? Do I need to disassemble the entire thing and take it with?
posted by desjardins at 8:09 PM on May 1, 2012

Before you take it apart, find a good locksmith (with a storefront, there are a lot of shaky locksmith companies out there that don't have a physical location) tell them the situation and ask them if you could take a collection of possible keys home (leave a deposit with them) to find one that works.
posted by HuronBob at 8:19 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

or, get one of these...
posted by HuronBob at 8:20 PM on May 1, 2012

opps, that's not going to work, unless it's a toddler you want to keep out... sorry 'bout that!
posted by HuronBob at 8:23 PM on May 1, 2012

desjardins if you do need to remove it (and it is like mine have been):
Unscrew one knob.
Remove both knobs.
Unscrew both screws in the locking plate (you can usually leave the "knob shields" in place).
Assuming you have done everything correctly you can remove the whole locking mechanism from the door.

Also, I cannot say this enough: don't thread the screws. It makes a 10 minute job a 24-hour nightmare.

But it seems like the Skeleton Key idea is great and I wish to try it myself.
posted by Mezentian at 9:32 PM on May 1, 2012

Nthing mortise locks. You should be able to pull the lock mechanism and replace it with something that, short of taking the door apart, will not look terribly disimilar from what you have now, except there will be a modern lock inside.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:24 PM on May 1, 2012

If you're not comfortable taking the door apart (bearing in mind that it's your landlord's door, not yours) and you can't find a key that will work (which so far I think is your best shot here) then I'd second what decathecting said above and just install a hasp and a padlock. Remove it when you leave, and putty & paint over the holes left behind by the screws. Ugly, but simple, and it would work.
posted by Scientist at 11:43 PM on May 1, 2012

If you own the house (or have a cool landlord), and you aren't able to find a locksmith to make you a new key, or to buy a new lock, before this weekend, a more attractive option than screwing on a padlock and hasp would be to just install a deadbolt on the door about a foot above the current lock. It requires using a couple of tools, but is well within the abilities of anyone capable of replacing a faucet or changing a tire.

But I'd call a locksmith first, and either have them make a house call or bring them the lock. That should be cheaper, faster, and easier than adding a new lock.
posted by Forktine at 6:15 AM on May 2, 2012

(Oops, saw on rereading that you are renting; ignore my suggestion of adding a new lock, sorry.)
posted by Forktine at 6:16 AM on May 2, 2012

Response by poster: Another question - all of the interior doors look alike (the bathroom door has a deadbolt that can be locked from inside for obvious reasons, and the exterior doors have keyed deadbolts). Does that mean all the interior doors will work with the same key? I don't really care about locking the rest of them, but if I need to remove a knob/lock to take it to the locksmith, I'd rather take one off a different door. (Of course, if they are keyed differently, I've just wasted my time.)

Also also, can they be locked from either side? i.e., if you're in the bedroom and you don't want anyone to come in when you're in there, OR you're out of the house and you don't want anyone to get in your room while you're gone. I assume you can't lock someone in the room? Or can you?

And notsnot - don't worry, we will keep all the original hardware and put it back the way it was. It's a gorgeous house and you would probably love all the woodwork and stained glass.
posted by desjardins at 6:37 AM on May 2, 2012

They may all be keyed alike. I would have been pretty convenient!

But: Not all the locks may work. My original thought, since you folks don't appear to be in the business of restoring and maintaining old locks, was that it would be cheaper in the long run to replace the lock with something new for the duration of your tenancy, rather than have a locksmith check out and probably repair the one in-place.

I've had an old lock of this type unexpectedly break in the locked position. The lock was in a wonderful glass-pane door from the 20's. It was not fun to solve that situation.
posted by graftole at 8:57 AM on May 2, 2012

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