How do I fix this door handle that won't latch?
January 6, 2014 10:18 PM   Subscribe

I replaces a door handle and when I put the latch plate in it won't latch, when I remove the latch plate it will latch. I had the same problem with the previous door handle that was their when I moved it. I have tried chisling out the hole deeper until it broke through into some other part of the wall which you can see as a small hole in the video. I also tried move the latch plate up, down, to the left and right and it still won't latch. I took a video of the problem and show how the door wont latch and explain it in more detail.
posted by john123357 to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does the plate have a little metal tab that goes down into the hole in the wood, like this one? If so, the latch might not be clearing that tab. You could chisel out the hole in the wood a bit more towards the inside of the room/the side away from the door jamb to allow the plate to slide further that way, and that might do it. I had that door issue once.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:40 PM on January 6, 2014

As jason_steakums suggests, you probably need to move the strike plate further to the right (toward the outside of the door frame.) To confirm this, get a flashlight and try closing the door slowly with the plate installed while you watch through the crack with your eye at latch height and the flashlight shining on the latch, and check to confirm that the latch isn't landing too high or too low. It's possible that the door has sagged over time, resulting in a latch that hits too low to match up with the hole in the strike plate.
posted by contraption at 10:54 PM on January 6, 2014

What they said above.

Another handy trick here, sometimes, is to get a whiteboard erasable pen or a thick pencil and cover the latch with ink or carbon, then close the door. It will mark where the latch is landing on the striker plate, and you can deduce which direction you need to move it based on that.

From your video, it seems like you need to move the plate down, but it's hard to tell.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:14 PM on January 6, 2014

Oh also, sometimes you can grasp the bit of the plate that sticks out with a pair of pliers or vise grips and hold it in place, then carefully close the door and move the plate around until it latches, then carefully open the door while holding the plate in place and mark the position.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:24 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

You are on the right track, trying to move the latch plate around. Go on doing this, there must be a correct position for the plate.

One way to determine the exact position of the latch plate: tape over the entire hole in the frame with masking tape. Now carefully apply a small amount of contrasting paint to the front edge of the latchy part of the lock in the door. Handle turned, close the door to a not-forced tight position, release the handle to mark the tape with paint, turn the handle again and open.

Now you have the exact position of the door flip marked out on the tape. Wipe off the rest of the paint from your door lock, and let the paint on the masking tape set a little. Shift the plate in position to match the paint mark. Allow for .2 inches or thereabouts of lateral play, but the up-and-down position should be exactly right. Mark out the drill holes with a pencil.

Drill two new, correct holes. If they would come very close to the old ones, first stuff these with hardwood plugs (wooden satay sticks are an idea) and some white glue. Let dry, cut flush with wire cutters, now drill the new holes.

Remove the tape. Adjust, if necessary, the cut-out for the latch plate, after test-fitting, using the screws to loosely position the plate and marking out the plate's outer contours. Now screw down the latch plate in its correct position.

Even if the problem remains, you know now that you're very close. Use a flashlight and look what's the matter. First, determine that the upward and downward position of the plate is correct. Then, check its front edge; if necessary, repeat the paint trick with the plate in its position (using very little paint indeed, just little dots).

Now, let's say you need to make the tiniest of adjustments because the door still doesn't latch. You make these adjustments directly to the latch plate, using a small file suited for metal. It's a matter of patience and good observation.

Regarding chiseling a hole for the latch into the door frame, the correct position of the latch plate is more important than the depth of the hole. You can measure the required depth first, before hacking a big old hole into the frame.
posted by Namlit at 2:09 AM on January 7, 2014

When I've had this issue I've solved it with sticky tape and chewing gum.

Thread a bit of tape through the hole in the striker plate, then stick it onto itself to make a tab that will poke out past the door when the striker plate is in place and the door is closed.

Open the door, and stick the striker plate in place with a few very small blobs of chewing gum or blu-tack.

Close the door, then gently manipulate the tape tab until you hear the latch click into place. The striker plate is now positioned correctly, and you can carefully open the door and make pencil marks through the screw holes.

If the new pencil marks are within about 3mm of the old ones, you'll need to plug the old holes solid before drilling the new holes. I generally do this by soaking cotton string in five-minute epoxy glue and ramming it into the old holes with a bit of wire.
posted by flabdablet at 6:00 AM on January 7, 2014

Agreed that you need to move the latch plate a little bit further to the outside of the doorjamb. To do this, you are going to need to fill the existing screw holes with some hard wood filler, and then drill new screw holes just a skosh to the right (from the perspective of your camera in the video). You can also fill the hole in the door frame at the same time; it's generally a good idea not to have a hole there if you can avoid it, as it will slightly compromise your insulation, provide a path for pests to enter your living space, and encourage further damage to the frame. It probably doesn't need to be that deep; that looks like an interior door rather than a security door, so it's no big deal if the latch doesn't extend fully as long as it catches.

Alternatively, you could file out the hole on the strike plate a bit at a time until the latch is able to catch. File away a millimeter or so on the outside edge of the hole, then install it and check, repeat until it latches easily. Make sure that it the latch catches easily and that there's a little bit of extra space, because over the course of the year (as temperature and humidity change with the seasons) the door will move around a bit. A marginal fit in the winter might become a non-fit in the summer.

Also, you could try tightening up the screws on the door hinge. If the hinges are a bit loose then the door may not be closing quite all the way. Be a bit careful because those new-style interior door frames are made of garbage and you could easily strip out the hole that the screws are in if you're too aggressive. If you can get them to tighten up at all though without having to really brute-force it, that might be all you need.

Oh, and the problem might be at the top or the bottom of the strike plate hole rather than the outside edge. You can probably see this if you close the door as best you can and then shine a flashlight into the crack where the latch is. If there's vertical misalignment, you should be able to see that.

Finally, if the old doorknob set had a similar latch to the new one, you could try installing the old strike plate with the new doorknob. Its hole is presumably shaped or positioned slightly differently, and maybe it would work better.

This is a common problem when changing a doorknob. It takes a bit of fiddling to fix but it's no big deal. Good luck!
posted by Scientist at 7:53 PM on January 7, 2014

It looked to me like the lock is closer to the outside of the door, so like others have said, the catch plate needs to be towards the outside a bit more. You may even need to chisel a bit into the doorstop.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:16 AM on January 8, 2014

flabdablet I'm not quite sure what you mean can you explain it in more simple terms?
posted by john123357 at 8:36 PM on January 9, 2014

The idea is to make a little temporary tab handle for the strike plate out of tape (you might want to use a bit of cardboard as well) so that when it's in place and the door is shut, you have something sticking out past the face of the door that you can use to wiggle the strike plate around.

Then with the door open, you stick a few little blobs of chewy to the back of the strike plate and press it onto the doorframe as close as you can to where you think it should go. Then shut the door.

The point of using chewy is that it's flexible, so you can use your little tape tab to jiggle and wiggle the strike plate around a little even when the door is shut. So do that - pull a little, push a little, lift a little, drop a little. Eventually the hole in the strike plate will line up properly with the spring latch in the door and you'll hear it click into place.

Provided your initial positioning of the strike plate wasn't wildly off, you should now find that when you carefully twist the door knob to retract the latch and gently open the door, the chewy still has enough grip to keep the plate in the last place you jiggled it to. And since that's now the right place - it must be, because the latch engaged there - you can make pencil marks through the plate's screw holes so you'll know where to drill.

If those marks end up close to existing screw holes in the door frame, you'll need to plug the existing holes before drilling the new ones. I like cotton string soaked in 5 minute epoxy for that job because it's easy to use a bit of wire to ram it all the way into the holes and it sets faster than white glue or wood filler.

Not sure how much clearer I can make this. Is there some particular aspect of the plan that's still not making sense?
posted by flabdablet at 10:47 PM on January 9, 2014

Also, it's just occurred to me that you might perhaps not be using the strike plate that came with your door latch, in which case the issue might simply be that the hole in the strike plate is too small. Are you certain that the latch bolt actually does fit through the hole? If not, no amount of repositioning is going to help and you'll need to file the hole out until it does fit.
posted by flabdablet at 10:53 PM on January 9, 2014

flabdablet the part I am not understanding is that wouldn't using gum make the metal plate stick out to much to close the door? Also how is tape going to have enough leverage to move it around if it in place with the gum?
posted by john123357 at 11:46 PM on January 10, 2014

That's why you use only small blobs of gum.

I really don't want to get into a long theoretical argument with you about this. The method has worked for me all three times I've had to use it. If you can't make it work for you, then I guess you'll just have to try something else. But honestly, none of this is rocket surgery. If you're not willing to just fiddle around with it until it works, as all the rest of us have, then perhaps you'd be better off engaging a locksmith and watching what they do.
posted by flabdablet at 12:34 AM on January 11, 2014

1) Without the strike plate in place, close the door until the latch touches the frame and mark the top and bottom with a pencil.

2) Shut the door all the way and mark where the inside face of the door lines up with the frame.

3) Open door and measure how far the flat side of the latch is from the inside face of the door. Transfer this measurement to the line you made in step 2. Subtract about 1/8 to allow for door/frame warpage.

You've got all the markings you need to screw in your strike plate. If you still need to adjust it afterwards, jam matchsticks into the old holes before trying to re-drill.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:49 PM on January 11, 2014

What do you mean by "the inside face of the door "
posted by john123357 at 5:53 PM on January 18, 2014

The side facing you when you close it (from the vantage point of the video).
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:27 PM on January 18, 2014

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