Help me break into my closet
December 14, 2014 9:32 AM   Subscribe

My closet door handle has broken, on its inside. I can turn the knob freely, but doing so does not move the bolt. I've tried various things to attempt to open the door, but have been unable to do so. What else can I try? More info inside.

The handle looks like this. It has no keyhole or lock. It also does not have one of those little holes in the middle of the knob that some interior doors do.

Unfortunately, it seems that the previous owners installed it such that the screws are on the other side - i.e. they're inside the closet - so I cannot simply unscrew it. I'm pretty sure it does have screws (like in the picture) on the other side, because I have several matching doorknobs on other closet doors.

I've checked all around its base thinking perhaps there would be a set screw there. If there is one, I sure don't see it.

I've run a strong wire behind the bolt and attempted to pull out, thinking that it was one of those bolts that slides open when force is applied to it from the inside. The bolt did not budge.

Then I thought perhaps the previous owners not only installed the handles backwards, but also the bolt. So I got a credit card and tried to force the bolt open from the outside by pushing. Again, the bolt did not budge.

Then I took the hinges off the door and tried to remove the entire door. I couldn't get the door out of the frame.

What now? The only other thing I can think is to physically destroy the handle, perhaps with a drill or a hacksaw.
posted by Flunkie to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This happened to me and I had to saw through the bolt to finally get it open.
posted by quince at 9:43 AM on December 14, 2014

Response by poster: Through the bolt? What kind of saw?
posted by Flunkie at 9:45 AM on December 14, 2014

posted by quince at 9:56 AM on December 14, 2014

Response by poster: I don't think my hacksaw will fit in there.
posted by Flunkie at 9:59 AM on December 14, 2014

Best answer: Are you sure about the installation being backward? I don't suppose a method like this would work...?

Was there an obvious source of the problem with getting the door out of the frame? Did you try pulling the door from the bottom? Did you use a pry bar?

If you are willing to destroy the knob, you could try brute force with a hammer to break the knob off.

If you are willing to destroy the door, you can use a drill to start a hole and then use a wallboard saw to cut away the whole knob apparatus.
posted by zennie at 10:17 AM on December 14, 2014

How much money are you willing to throw at this problem? A new hollow core door can be found for $30-$40 and a new handle isn't much. And the therapy offered by being allowed to destroy the old door is hard to put a price on.
posted by swimbikerun at 10:20 AM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you think better leverage would enable you to pull the door out of the frame? Do you have any spare drawer pulls or other handles lying around that you could attach to the door for handholds?
posted by zeptoweasel at 10:25 AM on December 14, 2014

Response by poster: I'm pretty sure about the installation being backwards. I've got several other doors with what seem to be identical handles, and the "other" sides of them have obvious screws. Some of them are also installed so that the screws are on the inside. I don't see anything like in the video with a slot for a screwdriver or anything like that.
posted by Flunkie at 10:25 AM on December 14, 2014

Response by poster: I'm hoping to get out of this without destroying the door itself.
posted by Flunkie at 10:26 AM on December 14, 2014

Best answer: I would try to pry the frame out from the door at the bolt and then, using something sharp, like a putty knife, try to pry the bolt into its recess. OR
A hacksaw like this could cut the bolt. or
A tool like this could cut the bolt. or
Pull the hinge pins and use your gorilla strength to pry out the door. You might have to replace some trim.
posted by H21 at 10:45 AM on December 14, 2014

Best answer: You could probably cut off the knob and then manipulate the latch mechanism with a screwdriver.
posted by ryanrs at 11:01 AM on December 14, 2014

Before you start prying anything off or sawing through things...

I am guessing this is not a deadbolt, but an angled latch. Use the classic catburgler method: take a thin flexible piece of plastic (ie a credit card) or a thin piece of metal, and insert it into the gap between the door and the jam. Slide it in, it will push the latch in and you can open the door. Here's a video.
posted by ananci at 11:09 AM on December 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I got lucky with the clearance allowing a tiny hacksaw in. Other things I tried included: prying and trying to move the bolt/latch with putty knives, screwdriver, credit card as well as removing the hinge pins. If you don't object to destroying the knob, you could try to remove it or drill/cut it enough so you can remove it. My knob was from the 1930's and matched other original knobs in the house, so destroying it was a last resort option that I did everything to avoid.
posted by quince at 11:51 AM on December 14, 2014

Are you sure there isn't a teeny hole on the bottom? Like, if you were on the floor looking up at it?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:02 PM on December 14, 2014

Is there room the way the door is installed to make a cut through the wallboard so that you can reach in and turn it from the inside? A large wallboard hole can be easy to repair and paint if you can put the piece you take out back in place.
posted by procrastination at 12:07 PM on December 14, 2014

Best answer: If it's an angled latch and the internals aren't broken you can almost certainly pry it open. Looking at the other similar jams should tell you that.

Failing that those locks are junk. A single good whack with a mallet should knock the shell off and once you have access to the insides you can turn the bolt with a pliers.
posted by fshgrl at 12:47 PM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you were able to remove the pins from the hinges, I think that is the angle to attack this from -- you should be able to pull the hinge edge of the door forward out of the frame, far enough to free the leaf from the frame. Are the knuckles of the hinges preventing the door from coming free of the frame? If you just lack leverage, a short screwdriver blade in the hinges' pin hole can lever the 2 sides of the hinge apart. And if you slip something (a stack of shims?) under the hinge end of the door bottom, the door leaf will not be able to fall down far enough to get bound up in the frame.
posted by misterbrandt at 2:07 PM on December 14, 2014

Response by poster: OK, issue resolved. Thanks everyone. Hacksaw got me about halfway through the handle before I decided to try the mallet method. Several whacks got the outer shell of the handle off, at which point I was able to rip apart the thing with a crowbar and push the other half of the handle out to fall into the closet. Then some pliers got the bolt out, and the door opened fine from there.

Door will need some touch-up paint, but is otherwise unharmed. Next project: Replace all the other inside-out installed closet doors scattered through my house. Thanks again!
posted by Flunkie at 2:32 PM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

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