Something About Locks

I was going to start work on the 9′ tall kitchen doors but I got sidetracked. The door to the shop just kept glaring at me with its hideous peeling paint, hand prints, vintage dog snot and cat pee stains. The photo does not do the dirt justice, of course. Well, there was only one answer, 60 grit sandpaper.

The first step was to remove all of the hardware and get it cleaned up; however, before I proceed, I can provide a little background information about antique door locks that some may find interesting. There are two types of door locks in the hotel. On the doors that were installed in the 30s, the lock is a full mortise lock which, much like a modern lock, is completely embedded in the edge of the door. This was a slightly superior design that also provided an more refined look. The older locks installed in 1870 are of the rim lock style and are attached to the face of the door which removes the need to mortise out the wood of the door. A rim lock is what we have on this particular door. Both lock types work well at the job of keeping the door shut but the mortise lock takes a bit of skill and special mortising chisels to install whereas the rim lock can be installed with only basic skills and a drill thus making it ideal for the frontier setting. The rim lock; however, has a disadvantage in that its exposed location on the face of the door offers the temptation to paint the lock when the rest of the door gets painted. After a few coats of paint, it becomes badly gummed up and just icky looking. There is hope, though. Old locks, for the most part, are quite robust and can be cleaned up and made to operate like new.

Here is our lock in all its painted glory.

Most of the locks in the hotel are 1870s rim locks and this one is a perfect example. It was one of the mangiest locks in the place with at least three coats of oil paint on it but it still worked. The hardest part of the process was simply taking the lock off the door. With so much paint, the slots in the screws were no longer visible. I successfully used an ice pick and small hammer to open up the slots. Then, with luck and a bit of swearing, I was able to get enough purchase with the screwdriver to get the screws out. I saved the screws for good luck but they eventually got replaced with new old stock screws that I’ve been hoarding for just such an occasion. I just love estate sales for finding useful stuff. These screws are perfect for installing locks, hinges and escutcheon plates.

Once the lock was off, I dragged out my thrift store crock pot and filled it with water and a shot of dish soap. The hinges and lock went into the pot which was set to “Low”.

After soaking all night, most of the oil paint simply peeled off.

Any remaining loose material I removed with a wire wheel. What was left is what looked like splotchy gloss black paint. This was the original finish on the lock which is called “Japanning”. Unfortunately, Japanning comes off with the paint and must be completely removed. So, the lock went back into the crock pot for a day or two until the Japanning came off easily with the wire wheel leaving a dark iron finish much like a cast iron skillet.

Before I put the lock back in to soak, I removed the screw that held the lock body together and took off the cover. Inside, the mechanisms on these old locks can range in complexity from simple to “holy cow!” So, at that point, it was a good idea to snap a photo of the mechanism for later reference. Inside the exposed mechanism, I found the usual dribbled paint, dust, hair and dog only knows what all packed into the crevices.

All the internal parts were removed and wire wheeled. Since these parts are pretty small, care must be taken not to fire them across the room when wire wheeling. Also, a face shield and filter mask are a must. The wire wheel can shed wires that will stick into things like one’s face and the paint may have lead in it so it is essential to take all the precautions.

While the lock was still in the crock pot, I had time to focus on the door itself.

This was the side that faced the saloon. I sanded off all of the dog snot and replaced the panel moldings with new. This was actually the ugliest side of the door but I don’t think that anyone would notice once I got it painted. Oh, and the primer that I used was good old fashioned oil base. It’s kinda stinky and messy to clean up but it sure covers up all that vintage paint.

Meanwhile, the crock pot finished boiling off the paint on the lock and I finished wire wheeling the lock casing. Then, I wiped casing down with alcohol to clean off any grease and applied a nice coat of black paint to imitate the Japanning that I removed earlier.

With that done and the door painted, it all went back together fairly easily.

Now, we just have to finish the door jamb.

Author: Glenn

I'm a 5' 8" tall ape descendant with an interior design degree and a love for antiques and vintage architecture. I recently escaped from the IT world to follow my dreams and a beautiful damsel who shares my love of old buildings no matter how much dust is involved.

2 thoughts on “Something About Locks”

  1. Fascinating explanation. Our 1919 house in the Rose Garden area of San Jose had a full mortise lock on the front door. If the knob was turned the wrong way something jammed. I got really good at removing the lock and fixing the issue plus one got in the habit of always turning the knob one direction. Your door looks terrific!

  2. What? Locks and not a mention of bagels? sigh…

Comments are closed.