All Doorknobs Aren’t the Same
Especially with interior locksets, the feel, the finish, and the parts you can't see make the difference.
Synopsis: You can spend anywhere from $7 to $700 for an interior doorknob and lockset, so this article helps you where the differences lie and whether they’re functional or purely aesthetic. You’ll learn about the three main types of locksets along with which ones go with which kinds of doors.
Thanks largely to the innovations of Walter R. Schlage, a handy 12-year-old probably could install a lockset on a bathroom or hallway door in about a half-hour. Schlage’s 1928 patent for a cylindrical button lock helped to displace the traditional mortise lock and vastly simplified what had been a time-consuming and ticklish chore. But even Schlage might be surprised to see how pervasive, and diverse, this lock has become.
For interior doors, mortise locks are still common in commercial buildings and some high-end houses, but the bored-in lockset that Schlage pioneered is now a fixture in most houses. It requires only two holes in the door: a 2 1⁄8-in. hole in the face of the door and a 1-in. hole in the edge for a latch. The two halves of the lockset are joined with machine screws, and a knob or lever turns the latch.
Although most residential locksets work basically the same way, there are as many differences in what’s available as there are similarities. Choices run the gamut from basic locksets selling for as little as $7 to the Ferraris of the class, a $700 sand-cast bronze lock. Some differences are cosmetic, but many are not. Finish, mechanical design, and choice of materials used to make the lock, knobs, and trim pieces have a lot to do with how smoothly it operates and how long it will last.
What You See Is Only The Beginning
What’s visible after installation are the doorknob (or lever) and a rose (or escutcheon) that caps the hole bored through the face of the door. Hidden inside the door are the mechanical parts that operate the latch and help to determine how long, and how smoothly, the lockset is likely to operate. These design choices also help to determine how a lockset will fare in meeting performance standards published by the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association.
Inside an economy lockset — like Kwikset’s Security line selling for about $7 — what you’re likely to find is a spindle made from folded sheet metal that connects knobs on each side of the door. The spindle passes through a spring-loaded latch, and when a knob is turned, the latch retracts. The industry calls this design a tubular lock. Internal parts, made from steel or die-cast zinc, are simple and relatively lightweight, and the knobs even have some play when the installation screws have been tightened.
Kwikset’s entry-level lockset won’t last forever. But it still carries a 10-year mechanical warranty, and its latch is designed to operate at least 200,000 times before it breaks.
When you spend more money, you are likely to get heavier-gauge internal parts; more powerful return springs on the knobs for faster, more positive movement in the latch; and a more solid feel overall. A $40 Schlage lever set, for example, has virtually no play in the levers, a heavy die-cast zinc chassis, and a precise fit between spindle and latch. Because it’s rated as grade 2, the lock will handle twice as many open-and-close cycles as a grade 3.
Spend $130 for a Baldwin passage lock, and construction is even heavier. Besides solid-brass levers, the lock has a solid-steel spindle and a latch with a strong return spring and a short throw (it doesn’t have to be turned much to retract the latch). Heavy, threaded roses completely hide the installation plates and screws. A nylon strip on the end of the latch minimizes wear on the strike plate, and Allen-head setscrews allow knobs to be retightened.
Finishes And Knob/Lever Styles Add To The Overall Cost
Heavier castings, stronger return springs, better-fitting parts, and sturdier latches all contribute to higher costs. But so do finish and styling, especially at the upper end of the cost spectrum.
Rocky Mountain Hardware, for example, offers both bored-in and mortise locksets for interior doors beginning at $340—far above most everything else on the market. The company sand-casts some of its hardware, a process that can leave a rough, pitted surface and makes even brand-new hardware look like it has been kicking around for years. That’s its charm. Yet the extra money doesn’t buy any better mechanical innards than a Baldwin because Rocky Mountain’s lock mechanism actually is a Baldwin.
Rocky Mountain’s price list helps to illustrate that consumers are willing to spend handsomely for finish and overall eye appeal, factors that have nothing to do with how well a lock works. Manufacturers have responded with smooth and brushed finishes in brass, bronze, nickel, chrome, and iron. They may be highly polished or left without a protective topcoat, which allows them to age with use.
Knobs, levers, and roses are typically brass. If the finished surface is to be different—chrome, say, or nickel—the material is added as a thin plating. Manufacturers may add more than one plating or rub through a topcoat to reveal the one below.
Typical protective coatings include sprayed-on lacquer, a clear powder-coated surface, or a thin layer of chrome or nickel applied in a process called PVD, or physical vapor deposition. PVD, originally developed for the machine-tool industry, increases surface hardness and scratch resistance, and allows manufacturers to offer lifetime guarantees against tarnish. But it also adds to the cost—as much as 50% over the same hardware with a traditional lacquer finish. Unless the house is on the ocean where tarnishing from salt air is a problem, PVD is probably overkill for interior hardware.
What To Buy
Even the most inexpensive locksets on the market probably will last for many years before they wear out. But they also can have a tinny feel, and knobs may have an annoying rattle even when installation screws are tight.
At the other end of the spectrum are Sun Valley and Rocky Mountain Hardware knobs and trim. Beautiful, to be sure, but spending $500 on a pair of doorknobs and escutcheon plates seems wildly extravagant.
More appealing is door hardware’s middle ground, locksets like the $40 Schlage. They have a solid feel because they are made from solid castings instead of stamped sheet metal. Internal parts are heavier, and there’s a fair selection of finishes and styles. In all, they are a good compromise of function and design. At the upper end of this midcategory are locksets like those from Baldwin or Marks. Prices are well over $100, but not stratospheric, with solid mechanicals and appealing finishes. For some period architectural, Baldwin locksets in particular may be worth the extra money.
Different Locks For Different Doors
Depending on how it will be used, an interior door may take any one of four different lockset types. Mechanically simpler and less costly than hardware for exterior doors, interior locksets are available in a variety of surface metals and finishes, and may be ordered with knobs, levers, or pull rings.
Sets are standard for hallways, closets, and any other door where no locking function is needed. Knobs turn freely on both sides of the door.
Some Types Are Easier To Install
Almost all interior locksets are one of three mechanical types. Tubular and cylindrical designs both are “bored-in” locksets, named for their installation in a hole bored completely through the face of the door. Traditional mortise locks are fitted in a deep pocket cut in the edge of the door. Two other options, rim locks and thumb latches, usually are used only for period restorations.
How long does it take to put in a lockset?
We asked professional door hangers Gary M. Katz of Reseda, Calif., and Jim Chestnut of Fairfield, Conn., to estimate the time it takes them to install the two types of locksets: the cylindrical/tubular and the mortise. Because of the large rectangular pocket that must be carefully drilled and chiseled (or routed) into a door’s edge, a mortise lock typically takes from one hour to 21⁄2 hours to install. A cylindrical/tubular lock requiring a 1-in. hole in the door edge and a 21⁄8-in. hole in the door’s face should take about a half-hour.
Knobs For Every Architectural Style
Given the long history of doors and hardware, it follows that there are plenty of styles from which to choose your hardware. You may have to shop outside your local big-box home center, but if you can imagine the style, you likely can find the lock.
(800-575-2658; www.weslock.com) Knobs are brass plated in chrome and protected with a topcoat of lacquer. This one retails for about $24.
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