Recently we had a very interesting project that took some creative solutions. We do a lot of work with vintage hardware and antique mortise locks. We got a call from a new customer in Shaker Heights who was looking for some help. It was a beautiful classic Shaker Heights house built during the great depression. The interior knob would occasionally slip off. This is a common occurrence with these types of locks. Typically, the set screw holding the knob on backs out over time causing the knob to gradually loosen over time until one day it slips off. The set screw was not in the best condition. However, we do stock a lot of set screws and other replacement parts for these types of locks. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a set screw to match this particular knob.
The plot thickened when I examined the threading inside the knob. It was worn out which caused the knob the slip. It wasn’t just the set-screw, the knob itself needed replaced. The mortise lock used a split spindle that was a little bit larger than the split spindle on a typical lock. We spent a lot of time looking to match the current spindle with a new knob. We eventually found one that matched the split spindle threading and looked almost identical.
During this process we also removed the cover from the lock and cleaned the internal parts with a lubricant. It probably has not been serviced since it was installed in the 30’s. The locking mechanism handles and outside thumb depress worked significantly better after being properly cleaned.
The mortise lock installed in the lock was an older style Yale lock. It was a Y2 key blank to be specific. This lock also required some lubrication and now works well.
One thing that we commonly find in this locks is that someone applied graphite as a lock lubricant. Graphite powder was commonly used to lubricate locks. A very small application of graphite can be beneficial. However, we typically see locks that are absolutely loaded with graphite. The problem with graphite is that it can gum up. When the lock gets moisture in in the graphite tends to lump together. Combined with years of dust, pollen, spider webs, car exhaust and other debris in the air it forms a sticky mess that really impacts the way a lock functions. What we typically do is completely flush out the lock with an appropriate lubricant. This washes away the graphite and other materials that have collected inside the lock.
People often as what lubricant we recommend. Not WD-40! Wd-40 is a water dispersant, it is not a lubricant. Something like PB blaster is actually a lubricant. Home Depot actually sells a small bottle of lock lubricant. We typically use a special lock lubricant called Houdini.
One interesting thing about these graphite clumps is where they form and how they impact the lock. Gravity pulls everything down. This is also true with graphite clumps. Additionally, without removing the lock from the door and opening it up., there are only so many places for the graphite powder to enter the lock. We typically see a lot of graphite sticking to the bottom of the lock where the toggle buttons are. These buttons change the lock from always locking when the door is closed (storeroom function) to not locking (passage function). Some customers completely ignore these buttons but some customers do like to use them. They’ll typically find that these buttons are very difficult to press and switch back and forth. Flushing the lock with lubricant and using a rag typically solves this issue completely.
At the end of the day the project was a success and the customer was very happy with the results. We truly enjoy servicing this vintage locks. It’s a fun challenge and people appreciate someone restoring a part of the home’s original aesthetic and charm. We look foreword to every call we get about vintage locks in Shaker Heights. If you have a mortise lock in the surrounding area feel free to reach out to use about how we can repair, restore, or even replace a lock if necessary.