What's wrong with my doorknob (and how can I fix it?)

The knob on the door between my dining room and the hallway (essentially the main connector between halves of the house) is just a passage knob - no locking mechanism at all. Sometimes it sticks. Last night it decided it wasn’t ever going to not stick again.

It seems to be something in the mechanism itself. There’s a little bit of play, but beyond that no amount of strength will move it in either direction. Last night I had to go all the way around through both junk rooms. This morning my boyfriend got it to open somehow, then stupidly closed it again and had to make the long strange trip again. I was thinking I was going to have to ask how you replace a lock set if you can’t get it open (take the door off?) but I did get it to open for me eventually this morning. I WD-40’d it, but like I said it seems to be an internal issue and that’s not going to get up in there.

Well, I’ve replaced doorknobs before and I feel pretty comfortable with it, but my house doesn’t have normal doorknobs. The house is old (c.1928) and the doors are original and used to have mortise locks. At some point, probably when it was heavily renovated, for some reason they switched to modern locks (and made off with the glass doorknobs, I bet.) When I was trying to put in some acrylic knobs as a test case in the office, I found the doors are a little thinner than modern locksets are planning on. I assume the current knobs may have been modified in some way. (The one I changed out works, but has always been a little funny.) In other words, the set on the door now is cheap and crappy and I’d like something better, but it works and I’m scared a new one might not.

I don’t want to have to order a specialty knob, since this is the door that lets us sleep in spite of the cats. If the current knob could be repaired long enough to get something nice, that would be fine. If you have an INEXPENSIVE source for glass door sets that would work on this door, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. You have no idea how grateful I would be.

In other words, what should I do? What’s probably wrong with it? Easy fix? Should I just go ahead and try to replace it? (Unfortunately, I didn’t keep the knob from the one I replaced last year. These are really cheap-ass crappy things anyway, though.) Am I going to be able to replace it, with my door thickness issue? Please advise.

… nobody? Please? Even a guess?

Glass knobs come in many shapes. There are aftermarket folks who make authentic looking replicas, and you can always go for the real McGoo by purchasing from companies which specialize in reclaimed goods-one such firm being Liz’s Antique Hardware in Cali. I’ve bought from Liz’s in the past and found them to be friendly, informative, and reasonable, price-wise. There are also companies which sell specialty door hardware such as replacements for full mortise locksets, but most of them are trade-only, so you’d need to find someone like me who is a dealer with an account.

How thick is the door?
What diameter is the hole cut out for the handle mechanism?
What is the distance from the door edge to the handle mechanisms cutout’s edge?

After a number of years they wear out and oil won’t help any longer. I asked for the above, because that’s needed for a replacement mechanism. Have you taken the mechanism apart yet?

Out of curiosity-where are you in SC?

Columbia. I haven’t taken it apart yet - I will this afternoon. If it’s like the office door, the hole and everything are standard for a modern set, but the door itself is a little thin. I might be able to post measurements when I go home for lunch.

I’ve looked a lot online at replacement glass knobs, but they’re all very expensive. Like, more than $70 a set. If they still had the mortise cutouts and all, I could get antique ones, but they don’t. The people who redid my house ten years ago did some nice things (wiring) and some not nice things (hideous plastic bathrooms.) The doors, I suspect, were victims of not-nice-things.

Ah-drove right past you last year-headed to Barnwell County-got my rental car at Columbia airport. Feel free to send photos and more info to my email address. $70 is a bit salty.

Are there metal plates on the door around the doorknobs? I’ve seen these things mounted a bit cockeyed and causing the knobs to bind. For me the solution was to grind down the base of the (metal) knobs to fit the recess in the escutcheon.

If the old mortised latching mechanism is still in the door, pull it out, open it up and look for any mechanical problems, lubricate it (I prefer graphite to WD-40), reassemble it and see what happens.

If, as you seem to be saying, the whole original doorknob/latch assembly has been replaced, then it’s difficult to say what might be going on without actually seeing it. You might loosen the screws and see if that relieves the binding.

(Probably shouldn’t assume a house once had glass knobs just because it’s old. The 1916 house I’m sitting in now certainly didn’t. . . .)

I may have been those old black painted wooden knobs.

If it’s a little thin, shim it.

Okay, I took it apart. The tongue thing moved freely, the knobs moved freely, but the thing that the spindle (is it still a spindle if it’s c-shaped? Well, that thing) moves didn’t move at all. I WD-40’d it, but I don’t know. I’d really like to replace the knobs all throughout the house - houses in the neighborhood with original fixtures mostly have octagonal glass, clear or milky and a few amber ones, although some of them have brass or porcelain. My exterior door in the back is original and I think the knob is dark porcelain. Haven’t seen any wood while being nosy in other people’s houses, although of course they may not have held up. The workings in these doors have completely been replaced and the original mortise holes and all have been puttied over, it seems.

The door is about 1 3/8 thick. I understand that standard thickness is around 1 3/4, right? I left my measurements in the car, of course, but the hole and the backset seem standard. I had no problems installing a new set on the door I did last year until I realized the spindle was too long.

The door handle kits will specify the thickness of the door they work in and the diameter of the hole the mechanism fits into. Take those dimensions to the hardware department of the store you shop at.

Dunno how you feel about shopping on eBay, but they are an excellent resource for glass doorknobs. Search under “vintage glass doorknob”; there’s a bunch of them on there now going for considerably less than $70.

But what do you have to do to get them to work? (Actually, upon doing more shopping around I’m considering ordering one to match the porcelain knob on the back door and seeing how that looks.)

Well, you’d have to find one that had the lock and door plates included, that weren’t just the glass doorknob alone. There’s this one on there now. Also this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one.

You might have to have a locksmith or a home repair maven come and tinker with them in order to get them properly installed, as they’re just basically piles of components.

What has to be done depends on what hardware was removed from the door, if it has been reworked for something new, and whatever it is that you want to install. Some times it’s as simple as direct exchange, if the old hardware can be matched, or as extreme as making a wood block to fill in where the old hardware lived, gluing and clamping in place, and then starting over to mortise in the new hardware.

I usually try the identical replacement route first, as it’s the most painless-it just takes a while of rooting though the pile of catalogs to find a match.

See, that’s the thing - all the actual vintage ones are going to have mortise locks. My door has been converted and doesn’t look like a back-convert will be easy. I ordered a modern-style lock set with a porcelain knob from houseofantiquehardware.com - more than I wanted to spend, but if I like the look it’ll be worth it. (Plus, it’s in the dining room.)

Have you tried Hiller Hardware in Five Points? They always seem to have what you’re looking for and people who can find it. I remember when I was looking for a bolt, I handed it to this extremely old man who toddled over to a small room whose walls were lined with drawers the size of index cards. Seven feet tall by ten or fifteen feet long, the number of tiny drawers was dizzying on the first glance. He homed right into the correct drawer, seemingly without even looking.

Corner of Harden and Devine, parking out back. Get there before they’re gone! I’m sad they’re going the way of the Monterrey Jack’s and Peaches Records.

I called them and they don’t have anything. Which is sad, because I really wanted to get it there before they close. Goddamned city.

I’m sad to hear that too, even though I haven’t lived in Columbia in 15 years. They would always have whatever little doohicky I needed when all I needed was a little but seemingly impossible-to-find doohicky, so I always bought other hardware stuff from them even when I knew I could get it cheaper at Lowe’s or somewhere like that.

[White Stripes]
Thinkin’ 'bout my doorknob,
how’m I gonna fix it,
how’m I gonna fix it?