Saturday, April 21, 2012

This old house

As the title of this post suggests, our apartment is on the older side. The walls and doors have definitely seen better days. But we don't mind, it gives it some character and gives me even more reason to embark on DIY adventures.

One quirk is that some of the doors don't shut very well -- two of the closet doors in the front hall stick a bit so they won't shut all the way, and the pantry door and bedroom door suffer from a little issue where the door knobs fall off not infrequently. They are old glass knobs, and the interior of the knobs must be stripped so that they don't grasp the threaded rod that connects them very well (this is what they look like without the door in between them -- they just kept coming off the connecting rod). Also, the bedroom door handle requires a good deal of yanking sometimes to get the latch to turn. We can't just leave it open, though, because the cat is absolutely not allowed in there.

We've been making do, primarily since I'm the kind of handyman who spends 20+ hours on a project to make over the front hallway but takes months (or years) to get around to more mundane tasks like changing lightbulbs. But everything came to a head last Saturday morning in a way that demanded immediate and decisive resolution:

We got stuck inside our bedroom.

At about 6am on Saturday, Sam got up to use the bathroom. The door knob would turn, but it didn't seem to have any impact on the latch moving (so therefore the door wouldn't open). After about 10 minutes of Sam turning it every which way, I was fully awake as well and it was clear that this door was not going to open. By some happy coincidence, Sam had brought his house keys into the bedroom the evening before (we don't know why, he never does this), so he proceeded to climb out the bedroom window and go around to the front of the apartment to let himself in the front door. I like to imagine someone observing that bizarre scene.

Of course, that just meant that Sam was on one side of the door, and I was on the other. The door would not move. Perhaps we could remove the door by its hinges? No, the door hinges in our apartment are super old too and aren't a style that can be removed when the door is closed. Perhaps Sam could slam on the door so hard that it would burst open? No, that just shook the wall really hard and threatened to wake our upstairs neighbors. Would we need to live this way, carrying out our lives on opposite sides of this divide? I wasn't being 100% lucid at 6:15am.

Eventually, I requested a flathead screwdriver, which Sam brought around to me through the open window. I was able to get the screwdriver through the soft wood of the door jam under the strike plate (the strike plate is the hardware on the door jam where the latch rests when the door is shut to keep it closed -- this thing) and push on the latch to try to get it to retract. I think Sam was also fiddling around with a screwdriver on his side of the door. Success! The door sprung open.

We unscrewed the faceplate from the door frame, and pulled this out (this photo taken after we removed the cover from this, which is called a mortise lockset apparently):

The rod connecting the knobs runs through that hole in the upper right corner. Then when you turn the knob, the rod rotates and should cause the latch (in the middle of the faceplate along the left edge) to retract. But the spring mechanism was broken, so turning the knob had no effect on the position of the latch.

Just for a little more clarity, a mortise lockset is constructed like so (keep in mind we knew none of this, including what kind of lockset we had, at the time):

So when you remove it, it leaves a big hole in the door:

More detritus:

At the hardware store, I was able to find a new lockset of the same size, plus new glass knobs (I think a lot of houses around here have these, so it makes sense for the hardware store to carry them). So we just screwed in the new lockset, attached the new knobs, and were good to go!

Except that for some reason the latch was located at a different part of the faceplate (higher up than the original, which was about in the center), which meant that it didn't align properly with the existing strike plate. So we had to chisel out part of the door jam using a mallet and flathead screwdriver to create a hole in the right place for the new strike plate. Here is the mister in action:

That's it, now our bedroom door both closes and opens, and we've learned a little something about door knobs!

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