Tuesday, June 26, 2018


No "limp fish" handshake here.
(Image courtesy of Old House Journal)
An old teacher of mine always insisted that a firm handshake was critical to making a good impression. “Don’t give ‘em the old limp fish,” he’d warn us. It’s not much of a stretch to say that your home’s locksets (what most people call doorknobs) should show the same fortitude. After all, locksets are the part of your house that everybody shakes hands with.

That’s why even the most frugal developers will usually spring for a top-quality lockset at the front door. They know that it’s the first thing a buyer will touch, and that a favorable first impression here will carry over to the rest of the house.

Given all this, it’s worth choosing your locksets carefully, and not just grabbing an armful of cheapies at the local discount emporium. If your budget can’t handle top-flight locksets throughout the house, then the front entrance lockset is the place to splurge.

Lever handle lock in satin nickel finish.
But can you tell me the finish code?
When choosing a lockset, look for a good solid feel. The motion of the latch mechanism should be smooth and firm, not gritty or tinny. The knob itself should have minimal wobble and should feel heavy, not flimsy and hollow. In general, avoid locksets labeled “builder’s special” or the like; they’re the low-line models. And don’t fall for beefy American-sounding brand names without checking the fine print first: many junky imported brands will try to flim-flam you with a name right out of the Rust Belt.

Here’s a quick rundown of common lockset types:

Standard hardware finish codes, courtesy of Schlage.
•  Entrance locksets usually feature some kind of fixed handle with a thumb latch, and often incorporate a deadbolt as well. Stick to a style that suits your home’s architecture—the model name often gives a good clue—and buy the very best brand you can afford. The front door is no place to cut corners. Besides, with all the wear and tear locksets have to endure, a quality brand is worth the extra investment..

Your basic privacy lock, shown au naturel.
This one is in Finish 612, Satin Bronze.
•  The most common type of in type of interior lockset is the passage lock, which in fact can’t be locked at all. The privacy lock, on the other hand, has a push button, turn button, or lever that allows the door to be locked from one side. A dummy lock is a non-operational doorknob and escutcheon (trim plate) that’s solidly fixed to the door. It’s sometimes used in closets, where a protruding inside doorknob might interfere with stored items.

•  Lever-handle locksets, favored throughout Europe for centuries, found their first widespread use here in disabled-accessible buildings. However, their good looks and practicality—you can still operate them with your hands full—have made them a popular alternative to knob-type locksets. A full range of designs, locking functions, and finishes are available.

A substantial front entrance makes an impression
that carries over throughout the house.
•  Locksets come in a huge range of finishes, but only the most common—bright chrome, satin chrome, polished brass, satin brass, and satin bronze—are readily available at hardware stores. Blackened finishes (commonly known as antiqued) are coated with black paint and then polished, leaving highlights that emphasize their form.

Additional finishes, such as hammered iron, bright bronze, and oil-rubbed bronze, are available at a higher cost. Perishable finishes such as brass and bronze are usually lacquered, which temporarily preserves their just-polished look. Unfortunately, the lacquer eventually wears off in spots, allowing the finish to oxidize in an unattractive mottle fashion. Personally, I prefer to forego lacquering and allow the bare metal to form a permanent oxide coating, which will acquire natural highlights over the years.

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