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Mortise Lock Straight Talk!

With Xavier Blaine

 

Oh, the front door…  It is the most evocative feature of every home, a thing of both beauty and security, a silent sentinel of architectural devotion.  Its intricate carvings or stark panels, the comfortably oversized knob and backplate, the swing of the hinges, even the species of wood, all were carefully considered to create that most engaging of thresholds.  In truth, what good would a home even be without a good front door?  And yet the most important feature of every door, its entire raison d’etre, is not even visible, for what good would a front door be without a good lock?

Designed as a complex of springs and levers, hubs and stops, the exterior mortise lock is one of the most intricate, perplexing and critical pieces of hardware an old home owner will ever come up against.  If any part of the lock fails, one can quickly find themselves in urgent need of its repair or replacement.  But the array of arrangements, the numbing amount of possible configurations of stops and springs and bolts and latch placements, is truly, utterly, both wondrous and stupefying.  If that’s not daunting enough, keep in mind that your front door, your uniquely beautiful symbol of domestic security, has been custom cut to fit just one of the seemingly infinite possibilities of exterior mortise locks and if you fail to get your old lock working or can’t find its exact replacement, you risk needing to rearrange or replace the knobs and doorplates.

But fret not curious reader.  The century old lock that has been your unacknowledged source of safety and sanctuary can be fixed, it can be replaced and it can be made to work again for another century or more.  In the interest of educating the public on the oft overlooked niche field of mortise lock preservation, we at Historic Houseparts thought we’d dig through our comically oversized canvas mailbag and publish mortise lock related correspondence for your troubleshooting pleasure.

Dear Xavier:  Help!  I was headed to the farmer’s market and brushed against the edge of my front door with a reusable grocery bag.  I realized I forgot my grocery list and turned to head back inside, but all of a sudden my outside doorknob won’t turn!  Did I break my lock somehow?   Cordially, Locked out in Lockport.

Dear Locked Out:  You did not!  Put your key in the cylinder, turn, and push.  Your door will open!  The bonus prize is that your lock is working exactly as it should, though it may not seem that way at the moment.  You’ve encountered a quirky, albeit frustratingly superfluous, feature found on a lot of older residential locks.  If you look at the faceplate of your lock, you’ll notice two buttons, or sometimes a sliding brass tab.  These are classified as “stops” in the terminology of locksmiths and are essentially a toggle switch.  Depressing one of the buttons moves a bar that blocks the movement of the exterior knob or thumb latch.  Depressing the other button reverses the effect.  If you’ve disabled the exterior knob with this switch, either by accident or design, you will absolutely need the key in order to move back the latch bolt and regain entry to your home.  So, why does this feature exist?  Honestly, I’m not entirely sure.  One would imagine it’s an evolution in lock security to overcome some shortcoming in design, or to thwart the throngs of Victorian era street urchin lock picks.  But it also might have a more mundane explanation.  Those stop mechanisms allowed lock manufacturers to sell a single lock that could have multiple applications with the simple push of a button.  If one button is pushed, you have a quality lock for residential buildings.  Push the other button, and you have a quality lock for commercial or apartment buildings where limited access is more desirable.  On a related note…

Dear Xavier:  We recently acquired a historic farmhouse in Port Gibson that was built in 1895 by… the previous owners had remodeled in the 1980’s… as I am an amateur carpenter and handyman… after rebuilding the entryway… after reassembling the lock… now the inside doorknob spins without seeming to activate the latch and the outside knob won’t turn at all… thank you in advance for your assistance…   -Perplexed in Port Gibson.

Dear Perplexed:  Thank you for the three pages of colorful and insightful documentation (complete with photographs!) on your restoration efforts.  You’re walking a noble, if sometimes convoluted, path.  But I believe the solution to your problem is rather simple.  The spindle your doorknobs mount onto is not aligned correctly in the lock.  You will notice (Ed. See above) that your lock has two little buttons protruding from the faceplate.  One of these buttons prevents the exterior knob from turning, but in order for this to occur the way it was designed to, the knob spindle, specifically termed a swivel spindle, must also be in two pieces and aligned in the center of the knob hub inside the lock, which is also in two pieces.  So here is your easy fix:  Push in whichever button is out to free up the exterior knob.  Remove the knobs and position the swivel spindle so the two halves are centered exactly in the middle of the mortise lock (on most spindles you will find a stop that puts you in the correct spot).  Finally, reattach your doorknobs without moving the spindle out of place.  You’re welcome in advance.

Dear Xavier:  We are having a lakeside cottage built as a summer get away, and I found a beautiful antique lockset online that I just have to use for the front door.  My contractor says the “hand” of my door is wrong, whatever that means.  Can’t anything be done?  I simply must have my way!  -Pouting in Pittsford

Dear Pouting:  The answer is yes… or no… maybe.  It’s complicated.  First, you should respect the advice of your contractor and understand that he wants to do a good job for you.  His concerns about the lockset working correctly with the door you want him to install are valid.  The “hand” of your door refers to the way it swings into or away from your house.  The hand of a door is taken from the outside.  If the door opens into your home and swings to the left, it is called a regular bevel left hand door.   If the door swings in to the right, it is called a regular bevel right hand door.  For doors that open out and away from the house, the same rules apply, only they are called reverse bevel right or left hand doors.  Because your lock is like a passenger riding inside your door, it is also subject to these rules and can be said to have a hand.  The hand of a lock is determined by the bevel of the latch bolt.  The beveled side of the latch bolt needs to close into the strike plate mounted on the jamb in order for the lock to latch and shut properly.  Now, most interior door locks have a reversible latch bolt which means they can be used on any hand of door.  With exterior door locks, reversible latch bolts are not as common.  Have your contractor sit down with the lock and remove the screws that hold the case plate on.  It should be immediately apparent if the latch bolt is reversible or not.  If it is, he simply needs to remove it from the lock, flip it over, and reinstall it.  Problem solved.  And if it can’t be reversed after all, well, then you’ve just collected a great piece of architectural history!  Win, win!

Post all of your antique mortise lock comments, queries and conundrums to Xavier Blaine, Hardware Detective! c/o Historic Houseparts.  He will endeavor to elaborate on an explanation in a manner befitting a man who sets his watch by geologic time.

 
   
The "Switch" to LED: Options for Antique Lighting

by Electra Abernathy
 

Want to save on your energy bills but keep the historic look of your vintage light fixtures?  Decorative LED light bulbs may be just what you need.  You may think of energy-saving bulbs as ugly, but we now offer varieties that look quite similar to incandescent bulbs.

 

In recent years, several countries, including the United States, have created new standards regulating the manufacture of incandescent light bulbs.  These standards are intended to phase out the incandescent bulbs that exceed 40 watts, and to encourage the development of more energy-efficient lighting alternatives.  The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 required that light bulbs become increasingly more efficient in the next few years.  Under the law, incandescent bulbs that produce 310–2600 lumens of light are effectively phased out between 2012 and 2014. Bulbs outside this range (roughly, light bulbs currently less than 40 watts or more than 150 watts) are exempt from the ban. Also exempt are several classes of specialty lights, including appliance lamps, "rough service”  bulbs, 3-way, colored lamps, and plant lights. Now is the time to start exploring alternative lighting options, and LED bulbs may be the best choice for the environment and for preserving the look of your vintage light fixtures.  

 

In the late nineteenth century, people were used to the softer glow of gas lights and kerosene lamps, and early household electric light fixtures did not give off a harsh bright light.  LED light bulbs provide a soft, ambient light that is perfect for vintage chandeliers and wall sconces.  Compact fluorescent lights may be too harsh for historic light fixtures, but LED bulbs can provide a more authentic-looking glow for your vintage lights. 

 

LED bulbs are available in a variety of sizes and shapes for use anywhere in your home.  Flame-shaped bulbs, often used in chandeliers and sconces, are available with either candelabra or standard bases.  There are several options for ordinary household bulbs, as well.  Our Pharox LED bulbs come in dimmable and non-dimmable models and are available in bright white or a warmer tone.  When installed in many ceiling fixtures, they even look like regular incandescent bulbs from below!  We also carry round, standard-base vanity globes and smaller round, candelabra-base bulbs often used in vintage ceiling fixtures. 

 

Benefits of LED Light Bulbs

 

LED light bulbs are a great way to save energy, money, and reduce your carbon footprint.  LED accent bulbs give off the light equivalent of a 25 watt incandescent bulb, but use only between 1 and 4 watts, and the 6 watt Pharox 300 LED bulb produces as much light as a 60 watt incandescent!  LED bulbs also save you the hassle of having to periodically change burnt-out bulbs because they have a much longer lifetime than traditional incandescent bulbs.  The average lifetime of an LED bulb is about 30,000 to 35,000 hours (approximately 25 years), compared to an incandescent bulb’s 1,000 - 2,000 hours or a compact fluorescent bulb’s 10,000 hours.  And unlike CFLs, LED bulbs do not contain mercury and do not emit harmful UV radiation.

 
   
Amerock Cabinet Hardware: A Brief History - Celebrating 80 years
By Janet Biuso
 
Amerock Hardware began over 80 years ago in 1929.   The first company to focus on the aesthetic side of cabinet hardware, Amerock Hardware was instantly successful. In 1930, the official company name became The American Cabinet Hardware Company of Rockford.  They introduced the concept of matching cabinet decorative hardware. These attractive Amerock knobs, pulls and hinges are not only decorative, but they also are very functional and come in a variety of styles and finishes.

In the 1940’s, Amerock helped out in the war effort by manufacturing items needed by the military. As they continued to grow, in the 1950′sthey purchased 94 acres for a new factory in Rockford, IL and built a plant inCanada. Into the 70’s they introduced bath hardware and began using a mobile merchandising van. Into the 1980’s and 90’s, they grew and expanded their sales, having a period of record growth. Larger retail customers became their focus.

Today, they continue to grow and launch new hardware.  Amerocks focus has been and continues to be consumers that are interested in decorative hardware that inspires, as well as expresses personal style. It allows for people to coordinate the hardware throughout their home; from the kitchen, to the bathroom, with a variety of finishes and designs at an affordable price.

This is an especially challenging economy that leaves little extra income.  Home improvement projects can add up. With Amerock hardware, anyone can change the look of their kitchen or bathroom at reasonable cost and stay within a modest budget. The hardware is also reasonable to replace at Historic Houseparts.

We have a variety of replacement hinges, knobs or pulls to fit your needs. The Amerock Hardware available to customers, comes in a variety of hammered or smooth, copper, brass, black and silver. Visit our website to view our selection in kitchen antique hardware. You can order Amerock hardware from Historic Houseparts and have it shipped directly to your home.
 
   

Toilet Talk With Phil

“A little bit of history”

 

What can we say about the old commode? Is it an acquaintance, friend, or is it something more? Most of the time we take it for granted we stand before or sit upon it giving the handle a pull or push and walk away never really thinking about the marvelous piece of vitreous china we just soiled. There are those times of course where the toilet was our best friend, you know those times when you were glad you just cleaned it as you stared into the not so placid pool in the bottom of the abyss and found comfort in the coolness of the glassy smooth porcelain god. Sorry! I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories. In any case the toilet has served you and I well, it has always been there to attend to us as the need arose. Such has not always been the case prior to the advent of the modern toilet we have come to love and respect there was all manner of contraptions from the bedpan to outhouse from chamber pot to water closet and in biblical times it was an implement and a hole in the ground to name a few. Fortunately for us as man came out of the middle ages science and the realization that cleanliness leads to better health it spurred the need for better hygiene and the toilet became an integral part of that growth. The toilet however is not a modern invention in fact the forerunners of the toilet go back to the times of the Greeks, Romans and even the Chinese had a version of it hundreds of years ago. For the sake of our sermon today we will focus briefly on perhaps the last 150 years of the toilet. As for the past let’s leave that to the annals of history.

 First we must point out that John Crapper was not the inventor of the modern toilet (despite his name being synonymous with the contraption). He was just one of many who contributed to its development. His influences were remarkable in that it was his invention and patenting of the pull chain flush system, the air tight seal at the floor connection and several venting systems which solved the major hurdles of noxious fumes of sewer gas and water leakage. It was during these 18th -19th centuries that the hard work of men like John Crapper made the toilet what it has become today. During his time there were basically 2 types of toilets being produced the wash down toilet and the wash out toilet. The washout variety generally had an under floor p-trap so there was no pool of water no built in p-trap in the bowl so it was difficult to keep clean and still allowed some sewer gasses to enter the home, imagine the smell. By 1890 these had mostly become obsolete with few exceptions. The “wash down” variety of toilet means they have a built in p-trap (which developed into more of an S-shape as we see in toilets today) and a pool of standing water in the bowl which locks out the release of sewer smells that were so common and because of this pool are much easier to keep clean.

If you own an old home with these original fixtures you know the toilets of the time were big, in fact you could call them water hogs by today’s standards many of them flushing anywhere from 5 to 7 gallons of water! Keep in mind that water saving wasn’t a consideration during those times. Most of these tanks were either connected to the bowl by an elbow into the back of the bowl by a straight or offset pipe into the top of the bowl. Occasionally you will see a high tank toilet where the tank is approximately 5-6 feet off the floor, an interesting look, even with a smaller pipe and a bit less water it still created a really good flush. These elevated tanks create a significant push of water that would fill the bowl and force the water in it up and over the top of the built in p-trap. Basically as the water fills the bowls and flows over the top it drops downward thru the pipe into the floor thus creating a siphoning effect pulling the remaining liquids and solids up and over. There is also a slight narrowing of that downward pipe which enhances the effect so with five gallons of water it could flush just about anything including small pets “Just kidding”.  What you have left then is a nice clean bowl ready to take on the next challenge.

I wish we had more time for toilet talk today but the bathroom is calling. Please tune in again when we will discuss” why keep the old toilet and repair versus replacement”. So the next time you enter your bathroom why not stand or sit in a moment of silence thanking those intrepid travelers into the swirling abyss for necessity was laid upon them to help solve mankind’s health crises. For by their designs and imaginations and hard work that not only beautified the bathroom but has saved millions of lives by raising the standards of cleanliness to a level never before experienced.

 So is the toilet something more? I would say yes with relief and a resounding flush…

 
   
Earthenware, Porcelain, Ceramic and Vitreous China: What’s the difference and how do I care for them?
By Mariah Piasta
 

All of these types of material are similar, but they do have some qualities that make them different from each other.  Ceramic is a broad term that encompasses most materials that are made of clay and minerals and then heated to a high temperature to harden.  Earthenware, porcelain, and vitreous china are all types of ceramic.

Earthenware is one of the oldest materials used in pottery.  It is not quite as strong or tough as the other forms of ceramic.  Earthenware is a porous material that is typically made up of clay, quartz, feldspar and some other minerals.  Since the material is porous it must be glazed if it is to be watertight.  The earthenware sinks were among the earliest and most expensive sinks of the time.  If you find one now they will have crazing, or crackling in the glaze, all over the piece.  Earthenware sinks were in production until, approximately, 1915 in the United States.

Porcelain is also a ceramic material, but it is made from exclusively white clay and other minerals.  Porcelain is fired at a very high temperature, between 1200 C and 1400 C, and during that process glass and the mineral mullite is formed.  This gives porcelain its extremely strong, yet brittle nature, as well as its translucency.  The surface is also non-porous even before glazing, but is usually glazed for the clean, gloss finish.  Typically accessories and trim are made of porcelain, such as faucet handles, soap dishes, and flush levers.

Vitreous china is another type of ceramic material.   It is made up of finer grade white clay and minerals.  It is also fired to high temperatures during which some of the minerals vitrify or become glass.  Vitreous china is a very common material used in the current manufacturing of sanitary ware.  When looking at porcelain and vitreous china it is hard to find differences since they both are fired at very high temperatures which turn the minerals to glass.  The main one is when the term is used.  Sanitary ware or bathroom fixtures are made from vitreous china, whereas accessories and fine china is made of porcelain. 

Caring for any ceramic fixture is relatively the same.  The gloss finish of the glazing process makes the fixture very durable and will last a long time if cared for correctly.  The biggest mistake made by most people is that they use abrasive cleaners.  That will damage the surface of your vitreous china, porcelain or earthenware sink over time.  The best thing to do is to clean the surface with a mild soap or cleanser frequently to keep the shine.  If you have an earthenware sink that is chipped, which is often the case, you will want to seal any chip that exposes the earthenware beneath the glaze.  Since earthenware is porous exposing it to water could severely damage the sink.  There are glaze touch-up kits, such as Porc-a-Fix that will help seal a small chip.  Whether you have a 100 year old earthenware sink or a brand new vitreous china sink if you clean it properly it can last a very long time.

 
   
Pretty Little Things  By Mike Degus  
The Porcelier Manufacturing Company first opened their doors at a site in East Liverpool, Ohio in 1927.  They didn’t last long at that location, however, and moved their operations to South Greensburg, Pennsylvania in 1930.  The increased use of plastic as a cheap manufacturing material would eventually replace the more costly porcelain in the house wares market and Porcelier was forced to close their doors in 1954 when their factory was purchased by Pittsburgh Plate.  During their 27 years in business, Porcelier made a wide range of porcelain household goods, everything from electric waffle irons to light fixtures to tea cups, and their products are highly collectible today.  We see a lot of Porcelier wall sconces and flush mounted ceiling fixtures come and go at the store.  The patterns cast into the porcelain embody a quaint, almost old world country aesthetic.  Spring time flowers and hand woven baskets are common design motifs.  They’re always a delight to refurbish and see go to good homes.  Next time you’re in the store, peek around the back corner on the second floor and check out our current inventory of Porcelier light fixtures.  You just might find one of these pretty little things to be the perfect finishing touch for your home.  
   
   
   

 

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