Need help with old skeleton key lock

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Old 07-13-09, 06:49 PM
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Need help with old skeleton key lock

My front door has an old skeleton key door knob/lock. Today, the lock just quit working and the door will not open. I removed the door knob and face plates to see if I could manipulate something inside to get the latch to open. I found that these locks are not like the new knobs that you can easily open by removing the door knob. Since the door will not open, I cannot get to the edge to remove the latch. What can I do to get my door open?
 
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Old 07-14-09, 07:27 PM
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I assume what won't unlock is the latch (operated by the knob) rather than the deadbolt (operated by the key).
These old locks usually don't have a "deadlatch" mechanism, so it's usually pretty easy to take a small screwdriver or knife and push the latch in, between the door edge and the frame.
Has the lock gradually gotten harder to operate over a period of time, or did it suddenly break? Your door could be sagging, causing the latch and/or bolt to bind. Try to lift up on the door while operating the lock.
 
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Old 06-28-13, 08:19 AM
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Need help with old skeleton key lock

I have the same issue although it is the deadbolt operated by the key. I have not tried prying up the door and trying to unlock but will. If this doesn't work, do I have other options?
 
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Old 06-29-13, 06:00 PM
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Same question: has the lock been getting more difficult to operate over time, or has it suddenly gone from consistent operation to fail? If the former, wear & door sag (or shifting) likely to blame, the latter, a broken part maybe.

Start with trying to get some WD40 (or your choice of penetrating aerosol lubricant) using the spray tube to direct the spray into the locks' keyhole & UP into the lock case as best you can; the moving parts are ABOVE the keyhole...simply spraying INTO the keyhole will just make a mess on the other side. A little on the bolt also, if you can get to it between the door & frame.

You've already tried lifting/ pulling/pushing the door while holding turning pressure on the key. If you suspect the lock is very worn/ worn out, "lift" the key when it meets resistance when turned...a baby Vice Grip will help hold the key here.
Also, while keeping pressure on the key, see if you can "help" by using an ice pick or similar between the door edge and frame to push the bolt back.

Then there's always the hinge pins, but that would be a last ditch effort, depending on door/frame integrity.
 
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Old 07-07-13, 02:39 PM
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Most old fashioned mortise lock in the USA will be either 2 lever or 3 lever bit type keys. Most are easily opened with a bent coat hanger. File WD40 in the round cabinet labeled "trash"....it is not designed to lubricate.....it is specifically designed to dry out wet metal.

Removing the inside knob/lever and plate will generally allow you to drill a hole about an inch above the keyhole, which will show you the workings of the lock. You should easily be able to manipulate the bolt back then.
 
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Old 08-02-13, 06:26 PM
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Actually, most Bit key (what the layman calls a "skeketon" key) Consumer-grade (middle & lower class) US residential locks of 75-100 years ago were of a crude cast metal case with a single stamped steel lever that had such a wide "gate" (or no gate at all, just a "stump") that practically any standard-sized bit key would work....you can still find the occasional country hardware store that sells these keys. The 2 & 3 lever locks were found mostly on high-end residential & commercial properties.

Once the mass-produced pin-tumbler locks became available at a reasonable price homeowners would supplement their crude insecure & worn-out bit-key locks with what would be the least expensive pin-tumbler lock called the "Night Latch", a rim-mounted spring-latch with hold-open for day operation.

You can still see this set-up occasionally in old poorer neighborhoods.
 
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Old 08-04-13, 11:25 AM
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The interesting thing about "Night Latches" is that they are universally mounted to the surface of the door, are easily installed, easy to use and still a very common product found outside the USA.

There are deadlatching versions that ft in the same locations, on the rim (surface) of the door and prevent someone from slipping the latch to gain entry. The Yale No. 1 was the first product of that kind and it sold for a great many years until the market in the USA became saturated with much cheaper and subferior quality tubular deadbolts and knob entrance sets.

Abroad, there are products like the Lockwood 001 deadlatch, Whitco, Yale, Abloy, Cisa, Iseo etc. They all still make fairly good quality and secure (albeit expensive) rim mounted deadlatch products.

We still see demand today for the Jimmy Proof rim mounted deadbolt locks and even though these may look nastier than other more aesthetically appealing locksets, they are extremely inexpensive and substantially more secure than many other products out there. (especially for double/french doors).
 
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Old 08-04-13, 06:43 PM
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Indeed, I did not mean to imply that the cheap Night Latch typically used to supplement the old bit key locks was a terribly secure alternative, but in those days in suburban and rural America most people didn't even lock their doors at night anyway.

As Global pointed out, internationally, there has always been and still remain a huge variety of rim or surface-mounted locks, some use multiple boltwork and resemble jail locks, others slim, trim and still quite secure.

However, the "key" (no pun intended) to a secure rim lock installation is using the correct fasteners/screws. To a much greater degree than with the typical tubular or cylindrical lock, which is thru-bolted and "sandwiched" to the door, the rim locks' integrity is mostly dependent on it's fasteners. In many cases this means substituting the fasteners that come with the lock for steel sex bolts, or on wood doors, using deep-threaded wood screws that penetrate almost the full thickness of the door. (Longer strike plate screws would be a given).

On an inswing door (as in most residences) a properly-installed rim lock will give almost twice as much kick-in resistance in a wood door than a modern tubular lock, whose bolt is drilled into the door's edge, weakening it at this point, and allowing it to split out easier.

Sorry, we're drifting off the subject.
 
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Old 08-12-13, 09:39 AM
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@rstripe

2 lever bit key mortise locks are usually the standard key ranged locks. Keys are precut and available off the shelf. usually there are about 6-10 different combinations, depending on the brand.

Union used to make about 7 different series mortise locks with about 15 locks in each series. Lane hardware made different varieties of the 2 lever L1000 standard mortise locks. The old series had 5 different keys. You could create a master (skeleton) key because the keys were differentiated by the side wards and having a wide ward, meant passing multiple different keys.

Corbin in the USA had about 15 different keys for their 2 lever series of mortise locks. their 3 lever had 48 keys in the range.

Yes it is possible to masterkey a 3 lever mortise lock, but more difficult to do so with a 2 lever.

Rim locks are way more secure than any mortise lock could ever be. they do not worry about the cavity or pocket needed for a typical mortise lock that effectively weakens the property of the door (on a typical cylindrical lockset installation).

Steel doors exist for this reason, especially for external commercial doors.
many residential entry doors are steel clad with fire protection fill inside. The steel is quite thin and really doesnt make the doors more secure.
 
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Old 08-12-13, 09:52 AM
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Although the two single post members have not returned, I thought I would share a picture of the inter workings of a Yale lock (believe manufactured in Canada). My home (interior doors only) only has these types of door knob/locks.
I have two different "Master" keys which works in most of the locks.

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Old 08-13-13, 07:28 PM
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Thanks for providing a picture of what I was describing as the typical middle-class bit-key mortise lock of 75-100 years ago in the US...you can clearly see the single lever with no gate, but rather a bolt stump, which only requires the lever to be raised a minimum amount by the key to allow the key to retract/throw the bolt; a "different" key that raises the lever higher than necessary will still operate the bolt. Almost any store-bought bit key would work these locks.

In contrast, I think the typical European residential lock of this era did indeed use multiple gated levers, the reasons for which would make for an interesting debate.
 
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Old 08-14-13, 04:05 AM
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rstripe,
This is an interior door lock (~75-80yrs old), so high security wasn't a factor. I'm not sure if this type of lock would have been used on exterior doors. All our exterior doors are modern doors, with better insulation values and higher security (not that I remember to lock the doors all the time anyway).
Interesting enough (and slightly off topic), this house has these locks/door knobs on all interior doors. It was originally constructed and used as a nun convent from 1937 through to ~1990.
 
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Old 08-15-13, 07:02 PM
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N-Mike, you are correct, most likely this property would have been equipped with a pin-tumbler handleset mortise lock on the main entry door, and perhaps pin-tumbler knob lock of cylindrical or mortise type on the other exterior doors.
 
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