Since we’re going to be hosting some out of town guests this weekend for the Bionic Woman Variety Show, Lori’s been hard at work cleaning the guest bathroom. Calling it the guest bathroom is a bit of a misnomer. It’s mostly seen duty as the Knowlesville Recycling Transfer Station, where we keep our plastic, metal and glass until we take it to the dump.
This room, like just about every other room in our house, has a door that does not latch. We don’t throw deadbolts for security, we throw them so our doors don’t blow open in the wind. This is part of what you deal with when you decide to live in a house that is 120 years old. We’re used to it, but I got to thinking it might be a bit too rustic for our guests so I thought I’d investigate this lock and see what the problem was.
One of the great things I look back fondly about my dad was that he was a great Mr. Fixit. I remember him doing all kinds of repairs around the house, and more often than not dad was able to get things operating again without having to call the repairman. Probably because like most men his age, growing up during the depression stressed the importance of repairing rather than replacing.
I like to think that not only did I inherit his desire to fix things, but maybe also the toys I played with at an early age like Legos and my Erector Set taught me how to problem solve mechanical devices. So before any broken device gets tossed in the dumper, I feel it’s my responsibility to do a thorough post mortem to see if the patient can be revived. Sometimes it’s just an artery that clogged, like Lori’s sewing machine the other day that was filled with so much lint parts were refusing to move. Other times I need to resort to transplant surgery, ordering new parts and installing them. Then there are times where the parts have gone missing, and I have to create artificial replacement parts. This ended up being the case with the bathroom door lock.
I like the way old things are put together. Back in the good old days they used screws. This allows you to disassemble them without breaking them, and to be able to put them back together again. Nothing stops Mr. Fixit quicker than modern cases that have either been snapped together with one way snaps, or worse with glue. So very quickly I got the lock apart and looked inside. Ah, here we go, there’s a broken spring. I just need to replace that and we’ll be done.
Thing was, I couldn’t figure out where the broken end would have been attached. So I figured out there on the Internet surely I could find the answer. First I had to figure out what this type of lock was called as it was escaping me. So I went to one of my favorite old house hardware sites Crown City, and looked at their lock section. Rim lock was what I was looking for. So I did various searches for repairing rim locks but came up empty.
I figured springs were cheap so I went down to Nielsen’s and bought a couple of springs that were close to what I found in the lock. I then tried to make these springs work but something just didn’t seem right because there wasn’t anything to attach the spring to on one side, and the other side provided a dubious connection at best. I kludged it the best I could and assembled everything and tried it out. It worked! The first time. Then I could tell that something came loose inside.
So I tried it again, this time with a bit of oil, and it worked a bit better, but after about three turns it stopped working again. So I opened it up once again and just stared at it.
That’s when I realized that the broken spring had been a red herring all along. It wasn’t supposed to be coil spring that made the bolt extend, it was supposed to have a leaf spring, just like the spring on the bottom for the dead bolt. I doubted that I could just go back to Nielsen’s and find the appropriate leaf spring so I hunted around to find something that was straight and strong but springy. Thankfully we had a pile of coat hangers waiting to be thrown away and the brass wire proved to be just the right ticket.
Cut to the right length it fit perfectly, and the lock is back in order. So a small scrap of wire coat hanger saved me from having to replace the lock, which of course Crown City would have been happy to sell me a new one at $70. So thanks dad, you taught me well.
P.S. 9 years later, we finally got around to finishing the bathroom, and once again I noticed that the lock wasn’t working. I opened it up and found the coat hanger piece had broke. So thinking that the original piece would have been spring steel, I started searching for a source. Our local hardware store didn’t have it, well, for sale anyways. But they did have packing straps made out of it so a little snip of it trimmed down to just the right size did the job. Hopefully this repair will last longer.