Lock FAQ

What do I do whilst waiting for the locksmith?

If you have a mobile phone, please don’t turn it off. Please ensure that it is not set on divert. And please don’t spend the whole time you’re waiting for the locksmith actually on your phone.

Can I remove the remains of a broken key with some superglue on a cocktail stick?

No. While there are many instances of rendering a lock quite useless in this way, there are no known instances of anyone actually succeeding. And if you do call us to help, please refrain from poking at the broken off part in the key while you are waiting. And please hang on to the other part of the key to show the locksmith.

My insurance asks for a five-lever mortice deadlock; what is that?

“Mortice” means that the lock is fitted within the fabric of the door — a mortice is a rectangular hole in a piece of wood — rather than screwed to the face or “rim” of the door. Deadlock means that the lock-bolt is not held in the keep by a spring; in other words it’s not “live”. A deadbolt is extended manually, usually by a key, and can only be retracted in the same way. Five lever refers to the tumblers that prevent the lock opening in the absence of the true key. A typical “Yale” rim latch lock has pin tumblers, which are not particularly secure, whereas a five lever lock has, well, five levers — a much more secure arrangements.

(In the USA, where people apparently dislike carrying the bigger key of a lever lock — perhaps pocket fabric technology isn’t so advanced — lever locks are rare and American locksmiths have an easier time of it both on doors and safes.)

My insurance asks for a rack bolt (or mortised bolt); what is that?

This will be on a door that is not a final exit door, where bolts operated from the inside can be the main defence. A rack bolt is also mortised (see above). It’s a reasonably substantial bolt resting inside the door itself rather than screwed to the face of the door, and extended by winding it up, using a key shaped like an asterisk that operates a rack gear at the end of the bolt.

There are a couple of advantages: it looks cleaner because all you see is the little hole the key goes into; and it’s stronger than an ordinary bolt.

There is also a disadvantage: the rack teeth are not infinitely strong. If the bolt begins to bind as the door swells and moves over the seasons, and if you need to exert progressively more force to operate the bolt, the rack will break. And then it’s the devil’s own job to get the door open again.

So if a rack bolt starts to get stiff to operate, get it seen to before it breaks.

Should I fit nice little brass bolts to a door, using tiny little screws?

No. Although brass is expensive, you must fit large bolts; and even more importantly, use decent sized screws. Many people don’t like the look of traditional steel and japanned bolts. But you are largely wasting your time if you completely abandon strength in favour of looks.

How do I enhance the security of my door?

Well, perhaps surprisingly, the unpickability of the locks is of secondary importance, despite what lunatic insurance policies emphasize. The most important thing is the physical strength of the door and frame.

Are there splits in the frame around the strikes or keeps where the bolts go, perhaps where a previous attack has occurred? These must be properly repaired by a carpenter who knows their stuff.

Are there splits in the door around the mortice (the hole the mortice lock sits in)?

Do the hinges have all their screws present and correctly sized?

Very few thieves pick locks, certainly not mortice deadlocks of even fairly minimal quality. (One-lever locks (yes they exist) or two-lever locks would not be of minimal acceptability on external doors.) Most break-ins are literally that — the door being kicked in.

Consider fitting (or getting us to fit) London bar, Birmingham bar and hinge bolts. These are not expensive and strengthen both the hinge side and the lock side of the door.

(If you have an outward opening door, there are slightly different set of criteria. Give us a call; we are happy to spend a few minutes discussing what you (or we) can do.)

(If you are in a flat or apartment and the front door is in a corridor, there are things you should consider. Give us a call; we are happy to spend a few minutes discussing what you (or we) can do.)

If your door has minor cracks around the mortice lock, consider a bolted-through strengthening plate. Again, they are not expensive. (Of course a solid, properly-fitted replacement door would be even better.)

What kind of door is best?

A solid door that is at least 45 mm thick is best. If you fit a mortice lock to a door that isn’t thick enough, you will be reducing security rather than strengthening it. And it’s no good fitting a nice strong door with poor hinges or in weak frame.

And if you are specifying a door, tell them not to put a fancy molding (architrave) right up the edge of the frame. The frame needs a flat area of at least 17 mm next the door; otherwise the fitting of a latch keep will spoil it and the fitting of a London bar will be impossible.

And if you suspect that your door fitter hasn’t actually fitted a door before, and if it is a budget door, make sure that it’s fitted with the lock block edge actually on the locks’ side and not the hinges’ side. (Some cheaper doors only have solid wood down one edge, or even only down part of one edge. This is the lock block and reasonably enough it’s where the locks are supposed to go. It might be the case that the corresponding area on the hinge edge is not solid wood.)

My door or door surround has glass / my door has panels; should I be concerned?

I’m afraid you should. If you want to keep the panels or panes, then you should consider the addition of a metal grill. They might not be as intrusive-looking as you think. Give us a call to discuss the possibilities.

How should I secure my sash windows?

Sash windows are a puzzle. First of all it’s a daft name; literally it pretty much means a window window. What is usually meant is a double hung sliding sash window. It’s also puzzling as to why they are so popular. They have almost no redeeming features. They are always draughty, horrible to maintain, and they are difficult to secure.

A simple catch is completely inadequate; you definitely need something more. The most secure is a bolt that goes right though both sashes, however, the problem is that as time goes by, the sashes and frames move and change size and within a year or two the bolt holes will no longer line up. This is especially true in a place like London where subsidence is commonplace.

Sash stops are pretty good; they prevent the window from opening more than a few centimetres unless they are removed using a key.

I’m having my doors painted. Are there any precautions I should take?

Tell your painter/decorator to use masking tape and not to paint over the faces of the deadlocks. Or, indeed, to not paint any parts of any locks or fittings.