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A simple guide on how to choose the type of glass door knob that best suits your door/lock type and how to tell the difference between genuine handles and modern inferior reproductions.

Many people find choosing antique door handles a minefield. The truth is, there are no hard and fast rules, but by following the advice in my guide you should find the process a whole lot easier and successful.

Can I have door knobs?

The first thing you need to look at is your backset - this is the measurement from the edge of your door to the centre of the bore hole, which houses the handle connecting rod. Check that this space is wide enough to allow you to grab and turn a knob without trapping your fingers, if it's too slim you may have to stick to lever handles. Bear this measurement in mind when choosing the width size of your knobs.

Which type of door lock do I have?

When choosing your antique door knobs, you must first take into consideration the type of lock you have. A mortice lock is housed within the door itself, rather than being mounted on its surface. A rimlock is a metal box fixed to one side of the door, that catches in a corresponding keep mounted on the door frame. A quick rule of thumb - exterior lock = rimlock, interior lock = mortice lock.

Why does this matter? Well, with a rimlock the knobs on either side of the door differ to accommodate the different locking mechanisms. In fact, only one rose is absolutely necessary with a rimlock. Therefore it's important to determine that the knob you want is designed for your type of lock. If the hardware you have chosen is for the wrong sort of lock, it may be possible to make it work anyway:

Mortise Lock

If you have mortise locks (mechanism hidden within door, usually modern) then you're not restricted at all and can choose almost any style of handle you like, but you’ll need to finish them off with back plates to prevent rubbing on the door. These can range from the simple round collar plates, to the more elaborate keyhole type.


Rim Lock

If you have rim locks (see photo below, mechanism is on the outside) you'll have to be a little more careful. You need to look closely at the shanks (the brass part that holds the glass knob), this consists of a lip that encases the handle, then a shank, then a short thinner part, we shall call it the butt, where you screw the connecting bar into. It is this butt that you need to take note of, the shorter the better. You can use any type of knob on rim locks, but the length of the butt will determine how far the handle projects from the door – the shorter it is, the better it tends to look in my opinion, but again it is all down to personal preference.
There are several styles of antique glass door handles, but the main ones are eight and 12 sided and round ones. Others I have come across are round bulls eye, smooth round, globe, oval and flower. Their stunning sparkle comes from the mercury mirror film which lines the inside of the knob, similar to the technique used on early mirrors. They are usually capped off with a brass seal which prevents the bar from damaging the film. Some degradation can occur over time, dependent on exposure to uv light, air, knocks etc. 


Most styles come in clear glass, but occasionally coloured ones are available, I’ve had soft pink, dark green and amethyst. The amethyst ones come about due to a very slow chemical reaction in the glass, caused by exposure to sunlight.  In the 1860s lead was substituted with manganese, to make the glass brighter and act as a stabilizer.  Over the next 100 years or so, it became apparent, that glass made this way turned a very light lavender colour, if exposed to the sun, and a wonderful deep amethyst colour in strong sunlight.  Circa 1915 the practice of using manganese in glass production was made illegal and most manufacturers instead used selenium as the clearing agent. Hence, if you are lucky enough to own one of these handles, then you can be sure of its age (1860-1915) and authenticity.




The magnesium filling also reacts differently to UV and heat exposure, so do not be surprised if you find that the centers of your handles do not exactly match, even on the same pair. These centers can also tell you if they are genuine antiques or modern copies. Modern reproductions do not seem to have any depth to their silver centers and do not sparkle with the light. Additionally the shanks are very simple, shiny and angular.


Final checklist for your reclaimed door hardware

There are a number of checks worth making to ensure the knob or handle functions as it should.

Check 1 - spindles:

Is the spindle size the right one for the lock?
•    Too small: The knob will rattle and there’s nothing you can do to fix it.  Or too short and it won't reach both sides of the door. Most spindles are standard, but some doors aren't!
•    Too big: It simply won’t fit. This can be fixed if you don’t mind a bit of extra work filing/cutting off some of the spindle, or opening out the square in the lock with a triangular file.

Check 2 - excessive wear:

•    Worn spindle: normally easy to replace (unless it is threaded, which will take more care to match, but is possible)
•    Worn or threaded sockets: are more difficult (and quite rare), but can be overcome with a tight grubscrew
•    Grub screws: Does it have them all and do they turn? Most old knobs are imperial threaded or, if mid Victorian or earlier, are likely to have individual threads peculiar to that particular manufacturer, so don't lose them! If you have to replace a grub screw it may be quicker and easier to drill it out and re-thread it to a modern metric thread.
•    General wear and tear: some surface wear and tear will make a reclaimed knob look as if it has been in place for years, so don't dismiss it just because it's not perfect
Finally, don't make the mistake of economising at the crucial finishing stage of your building or restoration project, as budgeting and cutting corners on items that are used and seen daily, can really let it down. Your door furniture should be your interiors crowning glory, buy the best you can afford, with the brightest centers, because once they are dull or damaged, they can not be restored. Also, don't be afraid to express yourself and mix and match, an eclectic mix of colours in a hallway can look stunning. I have a stained glass window in my back door and a different coloured/style handle on every door (on both sides!) in that hallway and they look fantastic, really picking out the rich colours in the stained panel. They feel wonderful to touch too, remember, glass is a liquid and a 100 year old liquid like that, just oozes charisma!

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