7 secrets to preserving your old door hardware

John Morell

Beautiful antique doorknobs, locks, strikes and hinges can give an old house a special flair, but the bottom line is that they have to work. Especially with exterior doors, it's critical that the lock and hardware be in excellent working condition.

The doors in your home may look fine, but do they do their job without complaint? Like the Victorians said about children, good door hardware should be seen and not heard. If the doors don't seem to be lining up well within their jambs, if the locks are alternately too loose or too tight, or the hinges are starting to strip off the frame, you may have thought about abandoning your classics for new door hardware. Here are seven tips for making the most of your antique door hardware.

1. Clean: Carefully remove the hardware at least once a year for a good cleaning. Start with a gentle detergent and sponge. If you think the piece is brass, hold a magnet up to it. If the magnet doesn't stick, the piece is solid brass and you can use a brass polish; otherwise, it's probably brass-plated metal. Try the simplest solution from Consumer Reports and use a little lemon juice on any spots or tarnishing. Clean old brass screws by leaving them overnight in lemon juice and buffing them dry before putting them back in.

If removing the hardware isn't possible, make sure the door's paint or finish is adequately sealed off with masking tape to protect it from whatever cleaner you're using.

2. Lubricate: When you have removed the hardware for cleaning, this is a good chance for lubrication. Use penetrating oil or graphite on the locks and hinges. Don't overspray, which can lead to a buildup in residue.

3. Switch: Use the airplane graveyard trick when the hardware is unique to the house or it's too expensive to replace. Let's say the ivory door handle and mechanism to the master bedroom are worn out and the door barely closes. Trade it with hardware from a door in the house that's had less use over the past 100 years.

4. Search: When you're faced with a missing piece such as a keyhole cover or door rosette, start checking with hardware dealers. Odds are someone, somewhere, has a brass door knocker in the shape of lion's paw like the one that broke when you moved in.

5. Imitate: When a lock, hinge or doorknob is just too old to fix, you can turn to hardware dealers that specialize in antique-look reproduction products. The piece may not be original, but at least the door will close. Some purists may consider you a sell-out, but if your existing hardware has some value, you could trade it in for reproductions that give you an old fashioned look with modern performance.

6. Match: When shopping for replacement hardware at a retailer, if you can't take a sample with you, take a good picture that captures in particular the hardware finish and the finish or paint shade of the wood. This can help you and the dealer pick out the replacement that best suits the house.

7. Stick to tradition: When working on old hardware, many pros choose to use a traditional screw driver rather than a power driver, to protect the threads; this is probably a good move for most homeowners as well.

These tips should help you keep your old doors and classic hardware as functional as they are beautiful.

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