Proper fit is key to replacing door lock set

: I am replacing my door with a wood one. The old lock set is discolored and the key works hard, so I want to install a better one. What are the best-looking lock sets that are durable and secure? — Janet M.

A: A tarnished lock set on an otherwise attractive front door can certainly detract from the overall appearance of the door. People are often surprised at the different looks various high-quality lock sets can give to a door. This is particularly true with a stained wood or fiberglass door.

Bright brass usually looks great in contrast with the natural wood grain. It is important to select your new door and lock set at the same time. Hold various lock set styles and finishes against the new door to get a rough idea of how one will look when it is installed. Also, if you are having the door slotted or bored by the retailer, the dimensions of the lock set you selected will be needed.

There are two basic designs of lock sets from which to choose: mortise and cylindrical. If you are not on a tight budget, a mortise design is far superior and will probably outlast the door itself. A model with solid brass construction is highest quality and most durable. With a mortise lock set, a long slot is cut into the edge of the door and the lock set slides in it. This makes it very secure and an integral part of the door unit.

Unless you are an experienced woodworker, leave the slotting job to a professional. Its fit is critical for smooth operation and for security. A mortise lock set combines the latch and the deadbolt in one composite mechanism. Often the same key operates the deadbolt and the latch. On some designs, you turn the key one way for the latch and the other way for the deadbolt. On others, you turn the key different amounts to actuate the latch or the deadbolt.

A much more reasonably priced option is a cylindrical lock set, which you can easily install yourself. You can purchase the latch and deadbolt separately and install each in its own bore. Another, more attractive option, is a complete lock set unit with the latch and deadbolt attached to the same long decorative faceplate. A polished brass finish is most common. Most of the lock sets you see at your home center stores look similar, but you will notice a great difference in prices. A better-quality unit will have a longer-lasting finish and the lock will operate better in all weather and temperature conditions. The tumblers inside of the locks also range in quality. The more expensive models are also harder for a thief to pick or break apart.

If you plan to bore the holes for the latch and deadbolt yourself, your best bet is to rent a jig made just for this job. It will properly set the relative positions of all the holes. To do it yourself without the jig, you will have to mark the positions and bore all the holes separately. All lock set kits include a hole-drilling template; make sure to follow it carefully.

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