Installing a Safe in a Wood Cabinet
By Jeff Gater, CML
Some time ago an executive secretary contacted me on behalf of her employer who wanted a small safe installed in a cabinet, but bolted into the concrete floor to prevent thieves from ripping out the safe and carrying it away.
I stopped by to measure the cabinet. My plan was to pull the furniture away from the wall and measure the distance from the floor to the bottom of the cabinet where the safe would sit. The hollow space between the cabinet bottom and the floor would have to be filled in so the anchor bolts would not stress or crush the cabinet when the safe was bolted down.
When I arrived to measure, the cabinet was 16 feet long and 7 feet tall, there was no way to pull it away from the wall. I opened the cabinet door and measured from the floor to the cabinet bottom. My original plan was to fill the hollow space with blocks of wood or large dowels. Now the plan was to make the anchor bolt pass through the dowel and into the steel anchor. This would require boring a large hole in the cabinet bottom so the dowel could be installed from the top.
I chose a 1 ½ inch dowel which would allow me to cut a 1 ¾ inch hole through the cabinet bottom. Any larger and the holes would show on the sides of the safe. A smaller hole would make the job very difficult. The hole had to be large enough to fit a vacuum hose for removing the concrete dust when drilling for the drop anchors.
The dowels were cut to size on a table saw. Boring the ½ inch hole through the center of the dowel started by clamping the dowel in a metal lathe and boring a pilot hole from either side, gradually making the holes larger until the ½ inch hole was bored perfectly through the center of the dowel.
The greatest challenge was making a straight hole through the cabinet, the empty space between the cabinet and the floor, the wood floor and the concrete floor without the drill going off track. To accomplish this I used a reducing bushing from my lock installation jig. The bushing reduces a half inch hole in the jig to a quarter inch hole used to guide a quarter inch pilot drill through metal doors. I tried a 5/16 inch reducing bushing with a wood cutting speed-bore drill, but the drill fit sloppy which allowed the hole to wander.
When the reducing bushing guided the carbide drill to a perfect transition from cabinet to floor, the same bushing was used to guide a 1 ¾ inch hole saw to open up the holes through the cabinet bottom. The 1 ¾ inch hole allowed room for a flash light to see all three holes for drilling, vacuuming and setting the steel anchors into the concrete floor. The dowels used for spacers were too long and cut to size using a vise and a hand saw in the back of the truck.
The anchor alignment was so perfect the anchor bolts threaded in perfectly and the safe was almost secure as being welded to a steel I-beam.
One of the most challenging jobs a professional locksmith will encounter is installing a full mortise lock. While talking with one of my mentor’s who fought in WWII, I was told the full mortise lock was a very common lock in the prewar era. The whole lock with solid brass handles could be purchased for about $36.00. And the lock was built to last, possibly forever if maintained correctly. I’m sure the labor to install these locks was a small fraction of what it cost today. However, a gallon of gas was less than 25 cents and a loaf of bread cost about a nickel. So all things need to be kept in perspective.
Mortise means the whole lock fits into a cavity cut into the door. The idea was to conceal the deadbolt and latch mechanisms while only showing off the beautiful decorative handle-set on the entry way of a home. Even today the front door is often the homes presentation (or first impression) to the neighborhood and sets the theme for what the decor might be inside.
Not all locksmiths are created equal. About 10 years ago I was called to a home to see if I could correct another locksmiths attempt at a mortise lock installation. When I arrived the handle-set was on an angle, as opposed to vertical and parallel to the door frame. I installed the lock so it would function as intended, but I could not cover some of the holes drilled through the door. Since the door was brand new and the door company provided the locksmith to install the mortise lock, the customer demanded a new door. The point is the locksmith was questioned by the customer, “have you ever installed this kind of lock before?” The locksmiths response was, “of course, I have installed many of these locks before.” Obviously the locksmith forgot the procedure or he might have been lying.
Any locksmith who has installed a mortise lock before should be referred by reputation, have photographic proof of his or her work, or be able to show the customer the specialized tools they have purchased to insure an accurate and competent job. In other words, don’t hire a locksmith on the fly to do such an intricate time consuming task.
The following is a small sampling of mortise locks I have installed on “virgin” doors, or doors with no existing holes. I have worked on many mahogany or special order doors where the installer only gets one chance to do a perfect job. Some doors were metal, these were especially time consuming. Metal residential doors must have a wood core to install the lock in. Commercial metal doors are usually prefabricated to accept a mortise lock. Only the cylinder and handle holes have to be drilled through. Another time consuming mortise lock installation are double-doors. These doors have an active door which gets the working hardware, and an inactive door which gets “dummy” hardware. The challenge of these doors is to get the dummy hardware level and symmetrical to the active hardware. These types of installations are especially stressful and time consuming. Everything must look balanced from the street to when a visitor is close enough to push the door bell button.
The next set of photos are of two mortise locks I recently installed this year. You may notice the door looks different from one photo to the next. That is simply because I forgot to photograph a procedure on the first door and was getting the images I needed from the second door.
The new wave of security is to go “key-less”. More landlord’s are calling me to install battery powered push button locks so the renter can be given a code instead of a key, or a customer wants to enter their home without having to carry a key. More deadbolt locks are being introduced to the market that can be unlocked or locked from a smart phone. Although these locks may offer convenience and accountability, the biggest obstacle to these “new wave” locks is reliability. In other words, can you be certain the lock will open or re-lock when you send the command to do so from your phone?
So far the only lock I have seen with any promise of reliability is the Arrow Revolution Deadbolt. There are other brands, but the problem with self-powered locks is the gears which actually throw or retract the deadbolt. Many times these gears are plastic and wear out quickly. The other factor to an automatic lock wearing out prematurely is the installation of the lock. Were the holes bored accurately, do the mounting screws tighten without binding the inner-workings of the lock, does the deadbolt line-up perfectly with the strike plate? Even a great lock will not work properly if not installed correctly.
Recently I was called to replace a Schlage “G” lock with a passage lever and a Schlage push button deadbolt. For residential use Schlage offers the simplest and most reliable push button lock. I like the Schlage lock because there is no motor or gears, just a solenoid which engages or dis-engages an outside thumb-turn for the end user to operate. If Schlage does offer the unlock application for a smart phone in the future, the app will only unlock the lock long enough for someone to grab the thumb-turn and retract the lock bolt. In my opinion this is a much better system because the lock cannot opened automatically. Someone must be present to retract the bolt and open the door.
The photos to follow will take you through the challenges of replacing locks on metal doors. Wood doors can be plugged with real wood and re-bored and repainted. Metal doors for the most part cannot be plugged. Although I have plugged a metal door in the past, I was only able to do so because the door had a wood core. For metal doors locksmiths use Wrap-a-Round plates to cover old holes. MAG was a huge manufacturer of Wrap-a-Round plates, but went out of business a few years ago. Now the only company I know of that makes wrap plates is Don-Jo Manufacturing. Enjoy the photos.
Concealed vertical rods are aesthetically pleasing because most of the hardware is hidden inside the door. The problem with repairing or replacing concealed vertical rods is solving the puzzle of how the hardware comes apart. Since most of the locking mechanism is “concealed,” inside the door many of the screws which hold the hardware together are not obvious to the untrained eye. And this of course is the whole purpose of concealed hardware, to make the architecture look clean and flawless, yet work smoothly and offer good security.
High traffic doors on schools and other places of assembly must have panic hardware on all exit doors, commonly referred to in the trade as a “means of egress.” The panic bar replaced in this blog was a Jackson concealed vertical rod exit device on a trade school. The original plan was to keep the doors locked at all times, even during school. The Life Safety Code demands the doors must be unlocked with one motion in a place of assembly. So the doors were installed with a lock which throws bolts into the top header and the threshold of the door frame. Even though they are double doors each door works independently of the other door.
The concealed rods offer another advantage in that hand trucks cannot run into them and damage the locking system. Students cannot hang on the rods or tie things to the exposed hardware. These reasons help the hardware last longer and keep repair cost down. If the school wanted the doors to remain unlocked there is a mechanism built into the device which locks the panic bars in the “pushed down,” position, thus saving wear and tear on the moving parts of the panic device.
When replacing concealed vertical rods, whether it is a three-point deadbolt or a panic device, the door will have to be removed 99% of the time to allow the lock enough room to slide into the door cavity.
This is rarely a Do-It-Yourself project, or a maintenance man job. Your best and most economical option is to call a locksmith experienced with these types of locking systems.
The next door is an Adams Rite concealed vertical rod deadbolt.
Professional locksmiths can be found in your area at: www.findalocksmith.com or www.clearstar.com
Every blog written on this website has been authored and copyrighted by Jeff Gater, CML and Gater’s Locksmith, Inc.
The most neglected piece of hardware on any door is the hinge. More specifically the hinge screws. There have been countless times when I had to repair a door that would not close properly before I could re-key the locks or install a deadbolt. Most of the time all I do is tighten the hinge screws and the door swings and latches like like the customer has never seen. Some hinge screws were never installed, but most of the time the screws are very loose from neglect. If you have a door that needs an extra shove to close or open try tightening the hinge screws before you replace the door or the locks.
Heavy wood or steel doors may rub the door frame even after the hinge screws are tightened. The weight of a swinging door can bend, or deform the top hinge causing the door to sag. Another culprit to deforming the hinge is the janitor who shoves his or her mop handle into the hinge side of the door to hold the door open. This will cause immediate problems with the door closing properly. A sagging door will rub on the door frame or the threshold. This rubbing will prevent the door from self-closing and latching if there is a door closer on the door. If there is no door closer a sagging door will create an inconvenience to employees or customers who have to pass through the door way. The door will be hard to open and most likely left ajar. All the buildings heat or air-conditioning will escape resulting in higher energy cost. Not to mention the liability if someone gets hurt on a door not functioning properly.
There is a tool for adjusting or bending the top hinge so the door will fit square in the frame again. The tool is called the “Hinge Doctor,” and is made be GKL Industries. There are three sizes, commercial, industrial and prison type hinges. The Hinge Doctor is not made in a size for residential homes. To use the Hinge Doctor the tool is slid over the top hinge while the door is closed. Open the door until you feel the resistance of the tool stopping the door. Now pull or push the door about 6 inches past the resistance point. Close the door and remove the tool from the hinge. Test the swing of the door, it should swing without getting stuck on the frame or threshold.
The Hinge Doctor is a temporary repair on heavy high traffic doors. These doors will eventually sag again from the weight of the doors constant pull on the top hinge. In these situations I use a piece of hardware called the Surface Mounted Pivot. After the door is re-aligned, the Pivot is installed on the door and frame to assist the hinge in supporting the weight of the door while the door is swinging. I have installed the Surface Mounted Pivot on schools, banks and any commercial door which gets high pedestrian traffic. Usually the Surface Mounted Pivot will solve the sagging door problem for many years. Sometimes the mounting screws can come loose and servicing is required, but this is rare.
Before you purchase a new door or locks to correct a door that is hard to open or close, check the hinges. You will be surprised how tightening a few screws can resolve many door closing issues.
A few years ago a Home Owners Association (HOA) I work for purchased a $6,000.00 pressure washer for cleaning their own side-walks and driveways. The pressure washer with it’s own water tank fit on a trailer and could easily be hitched to a car and towed to the job. The HOA was worried someone would hitch the trailer to a car and steal the unit as soon as no-one was looking. My job was to secure the garage where the pressure washer would be stored over night. I chose locks which had patent-protected keys so duplicate keys could not be made without someone’s knowledge. The locks were also pick resistant and drill resistant.
The challenge was securing the overhead door. In the past the only option for more security was to drill a hole through the roller track and insert a padlock through the hole blocking the door from lifting. Although this method is still effective, the padlock is often exposed to bolt cutters. I researched the locks available for overhead doors and discovered the Major “Garageblok.” The lock uses a hardened steel bolt, protective hardened sleeves and a protective padlock shield. The lock is made up of a, “tough armored 2 ¼ lb 3/16 inch steel housing, plated in zinc chromate.” The lock can be locked in the open or closed position. The Major “Garageblok” is handed for the right side or left side of the door. I locked both sides of the garage door for maximum security.
I reinforced the entry door with a wrap-a-round plate, steel strike box and Mul-T-Lock deadbolt. For convenience all three locks were opened with the same key.