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Selecting the lockset is as important as the new door

Dear Ms. Builder: We would like to install a new classy real stained wood front door. I would like an attractive, secure lockset to go with it, but there are so many to choose from. Which are best? - Mona A.

Dear Mona: The style and beauty of a high-quality brass lockset can make your new front door look spectacular. It is like the decorative icing on a gourmet almond torte. Make your lockset selection before taking delivery on the new door.

I can understand your confusion in trying to select among the literally hundreds of locksets available. Not only is the appearance important, but ease of operation, security and trouble-free life are also important decision criteria.

A brief "Locksets 101" lesson will help you with your selection. There are two basic designs of locksets - mortise and cylindrical. A mortise lockset fits in a deep narrow slot (mortise) in the edge of the door.

The size of the mortise varies depending on the lockset, but it can be as deep as four inches and five inches long. Cutting the slot is precision work that requires special tools. It is not a job for the typical do-it-yourselfer. The door retailer may be able to have it cut for you.

A cylindrical lockset is designed like its name - round. The locking mechanism is inside a cylinder. These are easy to install in about 30 minutes. Typical doors with a large round hole through them, that you see at most home center stores, are precut for cylindrical locksets.

Since you are purchasing a high-quality wood door and already spending a lot of money, I would recommend a solid brass mortise lockset. The difference in quality and functionality between it and a $10 cylindrical lockset is like night and day. It is not uncommon for one to last a lifetime.

Mortise locksets include both the standard door latch and a super-strong deadbolt all in one unit. Many designs connect the operation of the latch and the deadbolt for security and quick emergency exits in case of fire. Don't get curious and take it apart - it's full of springs, levers, etc.

Generally, you just need one key to operate both the latch and the deadbolt. On some designs, turning the key part way operates the latch. Additional turning operates the deadbolt. In others, you just turn the key in different directions to operate the latch or the deadbolt.

If you have pushed your budget to the limit on the door, there are some very nice quality, and attractive, cylindrical locksets available. Make your decision initally so that you can order your door with the holes for the cylindrical lockset already cut.

In my own front door, although made of insulated steel, I installed an attractive polished brass combination cylindrical latch/deadbolt lockset. This requires two sets of holes, but they are hidden under the large decorative faceplate.

To control your costs, you may want to do the entire cylindrical lockset installation yourself. There are a few points to keep in mind. Choose a lockset with a 2-3/8-inch backset, especially if your new front door has windows and narrow stiles. The lockset package will clearly indicate this.

Most packages include a template for locating the big hole for the mechanism. Keep in mind that the edges of doors are beveled slightly so they close without hitting the frame. Take this into account when measuring.

You may want to replace all your locksets at the same time so that one key will fit them all. Keep in mind, low-cost builder-quality locksets will wear over time. When the lock tumblers are just slightly worn, an experienced thief can pick the lock in seconds.

Tools and materials needed: cordless drill, 2-1/8-inch hole saw, 7/8-inch boring bit, 7/64 drill bit, wood chisel, utility knife, pencil, straight edge/measure, hammer, screwdriver, lockset, tape.

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.