How to Install Antique Doorknobs

I love antique doorknobs.  They’re fun to collect, easy to install, and (if you’re using them on your doors), the collection takes up no space and can be enjoyed every day. They come in all price ranges, from about $5 per knob to over $800 for some of the rarer ones.  And while they’re not seen in every antique shop, they’re easy to find if you know where to look (hello, Preservation Station!).  They’re a breeze to install, even on a modern door. And to prove it, I’m going to step you through the process.

This is an antique glass knob set as you will usually find it. Occasionally you will find knobs without the rod connecting them; this piece is easily replaced.

As you can see in the picture, glass knobs take the threaded type of rod that screws into the base of each knob. Each knob is held in place by a set screw, pictured here.

To remove a knob from the rod, loosen the set screw.  it’s unnecessary to remove it entirely on this type of knob — just loosen it until…..

….you are able to easily unscrew the knob.  Unscrew the knob from the rod. Occasionally, the rod can rust into the knob, in which case you can use pliers to get a better grip on the rod. When removing a knob, it’s best to turn it by the brass section to avoid damaging the knob.

Congratulations! You’ve removed the knob and are ready for installation.

This is another common type of rod, generally found on metal and porcelain doorknobs.

Most metal and porcelain knobs take an unthreaded rod like this one.

To remove a knob from this type of rod, you will need to remove the set screw completely.

Once the set screw is removed, the knob will slide off the end of the rod.

Put your knob through one plate, in preparation for passing it through your door.

To adjust this rod for different doors, the rod has several holes on each end. Depending on your door thickness, you may need to adjust which hole the set screw goes into.

Most antique doors take a mortise lock (pictured) that slides into an opening in the edge of the door. Once a mortise lock is installed, only the edge is visible.

For modern doors, you can use this special mortise latch. It’s the same size as a regular latch, but has a square hole in it so that you can use it with antique knobs. (I’m about to buy several of these so I can take my antique knobs to our new apartment. I just can’t take modern doorknobs. Yes, I know I have issues.)

This is what the door will look like with the mortise lock in place, before you add the plates and knobs. Most interior doors have a standard distance between the knob and the keyhole (on exterior doors, they are often spaced farther apart).

To install the knob set, take the rod, with the single knob and plate, and pass it from one side of the door to the other (the knob and plate are on the other side of the door).

Add a plate. You will screw the plate in after the knob is installed.

Take your knob and screw it onto the rod until it rests in the furl of the plate (or, if you’re using the other type of doorknob, slide it on). Once your knob is adjusted satisfactorily, tighten the set screw.

You have successfully installed your antique doorknobs! To finish, fasten each plate to the door with small screws.

See, wasn’t that easy? So today, the Daring Domestic challenges you to go find a cool antique doorknob set and install it in your home.

About Charity

I have an inexcusable number of cookbooks (and like to experiment with them), have worked in architectural antiques, and have been sewing most of my life. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Textiles & Apparel and Fashion Merchandising from Lipscomb University, and I am currently pursuing my M.S. in Historic/Cultural Dress and Textiles at the University of Georgia. Doing household things (except for cleaning!) and hunting for antiques are my favorite pastimes.
This entry was posted in Antiquing Adventures, How-To, Mrs. Everett's Household Guide. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to How to Install Antique Doorknobs

  1. brea says:

    Is it truly this easy? I am wanting to get vintage door knobs and put them in our entry closet doors. They are standard, modern doors. Does the way you describe above really work? If I buy a set off ebay what do I need to make sure is included? I would love anything you have to offer in reply. This addition would add such simple, amazing character to our place. The other articles I read on line made it seem soooo expensive and hard.
    Thank you,

    • Charity says:

      Hi Brea,
      Yes, it really is a piece of cake. It takes me about 10 minutes to install a set in my 1980’s apartment. You’ll need a pair of antique knobs, a pair of backplates at least 2 1/8″ wide (go for 2 1/2″ if you can, to be completely safe), and a little modern latch adapter like the one pictured (which we have at If you’re looking for hardware, you’re always welcome to call me at work at 615.292.3595 (Tues. – Sat.). We have a really good selection of hardware at the shop; but if you’d like to buy a knob set off eBay, you can always just call and order the adapter latch from us.

      • Kat says:

        Hi what if your doors have a large 3″hole behind the knobs like most modern door today?

      • Charity says:

        Hi Kat,
        A couple people have asked about that — there’s some info in the previous comments. If you have any other questions, please let me know! :)

  2. Matt Walter says:

    Yes it is really that easy! Just bought some old door knobs from my new favorite Architectural Antique shop and replaced two knobs in about 20 minutes. Can’t wait to change more.

    • Charity says:

      Thanks, Matt! Watch out, though — antique doorknobs are addictive and it’s hard to stop once you’ve started. :) It was nice to see you again today — have a Merry Christmas!

  3. Yes, if the modern door is already prepped for a conventional lockset this should be no problem so long as the antique outside plate completely covers the 2 1/8 (modern hole) (some don’t/won’t) If you’re doing this “from scratch” with an un-prepped door you’ll need a drill, tools, and a little know-how. I’ve done this a few thousand times though not with a back-set like you’ve shown above for the square knob shaft which wouldn’t require the 21/8″ (modern) hole. If the old-type mortise lock is to be installed, that is a far more involved process, one only performed these days on “high-end” applications/homes.

  4. Janae says:

    Does this mortise lock that preservation station sells lock? I would like to do this to our bedroom and bathroom doors, but need to make sure they will lock!

    • Charity says:

      Hi Janae,
      They do lock — some with a skeleton key and some with a thumb turn (the basic ones listed on the website don’t include the keys, though, since the keys usually are no longer with the locks). I’d recommend calling and letting them know whether you’d like a key or a thumb turn. Hope this helps!

      • Janae says:

        I was talking about the modern latches they sell that are compatible with vintage knobs like you have pictured above….do they lock? Just wanted to make sure we are on the same page:). Thanks!

      • Charity says:

        Hi Janae,
        Sorry for the delay in replying! My internet has been out for the last couple days. The modern latches don’t lock — but you can usually get a separate little lock to use with it that’s easy to install. I don’t know if there are any in stock right now (I left Preservation Station to go to grad school), but if you ask, they’ll be glad to help you out. Tell them that I sent you. :)

  5. Dawn Smith says:

    I was hoping you would address the giant circular hole in modern doors that narrow vintage faceplates are not wide enough to cover. The door in your instructions is not a modern door.

    • Charity says:

      Hi Dawn,
      The only really easy solution for the modern door hole is to get a plate that is 2-1/8″ wide or larger (that’s what I did on all the modern doors in my house). Eastlake and Deco style plates are almost always too narrow, but the c. 1905 decorative plates and Arts and Crafts style plates are generally wide enough. The little modern latch I pictured works very well with those. If you have a narrow plate that you want to use, the only feasible solution is to fill the hole and start over drilling a new one. Hope this helps! If you have any other questions, let me know and I’ll be glad to help.

  6. Sharon says:

    Hi Charity,
    Just wondering where to find the larger round plates. I’ve checked ebay and they are almost all too small. I have existing hardware on the doors that I am replacing with antique crystal and the existing plates are about 3″ in diameter.

    • Charity says:

      Hi Sharon!
      You probably won’t be able to find round ones that will cover it. The longer rectangular plates (which were commonly found on interior doors) are going to be a better option for you (they cover larger holes better and look cooler in general, really). You may want to take the hardware off of your door and see how large the hole actually is — go for covering that hole rather than necessarily matching the width of your existing hardware. Does that all make sense? Let me know if you have any other questions!

  7. Tandra says:

    Hello! We are wanting to replace modern doors-doorknobs with antique ones ….can you give me a step by step process and what materials will be needed?
    Thanks Tandra

    • Charity says:

      Hi Tandra,

      The installation process for hardware is pictured in the blog post; installation for the door itself is much like any other door. If you’re planning to replace your doors AND your doorknobs all with antique, you’d need the following:

      Hinges (most antique doors had two; modern contractors typically recommend three). Size varies, but most door are mortised for 3.5″ or 4″ hinges.
      A mortise lock (or a modern latch if you’re using a new door)
      Two doorplates
      One set of doorknobs with its connecting spindle and set screws
      A strike plate (a.k.a. striker) for your door jamb, which matches the lock
      A skeleton key, if you want one and/or if you can find one :)
      Screws for everything – get your other hardware first, and then match the screw sizes to the hardware. Straight-slot looks best — and you can paint the heads to match your hardware. If you’re buying your hardware from someone, ask if they have screws to go with it to simplify matters. :)

      I’m working on a book that will give more specifics and various troubleshooting advice — I’m hoping to finish it this summer. If you’re interested, let me know, and I can email you when I get it finished.

      I hope this helps!

  8. Tamara says:

    I know this is a really old post, but I really want to do this in my house, but need many of the doors to lock. What do I need for that?

    • Charity says:

      Hi Tamara,
      You’ve got three different options for that (at least three that I can think of). The most complicated one is to install an antique mortise lock with either a key or a thumb turn. The second option (easiest) is to get a little surface-mount slide bolt or even just a screen door type hook for the inside (a screen door hook is what my great-grandmother had on her nineteenth-century bathroom door for YEARS). The third option would be one of these things:, which should be easy to install with just a drill. I hope this helps, and do let me know how it turns out!

  9. Caroline says:

    I followed all these steps w my old crystal door knob. But it’s just now turning very smoothly.. I’ve tried everythg.. Tightening, loosening PLEASE HELP!

  10. Caroline says:

    I followed all these steps w my old crystal door knob. But it’s just NOT turning very smoothly and feels like it geths stuck.. I’ve tried everythg.. Tightening, loosening PLEASE HELP!

    • Charity says:

      Hi Caroline,
      I’m guessing that it’s one of two problems: Either the shank on the knob is too big for your plate/rosette, or there’s a problem with the mortise lock (if you’re using an antique mortise lock). To check the plate, just make sure the knob turns easily in the collar (without having the spindle through the door).

      If it’s the mortise lock, then there are three things I can think of:
      1. It might need to be oiled (easy fix).
      2. The plate on the mortise lock might be screwed on too tight (to fix that, remove the mortise lock and slightly loosen the screw that’s on the middle of the box).
      3. Most likely, the spring in the lock is getting worn out. You may be able to find a locksmith to replace the spring; if not, you’ll need to get a new lock (I personally recommend Preservation Station, my wonderful former employers — they’ll be great at helping with that).

      I hope this helps! Please let me know how it turns out and which (if any) of these solutions helped!


  11. rv says:

    i have old fashioned doors that the previous owners (sob) crudely cut 2-1/8 inch holes in in order to install cheap, ugly modern knobs. I’m trying to replace them all with old knobs and plates, but the plates i’m dead set on using are just sliiiiiiightly too narrow (about 1/8th or 1/16th on each side). So even though it installed perfectly, there are still sad little gaps on each side. Is there someway i could patch these holes in a secure/non-flimsy way before screwing down the plates? or will i have to cut and drill holes in a bunch of 2-1/8″ circles myself and paint over it all? I’ve seen rejuvenation sells these weird bore inserts but at $18 a pop i feel like there must be a better alternative out there. I got a lot of doors to save!

    • Charity says:

      Aww, don’t you just hate it when people do that! I recommend either filling it with Bondo and redrilling it; or I believe one of my contractor friends told me that a 2×4 is the same thickness, and he usually cuts out a 2-1/8″ circle to fill the hole. Now, I haven’t had any occasion yet to use either of these methods myself, but I know that others have had success with both routes. Please let me know what you end up doing! And I’d love to see photos of the finished product!

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