Mortise and Tubular Latches/Locks

Ask the Expert – Historic Hardware Q&A – What is the difference between mortise and tubular latches/locks?

What is the difference between mortise and tubular latches/locks?

Tubular latches became popular in the early 1950’s. And, as their name implies, the latch mechanism itself is tubular in shape. These latches were initially designed for residential use, but manufacturers later modified the design for commercial use (frequently referring to them as “cylindrical locks”). The vast majority of homes built in the last 60 years have tubular latches.

Example of a tubular latch:

Residential mortise latches have been around for over a hundred years and are frequently seen in older homes. Many people enjoy mortise latches for their vintage style. Since they also have longevity, it’s common for homeowners to use them for decades. Most mortise latches have a passage latch operated by a door knob, and an integrated deadbolt operated by a skeleton key. Alternately, some mortise latches have a thumb-turn on the inside of the door, instead of a skeleton key, to operate the deadbolt. However, these older mortise locks do not provide adequate security for an exterior door, as they are easily picked.

Nostalgic Warehouse is one of very few door hardware companies that continues to sell new mortise locks. Although there is no standard length, size, or backset for these locks, most mortise locks have a 5 to 6-inch pocket in the door. Nostalgic’s “universal” mortise locks will fit most interior doors with legacy mortise locks, with little or no modification.

It’s important to note that a mortise latch and a tubular latch require two, very different door preparations. Tubular latches require 2 1/8” diameter cross-bores in the door, and 1” edge-bores. Mortise locks require a deep, rectangular pocket in the door.

Example of an interior mortise lock with a rectangular pocket and a skeleton key:

Published on: June 14th, 2018

Like what you read? Need more information? Finding the appropriate hardware for historic projects can be a challenge. We’ve asked industry expert and Director of Product Development at Nostalgic Warehouse, Bill Metzger to help with the answers. Click here to see more.


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Founded in 1973, Old House Journal is the original authority when it comes to old-house restoration, traditional house styles, period kitchens, bath & kitchen restoration, DIY projects, gardens & landscaping, and more-- from Colonial and Victorian through Arts & Crafts and Mid-century Modern homes. 

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