What are rim locks?
I’m so glad you asked.
A rim lock can also be called a box lock. It is a square-shaped locking mechanism that is installed on the surface of one side of a door.
How do rim locks work?
Excellent question. You’re really getting into this, I can tell.
The rim lock has two locking features. First, it can be unlocked from either side of the door using a key. The keys usually look like what we commonly refer to as skeleton keys.
Second, a rim lock also has a sliding mechanism kind of like a deadbolt that will lock the door from the inside. This extra security feature means that if that sliding mechanism is locked in place, the door cannot be opened with the skeleton key.
For that reason, unless you want to give someone the power to lock you IN a room, the rim lock needs to be installed on the inside of door so you can lock people out.
Rim locks used to be either right or left-handed depending on which way your door swung open. However, after 1865 manufacturers figured out how to make a reversible rim lock, which eliminated this pesky problem.
If you are buying a brand new or reproduction rim lock it should reversible, but it’s always a good idea to double check.
Where did rim locks originate?
I love your curiosity. Here’s the scoop.
Not a lot is written about this, but according to Wikipedia, rim locks are the oldest type of lock used in the U.K. and Ireland. I can personally attest that rim locks are still in use in Ireland. We lived in Ireland for two years and our front door had a smaller rim lock.
You can see a glimpse of a “modern” rim lock on our door in Ireland in the below photo. This house was built in the 1960s. I don’t know when this particular lock was installed, but you can buy brand new rim locks or rim latches in Ireland today.
In this instance, there is no separate interior door knob on this door. The door is opened and shut from the inside with the knob on the rim lock. The door was opened from the outside with a key. Yes, it looked like a skeleton key and it was the coolest thing ever to this expat living abroad for the first time.
Should you buy a vintage or (new) reproduction rim lock?
That’s a tough one!
The unfulfilling answer is it depends.
If you are going for authenticity, then I’d say purchase a true vintage rim lock. The history associated with these locks is special and the decorative detail put into some rim locks from the 1800s is exquisite.
If you’re buying a vintage rim lock you’ll want to make sure the lock has been inspected and is in working order. Some vintage rim locks come with all the parts you’ll need if you are starting from scratch such as the knobs, rosette, keyhole cover, keys, etc. If you have the knobs, but just need to replace the rim lock mechanism itself, you can find those from vintage sellers too!
If you want a key made for a rim lock without a key, you’ll need to find a locksmith who specializes in this type of work.
Vintage rim locks come in all different sizes depending on their original use (hotels, residential, train car compartments, etc.), so you’ll need to pay close attention to the measurements before determining if it is an appropriate lock for your door.
If you need matching locks for multiple doors or if you mainly care about the look of a rim lock and historical preservation or restoration isn’t your primary motivation, then I’d say buy a new or reproduction rim lock. At least this way you will know it works and should work for a good long while. It will also come with installation instructions, which is always helpful if this is your first time installing a rim lock.
We have five doors in our house with vintage rim locks. None of the rim locks work correctly, which could be from any number of factors: dirt, lack of use, too much use, rust, broken parts, painted over, etc. We also don’t have keys for any of the locks. Those were lost eons ago!
Figuring out what is wrong with each lock hasn’t been a priority since they are mainly installed on bedroom doors. Eventually, we will see if cleaning the locks improves their functionality.
We did recently purchase a new rim lock to install on an outbuilding on our property. For this particular door on this particular building, our priority was to mimic the vintage look that can be found in our primary residence, but without all the uncertainty or drama that potentially exists with installing vintage hardware.
Every decision we make for this house and the other buildings on our property comes with a whole host of variables: time, cost, authenticity, ease of use, safety and security, etc.
As owners of a home that is over 200 years old, our preference is to fix and restore as much as we can in this place. We are but a blip on this home’s lifespan, but we do want to honor our home’s history while making it a place that can exist comfortably in a modern world.
It’s a delicate balancing act, but we are so happy to be making a life here.
Here’s the rim lock and accessories we purchased and can recommend so far:
Source for vintage and reproduction hardware (not sponsored, just sites I’m familiar with):
Historic Home Hardware (vintage)
House of Antique Hardware (reproduction, also offers restoration services)
Signature Hardware (reproduction)
Information sources for this blog post:
*affiliate links in this blog post*
Thanks for nerding out with me regarding rim locks today! If you have any other info to add on this type of lock, please leave a message in the comments. Here are some other posts you might enjoy.