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How to Fix Antique Glass Door Knobs

Posted on May 01, 2015 | 0 Comments

A frequent question we get asked here at Hippo isn't so much a question as a look of panic and frustration.  People come in holding lovely glass door knobs in their hands telling woeful tales of friends stuck in the bathroom or spouses trapped in the garage. They say their knobs are broken and they need a new set. 

Octagonal and fluted (occasionally round or rarely other unusual shapes) glass door knobs are common throughout Portland as well as buildings from the 1920's - 1940's.  And eventually, they fail.  It's a remarkably elegant failure because the solution is fairly simple. Below we'll walk through the most common type of failure and how you can fix it rather than buy new knobs. 

Step 0 (aka the problem) - Your knob spins or falls off in your hand

If your door knob just spins when you try to turn it or even 'skip's when you're turning, chances are your threads have worn out.  Commonly, they either simply wear down completely

or the pressure of the steel will carve out a square shape where there should be a circle:

Before we dive in, there are other common problems that may cause your knob to spin or fall off though, so let's rule out a couple other scenarios first.

Scenario A)  Your set screw is just loose.  Find your set screw in the 'collar' or base of your knob, make sure it's sitting on the face of your spindle (not on a corner). To check, take out your set screw and look through the hole.  If you see a corner, twist the knob a little further.  Otherwise, tighten down the set screw and check to see if your knob still spins.  If not, then you're already done!  Victory lap!


Scenario B) Your door knob's glass has come loose from the collar.  To test this, hold the collar, or base, of the knob, and see if the glass spins independently.  If so, this will require some macGuyvering with super glue or possibly just replacement.

Assuming neither scenario is true, let's move on to step 1:

Step 1 - Take both knobs off the spindle

This can be accomplished by unscrewing both set screws, unscrewing your knobs from the spindle. 

(Tip: You won't need your set screws anymore, but if you have a whole house of the same knobs, we'd recommend keeping these little guys around because if one gets lost, they can be difficult to replace.)

When you look in your knob's collar, it will probably look torn up, flattened, and mostly square instead of mostly round.  This is another good indicator that your threads have done their duty and are no longer functional. 

Step 2 - Acquire a new spindle

The easiest way to do that at Hippo is to bring in your knobs.  If your threads are damaged enough, you can use a spindle with no threads, and only straight tapped holes.  However, most of the time it's easier to use a spindle with both thread and straight tapped holes.  This way, the knob will screw on so you don't have to battle the remaining thread. 

Most knobs fit on a 20 thread spindle but some do not.  If you come into Hippo, we can trouble shoot with you in person.  If you can't bring it in here, you can take your knob or spindle to a local hardware store and find out the thread. 

We sell offer a 'spindle kit' which includes the spindle, two set screws, and 6 washers.  It can be purchased here

If you purchase your spindle elsewhere, make sure you also get two straight tapped screws which will screw directly into the spindle, and many small washers that you will use as needed to keep the knobs from sliding back and forth in your door.

Step 3 - Attach one knob to the end of the spindle

Screw on knob onto the spindle and keep screwing until you get as far down as possible and have the set screw hole over the hole in the spindle.  It's easiest to screw it down as far as possible and then back up the nearest hole.  Screw in the new set screw (through the knob, into the spindle).  Your knob should feel tightly attached to the spindle.

Step 4 - Put the spindle through the door

Assuming your door, latching mechanism, and plates are still attached (if not, attach them now), put one or two washers on the spindle and slide them down to the base of the door knob.  This is an estimate and will likely need to be tested and changed a few times to get it right.  If, even with all six washers, the spindles are still too long for your door we suggest you cut down your spindle instead of continuing to stack washers. 

These washers should nestle between the base of the knob and your door plate. Then push the spindle through your door. 

Step 5 - Attach the second knob

Now, place one or two washers on the end of the spindle poking through the door.  Again, use your best guess as to how many washers you will need based on the length of the spindle and the depth of your door plus plates. 

Install the other door knob, following the same tactic of screwing down as far as possible and then backing up to the nearest spindle hole.  From this point, you can see where your knobs will sit and if your washers are correctly placed.  If you need to add or remove washers, now is a good time to do so.

Once your washers are set, screw down the second knob, screw in the set screw, and voila!  Your beautiful original door knobs once again are working like champs! Victory lap!




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