Make a wooden door latch
John Tetreault saves a piece of maple from his firewood pile and creates a beautiful, sculptural door latch for his family's home.
I’ve been working on a project at home for a while now, enclosing a front porch. To make best use of the space, I wanted to use the porch as a mudroom during cold months and then have it open up to the adjacent room during warmer months. The porch shares its interior wall with the dining room so the plan was to install a large window that drops down into a half wall and a wide bifold door that folds into a corner. The project was getting close to completion and I was thinking about final touches. Since the entrance is out of the weather, it’s a great place to use a wooden door latch.
I often put aside certain pieces of firewood before they make it to the woodstove when I find a piece with interesting figure. This project uses one cordwood size chunk of wood—curly maple in this case, but any hardwood will do. If your latch will be used outdoors, locust or oak would be a good choice.
I sketched out the parts to rough size on paper and then cut them out. Using a push pin as a pivot point for the latch bar, I moved the parts around until things seemed like they would work. If your door is 1-1/2 in. thick, all the dimensions and mounting locations are figured out. A thinner door should also be fine, but if your door is thicker, you may need to enlarge the mortise in the staple and adjust the mounting location of the handle to allow the lever to push the latch bar above the keep. You can download a PDF at the bottom of the page and build your own.
The latch bar is mounted on the interior of the door with a single screw. It is pushed up by the thumb lever and moves within a mortise in the staple. A second mortise in the staple limits the upward movement of the lever but allows it to move enough to clear the top of the keep so the door can open. I added a small magnet where the latch connects with the keep to help pull the latch bar down as the door is closed and because it sounds good with a nice little “click.”
A few tweaks to a traditional design include integrating the mortise for the lever into the staple. Usually the lever would come through a mortise in the door next to the staple to lift the latch bar. I thought it looked a bit more finished to position the lever in the staple and it also hides the mortise through the door, which comes in handy if you need to make any adjustments to that mortise. A wedge lock is also common but I added a magnet to it as well so it can be attached to the side of the top door trim. It keeps it up out of the way and also adds a nice little detail to the door trim.
Installation and use
All parts are installed with wood screws and then 1/2-in. plugs are tapped in without glue. This is a great project since wood has such a great feel. You get to touch the handle every time the door is opened and closed. I wiped on two or three coats of polyurethane and then polished all the parts with beeswax before installation.