Latch Handle Malfunction Leaves you Locked in a Room

Handle assembly

Thankfully a handle malfunction is very rare, but when it does happen you could find yourself stuck in a room unable to get out. This article discusses the likely cause and the best way to escape.

Firstly you need to understand how the mechanism works. The handle operates the latch in your door by means of a square spindle which passes through the door engaging with both of the handles and the latch in the door. The spindle must fully engage with both handles for them to operate the latch. During the fitting process, the spindle supplied can often be longer than required. This is so that the handles can be used on different thickness doors which will require different spindle lengths, facilitated by allowing the original to be cut down as required. However, whilst it is important that the spindle is not too long (this can cause binding), it is vital that it is not too short either.

Spindle disengaged

If the spindle is cut too short then over time and use it can travel further into either of the sockets on each handle causing it to come out of the opposite handle and consequently disengaging with it. Sometimes where the spindle has only just engaged a short distance into the end of the socket, the excessive forces can cause the socket to wear quickly or even break causing the spindle to disengage and making the handle inoperative. The spindle must pass a good way into the handle socket on both handles to provide a strong reliable engagement with the spindle.

Whilst the problem is down to an installation issue, it can be very surprising how far a spindle can move into a handle socket and the unexpected travel can often be missed by the installer. See how far this spindle can travel into the handle by observing the black mark.

Spindle length  Inserted in socket

Installation tip: If your spindle is plenty long enough to engage well with both handles but the sockets are too deep, to avoid spindle movement into either socket, it is sometimes possible to add packing material deep into the socket to prevent the spindle from travelling too far and disengaging with one of the handles.

Having understood the cause, how can we escape from a room where the handle has disengaged from the spindle? Here are a few ideas starting with the easiest solution:

1) The nature of the problem means that the handle will only have disengaged on one side. The opposite side will likely work OK so if possible the best way is to call for help from someone else in the property to release you from the room by operating the handle on the opposite side of the door.

2) Maybe you can call for help from a window or vacate the room from a ground floor window.

3) Access to a screw driver or any device that could act like a screw driver would help. Handles are usually fitted with slotted screws so maybe even a knife would do when used with care. Simply remove the screws that hold the handle onto the door (usually four but sometimes two screws) and pull the handle off the door to expose the end of the spindle. Pull the spindle back so that it can engage with the socket on the handle and turn it to release the latch.

4) If the latch bolt is visible (i.e. you are on the side of the door which does not have the rebate) it may be possible to push the latch back with a flat bladed instrument.

Once released, it will be necessary to replace the spindle with a longer one. Alternatively, packing material may be pushed into the sockets to prevent the spindle moving again, but only if the spindle has engaged sufficiently into the socket on each side. The socket may subsequently be prone to breaking if the spindle is not far enough in.

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