How to avoid screw heads breaking off when installing door handles

We have identified some installation issues that can cause screw heads to break off when fixing door handles.

The exposed screw head on a door handle is not only functional, but is a part of the appearance of the finished product. This means it needs to have matching appearance and also be neatly installed on the handle. To achieve this match, manufacturers often plate brass screws in the same finish as the handle. On many door handles, particularly good quality handles, the screws are likely to be made of brass, even if they do not have a brass-like outward appearance.

Brass is a soft metal by nature, so where screws are small (such as on door handles) they need to be carefully installed. In most cases they require more than a pilot hole to fit them. The following fitting technique will avoid the screw heads being damaged (it is assumed that the latch or lock has already been fitted into the door):

  1. With the door handle held in the fixing position, carefully mark the position for one screw (say the top right if you are right handed). Your mark needs to be dead centre of the fixing hole and the handle needs to be in the correct fitting position with the spindle inserted and properly aligned. Dead centre can usually be found with the taper on a pencil tip or with a tapered centre punch.
  2. Remove the handle away from the door and drill an appropriate size pilot hole exactly on your mark. Ensure the drill does not skid off the mark when doing this (risk of door damage!). It can be helpful to make an indent in the wood with a bradawl and use a split point drill bit.
  3. The pilot hole will be slightly smaller than the screw diameter to give the fixing screw some bite, but do not put the finished screw in yet.
  4. Obtain a steel self-tapping screw the same size and length as the installation wood screws. Companies like Heritage Brass provide this screw in their fixing packs; you can locate it by the different zinc plated finish and it will be threaded all the way to the head. With the handle off the door, screw this screw into the pilot hole to cut a thread for the fixing screw. Take care and use the correct size screw driver when doing this, since there is a risk of door damage if the screw driver slips off.
  5. Place the handle back onto the door with the spindle inserted and carefully start to fit the single installation fixing screw. It should thread into the pre-cut thread easily without any undue force. Do not fully tighten the screw yet, just take it into the countersink while you carefully line up the handle, then just gently grip the handle in place with the screw.
  6. Once lined up, mark the remaining screw positions as before in a dead centre position. Now remove the single installation screw and the handle from the door and you can repeat the process; drilling pilot holes and cutting threads for each screw using the steel self-tapping screw. Depending on how confident you are about the positions, you may wish to just do one further hole and check the other marks before drilling them. You may need a small torch to see the marks inside the handle fixing holes.
  7. With all threads cut, the handle can be screwed to the door with the finished fixing installation screws. Use the correct size screw driver and do not over tighten. If resistance is felt do not force the screw, remove it and investigate. A screwdriver slip, typically caused by undue force, will likely scratch your handle!

Keeping your pilot holes nice and perpendicular to the door face with dead centre marks will ensure that the screw heads will seat neatly in their countersink on the handle face, so you can sit back and admire a precision job. Sometimes an existing hole exists very close to where you wish to install the screw, resulting in an elongated hole which fails to bite the screw properly. Fillers or inserting match sticks can sometimes help, but a back to back fixing with a matching screw head will result in a more secure handle. This is particularly so if the doors are hollow and loose handles have been a problem. Bernards Door Furniture Direct have produced a range of back to back fixings in different finishes to help resolve this problem.

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