Locking The Butler’s Desk

This post continues a series in which I’m building a butler’s desk of American black walnut. In the previous post I had detailed the butler’s desk, finishing outside surfaces and chamfering edges.  I’m now on the home stretch with a few items left to complete, these items are small details but can be considered make or break for how easily usable the desk is.  The main function of the cabinet is to convert into a desk easily and smoothly, and in doing so I feel it should be able to operate intuitively.

The first detail which one will encounter when operating the desk is the lock, unlocking the desk would be the first interaction and tell tale as to the quality of my work (gasp!).  So choosing a lock was no easy task, hardware in general presents a difficulty but I find mortise locks difficult to buy online as they’re operation is critical to how they’re perceived.  I came across an English lock making company called A&E Squire Ltd, who happens to make a full mortise cabinet lock.  One of their retailers in America is White Chapel Ltd, I purchase through their website with fingers crossed that the lock would be as I had hoped.

I had but one small issue, the only finish available on the site was plain brass, but no matter I decided to use a gun bluing finish to have the lock’s color compliment the stainless hardware I had otherwise used.  In order to create an even finish my first task was to sand the brass hardware to 600 grit.  I affixed the latch to a block of wood in order to allow even pressure to be applied.

sanding lock catch

Placing the sandpaper on a granite plate, then working the latch and the lock face until I produced and even finish.


The next step was to file the inside edges, I use an auger file as I like the shape and fineness of the file.

file work lock catch

Finally I’m able to apply the solution and create a finish.

gun blue lock catch

Now I can proceed with the installation, as one of my fellow web forum members mentioned; this is the last chance to ruin all of my previous work.  With that sentiment in mind I am proceeding carefully.

One thing quite curious about most mortise locks; the key hole is often offset from center, so if you line up the lock to center the selvedge on the door stile then the keyhole will be off center on the door.


After marking my location, I set my kebiki gauge to the width of the lock body and to the appropriate depth.


With my markout now completed I can begin mortising.  Normally I mortise with a mortising chisel, but in this case I’m proceeding with extreme caution and so I’ve decided to waste out the mortise with an auger bit and brace.


After paring the mortise sides to fit the lock, the lock is slipped into place and now I can markout the selvedge, which I do with a knife.

marking out selvedge

With the marks now in place I can careful mortise for the selvedge.  This photo is of the work in progress, I’m slowly paring away waste to flatten the landing.

finished lock mortise

With the selvedge mortise cleaned up I can drill for the keyhole, first carefully marking it’s location, then applying a backer to minimize the chance of chipout.


I use a bradpoint bit to create the initial hole.

drilling for keyhole

Then follow with a chamfer bit.  In order to get a clean chamfer, I make the chamfer now as opposed to after the bottom of the keyhole is cutout.

chamfering hole

Here is a view after the chamfer is cut.

chamfered hole

Next I cut the keyhole bottom, this makes the iconic shape.  Most online tutorials show this being cut in a half-mortise lock with a coping saw, that is impossible here and so the waste must be simply chiseled out.

I mark my lines with a knife and proceed with backer board in place.  After cutting out the final step is to chamfer the edges to match the chamfer on the hole.

finished key hole

Finally I’m able to install the lock and test it for function, then complete the installation by installing the screws, first running steel screws in, then brass.

pilot screw


lock installed into door

With the door back on the cabinet I can transfer marks to my case.  I do so first with tape.

installed lock - marking for catch

Then remove the doors and drawers and turn the cabinet upside down, complete the mark out and mortise for the latch.  After completing that I install the latch and cutout the mortise which will receive the lock bolt.

marking out catch

The completed mortises.

mortised catch

And installed latch.

installed lock catch

Finally the cabinet is reassembled, stood upright and tested for smooth operation.

lock key

installed lock

I hope you have enjoyed following along with this installation.

Finished keyhole

Thank you for reading, please comment below.

Adventures in Making Hardware


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s