August 05, 2006

In which Eric becomes a locksmith

I came home after a very long day at work to find the door to my townhouse's second bedroom closed and locked. With the way the windows are arranged it isn't unusual for the wind to blow one of the bedroom doors shut, but I don't lock the doors so that's not really a problem. I'm not sure how the door got locked, but it doesn't matter...the important thing is that it just wouldn't open.

I've never had to open a locked interior door before, so I wasn't sure where to start. My first thought was to pull out my screwdriver and take off the doorknob, but I was stymied by the screws for the doorknob being on the interior side of the door. Oops. Next I thought of taking the door off the hinges, but apparently the architect decided that the door should open into the room (which lets it open the full way) instead of into the hallway (which isn't very wide), so I couldn't get to the hinges either.

I whined to Dan about it and he suggested finding a paper clip and poking it through the hole in the doorknob to undo the lock. After lots of digging I couldn't come up with a paper clip, but I did find a wire hanger. I straightened it and started poking around inside the doorknob, to no avail. Nothing in it moved. I started to wonder if the wire hanger was too thick and I'd have to find a 24-hour paper clip store instead.

Then I realized that the other bedroom's door has exactly the same lock, so I started to fiddle with that to try to figure out how it worked. I figured if I could unlock that one I'd be able to handle the problematic one without any trouble.

I tried using the hanger and got nowhere. No matter what I did, if I pushed the hanger in as far as it'd go it just wouldn't do anything.

Eventually I got frustrated and decided to take apart the lock. Out came the screwdriver again, and a minute or so later I had the the lock apart. The doorknob is locked by simply turning the interior side and pushing it in a little, so there's no knob or anything like that. On the inside of the lock, there's a long bolt. After a bit of experimentation, I realized two things. First was that unlocking the lock via the little hole in the doorknob required pushing in the hanger and turning the doorknob at the same time. Second and far more important was that the bolt actually sticks out a bit into the doorknob on the exterior side, so pushing the hanger in as far as it'd go was completely the wrong thing to do because that'd slip it past the end of the bolt.

After a few practice runs on the once-taken-apart (and now restored) lock, I tried to tackle the locked door. I pushed the hanger in, found the end of the bolt...and got stuck. The bolt simply wouldn't move at all. After a few more tries and a check back with the other lock to make sure I was doing the right thing, I gave up.

Next up was the last-ditch thought of trying to pry the door open with a credit card. I would've tried this right from the start, but there's a door jamb which keeps anything like a credit card from sliding straight in. I dug around a bit, though, and in my desperation somehow came up with an expired Barnes & Noble card. It had exactly the right mix of flimsiness and solidity to be able to bend around the door jamb without breaking and still have a chance of having enough force to pry the lock open.

After a lot of fiddling, it worked! The card ended up badly scratched, bent, and somewhat torn, but in the end it got the door open, and that's the most important thing. Now I know what to do the next time I need to break into a locked room.