Doorknobs are the jewelry of a door. It can set the mood and add personality. They can date a space or update a space. You’re likely to need to know how to install a doorknob at some point, and this guide will walk you through exactly how to do that.
If you are starting with an old door and just want to replace an old knob, some of this info is extraneous. You can overlook the details that don’t fit your particular situation.
For everyone else, we will be starting from scratch. I am assuming you will be working with a brand new door and possibly aren’t yet sure which type of knob that you want. I’ve tried to cover as many details as necessary. Feel free to skip to the parts that you need.
(This post may contain affiliate links (*). That means that I make a small commission from sales that result through these links, at no additional cost to you. You can read my full disclosure here.)
Option in Doorknob Designs
Doorknobs come in every finish, style, and design that you can imagine. You should be able to find nearly any desired combination to suit your personal taste. However, these styles and designs serve purposes other than just looks.
These are the most common type of knobs. They are your everyday, basic, round knob and work well for nearly every situation.
A lever door handle is a more modern version of the standard doorknob. These are wonderful for homes where round knobs may cause difficulty with opening doors.
For instance, elderly people may have an easier time with a handle as they do not require the gripping action that is often difficult for arthritic hands. These are also great for wheelchair-bound people.
On the other hand, handles are also much easier for small children to maneuver. This may be great for interior doors, but maybe not desirable for doors leading to exterior zones.
Rather than a standard knob or a lever, the thumb latch handle passage generally is sold as a complete handle set. These are larger more expensive sets that include a thumb latch, a handle pull, and a matching deadbolt.
They are typically used for front exterior doors. They tend to be a bit more expensive than the previous versions. While they have an exterior thumb latch and pull system, the interior side is often a standard knob or lever.
Doorknob Types by Function
In addition to the style options, you can also choose a knob based on its function or intended use. There are several options and when you consider that each can be found for all styles, well the possibilities are endless.
Most interior knobs do not come with locks. These are meant for general interior use. Place these on doors to rooms where everyone should have free access.
Privacy knobs and levers have a lock on the interior side and a hole or slit on the exterior side. They often come with a pin or other metal device to allow the door to be unlocked from the exterior if needed.
These are generally used for bedrooms and bathrooms. They do not offer as much security as a keyed entrance but are intended to offer the option of a lock on private interior rooms.
A keyed knob is typically intended for exterior use but can be used in other situations. These come with two keys and can often be rekeyed to match other locks.
A dummy knob does not function the same way as a regular doorknob. These are used in much the same way a cabinet knob is used – to simply pull and push. There is no etching mechanism with these.
They work best on closets and other pass-through doors that do not require a latch. To keep these doors closed, you can pair a dummy knob with a ball catch.
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Parts of a Doorknob
To understand the instructions listed below, we need to first provide you with a good diagram of the parts of the doorknob. You may wish to refer back to this diagram for clarification.
Checking for Door Problems
Before making any changes to a knob or installing a new one, I highly recommend that you first assess the current door situation. It is important that the door is functioning correctly and that all issues are addressed before making any alterations or adding a new knob.
If your door is rubbing against the jamb or floor, adjustments to the hinges need to be made. Likewise, crooked doors or doors with improper gaps should be fixed. See how to make the needed adjustments to a door in this post.
Steps to Install a Doorknob
The directions below cover the steps to install the most common type of doorknob. However, I realize that there are numerous variations amongst brands. As such, I am including a few of the most common variations.
But, please read through the standard instructions first. Then, apply the necessary alterations required for your particular knob set. Understanding the basics is invaluable.
- drill driver
- 2 1/8” hole bit – I really love the Dewalt installation kit* which has everything that you need for both knobs and deadbolts. It makes it easy to quickly drill out the holes without needing to take measurements. It helps eliminate mistakes. However, if you trust your abilities to measure and drill accurately, you can always purchase just the bit.*
- 1” drill bit – If you are buying the kit, it comes with this bit. But if you just need to find a good bit in this size, I prefer to use this paddle bit* by Dewalt.
- chisel – If you are looking for a good set of chisels for general use, this set is great.* It comes with a sharpe enough edge to do door work and is perfect if you want to expand to using these for carpentry work.
- square or measuring tape
Determine Doorknob Height
After you are sure that the door is in proper working order, your next step is to determine exactly where you want to place your doorknob. There are several options to consider. Some may require a bit of thought.
All doorknobs are placed between 34-48 inches from the floor. The standard height is 36 inches. In most situations, this is where you will want to place your knob. However, there are some instances when 36 inches will not be the best choice.
Things to consider
A standard door is 80 inches (or 6’8”) high. For this length, a knob usually looks good when placed at the standard height of 36 inches. You can go two inches more or less and still have an aesthetically pleasing result.
In instances where a door is taller or shorter, you may wish to make adjustments. Obviously, if the door is a 36” access door, the knob will need to be adjusted.
Likewise, many homes have eight-foot-high doors. These often look better with the knobs between 36-40 inches high. Rarely would you find an eight-foot-high door with knobs below 36 inches.
Width of the door
The width will also play into the height of the doorknob. For instance, most eight-foot doors with a 36 width will look better when the knobs are placed at or around the 38-inch mark. When placed too low a wide door can start to look squatty.
The opposite is true for shorter/narrow doors. If the knobs are placed too high, the doors may look odd.
Height of user
Sometimes you may have a situation where you need to consider the height of a person. For instance, wheelchair-bound users may feel more comfortable with the knobs at the 34-inch height. In this situation, you would need to place the knob at the most comfortable height and never place any knobs above the maximum of 48 inches.
Need for deadbolts – When installing exterior doorknobs, you want to consider the potential for a future deadbolt. Even if you are already installing or have a lockset that includes a deadbolt, it is always a good idea to consider a future secondary deadbolt.
Ease (or lack of) for small children
For homes with small children, the placement of a knob can make things easy or extremely difficult for the child. You may wish to place your knobs accordingly.
A perfect example is on doors leading to swimming pools. With small children, these doors may benefit from a 48 inch heigh doorknob. This prevents toddlers from being able to reach the knob.
Sometimes a door is designed in a way that influences the best knob height. If you are going with a deep set back (explained below), you will likely need to center the knob inside a rail.
Occasionally, we have doors that swing into an area that isn’t the most ideal. For instance, a door may open into an area where there are appliances or cabinets. You could also have two doors that open against each other.
In these situations, you want to make sure the knob is placed above or below the height of the obstruction. Generally, I will go with 38 inches to bypass a countertop. Whenever possible, you should reverse the swing of the door to avoid this hindrance.
Determine Doorknob Set Back
Most knobs come with a choice between a 2 3/8 or 2 3/4 inch setback. You can also easily get 5” setbacks quite readily. The 2 3/8” setback is the most common for residential doors. While the 2 3/4” is typical for commercial buildings. However, there are situations where these standards are ignored.
If you have already purchased your hardware, most of the decisions will already be decided for you. But if you want to determine the setbacks before purchasing your hardware, you will want to consider a few things. by hardware.
Things to Consider
Width of stiles – since most knobs are placed within the door stile, you want to consider its width. On most doors, the stile will be the perfect width to fit the standard setbacks. (i.e residential doors will comfortably hold a 2 3/8” and a commercial door will need the 2 3/4).
However, you may have an extra-wide door in your home or you may have a custom-designed door that has extra-wide stiles. In this situation, the standard setback may look off. Since the eye tends to prefer the knobs centered along the stile, a deeper setback might be a better option.
Exterior Doors – An exterior door is often wider than interior doors. It is quite common to use the deeper setback of 2 3/4” for these. For some doors, you may wish to go with an even deeper setback.
Door design – You may need to consider the door design before choosing a setback. Even if you prefer a deep setback, you may have to use the standard 2 3/8” for doors that have glass panels – such as interior french doors.
Knuckle room – This is often overlooked until someone bashes their knuckles against a doorstop. If you are installing a doorknob, you definitely want to consider this.
The problem occurs when you are closing the door from outside of the room, or on the in-swing. If there is not enough space, your knuckles can slam against the protruding stop.
This is the reason why exterior doors almost always use the 2 3/4” backset instead of the more common interior residential backset. However, there are likely to be other locations where you may encounter this issue and will need that extra room.
After deciding on the knob location, you need to use a straight edge to mark that position on the door.
- Measure up from the bottom of the door to the height that you want and draw a horizontal line at that point.
- Using the horizontal line from above, measure across the width and make a vertical line at the location of the desired backset.
- Repeat the above two steps for the edge of the door to mark the center point for the latch.
Drill Out Opening
Place the door hole bit on the center point and drill through the door. Make sure that you are maintaining a 45 degree (straight) level as you drill. It is important to not allow the drill driver to angle or tilt during this process.
Drill the Latch Hole
Using a 1” drill bit, drill a hole through the front edge of the door. This hole will meet with the hole drilled out in the prior step. Again, maintain the drill driver at a straight and level 45 degree angle.
NOTE – you may need to drill into the opposite side of the knob opening just a bit for some latches. Often they are longer than the setback allows and need a recessed space in order to fit.
Recess the Latch Plate
1)After the latch hole has been drilled, center the latch place over the opening. Then, trace around the latch place.
2)Next, using a sharp chisel and hammer, score the outline around the traced lines. Then, working from the hole opening toward the scored lines, begin to carefully chisel a thin layer of the wood material away.
3) Test, the fit of the latch plate. Remove more wood as needed but be careful to not remove too much.
TIP – If you are unfamiliar with using a chisel, practice on a scrap piece of wood to get a feel for how much force you need to apply to take away small layers. Go slow and easy with the door so that you do not overdo it.
Assemble the Knob
1) Insert the door latch through the edge of the door. Make sure that you have the latch properly set to your desired backset (for sets that have multiple options).
2) Insert the interior part of the knob (spindle and screw housings) through the inside of the door.
3) Slide the exterior part of the knob over the spindle and screw housing and insert the screws. Tighten down the screws until the knob is snug.
What If I Don’t Have a Door Hole Bit?
If you are only installing one doorknob and you don’t want to use/buy a proper door hole bit, you can always improvise. Although I don’t recommend doing this frequently, you can, in a pinch, use the bits that you have.
Simply mark and drill holes slightly larger than the spindle and screw housings through the door and insert. Keep in mind that you must be very accurate with your placement. There is not any room for making mistakes with this method.
Position the Strike Plate
After the doorknob is installed and you have checked to make sure that it functions correctly, pull the door close until the door latch just barely touches the jamb.
Next, use a pencil to mark the point where the center of the latch is striking the jamb. Then, place the strike plate on the jamb with the center of the hole lined up with the mark.
Trace around the strike plate’s outer edge and interior edge.
Use the 1” drill bit to drill a hole out as much of the traced area as possible.
Use the chisel to remove material in the remaining traced area and to clean up the opening.
Test the strike plate to make sure that it is recessed and seated well. Then attach it in place with the screws.
Variations in Hardware
As with anything, there are bound to be at least a few exceptions to the rules. With door hardware, you can find many variations to the standard doorknob. The most common among these are knobs with hidden screws and sets that use mortised housings.
Hidden Screws – These knobs are not that different from the more common knob that requires the screws to go through the outside knob plate. You simply install the screws through the interior of the knob through the knob plate.
The biggest difference with these comes in mounting the rosette. With these, you have to align the rosette (cover) with the plate’s tabs and then twist to lock. This design is most common in thumb latch sets but may occasionally be seen in a few interior door knob brands.
Mortised Hardware Sets – These types of sets are generally more secure than cylindrical knobs. They are most common in a commercial building but are often used for entrance doors in residential buildings.
They are a bit more complex in their installation process, but the average DIYer should be able to install a mortise lockset. Rather than drilling a knob hole through the door, a mortise set is recessed through the edge of the door.
Trace the hardware on the front and edge of the door. Then make a consecutive number of holes through the edge. Use your chisel to clean up the line and insert the housing. Easy, peasy!
Regardless of the hardware chosen for a door, the above steps should help in installing the doorknob and/or locksets. Just take your time and make sure that you have all of your tools before you get started.