The Mortise Falcon.

Dad D. sent me a beautiful story regarding his trials and tribulations surrounding his exploration of the anatomy of a Mortise Lock. It’s an awesome story and a brilliant mechanical device. Enjoy!

“The Mortise Falcon”

My jaw was clenched on that dark and stormy morning as I stumbled out of that small local church that I called my own. This was not the cathedral that inspires the soul to leap but a quiet, yet pleasant, rustic building where very few parishioners were left from a once mighty congregation. Oh yes, there had been hundreds, but that was centennials ago.

Why the clenched jaw? I had another assignment! There is a rule among those that “do” that 10% of the crowd does the work and 90% come along for the ride. Well, when typical attendance is 12, 10% is not a whole lot of people. And when the average age of an aging church is 92, if you‘re under 60, you’re it!

My assignment? “The door knob had been ripped off a back door, could I fix it?” There had been a theater group that had used the church; and unfortunately, when they could not get the back door open, they applied significant leverage and the door knob exploded into their hands. An emergency exit for the church had been murdered, and as Sam would say to Bridgid, ”When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it.”

The church is well over 100 years old. There had been a fire around 1930. We should assume that this door mechanism was at least that old. There is no question that I expected an adventure and the discovery of a mechanical marvel that would rival any “figurine of gold and encrusted with jewels.” With trusty multi-blade screw driver in hand, I began to remove the Mortise lock.

The trick to removing the mortise lock is to remove all inside and outside handles, remove the screws that hold the mechanism into the door mortise (hole in the door jam), and most importantly, remove the cylinder that contains the key coding – this cylinder simply unscrews once the long set screw on the face plate of the mortise is removed.

I chose to do this myself since the church does not have a lot of money. As Sam would say, “to keep family troubles in the family.” Sure, it would have been easy to get a locksmith to come over and fix it, but the web clearly suggested that a replacement mortise lock would be as much as $500 for an antique replacement and locksmith labor is a premium cost since they are always busy getting car doors open when electronic or mechanical keys are left inside.

So once the Mortise lock is removed, this is what it looks like.

The Mortise Lock controls the deadbolt (#1), the override buttons (#2), the latch (#3), the thumb clip (#4) exterior handle, the inside door knob (#5), and the key access (top left corner).

There’s the lock cylinder which unscrews (the image above shows in screwed back in).

This is a lot for a 6” by 3” by 1” antique mechanism to do.

Immediately, being minimally versed in high tech communication systems, I began to look on the web for instructions, hints, or exploded views. And there was not much. So whatever I found had to be posted on the web to close this information hole! The name on the Mortise Lock was RUSSWIN and it was inscribed with “P1213”. I found the RUSSWIN company (now Corbin-RUSSWIN) and wrote an email. The answer: “Sorry, we don’t carry information nor parts for something that old.”

So I took it apart! And this is what it looks like:


(1) Deadbolt and Deadbolt thumb Knob Socket
(2) Override Buttons
(3) Latch
(4) Outside Thumb clip*
(5) Inside door knob socket

After I took out each precision mechanical part, the case looks like this.

Balloon 1 points to the Murder Victim – a broken cast pin.

And then I found the problem, the pin (identified in the above jpg) had broken off so all motion from the knob was no longer rotating the adjacent mechanism but simply sliding it to the left in the picture. The pin was a few thousandths more than ¼ inch. A standard size! The inner diameter of the brass pieces that surrounded that pin were 10 thousandths wider – perfect ! All I needed was a new ¼ inch replacement pin.

Not thinking that I would even try to weld this, I found a threaded standoff, cut it to 3/8”, drilled a hole where the old pin had been and screwed in the new pin with a new brass screw from the bottom. ($0.70). The new knob $8.00.

Success! Now all I have to do is hang this Mortise lock back into place with hope that my new pin would work and would last.

And as Sam Spade said to the guilty murderer:

”I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck… The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means if you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in 20 years. I’ll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.”

And now that I know what a Mortise Lock looks like, I will be ready to replace the pin again after 20 years to life.

*Thumb Clip isn’t the best description for the device. When you push that with your thumb, the button pushes a bar that hits this little clip . The clip transfers the motion to push the latch open bar which needs to rotate around that pin that broke.

Thanks Dad D! Awesome exploratory look into the depths of the Mortise Lock.

19 thoughts on “The Mortise Falcon.

  • 3/22/2010 at 1:03 pm

    I have a virtually identical mortise lock I am working on. Mine is a Corbin but has a thumb latch on the exterior, but for the most part the whole lock looks pretty much the same as your pictures. Thanks for the resource! Now to try to unscrew that mortise cylinder!

  • 9/23/2010 at 1:23 am

    any success unscrewing the mortice cylinder?

    i have a 1930″s version and need to get it out and service it would love to know the trick


    • 9/23/2010 at 9:52 am

      I will pass on your question to my Dad and let you know!

  • 2/1/2011 at 5:58 pm


    1st: You need to unscrew the lock cylinder screw (see 1st picture. number 4 is the screw to untighten. the screw can be on either side depending if it is a right or left handed door or one in the middle.) It’s reverse threaded in order to slide the mechanism that holds the lock cylinder in place depending on which way you turn the screw. Whatever you do don’t over tighten this or you run the chance of breaking the screw.

    2nd: Once you loosen the lock cylinder screw about 10 turns, thats all you need because the mechanism will slide back with every rotation of the screwdriver.

    3rd: Get a rag and a pair of plyers or something to grip the outside ring of the cylinder. Thickness is about an 1/8 of an inch. Put the rag over the top of the cylinder to protect it from being marked up. Once you think you have a decent grip turn counter- clockwise. the cylinder threads are very fine so make sure when you rethread it you don’t cross thread it.

    4th: Once you have it removed then you can take the cylinder to a locksmith to make more keys, rekey it or replace the key cylinder entirely. I think it cost me about $25 to replace the key cylinder. The key cylinder is only the part that the key slide into.

    Hope this helps you out.

  • 9/17/2011 at 10:43 am

    Great post, and I have the exact same body (RUSSWIN P.1213), but my mortise case is cracked on the far edge. I think the inner deadbolt plates were actually flipped in mine and may be the reason for some jamming. Will look to braze the case or buy used for a rebuild.

  • 7/21/2012 at 3:20 pm

    Mike d, Thank you so much for the Mortise Falcon post! I had to disassemble and reassemble a 1920’s era Russwin P1213 and would be waiting for the locksmith if it wasn’t for your writeup and pictures.

  • 9/11/2013 at 11:47 pm

    I was looking for a mortise lockset and came across your post. Thanks for telling about it.

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  • 8/25/2014 at 8:06 pm

    Thanks for the pics. I have a very similar Russwin mortise lock from the 1940’s. I have every thing off but I can’t release the spindle. It’s a one sided spindle. The other side uses a thumb latch like this one. The entire mortise assembly is moving all around loose. I’ve already unscrewed the cylinder etc. I just can’t take the assembled mortise lock assembly from the door due to being unable to release the spindle. I can see by shining a flashlight above the “Outside thumb clip” #5 in the second picture that the spindle is hooked on the end. In other words the end of the spindle folds over at a right angle about half the thickness of the rest of the spindle. How on earth do you release that?


    • 8/11/2015 at 9:59 pm

      don’t know if you found the answer to your question or not but i had the same trouble removing my Russwin 1940’s model mortise lockset with thumb latch and pull. the spindle is split (there are two halves if you look closely). at the end of the spindle is an alignment post which fits into the top half. get a small screwdriver and seperate the two halves until the top one is clear of the post. while holding it clear take a pair of small visegrips and grab the end of the top half. pull outward and the top half will slide out because it is tapered on the end you cannot see inside the mortise box. once that is out the lower half can be lifted up and will pull out. Presto. the spindle has been removed and you can pull out the box from the edge of the door.
      B. Turner

  • 5/16/2015 at 7:40 pm

    Thank you very much for this. You saved me. I have a house from 1900’s and something did not work in the lock so I took it apart, but could not put it back together. Turns out on of the springs went out, but I fixed it, but without the pictures you have I would not be able to put it back together, as it kind of came apart in my hands:)

    Thank you!

  • 9/1/2016 at 7:05 pm

    I have an old Corbin mortise lock on my front door. It looks like yours and it was having problems, the piece on the second image-(the far left)with copper band the had broke. I pulled the piece of copper out and replaced it with the remaining copper that was floating inside. Now i don’t know exactly where the copper band bends around. Also I have a split spindle (thumb latch on outside and door knob inside) that just has holes and the door knob is always loose, is there a way to thread that?

  • 12/31/2017 at 6:14 pm

    I was beginning to think we were going to the same church, but since our back entry lock is not working that can’t be. A great write up that gave me a laugh and the courage to fix our church’s vintage mortise lock.

  • 4/20/2018 at 5:18 am

    Thanks, Mike. Like Olaf and Robroy, your photos helped me screw up the courage to open my 100+ year-old, very similar Corbin deadbolt with cylinder mortise box. But, I admit, since it still basically works, I’m not taking it apart, just giving it a soak in solvent overnight. Then, when dry I’ll carefully replace cover + screws. I’ve had these old mortises pop out at me in pieces when opened and I’m sure I’d never get all the parts back in correctly. You’re brave !

  • 5/28/2018 at 9:49 am

    Can someone provide some backstory on the purpose of the override buttons and the scenarios that this feature would be used?

    The buttons are too alluring for my toddler daughters to ignore, so my wife and I have been locked out of the house on two occasions. Interested to learn more about this feature, as I didn’t notice it until thinking my door was broken.


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