I was called by a customer who wasn’t sure if I could help her with her unusual problem: An heirloom cedar chest that, during a move, had become stuck shut. It wasn’t my typical call but, whether or not I could help, I was certainly willing to try.
She dropped it off and I discovered that although it had a key, it wasn’t locked at all. What seemed to be stuck was the latching mechanism. The lid had a little bit of play; I could lift it just enough to try out of couple of shims, hoping to trigger the mechanism to release. There were two problems, however, one, the lid had a lip that made it hard to reach under the lid and, two, I had no idea what type of latching mechanism this chest used.
I was having a tough time holding the lid up with one hand and probing at the mechanism with the other so I got out my auto lockout kit and inserted the air wedge so that I could gently hold the lid open while I worked on it.
How an air wedge works: The first two photos show the wedge in the uninflated (left) and inflated (middle) states. On the right the wedge is inserted (uninflated) into a cabinet as an example. The bottom picture shows the wedge inflated and "opening" the cabinet.
Back to the chest: I started pumping up the wedge and “Hey!” The lid, without any catching at all, had opened!
Once I had it opened, I inspected the latch mechanism.
It has a spring latch that engages a bar on the lid. It opens when the thumbturn button on the front disengages the spring latch. Notice the scratches on the bar where the latch usually rubs on it. The lid seemed to have drifted over the years so that the latching mechanism was engaging on the front of the bar where, I’m guessing, it eventually caught on the bracket and stuck. Probably during the move it had gotten an extra little "jar". By using the air wedge, I'm guessing the lid was pushed up AND over, allowing the latch to release.
If the hinges were loose this could have caused the engagement point on the latch bar to drift too far forward. I tightened up the hinges. I also went ahead and moved the latch bar so that it would engage on the middle part, not the end close to the bracket (in the above photo, if you look sharp, you can see where I moved it from). I also took apart the lock and latch and cleaned and lubed it. When I was done it worked like a champ!
Important note: When I looked up information on cedar chest locks online I found a lot of information on the dangers of self-latching chests (like this one). It is possible for a child to climb into the chest, close the door, become trapped, and suffocate. I warned my customer of this and recommended simply unscrewing the latch bar and setting it aside if young children had access to the chest. Alternatively she could lock the chest so that children couldn’t open it at all. Lane, another company that manufactured chests with a similar latching mechanism, recently recalled these latches, dating from recent models all the way back to 1912.
Thanks C.R. for permission to post!
Sandy Eisele is owner of Peninsula Locksmiths and loves to talk and write about all things lock related.