French Door Hardware

A quick but thorough round-up of French door hardware options, past and present. May 26, 2008

I am about to fabricate an exterior French door entrance. My customer is looking for a 3 point locking device. It works like a push bar, but uses a lever to open and lock. The 3 points being the top into the header, in the bottom at the threshold, and the other door which will be locked with flush bolts in the top and bottom. Any direction will be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor D:
Paired exterior doors historically had one leaf of the pair retained by a surface mounted Cremone bolt. In some cases both leaves had the Cremone bolts. Von Morris, Baldwin, Whitechapel and others offer versions of this hardware. Often, the other leaf was retained by a rabbet, forgoing the need for a second surface bolt or flush bolts. These types of units were in wide favor, used as windows, since they could be swung open in fair weather for easy access to patios, etc. While this application was widely used in many parts of the world, the French get the credit for it.

The current flavor of multipoint latching includes types where both doors have shoot bolts that are let into the edges and engage the head and the sill, and one leaf of the pair (the active door) has a third bolt that engages the passive door. The active door usually includes a lock cylinder (either American or European type). A search for multipoint latching will yield some results, but the hardware is not available through the normal channels, and there is a learning curve and certain equipment required to utilize the product.

French doors are made in France, and the phrase has been misapplied by American marketers enough to render it meaningless by trying to add cachet to their mundane product. The real thing is available for viewing in the US, notably at the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC.

From contributor T:
Contributor D's answer is very thorough and probably accurate. However, it sounds like your client may be describing a commercial grade vertical rod exit device. For this to work in your application, the doors will open to the outside with the push bar on the inside. Von Duprin, Hager, Sargent, Corbin-Russwin and others make them. Normally not for residential use, but I guess you could make it go. They're expensive. Look for them at your local architectural hardware distributor - not the typical retailers.

From contributor D:

I did forget to add that the current wave of multipoint popularity seems to have arisen due to several causes. The use of manmade cores for mass-produced doors in the US has made for stiles with less resistance to bowing under wind pressure or general warping. The multipoint will help with that, and it is cheaper (?) than going to a thicker door - 2-1/4" or more. The other reasons are more vague, more like marketing filler, but have to do with "preventing warping" and "increasing security."

Of course, those of us that work with wood know what causes and prevents warping and know that the hardware choice will have nothing to do with preventing warping. As for security, most of the alleged "French" doors have glass in them. Code requires a thumb turn cylinder on the inside on the door, so just break a glass unit and turn the latch, and so much for security.

From contributor G:
Google "fenestration" and you will have more info than you should need to find what you are looking for.

From Gary Katz, forum technical advisor:
We use and install them in the field all the time. Google "multi-point hardware" and you'll see what I mean. Truth makes them, and several other fenestration companies. We use a plunge router and route a 3/4" groove down the edge of the door, then mortise for the body of the lock. After installing the rods, we install a wood cap in the top of the groove and sand it smooth.