Aluminum Glass Doors: A Cash Cow Ready to Produce

July 2, 2020
Knowing the proper hardware for each situation is the right way to tap a huge market.

Aluminum glass doors and frames are used commonly in commercial settings more often than wood, fiberglass or steel. Before we jump in with both feet, let’s first take a brief look at the historical side of the aluminum glass door. The question is, “Why Aluminum?”

 “Glass aluminum doors were first introduced during World War II due to steel shortages that were caused by the making of war machines, such as airplanes, tanks, etc.,” according to Jeff Fisher, owner of Advanced Doors and Security in Denver. “It’s been around ever since, because aluminum is less expensive, lighter and easier to work with.”

Good Reasons for Aluminum

There’s little doubt that, for those who work in commercial buildings, aluminum glass doors are, by far, the most common door in use. Here are four good reasons why:

Less warpage: An advantage to aluminum doors is that they don’t warp like steel doors when exposed to the heat of the sun. According to Fisher, steel doors can be a problem because of expansion and contraction.

“When the sun hits them, they can and do expand, especially if they’re hollow metal doors with styrofoam inside,” Fisher says. “Those are much more subject to expansion and contraction than aluminum.

Aesthetics and durability: The aesthetics of a storefront seem to be far more appealing when the storefront is composed of extruded aluminum. Aluminum extrusions are etched caustically by an anodic oxide treatment to obtain a clear coating, a dark Bronze coating or a black coating. Part of the durability issue goes back to how metal doors react when under direct sunlight. Eventually, they have to be replaced, while their aluminum counterparts continue on.

Ease of use: It’s easier to work with aluminum than steel. A good example of this involves the installation of a mortise lock equipped with a latch, deadbolt, hook bolt or a variety of other hardware. Drilling is faster, not to mention that a router can be used to create critical openings. This is because aluminum is softer and more malleable than steel.

Cable installation: Fishing a cable from the hinge stile of an aluminum glass door to an electrified mortise or some other device mounted in a lock stile can be done using the top rail and the lock stile. The frames are just as easy to fish, where it isn’t always feasible or practical with a steel door. This can be performed easily on an aluminum door by using a weighted waxed string and a short piece of metal clothes hanger with a hook on the end. You also can cut off a short piece of metal electrical fish tape, forming a hook at the end, by using a pair of diagonal pliers.

Locks and Glass Aluminum Doors

There are three basic groupings of glass aluminum doors that you’ll encounter in commercial work. Each one is classified according to the width of the stile. They are:

  • Narrow (2 inches wide)
  • Medium (3-1/2 inches wide)
  • Wide (5 inches wide)

When working with an aluminum glass door that has a narrow stile, it’s necessary to use a mortise lock that has a backset of 1 inch (thirty-one-thirty-seconds of an inch) or 1-1/8 inches. Most of the time, locksmiths work with a swing bolt that literally swings into an opening in the frame. There’s a wide array of mechanical and electronic locking systems specifically designed for narrow-stile doors.

The Codelocks series 400 is a great example of a narrow-stile key-button mechanical lock designed to be installed in a narrow aluminum glass door. In new or retrofit applications, the narrow characteristics of these locks make them a great addition to any locksmith’s list of products.

“It’s designed to be retrofitted to Adams Rite or similar ANSI round cylinder mortise deadlatches,” says Matt Welty, general manager at Codelocks. “These locks have a variety of access control functions, allowing the user flexibility on how to manage entry — by key, code or passage function entry.”

Another handy device designed specifically for narrow-stile glass aluminum doors is the M-7000 Sentinel Magnetic Cylinder Shield manufactured by Capitol Industries.

“The M-7000 cylinder and latch shield offers protection against unauthorized access to a standard lock cylinder,” says Hernan Ciecha, executive vice president of Capitol. “A magnetic key, coded to one of over 10,000 key codes is used to unlock a cover, so the user can slide it to gain access to the lock cylinder.”

Although medium- and wide-stile aluminum doors aren’t as common, their use is on the rise. “The only time you see the medium or wide stiles is when they intend to install a rim panic device or a concealed-rod device,” Fisher says. “The narrow stile is the biggest you see, and they are also the most inexpensive to buy. The hook latches are 20 bucks, so you don’t have to spend a couple hundred dollars for a panic bar, and they’re really secure if you use the hook latch. They’re a lot more secure that way.”

Available Latches and Bolts

There’s a wide variety of locking options available with most mortise locks that cover a wide variety of applications and situations. The most common are:

  • Short deadlatch
  • Long-throw deadlatch
  • Long-throw deadbolt
  • Short-throw deadbolt
  • Deadlatch

(The deadlatch is the little retractable latch with the paddle and the relatively small lever.)

If prying is a concern, use a lock equipped with a hook bolt. The primary difference between an ordinary bolt and a hook bolt is a notch cut into the swing bolt. This notch affixes itself into the strike so prying is no longer possible — or at least less likely. The holding force of most hook bolts is in excess of 1,700 pounds.

A deadbolt usually accompanies a lever on the inside of the door. Operation from the outside is, as always, with a common key. Inside, operation of the deadbolt typically is accomplished by an ordinary thumb turn. When the deadbolt is unlocked, access control is achieved by an assortment of means, such as a thumb button for entrance and a small paddle for exit.

Special Hardware

Installing, repinning and repairing locks on glass aluminum doors are only three of the many services performed by the average locksmith. Others include the replacement of door closers, hinges, thresholds and other elements that pertain to aluminum doors. All of these have an effect on overall security, as well as the locksmith’s bottom line.

For example, GKL Products has a full line of devices designed to address many service situations. One example is where it’s necessary to remove old hardware and cover up an unsightly cylinder/lock-mounting hole. A second is where it’s necessary to remove an old lock and install a new one that’s slightly smaller.

In this regard, GKL manufactures the B15 Snap-in Bridge, which snaps into the inner extrusion of a lock opening in an aluminum lock stile. This device enables you to install an MS lock deadbolt, dead latch or a blank faceplate. The B15ADP Bridge Adapter, also manufactured by GKL, is used with medium and wide stiles for additional bridge support. The B15 and B15ADP also provide usable threaded holes when the old ones have gone awry, which is a common problem on older doors.

Another important GKL device is the Hinge Doctor family — the HA1, HA2, HA3 and HA4 — of hinge adjusters. GKL also has an assortment of hinge-adjustment kits, screw boxes and a variety of tool kits to go with them. For more information:

Contactless Access

There are times when an existing mortise lock must be removed from a narrow-stile glass aluminum door. In this case, a blank plate must be used to cover the hole. By using special hardware, such as GKL’s B15 and B15ADP, blank plates and cylinder covers are thus installed. A good example of this is when a contactless access system is employed at the door rather than at the mechanical and electronic locks.

“Customers like convenience and using their smartphones to gain access to a facility,” says Mike Simon, managing partner with Connected Technologies. “It’s something they have with them and are unlikely to leave home without. We developed ScanPass Mobile Credential, so persons could use their smartphone for contactless, friction-free access control.”

Simon says no hardware or device has to be installed on the door, other than a barcode label on the outside. The end user simply points their smartphone camera at the label to gain access. For more information:

So, aluminum glass doors are a huge source of cash flow because of the large number in commercial facilities across the nation. New work is profitable enough, but add to this the service aspects, and now you have an enormous cash cow just waiting to be milked.

Allan B. Colombo is a longtime trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. You can contact him at [email protected], 330-956-9003 or