7 Tips When Installing Cabinet or Locker Locks

Sept. 13, 2021
Locking solutions exist for every application, but sometimes locksmiths have to get creative on site.

Locker and cabinet locks are unsung heroes in the security industry.

Whereas doors and frames typically are standard, so the installation is fairly straightforward, lockers, cabinets and desks are still very much the Wild West — everyone just seems to create their own rules. Consequently, hundreds, if not thousands, of locker and cabinet locks have been designed to meet these rules. And when the rules aren’t explicitly met, locksmiths have to fill the gap.

Locks meant for cabinets, lockers or furniture come in a variety of formats, including disc and pin tumbler, tubular and even electronic, such as CompX’s eLock and StealthLock. Various models also are made to fit every application, including cabinet doors, sliding doors, lids, drawers and file cabinets. Suffice to say, if the solution isn’t obvious, locksmiths have an arsenal to draw from and the imagination to make it work.

Although locker and cabinet locks are fairly simple creatures, their installation often is taken for granted and can present problems. I have learned, however, that some finer points to locker and cabinet lock installations can be used to produce professional, long-lasting results.

Here are 7 of those finer points, or tips, that I’ve learned — often the hard way — over the years:

Tip 1: Mind the Materials

Cabinets, lockers and furniture come in a variety of styles and can be installed on a variety of materials. Metal and wood applications are rather straightforward, because we deal with them when installing hardware on doors. The fun with cabinets, however, is laminate.

Laminate, sometimes referred to as Formica (a brand name for a laminate type), is a synthetic material that’s applied on top of wood, particleboard and other materials. You more than likely have encountered laminate, because it’s used on everything from flooring to countertops. In other words, you probably already are familiar with its “feeling,” so when you encounter it at a job site, you’ll know what you’re working with. Because laminate is typically thin and brittle, it can be very prone to chipping during drilling if you aren’t careful, and that can ruin an installation quickly!

To avoid chipping, place painter’s tape on top of your drilling location to reinforce the laminate and apply light pressure and high RPMs when initially drilling (to reduce the likelihood of your bit snagging). The initial drilling is the most important part, so take your time, go slow and do it right. You don’t want to source a replacement drawer or door!

Tip 2: The Right Tools

When it comes to drilling a hole in wood, laminate, particleboard, etc., there are two big sides in the industry: one advocating for holesaws and another for paddle or spade bits. I’m not here to advocate for either side, but it’s paramount that, no matter what you use, the bit must be sharp. It will make your job easier, produce far better results and reduce the likelihood of errors (chipping, burning, etc.).

I’m also a big proponent of using pilot holes first. They go a long way to make sure you’re drilling straight, efficiently and carefully.

Tip 3: Not Just for Painters

I already mentioned one use for painter’s tape, but my favorite use is to lay out installations. Consider typical cabinet or locker installations: The relationship between the door and the rest of the cabinet or locker isn’t as uniform as it is with standard doors. As a result, we often must get crafty to ensure that the lock’s cam will go into the right spot.

Painter’s tape can handle this for us. Apply painter’s tape to the door as well as the rest of the cabinet in the general area of the installation. After you’ve established your installation spot, take a combination square or similar tool and transfer a straight line from that spot on the door to the rest of the cabinet. If necessary, transfer this line to the inside of the cabinet. That’s your center line, and it shows you exactly where a strike or cut out has to be.

Tip 4: Lining It Up

On locks that don’t include spur or “Wonder” washers, tightening the mounting washer fully can result in the lock not lining up perfectly. The last bit of tightening of the mounting washer typically rotates the lock with it.

I have found two ways to prevent this and make sure that the lock is lined up perfectly. The first way is to insert the appropriate key blank into the lock and hold the key blank — and thus the lock — in place while you tighten the mounting washer. Although it might be tempting, don’t use a standard screwdriver or similar tool in lieu of a key blank, or you’ll risk damaging the lock.

The second way is to hold onto the lock’s cam, if reachable, while tightening the mounting washer. Both ways allow you to keep the lock in its intended position while you fully tighten the mounting washer.

Tip 5: Making the Double D

Certain situations and preps will call for you to cut the infamous “double D” prep. Although dedicated tools exist for this procedure, you might not have them on hand, or the lock might be for a wooden cabinet or locker.

To create a double D prep, simply drill a hole to match the width of the two flat sides of the lock. After that’s complete, use a hand file, rasp or similar tool to finish cutting the double D prep. Remember the tip earlier about using painter’s tape to lay out an installation? Drawing the prep on the painter’s tape will allow you to get a clean, professional installation by simply drilling or filing to the lines.

Tip 6: Your Second Pair of Eyes

Considering the size of most cabinets or lockers, it usually is impossible to see what’s going on when the door is shut and we’re testing the lock operation. Fortunately, your smartphone can assist with this.

Simply turn on the phone’s flashlight, start to record a video, place it inside the cabinet or locker facing toward the back of the lock and perform a few test cycles. Hit stop and review the video to see whatever information that you sought. This tip also can be used to diagnose existing installations or locks that aren’t operating correctly.

Tip 7: Reinforce with Metal

Most locker and cabinet locks come only with the lock and necessary installation or operation accessories. Rarely do they come with any sort of strike or method of reinforcing whatever the cam is locking against. This is no fault of the manufacturers: It’s impossible to account for every scenario or even the majority. Because wooden lockers and cabinets aren’t known for their quality, it’s a matter of when, not if, the material will wear down and break over time and the lock will cease to be able to lock.

Plan for this, and quote accordingly, by reinforcing that area with metal. It doesn’t have to be intricate, because this area will be behind a door or lid or drawer 99% of the time. A simple aluminum strip and a few wood screws often are enough. Reinforcing this area with metal will increase the security of the installation and go a long way to ensure that the installation will last. And, trust me, repairing a missing chunk of particleboard or wood isn’t fun.

There are certainly other suggestions, such as “you can never have too many elbow catches on hand,” but these finer points will guide you well, no matter the scenario.

Tyler J. Thomas, CJIL, CMKA, CRL, is vice president of Security Engineering Consultants in Atlanta and is the Southeast director for ALOA.