Wooden Deadbolt Lock




This is a wooden lock based on rural locks found in Appalachia as documented in the 6th volume of the FOXFIRE book series. Analog instructibles from some time ago. (and a neat story if you care to look it up)

This isn't fine woodworking, to channel the spirit of the old locks I left this project pretty rough.
I included some exact dimensions, but really your application and design will vary. The important thing is the basic concept, and from there can be modified to fit your needs.

Be safe first and foremost when working with your tools.


5" X 11" X 1 3/4" solid: Lock body
7/16" thick plank: tumblers, bar, keys (from1/2" planed)

• TOOLS: Drill press, table saw, planer, chisel, forstner bits

Step 1: Layout

I used graph paper to lay out the concept and to try different configurations. This step was important to me in order understand the relationships between the parts in the assembly.

The tumblers are using gravity to do their job. The open side of the lock will be fastened against a wall or door which holds the assembly together. It should be noted that the key is needed in order to set the deadbolt as well as unlock it.

I added a standoff on the bottom of the tumblers to keep them from dropping to the bottom should the bar be removed. I also added a safety key on the opposing side in case you were to be locked in.

Step 2: Milling the Body

The first set of cuts are the channels that receive the tumblers.
Second, the channels for the key and the bar, and in my case the safety key.

tumbler paths: 1 5/8" deep X 1/2" wide X 8" long

key path: 15/16" deep X 1 3/16" wide path to path long

Bar path: same as key path but 1 9/16" wide

The rectangular slots need to be cut into the short sides. These should match the bolt and key channels

Step 3: Tumblers

The tumblers should be all cut at the same time to ensure that they are uniform The blanks should slide easily up and down in the channels with plenty of wiggle room to account for variations in the wood due to humidity etc. I used a planer to take down the tumblers and the key/bar blanks to better match the 1/2" forstner bit I was using. I chamfered all edges on the tumblers. This helps the wood items slide over each other when needed.

Step 4: Bolt/Keys

Once the tumblers are set, the bolt and keys can be made to fit. I made several keys at once to have a few spares.

Make sure the key and bar blanks slide freely in the lock body prior to cutting the teeth. Mark the teeth on the blanks and cut away.
The safety key could be a dowel or anything straight. No exact key is needed.

Again I knocked all the edges off l to form a leading chamfer to ease the interaction between moving parts.

Step 5: Full Assembly

Sorry for the photo overkill. Anything I typed seemed to muddy it up.

Tumblers are gravity driven so you need the key in order to set the bar. If you don't have the key, the first tumbler will not allow the bar to pass.

Step 6: Possible Feature

with a couple of short dowel slugs, it's possible to lock the bar in the lock while still having full travel. I was more interested in being able to remove the bar entirely so I didn't include this in the design.

Step 7: As Installed

When affixed from the back side hiding the workings, it just looks like a block of wood sitting on the shelf with some holes in it.

While it's not a secret lock, it will confound would be enterers, provided they aren't saw wielding of course.

This was a fun project. The most important step is wrapping your head around the mechanics of it. The 2D paper mockup was essential.

This is installed in a secret(ish) pocket door, the subject of one of my other instructables. its the reason that you don't see a jamb or a door. Its also why the safety key was designed in this fashion.

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    15 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    This type of lock was invented in Egypt circa 4000 BC. It was used continuously till the Roman Empire and the Middle Age, when better, smaller, metal versions became mainstream.
    However, in some places they are used to this day.
    For instance, in Portugal there's a salt-extracting site in Rio Maior (which is 30km away from the sea; it´s melted saltrock , and extraction is documented since 1177 - circa the foundation of Portugal - even though the Romans and the Arabs also worked there).
    The wood barracks where the salt was stored couldn't afford metal locks, as they fastly rusted. So, wood locks were the solution.
    Today is slightly different (some of the barracks are now coffe houses, gift shops, etc), but wood lock models are sold there along with salt, as the extraction site also became a touristic place.
    After all, that salt is 200 million years old...


    -pictures on Google


    -a sample movie

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Great history! I enjoy bringing a little history to life. In an age when there "wasn't an app for that", the intelligence and resourcefulness of people is always is interesting.

    Thanks for the input.


    Reply 3 years ago

    "My concubines keep getting loose!"
    "There's an application of raw materials and craftsman skills for that."


    3 years ago on Step 7

    To prevent swelling and other damage, carefully use candle wax along all surfaces that will rub together. Just like an old drawer glide. This will also allow you to make the dimensions a little tighter as you stop all swelling if done properly. The tumblers can actually be coated completely and the wax scraped off, enough will remain that it stops friction and swelling.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    That is pretty awesome work.

    Thanks for posting.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    I love the foxfire series, and love seeing someone do such a great job of one of their projects! Well Done!


    3 years ago

    Do you have a video to show how it's working! Very interesting project!!!

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    I added some details to help understand the mechanics. The keys are that the open side will be affixed against the door or wall, and the tumbler action is gravity driven. Hope this helps! I'll see about making a short vid.


    3 years ago

    Beautifully done. Would also love to see a video of this in action :)

    1 reply
    eric squat

    3 years ago

    Awesome! Well done.