It is almost impossible to give a precise date or even a period when wooden door knobs first began to be used. But several elements had to come together before their making and use became widespread. Firstly there obviously had to be doors and hinges to hang them from and secondly there had to exist the basic technology and the demand to make wooden door knobs.
It was not until the Tudors ascended the throne that there was sufficient political stability and prosperity to usher in a prolonged period of building and reconstruction.
Prior to this, during the Middle Ages everyone including the king lived in one big room where all eating, sleeping and affairs of state were conducted. From the late 1500’s the Royal palaces and then the houses of the courtiers and gentry were altered to make individual rooms. These rooms each had a specific function, much as houses of today. These individual spaces were separated by woven hangings. Over time wooden doors were constructed and hung from rudimentary hand forged strap hinges supported by pintles fixed directly into the stonework of the door opening.
During this period wood and hand forged latches were made. It was also during the early 16th century that wrought iron and brass rimlocks came into use. These items along with the hinges and many other pieces of domestic ironwork would have been made by the local or resident blacksmith using his charcoal fired forge. They would have been expensive to produce and would have been displayed to show the wealth of the master and also to advertise his modernity by using these ingenious mechanical devices – at the time these iron locking devices would have been at the cutting edge of man’s precision metal working abilities. The less wealthy had to make do with large wooden box locks. Sometimes metal drop handles or brass knobs were used to operate these locks but wooden turned knobs were also used. These wooden door knobs would have been hand turned by the local wood turner on a rudimentary treadle or pole lathe using crude metal tools. We are not yet in the age of alloyed steel for making precision edge tools. He would also be making domestic items such as wooden bowls, plates etc.
It was not until the Industrial Revolution that lathes became power driven firstly by water, later by steam and eventually electricity. Those great innovators the Victorians with their advances in steel production and ability to build advanced machines brought wood turning to a mass production activity with the development of one piece tooling machines.
And from this time to the present wooden door knobs have been used. Their popularity has been challenged by the arrival of man made materials especially glass, cellulose and Bakelite and later steel. The vagaries of fashion have had an effect, but in recent years they have become popular once more, possibly due to their green credentials, timeless beauty and diverse range of timbers available.
So join many celebrated hands and get YOUR hands on Knobbs door knobs.
*Our doorknobs are not mass produced imports – we make them here in our workshop in rural Pembrokeshire*