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Historical Guide to Catches

Catches come in a bewildering assortment of function and design. In very general terms a catch is any device whose purpose is to hold two or more components together while allowing for easy release. Quite what distinguishes a catch from a latch is unclear to me so we will group them together for the sake of this guide. Locks are dealt with elsewhere and are considered distinct from catches.

Door Catches

Door catches can either be mounted to show on the outside of the door or the can be mounted to the edge or the inside of the door if they are to be unseen. Kitchen cabinets from the early part of this century would often use a spring loaded turn catch simply face mounted on the outside of the cabinet. These catches served the dual purpose of keeping the door shut and providing a knob with which to open the door. Though the development of self closing hinges eliminated the need for these catches in many situations, they have become popular again for their retro-visual appeal. At the time the originals were made durable metal lacquers were unavailable and to discourage tarnish most cabinet fittings were nickel, and later, chrome plated. Today we offer these catches in polished brass and antique brass in addition to nickel and chrome. Our selection of door catches can be found at Cupboard Catches.

In situations where pairs of doors meet without a central divider these various surface mounted catches need to be partnered with an elbow catch or slide bolt.

Elbow catchElbow catches hold the left hand door shut and are released from the inside when the right hand door has first been opened. Slide bolts can accomplish the same goal but are less convenient and more commonly used on furniture and in conjunction with door locks. Elbow Catch 146CL22P.

If simplicity of appearance and use is important then the choice will be between modern magnetic and touch latches, self closing hinges and the higher quality spring loaded ball catches. It is hard to make an argument for the use of ball catches in built in cabinetwork, both the single and the double types shown below require precise installation and provide for little or no adjustment.

Double Ball Catches

Double ball catchDouble ball catches are easy enough to install if you still have access to the inside of cabinet. If you are planning to use these catches on anything but the most rigid cabinetwork it is advisable to mount them horizontally at the bottom or top of the door. If mounted vertically, opposite the hinged side of the door, any small amount of racking will change the lateral relationship between the parts and prevent the catch functioning correctly or worse. Plan also to fit them before the backs go on.

Mounting these catches on an otherwise finished cabinet can be frustrating unless you are blessed with an extremely small assistant with a flashlight. Without help of this sort you will be obliged to rely on measurement. Even with the most painstaking measurements I have never been right the first time but a little fine tuning of the male component with a file is usually all it takes. The nature of these catches suits them to fine furniture rather than cabinet use as reliable functioning requires precise relationship between the parts to be achieved and preserved.

Relevant Products
145CD1, 145CD1C, 145CD2, 145CD3

Single Ball Catches

Single ball catchSingle ball catches can be used with a strike or without. In softer woods it may be advisable to use the strike. As a general principal always use the largest catch your material will accommodate, the larger the catch the better they feel and sound. The Brusso catches we sell (shown above) are supplied with a cylindrical dome profiled strike. The idea behind this technological breakthrough was to eliminate contact between ball and wood. Up to this point the spring loaded ball either rode directly on its adjacent wood surface or over a thin metal strike. If the ball rides on the wood it will eventually impress a track into the wood fibers. If it rides on a strike this strike is inevitably visible aside from being tricky to fit. The Brusso domed strike is simply drilled opposite the catch and allows the ball to float in the door gap, ride up the gentle slope of the strike and drop into the divot machined into its top.

The need for this level of sophistication pre-supposes a problem when the ball is allowed to ride directly on wood. This may well be the case in soft woods after a considerable time but on hard woods the damage will negligible. Nevertheless the Brusso catches are the still the nicest available and can be used with or without strike.

A ball catch can be fitted in a variety of locations around a door without much trouble. Generally they will positioned in the lower edge of the door as far away from the hinges as possible. On very tall doors it might be a good idea to use a catch top and bottom.

A countersink bit makes the ideal indent for the ball. This indent can be accurately located if a sheet of carbon paper is laid on the wood and the door closed carefully. The end of the resulting black line will mark the center of your countersink. Drill a very shallow countersink to check for correct positioning, as you drill it deeper you can move its center significantly if adjustment is necessary.

Relevant Products
145CA1, 145CA2, 145CA3, 145CV2P and 145CV3PC.

Casement Catches

Casement catch Casement catches (or latches) are designed to latch closed windows, either double hung or casement. The smaller of these catches (shown on the left) are suited to numerous alternative applications, most commonly cupboard and cabinet doors. They have a simplicity of use and a positive closure that suits the needs of functional and less formal cabinetry. Shop and store cabinetry. Boats and RVs are situations that come to mind.

Relevant Products
139C10P, 139C110P, 139C120A, 139C130P

Larger versions (shown below) are more particularly suited to their intended function though I've seen them used to good effect on the icebox cabinetwork in soda fountains.

Large casement catches

Relevant Products
Casement Latches

Table Catches

Table catches can serve a variety of purposes all related to registering table leaves in place. Different tables have quite different requirements and the correct catch should to be used in each case. All of these catches are solid brass, either cast or forged.

Dining tables of the 18th century were very often an assemblage of independent units that could be pushed together in different combinations to build a single table of suitable size for every occasion. In order to keep these elements from shifting side to side or up and down each top would key into next with splines or pins and table clips (shown below) were used to keep the tables from coming apart. These clips are installed as pairs at each joint, they are fitted near the table edge for easy access and a little visual interest.

Clip-style table catch

More modern extension tables built on telescoping table slides need a catch to prevent the leaves from creeping apart. The common solution here is a spring loaded catch with a wire that extends to an accessible point at one end of the table. These catches work well but are not high quality items and invariably bend or jam, a better choice is the turn catch (see below). Turn catches keep the leaves together and are easy to use if not quite as convenient. If crawling on the floor is not acceptable then a pair of catches should be used at each joint, these can then be set accessibly near the table edge.

Turn catch Turn catch

Tilt top tables have their own catches. Either round or banjo shaped spring loaded devices that release to allow the table surface to tilt through 90 for storage against a wall.

Tilt top table catches Installing a tilt top table catch

These catches are mounted to the underside of the table surface and engage the strike which is mortised into the table pedestal.

Relevant Products
Table Catches