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Door Handing for Hardware Dummies

Updated on February 23, 2014

I know we can't all be door hardware geniuses. Actually door hardware is a thing that will take over your life if you aren't careful so perhaps it's just as well. Nevertheless door hardware is ubiquitous to the point of being almost inescapable, so you may very well find yourself responsible in some way for arranging to get some. If this happens to you, you might be asked questions - bothersome questions like, "What hand is your door?"

Well, if somebody asks you, you might have to know. This article is about how to find out what hand your door is without hiring a door hardware genius to do it for you.

The hand of the human and the handing of the door.
The hand of the human and the handing of the door. | Source

In the illustration above the person is visualizing himself as the hinge of the door. His right hand imitates the motion of the leaf of the hinge that is connected to the door while his left hand remains motionless like the leaf that is connected to the door frame. Therefore it is said that the door swings to the right and is a right hand door.

Door hardware geniuses might think this would be the end of the article, but this is only because they have been forcibly made to figure out handing over the phone for customers for decades and don't have to think about it anymore. But I'll bet that you have to think about it, buckaroo, so following are a couple of more ways to think about handing.

Two ways to look at the same hands.
Two ways to look at the same hands. | Source

Simple Handing

In the illustration above we have four doors. The upper set of pictures shows doors from the pull side. When you are standing on the pull side of a door, you grasp the handle and pull it open. We are viewing the doors shown in the lower set of pictures from the push side. When you are standing on the push side of a door, you grasp the handle and push the door open.

If you can see the knuckles of the hinges, you are on the pull side.

In door handing this is the difference between the pull side and the push side:

From the pull side, if the lock is on the right it is a right hand door and if the lock is on the left it is a left hand door. From the push side, if the lock is on the right it is a left hand door and if the lock is on the left it is a right hand door.

The hand of a door is always as described above. No other factors change the handing of the door.

Simple handing as described above is useful for specifying doors, hinges and door closers. To determine handing for locking devices you may have to use reverse handing. In a moment we will see why it may sometimes seem that handing information conflicts because of reverse handing.

Reverse Handing.
Reverse Handing. | Source

Reverse Handing

Reverse handing is generally used to describe which side of the door is locked. Reverse handed locks are locked on the pull side. Therefore when standing on the pull side of the door, you insert your key, unlock the lock and pull the door open.

Comparing the illustration above with the previous illustration you can easily see the difference between simple handing and reverse handing. The easiest way to think about it is that reverse handing is exactly that: reverse.

  • Left hand reverse doors are always right hand doors and right hand reverse doors are always left hand doors.

You can see how this might be confusing, but if you always keep in mind the axiom above you will not be confused.

The easiest way to determine if your door is reverse handed is to stand on the pull side. If you see a lock cylinder on the pull side and not on the push side, you know you have a reverse handed door. Then if you already know the simple handing, the reverse handing is simply opposite.

Sometimes you will see a cylinder on both sides of the door. Then you need to decide which is the exterior side and which is the interior. For example, if you have a classroom door that swings into the classroom, the hallway side is the exterior. If it has a classroom security lock it may have cylinders on both sides, but is only the exterior cylinder that will tell you whether it is reverse handed. In our example the door swings into the classroom so it is NOT reverse handed because one pushes the door in order to open it. If it swung out into the corridor it would be reverse handed, because in order to open it from the corridor side you would need to pull it open.

The easiest way to determine the hand of a reverse handed door is to stand on the pull side and and see whether the lock is on the left or right. If it is on the right the door is left hand reverse. If it is on the left the door is right hand reverse.

When do you use reverse handing?

Use reverse handing whenever you need to order an exit device, exit device trim or mortise lock. Many locks may say they are "non-handed" but what they really are is field reversible. Cylindrical levers are truly non-handed. Doorknob locks are definitely handed, but field reversible. A good rule of thumb is that if you can order your locks pre-handed to fit your doors you will save your installers a little time and trouble. Also it is possible to break a lock while you are handing it, so locks ordered handed (except for cylindrical levers) are never a bad idea.

A pair of doors that swing out.
A pair of doors that swing out. | Source

Variations and Abbreviations

Common Abbreviations:

  • RH = Right Hand
  • LH = Left Hand
  • RHR = Right Hand Reverse
  • LHR = Left Hand Reverse

Less Common Abbreviations:

  • RHRB = Right Hand Reverse Bevel = Right Hand Reverse (RHR)
  • LHRB = Left Hand Reverse Bevel = Left Hand Reverse (LHR)

More Abbreviations:

  • RHOS = Right Hand Out Swing
  • LHOS = Left Hand Out Swing
  • RHSO = Right Hand Swings Out
  • LHSO = Left Hand Swings Out

The four abbreviations above that refer to swinging out are used to describe the door's swing in relation to the interior space (see illustration below). Note the doors are still either left hand or right hand doors, however their relationship to the space to which they provide access determines whether they swing "in" or "out."

Typically entrances of public buildings will be pairs of out-swinging doors with no center mullion (see illustration above). A nice aspect of pairs of doors that both swing either in or out is that they are easy to hand. One will always be a Left Hand door and one will always be a Right Hand Door.

In-swinging and out-swinging doors.
In-swinging and out-swinging doors. | Source

There we have it, the ins, outs, lefts and rights of handing. I hope you find this information useful should the vortex of door hardware trap you with its gravitational pull. If not, well, take very good pictures of your doors with a camera (not a phone) and share them with your qualified hardware installer or the dealer from whom you intend to buy hardware. They are paid to know handing and will help you get the right stuff.


Try your "hand" at a little quiz?

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    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 3 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Susan!

    • Susan Recipes profile image

      Susan 3 years ago from India

      Useful and interesting share. Thanks for sharing.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 3 years ago from United States

      If you didn't pass with flying colors I would think there was something wrong with the quiz. :D

      Thank you, Jess!

    • profile image

      Jess 3 years ago

      interesting read,

      nice quiz at the end too, passed it with flying colors (highly observant of handing and position of the hardware on a door)

      it also helps that I'm an expert in door closers, and often times the door closer is a dead giveaway to what hand the door is and how it will swing when opened for all install types.

      great hub Tom!

      -Jess the door closer doctor

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 3 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Cre8tor. Door hardware handing can be a very frustrating concept despite its seeming simplicity, like many projects around the house or office that require the skills of a trades person. Thanks again.

      Ah, MsLizzy, thank you. You've hit the nail on the head. This is when one expresses agreement during a conversation about handing, one should not say, "right", but only, "correct." :p

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Well done. So, for my left-hand exterior back door, I'd need to order a right-hand screen door. ;-)

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Dan Robbins 3 years ago from Ohio

      We often take for granted how much thought goes into the most common things.

      I'm a home guy so I can appreciate how useful this is. Great informative Hub.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 3 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Flourish! :)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Very useful information and more complex than what you'd think. Thanks for breaking the information down.