Making a Suffolk Latch — The Thumber’s Slot

In the eighteenth century there were two main types of hand forged latches with grips — Suffolk and Norfolk. The Norfolk has a grip attached to a flat plate. The Suffolk latch has an upper and lower decorative cusp with an integral grip in between. We make two styles of Suffolk latches for Horton. One style has the slot for the thumber cut into the upper cusp and the other style has the slot for the thumber cut into the upper portion of the grip. The first style is a larger latch used for exterior doors and the second style is a smaller latch used for interior doors.

Cutting the slot for interior door latches is an interesting bit of hot work and requires the use of a bolster block, a special chisel and a drift.


All the work is done on the anvil as shown here. This photo shows, on the left, the bolster block over the anvil’s hardy hole. The chisel is in position to be driven with a hammer through the hot forging. To the right is a scrap piece of steel to protect the anvil when the slot is cut entirely through.


Cutting the slot takes several heats. We mark out the location of the slot with a cold chisel cut on both sides of the stock for the latch. This gives something to help guide the hot chisel. We heat the metal to a dull red color and use the hot chisel to deepen the cold chisel mark. When the metal is extremely hot, it is hard to see these marks so they must be located solely by feel.

In the photo above the chisel has cut entirely through the stock from both sides after a second heat.


At another high heat the chisel is used to open the slot over the bolster. The bolster has a slot cut into it slightly larger than the one that is to be made. It supports the stock to prevent deformation while tools are being pounded through the slot.


This photo shows the latch’s spread slot. The slot is slightly lopsided which will be fixed during drifting the slot in the next two heats.


The drift is a piece of mild steel that tapers at both ends but is the exact size of the final slot in the middle. This allows the drift to be driven into the hot forging without getting stuck.


The drift is driven into the forging to create the final size for the slot. Its other use is to allow the metal around the slot to be forged without collapsing the slot. It’s at this point that the slot will take its final form.


The finished slot with the drift held to the side. After the latch forging is finished and it has been bent while hot to its final shape, the slot and thumber are drilled for a pin. Then the thumber is riveted into the latch. Those are some of the final steps in making a latch. Between cutting the slot of a Suffolk latch and putting the finish on it, there is much work to do.

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