He's got a lock on ancient craft

July 19, 1992|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Staff Writer

ELDERSBURG -- In college, Kevin P. Clancy majored in zoology, hoping to become a herpetologist, studying amphibians and reptiles.

L What he spends his time doing today doesn't even come close.

On most days, he can be found at the end of his backyard forge, bent over glowing coals and hammering pieces of steel into shape.

Or, he might be inside his workshop putting those pieces of metal together to make a new lock for somebody's door.

His name also is in the August issue of American Early Life magazine, listed with 199 others considered to be the top in traditional American crafts.

His craft is, indeed, unique: Mr. Clancy, 38, makes and repairs 18th-century box locks -- those big cumbersome locks found on 200-year-old farmhouses that require a 6-inch key to open.

"My father-in-law was a pattern maker in a foundry and got me interested in furniture making after college," Mr. Clancy said. "Then I got into restoration and making old moldings and things like that. I did restoration work on locks on furniture, and that gave me the knowledge of the mechanisms."

ZTC But it wasn't until he and his wife, Kathleen, bought their 18th century farmhouse on Old Liberty Road in 1983 that he really plunged into lock making.

"The house had old locks on it and I could tell by looking at them that I could fix them," he said.

What makes Mr. Clancy and his craft so unique is that very few people make and repair these kinds of locks as a public service.

"Houses before 1850 had wrought-iron locks, and I'd say virtually none have the original locks now," Mr. Clancy said. "People are surprised they can get original locks made -- usually they're at the mercy of reproduction companies."

But Mr. Clancy's locks are more than just look-alikes. They're exact replicas of the original lock, right down to the screws.

"I determine what locks they had on a door -- most people assume it's the original, but when you strip it down, it's as many as a dozen," he said. "From the marks and holes on the lock you can determine what kind of lock was on the door."

Not only does he reproduce the lock (he'll also do just a repair if possible), he'll mount the lock and fix the door. He makes new keys, too.

"When people see the keys they want them more than the locks," he commented of the ornate keys, four to six inches in length.

Mr. Clancy starts the process at the forge and anvil, heating coals to 2,500 degrees for bringing the steel to a temperature for bending and welding into shape.

Then into the workshop to assemble all the parts, matching them exactly to the original.

"Lock making is 90 percent bench work as opposed to forging the parts," he noted.

Depending on the complexity and design of the lock, Mr. Clancy takes a minimum of 25 hours to make a simple lock. But many can take 60 to 70 hours to reproduce, he said.

Mr. Clancy makes only about eight new locks a year, plus repairs on others. New locks can cost from $800 to $2,000, he said, depending on the work involved.

Photographs of his work so impressed the judges at Early American Life that they chose him for inclusion in the seventh annual listing of top American traditional craftsmen in the country.

While the list is not definitive, it does get those craftsmen some additional business and recognition from local media, said Judy Sopronyi, EAL's managing editor in charge of the project.

"We started this partly to put our readers in touch with things we knew they'd love," Ms. Sopronyi said.

Locks are not the only intricate work Mr. Clancy does. Inside his workshop are wood pieces and tools for period furniture from 1830 to 1900. His skills produce handmade doors, moldings and cabinets and room-size mahogany pieces.

Besides the satisfaction he gets from a job well-done, Mr. Clancy has the advantage of being able to work at home and be with his wife and two sons.

"I'm constantly busy, and I love it -- I enjoy it all," he said. "I get the best of all worlds."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.