Do you live in the Lower Mainland? Do you live in a condo building that was built in the past 15 years? Do you have a lock with a mysterious name brand where the deadbolt and lever latch seem connected? Do you live in the fear that you may get locked out, or worse get locked in your apartment or townhouse?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be sitting on two time-bombs called the Colombo Mortise Lock and the FSB Mortise Lock.
First of all, a quick overview on both lock companies then we can discuss why we consider them time-bombs.
Not to be confused with the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo Design is an Italian company based in Terno d’Isola in Northern Italy. Established in 1990, the family-owned company specializes in door, furniture, and bathroom accessories. Here in the Greater Vancouver area, they are mostly known for their door hardware with the Viola style being quite popular. There are several developments in the False Creek and Yaletown areas with this style.
Most newer Colombo handles have their company logo etched onto the stem of the lever as shown above, but some will be blank.
Colombo locks in Vancouver are generally polished chrome plated and are generally found in upscale luxury developments. If your development’s marketing brochure included “luxury European door fixtures” or something similar, you probably have a Colombo. In the Downtown Vancouver area, buildings with Colombo locks include the Shangri-la Residences on Alberni St, Shaw Tower on West Cordova St, Atelier on Homer St, Pomaria on Howe St, and the list goes on and on. There are developments from West Vancouver to Burnaby to New Westminster and beyond, all filled with Colombo Mortise Locks.
In 1881, Franz Schneider began his business in Iserlohn, Germany specializing in antique-style cabinet fittings with a focus on brass work. In 1909, the company moved in Brakel and thus FSB was born – along with one of the worst cases of name confusion in the lock industry.
Many years ago, when I first encountered an FSB mortise lock, I could not believe someone had named their company after one of the most infamous secret police organizations of our time. Surely, this had to be a really bad lock!
Due to their relative rarity in the Vancouver area, it took me a while to realize that this was legitimately a great quality lock from Germany with no relations to the Russian FSB.
FSB locks in Vancouver are generally satin chrome plated and found in upscale luxury developments and remodelled homes. As one of the most expensive locks on the market, there are only a handful of buildings that have them. For example, the Jameson House on West Hastings St and the Fairmont Pacific Rim Residences on West Cordova St have FSB mortise locks.
While both lock brands are considered Grade 1 Heavy Duty Hardware, they are different as night and day. Here are a few reasons why:
|Colombo Design||FSB North America|
– Replacement parts are readily available
– Fancy good-looking handles
– Longer than average product life – 10+ years
– Fantastic build quality – made of surgical grade stainless steel and solid brass
– Very rare product failures
– Can be switched out at moderate co
– High replacement cost
– Lower than average product life – 5 years
– Mediocre build quality – made of a mixture of brass and unknown metal alloys
– Tends to end in catastrophic failure
– Can be switched out a high cost or not at all
– Very high replacement cost
– Replacements parts are impossible to find
In my experience, Colombo mortise locks are one of the worst value propositions in the Vancouver locksmith scene. They are expensive and break more often than any other mortise lock I have ever encountered.
Anytime a client has a problem with a mortise lock, 90% of the time it’s a Colombo. In addition, Colombo mortise locks have a habit of ending up in a catastrophic failure. This means that the client is either locked out or even worse, locked in.
I have had several customers over the years who literally became prisoners inside their own homes. Even having someone with a key try to unlock the door from the outside doesn’t work either. This lock can fail so badly that I have been forced to cut the lock out of the door a couple of times.
No other lock brand has given me as much grief as Colombos. That being said, it’s a great source of revenue for many professional Vancouver locksmiths. I always carry a set of Colombo mortise locks as their failure rate is fairly predictable.
Colombo locksets can be identified by the R12921 code stamped on the top of the faceplate per the picture below:
If you have a Colombo mortise lock and it has not been replaced in the past 5 to 7 years, please call or text me at 604-363-2760 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Save yourself a lot of grief and replace it today!
The one good thing I can say about Colombos is that replacement mortise locks are readily available. The problem is so endemic in the Greater Vancouver area that most professional locksmiths always keep an inventory of the most commonly replaced parts. Also, their handles are made of solid brass which have nice heft and feel. Unfortunately, the rest of the handle design and mechanism is really bad. Not the quality you would expect at that price point.
On the other side of the coin, FSB mortise locks are fantastic quality locks. Germany makes some of the best quality locks and lock tools in our industry. The downside is that everything is about twice the cost.
I rarely see a FSB lock fail prematurely. FSB locks only represent less than 1% of my business. To illustrate, I have only replaced three FSB mortise locks in the past 5 years in all of Vancouver. In comparison, I typically replace about 12 to 30 Colombo mortise locks every year.
This low failure rate is great because Vancouver homeowners with FSB locks currently have a huge problem. There has been no new supply of FSB lock parts in Western Canada since 2019. As of writing this article, I have one FSB mortise lock left and it’s probably the last one in all of BC. One lucky homeowner will be able to replace their lock. After that, it’s game over for the foreseeable future.
FSB North America is based in the US and we have not been able to order individual parts through their Western Canada representative in Calgary. Nor are their parts available from any online marketplace. They only seem interested in large bulk orders which when combined with their very high price point means no distributor is willing to take on the cost of holding any inventory. At the current moment, we are attempting to order parts direct from FSB North America or their HQ in Germany and we’ll keep our clients updated.
If you have a FSB mortise lock and it’s starting to act funny, please call or text me at 604-363-2760 or email me at email@example.com. You can be the lucky person who has the last FSB mortise lock in all of BC.
The question I get a lot from my clients with these two lock brands is if they can switch out their current lock to another more standard lock brand, e.g. Schlage or Sargent.
With a FSB, it’s a fairly straightforward project. Their lock cases are very similar to other North American mortise locks. Some extra holes may need to be drilled to accommodate a different lever style, but that’s pretty much it.
With a Colombo, significant modifications may be required to the door. Colombo mortise lock cases are smaller compared to standard North American locks. A professional locksmith will need to create a deeper mortise pocket in your door. This will create additional labour costs and may not even be possible depending on your door. Regardless, several of my clients have made the conversion. Once you get locked-in your home, you never want to experience that again plus it’s a serious fire hazard.
If you have any questions, please call or text me at 604-363-2760 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to the opportunity to serve you.