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Are Door Handles & Door Knobs Universal?

Quick Summary

Most people will need to replace a door handle or door knob at some point. While some door hardware is universal, other types have unique requirements due to their location, purpose, and configuration particulars like backset length and cross-bore diameter.

At some point, you’re probably going to replace a door handle or door knob in your home. When that happens, you may not be sure what to buy, especially if the hardware is older. Is there a particular type you need to get or are door handles and door knobs universal?

The answer is “Yes but also no.”

For example, most lever door handles are universal since they are non-handed and can be installed on both left and right-handed doors. You can use the lever door lock on the opposite hand by simply rotating the handle's configuration. While some lever door handles have unique styles that may cause the door lock to be handed, the manufacturer will usually state the fact on marketing materials.

Door knobs are similar: on the surface, they may look as if you can install them on any door, but the knob is only one consideration. You also need to think about whether you need hardware for interior or exterior use, what kind of backset is required, the diameter of the cross-bore, and more.

In this blog, the team at Access Residential Hardware explains the installation and functional differences between door handles and door knobs, so you can choose the right hardware for your door.

Interior vs. Exterior Door Handles and Door Knobs

Door handles and door knobs must be selected according to the function of the door, because there is no universal indoor-outdoor application.

Exterior Door Handles and Knobs Are Meant For Security

The primary function of an exterior door knob is to keep the door closed. Unlike most interior door handles and door knobs, they have keyed locks and heavier construction. While they're not impenetrable, they're more durable than interior privacy knobs, which can often be picked with a hairpin. Although exterior knobs are more secure than interior passage knobs, they are most effective when paired with a deadbolt.

Interior Door Handles and Door Knobs Have a Lighter Construction

Interior door handles and door knobs tend to be lighter and more compact than exterior knobs. Since they’re meant to close interior doors, security doesn’t play a big role in their design and construction- most don’t even feature locking mechanisms. These door handles and door knobs fall into three categories:

  • Privacy Knobs: These knobs lock, but they don't have a key. Instead, they have their own unlocking mechanism. You’ll usually find them on bedroom and bathroom doors. Their lightweight and keyless function make them unsuitable for exterior doors.
  • Passage Knobs: Unlike privacy knobs, this type doesn’t lock; instead, they are used for opening doors. Passage knobs are found on closet doors and some room entrances.
  • Dummy Knobs: These knobs and handles serve an aesthetic purpose and don’t turn at all. They are usually mounted on the surface of a door or behind it, making them a good choice for shallow closets, small pantries, and the interior of French doors.

Door Handle and Door Knob Choice is Influenced by Backset Length

Backset refers to the distance between the edge of the door and the center of the hole where you install the knob or handle. With most door knobs, the backset is either 2 ⅜ inches or 2 ¾ inches. When the backset is wrong, it can result in the latch bolt assembly being either too long for the door to latch or too short for it to reach.

If you need to replace a door knob or handle, you will need to measure the backset to make sure you get the right-sized replacement. If there isn't a hole in the door yet (i.e. it’s a new door), you'll need to measure the backset of the door knob itself so you can use the hole saw appropriately.

Door Knob Compatibility is Impacted by the Cross-Bore Diameter

Like with the backset, you need to know the diameter of the installation hole in the door or the cross-bore size required. While most cross-bores measure 2 ⅛ inches in diameter, there are exceptions, so you’ll want to make sure. Sometimes, a doorknob and rosette (the metal plate that covers the knob or handle assembly and goes around it) need to be wider due to a larger cross-bore.

Some Door Handles and Door Knobs Are Keyless

Keyless door handles and door knobs are becoming more popular on the interior as well as exterior doors, especially in places with a home office.

Although they typically have a key and keyhole, their main function is to work without a key. Depending on the type of keyless knob, you may have to enter a 4-digit code to open or close the lock, or you may use a key fob. In some smart homes, lock operations are controlled by a smartphone app.

If you want to replace a traditional door knob or handle with a keyless version, it’s not a simple process. You’ll want to have the lock professionally installed and programmed. Despite these extra steps, keyless door knobs will be highly convenient for you and your family in the long run. Since you don’t need a physical key to open the door, you don’t have to worry about losing yours and having to call a locksmith.

Older Door Knobs and Door Handles Can Be Hard to Replace

It may be time to upgrade your door handle or door knob if they’re extremely old and no longer functioning properly. Many Victorian-era homes still have their original door hardware, especially interior doors. In some cases, replacing the knob may also mean replacing the entire door.

The spindle of an older knob may be much narrower. (The spindle is the metal piece that turns to activate the latch.) If this is the case, the cross-bore may be much too small to accommodate the new knob. The backset might also be different from one of the standard sizes used today.

A hole saw can be used to solve the first problem. Simply cut a larger hole in the door with the saw. The second problem requires you to move the hole left or right. Note that the old hole in the door will still be in place after completing this process, so you’ll want to look at filling it.


There are no universal door handles or door knobs, but they are fairly standardized, so unless you have a really old door or want to go from a traditional to a keyless lock, you shouldn’t have a problem carrying out replacements. When you know the backset measurement, you can buy the right replacement or drill the cross-bore in the right place on the door before installing new hardware.

Need a New Door Handle or Door Knob? Access Residential Hardware Has What You Need!

While door handles and door knobs are not universal, this won’t be an issue when you source a door hardware company with dozens of different styles from industry-leading manufacturers. Access Residential Hardware carries exterior door hardware and interior door hardware from leading manufacturers such as Schlage, Emtek, and Yale. If you need to replace older or malfunctioning software, we have options that are compatible with your home’s indoor and outdoor decor.

You can check out our stock anytime by visiting our product pages. If you have questions or need help with your order, please call us at 866.752.9002, or fill out this contact form.