I'm trying to open a door. More precisely, I'm trying to design a mechanism to open and close a door mechanically which also allows me to open the door manually.

Now, I thought this would be fairly straightforward - just a simple servo, a rod, and an arduino then I'd be good to go. Easy Peasy.

But man, the more I try to think this I find I have to keep throwing out designs.

For instance, the problem with the basic servo idea is that I'd also like to be able to open and close the door on my own, without use of the mechanism. And, from my (admittedly very limited) experience with servos, I think this poses a problem. All the places I've read say that you shouldn't rotate a servo's arm manually - it can damage the gearing inside. If I'm trying to have a long-term installed mechanism, then the odds are pretty darn good I'll end up breaking things. (Plus, if it's just a direct attaching of the servo arm to the door then there's also be resistance from the arm against me pushing the door open).

So now I'm trying to find ways to design this thing. But my mechanical knowledge is every bit as limited as my servo knowledge... so I'm asking for help.

I have a few questions that hopefully the SE folks can answer:

  • Does anyone know of a mechanism design that would allow for the door to be openable both mechanically and manually? I have found designs like this, but am not sure I'd have the ability to build something with that many moving parts. Is there any way to build this more simply?
  • Are there any resources y'all could point me to to learn about designs for things like this? I've gone looking for a database or library of mechanisms, but don't know where to start.
  • Dumb question: does anyone know of a servo model where the arm can freely be rotated manually? That'd.. actually be the easiest option.
  • Anything obvious I'm missing in a plan like this?

I've looked at linear activators, too, but from everything I've seen they have the same problem as the servos. A simple solenoid could push the door open, but I'm not sure there's a way to make sure it can close it.

Note that this is a door that opens inward on a hinge (so your standard bedroom door).

Thanks for your input, and happy to answer any questions

  • $\begingroup$ Locks have been designed for 2000 years. Must be one that suits… $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Aug 8 at 15:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ have you considered going and looking at doors that have the handicap button to open them? These are ubiquitous, I can't imagine designing one myself. $\endgroup$
    – Tiger Guy
    Aug 8 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ Your requirement specifications are incomplete. Can the door spring closed? 1. That way the automated pusher mechanisism can open and hold it open and let it close when retracted. 2. Meanwhile a manual push would open against the spring and the door would close when released. 3. It might not be possible to close the door manually if the automatic pusher is extended. Hit the Edit link below your question ... $\endgroup$
    – Transistor
    Aug 8 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ Have you considered a drive gear or clutch that disengages the servo motor for "manual push mode"? This can be triggered by a capacitive sensor in the doorknob. I've seen security doors operate similarly, where they allow exit but not entry. $\endgroup$
    – RC_23
    Aug 8 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ Another option is to couple the servo drive rod to the door in a way that is one sided (can push but not pull). E.g. the motor pushes the door as with a piston head, but when the user pulls the door retreats from the piston head $\endgroup$
    – RC_23
    Aug 8 at 19:58

1 Answer 1


Consider a Yale lock night latch.

It has the cylinder outside the door - that's the part the key fits in.

It has the nightlatch inside the door - that's the part with the knob you can turn with your fingers.

Either turning the key or turning the knob opens the door.

I think you're asking for a mechanism like that. A servo turns "the key" or the person turns the knob. Either opens the door.

I'd suggest you take nightlatch apart to see how it works. I can't find a simple web-page that explains it but around 4:03 of this video you can see the mechanism


There are arms on the rotating disk that pulls the tongue back. There can be two disks with arms: one for the knob and one for the key. Turning either retracts the tongue.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ the OP is asking about opening a door, not about unlocking a door $\endgroup$
    – jsotola
    Aug 8 at 23:28

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