21 Secrets Locksmiths Won’t Tell You

How to outsmart burglars and what they're really thinking when you call at 2 a.m.

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A lot of us do undercover work for the cops

A lot of us do undercover work for the copsiStock/Upyanose
We make keys for them and get them into places at 3 a.m. so they can set up surveillance equipment or put the bugs in place. It's part of the thrill of doing what we do.

Contractors stink at installing dead bolts

Contractors stink at installing dead boltsiStock/kadmy
I can't tell you how many times I go out to rekey one or let someone in, and I find problems. If it's not installed right, it won't protect you. Here's what to know before hiring a handyman.

The best lock is a dead bolt that’s properly installed

The best lock is a dead bolt that’s properly installediStock/mj0007
It should have at least a one-inch “throw,” and on the “strike side,” there should be a security plate with screws at least three inches long that go all the way into the door’s wood frame. These are signs your house is vulnerable to burglars.

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Use a double cylinder lock to avoid break-ins

Use a double cylinder lock to avoid break-insiStock/NCHANT
If you have a window on or near your door, a thumb-turn dead bolt won’t do much good. They knock out the glass, stick a hand in, and turn. Get a double cylinder lock that needs a key on the inside.

Think twice before you buy a locked safe at a flea market, estate sale, or auction

Think twice before you buy a locked safe at a flea market, estate sale, or auctioniStock/Arpad Benedek
It's probably going to cost you $300 or more to open it, and chances are, all you're going to find is mouse poop.

When you buy a new house, always have your locks rekeyed

When you buy a new house, always have your locks rekeyediStock/Oxford
Otherwise there's probably a master key out there that can easily open your home.

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Keys stamped “Do not duplicate” are duplicated all the time

Keys stamped “Do not duplicate” are duplicated all the timeiStock/AGEphotography
Ask me about high-security locks with keys that can’t be replicated at the hardware store.

You're supposed to check ID before you open anything

You're supposed to check ID before you open anythingiStock/halbergman
But half the time when someone is locked out of their house or car, where do you think their ID is?

These are the biggest mistakes people make with their safe:

These are the biggest mistakes people make with their safe:iStock/enviromantic
Spinning the dial too fast, trying to open it before it's unlocked, and forcing it closed when there's obviously a problem.

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It’s easy to defeat the cheapo locks from big-box stores

It’s easy to defeat the cheapo locks from big-box storesiStock/Kwangmoozaa
Most are mass-produced by reputable manufacturers but to very low standards. Look for at least a grade 2. Here are other things you should never buy at big-box stores.

I've seen my share of dead bodies

I've seen my share of dead bodiesiStock/alessandroguerriero
It's always a bad sign when the landlord calls to get into an apartment, and nobody's seen the tenant for ten days.

Divorce lock-outs are a challenge

Divorce lock-outs are a challengeiStock/BernardaSvstock
The soon-to-be-ex wife will call and say she’s locked out, so I get her in and change the locks. Then the husband calls with the same request. I refer him to a competitor.

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Don't feel bad if you have to call me twice in a short span of time

Don't feel bad if you have to call me twice in a short span of timeiStock/ponsulak
I once had a guy lock himself out of his house three times in one day.

If you’re locked out, please call just one of us

If you’re locked out, please call just one of usiStock/SrdjanPav
More than once, I arrived at a lock-out to find two competitors’ trucks already there. At that point, we all agreed to leave and abandon the inconsiderate victim.

Never tell me, "Don't worry. It's an easy lock."

Never tell me, "Don't worry. It's an easy lock."iStock/Andrew Howe
Every time someone says that, it takes an extra 10 minutes to get it open. It's the kiss of death.

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If you call at 2 a.m., bewaware

If you call at 2 a.m., bewawareiStock/milicad
If some guy calls me because he’s locked out of his car at a strip club, a service call that’s normally $55 is automatically $100. If he’s got money for strip clubs, he’s got money for me.

Don’t believe a car dealer who says only he can duplicate keys

Don’t believe a car dealer who says only he can duplicate keysiStock/Tom England
In most cases, a locksmith who specializes in automotive work can make you a key—usually cheaper.

Try the door

Try the dooriStock/Tatomm
I’ve gone to houses and found it open. (I’m still going to charge you for the service call.)

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If your key won’t turn, try WD-40 or silicone spray

If your key won’t turn, try WD-40 or silicone sprayiStock/GCshutter
Sometimes the pins get jammed up, and 25 to 40 percent of the time, that solves the problem. Here are more brilliant uses for WD-40.

Have a housekeeper who needs a key?

Have a housekeeper who needs a key?iStock/Nathan Watkins
Ask me to key your door so that your master key works on both the dead bolt and the doorknob, but hers works just on the knob. On the day she comes, lock only the knob.

Many locksmiths in the phone book or online are scam artists

Many locksmiths in the phone book or online are scam artistsiStock/stevelenzphoto
They’ll quote you a great price, but when they get there, they’ll say you have a special lock they can’t pick, so they have to drill it open. Then they charge you $125 for a replacement lock you can buy at Home Depot for $25. Find someone reputable at findalocksmith.com, the official website of the Associated Locksmiths of America.

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