22 Secrets a Locksmith Won’t Tell You

Locksmiths reveal their best trade secrets.

by Michelle Crouch from Reader's Digest | April 2011
22 Secrets a Locksmith Won’t Tell You© Hemera/Thinkstock

1. Many locksmiths in the phone book or online are scam artists. 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.

2. Find someone reputable at findalocksmith.com, the official website of the Associated Locksmiths of America.

3. If it’s 2 a.m. and 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.

4. It’s easy to defeat the cheapo locks from big-box stores. Most are mass-produced by reputable manufacturers but to very low standards. Look for at least a grade 2.

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

6. 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.

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

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

9. Divorce lock-outs are a challenge. 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.

10. Have a housekeeper who needs a key? 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.

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

12. If your key won’t turn, try WD-40 or silicone spray. Sometimes the pins get jammed up, and 25 to 40 percent of the time, that solves the problem.

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

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

15. Contractors stink at installing dead bolts. 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.

16. A lot of us do undercover work for the cops. 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.

17. When you buy a new house, always have your locks rekeyed. Otherwise there’s probably a master key out there that can easily open your home.

18. You’re supposed to check ID before you open anything. But half the time when someone is locked out of their house or car, where do you think their ID is?

19. The biggest mistakes people make with their safe: spinning the dial too fast, trying to open it before it’s unlocked, and forcing it closed when there’s obviously a problem.

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

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

22. Never tell me, “Don’t worry. It’s an easy lock.” Every time someone says that, it takes an extra ten minutes to get it open. It’s the kiss of death.

Sources: Tom Rubenoff, a hardware salesman and former locksmith in Brookline, Massachusetts; Charles Eastwood, who operates Locksmith Charley in Phoenix, Arizona; Bob DeWeese, a locksmith in Baltimore, Maryland; and Rick Bayuk, owner of Karpilow Safe & Lock in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

  • Your Comments

    • Kris

      Ask if the locksmith is a smoker. If “yes”, don’t hire them.
      Never use a smoker for anything.

      • Hawk

        I use a smoker for my chicken breasts all the time.

    • Locksmith Lenny

      “Get a double cylinder lock that needs a key on the inside.”
      ILLEGAL and a fire-code violation in many cities. Check, first.

    • Al

      I have neighbors who can pick any lock I put on my house and hack into my secuity system. how can I stop them. samcolt1@live .com .

      • Lieutenant Shinysides

        Motion lights, dog, shotgun, no trespass notice, 911.

    • Vzeotgob

      6. 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.
      These are illegal in many states (including Massachusetts) and are a serious danger for fire safety. 

    • Robert Heng Woo Lim

      Here’s a NEAT LITTLE TRICK to avoid calling or paying for a THROAT-CUTTING lock-smith EVER again:

      Make a SET of duplicate keys for your locks,especially the front door,WRAP THEM IN A WATERPROOF PLASTIC & BURY IT IN A CORNER OF YOUR GARDEN OR SOME PLACE WITH A GARDEN,NEAR YOUR HOME,BUT,WITHOUT YOUR NAME OR ADDRESS !!!

      • Lieutenant Shinysides

        Never heard of metal detectors?

    • Eloy L. Mendoa

      I liked what you had to say very much. I liked best the part about  a master key for a deadbolt and the knob. i had never thought about that. thank You.

    • Fillup40

      I am a Locksmith of 30 years,  thank god I don’t have to deal  with the public anymore!

    • Hacolo

      13. If you’re locked out, please call just one of us. 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.”
      If I arrive and you have called other locksmiths I am still going to bill you.  If you refuse to pay I will file theft of services charges on you.

      • Anonymous

        Ah sorry no services where provided.

        • Trauma RN

          Actually, the service of driving to your location after you call me to a lock-out is absolutely billable AND collectable. I may not charge you time to unlock your car/door, but if you called me and verbally contracted my services — you better believe you’ll be getting a bill for mileage and/or driving time to your location, if you haven’t been considerate enough to call back and cancel. Try to do the same with your local plumber!!

      • Anonymous

        Ah sorry no services where provided.

    • Anonymous

      My take away here is avoid locksmiths at all costs! Don’t seem real nice…just sayin…

    • Fclassshooter

      “13. If you’re locked out, please call just one of us. 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.”
      If you would have arrived as scheduled (or at least called
      to tell me you’d be late), the “inconsiderate victim” likely would not have
      felt the need to call someone else. I’ve been forced to do this on several occasions
      with various house-call type services, and I have always told the second (and sometimes
      third) vendor that the first one to arrive gets the job.  

      • Bob

        Your fix helps no one and drives up the cost.  If you have  gripe with a guy not coming in as called, report him to the BBB or the Chamber of Commerce.  Why  screw 2 other guys by making them drive out there and get into a potential fistfight because you booked three guys for one job?  This is why service charges are so high, and if the word gets out, NO ONE will show up at your house regardless the service needed – we talk.