13+ Things Your Locksmith Won’t Tell You

Locksmiths reveal their best trade secrets.

by Michelle Crouch from Reader's Digest | April 2011
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    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

    6. 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.

    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. 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?

    9. 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.

    10. 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.

    11. 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.

    12. 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.

    13. 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.

    14. 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.

    15. 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.

    16. 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.

    17. 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.

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

    19. 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.

    20. 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.

    21. 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.

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

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    Your Comments

    • Les C Deal

      #4 sounds good on paper… Double cylinder deadbolt which needs a key to be unlocked from the inside as well. That is, until there’s a fire and you need to get out.

    • Tumblertech

      Number 6 seems to point to a lack of education or just sloppiness in this locksmith. Perhaps the former owner of the home still has a key ( good reason to change the locks) but that is not what a “master key” is. I’m sure this is just a case of flubbing the jargon.
      Number 16 shows this guy to be on the same level as the scammers he warns about. While I DO charge a higher rate at 3am than i charge at 3pm, it has nothing to do with trying to take advantage of a persons need. I charge everyone the same and do not charge people extra because I think they are wealthy, or because I feel it is my right to judge someone for how they spend their money and free time. I don’t get paid to discriminate against or punish people, I get paid to help people.

    • Samantha

      Why is it useful too have tools in a locksmith

    • Emily Taylor

      lol locksmith never really ever get to do work with police, the police and angencies have their own people trained for getting into places

    • Mr. Sardonicus

      I’m a 5th generation locksmith, and I myself have been at it for over 16 years and am a member of ALOA. Most of these “tips” are legitimate, and I do tell my customers almost each and every thing listed here. One thing you should NEVER do though is spray anything wet in a pin-tumbler (most modern home and commercial locks are pin-tumbler) lock, especially WD-40! WD-40 is a water-displacement agent (hence the “WD”. It works well on rusted bolts and bike chains but it will absolutely gum up a lock in no time. It is a good idea to lubricate your locks, but use a dry substance like teflon powder (Lab Lube) or graphite. Do not spray it directly into the lock though, Put it directly on your key and then work the key in and out of the lock. Try this several times, if the problem does not improve there is something more serious going on inside the lock or the hardware.

      Bump keys do work, and they are readily available or easy to manufacture. However there are measures any competent locksmith can take with even the most inexpensive locks to improve the lock’s resistance to bumping and picking.

      • AlbinoPenquin

        Funny as I use WD40 all the time to clean out the graphite a customer has pumped into a lock to the point the pins can’t move. Graphite and water mix really well into a nice gummy mud also. I haven’t used graphite in a lock in my 25 years as a licensed locksmith.

        • Absolute Locksmith Of Delaware

          I’ve been doing this for 7 years and I def. agree! Why do they even sell graphite in locksmith magazines? It’s always seemed to make a problem worse.. Oh WD-40 works wonders and does clean up that graphite mess that gums up those locks!

          • AlbinoPenquin

            I clean cylinders with WD and than use LokShot on them

      • Just some guy

        I don’t know why any locksmith uses WD-40. We use a silicone-based lubricant and it gets rid of dirt and grime as well as graphite and WD-40 and it works wonders. It won’t attract dirt like WD-40 does. It’s not oil-based and if you get the right brand, it cleans the lock out as you spray and will stay in the lock for up to 6 months depending on usage. It lasts for a good time and if you intend on using graphite, use small amounts. Of course you will jam the lock if you are packing it in there. Common sense. In some cases you want to use something more viscous, but it all depends on where the lock is and what kind of weather it is exposed to.

    • Bob

      #12 If a person is locked AND they request changing the locks, how is that not a serious red flag?

    • Anonymous

      anybody know about so-called “bump keys”? I worry about them if they work like I’ve heard.

      • Anonymous Locksmith

         to my knowledge, the bump key originated in Europe. some European locks can be “bumped” open with the use of these special keys.  as a Locksmith myself, ive experimented with these keys. although, with the proper tools in hand, they are relatively easy to make BUT have little to no effect on most locks used in the United States.  these keys are made and then used much like a normal lock pick. and normal lock picks are just as easy to come by at any local hardware store. but i wouldnt put much concern in these areas. home security is reaching new heights every day and with the help of law enforcement, its not likely you will ever have someone “bump” their way into your house!

        • Pin tumbler

          You sir, must Not be much of a locksmith.
          I myself am currently training in locksmithing and I am very aware that Bump keys are a big problem.
          they will often work faster and on locks that standard picking is ineffective. They do not work the same as picks and it only takes a file to make one.
          Its actually the best was to gain entry in most cases.
          Its quick and easy. after a little practice you could simply walk up to a lock pull put a bump key that fits and pretend to be fumbling around with your keys then presto the locks open. Nothing broken and you looked like you were supposed to be there, you had a key…
          And that is why you should invest in locks that are high security or at least have some form of bump resistant security to them. Most newer locks are including this feature but how many locks without it are still in use..
          As a locksmith its your job to make your costumer
          feel secure in there homes not telling them “its not likely”. that’s like telling them its not likely anyone will ever try to break into your house so I would not even bother with locks.

          • Wendy

            I like how you conduct yourself as a true and caring person. Can you tell me what the % of locksmiths would make a duplicate key for a lock that has very valuable things in it such as a safe? I know everyone is not honest but I am just curious.

    • http://www.yahoo.co.uk/ Firozali A.Mulla

      But that is the trade secrets like Coke I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA

    • Jay Chestnut

      I like the one about the strip club. It’s probably the other way around. He wasted all of his money at the strip and now has no money to pay…LOL

    • Jay Chestnut

      I like the one about the strip club. It’s probably the other way around. He wasted all of his money at the strip and now has no money to pay…LOL

      • Guest

        Then, he can ask the stripper for a ride home.