How’d He do That? How Locksmiths Make Keys and Other Interesting Tidbits.
Ever wonder how your locksmith did what he did? How he made a key appear out of thin air or how he opened that lock so easily? Here’s how it’s done.
How Do Locksmiths Cut Laser Keys?
Newer cars either have no keys (FOBs only) or have laser cut keys. Laser cut keys are different than the old standard key because they’re often cut down the middle, rather than the edge.
So how do locksmiths cut laser keys?
The key cutting device for a laser key looks more like an engraver than a key cutter. There are basically two types of high security key cutters. A tracer and an originator. A tracer shown in the clip below uses a guide to trace the original key onto an identically mounted blank duplicate. These machines cost about $2000.
A laser key origination machine does not need an available key. A key originator is a computer guided key machine used to cut a key even when a key is not available.
Locksmiths can obtain the cuts for the key in some cased by decoding another lock on the vehicle, like the door lock. But often those locks don’t contain all the cuts and your local locksmith will use your VIN number to obtain the correct cuts for the key. Once we program those cuts into the machine, the laser key originator takes care of the rest. This piece of equipment can cost up to $10,000.
How Do Locksmiths Program Car Keys & Fobs?
Is should come as no surprise here that the answer is most often a computer.
However, some of the older vehicles are what they call “on board programmable” which means if there is one current working key, we do not need to connect to the car’s computer. Instead a set of instructions are followed to add the key to the vehicle.
These instructions can be very interesting indeed, “Lock and unlock the driver side doors three times using the lock/unlock button on the door’s panel,” for example may be just one instruction within a long list of things that must be done.
When on board programming isn’t available, a computer is required to do the programming. This is the case with most newer cars. There are several different computers available but one thing is constant, they are expensive! The computer hooks up to your cars OBD port found underneath the dashboard of your car and this allows us to add and remove keys/fobs from the cars system. Many of the programmers no only charge for the machine but also charge for each time a key is programmed.
Did you know: Even though most new car remotes have the key combined with the remote (one unit) they still need to be programmed separately? In the old days the keys and remotes were separate units, when they combined them, the electronic technology stayed separate even though it was moved into one case/housing.
How Do Locksmiths Make Keys to Locks
Outside of automotive keys locksmiths can make keys to just about any non-high security lock when all the keys have been lost. There are two main techniques for doing this. Impressioning keys and cutting keys by code.
Impressioning is one of the skills that locksmith must continually practice and is very difficult to initially learn.
All locks prevent the cylinder from turning when the wrong key is used. They do this either with pins (shown) or with wafers. If you put an uncut key into the cylinder and turn it with just enough force, those pins/wafers will make a small mark on the key. Locksmiths then use these marks as a guide to file down the key. Repeating this process many times, insert, turn, file and you will eventually get to a working key for the lock.
Making a key by code is similar to how we originate auto keys. We can search for a code on the key or cylinder that contains information about the key. When we put that code into our software, it will spit out the cutting card for the key and the cuts. The key cutting card is inserted into a key code cutting machine, and the key can then be made.
The most common code cutting machine for standard keys is the HPC Blitz (shown). You can see the blue card inserted into the machine.
How Do Locksmiths Open Locked Safes
This is one of the most advanced locksmith skills and one that only a few locksmiths ever achieve because of the time it takes to learn and master.
There are two main techniques used by safe crackers when a dial or electronic lock have failed: dial manipulation or drilling.
Manipulation: When a safe dial has not been serviced for some times, they can start to drift. That is, the numbers are no longer at the set number. For example if the first digit of you code is 25, once drift happens it may only open if the first number is set to 26. True for all remaining numbers as well.
Since safe drilling is so expensive the first thing any safe opening locksmith will try is to manipulate the dial in order to get the safe open by dialing the combo up in half digit increments and then trying to open it by dialing the combo down in half digit increments. So if the combo is 25 – 35 – 45 dialing up by half a digit would mean trying 25.5 – 35.5 – 45.5. Then 26 – 36 – 46. We usually try this going up and down by 2 whole digits. Incidentally, this should be the first thing you try if you can’t get into a dial.
If that doesn’t work, we drill. Every safe has what we call a drill point. If that point is drilled precisely, then we can either bypass and electronic lock or dial in the safe combination on a dial lock using a camera to view the dial wheels. The location of drill points are closely guarded by all safe manufactures and locksmiths.
How do Locksmiths Verify Ownership Before Opening a Door?
In our article What Some Locksmiths Don’t Do we discuss the necessity of verifying ownership of a property before letting someone into it. Believe it or not, some locksmith companies (i.e the scammers) don’t even bother to do this!
There are several ways to verify ownership. For properties, the easiest is by driver’s license. If the driver’s license has the home / property address, we’re free to open the home. If it doesn’t, a piece of mail, or other document, with the customers name and address, can be used to verify that they have access to the property. When that isn’t available, a good local locksmith will check county records for ownership information. We’ve never had a case where one of the above were not available.
For automobiles it can be a bit trickier. The title or registration are the two most common ways we verify. We also accept a current insurance document showing the customers name. If those aren’t available, then the owner needs to be present. If you are driving someone else’s car, they need to send us verification information as previously mentioned, a photo I.D. and a signed letter authorizing us to open the vehicle for someone else.
How do Locksmiths Rekey Locks
Rekeying locks is the process of changing the key that opens it. So if you’ve bought a home, you can rekey the locks so that the old owners (or their nephews, neighbors, etc…) won’t have a working key to the house.
In the photo of the lock cylinder, home locks (those that can be rekeyed) are a pin-based system. Lock cylinders have top pins and bottom pins. When the current key is inserted into the lock, the top and bottom pins line up to form a shear line moving across the cylinder and the cylinder can spin with the correct key (as illustrated by the line between the blue and red pins).
Little Known Fact: the process of picking the lock is much the same. Through manipulation with a lock pick the pins can be made to align and the lock cylinder spun open.
When we rekey a lock, we remove the cylinder with a special tool and replace the bottom pins with a new set of pins. Changing the length of the pins changes the key cuts necessary to create the shear line.
Thus, we can change the key used to open the lock. Locks can be made to be open with several different keys. Check out our Master Rekeying Overview.
The one exception to all this is the new SmartKey Locks by Kwikset. They use a wafer based system and are rekeyable by the home owner so long as the current key is still available. We sell a kit that let’s homeowners rekey Kwikset Smart Key locks themselves.