What Tools & Equipment are Required to Run a Locksmith Business
You will need key cutting machines for key origination and duplication, software for code retrieval, and a variety of supporting tools to get started as a locksmith. This list talks about the basic tools and equipment necessary to get started and perform the most common locksmith services. As you grow your skill set, and start offering additional services, additional tools will be needed.
Since ACME Locksmith sells locksmith franchises, we’ve spent a lot of time researching tools and machinery so our franchises can get up and running affordably and quickly. Below are some of the best tools and machines available to start a locksmith business.
If you are considering starting a locksmith business, you first need to decide if you are going to be a mobile-only locksmith service (you have no locks shop and only serve customers at their locations) or if you will have both mobile locksmith service and a lock shop / storefront.
Though there is considerable overlap but the tools needed for each are a bit different. In general though, the equipment in a mobile vehicle is a subset of the equipment in a shop.
Advance Laser Key Cutter and Key Duplicator – The Miracle A9
Keys and the key cutting equipment have come a long way. Twenty years ago you just needed one machine to cut nearly every key there was. But then things started changing. Automotive keys switched to high-security keys, where the cuts run down the middle. These keys require a new milling machine to cut. Some car manufactures introduced Tibbe keys which required add-on tool cutting devices or a new machine all together. Dimple keys are a form of high security, they have little dimples drilled into the side of the key, and that was another add-on tool or machine to required to cut the key. And then there are barrel keys. Yep, another tool.
Wouldn’t it be great if you had one key machine that could cut all of these! Well, now there is one, the Miracle A9 / SEC E9. There’s just one catch, you have to purchase numerous jaws to handle everything so it can get quite expensive (a jaw holds a specific type of key so it can be cut properly) , but if you do purchase those, this one machine can handle just about every key you will ever run into (except machines designed specifically to cut one type of high security key, for example Mul-t-lock requires their own machine).
The Miracle A9 / SEC E9 is a milling machine that allows you to cut nearly every key by code for key origination (when no key is available) and to cut duplicate keys. Swapping the jaws out of the machine can take a few minutes. For mobile service this isn’t that bad since you will most likely be cutting similar keys at every job site and switching the jaws infrequently.
For shop work though, this can slow you down tremendously especially when you are busy. For this reason, we always have the more traditional machines available in our shops (a basic key duplicator, laser key duplicate and barrel key machine). We only use the A9 in our shop to cut Tibbe keys and for automotive laser cut key origination.
The great part about the Miracle A9 / SEC E9 in a mobile van is that you save a lot of space. It is replacing three other machines so you save space that can then be used as additional work space or to carry, thus sell, more product.
The US version of this machine is the Miracle A9 and runs about $5,200 for they key cutter with basic jaws. But I found it on AliExpress for about half that (check price on AliExpress). If you don’t know, AliExpress is China’s version of Amazon. It can take several weeks to get the product, and customer support is extremely limited, but you save a ton which can be important when starting a business.
If the price of the Miracle A9 / SEC E9 still scares you off. You can get by with the three more traditional machines (a basic key duplicator, laser key duplicate and barrel key machine) instead of the Miracle A9 / SEC E9. We’ve listed those below as optional because they really aren’t needed in a mobile locksmith vehicle when you are using the Miracle A9 / SEC E9, but they do benefit a locksmith shop because you can cut keys more quickly and you’ll always have a spare machine if one goes down.
Advantages of the Miracle A9 / SEC E9:
- Once machine does it all and saves valuable van space.
- Expensive. Between $2500 and $5500 for the base product before you add on the extra jaws needed to do all of the key blanks.
- If you don’t have backup key cutters and the Miracle A9 / SEC E9 goes down, you are shut down for business until you get it fixed.
Key Code Conversion Software
Codes are available to cut many keys. A lot of locks will have a code stamped on them and that’s how the code is found. For automotive locksmithing, the VIN number of the vehicle is often used, with an outside service, to provide you with the key code.
Once you have the key code, you need software to convert it to the actual cuts that are on the key. This is the security step, a key code is useless of you don’t have the software to translate it to the cuts needed.
The Miracle A9 can be programmed with the cuts so that a key can be made when no key is available. There is also a very common locksmith machine, the HPC Blitz, that does the same thing (details below).
We use software called Genericode to handle the code translation for us. Another great source, with a subscription, is Lock Codes Online.
Car Key Programming Equipment
Modern car keys need to be programmed to the car by a locksmith or dealer so that the key will start and continue to run the vehicle. Without it, the car will stall after a few seconds. The most common tool out there is by Advanced Diagnostics. They offer several tools: T-Code Pro, MVP Pro, Smart Pro. Which you use is more about personal preference. They all can program most vehicles.
These are VERY expensive pieces of equipment ($3,000 to $6000). AND once you buy them, you need to purchase tokens in order to use them. Each time you try to program a car, you use a token. When you run out of tokens, you’ll need to by more. The benefit to the Advanced Diagnostic tools is that they are widely used and well supported. Even though we don’t use their tools, due to pricing and ongoing expenses, most locksmiths do.
There are less expensive options and a great way to start into auto key programming without spending a lot of money upfront. With the internet and access to resellers all over the world, you can pick up simple key programmers for just a few hundred bucks. These are limited in their coverage so you need to understand which cars they will program and which they will not. Most will handle pre-2014 models. If you buy two or three different tools, you can get pretty good car programming coverage for a few hundred dollars and have no token fees (no ongoing fees). We’ve had good luck with the CK100 (check pricing on Amazon). The CK100 is for car keys only. We’ve also had success with the SKP900 (see it on AliExpress). The SKP900 is a bit harder to use, but it is one of the lower priced car key programmers that allows you to program keys and remotes.
The only problem I have found with the import tools is that they have zero customer support and practically zero documentation. Some off them require a thorough knowledge of cars in order to use them.
For example, a good key programming tool will take you to the programming of a specific vehicle by inputting the year make and model of the car. Some of the complicated ones will not do this. Rather, they take you to the programming by your knowing what type of system is installed in the car and choosing it (this is the SKP900 method). Without a great understanding of car locksmithing, they are difficult to use.
Once you can program keys, some vehicles require a special pin number in order to continue with the programming. Those pin numbers can be provided through many online services. Chrysler is a good example of cars that need PIN codes to program.
Van & Shelving
First, let’s address the van. There are full size, and then there are the newer smaller vans you see around such as the Nissan NV200 or Ford Transits. We’ve converted almost our entire locksmith service fleet to the smaller work vans.
Fuel is expensive and this gets us the best gas mileage saving us thousands of dollars every year. We can us the smaller vans because our shops can stock the parts we don’t need often. If we find we do need something, we can always run by one of our local locksmith shops to get it.
If you are mobile only, you may want to carry more product in your van, so you will want to consider that larger vehicles. If you are going to do safe deliveries or safe moves, a larger van or truck will be needed to haul the safe. Think about your needs then decide on the right vehicle for you.
Outfitting your van is a personal preference. We recommend a work space (counter top) and as much storage as you can fit into it. You’ll need your van measurements and you can pick up much of what you need online.
Adrian Steel also makes some nice systems that are prepackaged for the locksmith industry. These prepackaged systems are setup based on the type of vehicle you have, so you know they will fit. Ebay has them with good pricing. We’ve always custom made our vehicles using the Adrian Steel products, but the kits are a great and easy way to get started.
Misc Hand Tools
Door Lock Installation Kit: For fresh installation of door hardware. Our locksmiths like the Dewalt installation kit on Amazon. It works well on wood and steel doors.
Hand drill: Our locksmiths are also vans of the Dewalt drills. We once tried to switch to Ryobi but their batteries failed so often they ended up being much more expensive. Dewalt just builds a good drill that lasts and lasts. Amazon has them at good prices.
Tubular Pick: Tubular picks have one really cool thing about them. Once you pick the tubular lock open, you then use the pick to cut a tubular key (see optional equipment below). The best deals on these are at eBay.
Pick Gun and Pick Set: Which you rely on will depend on preference, but it’s good to have both and both can be found for good prices on eBay.
A vice is critical for key impressioning (making a key when no key is available) to hold the key while it is being filed into shape. A smaller one is sufficient for a van. Get a beefy one for you lock shop. They come in very handy. Stay away from the really flimsy vises that have a ball joint. This makes them difficult to stay in one position when filing a key.
Optional Tools and Equipment
Most of the following are key cutting machines. As mentioned earlier for van worktop space, one machine that does it all is best. But backups are important. If your one machine goes down, your locksmith business will be dead in the water without backups. For mobile-only locksmith vans, just keep the backups available in your garage. If you need one, you will have them and can put the backup key machine in your van until your main equipment is repaired.
Basic Key Duplicator
We love the Rytan key duplicator. It is the backup duplicator in all of our shops and the main duplicator in our lock service vans for those that don’t have the E9 yet.
We like the Rytan 200 for it’s 4-way jaws allowing it to cut auto and most any standard key blank. It is as heavy duty as it gets and they offer good customer support. The best price I’ve found on these are on eBay.
But, there are much less expensive options that can still serve you well if you are just using them as a backup. Those offered on AliExpress and eBay are less than a few hundred dollars. We haven’t tested any of them, but we have bought other key machines from both and they all performed as advertised. You can see that they are not nearly as heavy duty as the Rytan key machine.
Laser Key Duplicator
The same thing applies for laser key duplicators. If you have a shop, get a good heavy duty one. If you are mobile, a light duty one should suffice.
Why not a backup laser-cut, high-security key originator? Why just a duplicator? Because laser cut key origination equipment is the most expensive. If you wanted a backup of that, you’d just get another Miracle A9 / SEC E9.
For the heavy duty duplicator or preference is the Matrix Sidewinder duplicator. For the inexpensive, we picked up the Defu 368a from AliExpress and couldn’t be happier with it. It’s duplicated every laser cut key we’ve tried with it. It is not heavy duty, but for an affordable high security key duplicator, it is a great little machine at an amazing price.
Tubular Key Cutter
Another key cutter we found at a great price using AliExpress. Wenxing 423A Tubular Key Cutter. We were using another product that cost 5X as much. When that died, we found this one. It seems every bit as well built as the more expensive version and we’ve had no problems with it. Buy it from AliExpress for great pricing.
This recommendation is debatable nowadays. Although we have these in every lock shop we have and on every lock service van, it is incredibly expensive now that we know we can get the Miracle A9 / SEC E9 for less. But this key by code (making a key when no key is available) tool has been such a workhorse for us over the years that I ended up putting it on the list.
It is built from heavy duty material and should it ever fail, their support team services and returns them quickly. The main issue is that it cost more than the SEC E9 does. However, because of the quality of the built and it being a purely mechanical key cutter, you’ll get years of use out of it and it is a reliable backup. Price it on Amazon.
Car Opening Set
Wait, you’re telling me a car opening set is optional? Yes, I am. Car opening use to be a significant part of a locksmith business. But nowadays, it’s not. It comprises less than 5% of our overall business.
If you are going to originate keys for cars and that car is locked, this is a quick way to get in. And if you do want to perform the service, you need the tools. Basic car opening kits can be found on many sites very affordably.
The most important took you need to be sure is in the kit (or buy it separately to add to you kit) is a long reach tool. This tool is required for many cars but is more expensive than some entire car opening kits so many don’t include it. You can find it on eBay for a good price.
A miscellaneous tool for sure, but if you have a shop it comes in very handy. There are literally tens of thousands of key blanks and your lock shop can’t stock them all. Many times someone will come into a shop and you will have a blank that is just a little too long, or a little to wide, but otherwise it’s perfect.
Belt sanders allow you to make changes to the key so that it can be used when an exact match is not found.
That concludes this list of the essential locksmith tools. Please, if you have any comments or feedback, feel free to leave them below. All comments are moderated before being posted.
Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, Ebay and AliExpress Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.