Removing a Broken Key Stuck in a Lock
Over time, keys get worn, the metal fatigues, and keys break. Sometimes, that break occurs inside of a lock cylinder when turning the key. When that happens, how can you get the key out of the lock? On the internet, you’ll find some ways that work and some that don’t. We’re going to tell you what the locksmiths do, and we’ve tested and verified that one popular online trick that may actually work.
You can remove a broken key from a lock using tools you already have in your home. It the key is not too far inside of the lock, tweezers or small needle nose pliers will pull the key out. It it’s further in, you can use a small jigsaw blade or paperclip to rake it out, or a glue gun stick to seal to the key and pull the key out.
If those easier techniques don’t work, then there are still a few more complex options. Details on several techniques to remove a broken key are below.
- Take the lock apart
- Key removal tool (or key extractor)
- Needle nose pliers or tweezers
- Small jigsaw blade or paper clip
- The Online method that REALLY works! Glue stick to remove a key.
- The online method you should NEVER try
- What if you still can’t get the broken key out?
Important! Make sure the keyhole cylinder is in the right position to pull the key out.
Inside the cylinder, there are pins, which correspond to the cuts in the key and allow the cylinder to turn when the key is inserted. Before the key is turned these pins are free to go up and down in their chamber due to a spring located in the chamber.
If, when you broke the key, the cylinder is turned, the pins can no longer move up to let the key slide out. They will actually serve to hold the key in place and prevent it from being extracted. The cylinder must be returned to it’s normal position to remove the broken key from the lock.
For most home hardware, the correct key position for extraction is with the cuts of the key pointing up. Sometimes, lock cylinders are installed upside down and the opposite is true. Hopefully, you’ll know how you normally insert the key, and you can use a paperclip or small screw driver to orient the cylinder to the position that allows the pins to move freely and the key to come out.
Take the Lock Apart
If your home has Schlage door hardware (and some other brands), often the easiest and quickest thing to do is take apart the lock to expose the back side of the cylinder. The back side of the cylinder will have holes that you can poke into to push the key out.
To access the lock cylinder, take the lock off the door. Look at the piece that you normally slide the key into (the cylinder) from the back side. Do you see a hole? In many cases you can just insert a paper clip, or other small rod, into the back of this cylinder through that hole to push out the broken key.
Sometimes you have to remove the c-clip (or nut) on the back of the lock to get to the access hole. If you’re not comfortable with doing that just take it into a local locksmith and they will disassemble and reassemble for you.
Using a Key Extractor to Remove a Broken Key
When you don’t want to spend all day trying to use some hack method for removing the borken key, use what the professionals use.There is simply no better way to extract a broken key that is stuck in a lock than with the tool that has been designed specifically for that purpose, the key extractor.
Spiral Key extractors are very thin strips of metal that have grooves in them. These grooves are meant to grip the broken key so that the key can be removed.
To use, insert the key extractor along the edge of the cut side of the key. Be careful not to push the key further into the lock. You will be trying to push the extractor along the very top edge to push the pins up and out of the way so the extractor slides in. Twist the extractor and gently pull out. This can take several attempts as you are trying to create enough friction to pull the key out.
Another type of key extractor is the hook extractor. With the hook extractor you are trying to hook the first cut of the broken key and pull the key out. Insert the hook extractor along the cut side of the key and push back until just beyond the first cut. Then pull.There are several different types and affordable key extractor sets on eBay if you’re not in a hurry.
Try Needle Nose Pliers to Remove the Key
If some cases the key may not be pushed all the way into the lock and there may be just enough of it sticking out that you can grab it with a pair of needle nose pliers. Tweezers can also work and maybe even better since they are very thin. Just try whichever you have on hand. Be careful not to push the key in further. You will either have enough key sticking out to grab the broken edge or you won’t, but either way, you will know quickly which is the case.
Using a Small Jigsaw Blade or Paper Clip
This method to remove a key is very similar to the key extraction tool method above. But you’re not a locksmith so what are the odds you have a key extraction tool lying around?Well this is the “try anything” approach using whatever similar small bumpy, rounded object you have available to you.
Some paper clips have grooved edges and can work in a pinch as a spiral extractor if there’s room in the lock cylinder to get them in. There are also a number of very small jigsaw blades that will work like a hook extractor. I bought a pumpkin carving set at Halloween that had a very good small jigsaw in it that I now keep in my tool box.
The Online Hack that Really Works! – Glue Gun Stick
There’s been a lot of online chatter under the title “life hacks” that use a glue stick from a glue gun to remove a broken key like these glue sticks at Amazon.
We wanted to try this out and it really works!
The idea is to soften the tip of the glue stick, and then press it into the key hole. If the glue softens enough to let it mold to the key and then hardens around the key or some of the broken metal edges, it may be extracted.
It can be done successfully but it’s not a slam dunk like the online videos show. We got it to work, but we discovered several things in the process.
Depending on how the key is broken, there may not be a sharp metal edge for the glue to hold onto the key blade during extraction. What we discovered is that the force needed to pull the glue stick off the flat part of the key cylinder also breaks the glue stick off the edge of the key.
- To help with this, trim the glue stick edge to a point and push that into the key hole.
- Move the glue stick very slowly from side to side so that it breaks off the face of the cylinder on each side of the keyhole before pulling on the glue stick. This will enable a more gentile pull go the glue stick stays on the edge of the key.
- On a few attempts the glue stick got the key out of the hole only slightly, but it was enough so that I could use needle nose pliers to grab it and pull it out.
Check Out Our Video: Can You Remove a Broken Key Using a Glue Stick?
The latest “life hack” making it’s way around the internet is to remove a broken key using a glue stick from a glue gun. I was intrigued. Is this really possible?
The Online “Tip” You Should Never Use to Remove a Key
You may have seen some online advice to try and use super glue to remove the key. Say what!?!? Come on, really?
The idea behind this is to to put super glue on just the very tip of the broken key. Now you have to do this without getting super glue on any other part of the key or you will glue the key into the lock cylinder and none of the methods we have discussed will work any longer and you will be replacing the lock.
But once you’ve gotten that magic drop of super glue on just the tip of the broken key, place another small object (like a paper clip) onto the glue and sit there waiting for it to dry and bond. Then slowly pull until the key comes out.
Now I know some people are going to want to try this. Once you’ve glued that key into the lock, you’re going to need to take the lock a part and soak it in some finger nail polish remover to dissolve the glue, and then go back to try the other methods we’ve discussed t get the key out.
What if You Still Can’t Get the Broken Key Out?
If you’ve tried it all, except the glue, just remove the lock from the door and take it to your local locksmith. They will be able to get the key out for less than the price of a new lock. Now, if you ignored my advice and glued the key in, throw the lock away and buy another one. But buy the new lock from your local locksmith. Not only will they get you a good price but most locksmiths will key up the new lock to your existing house key as part of your purchase, no additional charge.
And when you get your keys made at ACME Locksmith, get a ACME stamped key that has a lifetime guarantee to never break, split or crack. If it does, just bring it into one of our locations and we’ll replace your key for at no charge.
Disclosure: As an Amazon / Google Associate I may earn from qualifying purchases.
Robert has been the Owner of ACME Locksmith, Arizona’s #1 Rated Locksmith, since 2007. ACME has provided locksmith service to over 160,000 Phoenix houses and businesses.
- Over 1400 5-Star Rated, Verifiable Arizona Customer Reviews
- Super Service Award Winner Eight Years Running
- Selected as an Angie List Phoenix-Best Contractor
- BBB International Marketplace Excellence Award Finalist
- BBB Ethics Award Winner – The Only Locksmith to Ever Win this Award