How to Setup a Master Key System

Master Key Systems – Planned, Implemented & Installed

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Master Key Systems

What is a Master Key System?

Master key systems improve the overall security of your business, prevent theft, and save money over the long run. Master keying is the process of making a lock cylinder work with 2 or more separate keys. By separate, we mean keys that are cut differently, not duplicate keys.

An ideal example of this is an office door within your commercial building. You will want the manager that works in that office to have a key to that office, but you may not want that office manager to have a key that works any other office in the building. When the lock was originally installed, the lock cylinder on that office likely worked from just one key.

Problem solved? The office manager’s key only works his door, but this is not a good solution.

One issue is that over the course of your business’s growth, facilities are added and managers come and go. Locks are installed, door hardware is changed, and keys are lost. In the end, the commercial business senior staff/owner can have twenty, thirty, or even more keys they need to keep track of to get into any one door.

The more senior you are, the more you have access to, the bigger your key ring gets. If you need to gain entry to one specific office when a manager is away, a ton of time is wasted tracking down the right key.

What ends up happening is that staff with offices are told not to lock their doors, but this introduces a major security risk because anyone can now go anywhere without needing a key.

Master Keying is the Better Solution.

In a master key system, senior staff can have one key that operated every lock in the company: every deadbolt, every door, every padlock, every storage location, everything. They carry one key and can access everything. Then, moving down in seniority, department heads can have one key that works every door in just their department.

Let’s take a legal department as an example. Even though the legal department head’s key works every key in the legal department, it won’t work any door lock outside of the legal department. However, the senior staff or owner’s key will still open each door within the legal department because the locks are master keyed and work with two different keys.

Going further down the chain of command, office staff can then have a key that works only their individual offices.

The above is an example of a three-level master-key system.

  • Office staff have keys to just their individual doors, that is the first level.
  • Department heads have a key that works every office in the department. This is the second level.
  • Sr Staff or Owners have a key that works every door in every department. The third level.

Master key systems can even go a step further. If you have multiple locations you simply add another level to the key system (one key for each office, one key for each department, one key that works the entire building and one key that works every building).

Benefits of a Master Key System

Security: Master key systems restrict access for individuals to only those doors that the individual should have access to. You can keep doors locked in off hours and be assured that no one that shouldn’t have access to a specific door has access to it. If an employee is ever let go, rekeying (changing the locks to work with a new key) for security purposes will only need to be done at the level that the individual had a key. If they were a department head, you only need to rekey the doors in the department they belonged to. Note: You can avoid rekeying when an employee is terminated if you use a restricted key system.

Convenience: Business owners, senior staff, managers, etc…will only have one key to keep track of and that key will work every door they need to get into to.

Consider the master key chart shown. In this masterkey system the Executive Officer / Owner has access to every door (Green) and access to other doors is limited based on function.


What to Expect When Your Locksmith Creates a Master Key System

ACME Locksmith will sit down with your team to plan out your masterkey system. Simple systems can be planned in just a few minutes, more complex systems with a little more time. We will floorplan your lock access based on the information provided so that every door and lock is accessible to those that need it. We’ve successfully completed key systems for buildings with over 400 doors and corporations with dozens of locations.

When planning a masterkey system care must be taken to ensure that a key for one specific door won’t accidentally open any other door. ACME will put together a key chart that provides the cuts needed for keys to ensure this doesn’t happen. We will maintain this chart for you as a benefit to your business. If down the road key changes need to occur ACME Locksmith will know what key cuts are available to use so that no mistakes are made.

In most cases, no new door hardware is needed to put you on a master key system. The only exceptions are when the building is very old (where misc door hardware has been added over the years) or you are interested in adding padlocks that work on the same key system.

How is a Lock Master Keyed?

Single Key Cylinder Pinning

The traditional way to pin a cylinder is shown. When a lock cylinder uses one key, the cylinder chamber has one set of bottom pins (red) and another set of top pins (blue). When a key is inserted these pins will be positioned to create a shear line at the same level as the cylinder. This allows the cylinder to turn as it is no longer blocked by any pins.

A Master Pinned Cylinder Has More Than One Shear Line

In a master pinned cylinder, an additional set of pins are added between the top and bottom pins. Stacking of these pins this way creates additional shear lines so that multiple keys can be used in the cylinder. To add additional levels to the key system, you add additional sets of pins. As mentioned earlier, creating shear lines like this can accidentally lead to one key from one door accidentally working another door it is not suppose to. ACME Locksmith uses software when designing these systems that provides us with the key cuts necessary for hundreds of keys to ensure that this never doesn’t happen.