Locksmithing -- Tools of the Trade

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To earn a living in locksmithing, you have to work quickly and professionally, which requires using proper tools and supplies. In addition to many of the hand and power tools commonly used by carpenters and electricians, lock smiths use a variety of special tools. Which special items you'll need depends on which jobs you will perform.

The more services you want to offer, the more special tools you'll need. For tools, quality is often more important than quantity. A tool that breaks, bends, or stops working at the wrong time can cause you to lose a lot of money. It can also cost you money by damaging your customer's property. On the other hand, a tool that's designed to last a lifetime will pay for itself many times. Even if you have little money to invest in tools, always get the highest-quality products that you can afford.

This section lists all the basic tools and supplies you'll need to perform any locksmithing task. It also tells what to look for when buying tools and supplies.

Electric Drills:

It's important to choose the right drill because when doing locksmithing work, you'll use your drill more often than any other type of portable power tool. Drills range in price from under $80 to more than $250. Although price is often an indication of the quality of a drill, the only way to be sure you're getting the most for your money is to know the important ways drills differ from one another.

Three common drill sizes are available: 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2 ”. Drill size is determined by the largest diameter drill bit shank the drill's chuck can hold without an adapter. E.g., a drill whose chuck can hold a drill bit shank of up to a 1/2 inch is called a 1/2 ” drill.

A 1/2 ” electric drill is one of the most useful tools a locksmith can have. (Black Decker or Bosch) Chuck jaws; (In closed position); Chuck; Side handle (Removable); Trigger; Power cord

A drill's power is a combination of chuck speed and torque. Speed is measured in rpm (revolutions per minute when the chuck is spinning freely in the air). Torque refers to the twisting force at the chuck when the drill is being used to drill a hole. Any drill will slow down while drilling a hole, but the more torque it has the easier it will bore through material.

Chuck speed and torque are largely determined by the type of reduction gears a drill has. Reduction gears in a drill work somewhat like car gears. One gear, e.g., lets the car move quickly on a flat road. Another gear gives the car more power when climbing a steep hill. This analogy isn't perfect, how ever, because a drill comes with a fixed type of reduction gear set. You can't shift the gears of a drill.

A single-stage reduction gear set lets a drill's chuck spin extremely fast in the air but supplies little torque. A two-stage reduction gear set provides fewer rpms, and more torque. A three-stage reduction gear set further reduces RPMs and increases torque. Greater torque is especially useful when drilling hardwood, steel, or other hard materials. It's also useful when drilling large holes, such as those needed to install deadbolt locks.

Most 1/4 ” drills have a single-stage reduction gear set. Their chucks commonly spin at 2500 RPMs or more. Such drills are lightweight and most often used for drilling plastic, softwood, and sheet metal. Using a 1/4 ” drill to drill hardwood or steel would be time-consuming and could damage the drill.

Most 3/8 ” drills have either a single- or two-stage set of reduction gears.

The shanks of many popular hole saws and drilling accessories won't fit into a 3/8 ” chuck without using an adapter.

The 1/2 ” drill is by far the most popular size among locksmiths. A 1/2 ” drill usually has a two- or three-stage set of reduction gears, and its chuck typically spins at up to 600 rpm. The 1/2 ” can drill any material that can be drilled by a smaller drill.

Not all 1/2 ” drills are alike. They can differ greatly in quality and price.

Many manufacturers call their drills "heavy-duty," "professional," "commercial," and the like. Such labels are primarily for promotional purposes; they have no industry-standard meanings. It's best to look beyond such terms for specific features. The most important features are two- or three-stage reduction gears, variable speed reversing, double insulation, antifriction bearings, and at least 4 amps.

A variable speed feature provides maximum control over drilling speed, allowing you to drill different materials at different speeds. Without variable speed control, you might be limited to drilling at one or two speeds only. Many drills also have a switch that lets you reverse the direction that the chuck turns. That is useful for backing out screws or a stuck drill bit.

A drill that has a variable speed feature and is reversible is called variable speed reversible (VSR). VSR drills are well worth the few extra dollars they cost.

Double insulation means the drill is housed in nonconductive material (such as plastic) and the motor is isolated from other parts of the drill by a nonconductive material. Double insulation protects you from getting shocked. Most high-quality drills are double insulated. Don't mistake plastic housing as a sign of low-quality. All-metal housing is a sign of low-quality.

Antifriction (ball or needle) bearings help a drill run smoothly and make it long-lived. All high-quality drills use some antifriction bearings. Low-quality models use all plain sleeve bearings.

An amp (short for amperes) is a unit of electric current. In general, the more amps used, the more powerful the drill. High-quality drills usually use at least 4 amps. (Drills that list horsepower rather than amps are usually low quality.)

Any drill that has all of these features is a high-quality model that should last a lifetime if it's properly used and maintained. Some locksmiths have additional considerations such as a drill's color, size, weight, feel, brand, and country of origin. Those additional considerations are personal and have little to do with a drill's quality.

--A cordless drill can be useful when no electricity is available. (Milwaukee Tool Co.)

Cordless Drills:

A cordless drill can conveniently insert screws and drill small holes.

It's typically lighter than an electric drill and can be used in places with no electrical outlet. As a rule, cordless drills are less powerful than their electric counterparts. Another problem with cordless drills is that their batteries have to be recharged and replaced. Although a cordless drill can be great as a back up or extra drill, it isn't a good choice if you can afford only one drill.

--Different types of key machines are needed to cut cylinder keys (top) and tubular key lock keys (bottom).

Key Cutting Machines:

Because cutting keys is often a major source of income for a locksmith, key cutting (or duplicating) machines are among the most important tools a locksmith buys.

Expensive machines often can cut a wide variety of keys for standard and high security locks. Two popular types of key cutting machines are shown.

If you have little money to invest in key machines, it's probably best to start with a low-cost model that cuts cylinder keys-the most common type of keys for home and car locks. Later, you might want to add a low-cost machine that cuts flat keys (such as those used for safe deposit boxes) or tubular keys (such as those used for vending machines and laundromat equipment). Another way to save money is to buy only portable dual-voltage models that can be used either in the shop or in a service vehicle.


Whether you practice locksmithing in a shop or at home, you'll need a work bench. You can use a table or desk on a temporary basis, but a workbench is more practical and comfortable. If you have basic woodworking tools and skills, you should have no trouble making your own workbench.

The workbench should be:

¦ Long enough to ensure adequate work space

¦ Strong enough to support a key machine at one end, out of the way

¦ Solid enough to keep the key machine in alignment

¦ High enough to allow you to work without stooping

¦ Wide enough to store parts and supplies; 30” is the comfortable maximum

¦ Lit from overhead and behind or from the sides (never have the light too close to the bench)

Workbench location: Consider where you want to locate your workbench. If possible, place it in a well-ventilated area, away from general traffic, near frequently used equipment and supplies, with an easy access from several directions. Many locksmiths place storage bins near their workbenches to hold tools and supplies.

--Bins can be helpful for sorting lock parts and sup plies.

--A simple bench is adequate for a student locksmith.

--Benches with a full complement of drawers and partitioned overhead bins are ideal for professional locksmiths.

--C-clamps usually range in size from 1 to 8”.

Examples of workbench designs. No one type of workbench is ideal for everybody; individual tastes and needs differ.

Install a vise at one end, out of the way. Mount the vise on a swivel base, sturdily built, with jaws at least 3” wide. The jaws should open to at least 5”.

List A: Common hand and power tools all locksmiths should own:

¦ Allen wrench set

¦ Bench grinder with wire wheel

¦ Bolt cutters, 16 ”

¦ C-clamps

¦ Center punch set

¦ Code books, general set

¦ Combination square

¦ Coping saw and blades

¦ Dent puller

¦ Disc grinder

¦ Drill bits, auger assortment

¦ Drill bits, expansion assortment

¦ Drill bits, masonry assortment

¦ Drill bits, spade assortment

¦ Drill bits, straight assortment

¦ Drill, cordless

¦ Drill, electric with 1/2 ” chuck

¦ Extension cord, 50-foot

¦ Files, assorted types and sizes

¦ Flashlight

¦ Hacksaw and blades

¦ Hammers: claw, ball-peen, and soft-face

¦ Hand cleaner

¦ Hollow mill rivet set

¦ Lever, carpenter's, from 18 - 96” long with three vials

--Masonry bits used for drilling holes in brick and concrete.

--Files can be useful for cutting keys by hand and performing many other locksmithing tasks.

-- A hacksaw for cut ting metals and other non-wood materials.

-- Striking tools are useful to locksmiths. (Vaughan and Bushnell Manuf.)

¦ Lever, torpedo, up to 9” long

¦ Lubricant (such as Liquid Wrench or WD-40)

¦ Mallet, rubber

¦ Masking tape

¦ Nails and screws, assorted

¦ One-way screw removal tool

¦ Paint scraper

¦ Pencils

¦ Pliers, adjustable

¦ Pliers, cutting

¦ Pliers, long nose, 7 ”

¦ Pliers, locking

¦ Pliers, slip-joint

¦ Retractable tape measure, 25’

¦ Rivet assortment

¦ Safety glasses

¦ Scratch awl

¦ Sandpaper and emery cloth

¦ Screwdriver bits, assorted Phillips and slotted

¦ Screwdrivers, assorted Phillips and slotted

¦ Scissors for paper

¦ Snap ring pliers, assorted sizes

¦ Socket sets, 1/2- and 1/4 ”

¦ Storage trays

¦ Tap set

¦ Toolboxes

¦ Wrenches, adjustable and pipe

-- Electrician's screw drivers (top) are designed for precision work; standard screw drivers are used on heavier jobs . (Stanley Works)

-- Parts and storage boxes are needed for work in and out of the shop.

List B: Tools for shop/bench work (needed in addition to all of the tools in List A)

¦ Code books

¦ Cylinder cap remover

¦ Dial caliper

¦ Flat steel spring stock

¦ Interchangeable core capping machine

¦ Interchangeable core lock service kit

¦ Key blanks, assorted

¦ Key cutting machine, electric

¦ Key duplicating machine, electric

¦ Key marking tools

¦ Lock parts, assorted

¦ Lock pick gun

¦ Lock pick set

¦ Lock reading tool

¦ Mortise cylinder clamp

¦ Pin kit

¦ Pin tray

¦ Pin tumbler tweezers

¦ Plug followers, assorted sizes

¦ Plug holders

¦ Plug spinner

¦ Retainer ring assortment

¦ Round spring steel, assorted sizes

¦ Shim stock

¦ Spindle assortment

¦ Spring assortment

¦ Tension wrenches

¦ Tubular-key decoder

¦ Tubular-key lock picks

¦ Tubular-key lock saw

¦ Vise

¦ Whisk broom

¦ Workbench

-- A dial caliper allows locksmiths to accurately mea sure pin tumblers, key blanks, key cut depths, and plugs.

-- An interchangeable core capping machine is needed for capping IC cores. (Arrow Mfg.)

-- An interchangeable core cylinder and key stamping fixture and supplies needed for servicing IC cores. (Arrow Mfg.)

-- A variety of lock picks allow the locksmith to choose the best one for a given lock. (A-1 Security Manufacturing --.)

-- A cylinder removal tool makes it easy to remove stubborn mortise cylinders with out stripping their threads.

-- A pin kit holds tumblers, springs, and other supplies needed to rekey lock cylinders. (Arrow Mfg.)

-- Plug followers come in various sizes for different size plugs. The devices prevent top pins and springs from falling into the cylinder while the bottom pins are being replaced.

-- Pin tumbler tweezers make it easy to handle tumblers and other small parts. (Ilco Unican.)

-- Plug holders come in various sizes; some models can hold several plugs of different sizes. In addition to holding a plug that's being serviced, plug holders allow a locksmith to make sure a rekeyed plug will rotate in the cylinder properly before inserting it back into the cylinder. (A-1 Security Manufacturing --.)

-- A plug spinner is designed to be inserted into a keyway and to use spring pres sure to quickly rotate a plug clockwise or counterclockwise. The device is used when a lock has been picked in the wrong direction. (A-1 Security Manufacturing --.)

-- Shims are used when disassembling pin tumbler cylinders. (Ilco)

-- Tension wrenches come in various shapes and sizes. They're designed to partially enter a keyway along with a lock pick so that when all the tumblers are at the shear line, the tension wrench can rotate the cylinder as the proper key would.

-- A tubular key decoder makes it easy for a lock smith to determine the bitting of tubular keys.

-- A tubular key lock pick is needed to pick tubular key locks.

-- A tubular key lock saw is used to drill through the tumblers of tubular key locks.

List C: Tools for automotive work (needed in addition to all of the tools in Lists 1 and 2)

¦ Automobile entry tools and wedges

¦ Bezel nut wrench

¦ Broken-key extractors --

¦ Chrysler shaft puller

¦ Code books, automotive

¦ Code key cutting machine, manual

¦ Door handle clip removal tool

¦ Door trim pad clip removal tool

¦ Face caps

¦ Face cap pliers

¦ Flexible light

¦ General Motors lock decoder

¦ Lock plate compressor

¦ Steering column lock plate compressor

¦ Steering wheel pullers

¦ VATS/PASS Key decoder or key analyzer

-- Broken-key extractors are useful for removing broken key parts from locks.

-- A mechanical code key cutter lets locksmiths make accurate keys without having a key to duplicate. (Ilco)

-- A door handle clip tool helps remove the retainer clip that secures an automobile's door handle to the door.

-- A General Motors Decoder decodes the tumblers in a GM lock without complete disassembly of the lock.

-- A VATS/PASSKey decoder lets locksmiths quickly determine the electrical resistance values of VATS/PASSKey key blanks

-- A door trim pad clip removal tool is used for automotive work.

List D: Tools for servicing safes, vaults, and safe deposit boxes (needed in addition to all of the tools in List 1 and List 2)

¦ Borescope

¦ Carbide drill bits

¦ Change keys, assorted

¦ Door puller

¦ Drill rig

¦ Hammer drill

¦ Nose puller

¦ Safe-moving equipment

¦ Sledgehammer

-- Safe change keys are needed to change the combinations of certain types of safes. (____ Mfg.)

-- A drill rig holds a drill in place while a safe is being drilled.

List E: Tools/supplies for installing door locks and other door hardware (needed in addition to all of the tools in Lists 1 and 2)

¦ Boring jigs

¦ Broom and dustpan

¦ Compass (or keyhole) saw

¦ Door reinforcers, assorted sizes and finishes

¦ Drop cloth

¦ Drywall (or wallboard) saw

¦ Filler plates

¦ Hole saws, assorted sizes

¦ Kwikset cylinder removal tool

¦ Lever

¦ Nails, assorted types and sizes

¦ Pry bar

¦ Reciprocating saw

¦ Screw gun

¦ Screws, assorted sizes

¦ Screws, one-way

¦ Shovel

¦ Strike plates and strike boxes, assorted types and sizes

¦ Utility knife and assorted blades

¦ Vacuum cleaner

¦ Weiser shim pick

¦ Wood chisels, assorted sizes

¦ Wood glue

-- A boring jig is a tem plate that acts as a guide for drilling precise installation holes and cutouts for locks and door hardware.

-- Hole saws and spade bits are used to install locks on doors. (Skill Corp)

-- Wood chisels of various sizes are needed when installing locks and other hard ware on wood doors. ( Stanley Works.)

List F: Tools for installing alarms and electronic security devices (needed in addition to all of the tools in Lists a and b)

¦ Electrical tape

¦ Fish tape

¦ Flexible drill bits and extensions

¦ Multimeter

¦ Staple guns (or wiring tackers) and staples, assorted sizes for wire and coaxial cable

¦ Twist connectors

¦ Under-carpet tape

¦ Voltage tester

¦ Wire stripper

¦ Wire cutters

It isn't necessary to have all of the listed tools to practice the lessons in this guide. As you study each section, you'll learn which tools you need and which you can do without. With all the tools listed in this section, you'll have enough equipment and supplies to start a locksmithing business.

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Updated: Sunday, December 25, 2016 13:14