Locksmithing for TEOTWAWKI, by R.M.G.

Let’s take a moment to think about all the things/issues a locksmith might help us with today, that we might be able to prepare ourselves for tomorrow.

We have keys and locks that secure our house, our vehicles, the storage shed/workshop out back, our place of business, our guns, our money/important papers/silver/gold. The list goes on and on, and most of it is stuff we take for granted. Many of us have no idea that there are things that we can do to better secure all or most of the things listed above and most people don’t know that there are things that you can do to reduce the chances of you needing to call a locksmith to help you with a crisis/emergency.

Let’s start with your house. Residential lock hardware is typically not as secure as commercial hardware. This basically means that the materials used are not as stout, not as durable, and the tolerances(how well they are put together) are not as good. Did you know that you can put commercial hardware into most residential doors. Speaking of doors, the quality, the construction of a residential door versus a commercial grade door can be significant, so the doors themselves are something to check into as well.

Let’s talk a little about doors for a moment. If you were to go out to your local home improvement store, you would discover that the measurements on most doors and how they are prepped for door hardware is pretty standard. If the builder of your home installed a special sized door, then you probably won’t find it in your local home improvement store. So, most residential doors are “prepped” for residential hardware and require a 2 3/8” backset for the knob/lever that would be installed. Commercial doors are typically 2 3/4” backset for the knob/lever that would be installed. Backset is the distance from the edge of the door to the centerline of the hole in the door where the knob/lever would be installed. The difference between the two backsets listed above is enough to prevent residential hardware from working in the commercial prep and commercial hardware from working in the residential prepped door. Manufacturers of both types of hardware make parts (latches, mainly) that will make the conversion possible, but my intention is to get you interested in the better commercial hardware.

Lock hardware is manufactured by companies that do the same things that other manufacturers do and that is they have a low end and a high end of products. By low end, I am not only referring to cheaper (cost), but also quality, inferior material, and usually limitations as far as options go (more on that later). High end of course is more expensive, better materials, more options and just as importantly, the number of cycles the product is rated for (another way of looking at this is the estimated lifespan of the hardware). Commercial hardware is obviously going to give you a much longer lifespan and the high end commercial will be best. With that said, I am not suggesting you spend several thousand dollars on commercial hardware, when something much less would do just fine.

Let me tell you about a trend going on in jail/prison construction to illustrate some of what I am talking about. There is a strong effort to get local governments constructing new facilities to use lock cylinders for the cells in the facility that use what is called a “high security key”. These cylinders use keys that are restricted to the facility (usually by geographical region) and offer high pick resistance. Now on the surface of this scenario, you would think all of that is wonderful, but when you start to consider the details, not so much. The restricted key means that you can only get the key from one maybe two distributors in the whole country, which means that you are at their mercy to be able to get these key blanks to make needed duplicates(keys wear out or are broken), and the price for a single key is in the $25 dollar range. Yes, $25 dollars for a single key that you then have to cut/duplicate to suit your needs!

The lock cylinders that have that high pick resistance are in the neighborhood of $250-$300 each. Here’s the thing: I have worked in a facility for years and have never heard of anyone picking a lock! Does it happen outside of these facilities, yes, but it’s not like the movies, it is actually something that takes some skill, some practice, and some specialized tools. So, long story short, facilities could invest in a different type of cylinder and non-restricted key and get keys for $2.50-to-$5 each and cylinders for $50-to-$75. Most of these decisions are being made by people who don’t know the hardware and don’t work on this stuff, and are listening to the contractors that are telling them what to buy. The point is, you don’t have to buy the most expensive hardware to get what you need to secure your stuff.

Here is the short version, get commercial grade hardware for your home, storage shed, barn, or anywhere there is a traditional door that accepts door hardware. Commercial grade hardware will last much longer than residential, is built to handle abuse and will hold up much better to attacks( someone using a hammer, someone trying to kick in your door, or even someone trying to pick the lock. Commercial hardware will usually give you lots of design and finish options (colors), that used to be only available in the residential stuff.

Commercial hardware will also give you the option of selecting one of the many different keys out there, because for the most part, most of the commercial brands are interchangeable as far as their lock cylinders go. This allows you to do something like stick with a key that is readily available at Walmart for duplication, or better yet, go with a key that is not common and can’t easily be found at Walmart or your local home improvement center. So, if you let your babysitter have a key while you are gone overnight, you can feel a little more comfortable that they did not make a duplicate key for their use another time while you are away from the house. Of course, if that is a concern, then there are probably bigger issues. Using cylinders that take the same key allows for things like having multiple doors unlock with the same key (the house, the storage shed, the front gate, etc). In addition to that you can do stuff like master key the front gate lock to operate on a separate user key, so you can do things like loan out a key that opens your front gate lock, but not anything else, but your house key also works it!

So, I have you thinking about changing out the lock hardware now. Let’s talk about basic stuff that you should already be doing to better secure your home. Did you know in most home construction, the door jamb is attached to the frame of the house with a few nails, and sometimes those are through shims to align the jamb/door in the framed opening. The door hardware is usually just secured to the jamb, not the frame of the house. So, all that fancy hardware you just bought, is typically attached to the jamb, a one inch thick piece of wood. That is why residential doors can so easily be kicked in, because the door jamb splinters/breaks, not the door itself. So, the fix is to use long screws and secure the hardware to the frame of the house, on both sides of the door.

Here is the procedure: Remove the short screws holding the hinges onto the jamb and replace them with 3 or 4-inch long screws to ensure they go firmly into the frame. On the lock side, make sure you use the same long screws to secure any strike plate you install. The strike plate for the latch, for the deadbolt and for the second deadbolt. Yes, I said second deadbolt. Remember that I mentioned that locks could be picked. It is not very likely, especially since you purchased commercial grade hardware, but it can happen. So, on my home I have installed on the two main entry doors (front and back), keyless deadbolts. Keyless deadbolts do not have a visible keyhole on the outside of the door, they don’t have anything showing on the outside of the door. So, these do two things, they provide you peace of mind that when you are home and inside and that deadbolt is secure, no one will be picking it open. The other thing, is the strength of another deadbolt is now there, instead of just one. If I did not say it already, deadbolts provide the security on your door, not that latch attached to the lever. Okay, so there are drawbacks to the keyless deadbolt. With it locked even someone with a key who is supposed to be there won’t be able to get in, so you will have to open the door for them. The other issue is you can’t lock it when you are leaving, unless you go out the garage door and remember to close the garage door. There are some vulnerabilities with those doors as well.

You always have to be aware of your weakest link. If you have doors with a large amount of glass in them, or the fancy French doors or a variation of, well then someone is just going to break the glass and reach in and unlock your doors. Another thing to think about. You don’t know how many times I have priced heavy doors to give me some ballistic protection, only to remember that the rest of my house does not provide much of that. It’s about choices, cost, options and trade-offs.

You’ll notice that I have not mentioned any sort of electronic lock. That is a direction I did not want to go. I don’t have any on my house. I am not a hater of technology/electronics. I just don’t believe in applying it to physically securing your stuff. Enough said.

How about your vehicle? If you drive a newer vehicle and you have not experienced it already, be prepared for a shock, when it comes to replacing your vehicle key/fob/remote. If you drive an older vehicle, if you need another key, you go to the Locksmith shop and they duplicate your spare key and now you have two again. If you have one of the old remotes that does nothing but lock/unlock your car and maybe has an panic alarm function, those can be replaced for a small amount ($20-$50). If you have a newer vehicle be prepared to pay a hundred plus for a second key and the all-in-one fobs (key and remote functions in one unit) can run you several hundred dollars. If you are about to buy new, make sure the dealer gives you at least two complete units. If you are still bargaining/dealing, ask for a third. It is much easier to get it up front that to scramble around and have to find a locksmith to do it for you later at an inconvenient time/place. This is a specialty area of locksmithing and they charge a bunch of money for the service, in addition to the product, if they can even get it. Some of these things are dealer-only items, so you must go there for even a replacement key!

Let’s talk about some extras that you may not know about. I purchased a second spare tire for my pickup truck. Yes, I have had two flat tires at the same time. The other reason for the second spare, is that I mounted it in the bed of my truck so it is much easier to access than the one underneath the bed. So, I bought a bracket to mount it and I wanted to secure the spare so no one runs off with it. I had a job box in my pickup bed at one point secured by padlocks. These padlocks work with the same key that opens my house. How convenient is that? They also have cylinders in them that can be rekeyed, or repinned the same way you would change your house lock cylinders. So, if you lose a key, or can’t get a key back from someone you no longer trust, and you need to change the lock cylinders to work on a different key, your padlocks can be done as well.

You can put one on the front gate to the property, or the back gate, or the gate on the side of the house, or the rental storage unit, or…you get the idea, and they all open with your house key. You can buy these padlocks configured to protect the shackles from being cut as well. The shackles on padlocks are quite often the point of attack, usually with bolt cutters. Speaking of point of attack, remember to consider the weakest link/point, and that is sometimes the chain securing your gate. There are some really good chain products out there that are resistant to all bolt cutters, but they are kinda pricey. They can be cut with power tools!

So, if you want to get into the locksmithing thing a little more, there is a book that covers a large amount of the basics; The Complete Book of Locks and Locksmithing, Bill Phillips. Of course, there are a ton of videos online to learn from. Actual locksmithing tools and equipment can sometimes be a challenge to get, because many vendors are reluctant to sell to the general public, but if you look hard enough you can buy most of it. I mentioned lock cylinders a couple of times. You can buy lock cylinders already pinned to a different key, from your local locksmith and you would have them on hand if needed. This would allow you to just swap out the cylinders, instead of calling someone to do it for you. If you have the skills to install the hardware, swapping the cylinders is something you could do. Learning these skills could serve you well into the future, even if you only do work for yourself, but would also be a great barter skill. If you do invest in a pin kit and accessories to be able to change(repin) your lock cylinders to work on a different key, you can go to your local locksmith shop and purchase a set of keys that are different from your current key, that you can use in the future, if needed. That way you are just purchasing the keys, and not the service.

I purposely did not use a bunch of brand names in this article, so I would not have to add disclaimers, or explain why I use one versus the other. The truth is that there are several really good products out there. Please remember that all of the brands have a line of products, so you need to pay attention to where that product you are interested in falls in the product line, in order to determine if it is the best value for you.

I apologize for mentioning Walmart, but it seems that we all have one of those near us and go there for some things, or use the dreaded Amazon. I have been weening myself off of that place and shopping local as much as possible, in addition to trying very hard to buy American!

Establishing a good relationship with your local locksmith would be a great idea. Your local locksmith can tell you about what works, what doesn’t, and should be keeping up with the latest and greatest tech and gadgets that might benefit you in securing your stuff. They may even be able to order you the locksmith tools you will need to do your own work.