22 Secrets a Locksmith Won’t Tell You

Locksmiths reveal their best trade secrets.

Keep your home safe from unwanted intruders with these secrets a locksmith won’t tell you. Read on to learn trade secrets from emergency locksmiths.

Beware of Scam Artists

Many locksmiths in the phone book or online are scam artists. They’ll quote you a great price, but when they get there they’ll say you have a special lock they can’t pick, so they have to drill it open. Then they charge you extra for a replacement lock you can buy at The Home Depot for much less.

Find Reputable Locksmiths

Find someone reputable at findalocksmith.com, the official website of the Associated Locksmiths of America.

Some Call Outs Cost More

If it’s 2 a.m. and some guy calls me because he’s locked out of his car at a club, a service call that’s normally $55 is automatically $100. If he’s got money for clubs, he’s got money for me.

Go for High Grade

It’s easy to defeat the cheapo locks from big-box stores. Most are mass-produced by reputable manufacturers but to really low standards. Look for at least a Grade Two lock.

Domestic locked doorKM6064/Getty Images

The Best Lock

The best lock is a deadbolt that’s properly installed. It should have at least a one-inch “throw.” On the “strike side” there should be a security plate with screws at least three inches long that go all the way into the door’s wood frame. Here’s how to properly install a deadbolt lock.

Get a Double Cylinder Lock

If you have a window on or near your door, a thumb-turn deadbolt won’t do much good. They’ll knock out the glass, stick a hand in and turn. Get a double cylinder lock that needs a key on the inside.

Don’t Trust “Do Not Duplicate”

Keys stamped “Do not duplicate” are duplicated all the time. Ask me about high-security locks with keys that can’t be replicated at the hardware store.

Locksmiths Can Be Cheaper Than a Car Dealer

Don’t believe a car dealer who says only he can duplicate keys. In most cases, a locksmith who specializes in automotive work can make you a key — usually cheaper.

Multiple Household Requests

Divorce lockouts are a challenge. The soon-to-be ex-wife will call and say she’s locked out, so I get her in and change the locks. Then the husband calls with the same request. I refer him to a competitor.

The Housekeeper

Have a housekeeper who needs a key? Ask me to key your door so that your master key works on the dead bolt and the doorknob, but his or hers works just on the knob. On the day he or she comes, lock only the knob.

Double Check

Try the door. I’ve gone to houses and found it open. (I’m still going to charge you for the service call.)

Simple Solutions

If your key won’t turn, try WD-40 or silicone spray. Sometimes the pins get jammed up, and 25 to 40 percent of the time that solves the problem.

Don’t Call Multiple Locksmiths

If you’re locked out, please call just one of us. More than once, I arrived at a lock-out to find two competitors’ trucks already there. At that point, we all agreed to leave and abandon the inconsiderate victim.

Don’t Buy a Locked Safe

Think twice before you buy a locked safe at a flea market, estate sale or auction. It’s probably going to cost you $300 or more to open it, and chances are all you’re going to find is mouse poop.

Locksmiths Over Contractors

Contractors stink at installing deadbolts. I can’t tell you how many times I go out to rekey one or let someone in, and I find problems. If it’s not installed right, it won’t protect you.

police cop car the lawSchmidt Alex/Shutterstock

We Work With Cops

A lot of us do undercover work for the cops. We make keys for them and get them into places at 3 a.m. so they can set up surveillance equipment or put the bugs in place. It’s part of the thrill of doing what we do.

Rekey a New Home

When you buy a new house, always have your locks rekeyed. Otherwise there’s probably a master key out there that can easily open your home.

Locksmiths Want to See IDs

You’re supposed to check ID before you open anything. But half the time when someone is locked out of their house or car, where do you think their ID is?

Don’t Spin the Dial Too Fast

The biggest mistakes people make with their safe: Spinning the dial too fast, trying to open it before it’s unlocked, and forcing it closed when there’s obviously a problem.

Dead Bodies in Locked Homes

I’ve seen my share of dead bodies. It’s always a bad sign when the landlord calls to get into an apartment and nobody’s seen the tenant for ten days.

Multiple Lock Outs in a Day Happen

Don’t feel bad if you have to call me twice in a short span of time. I once had a guy lock himself out of his house three times in one day.

Locksmiths Know if the Job is Easy

Never tell me, “Don’t worry. It’s an easy lock.” Every time someone says that, it takes an extra ten minutes to get it open. It’s the kiss of death.

Sources: Tom Rubenoff, a hardware salesman and former locksmith in Brookline, Mass.; Charles Eastwood, who operates Locksmith Charley in Phoenix, Ariz.; Bob DeWeese, a locksmith in Baltimore, Md.; and Rick Bayuk, owner of Karpilow Safe & Lock in Bridgeport, Conn.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest