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A little background knowledge goes a very long way…. & with key cutting could save you time, money and your sanity!!

Ever had a customer whose key just will not work? No matter how many times you re-cut It he returns…. & returns…. & returns….. It can be the most frustrating thing in the world.

Working out why that key doesn’t work and also a costly business if you have to re-cut new keys.

There is often a simple explanation for it and there are many things you can do to either resolve the problem or stop it from happening in the first place.

It is important to have some working knowledge of the lock when cutting keys and what action the key has within it. For this article I will concentrate on the humble cylinder type key most infamously used on Yale cylinder barrels, Pin Tumbler Cylinder Locks.
Most Commonly used on Yale barrels, UPVC cylinders, French
vehicle locks, padlocks etc.
Disc Tumbler Cylinder Lock (Levers) Most Commonly used on cam locks, vehicle locks etc.
The principle of the cuts on a cylinder key is to raise a series of pins or levers within the lock to the same height thus releasing the inner barrel to rotate.


It’s important to get the correct profile for all pin tumbler type locks.
Resist the temptation to use a thinner Universal key for all Yale type profiles. Not
only do you end up with a very loose key in the lock (this can cause damage) but (in the case of a very thick original key) you may risk the top pins dropping into the barrel chamber and seizing the lock (the bottom of the key actually acts as a barrier against the top pins as the barrel is turned 180 degrees).
Try to source the correct key blank and keep a good range of blanks in stock preferably labeled by lock manufacturer to make key identification quicker and easier. Keep manufacturers catalogues up to date and an eye on new product information.

Problem solving ,so ok you,ve cut the key and its come back – You’ve run it through the machine again and it’s perfect – Check for the following common problems:-

Machine Alignment.

Some locks require a more precision cut key than others – therefore your machine could be out of alignment without you even knowing about it. Check machine alignment weekly using calibration keys or two identical (Genuine if possible) key blanks. Also check for wear and tear on the cutter and most importantly wear on the tracer point. Keep the machine clean and free of chippings (& shoe repair glue!),If your repairing shoes as well as cutting keys ??

Check The End Of The Key.

Check that the end of the key has no excess metal in comparison to the original key. There are sometimes cams at the end of a lock, which can be obstructed by any
left over metal. Use a grinding wheel or file to remove it but keep the angled contour (very important!).

Check Shoulder Length.

Many cylinder locks are now fitted with an anti-drill plate, which covers the keyhole. These locks require a key with an extended shoulder length to reach the barrel.
This is especially important for Vehicle locks – Some ignition locks (for example Honda) have a function where the barrel is pushed in as the key is turned back to
remove it. If the shoulder length is too short the key is unable to push in and is left stuck in the lock!

Use A Different Jaw On The Key Machine.

If you have a Yale type profile key that goes into the lock but will not turn – try cutting the key using a reverse jaw on your machine. By clamping the key by its profile (rather than on the straight back end) you are holding the key and applying the cuts in the same position as it enters the lock.

Look Closely For ‘Damage’ To The Key.

Check for any marks on the key, which may indicate problems. If a key is inserted into the lock and the cuts are not deep enough this will cause small indentations within the V of the cut. Scrape marks down the profile of the key would indicate that the profile is too thick.

Try The Key Yourself!.

So the key won’t work for your customer unless he uses a large crow bar and a pair of pliers! Sometimes a problem key can be down to the hand that turns it or a worn or defective lock. If possible check the lock and key yourself. A common problem on old disc tumbler (lever) locks is a worn profile or keyhole. This makes the key sit in the wrong position as it enters the lock and requires it to be jiggled around to locate the sheer line – Especially common where the key is sitting among a large bunch of keys, which weigh it down on entering the lock. Also make sure that the shoulder is doing its job and stopping the key at the face of the barrel – Sometimes the shoulder can be too small and the key enters too far or too big which stops the key from not going in far enough.



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