Grrr, Google, Grrr

Posted in life, politics on April 17th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

Google are getting very, very irritating; and, one suspects, just a little bit evil.

Like most folks, but perhaps just a little bit more, tradespeople depend on their phones. So what do you go with? All my early phones were Nokia; and they were brilliant. I still have the two gorgeous 6301s and the excellent N95 8GB. But Nokia had gone with the stupid Symbian operating system; and that doomed them for me.

Apple were always beautiful but expensive; and the inability to change battery or add memory was a killer. And all the early Microsoft attempts at phone softward were just laughable. So that left Google’s Android. And that was pretty good.

However, just as many predicted, once Google had ensnared us all with android, Google’s informal corporate slogan, “Don’t be evil” seemed to start crumbling. I’m really pissed off that Google+ is now installed by default; and you have to work pretty hard, and get past some very unclear and scary warnings, to get rid of it.

And this morning I wondered why my tablet is no longer lasting three or four days on a charge. So I looked at battery usage and the WiFi was using as close to 100% as you can get. Now why would that be? There were half-a-dozen Google services running that I didn’t recognise. Google Partner Services? That sounded too ominous. Play Store? Fair enough. Play Store Services? Hmmm. So you try to uninstall them. But unlike regular apps there’s no Uninstall button.

I’m going to have to reconsider Apple and Windows 8 I rather think.

Insurance Requirements

Posted in advice, locksmithing on April 15th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

It’s time for the regular note on house insurance locking requirements.

There are still buildings and contents insurance policies out there living in times gone by. They assume that everyone still has a traditional wooden door and require you to have a five-lever, mortice deadlock. Now, in my opinion a five-lever, mortice deadlock is still the best. However, if you have a PVC door rather than a wooden one, you almost certainly don’t have a five-lever mortice deadlock; and quite probably you couldn’t have a mortice deadlock even if you wanted one; the construction of a PVC door simply doesn’t permit it.

A more enlightened insurance policy will have more than one way of satisfying requirements. In addition to the mortice deadlock they might consider a key operated multi-point locking system having, say, at least three locking bolts securing the door from several points. If so then your typical PVC door will be covered. A PVC door will have a cylinder lock rather than a lever lock but it will be key operated (or you’re in more trouble than just with your insurance). You will have to check that it has the required number of bolts. Open the door and operate the locking mechanism. If you see just one bolt coming out, then that’s not going to cut the mustard. If you see three or five bolts, hooks or mushrooms moving then you’re probably good. You may even find that when you operated the key, as you should otherwise anyone can unlock all those impressive bolts, one more bolt will emerge.

Other doors can also be relatively secure and still not have a five-lever mortice deadlock. A mortice lock is one that is inside the door; you don’t see the body of the lock, you just see the front of it in the edge of the door. If you can see the body of your only lock sitting there on the back of the door, then you have a rim lock not a mortice lock. Some insurance policies are OK with that as long as it’s a BS3621 one. I’m afraid that most rim locks are not. Only something like an ERA BS or a Yale PBS will be.

If you do determine that you have a mortice lock, the final question is, ‘is it lever operated and how many levers?’ The first thing to do is read what it says on the face plate in the door edge, it will usuall say three levers (no good) or five levers (good). If you can’t read the faceplate under its years of paint, then the keyhole and the bolt will usually give you a strong clue.

If it looks like an iconic, traditional keyhole, similar to this:


then it will be mortice lock; and if the bolt is squared rather than beveled and doesn’t come out until you deploy the key, then it’s a deadlock.

Mortice deadlock

Typical lever-operated, mortice deadlock

So, how many levers if you can’t read the faceplate? You will have to examine your key carefully. There will be several “castellations” all of roughly the same width. You count the castellations. Be carefull though: it is possible that two adjacent castellations or ‘bits’ as we actually term them, are the same height; that’s why you have to be aware of the average width of a bit. Now, if you have seven bits, then you probably have a five lever lock. As to why it’s seven rather than five, that just happens to be the subject of the previous post.

Finally, what if you have a mortice lock; you have even determined that it is a mortice deadlock; yet there is a cylinder rather than a keyhole, like these?

An "oval" profile cylinder

An “oval” profile cylinder

Euro profile cylinder

A “euro” profile cylinder

(Of course, you will only see the end of the cylinder.) Well then you have a cylinder operated mortice deadlock. And very few insurance policies acknowledge such things, unless the lock is BS (kite-marked) and your policy is happy with any old BS (kite-marked) lock.

Euro mortice deadbolt

Typical cylinder-operated deadbolt

One of the varieties of the good Banham lock, for example, could be a cylinder-operated deadlock; however, depsite what you will have paid for it, it won’t be acceptable to many, many insurance policies; you will have to ring your underwriter.

Key Copies (For The “Chubb 110″)

Posted in advice, locksmithing on April 12th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

If you have a Chubb deadlock the face-plate of which says “5 Detainers” you have a Chubb (now branded as Union) 110 or one of its variants. I’ve talked before about what a great lock it is. If you can’t read the lettering on the face plate, you can recognise it by its being quite a bit taller than most locks; if it’s got the original escutcheon, it will be square rather than round; and the brass key’s flag (the square bit at the end with the teeth will be longer, fatter and squatter than normal

And it’s the key I want to talk about. It’s a bugger to copy. Quite often you get poor key copies when you go somewhere that does key copying as a sideline and where the machine is not understood or never calibrated. With the 110 key, however, we all dread having to copy it. The thickness of the flag is one of the problems: many key machine vices (including mine) don’t grip it accurately and you have to resort to trickery. Another of the problem is that the key is operating on the middle of a very long lever and any inaccuracies are amplified by the lever’s length.

If you’re interested in the mathematics of keys, there’s one other interesting thing about the 110 and its key. Your typical Chubb key has seven ‘bits’, the bits being the crennelations that actually do the work by raising the levers. And yet it’s a five lever lock; so what’s going on? Well the key has to operate from both sides. Now, if all the levers were different, the key would need ten bits – or nine because the central one can be shared – and the lock would have to be very thick. That would make for a really big key. So typical five lever locks make the third and the fifth levers the same; that way a seven-bit key with it’s central three bits made symmetric can operate a five lever lock from both sides. Because two levers must be the same, however, the number of key variations, or ‘differs’, is reduced. Well, a 110 key does have nine bits. It is a bit bigger. And through a clever design, requiring the taller case I mentioned, the lock doesn’t have to be any thicker than normal. And because there is no requirement for any lever heights to be shared, there are nine times as many differs.

If you do need to get more copies of a “110″ key, the first option is applicable if it’s in good condition and operates the lock from both sides, in both direction, smoothly and without hesitating or catching. Then you should be able to go to a proper locksmith shop (not the typical dry cleaner or a shoe repair chain) and get a working copy. If on the other hand your key is a bit iffy, you could try asking your proper locksmith if they can cut to code. This involves measuring the key and cutting a new one on a different machine, one that actually cuts to specific, and hopfully correct, measurments.

Warmer Weather And Snapped Keys

Posted in advice, locksmithing on April 4th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

As the weather warms up, some doors and door frames will begin expanding (or contracting; wood is excellent but strange stuff; it depends on the moisture content and whether the door is warming up or drying out).

Many doors will expand however. The first symptom might be that the deadlock – the one that doesn’t act without a key being used – gets stiffer to operate. It is (naturally) a good idea to get it seen to if any significant force becomes necessary when turning the key. We’ve had two snapped deadlock keys over the last week. Normally it’s the latch lock key – the “Yale” – that snaps.

A snapped deadlock key is much more difficult (and expensive) to fix.

The Flex Maketh The (Good) Tool

Posted in advice, life, locksmithing on March 31st, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

I’ve decided on my number one criterion that marks out a good tool; particularly a hand tool. It’s the quality of the power cord. My Fein vibrating saw (German) has a four metre, rubber cable. My Festool router (German) has a three meter, rubber cable. My Bosch hot glue gun (German) has a two metre, rubber cable.

Everything else, including reputable brands such as Makita, has a plastic cable, often woefully short, and certainly not lying flat but forming stupid, stand-up loops ready to trip you up and to prevent you easily packing the buggers away again.


Fancy Rim Cylinders And Side Bars

Posted in advice, locksmithing on March 10th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

The typical rim cylinder key pushes up five or six pins or ‘tumblers’ inside the lock. These pin tumblers are sitting in the “valleys” between the pointed teeth of your key. And your key’s valleys match the heights of the pins in your lock. If your key doesn’t have pointed teeth along the top, then it’s another kind of fancy cylinder and this post doesn’t apply.

If you look at the sides of your key rather than the top with its pointed teeth, you will occasionally see something like four, five or six “scallops”. If that’s the case, then in addition to the pin tumblers your cylinder lock probably also has a ‘side bar’. As well as the pin tumblers needing to be at the right height, the pattern of scallops has to match the side bar or the cylinder still won’t turn.

One of the reasons this is done is to improve security; it’s more difficult to pick or bypass a cylinder with a side bar. But the main reason it’s done is to force you to go back to the locksmith who supplied the cylinder for any key copies, as most key cutters will not be able to replicate the scallops.

If your key cutter is an adventurous but foolish person, they might go ahead anyway. And if they use a thin enough, “universal” blank. The cylinder might just turn. But you will find, especially for example with a cylinder like an Evva, that the cylinder will lock up after turning by a small amount. It won’t turn forward any more; and it won’t turn back. The key will be stuck. And because it’s being held by the side bar’s spring there will be no way to extract the key. The cylinder is toast.

So if your key tells you that it shouldn’t be copied, it might just be right.

The Worst Lock Fitting Uncovered So Far

Posted in locksmithing on March 8th, 2014 by The Locksmith   1 Comment

As I tell customers who ask, there are problems fitting locks to bedroom doors. For fire safety reasons you can’t fit a regular deadlock, especially if higher than ground floor or windows are barred. A panic lock is often too expensive for “just want to lock my bedroom door”. A rim latch (a “Yale”) is often the best bet. However, the really cheap Yale can’t be fitted to a hollow door. And most bedroom in shared occupancy housing are cheap, hollow doors.

That hadn’t stopped this landlord from trying, however. I was there to let someone in. They’d lost their only key copy. And change the cylinder. Before beginning, I pointed out that the third fixing screw was doing anything as there wasn’t any wood behind it. The cylinder was a bit loose and wasn’t flat to the door surface.

First I found that the fitter hadn’t shortened the retaining bolts. Rim cylinders are bolted to the lock, through the door. But they are sold for the thickest of doors and have to be shortened if they are to grip in narrow doors. To overcome the ensuing flopping about of the cylinder, the fitter had vainly tried stuffing paper in. Having corrected all of that, I realized that the fitter had also made the classic mistake of not looking at the instructions and the template and noting that the hole for the cylinder is not coaxial with the centre of the lock. And this sad apology for a fitter hadn’t done what most carpenters sheepishly do when they realize this, which is to fit the cylinder upside-down.

(Which is probably why your cylinder is upside down; if it is.)

Christmas And Woodwork

Posted in life on February 23rd, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

I haven’t posted much for a couple of months. I guess part of it is Christmas. And for our family the birthday season follows immediately after Chrismas, with four of us having birthdays in January and February.

I’ve also been having fun doing some more serious woodwork. Quite often people will call a locksmith for a door problem. Now, whilst I have learned to do the wood jobs that surround locks (often literally), I’m not really a carpenter. Some locksmiths are; most aren’t. I’ve learned how to chisel properlay and I can use a mortice jig.

In trying to make a cabinet for a piece of electronics I’ve been working on, I realized I had to splash out on a router – the device that cuts channels, grooves, rebates, etc. Having a router also means I can fit London bars where builders have put the mouldings too close to the door frame edge. Watching woodworking videos I realized that to get the most out of a router, a router table is needed. So I set to making one.

Then I got fed up watching YouTube woodworkers effortlessly cutting big pieces of timber on their table saws. Now, I can’t justify the expensive of a table saw for my little efforts, but my circular saw is a quality piece but not much use in regular joinery. So I turned it into a table saw. Most of the time was spent making it safe, I hasten to add. Then I needed a proper fence, with proper dust extraction. So I ended up making a fence that fit the table saw and the router table.

Then six weeks had gone by. Although there was quite a bit of learning: learning softwoods versus hardwoods versus particle versus laminates; learning why cutters sometimes burn rather than cutting.

Just like the serious metal work I’ve been doing for a decade, there’s an awful lot of making things to help you make things. Sometimes you even have to make something to make something you need to make something.

Another Venerable Product …

Posted in locksmithing, politics on February 23rd, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

… seems to bite the dust.

I’m no longer recommending the SC71, “Ingersoll” lock. A few years ago it might have been exceptionally expensive but it was exceptionally good. Then build quality slipped a bit.

I replaced one the other day and discovered that although the price has remained high, the build quality seems to have plummeted.

Such a shame that this is happening everywhere. Yale cylinders have dropped in quality. ERA … well …

At least Chubb (re-branded Union’s C series) still seem to be the same good stuff.

Sluggish In The Cold

Posted in life, locksmithing on December 9th, 2013 by The Locksmith   Comment

Everything seems to be slowing down – getting sluggish in the cold. My drill batteries (woodwork, not locks, I hasten to add) are reluctant to drive at full power. After three years from an excellent Bosch heavy-duty, the van battery is beginning to sound tired. And me too.