Posted in life, locksmithing on October 26th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

In an earlier life, when I wasn’t on the road I had the good fortune to work from home; or at least me and the kids thought it was good. A colleague and I had started a business but we lived fifty miles apart, and anyway there was no way we were going to waste profit on an office. We were both early adopters of the internet (it was the Internet back then). I had been on email back when email addresses didn’t just have @ signs and periods but had ! signs as well. Bet you don’t remember that. And I had been amongst the first few hundred to get my own personal internet connection, via Demon Internet. So we decided to run the business online. We used a conferencing system – CIX, which was like BIX but UK based – these were early, threaded-conversation systems between bulletin boards and forums – to hold our “meetings”. And email of course. And all from the comfort of my desk at home.

Anyway, rambling aside, more and more people are working from home. And that’s good for locksmithing. It’s now much more common for someone locked out of their flat to find a neighbour in who can open the communal door; and thus much more common for me only to have to open one door. Yay!

Double Doors

Posted in locksmithing on October 20th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

They are renovating a house just at the end of my street. And they are making the front door – the main door – what your insurance policy will refer to as the final exit/entry door – a double door.

I’ve also visited three or four customers where the main, front door is a double door.

This is pretty much a no-no. Why are double doors acceptable at the back and not as a final exit door? It’s because you can operate all the bolts of your back door when you leave, but you can’t operate all the bolts of your final exit door when you leave. And only when a double door is secured with – as your insurance company will almost certainly mandate – vertically operating mortised bolts at the top and bottom is it secure. And some insurance policies will ask for both halves of the door to have said vertically operating mortised bolts at the top and the bottom. (A morticed bolt is one that isn’t just screwed to the face of the door – which would be flimsy – but is instead set inside the fabric of the door.)

Furthermore, double doors cannot, in my experience, be secured to British Standard BS3621 – something else your insurance policy might mention. Where typical double doors meet there is what is called a rebate (rabbet in North America). Each door edge has a complementary interlocking L-shape where they meet. No lock I know of is certified to work with the adaptor that is necessary to make what otherwise have been a BS3621 lock work in a rebated edge.

So why are the renovators putting a double front door in I wonder. Some of the old houses around here have very large front doorways. Perhaps they thought they could save the expense of one great big door.

Testing, Testing, …

Posted in life, locksmithing on October 16th, 2014 by The Locksmith   2 Comments

You would think that manufacturers would extensively test their products. But no. From apps with completely stupid interfaces, to locks, it appears that they don’t.

OK, when you’ve commited your design to some factory in China, maybe you think, “What’s the point?” You can’t easily change the design; and you know in your heart of hearts that it’s going to be rubbish. But when I used to design and make things – in software – we used to do a prototype*. I once did a point of sale system (fancy cash register). I found a way to mock up the user interface, and I had the users play with it for a week.

Just recently we’ve been suffering a raft of idiotic designs at home. One of the most irritating is the coffee machine; the kind where I’m helping pay for George Clooney’s wedding. It’s abundantly clear that it was designed by marketing people and not tested by real users. It’s fiddly to use, the touch sensitive buttons aren’t sensitive to average fingers (i.e. mine), and every fifth capsule it crushes the capsule instead of sending hot water through it. Long, long ago, when these first came out, they were based on the time-honoured design used in proper espresso machines and worked well. Now they seem to have succumbed to a desire to remove all corners and protuberances (and functionality).

Anyway, rant over, there was this lock. A good lock. A lock that was made in the UK. Now when you’re testing, you have to sit down, with a panel of users, and sketch out all the ways in which it will get used. And test all those ways. And with a lock, that means testing getting copies made of its keys. Sadly, after using the first couple of these locks, we found that it was just about impossible to copy the keys. Only with perfect cutters and a perfect callibration, could you get a working copy. And how many cobblers and dry cleaners fell (fall) into that category?

* For those that know something about software, the old me feels compelled to point out that we weren’t “rapid prototyping”, which was a stupid software development idea that floated around for a while. This was genuinely a prototype: a version of the intended product, made in an alternative technology, permitting early testing, and then thrown away.

Movie Clichés

Posted in advice, locksmithing on October 13th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

Clichés to do with keys that is.

One of the most irritating is the sound that car remotes make in movies. There are no vehicles I’ve ever come across whose remote key fobs make the noise depicted in brainless movies.

Stretching the word ‘key’ a bit, there used to be the cliché of the sound a computer keyboard made. Mercifully, after ten years of increasing prevalence of laptops, even the dunderheads who are sound editors and Foley artists began to realize that computer keyboards do not make a solenoid-based clacking sound.

But today’s post’s cliché is the bowl by the door into which one tosses one’s keys as one enters one’s dwelling. One the one hand this is a bad habit: through an obvious bit of kit it’s going to be pretty easy to snag those keys from outside. On the other hand, and especially if you live behind a typical, modern uPVC door, this is a good thing: it means you don’t keep your keys stuck in the inside keyway. If you do get into the habit of leaving your keys there, a) they are still pretty easy to steal from outside and b) unlike the thieves, you will not be able to get them out of the keyway should you forget and walk out, slamming the door. It is a “charming” idiosynchrasy of most uPVC cylinders that if a key is in the inside cylinder and turned even by a tiny amount, you won’t be able to use your key, even if you have a second one about your person, from the outside.

London Bars (And Cheap Versions Thereof)

Posted in advice, locksmithing on September 28th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

I may just possibly have mentioned that before considering adding more locks to the normal pair of locks that a front door would have (latch and deadlock) a London bar should be next. It’s called a London bar when it has a hoop to go over the keep of a rim latch (a “Yale”).

When correctly sized (no gap between the bar’s hoop and the latch keep), and when set slightly back, the London bar doesn’t impede the latch bolt slipping over the edge of the keep (the ‘strike’), i.e. allowing the latch to latch.

Some latch locks (Union do a common one for example) are mortice rather than rim: they go in the door rather than on the door. In which case, you would use a Birmingham bar – one that doesn’t have the hoop.

However, especially with a thick door, no matter how far back you set the Birmgham bar, the latch bolt is going to hit it first. That may be OK when new. The powder coat will probably be smooth enough. But even a good bar’s powder coat will wear off, leaving the latch bolt striking the bare metal of the bar. You may get away with it; but you may not. You may find that no matter how you slam the door, the latch bolt simply hits and bounces off rather than slipping over and into the keep. The only way to get the door to shut is to use your latch key; which isn’t the point of a latch at all.

You may find yourself having to file a bevel on the edge of the bar where the bolt is striking it. This is often worse on the cheap London bars that have an “H” profile.

Click And Wait A Long Time To Collect

Posted in life on September 13th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

This click-and-collect offered by a few retailers is an odd thing. I’d used it with fair success with Argos; after all, standing in an Argos branch and actually thumbing through the laminated book of dreams is never a very uplifting experience.

But when trying to do something similar with a couple of lots of timber from Travis Perkins, it always took twice as long as just turning up as they never seemed to be able to find the order and having found it spent ages head scratching before they remembered how to use their online order system. So I’d given up on that.

Then I needed a phone upgrade. The 3G coverage has been getting really patchy as they roll out the (stupid as we didn’t really need it) 4G. Well my old phone had done OK; I’d calculated it needed to serve for three years to make the cost of buying it cheaper than having on a plan; and it had.

I wanted a Galaxy S4. I figured the S5 had been out a while, wasn’t much of an upgrade (the last thing I need is a reminder of my state of health), and that the price of the S4 must have come down. Which it had. £100 cheaper than a year ago.

I had a rummage around on Amazon but the only models were Marketplace items and the feedback seemed to be that the majority were grey imports whose guarantees were iffy.

However Carphone Warehouse, who I’ve always had good experiences with, had one. I could have ordered it online, but it said that a local store had one. So I clicked and set off to collect. Mistake.

The first guy couldn’t find the order and actually took my phone out the back with the confirmation text message! And he was picking it up by the screen and thus managed to move several desktop items!! Then a second guy weighed in and after quite some head scratching, located the order and then the phone. I held my breath as they carried it towards me, but mercifully the seal was unbroken and I didn’t have to have that argument.

Then I was told that they’d accidentally entered that I’d paid cash, and would I mind popping to a supermarket cash point and getting the cash!!! Now this branch is the one at the end of the Victoria line in South London, and I didn’t fancy popping around the corner to attempt to ferry several hundred pounds in cash!!!! (I’ll stop with the exclamation marks – you get the idea.)

Only by borrowing a screen and a browser and by ordering another phone was I able finally to pay for the item with the planned debit card. I was prompted to make this post because today the email arrived noting that I had failed to pick up my (first) order.



Posted in entertainment, locksmithing on September 2nd, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

I quoted for a job last week, involving a couple of key changes. Straightforward enough. The person got back to me and let me know that the landlord was sorting the door out after all. Fair enough.

Yesterday the enquirer (the person, not the bastion of highbrow journalism) came back to me asking for a quote to finish the job that the landlord’s locksmith seemed not quite to have completed.

They had elected to replace a lever deadlock with a thumbturn cylinder-operated deadlock, which is fair enough as it seems it was a communcal door (I hadn’t been told this) and it’s the correct thing to do for fire safety. Now the cylinder used was the ubiquitous “euro” profile – very, very common and very, very stupidly designed. A euro profile cylinder has the shape of the head in Munch’s ‘Scream’ – very, very appropriate. However, the fitter had hacked out a vaguely circular hole where the keyhole had been. And left it at that! No rose, no escutcheon. Just a ridiculously large misshapen hole.


Posted in locksmithing on August 22nd, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

I went to open a wooden shed door with my usual collection of picks. However, whereas most sheds have a simple two- or three-lever lock at best, this shed door was secured with a five-lever British Standard mortice deadlock. (It’s not linear, it’s logarithmic: a five-lever lock is ten times better than a three-lever lock and hundreds of times better than a two-lever lock. Add in a BS rating and you’re looking at a serious picking challenge. I recognized the lock through the keyhole (which is as much of a challenge for locksmiths as opening the things). And I although I have a dedicated pick, it’s in rather a big tin which isn’t in the regular bag.

However, rather than go back for the pick, I had a go with a general-purpose approach; more what you might call “proper” lock picking. This kind of thing gets more and more difficult as you get older and hearing and touch both dull and the hands aren’t as steady as they were (even before “lunch”).

But, Yay! I opened it.

Oil Pressure

Posted in life on August 20th, 2014 by The Locksmith   Comment

Jumped into the van for the last job of the day, fired it up and pulled away. Now you get used to all sorts of irritating dings and dongs in modern vehicles, so of course they don’t serve their purpose because there are so many of them and they are so uniform that you end up ignoring them. However, this ding persisted as I pulled away and glancing down there was a red STOP illuminated as well as the oil pressure warning light. Oh dear. That looked expensive.

However, a bit of research on t’ internet the next day revealed that it’s almost never the oil pump – phew – it’s often the sensor itself that’s faulty. (Another case of warnings of questionable value!) And if not the sensor, it could be a clogged filter. Well the oil filter sounded cheaper and more doable, so I clicked-for-collection, a replacement filter from a well-known motoring chain. Then I wondered about sourcing the sensor. I know my local garage man gets regular deliveries from an outfit called Europarts, so I had a look to see where they were located. Result! There’s a branch in a little industrial estate just down the road; and they have the part; and it’s no more expensive than the filter.

I collected the sensor first and then went to the orange shop’s branch to pick up the filter, which they’d just informed me they had ready. When I picked up the filter, I could see that they’d obtained it earlier that morning from Europarts! Now I know the better order in which to do things!

The final irony is that the two spanners I had to obtain for the rather large metric nut challenges were each more expensive that the filter and sensor combined. All my large spanners, mostly inherited from my Dad, are weird imperial and American sizes. Still, a couple of large metric spanners are bound to come in useful.

It turned out to be the oil filter. So now I have a sensor spare.

And come to think about it, I had the Berlingo serviced not so long ago, at a large Citroen dealer. One is forced to wonder what they actually do at these services.

Hardwood Doors

Posted in advice, life, locksmithing on July 24th, 2014 by The Locksmith   1 Comment

If you’re lucky enough to be getting a new hardwood door, have a go at asking the carpenter, as diplomatically as you like, to use pilot holes and to wax the screws – at least on the locks.

I’ve lost count of the number of times where I’ve gone to take a lock out of a nice door and found that at least one of the screws is actually only half a screw or even less, because no pilot hole was drilled and the screw head snapped off during fitting, Hardwood is … well, hard, you see.

And today brought forth a door where pilot holes may have been drilled but the screws had become very set in their ways and weren’t going to come out without threatening to snap at any second. A bit of wax from the end of a candle onto the thread would have prevented all that. (I’m told that carpenters who take a devil-may-care attitude to their eardrums have been known to use a little extemporized wax.)