Describing The Problem

I don’t know why but it happens pretty frequently that someone will call up and ask for a lock to be changed. OK, I think, I can swing by on my way to my next booked appointment and pop a new cylinder in. Two happy customers.

But then alarm bells begin to faintly tinkle. Now, I normally ask why the lock needs changing as it might simply be compromized keys that can be fixed by changing less than the whole lock. But when you’re fifteen minutes from leaving for the next job, you might forget.

Anyway, it often transpires that actually the person is locked out or locked in.

Perhaps there is an assumption that there’s a magic way to change out the lock from a locked door – there isn’t. Perhaps people want to make the problem seem easier and quicker; perhaps they hope you’ll be more eager to take on the job, and quickly.

But in common with several other locksmiths I know, I don’t take my bag of expensive picks and bypass tools to non-lockout jobs. It’s heavy and I’m needlessly risking theft of costly and sometime irreplaceable tools. So if you don’t tell the locksmith you’re locked out (or in), you risk their turning up without the means to unlock the door to get to the point where the lock can be replaced.

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Safes From The Sheds

I had to open an electronic digital safe where the battery had run down, the customer had ignored the low battery noises and lights the poor thing had been making for a couple of months, and where the override key had been locked inside the safe. This was one of those sub-£100 “safes” that you can get from B&Q or Home Base (Home Depot).

Now that’s not particularly unusual. However, the other teensy mistake that I’d advise anyone else not to make was that the safe wasn’t bolted down. Even a safe that weighs 50 kg is usually bolted down to prevent a burglar with a pallet truck just wheeling it away. With a safe that you can tuck under your arm bolting it down becomes pretty much essential.

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The End Is Nigh

This month sees me starting my last year. I become officially pensioned in twelve months.

I thought I’d probably carry working past retirement age, at least with a handful of jobs a week – beer money, etc. – but the noise, the dust and the kneeling down are getting more and more challenging. Jobs that require full alertness and memorized techniques are also getting more challenging.

Governments are pondering keeping an ageing population working longer; but I don’t see how a lot of us are going to manage that. Although diseases are gradually being conquered, physical and mental strength and agility are not improving.

“Yes, I know you can’t carry on your trade any more, but I’m afraid you’ll have to work another five years. You can’t kneel down and your strength is diminishing; and you are in cognitive decline? Well you’ll just have to sit at this desk and take customer support calls then.”

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Busy And Important

Here’s another thing that drives me nuts: bosses who ask their underlings to phone a locksmith only for the underling to have to relay every question I ask to their boss and their boss’ reply back again. It’s like Gwen in (the excellent)  Galaxy Quest whose job is to relay questions and answers to and from the computer.

Either let a person you’ve appropriately delegated to get on with things or call yourself!

When I worked in the computer software industry I found it staggering just how many “bosses” had no idea what a management structure meant. So many of them had some vague idea that they were somehow above or better than others and that it was their job to get others to do their job. It’s supposed to be a structure in which high-level aims are realized in terms of more concrete aims the achieving of which is delegated. Grrr.

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Factory-Made Door Made Wrong

I had to open a back door where all the keys had been lost by an outgoing tenant. I was quite pleased with myself when I’d picked the lock as although it’s not a difficult lock, it’s one that’s often given me problems.

Having got the door unlocked, it proved difficult to open as it was binding on the frame. I did warn the customer (the landlord) that forcing it open might leave us with a door that we couldn’t close again; but the choice was made to shove it open as their builder was on their way to the premises anyway. And it did indeed prove impossible to close again.

Examing the door with a square, you could see that it had no bevel. On the edge that has the locks – the lock stile – it’s not supposed to be exactly square, it’s supposed to be slightly bevelled. This is so that as the door is closing and the leading edge is angled out slightly further on its way to being fully shut it doesn’t foul the frame.

When the builder arrived and I pointed this out, he must have thought I was critisising him; he said “but it was factory made”. I guess he meant that the entire frame plus side glasses plus door came from the factory as most doors are factory made these days. If so then that’s unbelievably poor for a factory wot makes doors.

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Bolts seem often to be overlooked as a security option. Customers sometimes ask what kind of lock will do such-and-such; and the answer is a £5 bolt.

Whether you call it a barrel bolt or a tower bolt or a shoot bolt (and quite frankly I’m not sure which is the correct term), this

tower-bolt kind of thing, is a cheap, simple and effective way of securing your door at night without actually locking yourself in and creating a fire risk. (You should think very carefully about locking yourself in with a key that you can misplace.)

And if you have children that have reached the age of common sense, you need to think about them being able to reach the bolt.

The size of the bolt pictured above is important. It’s at least 150 mm long (6 inches). And the size of the screws are important as well: say 25 mm (1 inch). A titchy little brass bolt with titchy little screws is a waste of time and money.

The main disadvantage (in common with several other possible solutions) is when there is uncertainty as to when everyone will be home and inside. You don’t want to be locking a house mate or family member out and having them wake you to let them in. If this is the case, then a cylinder operated dead lock with a key on the outside and a thumbturn on the inside is probably the answer.

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Ongoing Puzzlement Over Window Locks

Every couple of weeks we get a call concerning the improving of window locking where no improvement is possible (save fitting bars).

Sliding sash windows

In many previous posts I have pointed out the hopeless nature of sliding sash windows. In terms of locking, frequently they can be improved. An acorn catch is useless and there’s an easy way to open them from the outside.

Acorn Catch

The Brighton catch and the Fitch are better. They are also  available in locking versions that are quite effective.


But with any of those central mechanical catches it is usually worth adding sash stops (or sash bolts if you live in an area – unlike London – where there’s little house movement).

Casement windows

These are windows (typically wooden) that are hinged on one side. They are usually secured with a stay (the arm that keeps the window open to one of several angles) and a catch. Unless they are hopelessly undersized, there is usually no way to bypass the stay or the catch from outside if they are in the fully closed position. (Some catches have a ventilation position that can be opened from the outside.)

Normally the only way through a properly shut casement window is to break the glass. And if a burglar is prepared to break the glass well they’re coming in whatever you do. Which is why accessible windows should be lit and clearly visible from the street.

Espagnolette windows

These will typically be newer and made of PVC. A handle operates a couple of bolts that lock the window into the frame. There will be a click as you operate the bolts and the handle gets to the locked position; then you have to press a button in before you can move the handle to the open position. The bolts are very difficult to bypass anyway, but even if the window is loose in the frame, if you’ve heard that click and the handle cannot be moved back to the open position without pressing in the little button in the handle then the window is secure; the only way in is to break the glass.

Sometimes there is a key with an “espag” handle. But this is not to increasy the security against someone coming through unwanted from the outside, this is to prevent someone already inside from  opening and leaving via the window.

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A Child-Proofing Measure You Probably Didn’t Consider

I remember going around the cupboard doors fitting those childproof catches that children and American presidents aren’t supposed to be able to open*. And those little plastic covers in the power outlets. And of course the stair gates. It’s not that I believe in the nanny state so much as I don’t believe in hauling myself off to A&E unneccessarily.

Well here’s a scenario we never considered:

a) Whilst the wrong key is supposed to be unable to unlock a lock, manufacturers don’t care as much about whether the wrong key can lock a lock. If, for example, you’ve just moved in and are unfamilar with the new keys, and, for example, your back door and your front door both have ERA deadlocks, and you walk out of the front door with the back door key, you might just find that the key will lock the door; but of course it won’t unlock it.

b) Deadlocks on internal doors – particularly bedroom doors – are not the best idea.

c) Child goes playing in bedroom, finds any old key and plays with it. How? Why locking locks of course. And this key did happen to be for another door but was capable of locking said child in that bedroom.

Hence frantic call from unlucky grandparent who happened to be sitting at the time.

* It was said that Nixon couldn’t open pill bottles with child-proof caps. They bore teeth marks.

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Not some branch of the security services but the venerable “Post Office Lock”. I assume it is so named because it was either used on postboxes or on the drawer at counter positions in post offices. But if anyone does know, do please leave a comment.

Anyway, the CT12 is a seven lever lock with no symmetry* and I picked one open today – yay! It was on a gun cabinet where the key had been lost. This is fairly common around here. If ever there needs to be a popular uprising in Clapham, we certainly are armed to the teeth, with shotguns seemingly in every other house.

Twenty years ago, the post office lock was found on lots and lots of low-security safes. It was well made and difficult to pick, so manufacturers have tended to abandon it for cheap locks from Wun Hung Lo. It is still found on gun cabinets though, where it is one of three locks that you commonly encounter: the 2802 which is difficult but for which one can make a dedicated pick, the “Ace” which is easy to pick with the general purpose pick, and the post office lock which is difficult (it has large, tight false gates, in case you want to know). So I was very pleased – even in my state of advancing decrepitude – eighteen months from retirement – to pick it.


* In your front door’s five lever lock, two levers will be the same. This is so that the key can work from both sides without being impossibly wide. And knowing this means that picking five lever locks is slightly easier.

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Restricted Keys

It’s possible that you take your key to get some copies made only to be told that it can’t be copied, that it’s restricted. They might also say it has a restricted profile or is a restricted blank. There may have been a clue or two: a serial number or a telephone number on the original key. Such a key can only be copied by a locksmith with access to said restricted blank.

Customers who have have had this happen with keys they have inherited sometimes think it’s just a scam by the locksmith to make more money. Well, usually it’s not. Here, for example, restricted keys are considered a pain rather than a source of profit.

The normal reason such keys are used (and the reason we offer them) is in order that keys can be given to occasional callers, such as cleaners and dog walkers secure in the knowledge that copies can’t be made of those keys. So that’s the plus side: you know surreptitious copies are not being made of your keys. The downside is that you are restricted to just one source for your key copies, you have to pay more for those copies and sometimes there is a key card you mustn’t lose.

The downside for us is that there is no profit once we’ve paid the postage or made a delivery and we have customers who are newly occupying premises with such keys who suspect we’re on the make.

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