Patent-Protected Key Systems for 2020 and Beyond

An Introduction to Key Control 

In a perfect world we would never have to worry about lost keys or keys falling into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, we live in the real world. The real world requires us to account for these scenarios if we wish to protect and maintain key systems. We account for these scenarios by practicing key control via patent-protected key systems.
Key control, as defined by Wikipedia, refers to various methods for making sure that certain keys are only used by authorized people. Perhaps the most important method, and the cornerstone to all effective key control, is the key control policy. Key control policies set forth rules and procedures for key systems. They generally cover areas such as the roles and responsibilities for those involved with the key system, key requests and issuance, record keeping and auditing, and maintenance tasks, such as rekeying. When done correctly a key control policy is the blueprint to successful key control. More important, successful key control protects a building, or buildings, and its occupants.

Patent-Protected Key Systems and Key Control

A key control policy’s effectiveness is greatly enhanced with a patent-protected key system. Via utility patents, the sale and distribution of key blanks carries federal law protection. This means protection against the unauthorized duplication of keys. Think about the implications of this from both sides, the locksmith and the end-user. The locksmith is able to offer a key that cannot be duplicated anywhere else and the end-user has the peace of mind that their keys cannot be duplicated without their authorization.  
Multiple factors come into consideration when selecting patent-protected key systems to offer to end-users. Things like buy-ins, annual minimum purchases, required servicing equipment, and availability must be evaluated. Rather than steer you in one direction I will simply present you with options. 
Before I begin discussing said options, I want to point out one very important factor of patent-protected key systems: each new calendar year means their utility patent is either expiring or is one year closer to expiring. While no patent-protected key systems are expiring this year, 2021 will mark the end of patent protection for Medeco’s M3 and Sargent’s XC platforms, barring no extensions. In 2022 and 2023 the same can be said for Arrow’s CHOicE and Kaba’s Peaks Global, respectively. With this in mind I have not included these platforms in the following list due to their shorter patent lives 

Patent-Protected Key Systems

Abloy Protec2

Abloy Protec2

Abloy Protec2


Abloy’s Protec2 platform is the latest in a long line disc-detainer designs that made Abloy famous. 11 discs within each cylinder allow for 1.97 billion theoretical key combinations and incredible pick resistance. While disc-detainer designs are known to rugged, Abloy took things a step further by incorporating its patented Anti Wear System (AWS) to prolong each cylinder’s life. Abloy also incorporated an interactive element into each key for added protection. The Protec2 platform is able to be integrated with CLIQ and its patent expires in 2031. 

BEST CORMAX 

BEST CORMAX

BEST CORMAX


Based on the SFIC format that BEST pioneered, CORMAX utilizes a patented side pin that engages a special slot at the tip of each key. With dozens of keyways broken into two different keyway families, or Series, CORMAX provides an upgrade path for existing BEST standard and MX8 keyways. Multi-milled keys are also available to create large master keying possibilities.  The BEST CORMAX patent expires in 2027. 

Corbin Russwin Access 3 

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Corbin Russwin’s Access 3 is actually 3 key platforms, each offering their own benefits and price point. AP, or the first level protection, offers key control. AS, the second level of protection, offers key control and additional bump and pick resistance. AHS, the third level of protection, adds drill protection onto the AS and comes with a UL437 certification. Each level is priced differently to assist with providing a solution at any price point. Access 3 is available to fit all existing Corbin Russwin cylinder types, including Corbin Russwin LFIC, and offers integrability with CLIQ. Its patent expires in 2027. 

Kaba Peaks Preferred 

Kaba Peaks Preferred

Kaba Peaks Preferred


Kaba’s Peaks Preferred uses a patented “Peaks pin” that interacts with a hollow milled key. This design is able to be configured into almost any cylinder or core format currently on the market. Peaks Preferred keys are able to be originated using most existing key machines. The Peaks Preferred patent expires in 2024. 

Medeco X4

Medeco X4

Medeco X4


Medeco’s X4 platform is the patented successor to the Medeco Keymark. As was the case with Keymark, X4 offers economic and efficient key control by offering cylinders and cores available to retrofit into almost any existing door hardware under a single keying system. Last year, Medeco was able to secure a 3 year extension to the X4 patent meaning that it will remain protected until 2030. 

Mul-T-Lock Integrator 

Mul-T-Lock Integrator

Mul-T-Lock Integrator


Mul-T-Lock’s Integrator platform builds on their 7X7 platform with enhanced tamper resistance and flexible master keying possibilities. It utilizes a 7-pin cylinder design that interacts with a patented key blank which uses an oval cut in 3 different configurations: internal, external, and twin. The Integrator is able to utilize Mul-T-Lock’s 3-in-1 keying option which allows you to rekey a cylinder up to 2 times by simply turning the key The Integrator patent expires in 2024. 

Mul-T-Lock Interactive+ 

Mul-T-Lock Interactive+

Mul-T-Lock Interactive+


Mul-T-Lock’s Interactive+ is the successor to the original Interactive platform. Using an interactive element on the key blade as well as a pin-in-pin dimple design, the Interactive+ platform is able to provide keys that are backwards compatible and will work with equivalent Interactive cylinders. The Interactive+ is able to utilize Mul-T-Lock’s 3-in-1 keying option which allows you to rekey a cylinder up to 2 times by simply turning the key. Interactive+ offers integrability with CLIQ and its patent expires in 2025. 

Mul-T-Lock MT5+ 

Mul-T-Lock MT5+

Mul-T-Lock MT5+


The MT5+ takes Mul-T-Lock’s traditional pin-in-pin design and adds finger pins that interact with a sidebar as well as an interactive element at the tip of the key. This design provides multiple layers of security and robust master keying possibilities. The MT5+ is able to utilize Mul-T-Lock’s 3-in-1 keying option which allows you to rekey a cylinder up to 2 times by simply turning the key. MT5+ offers integrability with CLIQ and its patent expires in 2025. 

Sargent Degree 

Sargent Degree CLIQ

Sargent Degree CLIQ


Sargent’s Degree platform is very similar to Corbin Russwin’s Access 3. Degree Level 1, or DG1, offers key control, Degree Level 2, or DG2, offers key control and additional bump and pick resistance, Degree Level 3, or DG3, adds drill protection onto DG2 and comes with a UL437 certification. Each level is priced differently to assist with providing a solution at any price point. Degree is available in mortise, rim, and KIK/KIL cylinder formats as well as Sargent’s 6300 LFIC format and offers integrability with CLIQ. Sargent Degree’s patent expires in 2027. 

Schlage Everest 29 

Schlage Everest 29

Schlage Everest 29


Schlage’s Everest 29 platform is the successor to the original Everest platform. In fact, Everest 29 keyways are backwards compatible with their Everest equivalent. Like the Everest, the Everest 29 utilizes a check pin that interfaces with an undercut groove on the key. You can duplicate and originate Everest 29 keys on any machine capable of cutting Schlage Classic keys. The Everest 29 patent expires in 2029. 

Schlage Primus XP 

Schlage Primus XP

Schlage Primus XP


Schlage’s Primus XP builds on the original Primus platform by adding a 7th finger pin position. Primus XP adds tremendous flexibility because it is compatible with all current and many legacy Schlage keyways, including Everest and Primus keyways. Like Everest 29, you can duplicate and originate Primus XP keys on any machine capable of cutting Schlage Classic keys. The Primus XP patent expires in 2024. If applied to an Everest 29 based key system, the Everest 29’s patent protection overrides the Primus XP patents for protection until 2029. 

Patent-Protection and Profit 

If you do not offer patented-protected key systems for your customers to assist with key control, now is the time. It’s a win-win for both sides. Patent-protected key systems are not only valuable from a security standpoint, they’re valuable to your bottom line. Selling and servicing patent-protected key systems creates a steady stream of income since the end-user is locked into your keyway(s). They have to come to you to service the system. Furthermore, it protects your accounts because your competition cannot obtain the materials necessary to service your accounts. Finally, there is tremendous profit. Patented cores/cylinders often times list for at least 4-5 times more than their generic counterpart. If your discount is less 50 on both, for example, it’s easy to see the substantial profit margins. To learn more about patent-protected key systems, please contact your local rep(s) or visit our High Security Library page.

By |2020-02-24T09:00:35+00:00February 24th, 2020|All, High Security, Keys|0 Comments

Removing Tarnish from Old Keys

Introduction

So maybe you bought out the old shop across town or found a lot of new-old-stock on eBay that was too good to pass up. In that lot there are some good keys but they are tarnished and ugly and customers will not like them that way.   
There is a fair amount of locksmith lore out there on how to clean the tarnish off.  Those methods were tried along with some new methods to finally find two foolproof ways to get the tarnish off without spending a lot of time at it.  The methods fell under three main categories:

  • chemical cleaning
  • mechanical cleaning
  • mechanical and chemical cleaning combined 



Chemical Cleaning

The first methods tried were chemical cleaning.  The chemicals were as follows:

  • Household Ammonia
  • Vinegar (Acetic Acid)
  • Ketchup (Acetic Acid and Tomato Paste)
  • Birchwood Casey Brass Cartridge Case Cleaner (Phosphoric Acid)
  • Lemishine (Citric Acid; found in the dish washer aisle in areas with hard water) 

Birchwood Casey Case Cleaner

Birchwood Casey Case Cleaner


Some of these ranged from free (ketchup packets from the drive through) to $8 for 16oz of concentrated solution in the case of the Case Cleaner.  Tarnished keys were submerged in each liquid overnight.  The bottom line was that all of them removed some tarnish, but none of them really made brass keys look like new.  At best they left a pink tint where the tarnish used to be.  If you only have light tarnish, Ketchup  or vinegar worked as well as anything.  The Case Cleaner was a disappointment, as it seems like it should have worked better than it did. 
After photos of various chemical cleaners - still not that great. Ketchup and Vinegar worked as well as anything.

After photos of various chemical cleaners – still not that great. Ketchup and Vinegar worked as well as anything.

Mechanical Cleaning

After the disappointing results from the chemical cleaning, the next round of testing used manual means to finish up the tarnish left by the chemical methods.  Two brass cleaners were used with a cotton towel to scrub off the tarnish: 

  • Brasso (~$7 per bottle)
  • Simichrome (~$10 per tube)

Brasso

Brasso


Simichrome Polish

Simichrome Polish


They both worked, but it was work.  Had to apply some polish to a rag and rub each key vigorously, then wipe the polish off completely.  The Brasso had a strong ammonia odor.  The Simichrome put on an incredible shine—the keys had a mirror finish afterwards, but again, a lot of work if you have a lot of keys.
The next two methods required specialized equipment:

  • Historic Timekeeper’s cleaner in a heated ultrasonic cleaner (~ $10 for the cleaner from a clock repair supply company, and ~ $100 for an entry level ultrasonic cleaner) 
  • Crushed walnut shells in a vibratory cleaner (A few dollars for crushed walnut shells from a pet store and ~ $85 for a Lyman Twin Tumbler) 

Lyman Twin Tumbler vibratory cleaner; bowl to right is for use with liquids.

Lyman Twin Tumbler vibratory cleaner; bowl to right is for use with liquids.


Fortunately, these tools were already owned for other purposes.  The word fortunate is used because neither really worked!  The ultrasonic cleaner was ran through two of the longest cycles it had, at full heat.  The cleaner was meant to clean antique clock parts, but just did not do much for the keys in question.  The vibratory cleaner shined them up a bit after a few hours, but it still left the worst tarnish behind.

Mechanical and Chemical Cleaning Combined 

Things were looking kind of helpless at this point but then I remembered that coin collectors sometimes use a vibratory cleaner with aquarium gravel and water to remove stubborn corrosion.  So that was tried next.  It was better, but not quite perfect.  It needed a little something extra.  On a hunch, added a tablespoon or so of Bon Ami (a powdered limestone cleaner used for stubborn stains on pots and pans). 

Bon Ami

Bon Ami


The keys came out spotless for once.  It just needed that barely abrasive quality from the Bon Ami.  There was one snag: some small bits of gravel would sometimes lodge in the millings of keys and would have to picked out with a pin.   Also, I discovered that the minute I turned off the vibratory cleaner, the keys needed to come out and be rinsed under fresh water then patted dry, or they would tarnish up worse than ever.  The vibratory cleaner was not that loud and could be left running behind a counter without bothering anyone.
Finally a slight success, but was there another method that would not require bits of gravel to be picked out of groves on keys?  Turned out there were two.  The first method used a rotary tumbler with a few pounds of short stainless-steel pins and water.  People who reload cartridges swear by them these days.  Well, it worked, but mainly I swore at it.  It was hard to keep the lid on tight enough—too lose and water spilled out.  Too tight and the plastic was liable to break.  It was really loud.  Hear it across the street kind of loud.  The keys did come out perfectly tarnish free, but the whole thing was messy, as you had to use screens to separate the keys from the pins from a soup of murky water.  If one does not mind the mess, they have some place where they can run the thing where noise is not a problem, and they have a spare $160 lying around, it is a workable method.  You can run a hundred keys or more at once through it.  But, do not try it with them bunched together on metal shower curtain rings—they need to go in separated.  The unit is equipped with a built-in timer. 
The two methods that worked so far cost a good bit of money and were kind of messy.  Could there be some simple way of doing this?  One could use steel wool and do it by hand, but that is a lot of work and it is hard not to leave scratches.  A wire wheel brush would work great, but they would leave really bad scratches.  But what about a really soft wire wheel brush?  It turns out that Grobet (the guys who make pippen files just right for impressioning) also make rotary wire wheel brushes that are extremely soft.  Last experiment was to get a Grobet wire wheel that use 3 thousandths of an inch thick wires.  The Grobet part number is 16.458.  Midway USA and Brownells, both gunsmith supply houses, carry them.  It does not come with a spindle, so a long bolt and a nut were used to make one.  It was chucked up in a small drill press and turned on at a medium speed.  With spinning wire like this, safety glasses are a good idea.  Now this method does require one key at a time to be held against it and cleaned, but it really works.  Less than a minute to clean up a badly tarnished key, and it seems to magically remove the tarnish without leaving a single scratch on the key.  It has turned out to be a sort of wonder tool in the shop—it can clean rust off of chrome plated items without scratching the chrome.  It took a badly rusted pocketknife that someone was about to throw away, and made it almost look like new.  I accidently touched the spinning wheel once or twice with by bare hand, and it did no damage at all (do not try this).  It seems to remove corrosion and tarnish and leave everything else alone.    

Conclusion

So, the final word in cleaning tarnished keys is to get a soft Grobet wire brush and chuck it up in a drill.  One of the cheapest solutions was the quickest, and it might be useful for other things as well. What about you? What have you removed tarnish with? What do you suggest?

By |2019-10-14T09:00:02+00:00October 14th, 2019|All, Keys|0 Comments

Introductory Locksmithing: Extracting A Broken Key

Introduction

Broken keys are a frequent and lucrative source of revenue for locksmiths. Analogous to lockouts, extracting broken keys can be done in quick order with the proper tools and know-how. Here are some of the finer details related to extracting broken keys from locks.

Broken Key Jobs

When you receive a service call/request for a broken key, stress to the customer that they do not touch the lock until you arrive. I have seen relatively simple key extractions made far more complicated than they have to be simply because the customer took it upon themselves to try to remove it. Sometimes they’ll exhaust all attempts to extract the key before they call you. In case they haven’t tell to them that they leave it alone until you arrive. Let the customer know that their actions can turn a quick and simple job into a costly one.

Methodology

Before you attempt to remove a broken key, you want to assess the lock and make sure the job is going to be as straight forward as pulling the broken key out. First, is the plug rotated beyond the key pull position?

key pull position n. any position, of the cylinder plug at which the key can be removed

If the plug isn’t oriented at the key pull position, the plug’s wafers or tumblers will keep the broken key trapped. In order for the key to be removed, you must rotate the plug to the key pull position.
Second, is the broken key behind a wafer or tumbler? Similar to the problem with the key pull position, if the broken portion is resting against a wafer or tumbler, it more than likely won’t pull straight out. You will have to address and overcome this potential problem.

Key Extraction Tools 

Whatever the tool, the purpose is the same: grab the broken key and pull it out. Here are different types of key extraction tools:

Tweezers 

Tweezers.

Tweezers.


I always have a pair of tweezers with a thin, sharp-pointed head in hand when called to extract a broken key. If there is enough of the key to grasp with the tweezers, that’s what I start with. They also are great at removing brass slivers that love to stick into your fingers. You can source tweezers from dozens of brick and mortar and online stores.
Peterson sells a scissor extractor set that functions much like tweezers. While marketed for automotive keys, I have found them more than sufficient for wafer and pin tumbler locks as well.

Spiral Extractors

Spiral extractors.

Spiral extractors.


I have always had great success with spiral extractors. Spiral extractors are ~.040″ thick wire with spiral teeth running along it’s length.
To use a spiral extractor, insert the spiral extractor somewhere between the key and plug. Press the spiral extractor in while rotating it clockwise. This process is very similar to tapping and, for lack of better words, that’s what you’re doing. The spiral groves of the extractor grab on to the key as it’s being fed into the plug. More is not always best with these, if you feed too much the force required to remove it will exceed the extractor’s tensile strength. When that happens, the extractor will break and you’ll make your situation worse. I usually try to feed spiral extractors 3/8″ to 5/8″ into the plug for wafer locks; up to 3/4″ for pin tumbler locks.
Once you have fed a sufficient amount into the cylinder plug, attach a pair of vise grips to the extractor’s handle. Before pulling, make sure your vise grips are in line with plug and you’re pulling straight out. If you pull at an angle you’re likely to cause extra force/work and you could potentially break the extractor.
The spiral teeth will wear down over time and some will inevitably break; it happens. Make sure you carry at least 3-5 on you at all times.

Saw-Tooth Extractors

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Saw-tooth extractors are typically .022-.025″ thick and utilize multiple teeth, like a saw blade, to grab the key and remove it.

Hook Extractors

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Hook extractors come in a variety of shapes and sizes but all utilize a sharp, pointed hook to grab and remove the key.
Saw-tooth and hook extractors are very similar in size and function. With the exception of the number of teeth and the shape of the teeth, or hook, they are comparable in size, both in height and width.  Both aim to grab the key on the top of the blade, where the key’s cuts are, to “snag it”. With that said, certain situations allow for both types of extractors to grab the side of the blank as well. Keeping with this possibility, Peterson manufacturers a type of hook pick called the sidewinder shim that is specifically suited for side grabbing.

Alternatives

If all efforts to pull the key out with a dedicated extractor fail or are proving fruitless, it may be time to remove the cylinder to give yourself more access to the cylinder and thus a better opportunity to remove the key. Keep in mind that this may or may not involve unlocking the door via a method other than the cylinder itself.
I have seen and heard of other locksmiths using super glue to remove broken keys. This is accomplished by gluing a small probe tool to the broken key, allowing it to cure, and pulling. Don’t do this. Glue doesn’t belong in a lock no matter the circumstances. I’ve been a locksmith for 11 years now and have never encountered a broken key that I couldn’t remove utilizing the aforementioned tools.

Preventing Future Broken Keys

Simply removing the key and collecting payment shouldn’t be the entirety of the service call. Try to find out what caused the key to break. Was it user error or is the lock not operating correctly? Before you leave, make sure everything/everyone is working as it/they should to prevent broken keys in the future.

Video Supplement

Tools Update: New Key Bitting Specifications and Pinning Worksheets

New Key Bitting Specifications

There are 5 new key bitting specifications (KBS) available on the Key Bitting Specifications page in the Tools section:

  • Chicago Disc Tumbler
  • Corbin Russwin Access 3 (AP)
  • Master Lock Pro Series
  • National Disc Tumbler (Single Sided)
  • Sargent Degree (DG1)

The Chicago and National Disc Tumbler represent two of the most popular specifications in use for wafer/cam locks. The Master Lock Pro Series is an equally popular specification for padlocks. Finally, we have the Corbin Russwin Access 3 (AP) and Sargent Degree (DG1) specifications. These are two very unique cylinder/key platforms.

New Pinning Worksheets

There are also 2 new pinning worksheets available on the Pinning Worksheets page, also in the Tools section:

  • Sargent 6300 Decoding Worksheet
  • Sargent 6300 Pinning Worksheet

The Sargent 6300 Decoding Worksheet is an updated version of our original 6300 Decoding Worksheet. We have made a few changes to it that we think will allow locksmiths to further streamline it’s use. The Sargent 6300 Pinning Worksheet will allow locksmiths to draft pinning charts for these cores in seconds. Both worksheets contain pinning rules and formulas as well as pin segment lengths and measurements.
 

Introductory Locksmithing: Decoding Keys

Introduction

Examples abound of instances where you must decode a key in the field or in your shop. At its most basic level you may simply want the bitting from a key. You may need to decode a key to determine which key bitting specification it uses so that you know how to pin cylinders or cut additional keys to match the manufacturer’s requirements. Whatever the case we all must decode keys at some point.

decode v. to determine a key combination by physical measurement of a key and/or cylinder parts
bitting n. 1. the number(s) which represent(s) the dimensions of the key 2. the actual cut(s) or combination of a key
key bitting specifications n. pl. the technical data required to bit a given (family of) key blank(s) to the lock manufacturer’s dimensions

An example of a key bitting specification, Schlage's Classic.

An example of a key bitting specification, Schlage’s Classic.


Decoding keys may seem straight forward to any of you that regularly interface with a specific manufacturer’s key bitting specification. Schlage’s Classic key bitting specification, found commonly in commercial and residential settings, comes to mind. There are times, however, where we must service keys and/or cylinders belonging to a key bitting specification that we are unfamiliar with.  Unless you regularly service Corbin Russwin’s various key bitting classes and depth systems, for example, they might cause great confusion without the ability to decode depths from a working key. 
With all this in mind, the goal of this article is to show you various methods of decoding a key and how to utilize the information gathered. 

Methods of Decoding Keys

Direct and Blind Codes 

The simplest method of decoding a key is when a code is stamped on the key bow. This code can be a direct code or a blind code.

code n. 1. a designation assigned to a particular key combination for reference when additional keys or cylinders may be needed.
direct code n. a designation assigned to a particular key which includes the actual combination of the key
blind code n. a designation, unrelated to the bitting, assigned to a particular key combination for future reference when additional keys or cylinders may be needed

Direct Codes

A direct code is essentially what you input into code cutting equipment to produce a key to manufacturer’s specifications. Direct codes correspond to bottom pin lengths belonging to the key bitting specification. The benefits of decoding a key using a direct code is that it is quick and straight forward. A direct code will not clue you into the key bitting specifications, however. You must either know that information, know how to derive it, or know where to find it to make use of a direct code. 

An example of a direct code.

An example of a direct code.

Blind Codes

Blind codes are very popular for wafer locks but there are instances of their use in other platforms. To derive a key’s combination from a blind code you must have access to code books/software. You reference blind codes against one of these sources which in turn provides you with the direct code. Nearly all code books and code software contain either full or partial key bitting specification information; some even provide the information to produce a key with the combination(s) using various code cutting equipment. This greatly assists decoding as well as the ability to service additional, related keys and/or cylinders. 

An example of a blind code.

An example of a blind code.


Blind codes are often alphanumeric although there are times where the blind codes can be numbers only. These numbers cannot be confused with direct codes, however, because they will nearly always be less than the actual number of cuts found in the key. It’s also important to note that you should not confuse markings from a master key system with blind codes. The standard key coding system, SKCS, must be learned, understood, and practiced so that information stamped on the key isn’t confused with a blind code.  

standard key coding system n. an industry standard and uniform method of designating all keys and/or cylinders in a master key system. The designation automatically indicates the exact function and keying level of each key and/or cylinder in the system, usually without further explanation.

Key Gauge  

You can also decode a key using a key gauge.

key gauge n. a usually flat device with a cutaway portion indexed with a given set of depth or spacing specifications.

Examples of key gauges.

Examples of key gauges.


A key gauge allows you to insert a key into cutaway portion and move the key within it until the key comes to a stop at or near an index marker. At its most basic level this index marker will be a whole number that corresponds with a depth/cut within that system. There are key gauges capable of decoding more than cuts in a key, such as angles or Aft and Fore cuts with Medeco keys, depending on the system, but that is a story for another article. There are also key gauges with measurements on them that function much like a caliper. While not as precise as a caliper they can be very effective and quick. 
Keep in mind that you must know the appropriate key gauge for the key; there isn’t one key gauge that works for all key bitting specifications. Utilizing the wrong key gauge on a key will accomplish nothing more than wasted time.  

Calipers  

Digital calipers.

Digital calipers.


Calipers allow you to take actual measurements of the key, usually with accuracy of ± .001″. These measurements can then be used to determine the key bitting specifications out right. The process to decode using a caliper is rather straight forward. In fact, there is a formula for this process that you should commit to memory.

Cylinder Math

Effective Plug Diameter – Root Depth = Bottom Pin Length. 

effective plug diameter n. the dimension obtained by adding the root depth of a key cut to the length of its corresponding bottom pin which establishes a perfect shear line. This will not necessarily be the same as the actual plug diameter.
root depth n. the dimension from the bottom of a cut on a key to the bottom of the blade

The effective plug diameter varies by manufacturer but this information is readily available. You can find the effective plug diameter of multiple manufacturer’s on our Key Bitting Specifications page. On LAB universal pin kits, LAB lists this measurement on each pinning chart and labels it E.D., or effective diameter. Keep in mind that effective plug diameter is not the same as the actual plug diameter itself. The effective plug diameter accounts for tolerances, plug diameter does not. Avoid confusion by also committing this to memory. 

Measuring

The root depth is amount of material between the bottom of the key blade and the bottom of the key cut. You measure the root depth with your calipers.

Measuring root depth with calipers.

Measuring root depth with calipers.


By taking this measurement and subtracting it from the effective plug diameter, or what is needed to create the shearline, we are determining the correct length of the bottom pin. All measurements are taken within a thousand of an inch so you will need to compare the results of this formula against the manufacturer’s key bitting specification to determine the bottom pin/cut assigned to it. Bottom pins correspond to the cut, which simplifies things for everyone involved. For example, if your formula produces a difference of .270” and it is the Schlage classic key bitting specification then you can safely assume you have a 7 cut which utilizes a 7 bottom pin.  
Measuring with a caliper and comparing/deriving is usually slower than other decoding methods but it is the most accurate method. An added benefit of a caliper is that they are multipurpose. You can use calipers to measure other things, such as pins. They are also very helpful when calibrating key machines as they can provide precise measurements throughout the process. 

Visual Decoding 

Once you become very proficient with a key bitting specification or specifications, you can begin to visually decode keys. This process allows you to determine key cuts by using visual clues of the key. It takes some skill to be proficient with visual decoding. Once you are proficient with visual decoding you decode keys almost as fast as if it were a direct code (as long as the keys are accurate!). 

Conclusion 

I utilize all options and I would advise you to as well. Keep key gauges and a caliper on the truck and in the shop. Make sure you have access to code books or software. The situations at hand will determine the best, or perhaps only, method of decoding. You best bet is to become proficient at all of them.

Video Supplement

Tools Update: Key Blank Cross-Reference App Added

We’ve just added our first app to our Tools page. The Key Blank Cross-Reference will allow locksmiths to cross-reference both OEM and aftermarket key blank part numbers, which will allow locksmiths to research purchasing alternatives as well as source or cross-reference keys/blanks that a customer may have.
At the time of launch, we’ve included nearly 200 unique OEM key blanks across nearly 50 brands. These entries represent the most common blanks in use today, both in residential and commercial sectors. In addition to the OEM manufacturers and part numbers, we’ve included their aftermarket equivalents. Aftermarket manufacturers include:

  • Axxess
  • Cole
  • Curtis
  • Dominion
  • ESP
  • Hillman
  • Ilco
  • Jet
  • JMA
  • Orion
  • Silca
  • Star

How To Use The App

Using the key blank cross-reference program is straight forward. Simply type in a manufacturer’s, OEM or aftermarket, part number into the search box and either hit “Enter” on your keyboard or click the magnifying glass icon. The program will then return results that show not only the part number you searched but all available equivalent blanks and their respective part numbers.
In addition to equivalent blank part numbers, you’ll also see Jet Hardware Manufacturing’s illustration of the key blank as well as the keyway. Simply scroll over this image to enlarge it. If you require the full size image, right-click on the image to open it. It’s as simple as that!
We’ve also included an option to allow users (you!) to submit suggestions for new entry. If we don’t have a blank included that you think we should, simply click on the “Suggest New Entry” button in the bottom right hand of the screen, complete the pop-up form, and click “Done!”. We’ll do our best to update based on requests.

Future Updates

Speaking of updates, this is only the start for this programming. We plan to add more OEM and aftermarket key blanks to this program soon. In other words, this will be an ongoing project.
 

By |2018-04-03T09:00:56+00:00April 3rd, 2018|All, Keys, Tools Update|0 Comments
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