Friday, December 31, 2010

The Hard Disc Drive in the Photocopier

This is a BIG heads up for any company which leases a digital copier and for anybody who has used one. Which is all of us!

Found at Flixxy was this news story from CBS News
Look at
The Danger of Digital Copiers - Who Knew?;lst;2
(The CBS viewer did not play well for me but you may have better luck.)

It reports that most digital copiers since 2002 have built in hard drives which store EVERY page copied onto a hard drive. They bought 4 used copiers and found much sensitive information. Who knew they kept all that? Seems many in the trade did but all point to somebody else have told the end user. One company offers an add-on package to clear the hard drive at a stiff price.

I am wondering why this drive can not be cleared from the top end display any time the user wants to do so for free. Sheesh! Meanwhile, all kinds of personal information about you can be leaked all over the place.

What to do?
1. Careful what you copy at a rental location. Anything personal stays there.

2. Dispose of any copier instead of passing back to the lease company. (Or get them to pull the drive from it before you sign it back.)

[Note on publication date. I was trying to edit the posting date of some other post and this was 'moved'. The program does not seem to tell me when it was first posted so I put it at the end of 2010. Seemed easiest.]

Can you have a double-sided deadbolt on your house?

I really have to start this answer by saying I am writing for where I live and work. Laws differ in other places but the reasoning for some of this shines through regardless of where you live. Also, in this context your house is where you live and own. Sometimes law distinguishes between owning the house and simply renting it.

First, the law. You can not put a double deadbolt* on a fire exit since people must have an easy path out during an emergency. In Canada, this mean a functioning adult or child above sixish can get out of a room or a building without special tools or knowledge. A key is considered a special tool. Also, after the building reaches a certain size and/or expected occupancy, it must have two or more exits.

Second, more law. If you own your home, you can legally do stupid things.

Finally, the practical. If unblocked exits are good in public places in lowering the number of deaths in fires and other emergencies, then exits are also good in a house. Consider other options before you install a double deadbolt such as a metal grill over a window in the door or installing the deadbolt below the handle so an arm thru the broken window could never reach the inside anyways.

However, you MIGHT consider a double deadbolt in some narrow situations. I ask my customers where everybody sleeps and to think of what is the primary exit if a fire happens at night. You would NEVER put a double dead bolt on this door. You may also want to skip a secondary door. However, I have seen houses with a third and fourth door onto a deck or into the garage. (You would not normally exit in a panic via a garage but that really depends on your particular floor plan.)

If you think sealing a door against a broken window attack with a double deadbolt is worth the risk, then you should also be adding a glass break sensor to that window so your alarm response is instant if it gets broken. Another good idea is to hang a key close to the door so if this door must become the tertiary** exit, then it can be opened quickly. The practical viability of doing this depends on the physical and mental condition of the most vulnerable person living in the house.

Some of the NEVER even consider it situations would include:
• Granny uses a walker
• Toddlers live in the house
• Only one door
• It is a solid door
• The key will be stored in the inside cylinder
• No key will be placed permanently near it

As you can tell, I actively discourage such deadbolts. In fact, most of the time it is a matter of telling the client it can not be done due to codes and our client base will find other solutions. I hope you do too unless it truly meets a critical security need. After all, if fire exits are a good idea in other places, you family and friends deserve them also.

*This kind of deadbolt is most formally called a double cylinder deadbolt but it is also called a double sided deadbolt or simply a double deadbolt. Regardless of how you say it, the lock is operated by a key from the outside and also by key from the inside. Only a key holder can open the door.

** It means third.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Monday, October 11, 2010

Washroom Fire Code Violation

I was out for coffee last night at a very large chain. If you live in Canada -- or even if you do not -- you may know it. You can roll-up the rim to win. On the washroom was a simple double sided deadbolt. You know the kind. It makes a prison cell in waiting.

Now as a matter of practice, we are not to 'interpret' fire codes but one line which is a guiding principle run something like the following. A capable person can exit from the room or building without special tools or knowledge. Not much interpretation needed to know a double deadbolt fails this completely. And yet, the hardware exists to do this right. Just off the top of my head are two models which allow a thumbturn inside to only unlock the door so that nobody can lock the multiperson bathroom upon entry. (Large buildings end up with problems like graffiti, drug deals or sex in washrooms if you allow the door to be lockable.) I know the hardware I am thinking is more expensive than the residential mess which was in use but a simple rope would be cheaper than a proper seatbelt. You get my point. They have the cash to use flat-screen TVs to advertise menu items, they can afford good hardware too.

However, this raises another issue. We were encouraged by a member of our local fire department to report violations when we see them and they would investigate. Usually, this mean shooting yourself in your foot since it is your own customer where you find the violation. Should I report this problem? I could get hate from many another locksmith and countless in-house fixers. I would like to hear from you on this.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Driving complaint ... cell phones

My job is partly to drive. Today, I honked at a driver who changed lanes to be ahead of me without signaling and without giving what I thought was reasonable clearance. I had to slow down but was not really at risk of hitting the car. It was more an annoyance. It was then I noticed a cell phone was in use. Further on, I saw the car weaving and it hit the while lane lines for no good reason and the driver was still on the phone. Before passing on the freeway, I honked again before moving alongside this car. The driver gave me a dirty look.

I honked since it is used to warn drivers of a hazardous condition on the road and this driver was the hazardous condition. I needed more attention on the lanes as we both moved into a construction zone and was only hoping to get the driver to stay in the other lane.

(For what it is worth, the car was a blue Pontiac Vibe with Alberta plates and the driving was observed on 170 Street southbound from 87 Avenue to the Whitemud and then along the Whitemud Freeway of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.)

Glass Door Adjustment Screw -- See It Here!

I was at a condo building on a completely unrelated task but noticed the glazing channel was missing from the top of the inner vestibule door. This allowed a clear view of a device built into most of these doors which is seldom seen. At the top near the opening edge is a small block of nylon with a bolt pushing down on it from the top stile of the door. Here the block is turned almost a quarter turn since the glazing channel is missing and would usually hold it square and in place. The screw has also put enough pressure on the glass to form some curved fractures. (They are called conchoidal fractures and more detail is at Wikipedia.)

I would not wind this screw any further down but if you understand its function and limits, it can help you solve a common problem. Glass doors with aluminum frames are partly held up by the glass which always stays square. However, the frame can slip and sag at the opening edge and the block allows you to bring up the opening edge.

(OOPS! The frame is part of the building which is build into the wall and the door closes into it. The outside part of the door is called the stile. I know this. However, your customers will do just as I did and call all of it the frame.)

If you close the door, and see the header is level but the door sags and you see the crack at the top of the door as it progresses away from the hinges, then this may help you. Start by opening the door and take the pressure off the block by wedging up the bottom of the door. When you start to wind in the adjustment screw, their should be very little torque or turning pressure needed. You should have lifted the door with the wedge and are now just bringing the block down on the glass so when you take the wedge out the door will come to rest on it but high then it was before. (The screw may be hard to turn still but you should turn it slowly and listen for any bits of cracking. If you hear this, STOP!) Close the door to see how it sits now.

Questions? Toss a reply and I will try to answer it.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Monday, July 19, 2010

Backset Fail

I pulled all the photos off the 1 GB card inside my cell phone. I take numerous pictures and found this old gem. Somebody had installed a Weiser Powerbolt but had missed the step of changing the backset for the bolt. Since the bolt was 3/8 inch too short installed in this door so had set the face of the bolt into the edge of the door by 3/8 of an inch.

Seeing this old photo made me smile.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Locks versus Access Control

This topic came up with a friend and he suggested his workplace did not need locks since it had access control. WHAT??

Allow me to get back to the basics. If you have a building and all the staff go home, something has to keep a snoop or a criminal from opening a door and just walking in to take stuff. That task is called physical security and the door has to be held by some type of lock hardware. How good your physical security needs be depends on what is on the other side of that door. How good your physical security IS depends on the wall, the door, the hardware and the lock itself.

At some point the next morning, the first staff member returns and needs a way to open the door from the outside. If you are running conventional locks, this is a key. If you have access control, this could be a proximity card. (There are even system where you could send an special email from a phone to a server controlling the door and open the lock too.)

In all these cases, your key or the card or a PIN number are called credentials. If you have to show an issued ID card to a guard before getting into a building, that too is a credential. If you have the right credential, you can enter. Most places actually have both keys and cards. You need to plan for the possibility there will be some problem develop in the card reading system and leave you locked out. The most obvious is power failure for an extended period but vandals smashing the reader would do the same.

Access control is a good name as it really suggests its function. It does not do any better job of keeping out random people in the small hours of the morning, but does let many staff in and keeps a record of that. And more importantly, you can turn off the card for any one person without affecting all the others.

I guess in summary, access control replaces keys with cards and changes what has control of the locking hardware. At much higher cost, it gives an audit trail of all the people who moved through all the controlled doors. However, any good system has keys on a few doors too but with limited key distribution.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

I could never be THIS passionate!

A different locksmith blog posted this commentary on being passionate and it is very funny. Do pop over there to watch it and ask yourself about your passion. I am perhaps compulsive about locks and for brief moments passionate, but it hardly sustains me.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why do they keep breaking my car windows?

Asked by retail staff as I was working for his store. "Why do they keep breaking my car windows?"

It is an upscale Audi import with an alarm. It is parked in the back lot of an apartment block. They got some stuff out of it the first time. All he leaves in it now is the charging cable for the iPod.

Well frankly, they got something once. And frankly, the cable hints at something being in the glove box or under the seat. (I never asked but if it has darkly tinted windows, they need to break them to see if there is more to take this time.) In big apartment complexes, nobody even hears car alarms most of the time -- people go numb from the frequent false alarms.

It is a shame, but this guy needs to invest money in a house with a garage to get the car out of site. However, I suspect he spare cash is sunk into keeping windows in his car.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Do NOT jump puddles.

I guess I should explain the delay in posting here for a bit. I came back from SAFETECH 2010 and was back at work. One Tuesday, we had a heavy slushy snow storm and during one job downtown I jumped a gutter filled with slush to avoid getting my shoes wet. It was a small jump of perhaps 3 to 4 feet. The take-off was great. The grace in mid-air was impressive -- or at least we will assume that for sake of the story. I landed on my right foot only but squarely. The landing seemed OK but then I tried to take the next step and something was terribly wrong. I limped across the street barely getting to the far side before the light changed.

Long story. Short.

I tore some of my calf muscle way from its tendon. It hurt. It hurt BAD. It took over a week to heal and there was even a bit of limping then when I was tired at the end of the day.

Long story. Not that short.

Between this injury and vacations by myself and others, this set me up for a 3 week run of on-call with 2 weeks off and now 2 more weeks.

Moral of the story, do not jump puddles. I just hope I can avoid any more workplace athletic injuries.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Dilution of Emergency Lights

Driving is a major part of my job and I believe I take it very seriously. However, I have noticed a strange trend. Flashing, blinking and strobing lights everywhere.

A garbage truck driving down a highway does not need a strobing yellow light at the back center. A lawn mowing contractor truck which was parked beyond the sidewalk on the turf does not need flashing orange lights either. A transit bus does not need its brake lights to flash three times each time the brakes are applied. Quite frankly with its big back end it looks like a fire truck from a distance.

How many flashing lights do we need to give us warning and when does diminishing return kick in? I fear drivers are getting immune to some of the flashing warning lights.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

How to Get Expensive Cabinets

I was just cleaning up papers from old jobs and found a diagram for some cabinets which needed locks added. It was a new group home and the medication cabinets were planned and suddenly they realized they should have locks. (At least from the way it was relayed to me, this huge and complex set of cabinets built into a wall with a desk were to be for medications and files from the start.) Surprise.

I found ways to do it with a mix of cabinet locks, elbow catches and push locks. I had to do some rough chiseling to get room in places and the locations could not be even with the pulls. While it all worked, it was an after-market solution. The locks are basic and the cheap part of the job. However, it cost them a fortune in time.

Quite frankly, if you think there is even a small chance you need a lock on a drawer or door later, get the cabinet maker to add them at the start. The time needed is far less than getting a locksmith to do it at site later. Also, if you put locks on some of the cabinetry, do all of them. It gives you flexibility in where you put the items needing to be locked up later.

Of course, people will not plan ahead with this in mind and I will get more jobs like it in the future.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lock nerd or lock geek?

I have been asking fellow attendees at SAVTA this burning question of deep importance to me. I fear I may get the answer wrong.

A bit of background. I have been busted checking the keyway and hardware as I open a door. Going past a bank, I have told a friend what kind of cylinder is in the night depository. I visited a small town historical museum with 3 rooms of 'stuff' including a big old safe. I was looking at its boltwork and lock for half the time there. And lets face it, I am using a week of vacation to be here.

So help me please. Am I a lock geek? Or a lock nerd?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Matt Blaze, Computer Scientist takes on locks

For those in the safe community, the name Matt Blaze may not be front and centre but he does have credentials in information security. He turned his computer attention of safe locks a while back and wrote a paper I found most interesting.

Matt Blaze @

Buried in this page are two papers of interest to lock and safe technicians.
One is on safecracking or what we call a manipulation. Another is about masterkeying mechanical locks. For one, he documents the Informed Oracle Attack to escalate authority. (Please use text search in his page to find the papers links directly. If I link to the papers directly, they will download as PDF files instantly.)

His work is not really news in so many ways but it does represent presenting it to a wider audience. How many? Well, the papers were published in 2004. When I first found them, I looked to see if a course was offered in computer security at various colleges and universities. LOTS OF EM. It is reasonable to think these papers have floated past tens of thousands or more of undergraduate students. We are not talking semi-literate and semi-numerate prison convicts. I am talking people who can make sense of the content and for a few hundred dollars find a group two lock to play with and see it works. Once more, security by obscurity fails.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Resource for Dialing Diagnostics

Just finished Safe Service and Dialing Diagnostics here at SAFETECH 2010. I think I passed. :-)

I spoke in the last few days about a good summary of this topic on the Sargent and Greenleaf site and took a moment to find it. I have this document in my service van for reference and yet I am not sure how often I have looked at it while doing jobs in the last few years.

S&G Mechanical Safe Lock Guide

Since the link location may change and other resources are there, it may be helpful to know the page from which I found this link.

Safe Lock Trouble-Shooting Resource Center

While this overview is excellent, it is for the one brand. However, many of the concepts are general in nature since a fly can get stuck in a LaGard or Mosler just as well. Also, the spline locations all shift in other brands. I do not feel this lessens its usefulness at all.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Well, made it to San Diego for the big SAVTA (Safe and Vault Techicians Association) conference. Met a few other safe guys over some beer and supper but most of it starts tomorrow. I had most of the day to myself and got all the way to Mexico. Literally. I stood in the States and took pictures of the border crossing.

I find the process of learning the trade interesting. Some of this stuff is a big secret and yet no organization with a large number of people keeps a secret well in the long term. And yet, try to search the internet for the drill points to defeat the door on some particular model of safe and you generally will fail. (I have tried and there is little out there to find and I think I have reasonably good research skills.)

Will I tell you everything I see and hear? No. I am thinking most will be boring anyways. I am hoping to make this conference into at least a few posts.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Keys Cost $1500! Really??

How much does a key cost? At one level, it is 2 or 3 bucks. You give your existing key to the staff of a store and it gets mounted into a machine and a copy is cut. This is common for house keys.

However, there is a completely different answer. At our provincial locksmith conference, I was told of a different way of looking at this.* The cost of your key ring is the total of your house and automobile insurance deductibles. Look the two deductibles up and if your key ring is stolen and later used to get your car and rob your house, you get to pay this amount before any insurance claim.

Search Google News for 'stolen keys' and you will find it is a common method to get access to cars. This is a reasonable consequence of the electronics in keys in many car models. Without a key, the ignition column can be smashed open but the car will not start.

The only case where I have direct experience, involved a coat stolen from the staff area in the back of a big restaurant. The back door was left unlocked routinely to let other staff enter unhindered. A cook was done his shift and found his coat missing with keys in the pocket. He looked outside and the car was gone. I entered the picture to meet the wife as soon as possible to change the keying on the house. The risk of a thief using stolen keys is highest in the first few hours and the car theft proved the culprit was willing to use the stolen keys. The house was fine when she got home which was faster then the husband who was taking a taxi. (When I was done, the car was reported stolen but police had not yet found it.)

In this case, they may pay the cost of the insurance deductible for the car and then the cost to rekey the house. Rekeying a car is usually far more costly.

Changing the keying of a house has many different prices. Some townhouses have one locked door with one deadbolt. That is a half hour call. Some luxury homes have over 12 locks all over the place. Also, in a crisis like this the change has to be made as fast as possible to be the most effective. Locksmiths are like plumbers and have day rates, evening rates and late night rates. The client has to decide if the price is worth it. Go ahead and compare to your insurance deductibles.

* My apologies but can not recall who this is or I would give credit. If you remember telling me over lunch in the coffee shop of the Capri Centre, do let me know.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Subtle "Hello" to the LPO

I had the occasion to shop for new boot laces tonight at a store I both frequent as a shopper and do work as a contractor. As often happens, I am directed to do work in many stores by a Loss Prevention Officer (LPO) and know many of them across the city. However, this time I was there as a shopper and seeing the LPO, I just nodded a hello. In the trade, he or she has to talk first as they may want to be 'undercover' at the moment.

A nod is as good was a wink.

Oh yes, the boot laces. I had to use my angle grinder in a restaurant while it was open. One of cuts needed was vertical and I could not fire the spark stream UP into the air and all over the place. I shot it down and I guess some of it ... or enough of it ... hit my boot and burned partly through the shoe lace. Today the lace broke.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Locks, Alarms and Insurance

Do not ask one to do the job of the next.

Locks keep people OUT you do not want to let IN. Of course, this is about the door and window details too. This is the physical security of a home or business. You want to be hard to defeat but remember nobody knows what tools or skills are with the possible burglar.

Alarms work to limit the time on site and also ahead of the locks to give the clear suggestion you will not get what you want. (Why is the alarm system often announced with signs and the lock system not?)

Insurance covers real costs if the first two above do not work. However, the claim is only valid if you made a reasonable effort. This means lock your doors and turn on the alarm system. Oh yes, it is real costs. I have a nice glass bowl which I inherited from my granny. I just recently saw it for $3 in a second hand shop. To me the bowl is worth more but to insurance it has a real value of $3.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bear Hunting and New Running Shoes

Stop me if you have heard this story.

Two good old boys are about to head out on a trip to hunt bear. One wants to stop and buy a pair of good running shoes. His buddy laughs as he reminds the first that he can not outrun a bear. The first guy says, "I do not have to outrun the bear. I have to outrun YOU."

I guess you did not stop me in time.

What does this have to do with physical security? Crime is often a matter of opportunity and the thief or thieves do very little planning. One house is chosen as they drive, bike or walk down the back alley or front street or both. Your house is chosen based on first look. You do not have to make your house harder to break into than Fort Knox. It only has to look harder than those of your neighbours.

Do a quick net search and you find many good ideas. One page I found which is quite good is from the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services named the Home Security Audit Guide from which you can download as a PDF from the same page. (Other pages of ideas work but take any with some caution if they are selling you locks or alarms or other stuff.)

I want to mention some common mistakes homeowners make. Places to hide out of the light are used as location to break into a door or window. This often includes a high fence many people like on the side and back of the house. You will hear people say the fence also helps to keep a thief out but that is not supported by the evidence at all. A window without curtains is preferred too since you can see if somebody arrives and for a basement window what is below to land upon.

Every door must have a deadbolt. Every bolt should have 1 inch or 2.5 cm of throw. The throw is how much bolt projects out of the edge of the door when locked and you can easily see this by locking the deadbolt with the door open. The best quality deadbolts correctly installed also have solid tapered bodies on the outside and shelves of metal to hold onto the hole in the door so a hammer can not easily pound them down to the bottom of the hole. It is not the job of two thin bolts to keep the deadbolt held to the door. The strike should be held on with at least two 2.5 inch or 6 cm wood screws. If you have a window in the door or a side light window, get a grating so nobody can reach in if the glass is broken. Consider wrapping plates under the deadbolts to increase the door strength too. They are a cheap easy installation and done before the door is damaged can look very good.

Alarm signs work well as deterrent if you have a real alarm with real signs. Getting fakes from a dollar store do not. If some punk can seen all the wall next to the main door and not see an alarm panel, there probably is no alarm. If some punk can not see alarm contacts on any windows or glass break sensors, there probably is no alarm. If some punk breaks a window and nothing sounds, their IS no alarm.

Make your home a distributed target. All the valuable stuff should be spread out. If an alarm is used to limit time on site, then the thief can not spend the time to look everywhere.

If you have a safe, learn the difference between a fire safe and a burglary safe and keep the right kind of contents in each. Banks rent safety deposit boxes. Yes, they do!

Do you have insurance?

One last thing. This does not apply in the least to a targeted robbery. I am not saying this happened. I am also not saying it did not. Let's say you are some gun collector who has a nice stock of rifles. Some are so nice you show them to any friend your son brings home from school who shows some interest including a walk to the closet with deadbolts. Guns like this are of value and when somebody gets in the house and only goes for the guns and gets out fast, you can tell what they wanted. The time on site and path is easy to read from the alarm hits. Who knew the guns were there? Probably most of the kids in 2 or 3 junior high schools.

Enjoy your new shoes and remember if you will spend $200 on a pair of shoes, why not $200 on a good deadbolt?

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cooking ... not off topic

I get few calls on Sunday nights and gambled by putting on a roast. I am not always perfect getting 'done' right on roasts when I stay to watch them but this was about half way there when a job came in. I covered it, turned off the oven and headed out. The job was routine and I drove home. The oven was still hot and I could tell it was about 275 F or 135 C. It had clearly browned up some. I partly cooked the vegetables before pulling it out to cut it some. The inside was great and so was the whole meal. In the end it was in the oven for about 3 hours but sometimes these things work out. (BTW ... if it would have been ruined, I would have had a full vegetable supper and that is fine for me too and I made enough money to eat out if I wanted also.)

You have to be careful using the internet for metric conversions it seems. I fired '275 F Celsius' into Google and found a page of sites. Near the top was a site for baking and used the word oven. Bingo! Only at one point on the page it gave 275 F as 135 C and another place as 140 C.
I ran to another site which was a universal conversion calculator and 135 is better but for the precision needed in most roasting, this would be a minor point.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Safe Lock Batteries

Digital safe locks usually take batteries with only rare exceptions running an external power supply. When the lock does, the manufacturers recommend top of the line alkaline types. This typically means Duracell Coppertop or Eveready Energizer.* There are a few other brand name quality batteries which may be used safely. You will notice the good batteries have best before dates which are about 5 years away from your purchase date. If the batteries does NOT have an expiry date, do not buy it.

There are three good reasons to buy the best batteries you can.

  • Lifetime. The best batteries last the longest. You can save a few dollars by going with lesser batteries in return for staff changing them more often. It sounds like a good bargain as long as you know the full risk. Staff who do not know how to do this can get 'vigorous' and rip the keypad off the wire connecting it to the safe forcing an emergency replacement. We also see people who pull off the keypad and return it with one full turn in the cable each time and sooner or later the poor thing looks like a telephone cord without the spring. Again, stressed wires break and then the pad must be replaces.

  • Dead at time of install. We see this as a call when the client has replaced the batteries and the safe will still not open or not consistently. Upon arrival, I test each with a multimeter and sometimes find dead 'new' batteries. This can happen with any brand but the big names have a better track record.

  • Leakage. Batteries which have discharged leak but also if a battery starts to leak it quickly discharges. Most safe locks take 2 9V batteries and only ONE is needed to operate the lock. If one starts to leak, the first you MAY know there is a problem is when the junk from the dead cell hits the circuit board and shorts it. While rare, this problem forces keypad replacement. (It is also a risk and concern for any safe lock which is seldom used or in storage.)

Lastly, a safe lock has a method to tell you the batteries are low. Sometimes these do not kick in and the lock just dies. Other times staff have ignored it for so long it is now considered the standard operation of the lock. Additionally, sometimes the environment is so noisy nobody could really hear the beeps of the lock even given he or she knows what the signal is for low batteries. This gives us a good rule: If the safe lock is not working right, replace the batteries.

* All trade names are held by their respective companies.

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Do you cut keys?"

You all know the type, but none of US are THIS type. It could be some neo-hippy college student with wild dreadlocks and more tattoos than a tribe of Maori or some haggard middle-aged mom with 3 toddlers in tow or some small time property manager who does all the maintenance. Whichever person is walking in, the door has not yet closed when they ask it. However, he or she has had time to look up and see you. They see you and not the wall of key blanks behind you. It is almost out of Python's cheese shop when the words float innocently out.

"Do you cut keys?"

As I hear it, I have to remind myself that the wall behind me is covered from waist to over my head with blanks. The blanks are spaced one inch apart on more wall space than some banana republics use for banana plantations. I know the brass in this shop could be melted down to make some type of horrid modern art sculpture which high society would admire and civic governments would pay for. This art work would loom over the head of me and the person with the question.

"Do you cut keys?"

I know the simple answer. I know our shop is clearly labeled and it seems impossible some vague detour would find a person wanting a watermelon before me and even if it did, they should not want a key cut. However, I want to reach into the bin of miscut wonders and start to scream as I throw keys.

"NO, we do not cut keys. We repair locks only. We leave the cutting of keys to the professional at the big box hardware stores. The blanks you see behind me for 1000 different locks are here for show. They are a deception to fool the masses and it worked until you walked in here and asked that one question."

"Do you cut keys?"

"Of course we do. Let me see the key."
"How many would you like?"

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Security vs Convenience vs Price

A sign posted in a print shop:
“Quality, Service, Price …Pick Two” 
We have all been there when shopping.  You can want whatever you like, but if you are real, you know that some things are driving your purchasing choices and some are along for the ride.
In physical security, we often find three other concepts work against each other.  All our customers want some level of security and when you are talking to them you try to figure out what amount is appropriate. Ultimately, you have to let the client decide and what you try to provide is informed assessment of the risks.  Often you have to know the business they operate within.  A drug store may or may not offer triplicate prescriptions which are mostly narcotics and drugs with street value.  You have to ask and once you know, you should set the need for security a bit higher.  You need to remind some businesses that internal theft is a real risk and the locks which work so well at 4 in the morning are not in play against a bad staff member.  

Convenience comes into play any time an authorized user needs to pass through a locked door or open a cabinet.  Low value items are usually in places many people need to go fast and so often have quick locks.  The other end of convenience is probably prisons where you do not even get a key.  You enter a vestibule under the supervision of a guard on the other side of glass.  And only when that person is convinced you are no threat and the first door closes and locks, does the second door unlock.  The guard can not open both doors at once. 

Price is where you decide how much of what you want.  I can sell you more security but the price is higher.  I can sell you more access but you either take a bit less security or you pay more.  This last point is well shown with push button locks.  There is a simple 5 button door lock called a Simplex 1000.  It accepts only ONE code so if you have 200 people using that door they all use the same code.  It has no memory of who opened it or when.  It runs more than a residential lock but it has its place and runs into a few hundred dollars.  However, if you want to know who used which code to pass through the door when, you need an electronic lock which can save an audit trail.  It also means the administrator has to establish a code for every single user.  These locks cost more to install being over $1000 but also have more labour overhead to maintain.  If you had $1 000 000 in cash sitting on the other side of a door, I would put neither on your door.

Most customers know about trade-offs in purchasing.  Those who do not seem to get it are the ones who find it hard to buy any major product -- or so I believe.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Security Maxims: Feynman's Maxim

From Security Maxims

Feynman’s Maxim: An organization will fear and despise loyal vulnerability assessors and others who point out vulnerabilities or suggest security changes more than malicious adversaries.
Comment: An entertaining example of this common phenomenon can be found in “Surely You are Joking, Mr. Feynman!”, published by W.W. Norton, 1997. During the Manhattan Project, when physicist Richard Feynman pointed out physical security vulnerabilities, he was banned from the facility, rather than having the vulnerability dealt with (which would have been easy). [sic]

Many years ago, I read this book. Richard Feynman had a great analytical mind and was able to find methods to open the locked filing cabinets when he worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. They started as padlocks on rods and moved up to Mosler combination locks. (I should be clear about this. Sometimes he found bypass methods to take papers out of locked cabinets without opening the lock at all. Same difference really.) He used a remarkable set of problem solving skills often playing the people as much as the hardware.  Often it was a bit of both as he found he could quickly discover a partial combination from a lock when visiting a co-worker while the safe lock was opened. 

At one point he explains to a Colonel how he opened one highly classified safe and the order was given to not let Mr Feynman near your safe. The military guy did not take the advice from Feynman on how to eliminate this as a vulnerability for all people.

Read the book if you want some practical ideas on 'safe cracking'.  It is also one of the book which brought me into the trade.

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cell Phones and Driving.

OK. Yes. I have made driving mistakes while talking on mine.

I have also seen other drivers make terrible mistakes.

With rare exceptions, I have stopped talking while driving and you should to. I also think the time is coming when the insurance companies will see this as such a risk they will pull coverage if you have a collision while talking. (I think this will go ahead faster than waiting for either of our levels of government to act. Government regulation would be more balanced and transparent but I do not see it happening like that.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Shocking Safe Lock

While thinking of my last post, I thought of this one. Some days the ideas just flow.

For many businesses which use the safe to hold rolls of coin and floats, the number of openings per day wear out the standard group 2 dial safe lock. And worse, from a security point of view the staff see it as a hassle to keep redialing the lock and so leave the safe open or only locked by turning above the drop but then it is really not locked at all. A common and valid way to overcome this is to move to a digital safe lock where the the staff can open as fast as dialing a phone and once the door is closed it relocks automatically. The higher level of compliance generates better security overall.

Which brings me to my story of the safe in question which was recently converted from a dial lock to a LaGard digital as seen here. About a week later, a manager phoned to say the new lock was giving staff shocks when they operated the safe. In our shop, we reminded them it holds two 9 V batteries in parallel. The most juice this can give is 9 V and people would barely feel that if at all. Beside, a short would make it so the lock would not work and since the lock still works it is not our lock. Seemed to settle this for a bit.

A few days later, the store manager was back. While she did not think it was the lock either but that is all which was new, she would risk the cost of a service call to find out for sure. I was put in my job box.

I arrive and do nice introductions. The manager shows me the container and I test the lock. Works -- no surprise. Look behind at batteries and wires. Boring. She explains it does not always happen. As chance would have it, an assistant manager comes into the office as I start asking if there are any special situations which make the shocks happen more often. She does not know of any. He does.

"If you are holding onto the door frame, it usually happens." I should have been thinking better at this moment. I put my hand on the portion of the door frame where he was pointing which had the paint worn off. I touched the face of the lock. Nothing. (Wait for it.) I touched the body of the safe. YIKES!! It was REAL and it was not 9 volts. I can not recall if I metered the voltage but I really did not have to do that to KNOW it was not a 9 volt source.

I then looked at the back of the safe and saw two different power chords going behind it into a small space of maybe 3/4 inch or 2 cm. Since I know most plug-ins extend more than this, I knew the power was from those. This safe would have been just over 1000 lbs or 450 kg and moved easily out from the wall with a crow bar, wedges and rollers. Once out about a foot, I could see the damage. It had crushed both plugs into the receptacle which it had also smashed in. I pulled both plugs out after putting on some rubber gloves. Both plugs were clearing folded but on one I could see a tiny shiny copper surface.

For those outside the trade, safes do move back. The door is always a significant percentage of the weight and slams the safe back a tiny amount each time the door is closed. This movement adds up since there is nothing to bring the safe away from the wall. If you install the safe ahead of an electrical outlet and ideally you would not, you then place a solid spacer to prevent exactly what happened here. In this case, I sold the store a chunk of wood and wrote on it to leave behind the safe. I also explained these two appliance plugs are no longer safe to use and the plug-in needs works too. Since I am not an electrician, I leave it to them to get those items repaired.

It was a strange call but it all worked out to solve the problem and I had billable time. I think they were luck this was not found with a fire. Also, I have told this little tale at parties and now on the net. Seems electrocuting yourself is good for a laugh.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Midnight Shift is Always the Last to Know

So it was 3:30 am or some other time at night when I was ASLEEP and the phone rang. As I regained consciousness, I was told the story from a manager at a fast food place which stays open 24/7 of her safe which would not open. It seems our company moved it for renovation on Friday morning and now she can not open it. I had heard nothing of this move but that is unremarkable with the volume of work we have in our shop. The evening shift had opened it but now she can not. She knows she is using the right combination on a LaGard digital safe lock. This seems plausible since when she is done entering the code she reports a double beep as usual and she is not getting lock out delays.

For those in the technical end, you know where this is going. In my stupor I could think of a few ways a safe could lock up from a move. You could drop a bigger safe than I expect this place to have and break the glass relock plate. It would lock up good and fast. Also, with a smaller box, it may be badly out of level and twist to bind the door but again you will see that in door-run and rocking at the install. (The staff member we usually have do safe moves has way more experience than I and is very good at such details. He would NOT miss this.) However, it was all I could think of so asked her over the phone if the door had some play. She confirmed you could move the door in and out but a very small amount and it was 'about the same as yesterday'. Hmmm ... what is the problem??

I explained the midnight rates compared to the weekend day rates and also explained I did not know how a move could generate this problem. I also explained that if it were from the move it would be a no charge job but if not the restaurant would be charged. It is only fair to fully disclose and let the client decide. Given this and my wish to go back to bed, we agreed I would arrive there between 8 and 8:30 in the morning to see this safe. She agreed to a free coffee either way.

A different manager phoned a few hours later and said the safe was now open. I never did find out what the problem was earlier but suspect it was the operators. I hope in my slurry state I invited him to call again if the problem came back. (I was going to call this a PEAKs error meaning Problem Exists Above Keyboard but looked it up and it is not as common as I thought. Thinkers on design point out often the problem is the machine does not give good information to the user it is expecting some action and when you give it input it does not expect since you can not know what input the machine is expecting, it is not valid to call it human error.)

But now to get a bit more serious. If you can think of ANY way a safe move could generate a lock out, please toss it to me by email or as a comment.

And yet this call brought me back to a call years ago when I was newer to safes. It was well after midnight and they needed a safe open and had the codes. This is a high security place and each staff member keeps many safe codes all in small books which are closely held. This safe would not open for their known combinations. Given it was a dial safe I did the thinks I knew then. Basically, you test for various mechanical failures and carefully feel for changes in the dialing behaviour in terms of sound and feel. I did the set I knew. I did them again. And again. I had the staff check the codes with other staff who knew the same codes by phoning other poor sods in their sleep. We received confirmation the combination was right and yet it did not open. We contacted a manager and were approved to drill the next morning.

I went home and slept some. I went to the shop and loaded up tools where I was joined by a more experienced technician. We phoned to see if now was a good time and spoke to a different supervisor than was on duty at midnight. The safe was open and he knew nothing of my visit at 3 am. The combinations were changed during the evening shift and were not passed on. Well, that explains why the locks felt like they were in good condition.

It is true that the midnight shift is the last to know.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Inclusive Language and the WWW

You will notice I seldom refer to a locksmith as 'he' or 'him' since I know some women in the trade. I want my writing to speak to all and find I can do that without much effort and usually readers will not even notice it is gender neutral.

Likewise, I have written before on the Web and know it is World Wide. I will try to give measurements in imperial and metric. This is a bit tougher as most of the locks we deal with are given in specifications using thousandths of an inch or just 'thou' commonly.

I also know I will be read by many who do not speak English as a first language. This means some of my casual language, while funny here, is confusing in other places. I want to have fun but if you do not know what I mean, feel free to write a comment saying just that.

In fact, on any of these points, feel free to toss a message and I will edit a post if you convince me there is a problem.

Its called "Key Attitude."

When a customer today laughed at this term, I knew it was a good item for the blog. Key attitude.

Lets start with a question. Have you ever had a lock you could unlock with your key but somebody else could not? You knew exactly how to hold the key ... how much to lift it ... how much to pull it back ... how hard to turn it ... how to comb your hair just right. You would insert the key and do a little dance with the key and you could get it to work every time. Good for you but that is NOT how a lock should work.

The engineering design is that a key should be inserted fully into a lock and you can let go of it. The springs in the lock and gravity will find a neutral place of rest for the key. Then you turn it without pulling it out or lifting it or tipping it. That is the ideal and lets put that in our rear-view mirror right now.

When you have to hold a key in some special way, it is called key attitude and it can arise for several reasons. Often the regular user of the lock has lived with a little of it for years as the key and lock wore out together so has learned the exact attitude for that key and lock. When that person passes the key to me, I find it almost impossible to work the lock. (I only hope I am entertaining as I struggle to get this key to work.)

Perhaps I should get more technical. A key fits into a lock in a keyway and the keyway always has to be a bit larger than the key. Some keys fit very exactly into the space given and really do not wiggle inside the lock more than a few thousandths of an inch. Generally these are new cylinders of the top grades of lock. As you look at more worn locks or less machined locks, the key has more air around it when in the lock and you can move the key up, down and sideways.

I guess I should say what exactly holds the key in place. Well, that depends on the lock. For the deadbolt in a house, the key should rest on the bottom of the keyway and the grooves on the side of the key should have matching ridges inside the lock to fit into them but not lift the key off the bottom of the keyway.* If the key is double sided like many cars, then usually you have springs from half the cuts pushing the key up and the other half pushing the key down. All you need to do is put 20 other keys, a cell phone, a collection of charms, a name tag and a small flashlight on your ring of keys and it will weigh enough to pull that double sided key out of the centre of the lock.

Since the fit of the key in the keyway is never exact, what attitudes are possible? Often you can lift the whole key if all the cuts on the key are too low. Also, the copy of the key can be tipped in either direction and sometimes to get it to work, you rock the tip of the key up and keep the shoulder area all the way down. Alternately, you can lift at the shoulder and keep the tip fully down. Am I done??

No. Keys are often duplicated with the blank not aligned correctly left to right in the machine. If the original is out of place, the cuts on the new key are too close to the shoulder and by the time you fully insert that key, the cuts have not yet reached where they should to operate. This key is taken back for a refund. More commonly, the copy is away from the shoulder when duplicated and this key will work if you pull it just a bit out of the lock. "Just a bit" is a precise way of saying guess and test.

And there can be one more problem but it is quite rare. When you wear a lock out, the keyway goes wide and the key can rotate slightly INSIDE the keyway before you start to turn the lock. For some keys, this rotates the cuts on the key blade out from under the pins and the pins move down and lock up the cylinder. This only happens in one direction or the other. However, if it happen when you turn the key clockwise and that is the direction which unlocks this lock, then it may seem like the key is wrong.**

(I will leave it as a homework exercise to find a solution to unlock such a lock without damage. Just had to say that. Old habits and all.)

Well, maybe this explains why it takes time to try out all the possible holding positions of a key before you find the exact key attitude to unlock it just once.

The job site which made me think of the topic was working with some safety deposit box locks. The client had keys labelled as working. One would work infrequently but a few others could not get the boxes to open at all. Safety deposit locks are not forgiving a poorly cut key and usually do not get high usage. If the key is wrong you hit a wall. I took the keys and tried a variety of attitudes with each until I had the boxes open. (Still faster and cheaper than drilling the door or destroying the lock which are the next options.) Once back in the shop, you can see where to correct the key by seeing what the internal parts are doing as you turn this key.

Do I like key attitude? Sure, it makes the job fun. Should you? A little is fine but do not make a copy of that key or you are likely to get a worse key which takes even more playing each time to open the lock. Also, most of the time poor key attitude is wearing out your lock faster than a correctly cut key. The key is generally a few dollars and can be replaced as needed without tools. The lock takes more time, money and skills to replace. Replace the key to preserve the lock seems good advice.

* I should get a prize for dodging the jargon of the trade. The grooves on the sides of keys are called millings and the shape of the hole used as a keyway is called the broaching.

** In a career as a locksmith, you will be given keys by ernest and honest customers who confidently tell you this is THE key for that lock. Later you open the lock to see the pins and it is not even close. This raises some customer service points I will discuss in some other post.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Backset problems.

This is a Weiser Powerbolt installed on a pre-existing door preparation. Since the installer had the main bore with a 2 3/4 backset and did not seem to know how to change the backset of the bolt, the bolt face was recessed in. I was replacing the hardware and it proved a minor problem.

But since a picture is worth 1000 words ...

If you are doing this at home, read the instructions in the box. This bolt can easily be made to fit in a 2 3/4 backset installation.

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Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

"Locks only keep out honest people" 3T's

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard that line!

This may be true with something like a wooden desk drawer, but I have seen good quality burglary safe hacked and smashed for possibly hours and they were still locked up good. The right locks will keep out even a thief.

When something is locked up and you want the container opened, you really have three elements which contribute to defeating the lock. Often they are diagrammed in a triangle since you can trade a little bit of one for a bit of one of the others. There are real limits to how much you can do such trading.


The tools you need to get past a lock depends on the lock and the rest of the box. For a simple desk drawer you can use a simple pick to open the lock without damage or a big pry bar to wreck the desk. They would be about the same time but locksmith would choose the first and thieves the second.

In contrast, you could think you are going to open an Underwriter Rated Jewel Vault. It will be so heavy, most tow trucks can not even drag it. The tools to get it open need plug-in power and you need several such tools. You need various drill bits and grinder wheels. (And not one of the tools can be used without setting off the alarm package inside! More on this later.)


More complicated locks take more time. I can pick some locks reliably in under a minute. Others I look at and think I can pick this in about 5 minutes. There are also locks I look at and think about destroying it to get inside since I know picking will not work. Everything you open takes time. For the trade, it is valuable since you will charge the client for your labour so the obligation is to use it well. For a thief, it is in VERY short supply since sooner or later somebody will show up. In a business which does not have an alarm system, the time limit is when the morning staff arrive. With an alarm it is some estimate of when the police will arrive. Locks which take me longer to get past also take the crooks longer too. Criminals have the advantage they can break stuff if it speeds the opening. I have the advantage in the third element below.


All the things you learn of how to use tools, how the lock works and how the door or box is constructed come into play here. The more training you have to provide options when needed to open something the better. I am constantly learning but so are the criminals. However, I can learn from other locksmiths and security professionals much easier. Also, big institutions like banks and prisons trade security information formally and completely. We have all heard of inmates teaching others how to break in but mostly they learn 'smash and grab' techniques.

So the three words today are Tools, Time and Techniques. If my tools are not perfect, I can just take a bit more time. If I do not know the best techniques, I will be forced to use lesser tools and take more time. Some trade-offs can be made but if you ever find yourself facing a heavy gauge steel door with a good thru-bolted exit device mounted exit only and all you have is a single screwdriver, it really does not matter how long you take. You will not get that door open.

Oh yes, alarms. We have to remind people at home and in businesses alarms do not stop break ins except if they deter the attempt. That is why you need the little signs on all doors and windows. However, even if the alarm does not stop a break in, it limits the time on site looking for valuables. (Plus some horns are so loud and painful, they seems to disrupt thoughts too and certainly limit vocal communication between people.)

I realize I have said all this about the locksmith and the burglar. However, the tools/time/technique triangle also applies to the handyman and amongst tradesmen. A certified locksmith has the tools and techniques to open desks, doors, safes, cars, and other containers reasonably fast without unneeded damage. I do not have the same assurance for some of the people who just "do some locksmith work on the side."

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cars have locks?

Quick note here. I do not work on automobiles and have not done so for so long that anything I might say, might not be right. While a big part of the trade, I have to leave this to others. (If you think you are qualified, feel free to get in touch and you could be a guest writer.)

You do hear people ask why they do not lock cars up better if a 'bent bit of wire' can open them. The answer is safety and cost. In a collision, we need to have the glass in vehicles break away as a way to lessen skull damage. I know that people still get head injuries but if the glass was as solid as concrete, they would be much worse. Well, since all glass breaks the same with a sharp metal tool or a rock, a thief can get your iPod or camera quickly. Since that is the case, the car companies have generally created door locks to act as tamper seals and keep 'snoops' out of the vehicle body. They are mounting in a single layer or sheet metal and that fails about as easily as the glass. To keep the vehicle from being moved, they have invested in better locks and technology inside the steering column where it can be protected better and where electronics can interact with the vehicle control computer.

Oh ... getting back to the 'bit of bent wire' comment. There was a time 30-40 years ago when 2 or 3 tools would open any vehicle. That time is long past. The kits are not up to 40 tools and while you see only one tool, the locksmith only took that one out since the rest are for other makes and models. It is often easy and it is often not as easy as it looks.

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Classes of Key Blanks

Whenever we in the trade talk to a commercial customer, we ask what level of keying they want. Often we can make a reasonably good guess knowing the nature of the business and what is locked up. Such conversations often turn into descriptions of different levels of security for key systems. With that, I thought I should explain the classes of key blanks out there.

Open Stock Keys
These are key blanks anybody may buy. Locksmith have them but any retail hardware store can buy them as can property managers. I want to break this group into four smaller sets.

'Common as dirt'
Everybody has these. Everybody. Why not? Everybody had a lock which uses them. Here in western Canada, Weiser has the majority of the household market. I would guess over 90% of homes use this key. You can identify it with the name Weiser on the side, the letters WR5 or WR3 on the side. The other common house keys are KW1 and SC1. (All the cute keys with puppies or symbols or sports teams or a billion other things printed onto them are one of these three keyways.) In my opinion, they are too common since there are mathematically less keys than there are houses in even a small city.

'Readily available'
In this group of keys, the hardware stores still stock them but the wage staff may have to look twice to realize it. The blanks are common but not in the top 3. Examples of these would be the Yale Y1, Schlage SC7, Corbin CO88 and Sargent LA. I would say under 100 blanks make this group.

'Locksmith stock'
Always fun to have a person walk into the shop and ask if we cut keys. Behind us on the wall are a few thousand 'common' blanks. Some are older and some are just rare. I would give names for some but if you are not in the trade, it would be just so many strange codes. Ahhh ... why not. Remember the Sargent LA mentioned about? Well, I was only talking of the 6 pin version as readily available. There are also 5 pin and 7 pin versions. But wait ... that's not all. Sargent had a family of key blank which start with L such as LB, LC, LE, LF, LG, LJ, LK, AND LL. Confused yet? They also make a family which starts with R which has just as many keys. However, to be clear a locksmith would not stock ALL of these but will have the knowledge and reference books to know they exist. Many of those belong in the next category.

'Hen's Tooth'
These are the blanks which are open stock but are so rare they might as well be the teeth of a chicken. You will phone every wholesaler you know trying to find them and are happy when you can get a bag of 10 in 6 weeks. They are never cheap. Your customer may have only wanted 2 but you price them to recover the cost for all the blanks on just those keys because until this same person comes back, you will just be dusting the others. An example in this group are the DOM sectional cabinet locks which are found in European import furniture. We see them with 2 rare keyways and 28 'hen's teeth' keyways.

Restricted Keys
These are key blanks which are only available within the trade and are controlled to various degrees.

'Contractually Restricted'
These blanks are only sold to locksmith shops once they make a commitment to follow some rules. While there are variations in the terms, this usually means you will not sell uncut blanks, you will stamp the cut keys so everybody knows where they came from and you will not duplicate keys from another shop even if you have the blank. (If you are found to be cutting the keys from some other shop, your supply of that blank may be cut off.) This is security by contract and anybody who breaks it risks only civil penalties.
Many of these blanks will have a brand name printed but nothing else. They have keyway part numbers but not that the end user can see. These keys are not high security and the locks they work in are not high security.

'Patent Controlled'
If a key interacts with a lock in some special mechanical way, then a utility patent can be granted and only that company can make and distribute the blanks. These are the high security keys and locks. The downside is that patents run out and then the security starts to decay since others may make the blanks. However, until that time each company can control the blanks and limits them in various ways. Most commonly each locksmith shop will have a keyway but that same keyway may repeat in some other location perhaps a few thousand miles away. They tend to be very wary of saying how many keyways they have in production but seeing some of the other brands it will be well over 100. Additionally, they will not tell you who else uses your keyway or how close they are. If you pay enough money, you can get an exclusive keyway.

These keys are almost always marked 'Do Not Copy' or 'Do Not Duplicate'. While nice, it matters little. Only the shop which has that blank can mechanically copy it. However, the risk is much higher than for the simply contract controlled keys. The maker will pull the right to cut any of those keys and for many shops this will quickly dry up the cash flow for the business. (Locksmiths also live on 'reputation capital' and of you betray trust, it hurts the business fast and bad.)

Does the manufacturer have to supply to the locksmith shops? No. Some keys are factory controlled. You order keys directly from the factory and so the cost is higher and the supply line slower. However, the control is better if you are willing to pay the price. When you become the warden of a prison you will get to order keys using this process. I know not of any other type of place using this class of keys but there may be a few. (A variant of this is when you buy rights to a keyway from the maker and then direct the factory to ship the blanks to a locksmith shop of your choice. You own the blanks but the shop does the cutting.)

A few last thoughts should be said on automobiles. Everything above can be said about automobiles for those which do NOT have transponders in the blank. Once the transponder is in use, the key is more like an access card for a building. This means all the physical keys for your vehicle are the same but the digital code used by each key is different.

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Using Google News ... Toddler trapped in lolly machine

I love Google News. It does find the best stuff!

Having done a search for the word 'locksmith', the search is repeated once a week and I am sent results by email. In a quick scan, most have the word 'locksmith' in some incidental fashion but some are a bit better. This made me smile. From the picture it was just a matter of picking a tubular but not really clear. Either way, I would tell about this call the next morning over coffee! I am sure the locksmith involved laughs at it too.

Toddler trapped in lolly machine after climbing in for sweets

An Australian toddler was so determined to help himself to sweets from a lolly machine that he climbed through the tiny dispensing hatch, ending up imprisoned inside four walls of glass.

Cohen Stone, 2, climbed inside the claw grabber machine in an Italian restaurant, where his mother, Kyra, 24, had brought him to celebrate a friend's birthday.

Kyra, from Perth, in Western Australia, said: "I had been playing with him in the children's area but took my eye off him for two minutes as the food arrived at our table.

"When I turned back, he was inside the machine. My first thought was "Oh my God."

"I just couldn't believe what he had done in that space of time. He was there one minute, inside it the next, like a magician's trick.

She added: "The hole was tiny. I have no idea how he did it. That's when I started to panic. I didn't know how I was going to get him out."

A local locksmith was called to Siena's restaurant to free the little boy, who was released 45 minutes later.

Mrs Stone said she had trouble convincing her husband the story was true.

"I phoned my husband Calan but he thought I was joking. He kept asking me to repeat what I was saying. It was only that I was so upset that he realised I was not having him on," she said.

She added: "I took the video of him when he was calm and after I knew we were able to get him out.

"I'm glad I took photos now - even though I was panicking at the time. No one believes me until they see the video and it will make a great story."

Siena's has now removed the machine from the restaurant and has given the Stone family a £30 voucher.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Tricks of the Trade"

I hate this phrase. I have been told my hatred for it is irrational but perhaps you can join me in banishing this from the language forever. I am not overly optimistic.

"Tricks of the Trade" seem to fall into two groups. The first are those which are simply things every professional who knows his or her craft should know. They are not tricks. They are skills and job expectations.

An example of this might be to read the depths of the cuts from a sample key using calipers and then reading a cut table to find the closest standard factory cuts before pinning a cylinder. You could just take a LAB pin kit with pins in increments of 0.005 and visually drop in pins to get to level on the plug. (If you are not a locksmith, this will mean little to you. Sorry.) You could. However, you were given a sample key from a group of keys already in circulation. It could be high or it could be low or it could be some of both. (Ponder that, a key can be some of both.) When this lock is installed, some of the other users may have keys which are higher or lower. You do not know. If you find the factory standard, that is the key which was used to copy all those others and it will be workable or at least that is the best odds. Should you later cut a key by code, you KNOW it will work.

To look beyond your own nose, here is a different example. I saw a panic exit device installed by a contractor and while well done the construction marks were visible in places beyond the bar on this steel door. They were very visible in black felt pen. No painter who has to work on this door later wants to deal with that. Pencil is covered in one coat but the felt lifts up and can be seen through the paint. It is not a trick of the trade to use pencil, it is good practice since nobody wants you to make the work harder for the next person.

There! Two quick examples of knowledge you should know just as part of your trade. I could go on. I have four years of trade classes and years of work to find examples.

Now for the other kind of 'trick of the trade'. It is usually some action which is trying to save time or materials. It is a short-cut which produces inferior work and sometimes the person doing this knows it and sometimes not.

Self-tapping metal screws. Certainly quick to install but when they are not provided with a fire-rated exit device, the rating is toasted if you substitute the fasteners. Is that the end of the problem? No. Self-tapping screws do not have the hold of tapped in bolts. If an exit device is not fire-rated due to being on an exterior door, then it has a vital security role and for it to work well, the screws must hold onto the door as best you can. Self-tagging screws are weak when installed and some of the thread gets chewed away every time you need to pull the hardware for routine work like changing the keying on the lock.

Do not get me wrong, there are places for them. Also, they do come in various grades and specification. Used appropriately would be on parts with no relative rotation or shifting shear. In my opinion, they work fine for holding a push plate or a sweep.

Another 'trick of the trade' which bothers me is making a key fit better by filing the top of a plug and/or reaming out the chambers. (We have all seen it.) Again, it has its place in rare occasions where a single later of keying is in place and probably always will be. Places which are keyed but really have low security standards for this door like the front of some apartment building. When you are there late at night since the worn out SC1 mortise cylinder had started to have the pins rotate and jam rather than lift you have no choice but to supply a new cylinder with new pins. However, it is an open stock key and you know there are, at least, two keys per suite and you can not test most of them. If you are strict and find the factory code you know you will orphan many of those keys and make no end of problems for the building management. (If they understood the problem and wanted high security, they would never have had an open stock key.) So you file the plug and drop in pins 5 thou short. The shorter pins allow for high cut keys and the flattened plug allows for low cut keys. Some keys may be so extreme they still will not work, but most will.

The next step in a decision like this is to inform the management. You have softened the keying up so most of the tenant keys will work. If any one key fails later, it is not the locksmiths problem. It is not a call back. I check they have a supply of working keys to just quickly substitute keys which do not work. Again, these last customer service points are what separates a professional doing good service from somebody just going fast. You served the customer needs but also provided information about the loss of security.

Feel free to disagree with my examples but tell me why. Is there some other description of a 'trick of the trade' which you do not think this covers?

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Security Maxims -- A must read.

I was sent to this while listening to the Security Now podcast about computer security. (It is available off iTunes or you can go to for more information.) I was struck by how much jive there was between computer system security and the physical security I deal with daily. The Security Maxims were written by an analyst for the US Department of Energy looking at nuclear power facilities. Upon reading, they have relevance and I hope to illustrate some of them later with some examples.  A link to this list is on the side.

As a teaser, here is one.
Gossip Maxim: People and organizations can’t keep secrets.

Think about that a bit the next time you are changing the combination on a safe and the staff find the new dialing hard since the old code has been in use for over 5 years.

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Silly Exercise in Master Keying Desks

I have been looking back at notes from jobs I have done years ago and this post derives from that job. It was an office with file cabinets using IN8 keying which in these parts is most all of them. Some technician had set this up before me. I just had to add one more cabinet to one of the changes. While not a robust solution to the problem it was kind of neat to see.

First the background on this keying system. They are five wafer locks with each wafer being one of three possible sizes, namely 1, 3, or 5. When you move to the keys, you can use the powers of 3 to get the number of key combinations. The MACS (Maximum Allowable Cut Separation) is 4 which allows a 1 and 5 to be adjacent. The only 'rule' which strikes out key codes is the 'flats'. You can not use the key 11111 or 33333 or 55555.

So how many keys are allowed? 3^5 - 3 = 243 - 3 = 240

In practice, you should exclude the pullout codes too. These are code which step down or stay flat on successive cuts from the shoulder. After a bit of wear on the key and the lock, the key may pull out in any position whether the lock is relocked or not. The list is a bit long, but it would include such key cuts as 11335 or 13355 or 11115. The flats above are also pullouts. If you write out the full list you should get away from the computer more! However, be that as it may there are 21 pullout keys which should not be cut.

This leaves 222 good practical keys.

Now to master key with just this simple system. (While I wrote notes on this trick when I saw it, I did not record the real key codes. So I get to invent some here.)

The Master Key is A with cuts 31135.
There are two simple change keys.
A1 is 35135
A2 is 31535

The cabinets locks have a wafer dropped out which I will show with an X.
Cabinet 1 has wafers 3X135. This allows both the master and A1 keys to work. The keys share 4 cuts and in the space which is different there is no wafer at all.
Cabinet 2 has wafers 31X35. This allows both the master and A2 keys to work. The keys share 4 different cuts than above and again in the space where they differ there is no wafer. If you insert key A1, it will not turn due to having a 5 cut in the second position when the lock has a number 1 wafer.

Cool huh? Not really. This decreases the security of the lock by decreasing the number of wafers in the lock. (This is a bit minor from a picking point of view as I can pick this group of lock in under a minute in most cases.) Also, of the 222 keys above, 3 of them will open one of these cabinets. One is the master key, the second is the change key in use and there exists a third key which will also open it up. This is trivial in this situation really.

How far can I push this?
There is a 6 wafer version of cabinet locks and you could drop out one wafer at a time. This could be charted as follows with the wafers given in brackets after each key.

Master A is 131353
A1 is 331353 (X31353)
A2 is 151353 (1X1353)
A3 is 135353 (13X353)
A4 is 131553 (131X53)
A5 is 131513 (1313X3)
A6 is 131351 (13135X)

Gosh, was that tough to type! Imagine writing code tables by hand all day!

Can we push this further? As I show it here, it looks like you can give unique keys to only as many locks as there are wafers in the lock or cuts on the key. The mathematics gets more messy, but you can drop out half the wafers at any time and cycle through all the possibilities and generate more keys.

This is pushed even further in one line of high security lock you may never have seen. It is factory controlled and used in places like prisons. By using a system very similar to this, they can set up a master key with over 1 000 000 keys under it. (I was just now trying to find the actual numbers on the web and could not. I may update this post if I find it.)

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Just a 'normal' lock

When I hear somebody say they want just a normal lock, I have to put that in a context they can not. Firstly, I need to know if it is a home or business and if they want it on a door or something else.

I guess I should deal with the homeowner first. They mean normal as in common and that means an entrance set. It has a key to open it from the outside and the inside knob is always active. Also, on the inside is a button or some other method to lock the outside knob. These are the door knobs which allow people to lock themselves out of the house when...
... take your pick here cuz we heard them all ...
(a) walking the dog
(b) getting the post
(c) going to the corner store
(d) hanging out laundry
(e) or any number of other minor chores.

We know by normal the homeowner probably means common and does not mean good. Mostly these locks do not meet the fire exit standards for commercial locations since the inside knob is often locked when the outside knob is locked and a two stage process is needed to unlock it. Also, the lock sits within the outside knob connected to the door by a spindle of about 3/4 of an inch. These 'normal locks' fail when hit with a hammer or grabbed with a pipe wrench. (Since the latch is so weak, the door is often forced leaving the knob alone. Thieves are sometimes efficient.)

This gets us the lock function as we say in the trade call it. It does not say what style it is and for that you need to see it. There are just too many to do a match any other way if that is valued by the customer.

Increasingly, new houses here have deadbolts over passage sets. A passage set is just a knob used to hold the door closed in the wind and the security function is given solely to the deadbolt. Given a chance, this is the way to go. Additionally, get a lever set to do this. If you place your hand on most knobs you can easily hit the weatherstripping. We learn to hold our fingers in and after a while habituate that as a coping mechanism. Get a lever. As soon as you get any arthritis in your hands you will be happy you did.

If somebody wants a normal lock for a file cabinet, you have to see it. If somebody wants a normal lock for a desk, you have to see it. A normal lock is not so normal after all.

I guess I should say about businesses. The fronts of stores have common locks too. They are almost always Adams Rite MS bolts or latch locks or import clones of these since they fit in the same holes in the doors. Also, these locks are in three common sizes and are not interchangeable so you have to see the door to know which size. (A bad after hours call is when you have a failed lock of a non-standard size. The kinds which you know are not even in the warehouses in town tomorrow and certainly not in your truck tonight.) The actual cylinder which goes into a storefront is a bit easier to know. If you talk to the customer and it is a glass door with an aluminum frame, the cylinder is a mortise cylinder and they are generally interchangeable. Common here means SC1 or SC4 ... a Schlage or clone. This is basic or standard security but is fine for many applications.

Late again. I hope I have said something insightful.

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nod to the Camera in my Phone

At one time, I bought a camera just for my van. Based on the advice of a reputable store it was a simple point and shoot 35mm with a simple flash. It was the workhorse for real estate agents. And in keeping with that, I stocked it with fast film of 8 frames to the roll. If I did a safe job or needed to document anything else, I could grab some shots and have the film off and developed by the next day without wasting too much film. Also, it could sit in the van, get cold and still work -- something digital cameras do not do well mostly due to the batteries. I am unsure if I will ever use it again and they no longer stock the 8 exposure film where I was buying it.

Since then, cell phones have included cameras and the picture quality is mostly acceptable. With practice you can document most difficult hardware and since I always carry it, it is handy and stays warm enough to always work. At this time, I have a Motorola i580 phone with a 1.3 megapixel camera. Full resolution pictures are 1280 by 1024 pixels and run just under 100 KB depending on content. Even better, the photos are moved to a microSD card and can be moved off to any computer with any reader and the holder for the micro card which makes it fit into a standard SD slot. You can also email them off the phone but the handshake is unreliable and you sometimes get 3 or 4 of the same item at the far end since the phone was not told by the server that the server had the whole attachment. I have mostly stopped doing this. (I never was given a price per photo when I did email them back to the shop. I hope it did not cut into my Christmas bonus!)

Why take pictures you ask? Just do the work!!!
Sometimes they are critical to document what the door looked like when you arrived when all the client booked was a simple key change. Other times, you need hardware to match what is there. Of course, you have to leave the lock on the door since it needs to secure now. It amazes me companies will make glossy advertising and slick web sites for expensive hardware and not label it with a brand or model somewhere. Here is a nice example. The client is taking over the rest of the floor and wants the same looking hardware in the new doors. I was sent to see it before ordering. No name at all. I know from experience it is probably European. You draw a sketch and take a photo. The next day it is the shop managers problem.

Its not art. LOL.
Its a tool to help me do my job.

Perhaps another day I will pick up on some sketching techniques.

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The contents of this post are released for non-profit or educational use in whole or in part provided this statement and the attribution below are kept attached.

Laux Myth ... Thoughts From a Locksmith
By MartinB, Found @