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Broken Key Removal (Pin Tumbler Locks)


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BROKEN KEY REMOVAL (PIN TUMBLER LOCKS)

Having a key break off in one of your locks can be a real pain
in the neck. But with the proper information you can better
understand the problem and take steps to solve it. With the
information I provide in this article, you stand a very good
chance of removing the key yourself and preventing it from
happening to you in the future.

WHAT CAUSES KEYS TO BREAK

Most keys, even brass and nickle-plated keys, will eventually
wear out and break along any of a key’s cuts. But some
conditions will speed up the process such as:

1. The key has one or more deep cuts which become the “weak
point” of the key. After so much use (or just a little abuse)
the key will break at these points. Having a deep cut as the
first cut (next to the head of the key) can be real trouble but
a deep cut in the middle of the key can cause big problems too;

2. The key is made of a light-weight material not suitable for
everyday use. Keys cut on aluminum blanks are a prime example.
They will also break at a deep-cut “weak point” only sooner.
Identified by their light weight and either grey in color or
sometimes bright colors such as red, green, blue or gold.

Usually before a key breaks, one or more tiny cracks will appear
by the cut about to give way. You may want to check your keys
right now – at least the ones that you use and depend on every
day. If you see a tiny crack being formed by one of the cuts or
if the key is bent or misshapen in any way, go to your nearest
locksmith or key shop and get another one or two made. And just
to be safe, don’t carelessly toss the old key away. A new key
could be made from the pieces and used to access your property.

BROKEN KEY REMOVAL TOOLS

We locksmiths have a variety of tools for removing broken keys
from locks. One of the more common tools I use is made of
springy steel that is 5″ long, 5/16″ wide at the handle and
.022″ thick. There is a small tapered barb at the end of this
tool that will dig or “bite” into the broken key piece so the
piece can be pulled out.

It is not absolutely necessary to invest in a broken key
extractor tool. As long as the tool you use is made of sturdy
metal, is narrow enough to enter the keyway, and has a barb to
grab on to the broken key you will likely be successful. A
scroll saw or jig saw blade should do the trick.

PROCEDURE #1 – Partial Key Broken Off In Lock

When a deep cut gets too weak somewhere in the middle of a key,
you end up with the front part of the key in the lock and the
remainder in your hand. The good news is the lock is probably in
the proper position for key removal (more on that later).

FIRST – unless the lock has been in good working order (with the
key going in and out smoothly) prior to the key breaking off, I
suggest spraying a lubricant such as WD-40 or Tri-Flow in the
lock’s keyway first. You want the broken key piece to slip out
as easy as possible and a dry or gummy lock will make the job
harder.

SECOND – insert the removal tool into the lock’s keyway so that
the barb (or teeth) can contact the cuts of the key piece to be
removed. You should be able to tell how far to insert the tool
based on how much of the key you still have in your hand.

THIRD – let the barb “bite” into one of the cuts of the broken
key piece and give the tool a sharp tug towards you. The key
piece should coming flying out.

FOURTH – take the two pieces of the key to your local locksmith
or key center and get another one or two made.

PROCEDURE #2 – All But Key’s Head Broken Off In Lock

When the first cut in the key is deep and gets too weak, you end
up with just the head of the key in your hand. Most of the time
what remains in the lock is the operating part of the key. That
is, all key cuts that are necessary to operate the lock are
stuck in the lock (if you are really lucky, enough of the key
will be sticking out so a small pliers/tweezers are all you need
to remove the broken piece-but that usually doesn’t happen). You
can test if the lock will operate by taking a small screwdriver
and, using it like a key, try turning the lock cylinder. If the
lock cylinder does not turn follow procedure #1. If you can turn
the cylinder more than a few degrees to the right or left you
have to make sure the lock cylinder is positioned so the key can
be removed. Let me explain…

Most locks have one position that a lock cylinder must be in for
key removal. If you were to insert a key in most any pin tumbler
lock and turn it, the key could not be removed until the lock
cylinder is back in the proper key removal position. The same is
true when removing a broken key piece that still works the lock.
The key cylinder must be in its normal key removal position or
you will be wasting your time trying to remove the broken piece.

FIRST – as in Procedure #1, I suggest spraying a lubricant such
as WD-40 or Tri-Flow in the lock’s keyway first.

SECOND – insert the removal tool into the lock’s keyway so that
the barb (or teeth) can contact the cuts of the key piece to be
removed. You should not have to insert the tool very far – just
so it reaches the first or second cut of the key piece.

THIRD – let the barb “bite” into one of the cuts of the broken
key piece and give the tool a sharp tug towards you. The key
piece should coming flying out of the keyway.

FOURTH – take the two pieces of the key to your local locksmith
or key center and get another one or two made.

Now that you have read through this information, you should be
ready to attempt removing a broken key on your own. Good Luck!
NOTE: This article (with pictures) can also be found on my web
site www.GoldKeySelect.com/brokenkey.html

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  • Posted On August 12, 2006
  • Published articles 283513

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