Lock Repair

Components of a pin-tumbler cylinder lock.

Locks protect our homes, cars, files, and more — or do they? How secure are locks? And what can you do to repair them and make them more secure? The Fix-It Club knows. Here is an overview of how locks work as well as instructions on what to do when they don’t. Understanding locks, lock maintenance, and lock repair and their limits can help you keep safe. Locks are an important part of all security systems.

How Does a Lock Work?

A lock is simply a mechanical device intended to limit access. It can attempt to protect a house, car, or other possession from unauthorized entry. Access to the locked area requires a key, combination, or other security device.

There are many types of locks, but each works on similar principles. Mechanical components must be aligned by a key or combination disks before allowing access. Most houses use pin-tumbler locks. Cars are often protected by double-sided wafer-tumbler locks. Padlocks can be either pin- or wafer-tumbler. Combination locks, such as in padlocks and lockers, use notched disks that must be aligned to release the shackle. High-security locks include quality components to reduce unauthorized access. Newer locks often have electronic components to assist in access and security.

What Can Go Wrong with a Lock?

As with anything mechanical or electronic, locks can refuse to work. Sensitive components, such as pins or wafers, can be damaged, springs can break, keys can break off in a lock, electronic locks can lose power. Most common, however, is operator error — locking keys inside a house, car, or other protected area. In all cases, a professional locksmith can be called to repair or replace a lock or to gain access through a lock without the key. Alternately, the lock owner can use commonly available tools and basic knowledge of locks to replace, repair, or gain access through a lock.

How to Repair a Lock

For instruction on accessing a door lock assembly, aligning a lock cylinder, realigning a strike plate, tightening hinge screws, and related maintenance and repairs, refer to the Fix-It Guide on Door Hardware Repair. To access a door lock in a car, refer to Door Panel Removal.

Lock tools are available that, with training and practice, allow consumers to repair and even pick locks that they are authorized to access. A simple set of lock picks can be used to access most pin-tumbler locks in homes. Bump keys also can be used to open pin-tumbler locks. Jiggler keys are used for accessing wafer-tumbler and pin-tumbler locks found in cars. Broken key extractors are relatively easy to use. They all are legal if used on property the consumer owns. In fact, lock-picking has become a very popular hobby with competitions. It’s called locksport. (Many start with a practice set of lock picks and a clear plastic lock.)

Fix-It Tip
Are lock picks and lock tools legal? Yes, depending on intent. A hammer is illegal if the intent is to break someone else’s car window; otherwise it’s quite legal to own and carry a hammer. It’s the same with lock tools. If you are using them to access your own property — and can prove it — there is no criminal intent and no law is broken. However, to be on the safe side, be cautious as you legally use your lock tools to open or repair your own property.

–Dan “the Fix-It Man” Ramsey