Maple Leaf Locksmith: champion of the locksmith challenge, 2018

I am so proud. In a multipart challenge composed of picking a six pin lock cylinder, impressioning a Nissan lock cylinder, and programming an Alarm Lock I beat the competition with minutes to spare! This took place at the KDL trade show so the competition was fierce: seasoned locksmiths, all of them. I emerged from the miasma of locksmiths cursing and struggling against their competition locks victorious, holding aloft my 32″ lcd tv which was my prize. Now I can watch public access and QVC at the same time (neither of these tv sets supports picture in picture to my knowledge. In reality I won’t watch either of them, only relatives will)

Improvised lockpicking or bypass tools seen in the field

Lockouts are maybe my favorite part of my job. Everybody is very thankful when you unlock their door. They are often the most comical part of my job, too. I’ve started collecting pictures of the implements scattered outside of people’s doors when they have given up and called me out. Here are a few of those pictures.

Improvised lockpicking tools. Lock manipulation using these tools was unsuccessful.

First, this person fashioned a tool out of a hanger taped to a serving spoon. I was told that the potato masher wouldn’t fit under the door so was not included in this contraption. The customer reported that these tools were all fashioned with the intention of moving a backpack containing room keys closer to the door and trying to get the keys out.



This picture is from a frat house at UW. The customer reported that the only brother with lockpicking experience was out of town. The doorknob was a simple defiant

More tried and true, less inventive improvised tools

and easy to pick, but even with hours of attempts with these tools successful manipulation evaded these hapless Greeks. Members of collegiate fraternal organizations at my alma mater, WSU, would no doubt have kicked the door in or broken the doorknob off with a hammer. If these differing approaches are extrapolated as life-guiding philosophies, which do you think will lead to more success? Regardless of the answer, I hope that people will continue to choose me in their time of need.

The problem with finishes and variations between manufacturers

Recently there’s been a lot of interest from property managers trying to save money on fixing and replacing mortise locks by installing wrap around plates or remodeler plates. These are great, especially since once they’re installed people can easily replace broken locks themselves obtained off the shelf at the hardware store.

Here’s a picture of an oil rubbed bronze lock from Schlage installed on a 10B plate from Don-Jo so you can see the difference in finish

Unfortunately, the options for these plates are very limited when it comes to finish. Don-Jo is my favorite source for this type of hardware and their products are great. Their oil-rubbed bronze or 10B finish is unfortunately a different color than every other 10B in the industry though. People are spending a lot of  money on these things getting installed so it’s really a letdown to some of them when they see that the plate on the door doesn’t match the finish of their locks at all.

This push plate covered some really ugly marks on the door. I drilled the holes in it.

I recently found a solution to this problem. Baldwin makes a product called a push plate that is made to put on doors where people push the door. I think the idea is to protect the door from scratches or dents. Whatever its intended purpose, these plates are wide enough to cover old lock holes and they come in a wide variety of finishes including aged bronze and oil rubbed bronze. If you want me to install one on your door I’m going to charge $75 more for this than a prefab wrap plate but it can be done.

The things people use to try and open their doors

Various implements people left on the floor after trying for hours to pick their doorknob

Here’s some stuff I see a lot of outside of apartments in the University District. Bless their hearts, sometimes they will spend hours giving it the college try! Typical implements are hair pins, safety pins, hangers, bent credit cards, scissors, screwdrivers, and the occasional actual lockpick.

An interesting mortise lock fix

One of the most interesting parts of my job is seeing the repairs done to these locks years ago. This lock is about 100 years old so there has been plenty of time for different repairs. This one’s cracked in multiple places. I suspect this was because somebody ran a screw through the body of the mortise lock trying to screw something to the door. It is fairly logical when a screw comes out of your door to replace it with a bigger, longer screw but that larger screw will cause materials to crack. Especially inflexible materials like iron.

Somebody peened lots of little rivets onto this mortise lock body after they cracked it.

This looks more like a candidate for welding to me but some person in the past repaired this manually with several strips of metal and little rivets. This worked for at least 40 years because my client only called me in 2018 after he couldn’t open his door due to the bolt breaking while extended.

The bolt breaking seems to me to be unrelated to the case being cracked. The solution in this case was to manually retract the bolt and discontinue its use as the customer already had a deadbolt installed above the old mortise lock.

Here’s the inside of the lock showing the cracks and broken bolt

Locksmith Scams: be smart, don’t be a victim!

This happens frequently in Seattle. People call a 1-800 number they found searching for a locksmith on their phone and some guy comes out and drills their lock out. They charge a lot of money. Oftentimes they charge $200 or more to unlock your door. For a regular lock this is way too much. You should pay less than $100 during the day to unlock a typical residential lock.

The lock below was drilled out at 10:30 PM. The resident was charged over $400. I would have unlocked this for $100 total at this time of night, and her key would still work after the door was open. Unfortunately this type of lock is no longer manufactured. If you hire a cowboy with a big drill to unlock your door, make sure he plans to fix the lock once he’s done. This lock works with a special tailpiece and if somebody drills it, you might have trouble finding somebody who has a replacement.

This lock was drilled out. Any locksmith could pick this lock. Even many sport lockpickers could pick this lock very quickly, it isn’t hard.

Why deadbolts are more secure than doorknobs

Somebody did this to a client’s doorknob with a pair of vice grips. This is a D series knob, the toughest Schlage ever made. It retails for over $400.

Criminals know this, so you may as well know it too: Doorknobs can be defeated by somebody with a pair of vicegrips. If somebody takes a large pair of vicegrips and grips a doorknob really hard, it allows them to apply enough force to turn a locked knob. Usually knobs fail safe, meaning that the door will open. A deadbolt cannot so easily be overcome by vicegrips because the housing doesn’t rotate. Many of them are designed to allow the housing to freely rotate if enough torque is applied to them.

This is a lock with a knob guard that stopped criminals in their tracks. They probably spent at least thirty minutes on this.

Sometimes a deadbolt is not allowed on an exterior door because of fire safety or ADA laws. In this case, somebody with a pair of vicegrips can by stymied by a knob guard or shroud. This covers the knob in such a way that the knob cannot be attacked with brute force. Another possibility is to install a panic bar and rim cylinder on the door. These are flush with the door and also give nothing to wrench on for would-be intruders.

Sometimes when I go on walkthroughs in large buildings I see the telltale signs of wrench marks on doorknobs or a lever that has been forced and point them out to building management who have no idea the knob or lever has been forced open because their key still works in the lock. Take a walk through your building and see if any of your locks have these marks, especially on the exterior building. If so, consider asking me for a quote to replace the knob with another knob and a knob guard or a panic bar and rim cylinder.

Panic bars required for electrical rooms with greater than 300V

I was reading locksmith journals yesterday (as I imagine all reasonable people do) and noticed an interesting tidbit: the NFPA has decreed that all rooms housing electrical equipment greater than 300 Volts now require a panic bar. Panic bars are usually required in places with hazardous materials so people can get out really fast in case they lose their minds in an emergency so this makes sense.

If you need a panic bar installed in your electrical room, let me know. These don’t have to be very expensive since it is a low use area.

I also install panic bars in high use areas open to the public. I can retrofit that paddle that is always breaking on your apartment’s aluminum and glass front door.

Why should I consider or not consider a double deadbolt aka double cylinder

There are many different kinds of deadbolts but for this discussion the distinction to be made is whether or not there is a thumbturn on the non-locking side of the door or not. This has ramifications for security as well as ease of egress in an emergency. There is also a cost difference.

A single cylinder deadbolt is the most common and features a thumbturn with which one can lock or unlock the door without a key, unless it is an abloy protec2 deadbolt with a lockable thumbturn. From the outside of the door they must use a key to lock or unlock the door unless they know how to pick locks. A double cylinder deadbolt replaces the thumbturn with another keyed cylinder. To lock or unlock the door from either side requires a key.

Double deadbolts are usually seen when there is a glass window near or on the door. The idea is that if somebody breaks the window they might reach in and unlock the deadbolt. If the window is man-sized, a two-legged skunk could still walk in with the door locked but would be unable to remove large heavy items using a hand truck or dolly or other wheeled device because the door would still be closed. They could get in but could only remove smaller items that could be fit through the broken window.

If a fire occurs a double cylinder deadbolt is very dangerous. Smoke quickly fills a room during a fire and seconds count when trying to get out alive. During this time finding your keys and then finding the keyhole is a lot of extra time spent during which there is a lot of smoke inhalation that could be deadly. I believe it is illegal to add double cylinder deadbolts to fire exits. I rekey existing ones and am willing to install them in doors that aren’t fire exits. I always advise those with double cylinder deadbolts to leave a key in the deadbolt at all times that they or anybody else is home.

A great application for double cylinder deadbolts are commercial spaces. I installed a double cylinder deadbolt on a maintenance room that kept getting broken into because the walls didn’t connect with the ceiling. People would scale the wall and open the door from the inside. Once the deadbolt was installed and the screw heads rounded off people could still break in but were unable to remove anything but the lightest most portable object. They also later added concertina wire on top of the wall.

Elevator rooms and other parking garage utility rooms are favorite places for drug addicts and the homeless to make themselves feel at home. Sometimes these rooms can be broken into by climbing over the doorframe if the building uses removable ceiling tiles. Once inside the most resourceful of these desperate people may leave the door unlocked and come and go as they please or even worse, remove the deadbolt and replace it with one bought or stolen elsewhere and lock everybody else out of the room.

This scenario couldn’t happen if an Arrow E series double cylinder deadbolt is employed because the mounting bolts can only be exposed by turning the cylinder with a key. You can’t remove this deadbolt unless you have a key or know how to pick locks. This is advantageous not only in the utility room situation which forces trespassers to climb back out if they want to leave, but also makes it difficult for somebody with the intention of taking your deadbolt apart and recovering the bitting for your master key. Note that this scenario is pretty uncommon, but you can see the danger and the high cost of somebody reverse engineering a master key for a large building.

A good product for those with double cylinder deadbolts is a key with a thumbturn head. I have seen them before but am having trouble locating a supplier. I found this product on, this one in New Zealand,