Bjørn Madsen – Seattle's Maple Leaf Locksmith LLC – (206)335-4559

On the Security of Fobs and Codes

Changes have come to the security of the shared front door utilizing keyless locks. For at least ten years people have enjoyed the convenience of keyless entry to their buildings. It is also much cheaper to maintain security of these locks when a fob is lost or somebody moves. Simply delete their credential from the lock and done. Contrast with the keyed entry: when one of the keys is lost the lock must be changed to a new key and new keys distributed to all residents. This can be very expensive for a large building.

So the fob then is a very inexpensive solution in the long term. Building management until now could assume that if the fob was returned at the end of a living arrangement that it could simply be issued to the next resident. This is no longer the case. Many fobs can now be copied. Key kiosks offer this service for $25 or so.

To the naked eye a fob or access card looks the same as any other but inside the credential the hardware varies. Some of them cannot be cloned as easily. That’s important when it comes to new technologies that offer inexpensive methods of cloning fobs illicitly. See this video offered by “The Lockpicking Lawyer” who is selling a tool that can be used to capture the conversation between a fob and reader.

This conversation can then be used to clone the fob. This is scary because in access control systems with logging features fobs are as good as a signature for who went through a door at a certain time. If someone’s fob is cloned then they might get in trouble for whatever nasty business is done after entry is gained with their credential.

The solution to all of this is to not use fobs that can be easily cloned. Rolling codes should be utilized and hopefully two factor authentication as well. This means that somebody presents a fob to the reader and then types in a code or uses a fingerprint reader or some other form of authentication.

If you have a building that uses fobs from ten years ago you probably need to consider updating your access control system’s security to something with rolling codes or iclass cards or something better than fixed code fobs which are the inexpensive $2 fobs most buildings use. I offer Alarm Lock locks that have two factor authenticating capabilities.

Smartkey Locks: So easy to rekey you can do it yourself!

A close-up of a smartkey cylinder
This is a Kwikset Smartkey lock. You can recognize them by the little slot to the left of the keyway when it’s installed right side up. Kwikset locks seem to be statistically more likely to be installed upside down. Baldwin also licenses this technology.

People call me every day to rekey their house for a variety of reasons. Sometimes there are legal issues or concerns for one’s safety and people just want their locks changed regardless of cost. I don’t mind coming out to rekey your smartkey locks but I feel bad charging for it since it is usually really easy to do. I charge half the usual rekey rate to rekey smartkey locks unless there is no working key.

If you want to save $100 or more you should try doing it yourself. Assuming the lock is in good working condition all you need is a smartkey tool or even a sim card tool and a new kwikset (or Baldwin Smartkey) key and you can follow the instructions in the following video:

They don’t always work. Smartkey technology is brilliant and a modern marvel but… There are a lot of reasons kwikset smartkey locks fail:

  • The key must be cut close to manufacturer standards. Kwikset keys that work with smartkey must be cut at five specific places on the key to one of six specific depths at those places. If the key isn’t cut like this it can cause the lock to malfunction permanently. I believe this happens when turning an improperly cut key in the lock which bends the little metal guide pins or the serrations in the wafers they are supposed to mate with.
The 4th guide pin from the left is jacked up. So was one of the six serrations in the wafer but I didn’t think to include it in the picture.
  • The smartkey cylinders have very delicate workings as seen above. If they are exposed to rainwater for several years or people try to lubricate them with WD-40 alternating with graphite they will not rekey properly.
  • The KW1 keyway is looser than a lot of other keyways which makes them a PITA to masterkey. It also means that the key can be put in at an angle instead of straight. If you rekey one of these locks make sure that the key is not on a heavy keyring pulling the head of the key down. To unlock the door you would then have to pull the key down while turning it.
  • Trying to rekey these to a Kwikset key that isn’t cut to Kwikset spec. There are a lot of manufacturers that use the Kw1 keyway but use different spacing and depths. They won’t work well if at all. EZSet uses Weiser depths instead of Kwikset depths. Don’t try to rekey these to any key that isn’t Kwikset. I would recommend only using keys that actually say Kwikset on them to be sure. Then you can make copies from that key.

If you mess something up you can call Kwikset or Baldwin tech support, they will probably warranty your lock depending on how old it is. If they won’t, you have choices. You can replace the Smartkey cylinder with a new one. Kwikset finally started selling Smartkey cylinders compatible with Schlage C keyway locks so you can finally consolidate your keys without replacing the entire lock. There are numerous form factors for their handlesets but the deadbolt cylinders seem to be standardised.

If you want me to fix it for you I’m happy to do so. You can bring the lock to me by appointment or you can pay me a service call to come to your location and fix or replace your cylinder on the spot.

This whole post is pretty diy but if you are interested in how to rekey one of these cylinders without a working key then either buy a rekey cradle or a “better resetter” or watch the following video. I have never invested in a Kwikset Smartkey rekey cradle. I have a better resetter tool but it fell behind some stuff in my van a year ago so this is how I reset smartkey lock cylinders now:

I forgot to mention in the video that the shim is very useful if your working key doesn’t lift all of the wafers up high enough to slide the cover off. If that is the case you can push them out of the way and slide the shim over them.

How to rekey a Kwikset Smartkey cylinder with no working key

There are lots of things that can go wrong doing this and I refuse to accept any responsibility for what happens if you decide to do this. It probably voids your warranty, do it at your own risk. Do it over a surface in case you drop springs or little bits so you can find them again.

The only thing you really need is a screwdriver or other object to remove the c clip and a shim and a key you want to work in the cylinder. Search google for how to get a shim from a dvd package or something.

Next remove the c clip.

Put the key in. (You may be able to skip the next step depending on the cuts of your key.) This moves some little bits out of the way for your shim, slide the shim in between the housing and the little bits that moved out of the way.

When the shim is pushed all the way in there pull the plug out along with your key, it slides out very easily because of some ball bearings. Don’t let those fall out or if they do keep them to put back in later.

Now remove the two halves of the plug as seen in the video. The five sliding objects have to be lined up as in the video. Recombine the two halves and ensure that the smaller half slides back and forth. That means it worked. Now put it back together again and put it in the door.

If it malfunctioned before don’t trust it, it might malfunction again. You can remove malfunctioning sliders and replace them.

Rant: Rekeying locks versus fixing locks

When people ask me to rekey their locks I like to ask them to walk through the house and show the locks to me. I try the locks out to see if there are any blatant issues with them because sometimes you change the key for a lock and the customer gets upset that some problem wasn’t fixed in the course of changing the key. In most cases locks won’t magically get better after changing the key, unless the key or the pins were the problem.

Typical lock problems include strike misalignments or even locks that aren’t installed correctly or worn out parts like old schlage b160 bolts not retracting. If it is easy to fix the installation by repositioning the lock after rekeying it I will do so but if it isn’t I expect to be paid to fix other problems.

An interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed more and more recently is people expecting their locks to defy the laws of physics after I work on them. Recently one gentleman was disappointed that he had to push the door closed to latch it. He would touch it with his finger as lightly as possible and look at me as though I had broken his lock in the course of rekeying it when it didn’t latch. I had to explain to him that there is a spring in the latch and to get the door to shut one has to exert enough force to overcome that of the spring in the springlatch to shut the door.

The interesting thing about this is that the lock was the exact same one an hour before, the guy was just paying more attention to the lock after I had worked on it and expected some kind of behaviour from the lock that wasn’t possible.

Another job I did last week involved warranty parts replacement for a Baldwin deadbolt, the thumbturn’s crush washer needed replacement. A few days later the customer called and complained of “crunchy” feeling in the deadbolt. I never took the deadbolt off the door, the cylinder wasn’t ever repositioned, I just installed a thumbturn. The customer had just been paying more attention to the lock after I worked on it. I watched her fiddle with her key for ten minutes trying to reproduce the crunchy behaviour before informing her that I had other appointments that day. She angrily slammed the door. Not sure what she wanted from me.

While relating this story to my locksmith friends one of them had an even better story, he rekeyed this lady’s house and after he was done, she seemed unable to even use her own locks. She was physically unable to lock her deadbolt with her hand. He demonstrated using two fingers how to lock her deadbolt and watched, flabbergasted, as the customer either feigned ignorance or magically forgot how to use the lock. In a fit of frustration, he left without payment. I told him that I suspect that had been the idea all along. He has 20 years of experience and I know that he left the lock in equal or better shape that he found it in.

Some customers just suck. It’s too bad that there aren’t Yelp reviews for businesses to leave for customers. When I encounter behaviour such as described, I let my locksmith friends know. We put these addresses and phone numbers into our phones to avoid these stressful situations. /rant

Barn Doors and How to Secure Them

Barn doors seem to be all the rage with architects. The only problem is that securing them isn’t very straightforward. Because they slide away from a wall or another barn door or maybe slide next to another barn door without meeting you can’t use a conventional deadbolt or typical hardware from the big box store.

Here’s some ways to secure barn doors:

  • Hasp and padlock – secures the door but only from one side. It isn’t very convenient if somebody wants to unlock the door from either side. There is also the danger that if the hasp is installed on the outside somebody could maliciously lock the hasp while somebody is inside with the door closed and they would be unable to get out.
  • Adams Rite Hookbolt – These are designed to prevent prying the door away from the doorframe. They’re really tough locks. Usually they are used in hollow aluminum doors but I’ve installed them in wooden doors before. It’s a bit of work to mortise out the door for them. They work well in doors at least 1 and 3/4″ thick. They can be locked or unlocked from either side with a key or a thumbturn.
  • The Octopod by Major Manufacturing – locks the door from only one side. The lock is keyed so somebody could only maliciously lock you inside if it was the only exit and they had the key or were able to manipulate the lock with lockpicks or other similar method.
  • Jimmyproof lock – These allow you to lock or unlock the door from either side. They are manufactured by Yale, Medeco, Abloy, and others. They use conventional rim cylinders so they are ideal for thick doors of 3″ or more. The only limit is the length of the screws and tailpiece for your rim cylinder.

Ultraloq: Rekey it to Schlage SC1

I don’t take any responsibility for anything that might happen or who might be maimed as a result of your interpretation of these directions which are clearly provided for entertainment only.

Ultraloq deadbolts are starting to become more popular in the residential electronic deadbolt market. They are even being carried at Home Depot. I guess that means they are at least as good as the Defiant brand electronic deadbolt. Not exactly a high bar but back to Ultraloq…

If you want to know it installs pretty easily and seems to work fine for the brief amount of time between me installing it and getting paid and leaving. At this point I’ve only installed a few that didn’t work correctly out of the box for customers (I don’t stock, sell or warranty them). If you have a modern tubular deadbolt that works without pushing or pulling on the door it will probably not be too hard for you to install one of these in its place.

The model I’ve seen comes with a key override and to the untrained eye it uses a schlage key. That’s because the manufacturer bucked convention and used a kwikset key with a schlage head on it. That’s a tad obnoxious, it is going to cause a lot of head scratching all over the world when people ask why their keys that look exactly the same can’t be made to work in their new lock. It would be like labeling shoes as sized for men when they are really size 10 women’s.

On the left is the Ultraloq key with Kwikset milling and on the right is an actual Schlage SC1 key with the same head but obviously different milling.

Many people won’t care and will put the keys that come with it in their desk drawer to be slowly shoved to the back with all of their dried up pens and other assorted flotsam, but for those of you who want or even demand their schlage key work in their new deadbolt, I have the answer for you because I have done it and after a weeklong vacation in AZ I felt unhurried enough to document how to do this for you. Read on, all three of you!

Obviously this lock cylinder will only work with kw1 keys so we’re going to have to replace the cylinder with one that is SC1 compatible. Wait! Before you reach for your 5 gallon bucket of SC1 cylinders, know that the manufacturer made their cylinder a smaller size than regular 99 type or “universal” kik cylinders. You can’t use a normal cylinder without reaming the space for the cylinder out to a larger size. You CAN use an Emtek cylinder or any cylinder made to work in an Emtek deadbolt though as long as it isn’t longer than the original meaning it must be a five pin.

Those malcontents at Emtek are the only large manufacturer to use these smaller stupid cylinders but I’ve done a good business selling better cylinders made by CX5 to fit in them, Medeco also makes cylinders that will work. As a result I have a few Emtek cylinders that will work for this.

The Emtek cylinder slides right in! If you have a tailpiece for an Emtek deadbolt, you’re golden, you can just put the whole thing back together and plug in the batteries and forget all about the nasty details of tailpieces and keyways and other outtakes of my daily struggles.

I usually reuse the tailpiece on the new cylinder when I replace them so I don’t have Emtek tailpieces. The blockheads at Ultraloq copied the format of the Emtek cylinder but decided to move the hole for the spring loaded cap pin 180 degrees to the bottom of the cylinder for some reason which means the timing is off for their weird tailpiece. It will not fit through the deadbolt because of a nubbin they added on.

That upside down T shape accomodates the tailpiece in only one orientation because of the protuberance or nubbin but Emtek deadbolt tailpiece will go in too.

So, you’ll have to cut that nubbin off. I ground it off with my angle grinder, took ten seconds. If you have a bench grinder that would work well too. I suppose you could just file it off. Once the protuberance of delight has been removed from the tailpiece you can reassemble the deadbolt. First some little screws hold on a sort of stop to keep the cylinder from being pushed back. Then a black plastic thing slides over all of it and is also held in place with an exceedingly small screw. I hope after all of that you remembered to rekey the Emtek cylinder to the SC1 key!

I’ve ground the idiot-proofing right off of it!

The point of the stupid protuberance on the tailpiece is to make sure idiots like us don’t try to put the tailpiece through the bolt in the wrong orientation. That would confuse the deadbolt, it would think it was locked when it was unlocked or maybe that the moon landing was faked. Now that we ground that protuberance off, the deadbolt is no longer idiot-proof. You have to put the tailpiece through the bolt horizontally when the bolt is in a retracted state, though at this point the tailpiece is upside down and it should still be horizontal when the bolt is not out.

Cylinder is installed with stop bracket screwed back in
Black plastic shroud is screwed back on and it looks almost like it just came off the assembly line in Shenzhen.

At this point just follow the rest of the instructions and enjoy using your normal house key on your new electronic deadbolt against all efforts employed by Ultraloq.

Did you remember to reprogram the garage door opener?

The longer I do this job the more I find myself mentioning to new homeowners. Sometimes I think I should just print out a pamphlet to give them instead; often they are anxiously shifting from foot to foot as they look over their shoulder at their zoom meeting nearby while I try to give them helpful information and add value to my costly visit. I let them know:

  1. about their key’s bitting,
  2. what they can do with it,
  3. how to change the batteries on their electronic lock,
  4. remind them to forward their email receipt to their insurance broker for proof they rekeyed their house to get lower rates on homeowner’s insurance
  5. If I see a garage with an electric garage opener I remind them to reset it to delete all codes and pushbutton openers that are programmed into it.

Proactive people call me out to rekey their house and often ask me to look for security vulnerabilities they might not be aware of. Even if people don’t ask I tell them to reset their garage door opener. It’s not my thing, I do it sometimes for people who are adamantly against interacting with electronics in any capacity more demanding than pushing one button but it’s so easy I like to let people know how to do it themselves for free by following instructions in the product manual found on the internet. Usually it involves one button on the garage door opener called the learn button. It is usually really obvious and labeled as such.

Disclaimer: Maple Leaf Locksmith and related entities take no responsibility for injury, wrongful death, fire, electrical shock, voodoo curses that may result from following the instructions below which are provided for entertainment value only and contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Now that that’s out of the way:

Typically the first step is to hold the learn button down for 30 seconds to a minute. This resets the garage door opener and wipes out any credentials that are paired to it. That means that “clickers” or built-in openers in modern cars will no longer work along with codes that were programmed into keypads outside the garage door. This is important because former residents and their friends might include axe murderers, junkies, lawyers….we don’t know what nefarious agents of wickedness might come back to open the garage with a credential we don’t know about.

The second step is to add credentials back in. Take a deep breath and follow the instructions in the manual for your garage door opener that you downloaded before. The instructions may seem complicated but in my experience usually can be completed in minutes. This is usually done by using the same learn button as you used to reset the opener. Most openers have you push the learn button once, then push the button on the “clicker” or remote whether stand-alone or built into your vehicle. This tells the opener to “listen” for this device.

Most vehicles built in the last twenty years include built-in remotes for garage doors. They are typically found near the sun visor on the driver’s side. These work exactly the same as a remote. They are programmed into the opener with the learn button and once programmed in the same single button is used to remotely open or close the garage door. If your vehicle doesn’t have one you can also look at your opener’s manufacturer and then go to a big box store and buy either an aftermarket or OEM remote. They are usually $15-20. They will often contain their own directions for programming to accommodate many different models.

Eviction Moratorium to End Soon

Today I noticed that Gov. Inslee is bringing an end to the eviction moratorium in WA. After two years of not receiving compensation of any kind from tenants or the state, property owners will now have recourse to legally remove nonpaying tenants. Not so fast though! The Governor surely doesn’t want to be remembered for doubling the number of homeless people overnight and has mandated additional rules before an eviction may occur. From The Seattle Times:

State law now requires landlords to offer tenants repayment plans and to notify a local dispute resolution center when they begin the early steps of the eviction process, allowing for possible mediation before a tenant loses their housing. For landlords following that process, state law requires certain waiting periods, such as allowing a tenant 14 days to respond to a payment plan.

So evictions are not greenlit yet. The city of Seattle has its own eviction moratorium that won’t expire until 2022. For other areas there are extra steps to go through. First there is a mediation process. Once that has been completed, then the police have to post notice. I can’t change the locks until the possessions of the tenant are all gone or the police tell me that it’s okay to change the locks. The legalities of eviction right now are as certain as the shifting sands. New free legal services are being offered to tenants so the best advice for property rental owners is probably to lawyer up.

I’m starting to get some calls asking about locking out nonpaying tenants. I’m not going to do it without getting the legal green light from the police. This presents its own hurdle since the police force is already spread very thinly in Seattle and what remains of the SPD is probably engaged in higher priority work than evictions.

What is a “Sticky” Lock?

Locksmiths love it when people call them up, describing a myriad of issues with their locks as being caused by stickiness. I’ve never once found that one of these locks felt sticky to the touch. It would be a strange situation outside of maybe a maple syrup production facility or maybe an apiary or meadery.

Instead when people describe their locks as sticky they mean that it is difficult to turn a key which is miscut or a copy of a copy of a copy, or they may mean that it is difficult to throw the deadbolt because the strike plate isn’t in the right spot or the door is sagging.

I can’t fault people for not having the terminology to describe their problems. If they did then they’d just look up how to fix their problem on the internet. Still, I feel like I know how doctors feel with their patients throwing around medical terminology they saw on reddit or youtube or somewhere. Not that I am conflating locksmithing with the lofty ideals of Medicine; nobody ever made me recite an oath to be a locksmith, though maybe that ought to be a requirement.

Earlier this week the problem of throwing around misunderstood terminology cost one of my customers $150. She asked me to come out and rekey a door. To me, this means I should make a new key work in that door. She didn’t elaborate and I rekeyed the door to a new key. The original pins were casually tossed in my brass recycling box.

A few days later the woman called and demanded to know why the key provided didn’t work in the other doors it was supposed to! To her, to rekey meant that I should recreate the original key that worked in that door. I explained what rekeying was as locksmiths understood it and what recreating a key was and the difference between them and she paid me to come back out and regenerate the key from a different door and I rekeyed the first lock back to the originated key it used to work with. It all would have been cheaper and easier if this customer had told me in plain English exactly what it was that she wanted but I have certainly annoyed some other professional by casually tossing their professional lingo about.

Many times people call me up asking to rekey their vehicle because they lost their key but in this situation I know that they are probably confused about what they want and after learning what rekeying is they invariably say that they want their lost keys replaced rather than having their vehicle rekeyed. It is possible to rekey a vehicle and even a good idea if you lost your key near where you park your vehicle but it is very expensive because it’s often difficult to get the lock cylinders out, especially with older cars that have brittle plastic linkages connecting the lock cylinders to the locks themselves. These pieces of plastic snap easily! Many older American vehicles require that you remove the entire steering column to disassemble the ignition!