Essential Tools For Today’s Locksmith

Steve Young shares his top 10 tools in three categories: automotive, residential/commercial and safe and vault servicing.

One of the most common questions that I get from new locksmiths is, “What tools should I buy?” That has always been a difficult question. Since I have been in the business of selling tools for over 20 years, one might expect me to have a list of my own tools ready to offer to anyone who asks, but in my opinion that sort of thing is called a catalog. I’ve always been hesitant to push my own products. (I guess it was all the years I spent hanging round with Bill Reed.) I want my products to stand or fall on their own merits, and I’d much rather have the respect of my customers than a few bucks. And, as an old friend of mine once said, “You can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin him once.”

As a result, I try to point people toward the tools that I think will do the best job, without bias toward my own products. When there are several tools out there that will do the same job, I try to give people the information that they need to make the choice that is right for them. This seems to have worked well for me through the years, judging from the number of friends I’ve gathered versus the enemies I’ve made.

Recently, I was asked to put together a list of tools that I felt were “Essential Tools.” The job was much harder than I had expected at first, but this article is the result. I’ve broken the list down into three categories: Automotive tools, Residential & Commercial tools, and Safe & Vault tools. I could have listed dozens of tools in each category, but in order keep things simple, I’ve limited myself to sort of a top 10 in each category.

Lots of other tools may be more important to actually getting the job done, but these tools were chosen as those that give you the most “bang for the buck.” Also, I didn’t bother to list the standard hand tools or the more exotic tools that would require a lot of discussion. I also avoided the subject of transponder programming tools since that topic would require an entire article by itself. So please accept this list as a place to start, rather than as a destination.


A good hand-held scope – In the automotive field, we tend to work in tight spaces with tiny parts. No matter how good your eyes are, there will be things that simply cannot be seen without a good scope. I own several different scopes and keep one in the truck and one in the shop at all times. I started out with an honest to goodness medical otoscope designed to look into a patient’s ear. This tool was expensive, fragile and very limited, but at the time it was the best that I could find. Now, there are dozens of reasonably priced scopes on the market that use LED technology to put more light into a smaller space, and most of these tools come with removable probes for manipulating tumblers inside the lock as you work.

My favorite scope is the 3 in 1 scope offered by Lockmasters and other distributors. This tool is reasonably priced, versatile, and well built. There are lots of similar scopes on the market as well, sold under a variety of different names, but in the end they are pretty much the same. The thing to watch out for is plastic parts that may not hold up, and a good warranty.

The JMA TRS-5000 Cloner – This tool is not used for programming, and it is just too handy to leave out. The JMA machine will clone all of the standard cloneable keys plus the “electronic keys” that are out there just like any of the dozen or so other cloners available. What makes this cloner different is that JMA also offers proprietary keys that no one else has available yet, and this machine is the first one on the market that will work with these keys. If you need the ability to clone keys that other machines cannot clone, the JMA machine is really the only choice at present. Of course, in this business things change rapidly, and I understand that several other manufacturers will soon be introducing similar machines; perhaps before this article is published. But at this time, the JMA TRS-5000 is the only one I would buy.

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