Articles appearing in Locksmith Ledger always deal with facts. We report on either how a product works or how to sell or service a product. As a rule we do not offer an opinion except in editorials. This particular article is an exception to that rule. The subject of this article is...
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Articles appearing in Locksmith Ledger always deal with facts. We report on either how a product works or how to sell or service a product. As a rule we do not offer an opinion except in editorials. This particular article is an exception to that rule. The subject of this article is important and goes to the core of what locksmithing is all about.
During my career as a locksmith, I only resorted to so-called ‘breaker’ tools as a last result. In my opinion, in a lockout situation, locksmiths should depend on their skills to either pick open or professionally bypass locked hardware. That is what separates us from any hack with a hammer or battery drill.
When a customer watches a skilled locksmith in action, that customer is prepared to pay well for those services. Unless there is no other way, when a locksmith forcibly damages a lock in order to gain access, the profession of locksmithing suffers.
In the last few years a few individuals have tried to gain notoriety through their efforts to inform the public about perceived weaknesses in pin tumbler locks. Videos showing bumping and picking procedures can be freely viewed on many Internet web sites. One interesting facet of these campaigns is that they seem to have focused their wrath on only a few selected lock manufacturers while every pin tumbler lock manufacturer is using a similar spring-driven system.
The pin tumbler lock idea is said to go back to Egyptian times, but the modern paracentric pin tumbler version can be generally traced back to inventor Linus Yale in approximately 1860. During the last 150 years there have been some competitive alternatives for the basic pin tumbler lock design. Wafer locks, sidewinder locks, lever locks and rotating disc locks are just a few of the innovations which have emerged. When factors such as simplicity of design, infinite varieties of keyways, large amount of possible key changes, relatively good security and ease of manufacture are taken into consideration, pin tumbler locks have continued to stay in the game after all this time.
One problem with basic pin tumbler locks is that they must be disassembled in order to change the key combination.
Kwikset recently introduced a system called SmartKey which is designed to allow combination changing without disassembly. The Kwikset cylinder uses a sidebar locking design. For more information on the SmartKey operation, refer to Locksmith Ledger articles in May ‘07, page 38 and October ‘07, page 78.
One locksmith wrote to Locksmith Ledger after our 2007 articles appeared. He claimed that on one occasion he had picked open a SmartKey lock. I could not independently verify these reports.
As soon as turning pressure is exerted on the Smart Key plug, the sidebar is designed to move inward and prevent movement of the tumblers. Theoretically someone would have to be fortunate enough to simultaneously hold all the tumblers in their correct unlocked position and then rotate the plug at that instant. I do not believe that standard picking procedures are a practical technique for unlocking Kwikset SmartKey locks.
It was found that depth tolerances were loose enough to allow tryout keys with half-step cuts to operate the locks. Since SmartKey locks used depths of 1-6, depth keys with 3 depths operating cuts of 1/2, 3/4 and 5/6 might operate the locks. This seriously limited the amount of usable change keys which would not cause interchanges with other Kwikset keys.
Another possibility was forced entry. Original Kwikset SmartKey lock designs used a rounded sidebar. Turning pressure on the plug caused the rounded sidebar to move inward. Inward movement deterred picking, but it also decreased the amount of sidebar material holding the plug in the locked position.
At least one manufacturer introduced a tool which forces the sidebar inward enough to fully turn the plug. While termed a bypass tool, this tool can actually cause damage to the lock and prevent combination changing in the future. Since the owner’s original key may still operate, the forced entry could go undiscovered. In my opinion, the lock cylinder should be replaced any time this tool is used.
Weiser SmartKey Locks are one of the first locksets to meet the challenges of key bumping and vulnerability to picking all included in an economical package.
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