The sheer number of scopes on the market today is amazing. And, in the current tight economy, there are so many different considerations to take into account before you spend your money; you want to look at as many options as possible. Choosing the right scope requires a lot of thought and research. In this article, I intend to lay out some basic guidelines for choosing the scope that is best for you.
Before you even start looking at scopes, you need to decide what you really need from a scope. In our profession, there are many uses for scopes and choosing the correct scope for the job should be your first consideration. Unfortunately, no one scope can do it all, so it’s up to you to define the features that you need. Let’s begin by taking a look at some of the potential jobs that you might want a scope for in the first place.
As an automotive locksmith, wafer reading is something that I wish I had learned many years ago. I only picked up the basic skills of wafer reading in the last ten years or so, which is not too surprising, since ten years ago scopes that were suitable for automotive wafer reading were rare, expensive, and fragile. Today, there is a wide variety to choose from, with prices that most of us can afford.
Wafer reading gives the automotive locksmith the ability to look into a lock and “read” the heights of the wafers in their “rest position” in order to decode the lock. With a little practice, you can quickly generate a key for a lot of vehicles without having to even loosen a screw.
A scope for reading wafer locks has to be small, hand-held, and offer enough magnification to show variations in the wafers as small as one millimeter. In addition, the scope should shine enough light into the lock to allow you to see the details inside the lock in full daylight. Almost any scope can illuminate the lock at night, but the real test is to be able to see what is going on inside the lock on a sunny afternoon.
The type of lighting that a scope offers can be a double-edged sword. If the light is too bright, you will get glare and reflections that will just make the job harder. If the light is too weak, you won’t be able to see anything worthwhile inside the lock on a sunny day. Unfortunately, hand-held scopes with a variable light output tend to be more expensive that scopes with a single fixed brightness. One alternative though is the new generation of LED scopes. LEDs produce a softer light with less glare because the light is more diffuse than with high-intensity bulbs like halogen or xenon. Another benefit of LED illumination is that battery life is greatly increased. The low current draw of an LED system not only means that the batteries last longer, but that a smaller battery pack can be used.
Another factor to look for on a hand-held wafer reading scope is a probe for manipulating the wafers inside the lock. Some locksmiths like to use a scope with no probe, while they use a separate pick-like probe inserted into the lock to manipulate the wafers. Others like to have a probe attached to the scope itself so that they can use the scope to manipulate the wafers. I’ve tried it both ways, and frankly both ways work. For my money, I like a scope that has the option of a probe that can be quickly removed or repositioned when necessary.
Most of the scopes that are used for wafer reading are variations of an “Otoscope” like those used by your doctor to look into your ears. The tapered piece where the light comes out is called the “speculum.” These scopes come in a variety of diameters and lengths, but some cheaper scopes only have a single fixed speculum. If the scope has a probe for wafer manipulation, it is usually attached to the speculum. The speculum on most scopes can also be rotated so that you can place the probe at any angle that is convenient while you’re using the scope.
Photo 1 shows the LKM 211 3-in-1 scope from Lockmasters, Inc. that I’ve been using for the last few years. This scope features LED illumination, interchangeable speculums, and a selection of probes that can be attached to the speculum in several different positions. Scopes of this type are available from a variety of different suppliers and generally cost less than $200.
Another factor that comes into play when reading wafer locks is “depth of field.” If you’ve ever used a magnifying glass, you know that in order to get an object into sharp focus, you will have to move the glass in and out until you find the correct position where the object is in focus. When dealing with lenses, the area that is in focus at any given time is known as the depth of field. In order to read wafer locks, your depth of field has to be able to cover the distance from the first wafer to the last wafer. The depth of field is controlled not only by the magnification of the lens, but also by the brightness of the light that you are using. Of course, you can also alter the depth of field by moving the scope in and out in front of the lock. In general, you want the maximum depth of field that you can get without getting a lot of glare from the lock parts. Some scopes offer alternate lenses that can be used individually or together that allow you to change the depth of field.
Another type of scope that allows you to alter the depth of field is the “Ophthalmoscope.” These devices were originally designed to allow an optometrist to examine the inner workings of the human eye. As a result, they have both variable illumination and variable magnification, which results in an amazingly variable depth of field. With an ophthalmoscope, you can see anything that is visible inside the lock, from just about any reasonable distance.
The down sides to using ophthalmoscopes are that they are generally more expensive than otoscopes and they are much more fragile. An ophthalmoscope will set you back about $250, and you’ll probably want to invest in a padded storage case as well. The sheer volume of the lenses and lighting equipment that is crammed into the heads of these little scopes makes them way too delicate to be treated lightly. Ophthalmoscopes do not have a probe for manipulating the wafers; so you’ll need to use a pick or some other kind of probe in addition to the ophthalmoscope.
Photo 2 shows the LKM 3170 Mini-Ophthalmoscope which features 17 lenses that can be focused from 5mm to 250mm and has a maximum magnification of 10X. Devices like this can be purchased from a variety of sources both in the locksmith trade and from medical and veterinary supply houses.