Keys are sold in every country in the world. Key blanks are manufactured to the specifications of the producer or lock manufacturer. Key blanks are made of various materials including aluminum, brass, iron, nickel silver and steel.
Steel (ferrous metal) keys are common worldwide and are becoming more common in North America as key blank applications are not limited by country borders. For example, on the Silca “107” Key Blank Catalog technical information page’s list of the standard production materials, the first is steel. The language flags listed in the catalog in order are United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Portugal.
For the North American market, locksmiths have been cutting softer metal key blanks, mainly brass and some aluminum. The only steel key blanks I can remember from many years ago are automotive. Most of them were gold plated presentation key blanks. Some were special orders for European model vehicles and only available in steel.
North American cylindrical key machines - originating and duplicating - are designed for brass key blanks. Most of these key machines operate at about 800-1000 revolutions per minute (rpm) for high speed steel cutters.
Steel content key blanks can dull or break the teeth of a key machine’s rotary cutter operating at about 900 rpm. A key machine that cuts key blanks containing ferrous metal should operate between 1600 and 2000 (about twice the rpm) equipped with a carbide cutter.
There is an additional problem. With the increase in the price of brass and the regulations against lead, some key blank manufacturers are adding or increasing the amount of ferrous metal in their key blanks. There appears to be an increase in the number of brass key blanks that have a greater ferrous metal content.
Locksmiths have two options. First, they can purchase a key machine that is designed for steel key blanks.
Second, locksmiths who own a Rytan RY100 or RY200 can install the Rytan RY103 Optional Carbide Cutter and Pulley Kit. Installation of the kit increases the speed of an RY100 or RY200 to approximately 1800 RPM. The RY103 has 100 teeth sintered carbide cutter that is 3.15” in diameter. The carbide cutter included angle 80 degrees, coming to a point that provides a clean duplication. The carbide cutter is the same size as the high speed cutter that comes with the machines.
The carbide cutter is offset on the right at .180” and a narrow offset on the left of .020”. The cutters’ teeth are longer on the right side. Key should be duplicated from the head to the tip with the cleanup from the tip to the head.
Sintered carbide is approximately three times stiffer and much more dense than steel. Carbide cutters are very abrasion resistant and are able to withstand higher temperatures than standard high speed steel cutters. Carbide cutters remain sharp for many times longer than high speed steel cutters. An additional benefit of a carbide cutter is a smoother cut when cutting brass and aluminum key blanks at a faster rpm.
The downside of a carbide cutter is it is more expensive and more brittle than a high speed steel cutter.
A carbide cutter can be a great investment when properly maintained. It can remain sharp for many years of cutting keys by following two simple rules:
- Always make sure the key blank is properly secured in the vise jaw.
- Never force the cutter to cut the key.
In addition, it cannot hurt to spray a bit of lubricant onto the key blank blade prior to cutting.
Many locksmiths own multiple key originating and duplicating machines in addition to punch key machines. Knowing if there is ferrous metal content in a key blank gives them the option to choose a specific key machine.
To protect your rotary cutters investment, attach a magnet onto a flat spot pointing up on each key machine. This way, there is no additional effort to slide the key blank across the magnet. If the magnet draws the key blank, there is ferrous metal.
ESP is a well-known manufacturer of utility locks, specialty hardware and key blanks. A few years ago ESP was purchased by Hudson Lock Company. This purchase did not change the fundamental direction...