At one time I worked for a well-known lock manufacturer. Workers in the key cutting section labored each day to keep bins full of every possible key code sold by the factory. Workers in another area of the factory were kept equally as busy each day pinning up wafer locks to every possible key code sold by the factory. Every bin in the factory had to always be filled in readiness. Workers completing orders only had to match up the correct bin of keys with the correct bin of locks, put the two items together and ship them out the door. Key codes were a way of speeding up mass production.
Somewhere back in the early 20th century, an inventive locksmith decided that the factory codes stamped on locks could be used again when customer keys were lost. Thus, key code collecting and key dimension measuring became a popular locksmith pastime. Early code books actually measured dimensions with a ruler. Key cut dimensions such as 1/8” and 3/16” were often printed in early code books. Originated keys were hand-filed. Code machines were non-existent.
Lock manufacturers realized the need for key originating machines and the first modern code machines appeared in about 1930. Companies such as Yale and Briggs & Stratton were among the first to develop code books and key code machine systems. Each machine was dedicated to only originating their own brand of keys.
To my knowledge, the first nationally known, versatile key code machine was developed by Independent Lock Company (ILCO) in the early 1930s. This machine used metal discs which were drilled with holes at correctly spaced intervals. Two discs were needed to originate a key, one for spacing and one for depths. Locksmiths could get by with about 20 different sets of discs and still be able to originate keys for almost every lock on the market at the time. Ilco also published code books for many years which listed which disc numbers to use. Early Reed code books also listed the proper Ilco discs.
Today several thousand different depth and space dimensions have been developed by lock manufacturers. The amount of metal discs which would be required and the need of a better system for quick, accurate machine setup between jobs helped to signal the decline of the venerable Ilco disc machine.
Kaba-Ilco Corp.’s modern replacement for the disc code machine is the new Universal II code machine. Depth and spacing and helpful cutting information for each key type are printed on each individual card. A package of 112 code cards is furnished with the Universal II. The cards can be used for originating most popular commercial, residential and automotive key types.
Universal II machine jaw movement is controlled with space and depth handles. Users simply turn the space handle until the dial is located at the desired space mark on the card. Then as the depth handle is rotated, the key is moved into a rotating key cutter. At the same time the depth dial is indicating the depth locations. When the depth dial arrives at the required depth number, cutting for that particular space is complete.
Preparations for a different key cutting job can usually be done in seconds without tools. The previously used card is slipped out of the display window and a new card is just as easily inserted. The Universal II machine is designed so no depth or space adjustment is necessary when changing from one cutter or card to another.
Key types can be roughly divided into two groups: Smaller keys where the spacing between cuts is less than .140” and larger keys where the spacing is more than .140”. Two cutters are furnished with the Universal II code machine: a T14MC cutter for larger keys and a TCW-1011 for smaller keys. Tools are provided for removing and replacing the cutter blades when necessary.
Several optional cutters are available for special applications such as cutting IC core, Medeco, Sargent and Kwikset/Weiser/Weslock keys. Another important option is the TCW-47MC cutter. This cutter is designed to make cuts within .098” of the key shoulder without removing any shoulder material.
The electronically controlled Tri-Code H.S. machine simplifies duplication or origination of sidewinder keys while quickly producing accurate keys to factory specifications.