New To Electronic Security? Start With Standalones

Nov. 1, 2017
Modern locksmiths hold a unique position in the security market -- tprimary purveyors of all types security devices which are taking the place of keys

Today’s locksmith is well advised to become familiar with electronic security, since the landscape of locksmithing is changing quickly. It’s a bit counterintuitive because mechanical locking devices continue to be the foundation of physical security, but the way they are sold and serviced -- or perhaps more importantly how they are perceived by the end-user -- has changed dramatically over recent decades rendering even the term “locksmith” seemingly obsolete.

The evidence abounds that the number of locksmiths is waning, and the demand for many of the skills associated with traditional locksmithing are in decline. While locks are more critical to our security than ever, the demand for individuals with the compliment of locksmithing skills is just not there nor are the legions of recruits looking to learn the trade.

While it is true that mechanical lock and key science is vibrant and always improving, keys appear to be on their way out while electronics are taking over. This means the skills and markets which used to be locksmithing mainstays such as automotive, keyed locksets, and all the other places people used to insert a key and turn are vanishing and being replaced by keypads, biometrics, close range wireless technologies and mobile electronic credentials and controllers.

Even though many of your customers can no longer be bothered to carry around key rings, they are still very concerned about security, and the locksmith still has a unique position in the security market to be primary purveyors of the security devices which are taking the place of keys, since the locksmith trade is singular in its reputation for providing security and safety, and having the skills and craftsmanship to deliver and install it efficiently and reliably.

So while the term Physical Security Professional does not roll off the tongue or share the ubiquity of the title Locksmith, we once again are calling out to the locksmith or individuals who are dedicated to our craft to keep some important thoughts and facts in mind as they prepare to face the future:

Traditional mechanical locksmithing work may be declining.

For the several decades I’ve been hanging around lockshops, I have seen many common factors besides walls full of keys. They all are living museums to the owners’ past hobbies and passions. Things like blade sharpening, luggage, automotive locksmithing, decorative and architectural hardware, safes, gunsmithing are typical legacies you’ll find in the back of the warehouse or the corner of the showroom.

So the term locksmithing is a general term applied to a variety of activities which may all be carried out in the lockshop. Depending on the geographic location, the locksmith and the market demographics, who knows how much time was dedicated to fixing locks? Additionally, the sale of locks is also vigorously carried on in home centers, on the Internet and by others such as contractors.

Next, the manufacturers are taking to dealing direct and rolling their own trucks, providing additional competition to the locksmith.

Lockouts were a lucrative sideline for many locksmiths, the icing on the cake. Now everyone from cabbies and tow truck drivers to police officers keeps a slim jim handy for emergencies.

National franchises exist which provide the training, marketing and tools so anyone can get into the cash business of popping locks.

And let’s not forget the 800 scammers who fill the phone books with bogus “local locksmith” ads with 800 numbers. These individuals discredit the profession, gouge the clients, and take food out of the locksmiths’ mouth. There is little or no effective organized defense against these shady operators.

Increasing population needs more security.

The concept of “security” has been hijacked by the Internet. Identity theft is a big worry, and the homeowner might be are inclined to sign a contract for a home security system and monitoring rather than buy a better lock or call a locksmith to do a rekey.

Add electronics to existing key systems and traditional security measures.

While this article is focused on electronics, a number of products will help you adapt existing mechanical keys to a more advanced form of access control.

The weaknesses of mechanical keys which has led to the popularity of electronic door controls and credential technologies can be used to point out the strengths and attributes of modern key systems.

Problems include:

  • The ease of unauthorized key duplication
  • The vulnerability of standard mechanism cylinders to picking and attack
  • The lack of control levels within a master system when non proprietary keys and cylinders are used
  • The difficulty in detecting the loss or theft of keys, and the expense and time delay involved in re-combinating the affected door cylinders. If a powerful enough key in the masterkey architecture is stolen of lost, it may warrant repining many locks and issuing many new keys.

As a matter of fact, with the help of software I once interpolated the entire masterkey system of a major retail bank with only a few sample keys from the system

All of this is deemed unacceptable security management and exposes an entire organization to thefts personal injury and compromise of valuable intellectual property.

The bottom line is that end-users do not control key distribution, and non-restricted key blanks can be readily duplicated without authorization. Combine non proprietary keys and cylinders with haphazard masterkeying practices, and the potential for disaster increases multifold.

By specifying a patented keyway you can throttle down the rampant duplication of keys by forcing keyholders and your clients to come back to you for additional keys.  

Getting Started

New to electronics and electronic security? Start with single door battery operated locksets

The advances in technology have forced the security industry to redefine product categories as the feature sets of the hardware expand. Installing a standalone type access control is very similar to installing a conventional mechanical lock, and even with the expanded feature set and capabilities, the installation of these products has been refined so that even a certified old school mechanical expert should be able to easily complete an installation.

Except for mechanical pushbutton door controls, the security industry and access control systems were network based.

Standalone used to mean that management of the door’s features and credentials applied to a particular door, and activities at the door were not shared or propagated to other doors or a central control point on or off site, and that the lock was powered by its own batteries.

This was very different than network based access control where each door may have had:

  • A reader wired to a controller,
  • A power supply for the controller’s logic which was powered by line voltage,
  • A connection to other controllers and a central control point either on or off site
  • A locking device on the door or on the door frame.
  • A power supply for the locking device which was powered by line voltage
  • An auxiliary controls to remotely unlock the door, and a REX to provide request to exit functionality
  • A door position sensor (DPS)
  • Possibly a connection to the premises fire alarm to provide for the automatic unlocking of the door to let out building occupants or let first responders into the building in the event of a fire or emergency.

Actually standalone locks are actually becoming a rare species. Because the power of on board processing, cardreader and credential technology, and wireless network topologies have transformed access controls so they no longer have to stand alone; they all can work together.

Each ‘standalone’ is somewhat unique, but they generally are based on either a “161 Prep” or an “86 Edge”.

A 161 Prep is a cylindrical lock prep with a 2-1/8″ hole at 2-3/4″ backset, where the door edge prep is 1-1/8″ x 2-1/4″.

An 86 Edge is a mortise lock prep where the door edge prep is 1-1/4″ x 8″.

Some additional holes may be required depending on the particular model of Standalone lock you are using. (There is a family of electronic standalone deadbolts as well, and they typically will also fit into a standard deadbolt prep.)

Installation Tips

If you stick to a specific model of standalone locks, you might want to acquire a drilling fixture for the models you use frequently.

You must not force fit a new lock into a poorly prepped door even if the original door lock appears to have worked. The new standalones are generally very robust once they are mounted on the door, but somewhat vulnerable will transitioning from their shipping carton to their new forever home on the door.

Redrilling a poorly prepped door can be difficult without the aid of a proper drilling jig to steady your holesaw and drill bits. If the original drilling was off by a fraction of an inch, it will prevent the lock’s components to properly align and is likely to cause problems. I used to be amazed how the old mechanical lock I was removing worked fine, but the new lock I was installing wouldn’t fit, or would bind and create problems. Simpler mechanisms didn’t require precise alignments like the more complex locks do. It’s tough to look professional while you are dying on a door. A drill jig might enable a fast, clean and professional looking installation.

See our sidebars on installation tools from A1 and Major Manufacturing.


One of the best characteristics of the new breed ‘standalones’ is that many newer models are scalable.

That means that several of the units can be electronically interconnected to streamline programming, obtaining activity logs and general day-to-day housekeeping.

Some standalones can be integrated to work with already existing legacy EAC (electronic access control) in a premises

When you are selling access control, your intermediate goal should be that your customer will love the first one so much that they call you back to upgrade additional doors. Your immediate goal is of course to get the first door up and running, and your long range goal should be to install an access control on every door in the known civilized world.

This representative list of features offered by some (not all) of the new breed standalone locks makes their performance comparable to traditional hard-wired access controllers

  • Support for many PIN codes
  • Real time forced entry/wrong PIN/invalid card, and unauthorized egress alarms
  • Built-in prox readers for use with access ID cards/fobs
  • Multi-level user codes & one-time service codes
  • Free passage, group- or total lock-out modes
  • Wireless communications
  • Automatic schedules
  • Event logs
  • Support for thousands of doors
  • Adaptable to existing Prox. ID Cards/Badges
  • No wires to run
  • No access panels or power supplies
  • Many models use a BHMA Grade 1 lock assemblies
  • Networkable to a non-dedicated Windows-based PC
  • More than a 5-year battery-life
  • Invoke system-wide free-passage or locking modes from the PC or other selected locations or doors
  • Share one common database
  • Programmable from the standalone’s keypad,  a mobile device or a PC
  • Durable keypad
  • Low battery alert
  • Key override,
  • Some models are non-handed and field reversable
  • Vandal resistant lever Clutch mechanism
  • Master, manager, supervisor and user levels
  • Real Time Clock
  • Time/Date-Stamped Audit Trail
  • Lock/Unlock Schedules
  • Adaptable to other brand cylinders
  • Programmable relay functions
  • Some models are Weatherproof

Programming a standalone will vary from model to model. I like to use a working model of the locks I install and service for practicing the programming, for demonstration purpose while making sales presentations, and also as a source of spare parts.

YALE NexTouch™

This state-of-the-art standalone  provides a greatly enhanced security solution which will likely offer enhanced features and security whether you are upgrading from a mechanical lock, or migrating from another electronic standalone.

All NexTouch models require that an additional hole be drilled for the cable pass through. If a door position sensor is going to be used, a hole for that must be drilled as well. The NexTouch is supplied with a magnetic sensor which adapts to either a 3/8 inch or ¾ inch hole. The sensor comes with a wire lead and connector pre-installed. The NexTouch uses the modular ElectroLynx™ system which eliminates the need to strip or solder connections between system elements. If the sensor is used, then the supplied companion magnet must also be installed on the door frame opposite the sensor.

Wiring and cable management: The internal connections required to install the NexTouch are pretty easy. No soldering is required. No screwdriver is required either, since the ElectroLynx™ cables slip and lock into their respective mating connectors.

Pretesting, resetting: I suggest you open and inspect your NexTouch™ in your shop before taking it to the installation. This way you can be sure you have all the required parts, and power it up and perform the prerequisite programming required before deployment of the device.

Until you have set the Master PIN code, you will not be able to program anything else. Also if you mess up and it is necessary to perform a hard reset on the NexTouch, you will have to remove the lock from the door to gain access to the reset button.

Removing the lock from the door to perform a reset is not fun, and once you have the Master PIN programmed, you are not likely to have to reset it, since the NexTouch™ is designed to be end-user friendly. The NexTouch™ uses voice prompts which once you understand how they work, are very easy to follow.

While you are setting up the Mater Pin code, you may want to set the door open time. A door open time is not programmed into the NexTouch™ as the default, and may be confusing if you are expecting the NexTouch™ to relock after entering the PIN.

Door thickness and latch retractor: An issue I am particularly sensitive to is the proper installation of the latch retractor. If the latch slips out of the retractor, you’ve got big problems, especially if you are outside the protected area.

NexTouch™ is available with either a capacitive touchscreen pushbutton keypad, offering a more tactile experience.

Other features include privacy mode, enabling the exterior keypad to be temporarily disabled by the user from the inside; 9V battery power backup, which allows the lock to be recharged with just the touch of a battery; and support of up to 500 user codes, easily managed with effortless voice-guided programming.

Due to its modular design, users can readily upgrade to a more advanced and scalable solution as their security requirements grow and change.

Optional upgrades include the Multi-Family Solution featuring cloud-based Yale Accentra™ software that uses Data-on-Card technology, or ZigBee and Z-Wave capability for small businesses that want to integrate NexTouch™ into an alarm or automation platform.

More Info:

Final Thoughts

This article has limited its discussion of electronic security opportunities primarily to standalone access control units, but standalones represent only a small niche within the physical security industry. Everyone’s journey will be unique even if their starting points are similar.

Your personal interests will play an important part in what direction your career takes you. You may broaden your horizons in many directions or specialize in a few.

Opportunities also will open new activities for you when you are presented with a challenge and you choose to take it on.

You also must make your own opportunities happen by remaining aware of new industry developments, and determine which ones are appropriate for you.

If success at first eludes you, remember that you only fail when you stop trying, and many of our industry’s greatest success stories were the result of the dogged perseverance of individuals focused on success.

Remember that any lock is only as strong as the weakest point in the perimeter. Installing a great lock on a flimsy door, or a door frame installed on a vulnerable wall may not provide the intended level of security.

Don’t forget the lock cylinder in your standalone products. You may provide a formidable electronic barrier with your standalone lock, but it will be of no avail if the override cylinder is not a protected keyway and pick and attack resistant cylinder.

This is why you are the right person for the project; you pay attention to the details!

About the Author

Tim O'Leary

Tim O'Leary is a security consultant, trainer and technician who has also been writing articles on all areas of locksmithing & physical security for many years.