Brawn vs. Brains

Oct. 16, 2019

Years ago my father's toolbox contained a bit and brace, Yankee screwdriver and a two-speed manual crank drill, among other things. The most popular type of aftermarket locks were night latches and jimmy proof locks. If there was no electricity available, the only way to drill a 1 1/4" hole for the cylinder was with a bit and brace. The two-speed drill had a handle shaped like a "U" which could fit against your stomach for added pressure while drilling. These tools can best be found in the Smithsonian these days but fifty years ago there were no battery-operated drills or power invertors and locksmiths had to depend on pure arm strength for any procedure done at remote locations.

Tool and inventory investments were also more economical in those days. The largest investment would have been for key blanks. There were hundreds of commercial and residential key blanks in use then. Automotive key blanks were a different story. Car makers used the same key blank for several years across their entire list of models. Being prepared for servicing any car model was a simple chore. People like my father became locksmiths after the second world war because it was an easy occupation to learn and also very profitable.

Over the years invertors and battery-operated drills simplified work conditions. Due to ANSI lock cutout dimensions, every lock company began using similar lock mortise sizes. SC1 and KW1 keyways took over the market and every domestic and foreign lock company also offered those keyways. The shift from brawn to brains began two decades ago when electronic lock systems became part of the security landscape.

Here is the rub. According to one source on the internet, a locksmith is defined as a person "whose occupation consists, in whole or part of: making, repairing or adjusting locks." Locks are defined as: "a mechanical device with a spring and a bolt used to fasten a door."

This is far from the real world of what a locksmith actually must be ready to do today. As long as locksmith definitions and many locksmith schools concentrate on our occupation as it was fifty years ago there will be no way to attract young people who have been raised on pressing buttons on their computers and cellphones since they were old enough to walk.