What’s In Your Toolbox?

June 2, 2009
Invest in high quality tools and equipment, making sure to keep them all in good working order.

What does ‘toolbox’ mean to you? Everyone’s toolbox is personal. The term toolbox can mean the same as container or tote. A toolbox can be a five-gallon plastic bucket with a heavy cloth jacket to hold tools in an organized manner or just the bucket itself.

It may mean a rolling workstation with built-in workbench or a simple wooden tray that holds the tools you need for a specific job. While some people prefer a small lightweight toolbox dedicated to a certain type of job, others try to cram everything they need into one carrying case. A briefcase can also be a toolbox.

Is there a special brand of toolbox, tote or pouch you like? The choices are almost endless, with some locksmiths carrying a specific toolbox for each specialty area and some fitting everything into a general toolbox.

Popular toolboxes have separators and pouches that permit organizing tools. These formed plastic boxes come in dozens of sizes and styles and offer a variety of compartment sizes. Another handy choice offers a specially designed pouch type of toolbox that fits over the edge of a standard five-gallon bucket.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at toolbox types and focus on different popular tools for each of seven different categories: General, Car Opening, Automotive Service, Installation, Aluminum Storefront, Safes and Electronics.


Here is a suggested list of things that should be carried in a toolbox used for general work including bids, surveys or job walks. A simple digital camera with removable memory can record detailed images of doors, frames, installations and applications on a job, allowing you to review the pictures at a later time for quoting/bidding on a job. It also allows you to show someone else a specific situation when you may need help solving the security solution. Note: No job is too small not to use a digital camera for the purpose of photographing doors, frames, hardware and locks.

Remembering everything a customer discusses regarding a job is hard to recall the next day. A pad and pencil or clipboard gives you a place to make notes for later review.

Always carry a supply of business cards, company brochures and a receipt book in a sealable plastic bag to keep them clean and pristine. You will always being able to identify yourself and present your customer with pertinent information.

Duct tape can be written on and used to protect the surfaces. As an alternative you can use the blue masking tape. Blue masking tape can be written on and easily removed without leaving an adhesive residue.

A good quality tape measure eliminates guesswork on dimensions.

Screwdrivers come in all forms. One handy tool is a four-way or multi-tip screwdriver that contains large and small tips for slotted, Phillips and other applications. Multi-tip screwdrivers include sets of tools or individual replaceable tips that conquer hex/pin, tamper resistant, Torx, one-way and other specialty fasteners.

Hex or Allen wrenches are available in small or larger foldout sets. Do not skimp by purchasing cheap needle-nose pliers, locking pliers and standard pliers. A craftsman is known for the quality of his/her tools. They should always be designed for heavy use and not picked from the 99-cent barrel. Tru-arc pliers come in internal and external designs with some tools having the ability to interchange for both applications.

A heavy utility knife is essential along with various files. Coarse and fine types of triangular files, round files, flat files and pippin files allow an infinite adjustment of fit and finish for lock and key work. Taps and dies allow re-threading of a mortise lock body or threaded cylinder or simple drilling and tapping of a hole to accept a specific size of threaded bolt or screw.

Stamp sets offer a way to mark key blanks with identifying information. The combination of letters and numbers can identify where a key fits or to whom it was issued.

A sizable assortment of wood and metal screws can be built up by keeping the extra screws when installing a lock or hardware. Having the right size replacement screw can often save a rushed trip to the hardware store (or back to the shop), both of which result in lost time and added cost.

There are oversized screws for wood and metal applications. The threaded portion is one size larger than the head size. This way, if threads are stripped, using this larger body screw might allow tightening the head will fit into the hinge, latch or strike plate.

Lock picks are often carried in the pocket, but also can be found in the toolbox. Depending upon preference, locksmiths can carry a small unobtrusive pick set or the one hundred-piece assortment in a multiple level leather pouch. Remove the broken picks as they can be used as a tiny straight slot screwdriver, chisel or tool pick.

Re-keying pin kits can be small, dedicated kits for a specific brand that fit in your toolbox or larger universal kits mounted to your workbench. Pin kits are an essential tool for locksmith work.

A working flash light, standard or LED, provides the ability to see in confined or dark spaces, A handy addition is a headlight hat or those worn like a pair of glasses that allow you to work hands-free.


Car-opening tools are often carried in a cloth pouch or a hard shell case available from the tool manufacturer separately or as part of a package. Specific companies offer different assortments of tools to open almost any vehicle quickly and without damage. Some locksmiths prefer to make their own car-opening tools or specialty tools.

An informative car-opening manual can make the job easier and lend a more professional appearance to your efforts. Produced in varying formats, they include black and white photos on light paper to full color photos on gloss paper to informational software and CDs.

Car-opening accessories also include plastic or wood wedges, inflatable wedges and leverage tools to hold a doorframe away from the body. Protective cardboard or plastic sleeves are essential to pass a metal tool in between the glass edge and rubber weather-stripping without scratching or breaking the glass.


Door panel removal tools, including a manual window crank removal tool, will start to fill your auto service toolbox. A choice of detailed service manuals can keep you up to date on constant changes.

To perform full auto service today, one or more programming and interrogation tools are needed. Different makes and models of cars require a variety of these tools to service everything. Transponder and standard auto key blanks, specialty lock picks, specialty decoders and automotive keying kits will be needed

Metric and SAE short and deep sockets and wrenches are needed to service certain vehicles. Steering wheel pullers, lock, key or wafer readers or other special locksmith tools will make the job easier and save time.

A simple egg timer or stopwatch will help count down the minutes to being able to retry a fitted key or re-enter a programming sequence when it has been voided by a time-out.

A code cutter or punch key machine can produce the finished key.

Installation TOOLBOX

Normal lock installation work requires one or more drill motors. An electric or battery operated drill motor with a one-half inch chuck is still good to have as many of the installation jigs require a ½” opening to accommodate their tools.

Battery drills in use today offer the sizes, speed, torque and stamina to perform most lock installations. A fully charged standby battery is essential. Many chargers work off the 12v system in your service vehicle.

A quality set of high-speed drill bits is a must. A portable drill bit sharpening tool can save the cost of repeatedly replacing broken or dull bits with new ones. Some of these tools use a drill motor to power the sharpening process. Spade drills and hole saws in various sizes allow you to install, re-install or re-drill doors and cabinets to accept an altered style of hardware.

A torpedo level, T-square and tape measure are all basic tools that will be needed on a recurring basis. Specialty hinge adjustment tools allow re-setting or realignment of hinges while still on the door.

Specialized installation jigs and templates are designed to make the complicated installation simple. Pre-drilled guide holes allow the installer to clamp a jig on a door at the proper height and immediately begin drilling. In normal knob/lever/deadbolt prep this tool will save a little time and make sure every hole in the right place.

In the more complex installation of a lock requiring multiple edge-bore and cross-bore actions, a template will save more time and eliminate misaligned holes.

Chisels should be industrial grade heavy-duty models that will last a long time. Learn how to keep them sharp for the best results. Hammers will include small, medium and large ball peen, tack, and claw hammers. Rubber, raw hide or a plastic mallet can be used to make alignments and slight adjustments to a door or piece of hardware without damage.

Unusual items such as an old tube of lipstick, white-out, colored wood filler, scratch removers, goof rings, magic markers, etc. will assist you in marking doors and latches or bolts for proper alignment or covering up an ‘oops’ moment. Toothpicks and white glue can fill an oversized hole in wood to keep screw in place. Lipstick can be applied to a latch or bolt and used to locate the strike opening

Finally, a flexible folded tarp will help to protect the floor or carpeting and assist in a quick cleanup after installation is complete. It is a way to show your customer you care about their property. A broom and dustpan should remind you to always clean up after yourself, even on a construction jobsite. It’s the professional way to leave a job.

Aluminum door TOOLBOX

Storefront aluminum doors require a little different approach with unique tools being required for proper installation and service.

Many dedicated jigs and templates for aluminum doors work in conjunction with a router and router bits. These templates allow a quick, accurate installation of new door hardware or in the case of re-drilling an existing set of holes to a new configuration.

A battery-operated drill motor and drill bits will also be needed, including and assortment of masonry bits. Numbered drills bits are a sure way to get an exact size hole. Taps will thread the aluminum to accept the proper screw size.

A good quality pop-rivet gun and rivets of various sizes comes in handy. The use of rivet/nuts (Rivnuts) is a way to rivet a special insert that is threaded like a nut into the door or frame. The use is intended to give a stronger attachment point than that of tapping the aluminum door or frame. This is especially helpful in exit device, door closer and magnetic lock installations.

Hardened cylinder rings require little or no install labor. An assortment of repair parts including levers, paddles, lock bodies, flush bolts and thumb turns can mean saving a trip to go for parts.

Specialty hole fillers, threaded mounting tabs, bridges and adaptors are designed to allow for proper placement and alignment of lock and electric strike bodies in the hollow aluminum frames.

Again, include a tarp to protect the floor and clean up after the drilling job is complete.


For normal safe service and combination changing, a good set of change keys and some safe lubricant can fit in your toolbox with your safe servicing manuals and hand tools. A quality inspection scope and a good hands-free flashlight assist in working in confined dark spaces.

For opening a locked safe, an automatic dialer is preferred for some applications while a specialized drill rig can be used to overcome stubborn hard plate. The dialer attempts to use a series of computer-aided motions to find a lost combination. Each set of numbers is tried until a working combination is found.

Depending on the case of a lost combination or burglarized unit, different approaches with different tools may be required to get the safe open.

Drilling rigs may attach to the safe body with an electro-magnet or by strapping. Intense pressure is generated on the drill bit, far exceeding the amount you can put on a drill by leaning into it. Special safe-drilling drill bits are designed to allow maximum penetration of the steel body and internal hard plate. Special templates guide you to drill in the proper location to attack bolts, re-lockers, and drop points.

Inspection scopes will give a view of the internal working of the safe mechanism. Scopes are available in a standard optical format or by specialized equipment that allows you to view the progress on a small LCD screen. Manipulation of the working mechanism including re-lockers can be achieved by seeing exactly what is happening on the inside of the safe.

Assorted pullers are designed to remove safe dials or safe deposit box noses. Specialized picks and other equipment can also make the job easier. Any safe opening technician realizes the right tool can save hours of frustration when a safe or safe deposit box is locked up.

Again, include a tarp to protect the floor and clean up after the drilling job is complete.

Electronics TOOLBOX

An electronics toolbox will need to include a number of special application tools not found in your regular set of tools. A multi-meter will allow you to check voltage, resistance, continuity and more. A quality meter can be purchased at a reasonable cost. These tools are extremely important to have on the job site.

Crimping tools are used to secure connections for wires and cables of various sizes. In a crimp connection, no solder is needed. The plastic cover provides protection from unintended cross connection. In a soldered connection, the pair of wires must be wrapped with electrical tape or heat shrink tubing to protect the connection from contacting other metal surfaces or bare wire.

Long drill bits and wire pulling tools can be used to locate and drill holes for the wire run. Long flexible bits will reach down into hollow walls and through inaccessible pathways. The wire pulling tools will allow you to find a lead line or wire hidden behind a hidden wall or area or inside of a conduit. Pulling the wire on a long wire run can mean repeated trips up and down a ladder. Although it won’t fit in your toolbox, a heavy-duty multi-position sturdy ladder is essential to doing the job safely.

A battery operated or electric drill motor will allow penetration of most wall designs. Wood, aluminum or drywall will cut with regular bits but concrete, stone and masonry material will require special bits.

A good supply of wire in varying sizes will be needed to complete a variety of jobs. Make sure you are using the right wire or cable for the job. If in doubt, consult your local locksmith distributor or electronic product manufacturer. Most requirements are called out on the specification (spec) sheet or installation instructions, including the maximum wire run.

Exceeding the manufacturer’s recommendations can result in the equipment not working properly or not working at all. Extended wire runs can result in voltage loss to a point of sporadic or even non-operation. By reading the directions or calling for help, you can usually find a simple alternative to solve the problem at hand.

Wire nuts make a quick and easy alternative to crimping or soldering. A supply of various sized shrink tubing will protect and dress up an installation.


A variety of retail and institutional locksmiths were contacted for this article. Personal preferences varied for tools, machines and manufacturers. No one locksmith had all of the tools and equipment represented by this group of companies, but many were close.

What you choose to include in your toolbox is usually a result of trial and error over the course of years on the job. One tool you find you couldn’t live without might be shunned entirely by your colleague.

If you haven’t done so already, it is a smart idea to make a list of your tools, including serial numbers for insurance purposes. Take a virtual walk-through of your truck and tools. In the event of a loss or theft, it will be easier to show digital pictures or videos to your agent than to try to remember what is missing. A 30-minute effort on your part could be worth thousands of dollars in compensation should the worst ever occur.

Here is an alphabetical listing of tool companies that were discovered in use during research of this article, highlighting their specialties and website contacts.