Tool Tips: Wedges, Picks and Shims

Dec. 1, 2008
Make your own locksmithing tools and save some money

Two wedges, long and short pick sets, a pack of door shims and a suction cup total about $40. There’s plenty of opportunity here to make your job easier as well as make some easy money with little investment. Times are getting tougher and we need to get more creative with our budgets. These versatile items are easy on the wallet and can save you time and effort out in the field.

First, let’s make and save some money. Photo 1 shows an assortment of automotive door wedges. The black ones are what we all generally use and usually work fine. But what about the other two? Those are common door shims. For a mere $1 at your local home center or lumberyard, you can purchase these by the 20-pack. These can be used and reused for a multitude of sins.

As weather stripping gets tighter on newer vehicles, it is easier to gain access with a smaller angle wedge. The old and brittle weather stripping we see on a daily basis is easily broken or cracked with a high angle wedge. Many times we simply can’t get the wedge in.

I normally use a pocket screwdriver to peel the weather stripping back and start the door shim. Then I insert a second door shim to make a pocket. This allows me plenty of room to work the tool without binding. It also spreads the pressure evenly and reduces broken or torn weather stripping. Window breakage is almost non existent with this method. As always, finesse is paramount in this trade.

One day after finishing early, I wandered into the local Harbor Freight store. Always on the prowl for neat stuff, I came upon what is featured in photos 3 and 4. I stood looking into a bin full of these thinking, “What can I use them for?”
Photo 5 shows a great way to avoid using a jack when utilizing an airbag and long reach tool. Some vehicles are difficult or impossible to jack for an airbag insertion. Utilizing one of these eliminates all possibility of damage to the vehicle. As shown in the photo, it works quite well.

The cost? Well, I figured $2 each was quite reasonable!
Since we’re on the topic of car-opening tools, let’s use them a different way for a residential lockout. The next time you’re called out to open a house, look for sliding glass doors. More often than not, there will be some sort of object laying in the track, “locking” the door. A slim jim works great for sliding in between the doors and popping that object out. I have sold more Charley Bars this way.

Grabbing those doors shims again, place one in between the slider and the fixed door near the bottom. This creates a pocket for you to work. Now you can use a wire type lockout tool if the object in the track is a two-by-four or something a little heavier than a broomstick.

Staying on those sliding doors for a moment, what happens if they have a spring loaded device wedged in the middle of the door? Photo 6 shows how to overcome that obstacle. Where are those skinny door shims? Make a pocket between the sliding door and fixed door around where the spring- loaded device rests on the slider.

We’ll pick on the Master bar this time. I utilize my Keedex under-the-door lever tool and simply reach in and pull on the locking pressure lever. If the customer has this lever on the underside of the bar, simply move your wedge pocket and go get it. There is nowhere they can hide the lever with this method. Even if the lever faces the opposite direction, simply lift upwards. Need more room for the tool? Wedge, then gently use your airbag(s).

Wedging and making a pocket in the middle exploits the flex of the two doors. When performed with care, it is safe and leaves no trace. If you also have a long reach tool in your vehicle opening arsenal, this method also allows you to reach that bottom track and lift out anything that may be laying there.

Does your customer have a Charley Bar with a locking pin? No sweat. Make a pocket with the door shims. Reach in with a conventional automotive wire type tool and pull the chain. This will pull the locking pin out. Now reach in with the same tool or your long reach tool and lift the bar up and out of the way. Go slow and take your time.

Ok, so how about some cool tools? Photo 8 shows a combination of picks. They can be employed to scrape gunk out of a Medeco cylinder, remove a Spirolox washer on a safe lock or used simply to push down on a retainer releasing a knob from its chassis.

The short ones are the most common. Shown are the Snap-on and Craftsman brands. Both sets are of excellent quality and last a long time depending on use. Both manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty. However, the Craftsman set is one-fourth of the Snap-on price. While Snap-on will come to your shop and replace a broken tool, most of us are out and about and stopping by the local Sears for a replacement is not a big deal. Sears also offers coupons and sales for those so inclined.

Featured are the Craftsman and Matco versions. Again, Matco will swing by your shop and replace a tool for free. They are a top quality tool manufacturer. However, in this case the quality is identical. If you haggle, you can pick up a set of Matco’s for about $20 off the truck. I’ve bought several sets of the Craftsman for $5 each. If you enjoy the good service of a tool distributor stopping by your shop weekly, then by all means go that route. If you look for a reason to browse the tool department at Sears, you’ve got one.

These longer picks can also be used for a variety of functions. They can hold rim tailpieces level when reinstalling panic hardware. Two of the straight ones can act as extensions for spiking an electronic lock. When they are magnetized, they are great for picking up small components when dropped down inside a cavity. They are indispensable in our trade.
The Wedge-It is made of high impact plastic and has rubberized feet. It is a lifesaver if you need an extra pair of hands.

Used as a pair it can wedge and hold a door open when you are installing a panic device or a door closer. This is great on a windy day! Notice the notched cutout? Photos 13 and 14 show how the cutouts are used. The Wedge-It can be placed over the hinge to wedge and hold the door. If you are moving a safe by yourself, a few of these will keep those doors propped safely.

Two or more per door will spread out the weight of the door closer against the frame. If a closer is not present, a Wedge-It facing in opposite directions over two hinges will keep the door propped open and prevent it from banging in the open direction.

I carry two of these at all times. The hole makes it nice to clip on to my tool tote and I don’t lose any space inside. The price for this handy-dandy gizmo? $10. It can be purchased from Duluth Trading Company, web site or 1-800-505-8888 if you wish to receive a catalog.