Specialty Tools: The Locksmith’s Best Friend

June 4, 2012
Get the job done easily and quickly -- be it installing a mortise cylinder or peeking inside a lock to read the wafers -- with these specialty tools.

I went on a wonderful tour of the Wasatch Mountain range near Salt Lake City back in 1989.  A friend and I discovered a spectacular secluded spot down a winding mountain road where we watched a magnificent sunset.  As the evening settled in and the temperature began to drop, we realized that the keys were accidently locked inside the car.  It was at about this point that I began to appreciate how little you can actually do in this business without tools!

We all need tools.  Some of us make do with as few tools as possible out of a sense of economy.  Some of us buy every tool they see and then wonder why they can’t seem to make any money.  I hope most of us have the wisdom to buy the tools that we really need and to take a pass on the ones we don’t need.  Personally, I seem to err on the side of too many tools.  How about you?

Gator Mortise Wrench

Sometimes you just have to get a grip!  Sure, you can usually turn a mortise cylinder with a key blank, but what about a dummy cylinder, or those times when it’s been in there for 40 years?  Or when you’re dealing with some oddball finish that you know you would have to special order if you scratched it?  The Gator Mortise Wrench is made especially for those times when you just can’t use pliers on a mortise cylinder.  The low profile construction will allow you to grip the smallest edge on a cylinder.  As long as it’s not deeply recessed into the door, you should be able to use the Gator Mortise Wrench (P/N MW053) to quickly remove even the most stubborn mortise cylinder without damage.

The Gator Mortise Wrench is made out of space-age ABS plastic that should last a lifetime without scratching doors or cylinders.  One side of the tool has a milled channel that is specifically made for gripping mortise cylinders that are protected by a tamper-resistant collar.  The tool fits between the cylinder and the collar to give you a good grip on the cylinder to loosen or tighten it.  The other side of the tool is designed to grip cylinders where the face of the cylinder protrudes from the door.  Regardless of which side you use, the grip is controlled by how tightly you squeeze the tool.  Using the tool is a process of squeezing, turning and then releasing, so it’s very easy to use.

The Gator Mortise Wrench was designed by a working locksmith, Barry Meyer, from Castle Rock Colo.  Meyer based his design on a wrench that was used to remove delicate camera lenses.  He also added a couple of the other locksmith friendly features in the design of the tool.  There is a lanyard on one handle, and a powerful magnet in the other handle so you can store the tool by either hanging it on a hook or by using the magnet to stick it to your tool box or the inside of your truck.

More Info: www.gatortools.com

Bullseye Installation Tool

In my youth, it seemed like all I did was install deadbolts, and I did the majority of them freehand.  My boss at the time finally got an installation tool, but that one was almost too complicated to use, and it required special sized drills and hole-saws.  It also cost my boss a bundle!  If I had only had one of these back then, I would have been much more productive for my employer.

The inner surfaces of the Bullseye Installation Tool for Cylindrical Locksets (P/N BUL-2) are lined with a non-marring high-grip material that locks the tool securely in place, without damaging the door.  The oversized wing-nut lets you securely attach the tool to the door in seconds without using any tools.  A simple toggle lets you quickly choose between residential (2 1/8”) and commercial (2 ¾”) backsets.  In addition, easily removable drill guides let you use standard hole-saws or drills for either 1 ½” or 2 1/8” cross bores.  The easy to use alignment guide makes sure that your latch hole is always dead-center in the width of the door, regardless of door thickness.

If you need to install interconnecting locksets, the tool has built in straps that allow you to connect a second BUL-2 for a perfect installation every time.  All in all, this is a high-quality, versatile, well designed tool, which is also very economical to own and to use. 

More Info: http://demanda1.com/

Keedex USB Wafer Reader

I turned 60 years old late last year, and I’ll be the first to tell you that my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.  I now find myself using all kinds of magnifying devices that I never needed in the past.  Keedex has recently introduced a wafer reading tool that I would have loved to have had when I was 18.  The USB-WR wafer reader (P/N USB-WR) combines a USB microscope with probes that allow you to use your computer to actually see inside a lock with amazing clarity.

The system uses an imaging head that is about the size of a screwdriver, connected to your computer with standard five-foot USB cable. Once the proper software has been installed on your computer, the tool takes digital photos of the inside of the lock so that you can decode it quickly.  The imaging head includes four high-intensity LEDs and a light diffuser to provide even illumination inside the keyway.  The level of the light can be easily adjusted by way of a control mounted on the cable.  This control also houses a “shutter button” that lets you take digital snapshots of the inside of the lock when you use the Keedex software.

Included with the tool is a USB “thumb-drive” that contains the installation software and a wealth of additional information.  A complete installation guide on the thumb-drive walks you through the installation of the software step by step.  There are also videos of how to use the tool and lots of technical information and pdf document listing the bitting information for hundreds of vehicle locks so you will have a much better idea of what you are seeing inside the lock.

Using the tool requires a knowledge of wafer reading and a fair amount of practice.  Basically, you use the probe on the tool to depress all of the wafers in the lock and then slowly walk the tool out of the lock, allowing the wafers to pop up one at a time.  As each wafer pops up, you can click the shutter button to take a photo of the height of that wafer.  Once you have all of the wafers photographed, you can then view your photos in a slideshow to decode the lock.  A ruler program on the thumb-drive will allow you to measure the exact height of each tumbler if you need to.

In order to use the tool in the field, you will need a Windows™ computer equipped with a USB port, as well as your own understanding of the principals of wafer reading.  The tool does not require any other power supply.  Third-party software is also readily available online that will allow you to do a variety of different things with this tool.  Regular updates for the software that comes with the tool are planned, and Keedex urges all owners to register their tools as soon as they get them so they won’t miss out on any updates.

This is a skill based tool, so it won’t do you a lot of good unless you understand wafer reading.  However, the thumb-drive does contain a lot of valuable “how to” information that you really should study.  In addition, as you use the tool, you’ll learn how to adjust the light levels and how to hold the tool for the best view of the lock.  I can’t stress how important it is to actually sit down and practice with this tool before you start using it in the field.  But, once you get the hang of using this tool, you’ll wonder how you got along without it!

More Info: http://www.keedex.com/

KRD Key Retainer Devices

I debated about this item from Ultra Security, trying to decide if it was a specialty tool or a lock.  In the end, I decided that it was both.  These clever little gadgets are manufactured by Ultra Security and are available in a wide variety of configurations to accept virtually any type of Interchangeable Core (I/C) cylinder.  When used properly, they can add an entirely new element to access control.

The basic idea of the Key Retainer Device (KRD) is that one key is always held captive in the device; inserting and turning the second key releases the trapped key and then the second key is held captive until the process is reversed.  These come in very handy where a number of people need occasional access to a master key.  Each person is given an identifiable key to one side of the KRD, and the master key is secured in the other side.  When users need the master key, they insert their key into the KRD and then they can remove the master key, but their key is now captive in the KRD until the master is returned.  If the master key is not returned, it is obvious who had access to it last.  And, if a user loses his key to the KRD, the user side I/C can be switched out and new keys issued to the users while keeping the master key secure.

The KRD is even available in a special order dual-control model so that two different user keys are required to release the master key.  Imagine how that would increase the security of your next large master key job!

More Info: http://ultrasecurityusa.com/

Steve Young’s Quick Reference Automotive Manual

Yes, this is a book that I wrote, so maybe I’m not completely unbiased about it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t save you a lot of time and money.  My Quick Entry Manual (P/N QRAM2012), which just covers vehicle entry, came out in 1992, and it was designed for annual updates.  Twenty years later, it has become one massive book, with over 1,000 pages.  From the beginning, people kept asking me for a book that covered vehicle entry and vehicle key generation, and now I have finally done it.  The new Quick Reference Automotive Manual is now available exclusively through Lockmasters, Inc.

The book only covers vehicles that were in production in the 2000 model year or newer.  For those vehicles, it has all of the information that is in the Quick Entry Manual for vehicle entry, plus the information that you’ll need to make a key for the vehicle.  Some of the key generation information that I included was: whether or not the vehicle is equipped with transponders, and if so, does it have onboard programming, and does it have door-mounted airbags.  I also included key blank information, bitting, code series, code location, direction of turn for the driver’s side door.  In addition, there is a section of “notes” that should help you generate the key and warn you of any potential problems.

I also included an “information section” that covers various onboard programming procedures, information that you would need for “reflashing” various modules, the VATS system, and lots of tips and tricks on various automotive lock systems. 

I chose not to include spacing and depth information because that is already included in virtually all code software, and if you don’t have code software, you really don’t need to be doing automotive work. 

More Info: http://www.lockmasters.com/

Silca RW4 Plus (P/N RW4+)

The RW4 Plus is the latest generation of the Silca cloning device.  Silca is based in Europe where transponders have been required equipment on all new vehicles for over a decade, so they have more than a little experience with transponder technology.  While this is not necessarily a new tool, it is one of the most versatile tools for the job.  With the RW4-Plus, you can clone transponder keys for a wide variety of vehicles including Ford, GM, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota, Lexus, Nissan, and many more.

There are basically two types of transponder cloning and the RW4-Plus handles both with ease.  The first is cloning to an actual reprogrammable transponder.  This of course requires a key with a programmable transponder, which Silca also makes, but the tool can be used with almost all other brands of cloneable key blanks.  The second kind of cloning is with “Electronic Key Blanks.”  These keys have a battery and an electronic circuit board that mimics the functions of the OEM encrypted transponder, without violating patent and copyright laws.  Silca manufactures a full line of these electronic keys, and more are being added all the time.  The RW4-Plus will naturally work with all of the Silca electronic keys, plus many from other manufacturers as well.

One of the innovative aspects of the RW4-Plus is the “Snoop” that is included with the tool.  This device allows you to clone keys for highly encrypted systems that were impossible to clone not very long ago.  The Snoop is attached to the head of the customer’s key, which is then turned in the ignition lock of the car.  The Snoop reads the information directly from the vehicle that is needed to make a working key.  The information from the Snoop is then downloaded to the RW4-Plus with the touch of a button and that information can then be used to make as many working keys as needed.

The RW4-Plus also gives you the ability to “Pre-Clone” a wide variety of keys.  Pre-cloning is the process of writing the proper information to a blank transponder key so that the key can be used just like an OEM key for onboard programming or programming with a diagnostic device.  This can save you a lot of money by allowing you to use inexpensive cloneable keys in place of some expensive “dealer only” keys.

Not all transponder keys can be cloned at this time, but the RW4-Plus was designed with future updates in mind.  New software and key blanks are being developed for additional applications all the time.

More Info: www.kaba-ilco.com

Lishi 2-in-1 Pick/Decoders

Back in the early 70s, when I was first learning the locksmith trade, an older locksmith introduced me to the concept of “picking and reading.”  The way he did it was to pick the lock and then use a flashlight and a magnifying glass to look into the keyway and estimate the cuts by looking at the wafers. 

Things have come a long way since then, and the new Lishi 2-in-1 Pick/Decoders have brought picking and reading into the 21st century.  These precisely machined tools act as both a pick and a decoder.  Once the tool has been inserted into the lock, the probes can be positioned precisely over any tumbler and used to pick the lock.  After the lock has been picked, the same probes provide accurate readings of each tumbler in the lock.  Because the tool works with the lock in the picked position, it is much less susceptible to false readings caused by variations in the components made by different manufacturers.  A great example of this is with the FO38 Ford 8-cut 2-in-1 Pick/Decoder.  This one tool will give accurate readings regardless of whether the lock was manufactured by Strattec, Huf, or Valeo.  This makes those pesky Ford Focus and Escape door locks much easier to read.     

Each 2-in-1 Pick/Decoder is specific for an individual keyway. Some are easier to use than others, but this is more a function of the locks than of the tool.  The Ford 8-cut tool is the easiest to use of the ones I’ve tried.  It’s easy to feel when each tumbler is picked, both through the probes and through the built in tension tool.  There is a very solid click and a slight movement of the plug as you pick each tumbler in turn.

On the other hand, the HU100 pick for the new GM side-milled locks require patience and a very light touch for picking, but once the lock has been picked, the tool gives an accurate reading of the depths of cut in all eight positions in the door lock.

Be aware that any picks designed for locks that have split-tumblers will require patience and a light touch.  The problem with split-tumbler locks, such as those used by Honda and Lexus, is that once the plug begins to turn, some of the split-tumblers on one side of the plug will drop into the chambers for the split-tumblers on the opposite side of the plug, causing the lock to “hang up.”  When this happens, you will have to pick the tumblers that are hung up before the lock can be turned the rest of the way so that it can be decoded.  Then, you will have to repeat this procedure when you turn the lock back to the key-pull position, because the same tumblers will hang up again.  This is not a problem with the pick, but just a result of the way these split-tumbler locks are made. 

More Info: www.lishitools.com

And, in case you’re wondering how I managed to solve the problem of being locked out of a car in the middle of nowhere with no tools, here is what happened.  Fortunately, my friend had a four-door Chevrolet Cavalier, and I was able to unlock the rear door with a ballpoint pen.  If you have my Quick Entry Manual, you can see the procedure on page USA 13.