Guide To Code Machine Cutters

Jan. 3, 2013
Select the proper cutter to originate keys that are within tolerances of the original equipment cut keys and will properly operate the lock.

Locksmiths originate keys using different types of code machines, both manual and electric. These include motorized micrometer machines, "Card Type" and computerized models that originate commercial, residential, utility keys, automotive, etc. They originate the keys by making use of space and depth of cut information as well as knowing the specific bittings required. Depending upon the code machine, one or more cutters may be required to create the flat or radius and the included angle.

For the purpose of this article, we will discuss key origination machines designed for cylindrical keys.

A pioneering patented key origination machine is the Ilco Universal motorized key-cutting machine, also known as the "Disc Machine." Patent number 1,750,218 was granted to Morris Falk on March 11, 1930. This key origination machine uses detachable and removable discs, one for the depths and one for the spaces. Each disc has a series of holes that are numbered to match the lock manufacturer’s specifications. Space and depth keys were provided to set the spacing and depth of cut prior to originating keys. Over the years, more than 150 sets of discs were available for the Universal Code Machine. Ilco discontinued the Universal Code Machine when more efficient methods were developed for originating keys, including electronic code machines and the Universal II Code Machine.

Additional key origination machines are manufactured by Bianchi, CodePro Manufacturing, Framon, ITL and Laser Key Products. Lock manufacturers  such as Medeco and Mul-T-Lock also offer key originating.

When you purchase a key origination machine, you must stay with the cutters for that machine. Most code machines are specialized as the Framon machine the key blank is inserted from the right and the Ilco is inserted from the left. This results in the asymmetrical cutters being machine specific.

To properly cut the keys, different shaped cutters were and are used today on the non-computerized key origination machines. The right cutter is essential to originate keys that are within tolerances of the original equipment cut keys to properly operate the lock. For computerized key machines, a single cutter can make the different width flats as part of the programming. The ITL key origination machines use only one cutter. The cutter has a minimal flat of approximately 0.010".  The fully automatic machines make the flat adjustments for each manufacturer's locks. ITL950 Series semi-automatic machines have a crank handle for spacing. The crank handle moves the key blanks from the bow (head) to the tip, cutting the flats as the blade is being cut. 

For manual key origination machines, two techniques are employed. The first is to choose the correct cutter. The overall shape, included angle, cutter thickness, and flat dimension determine the keys that can be originated. Varying sized cutters are available from the manufacturers to originate keys for the lock manufacturers.

Carbide cutters are available for some key originating machines. Carbide cutters maintain their sharpness for a longer time versus tool steel cutters. However, carbide cutters are susceptible to teeth breaking from the key blank contacting the rotating cutter wheel too fast. For more information, ask your locksmith distributor for their recommendations on your specific key code machine.

Lock manufacturers provide specifications including the included angle of the cuts and the width of the flat. Some key origination machine companies have a standard cylinder or large diameter pin tumbler symmetrical cutter that has a 90-100-degree included angle and an approximate 0.045" wide flat. This cutter can be used to originate keys that have a radiused or tipped bottom pin. For Kwikset locks, the spacing wheel must be turned in both directions to increase the width of the flat to at least 0.088" to accommodate the flat chamfered bottom pins. The cutter must match the shape of the bottom pins.

An additional asymmetrical cutter has a narrower side for automotive work because the key's shoulder is too close to use the standard cutter for a lock that has a deeper first depth of cut.

Rules of Thumb for Choosing Cutters

Two "Rules of Thumb" have developed over the years for choosing cutters. They are:

  1. Cut-to-cut : Most pin tumbler locks have a cut-to-cut spacing greater than 0.140". This is the cut-to-cut spacing minimum for using a symmetrical standard cutter.
  2. Spacing: If the distance from the shoulder to the center of the first cut is less than 0.100", use special or asymmetrical cutter. General Motors and Mitsubishi use .098" spacing from shoulder to first cut. If the depth of cut is greater than two a standard cutter will cut into the key blank's shoulder.

Manual key originating machines have two methods for determining the spacing and depths of cut. "Card Type" Key Origination Machines including the Ilco Universal II use specialized cards that provide space and depth information by lock manufacturer or code series. A card will also include the appropriate cutter for originating the key. The Universal II machine comes with the T14MC and TCW-1011 cutters.

Note: Code cards and cutters are interchangeable between the Ilco Universal II and competitive "Card Type" code machines. However, the "47" cutter is larger diameter and the spacing and included angle is 0.032" offset compared to the symmetric (i.e. 1011, 14, etc.) cutters. The symmetric cutters cannot be used in the place of the "47" cutter.

Framon 1 & 2 code machines use spacing blocks for the cut-to-cut positioning and a micrometer for the depths. Each spacing block has a number of different cut-to-cut dimensions for locating the cuts. Spacing blocks are available for cylindrical, automotive, and flat steel keys.

The depth crank has a dial with 0.001" increments. As the dial turns, the pointer moves along the scale with indicators starting at .100" to .350" in .050" increments. Once the depth is at the correct position, the straight-in feed vise has the key blade perpendicular to the cutting wheel insuring a flat cut.

The Framon 2 code machine comes with three cutters: the FC8445 standard cutter, the FC8735 foreign automotive cutter and the FC8615 Medeco cutter. Framon cutter part numbers indicate the angle of cut and the flat. For example, the FC8445 cutter has an 84-degree angle of cut and a 0.045" flat. All cutters have a 2.375" outer diameter with a 0.0005" tolerance.

Most modern code machines are preset. They depend upon all of the cutters being the same diameter. When the first cutter become dull, a decision must be made as to whether to purchase a new cutter or to have all of the cutters sharpened at the same time. (This excludes the asymmetrical cutter TCW-47MC.)

When the cutters are sharpened, the outer diameter becomes smaller, resulting in the need to adjust the machine for depth. If cutters are of different diameters, the machine must be adjusted each time the cutter is changed. This can often be forgotten and result in an improperly cut key.

Originating certain key blanks using a rotary key origination machine  can be a problem unless the machine has multiple position vise jaws or modified vise jaws designed for specific key blanks. For example, Framon offers an automotive/interchangeable core vise, part # F2SH050.

If the key blade is not held properly in the vise jaw, when the vise is tightened, the blade can flex or twist, resulting in a mis-cut key. This is more likely to occur if the key blade is relatively thin.

If the key blank does not seat properly into the vise jaw, problems can result because key blank will be tilted within the jaw, not contacting the cutter at the proper position, having the cuts off angle. Most Best keyway interchangeable core key blanks have an uneven blade base. This off angle position and the angle of the cutter of a pivoting machine can result in a key out of factory tolerances. For originating Best style keys, the use of a dedicated keypunch machine may be the best choice.

Keypunch Machines

Keypunch machines originate keys by punching a single depth of cut in one operation. These machines have a fixed punch mounted into the handle portion that goes into a die mounted into a carriage. Most machines have a triangular punch that has the pin seat at the tip. The two sides of the punch have a sliding fit within the die to insure accurate keys.

The key blank is placed into an indexing vise that moves from space-to-space each time the handle is pressed down. The depth of cut determines the position of the punch in relation to the base of the blade. Depending upon the manufacturer, the depth of cut is controlled by a rotating knob or a code bar. When a cut is made, the keypunch machine must remove excess material between cuts. If there are excessive lips or peaks, this can result in the key having difficulty sliding into or out of the lock.

Keypunch machines range from dedicated manufacturer or interchangeable core applications to commercial/residential and automotive, RV and motorcycles. Some punch machines are dedicated, able to originate keys for a specific set of depths and spaces such as the interchangeable core A2 system or specific key system of a lock manufacturer. These include the Pro-Lok Blue Punch Machines. Others have interchangeable components and are capable of originating keys for multiple locks and lock manufacturers. The A1 Mean Green Machine and Pak-A-Punch, and the Rytan RY2000 and "Card Type" punch machines are examples.

Keypunch machines use different methods to ensure proper spacing of the self-indexing vises. The A1 Pak-A-Punch uses a ball detent to set the spacing. The Rytan RY2000 use a sliding space bar that indexes to the next step each time a cut is made. Some machines use a punch holder with an alignment pin and holes in the die carriage into which the pin must first enter for each cut.

For masterkey jobs, using a key originating machine, either rotary cutter or key punch, ensures the keys will meet manufacturer’s specifications and provide your customers with smooth operating keys.


The following key machine manufacturers were discussed in this article:

  • A1 Security:
  • Bianchi:
  • CodePro Manufacturing:
  • Framon:
  • Kaba Ilco:
  • ITL: www.
  • Laser Key Products: www.
  • Medeco:
  • Mul-T-Lock:
  • Pro-Lok:
  • Rytan:

For a more complete listing, Locksmith Ledger Buyers Guide, visit