Tech Tips: Cutting In Electric Strikes

Sept. 1, 2016
Once you've selected the proper product, using the right tools makes installation easier

Electric locks have come a long way since they began gaining widespread use in non-military applications. How hard is it to identify the correct electric locking device for your application? The available selection of electric locking devices is huge, and if you do your research, you should be able to find at least one solution for any project. Often, the solution will involve an electric strike.

Who installs the strike? On many projects the task was assigned to the carpenter, or the electrician. Sometimes it was the locksmith.

The challenging installations are those which are retrofits into existing frames. The challenges are:

  • Finding an appropriate locking device
  • Getting it into the frame without making a big mess
  • Getting the necessary wires to the lock to power it.

In my opinion, aluminum storefronts represented some of the most daunting installation challenges, followed closely by metal (steel) frames; and then wood frames. Of course, doors without frames pushed the challenge into another galaxy all together.

Unless the door and frame are in reasonably good condition and working properly, it is highly unlikely the electric locking solution will work correctly no matter haw well it is installed.

This was one of the reasons electromagnetic locks got such a bad reputation. They were considered a solution for any opening, since if the door was on hinges, the maglock would probably lock it. A door that does not open and close properly, or an electromagnetic lock that was not installed as part of a complete, properly designed system is a hazard rather than a security asset.

Specifying the locking device will be dictated by:

Rating: Besides Fire rating, these ratings include whether the strike is designed for use with cylindrical or mortise locks, burglary rating, outdoor rating. REMEMBER Only a limited amount of field modification is permitted to fire doors without jeopardizing its UL Label. Be sure before you start cutting.

Size: The physical size of strike will determine if it will actually fit in the frame

Strength: Some less expensive strikes are weak and poorly constructed

Function: Strikes are failsafe, failsecure, or may be field modified for either.

Power Requirement: The system to which the electric strike is connected must be the correct AC or DC voltage, and current rating to match the power supply for which it is to be used

Installation Tools

My favorite tool for cutting in an electric strike is the venerable Dremel tool. I began using a Dremel ( when I was prototyping and custom manufacturing access control equipment. Due to its strength and resistance to water and bullets, stainless steel was the material of choice. This was way back when cars were still made out of steel too.

The Dremel product has been around for decades. Well before they became the darling of the hobbyist DIY set and carried in home centers, it was my choice for those labor-intensive high visibility jobs I always seemed to get elected to perform.

The Dremels I’ve used are the corded models. There are cordless versions, and many newcomer competitive products, but my vote is still the line powered vari-speed Dremel for cutting strikes as well as any other projects that require cutting grinding of drilling with a high degree of precision with a reasonable amount of power and speed. These are jobs where a die cutter or 4-1/2” angle grinder is too much tool.

Back in the day, the Dremel carbide cut-off wheels were a unique terrific solution for making precision straight cuts into door frames.

Although they didn’t like aluminum, they still would cut it. You soon learned the importance of eye protection, because the old carbide disks were prone to shattering which sent pieces of the wheel flying everywhere like the death star. It took patience and skill to work with a Dremel.

Dremel has come out with a big improvement in this product, the EZ lock version. It is a big improvement because you can change out worn cut off wheels easily (you still have to shut it off first). The cutoff wheels are made with reinforcing fibers, making them less brittle or likely to shatter. The mandrill to which the wheel attaches allows the some axial movement of the spinning wheel so if you should happen to move the Dremel a little off axis, the wheel does not jam or break apart.

Another favorite accessory is the Tungsten Carbide cutters which transformed the Dremel into a round file on steroids. There are two styles: armor piercing and hollow point.

I recently acquired another Dremel tool, a Multi-Max which is also very handy where the rotary tool doesn’t fit the job. Unlike a jigsaw which generally is not usable on door frames, the Mult-Max permits getting into tight spots and control depth of cut pretty well.

Also I want to mention that Dremel has a very fair repair/replacement policy for Dremel Tools.

While we’re talking tools, how about a shoutout to Ridgid ( Their battery-powered drill and driver kit is really perfect for me, as is the battery powered circular saw, and the best part is you never have to buy another battery with the lifetime warranty. Lithium batteries cost plenty and must be replaced often. Once you’re set up with a couple of batteries and charger, it is easier to justify the expense of acquiring additional Ridgid tools. 

About the Author

Tim O'Leary

Tim O'Leary is a security consultant, trainer and technician who has also been writing articles on all areas of locksmithing & physical security for many years.