Tools of the Trade

Feb. 21, 2022
Having the right tool makes the job easier and more profitable.

You probably divide your time among sales calls, service calls and installation of mechanical and electronic access control systems. Many service calls can be resolved quickly, for which you can charge a flat rate and make highly profitable. I like to travel light when doing service, at least until I become familiar with what I’m up against.

Installations take way longer and might require many types of tools to create a professional result. Not having the proper tool for a project can result in injuries to you or bystanders, damage to the part and the work area and wasted time.

As you gain experience, you’ll find specific tools that work well for you. Some are used for more than one task while others might be only for specific purposes and particular occasions.

Unfortunately, tools and test equipment can be damaged, stolen or lost, so buying the most expensive tool might not represent the wisest investment for the working locksmith. However, trying to work safely, perform quality work or take accurate measurements while using poor-quality tools isn’t smart.  You must use discernment.

I collect tools and acquire a new one when a project requires it or when I see one that intrigues me. I also discard damaged, obsolete tools and donate tools to fellow locksmiths to help the team (not the damaged, obsolete ones).

Toolbox List

Glen Davies, CPL, AFDI, GSA-SVT, dormakaba learning leader and door hardware subject matter expert, was asked what he considered to be the core tool requirements for a locksmith. He came up with a pretty good list, which includes tools I also own and use. Here’s his list:

Locksmithing-Specific Tools

  • Lock picks
  • Cylinder followers
  • 0.005- or 0.003-inch pin kits
  • Manufacturer-specific pin kits
  • Lock pinning tweezers
  • Step ladder(s)
  • Knee pads
  • Door boring jigs
  • Through-bolt jigs for common lock brands
  • Manufacturer-specific spanner wrenches and cylinder tools

General Tools

  • Hole saws for installing locks and cylinders, in the following diameters: 2-1/8, 1-1/2, 1-3/8, 1-1/8, 1, 7/8 and 3/4 inches
  • Paddle bits installing locks and cylinders, in the following diameters: 1, 7/8, 3/4, 1/2, 3/8 and 1/4 inches
  • Drill bits: cobalt steel and carbide masonry assortments
  • Screwdrivers: #1, #2 and #3 Philips, 1/8-inch, 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch flat blade
  • Pliers: 6-inch vise grip, straight jaw; 8-inch vise grip, curved jaw; 8-inch slip-joint; 6-inch long nose; and retaining ring (Truarc)
  • Files: flat and pippin
  • Dremel grinder and bits
  • Drills: 1/2-inch chuck corded with T-handle, 20V (min.) cordless drill/hammer drill with T-handle
  • Hammers: 16-ounce claw, 16-ounce ball-peen and soft faced
  • Chisels: 1-inch wood, 7/8-inch wood, 1/2-inch wood and 1/2-inch cold
  • Driver bit assortment
  • Security screwdrivers and bits
  • SAE tap set
  • Allen wrenches: metric and SAE
  • Retractable-blade utility knife
  • Tape measure
  • Levels: 3 feet and 1 foot
  • Dial caliper (or digital) (0.001-inch increments)
  • Adjustable square
  • Scratch awl
  • Pin punch set
  • Small LED flashlight
  • Socket set (SAE)
  • Extension cords (heavy duty): 100-, 50- and 25-foot lengths
  • Power strip
  • Adjustable wrenches: 10, 8 and 6 inches
  • Pry bars: 7 and 12 inches
  • Door wedges
  • Wire cutter/crimper
  • Hacksaw
  • Putty knives
  • Bench vise
  • Clamps
  • Jigsaw
  • Wet/dry vacuum
  • Dust pan/broom
  • Bench grinder
  • Lubricants

When it comes to locksmithing, I have a few specific tools to recommend:


As an installer who often had to cut electric strikes into aluminum, steel and wood frames, the Dremel was a revelation. It cut by using a high-speed carbide disk and an assortment of other specialized accessories and a high speed in a manageable tool.

More recently, Dremel came out with oscillating tools that are versatile and handy for a variety of cutting tasks. The rotary and oscillating models are the ones I own and use.

It might take a little practice to acquire the skills required to use these tools, and you really should use eye protection.


I’ve owned and used many cordless tools but have found a home with Ridgid. I own a drill, an impact driver, a circular saw and an oscillating tool by that brand.

They’re light and reliable, and the batteries have a lifetime warranty. Many cordless tools become problematical when the batteries age, and replacement batteries can be expensive. Since I got the Ridgid tools, I never have had to purchase another battery.

Milwaukee 2202-20 Voltage Detector with LED

I’ve used meters for a long time, and the Milwaukee Voltage Detector with LED is my choice for residential, commercial and industrial applications.

It can detect between 50 and 1,000 volts AC and has a green “Power On indicator” light so you know the voltage detector works properly before use.

Klein Electrician’s Scissors

I used to see electricians and telephone guys walking around job sites with electrician’s scissors, not “sophisticated” wire strippers like mine and wondered why. But after you use these for a while, you begin to appreciate what a versatile device they really are.

With practice, you can strip just about any wire from Category 6 solid conductor, low-voltage stranded cable, such as  18 gauge and even solid electrical “house” wire without damaging the wire or yourself. Plus, you have scissors always handy.

I prefer the models that have the unique oblong finger grip and insulated grips. Plastic insulated grips make me feel a whole lot safer than using an uninsulated tool on an electrical cable (even if building managers swear the breaker is off).

When I work with smaller gauge stranded wire, I still prefer gauged wire strippers though, so I avoid damaging fine strands. The wire used in hinges is the thinnest cable you likely will encounter in electronic access control work. Besides being extremely small gauge, it has Teflon insulation. The Teflon is hard, but the wire is tender. I scrape the insulation, taking care not to nick or damage the wire.


These are available in a variety of configurations, from many different vendors, at many prices. I’ve had my current one for at least 10 years, even after lending it to helpers and getting it back in several pieces. I’ve obtained replacement blades and parts and repaired mine to brand-new condition.

My biggest complaint about my multitool is that it’s uninsulated, and I’m nervous using the pliers around anything that has moving electrons.

Labor Saving Devices / GRI

Having attended security trade shows since the early ’90s, I became accustomed to dropping by the Labor Saving Devices booth to see their newest innovation. When Labor Saving Devices was acquired by another industry tool-making legend, GRI, in 2017, I was delighted.

We asked Scott McMurray, director of sales and marketing to fill us in on LSD and GRI.

Locksmith Ledger: Tell us a little about your company.

Scott McMurray: GRI was founded by George Risk in 1966. Always interested in electronics, he was an inventor all of his life. Living in Columbus, Nebraska, George was approached by a group of businesspeople from Kimball, Nebraska, to start a company here, where we remain today. GRI employs 200 in Kimball and 50 in a satellite plant 45 miles away. Quality was an integral part of any of George’s companies. He based the raw materials, manufacturing processes and quality control on Military Specification Mil-1-45208. Upon George’s death, his son Ken took the helm and now has been followed by Ken’s daughter, Stephanie Risk-McElroy.

LL: Got any new and exciting products?

McMurray: New products in the coming year include a redesigned swimming pool access alarm, high-security contacts that will be UL-634 Level 2 and explosion-proof contacts.

Our products list definitely has evolved over the past couple of years from the bread and butter switches for residential alarms to a lot more SPDT and DPDT configurations for commercial and industrial installations.

LL: How did you happen to affiliate with Labor Saving Devices?

McMurray: In October 2017, GRI acquired Labor Saving Devices (LSDI) from Roy Bowling. Roy had been an early member on our board of directors and a friend. When Roy decided to retire, he called Stephanie and said, “you are the company I would like to sell to.” It was a good fit.

Owning an installation company himself, Roy developed many of the tools to help him run wire easier and more efficiently — saving time, money and bodily wear and tear. Quality also was front and center on Roy’s mind. For example, LSDI fiberglass rods are immediately recognizable by their bright green color and textured surface. A proprietary manufacturing process makes our Fiberfuse rods wrapped in cellophane and heat-cured. The wrap is removed, leaving a finished rod that’s denser in the center, which provides better shape memory, durability and flexibility without fiberglass splinters getting into the installer’s skin.

LL: What are your most popular products?

McMurray: Labor Saving Device’s most popular products would include the Fiberfuse rods, the individual rods and the variety of rod kits; the original Wet Noodle for running wires through walls; ceiling hole cutters; Grabbit poles; fish wires; pull socks — to name a few. There are so many great products that some of them fall off the radar, but they still are just as valuable in saving time and making a professional-looking installation.

LL: What training resources do you provide?

McMurray: Our in-person training is done at trade shows and by our independent representatives out in the field. GRI and LSDI products are available through our security and electronic distribution network, independent and nationals.

One thing for sure, people love to make YouTube videos, so there’s a variety of installing videos on LSDI products — and a number of them by Roy Bowling himself. Our websites are also a useful source,

Tim O’Leary is an experienced security consultant and a regular contributor to Locksmith Ledger.

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.