Testing the Push Key Decoder

March 10, 2023
New technique decodes Ford 8-cut door and trunk locks

Preparation is key for an automotive locksmith. You don’t know for sure what you’ll need until you see the vehicle in question. That’s why I bring multiple tools, often several tools to do the same job. You never know what you’re going to run into out there and sometimes one tool will work better than a similar tool in a particular situation. A wise man once said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

That’s why I am constantly on the lookout for new and improved ways of doing the same job. In this article, I’ll be discussing the new “Push Key” Ford 8-cut decoder set from Framon Manufacturing. (www.framon.com)  Several different decoders for the Ford 8-cut system are on the market, but the “Push Keys” use an interesting new technique to decode these common locks, making them easy to use and hard to break or damage. I suspect that there will be other new decoders based on the Push Key system coming soon for other lock systems. Because they do the job in a unique way, at an affordable price, they offer a much-needed alternative when you run into the unexpected.

The Push Keys (Photo 1) take advantage of the design of the wafer-tumblers used in the Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury door and trunk locks that use the 8-cut system. They are not designed for use on ignition locks.

Before I discuss how the tool works, allow me to briefly discuss the construction of the Ford 8-cut door and trunk locks, so that you will have a better understanding of how the tool works. Most of the OEM Ford door and deck locks are manufactured by STRATTEC Security Corp., and they have a lot in common with the GM 10-cut locks and the Chrysler 8-cut locks that are also manufactured by STRATTEC. All these locks use a wafer-tumbler (aka disc-tumbler) system with the wafers staggered on both sides of the keyway. All of the component parts are optimized for robotic handling and assembly.

The Ford 8-cut system has five depths and eight spaces on the key. As a general rule, most door and deck locks only contain six out of the eight tumblers used in the system. The traditional way to generate a new key for a vehicle equipped with the 8-cut system is to decode the door lock and then use either a “Fill Program” or progression to obtain the remaining two cuts. In most cases, the door lock will contain the first six cuts (cuts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5and 6), but in some cases, the door locks may contain the last six cuts (cuts 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) and in a few cases the door lock may contain the middle six cuts (cuts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7). The Push Keys can be used to decode any wafer found in the door or deck lock. To help you determine the correct cuts, the tool has spacing marks on the blades of the individual keys (Photo 2).

Photo 3 shows one each of the five wafers that are used in the Ford 8-cut door and deck locks. If you look closely, you can see that all of the tumblers have the same size hole in the center, but the placement of that hole varies slightly between each tumbler. The difference in the position of the hole determines the height that each tumbler will come to rest when the key is inserted into the lock. Most decoding tools, including the Push Keys, measure position of the bearing surface of each tumbler in the “Rest Position.”  By the Rest Position, I mean the position that the tumbler is in when the lock is in the ”Locked” position and no key is inserted into the lock. In other words, the Push Keys and some other decoders do not require that you pick the lock in order to decode it.

In the “Rest Position” the spring has pushed each tumbler to the maximum height allowed by the construction of the lock. In that position, reading the height of the bearing surface should give you the depth of the cut on the key. This same principle is also the basis for sight reading and some other decoders.

Photo 4 shows a comparison of the small notches located at the tip of each key in the Push Key set. Each notch is designed to catch on the edge of the bearing surface of any tumbler that is the same height as that marked on the key. When the key catches on a tumbler, the spacing mark will tell you which tumbler it is reading, and you can then record that depth and move on to the next tumbler. Because the typical Ford 8-cut door lock has three tumblers on one side of the keyway and three on the other you will need to read each side independently from the other. (I’m sure that it would have been possible to make the decoding keys in the Push Key set so that it could read both sides in one insertion, but I can also see how that could get complicated and make the decoding less reliable. So, I agree with the designer that it is best to read one side of the lock at a time.)

To illustrate how the Push Keys are used, I selected a Ford 8-cut code, more or less at random. I chose this code because it uses all five depths. For this example, I’ll be using the code 1433X. The cuts for that key are 13221354. For this example, we will assume that the cuts used in the door are the last six cuts.

Before we start, we need to make sure that the lock is in working order, and that it is properly lubricated. Today, most people rely on the remote for locking and unlocking the doors, and as a result, the door locks are rarely, if ever, used. I normally use a good aerosol solvent, such as CRC contact cleaner, first to flush out any debris inside the lock, and to break up any caked grease. After spraying the solvent into the lock, I exercise the tumblers by inserting and removing a key blank several times. I follow this up with a couple of shots of LokShot lubricant from STRATTEC. (STRATTEC manufactures most of the Ford 8-cut locks and this is the lubricant that they recommend.)  LokShot is essentially an aerosol grease, so after spraying it into the lock, I will once again use a key blank to exercise the tumblers and distribute the lubricant as evenly as possible.

An important factor to keep in mind with the Push Keys is that any tumblers that are deeper than the value stamped on the key will catch on the notch at the end of that key. In other words, a number one Push Key should catch on every tumbler in the lock, but the number five Push Key will only catch on the tumblers that are a number five depth. With this in mind, we can use the number one Push Key to check the lock before we start to locate which tumblers are used in that lock and that all of the tumblers are working properly. When we insert the number one Push Key into the lock, it should catch on every tumbler. Wiggling the key from side to side should release the key so that you can move on to the next tumbler. After checking out the lock with the number one Push Key, we should know that the tumblers in this example are located in positions 3 – 8 in the door lock, and also that all of the tumblers are moving freely. (From here on out, I will use the term “Indicating” to describe the process of the Push Key catching on a tumbler.)  The number one push key should give an “indication” on each tumbler in the lock.

Now that we know that the lock contains tumblers 3 – 8 and that all tumblers seem to be working properly, we can begin the decoding process. We always start with the number five Push Key and work our way down. By inserting the number five Push Key into the lock with the notch on the “odd side” of the lock, we will only get an indication on the number seven space. The key should slide right by tumblers three and five without indicating. We can then record that the number seven position on the key is a number five depth. We then flip the Push Key over to read the “even side” of the lock and we will get no indications on that side. This tells us that all of the odd-numbered tumblers are depths that are between one and four.

Next, we use the number four Push Key in the same way. When we insert it on the odd side of the lock, we get an indication on the seventh position, which we have already determined to be a number five depth. On the even side of the lock, we get an indication in the number eight position. This tells us that the number four depth is used in the number eight position, and we record that.

Next, we use the number three Push key in the same way and get indications in spaces six, seven and eight. We already know that space number seven is a number five depth, and that space eight is a number four depth, so we record that space number six is a number three depth.

Continuing, we now insert the number two Push Key into the lock in the same way and get indications on the number three, four, six, seven, and eight positions as well. We already know the depths for positions 6 – 8 so we record positions three and four as a number two depth.

At this point, we really don’t need to use the number one Push Key because we already know that position five, along with the other five tumblers, gave an indication with the number one Push Key as we were cleaning and lubricating the lock. This leaves us with the following bitting for positions 3 – 8: 221354.

A pad of forms is included for recording the depths with each Push Key set. The page shown in Photo 5 is filled out for the lock that we have just decoded. Notice that the form is set up for ten spaces and depths A, B, C, D, and E, as well as 1 – 5. This is what leads me to believe that more Push Key sets are planned for the future. The Push Key system was designed by Tom Thill, who has designed many other useful tools, and I suspect that he is hard at work now designing the next Push Key system.

Determining the other two cuts can be done by progression, or by using the “Fill” program in our code software. In addition, some vehicles may have a deck lock that contains the first six tumblers, so on those vehicles we could simply read the first two cuts with the Push Keys. Photo 6 shows a screenshot of my computer of the results of the “Fill” search, using Genericode, that I did on the six cuts that we read in this example. In this case there was only one legitimate code found. I use this feature a lot, and normally it will return one to three possibilities on the Ford 8-cut system.

In short, the Push Keys from Framon Manufacturing, offer a reliable and inexpensive way to decode Ford 8-cut locks. I like this system over some of the others for several reasons:

  • It returns the exact cuts with no impressioning required.
  • All of the components of the system are on one bead-chain with a tag that is clearly labeled, while some other systems use multiple components that can easily be lost making the set unusable.
  • The cost  makes this system one of the most affordable on the market.