If it might seem at times that shopping for a key machine these days can feel overwhelming, we understand.
As of publication, more than 100 different key machines from various manufacturers were in production. These range from manually operated duplicators that might cut only edge keys and cost in the hundreds of dollars to fully automatic electronic models that cut edge keys, laser keys and more and cost in the thousands.
New models continue to reach the market at a fairly consistent rate. Four key machines were introduced in the second half of 2021 alone: two versions of the Black Widow by American Key Supply, the Silca Flash Mobile by Ilco and the CONDOR DOLPHIN II XP-005L by Xhorse. A fifth, also by Xhorse, is expected to reach North American distributor shelves in early 2022.
Where to Start
When it comes to shopping for a new key machine, the place to start is with yourself, particularly if you’re just starting out.
Before you price machines or look at features, you have to determine what type of key-cutting your business plans to do, says Hunter Salazar, business development manager at distributor Banner Solutions. That’s because the answer could lead to very different purchases.
“What kind of locksmithing are you doing and what do you need out of the machine is really going to determine what you’re going to get,” says Salazar, who has spent the past 10 years working on key machines, at manufacturer Laser Key Products and then distributor H.L. Flake before Flake’s acquisition by Banner in spring 2021.“You might think there’s this one all-in-one machine that’s just going to do everything, but you’re doing a lot of used cars. It doesn’t make much sense to just rely on one automated machine to duplicate all your keys” in such a scenario because of the large price disparity between such models.
ALOA President Bill Mandlebaum, who has been a locksmith for 45 years, says he owns 13 key machines, of which 11 are in service at The Brass Key in Bowling Green, Ohio. He has automatic and manual machines and points out that they all do different things. He sees a benefit in having a number of key machines rather than having just one, even if it’s an all-in-one.
“If the machine breaks, you’re had,” he says. “You’re just out of business until you get the machine fixed or get another one.”
The Price is Right
Naturally, price is a huge differentiator in the market, but price shouldn’t be the only consideration. Mandlebaum says a machine’s accuracy and durability are more important than price.
“Price doesn’t matter to me as long as I get a good machine that’s going to hold up and cut accurate keys,” he says. Accuracy is “our whole reputation.”
Salazar agrees that there’s more to it than just price. He adds support, service, turnaround time for repairs and warranty as important considerations as well.
“I’ve seen a lot of customers, they’re really price-sensitive,” he says. “But you have to take into account [that] with a discounted price, you’re not going to get the service and warranty” that you might want.
It’s no surprise that the majority of key machines released today are automatic and do more than just cut one type of key. Of the five new models mentioned at the outset, only the Flash Mobile is a manual dedicated model. The rise of computerization and internet connectivity brings more features to a key machine and makes jobs easier to complete.
For example, Salazar notes how the electronic advances benefit a locksmith who handles more lockouts. “When you have a lockout, that’s when you’ll have to originate the key,” he explains, adding that you don’t have to do as much sleuthing as before. “If it’s a Ford Ranger, for example, I can read the 1 through 7 spaces out of the 10. From there, on most code, automatic key-cutting machines, I can plug into the software the known possibilities for that code series and then originate [the key].”
Another example of how computerization brings more ease of use to the table is in another feature that Salazar expects to see more of down the road — decoding keys through the use of images rather than an electronic contact. This feature is on a few models by Xhorse and other manufacturers.
“Having the vision system is going to be able to help the locksmith who doesn’t have a trained eye in [decoding] to be able to originate that key back to the manufacturer specification,” he says.
Read the Manual
Obviously, a manual or even semi-automatic key machine is a less complicated device.
This is advantageous, Mandlebaum notes, because he doesn’t have to bother with tech support when it comes to repairs. “I can pretty much fix almost any machine except the electronic stuff,” he says. “Manual or semi-manual: Any of those things can be fixed pretty easy.”
Of course, unless you’re cutting keys on a hand-crank or punch machine, all key machines have electronics to power the cutter, and Mandlebaum adds that one spec he looks for is the motor’s power.
“All my machines are 110 [volts],” he explains. “That way if the one in the truck breaks down, I can pull one right off the workbench, throw it right back in the truck and be right back on the road immediately.” Mandlebaum says he has a sine inverter setup in his truck to power up a key machine.
Key Machine Encyclopedia
The Locksmith Ledger Key Machine Encyclopedia is an attempt to list all key machines in production and offered for sale in North America at the time of publication. It’s our hope that this will become a living document that will change as developments necessitate.
Manufacturers are listed in alphabetical order. The key machines are divided by the type of keys cut and classified as All-in-One, Edge, Laser or Specialty. NOTE: Not all key machines can cut all types of listed keys out of the box. Additional clamps for an additional cost might be necessary in some cases.
Manufacturers categorize their key machines differently and use different terms to describe their machines and a machine’s features. We have tried to standardize where possible, but always consult the appropriate manufacturer or your favorite distributor if you have specific questions, particularly with regard to the types of keys cut and the terms of a machine’s warranty.
Locksmith Ledger took great pains to ensure that all information contained in the encyclopedia is accurate and up to date. If any errors or omissions are discovered, any updates have been made or models have been discontinued, please contact us at [email protected].