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HOW TO GET A PERFECT KEY COPY - EVERY TIME!
Published by Philip McCarthy in Locks and keys • 25/09/2011 08:55:39


If you want accurate copy keys, it’s very tempting to write “bring your keys to PPM Locksmiths” and leave it there. However, by way of explanation, we will ask the question - what can possibly go wrong when you only have to cut one piece of metal to fit another piece of metal?

Next time you open your door, take a look at the key in the lock. If it’s a cylinder lock, (such as a ‘Yale’ type, or those fitted to uPVC doors), and you still have the original key that came with the lock, you’ll see that there isn’t room to fit anything but the key into the keyhole. The key and lock were made for each other, and it’s unlikely you could fit even a cigarette paper into the keyhole at the same time as the key.

It’s impossible to put an accurate figure on the growing number of different lock manufacturers. Worldwide there are at least several thousand companies, and the majority use key profiles that are different from other manufacturers. In other words, a key for a Legge lock, for example, will not go into a cylinder made by Union, and vice versa. Where it becomes more confusing is that most of the major manufacturers use more than one key profile. So you need a range of Union key blanks to fit every type of Union lock. All major manufacturers produce a range of different locks and keys.

Many of the locks produced for the uPVC market use the standard profile originally introduced by Yale. The manufacturers of these cheap locks have not invested any money developing a unique key profile - they have simply copied an existing one. This means that a key for a standard Yale lock will also fit into other non-Yale locks, as the key profile is the same. If hundreds of these lock manufacturers use the same production short-cut, then it’s much more likely that someone else’s key will open your door. Statistically, we’re likely to see two identical keys made by different manufacturers on a regular basis.

In recent years, we have seen increased use of multi-purpose key blanks by other keycutters. It is thinner than the original key, and fits into the lock with room to spare. So, it can be used to copy a variety of different keys. It also means they don’t have to stock so many specific key blanks in what may be limited space. However, there is a drawback - the key blank is a compromise, and just because a key fits into the lock, it doesn’t mean it will locate at the right spot to turn and open the lock. Many keycutters have problems with this key not working, and every bad key, even when it works, shortens the life of your lock.

Imagine a child’s toy with lots of different shapes cut into it - a triangle, a circle, a rectangle and a square. Pegs of a certain shape will only fit where they should go - the square peg will not fit into the round hole, and so forth. But if you have a square peg that is slightly smaller it will go into any shaped hole.

Of course, doing it this way means there are spaces around the pegs. Similarly, if you fit a thinner key into a keyhole, there are spaces either side of the key. If the key doesn‘t locate in precisely the right position within the lock, then it may not allow the components to line up in the right spot, and the key will not work. This doesn’t always cause a problem in a poorly made cylinder where tolerances are much greater, but if it works at all in a decent lock, a badly cut or ill-fitting key causes significantly more wear and tear, drastically shortening the lifetime of the lock. Furthermore, as the key is thinner, it is much more prone to being snapped in the lock, leaving you stranded on the doorstep.

Another big problem with such key blanks is that, even if they work, if you take the key to be copied, the keycutter has no way of identifying the lock, and so, is compelled to follow suit, using the same blank again, instead of the right blank for the lock.

In theory, if you have a working key, and you copy it onto exactly the right blank, you end up with a good copy. However, this also depends on the accuracy of the cutting machines, and the care that the keycutter takes setting the original key and the blank in the copying machine. Some keycutters have one in three keys brought back, and charge you more for each key just to cover the cost of their mistakes.

The cutting blades for key machines are very expensive, but they don’t last forever, and it’s no good trying to persevere with a blunt cutter when it needs to be changed. However, there are places that don’t change their cutters often enough, and don’t bother to check the accuracy of their machines.

When everything is correct - the cutters are sharp, the machine is set as accurately as possible, when the correct key blank is used for the lock, and the keycutter sets the keys in the machine carefully and precisely - then there is no reason why you shouldn’t have a perfect working copy.

Occasionally, we get customers with keys that don’t work properly, expecting a copy that works. They may not tell us that they have to pull the key out a bit to get it to turn, or that they have to push it upwards before turning. Sometimes we’re expected to know that the key is less than perfect and automatically correct it.

From time to time we see really old and worn keys that work easily because the lock is also old and worn, and very forgiving. Usually when keys look fairly new, there is no way of knowing if they work properly, but if we know about these problems first, we can do something to put it right, so if you are having difficulty with your key, let us know first. Any copy we make will only be as good as the one you bring in - unless you tell us more about it.

Only a tiny minority of keycutters are actually locksmiths, and while there are many competent keycutting businesses that are not locksmiths, there are certain ‘rogue’ keycutters throughout the UK that will cut keys so badly that, although most work after a fashion, simply using them is drastically shortening the life of your lock. That type of ‘car boot’ keycutter is an opportunist who thinks of keycutting as easy money for little effort - but it’s the customer who loses out. At PPM Locksmiths, we have the advantage of knowing how keys work in the lock, so basic keycutting errors can be avoided.

A decent lock with a well-cut key will last for decades, although the majority of people nowadays only have basic locks. Using a poorly cut key in a basic lock, such as those usually fitted to uPVC doors, means your lock will soon give you problems, and may even keep you locked out of your own home.

A well-cut key, using the right blank for the lock, maximises the lifetime of even the cheapest lock, saving money in the long run. When people shop around for the cheapest keys, they are not really saving money - it’s a bit like shopping for the cheapest clothes, and then wondering why they fall apart in the washing machine after a couple of weeks.

If you watch a master locksmith at work cutting a key, you may be amazed at how quickly it’s done. Selecting the right blank, setting it in the machine, and cutting it without any slippage - all this is completed without too much fuss in a matter of seconds. But this is not achieved without an awful lot of hard work beforehand. It takes years of experience to distinguish keys from a range of several thousand types, and it takes a lot of experience in keycutting to get the accuracy required without making the customer wait very long.

At PPM Locksmiths, we offer state-of-the-art key cutting, using machines that are accurate to within one micron, or one-thousandth of a millimetre. We carry a standard range of more than 800 different household keys, for doors, windows, sheds, padlocks, safes and cabinets, desks and lockers, and we can cut and programme car keys for over 600 vehicle models. We can cut keys to code, amounting to millions of numbers, and we offer a service covering a broad range of security keys from most of the leading manufacturers in every continent (except Antarctica - but we’ll be ready for that when it happens).

In a technological age, our customers are best served if we employ the very best machines available, and combined with decades of experience at PPM Locksmiths, we aim to offer a service that is second to none.


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PPM Locksmiths Ltd 7 Dominions Arcade Queen Street Cardiff - Phone 029-20231717