Insider Info: How Locksmiths Make Keys for Vehicles, House Locks, and More

Category: Business ToolsLocksmith Info

Published: September 11, 2018

Wondering how locksmiths make keys for locks? Looking for insider info that offers a glimpse into the art and science of key duplication, key replacement, and key decoding?
Losing your keys can be a stressful, costly experience, but the good news is that a licensed locksmith can help reduce your stress and prevent damage to your property by making new keys for any type of locking mechanism you have.
Here are some of the most common types of replacement key services that locksmiths offer, and how they do it:

Replacing Car Keys By Vehicle Identification Number

A vehicle's VIN is generally found on a metal plate that’s visible through the lower corner of the windshield.

A vehicle’s VIN is generally found on a metal plate that’s visible through the lower corner of the windshield.

Every motorized on-road vehicle sold in the United States since 1954 has been assigned a unique Vehicle Identification Number or VIN, and as of 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standardized the format of every 17-character VIN which is generally found on a metal plate that’s visible through the lower corner of the windshield.
Drivers who have lost all the keys to their vehicle can usually have new keys made by a locksmith who specializes in automotive keys, including the new transponder keys that have an embedded computer chip integrated into the key head.
In order to replace car keys using the VIN, you’ll have to provide your locksmith with proof that you own the vehicle. The locksmith then provides the VIN and customer information to NASTF to obtain a key code that can be used to cut a new key. Alternatively, a key code can be obtained by a 3rd party company, once provided with the locksmiths LSID. In either case, the key code will be used to create a new key using data from the automaker or manufacturer. Once this process is complete, the locksmith then needs to use additional equipment to re-program the onboard computer to make sure your new key is recognized by your vehicle.

Creating New Car, House, and Safe Keys With Scoping

Safes can be drilled and scoped for emergency access.

Safes can be drilled and scoped for emergency access.

Despite the widespread use of push-to-start, keyless ignition systems in new vehicles, the actual locking mechanism for the car doors and truck have largely remained the same on most models. In situations where the remote car keys have been accidentally locked inside a vehicle, a locksmith may be able to use a technique known as ‘scoping’ to make a new key to open the vehicle, saving the driver the cost of having a new transponder key made.
Scoping to make any type of keys involves the use of a tiny, specialized scope that the locksmith inserts into the lock. They examine the locking cylinders and cut a new key to match the unique properties of that specific lock in a way that is completely non-destructive.

Decoding To Make Keys

Many lock manufacturers include a factory key code consisting of a series of characters on their products which locksmiths can use to make a new key for a specific lock. At first glance, this string of letters and numbers can seem random but to a skilled, licensed locksmith, these codes provide information about how to cut a new key for the lock.
For example, some brands of cabinet locks used to secure locking drawers on desks, filing cabinets, and medicine cabinets have a key code stamped right into the lock body. The locksmith enters this information into a ‘code cutter’, which is a machine that cuts new keys using the specifications that match a particular code.
Locksmiths also use what’s called a ‘visual decoding’ to cut new keys for a lock. This may be an option when you have a worn-out key that no longer works correctly, such as a well-used key for an older vehicle, deadbolt, or lock-box. The locksmith will carefully inspect the key to assess how a new key should be cut, then use these visual clues to create a brand new key.

Lock Disassembly


In situations where the lock can be removed and taken apart, a locksmith might opt to create new keys by picking, then completely disassembling the entire lock cylinder. This is a fairly time-consuming process because the locksmith usually tries to reverse-engineer the bitting for the key by carefully evaluating the height and alignment of the pins inside the lock cylinder, then using that information to cut a new working key for the lock.
This method is sometimes used in situations where a locksmith is trying to preserve a lock that might be difficult to replace, such as a lock for a historic home. Lock disassembly can also be used to create new keys for collectible cars in cases where the original keys have been misplaced.
In situations where the lock can be removed and taken apart, a locksmith might opt to create new keys by picking, then completely disassembling the entire lock cylinder. This is a fairly time-consuming process because the locksmith usually tries to reverse-engineer the bitting for the key by carefully evaluating the height and alignment of the pins inside the lock cylinder, then using that information to cut a new working key for the lock. This method is sometimes used in situations where a locksmith is trying to preserve a lock that might be difficult to replace, such as a lock for a historic home. Lock disassembly can also be used to create new keys for collectible cars in cases where the original keys have been misplaced.

Making Bump Keys

A bump key is a type of key that has been specially cut in order to fit in into mechanical locks, such as the type of lock you might find on a typical residential door handle or bathroom door. It has a row of teeth that are all the same height, making it easy to identify.
When a bump key is inserted into a lock, the locksmith ‘bumps’ the key while applying torque (twisting the key slightly) to temporarily bounce all the tumblers in the lock into the positions needed to open the lock.

Casting To Create A Key

Antique keys like the ones shown can be cloned using lock impressions.

Antique keys like the ones shown can be cloned using lock impressions.

If you need a spare key for a very old lock, such as you might find on an antique desk, old safe, or medicine cabinet, chances are good your locksmith may need to use a technique known as ‘casting’. You might have seen this method used in a spy movie and wondered if it actually works – we can tell you that in the hands of a professional locksmith, this technique is very effective.
While wax may be used to cast a key, high-quality molding clay is the material of choice as it dries quickly and is readily available.

The general process for making clay impressions of keys starts with:

  1. Obtaining the source (original) key
  2. Placing clay in a specially-made two-sized key duplication mold, then with the source key on top of the clay, pushing down using firm, even pressure
  3. The mold is then closed firmly to create an impression of the second half of the key
  4. The mold is opened, and the key is removed, leaving a cast of the key
  5. Air funnels are created and the mold is baked to create a solid base
  6. The casting material (a mix of metals) is heated until it liquifies
  7. The cast mold is firmly closed, and the casting material is gently poured into the mold
  8. Excess material is removed from the duplicate key using mechanical grinders, metal files, and a wire brush

Need Keys? Start By Finding A Professional Locksmith Here

When you need keys made for any type of lock including car doors, filing cabinets, and safety deposit boxes, visit 1800unlocks.com and enter your zip code to find a licensed, experienced locksmith near you. Our professional locksmiths have the specialized equipment and skills it takes to make keys for door knobs, cars, wafer locks, skeleton locks, and more.

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