How To Remove Broken Keys -
Advice From A Professional Locksmith
Having a key break off in one of your locks
can be a real pain in the neck. But with the proper information you can better understand the problem and take
steps to solve it. Other web sites offer advice on broken key removal but most don't go far enough.
My goal is to provide you with
the most complete broken key removal information
on the Internet. With this information, you stand a good chance of removing the key yourself and preventing it from
happening in the future. If, after reading through this information, you still can't remove the broken key piece,
you may want to refer to the Associated Locksmiths of America site (ALOA) for a professional locksmith near you.
What Causes Keys To Break
Most keys, even brass and nickle-plated keys, will
eventually wear out and break along any of a key's cuts. But some conditions will speed up the process such
1. The key has
one or more deep cuts which become the "weak point" of the key. After so much use (and a little abuse) the
key will break at these points. Figure A shows keys where the first cut (next to the head of the key) is a deep cut
and Figure B shows one or more deep cuts in the middle of the key.
Figure A Figure B
2. The key is
made of a light-weight material not suitable for long-term, everyday use. Keys cut on aluminum blanks are a prime
example. They also tend to break at a deep-cut "weak point" only sooner. Identified by their light weight and
(usually) bright colors such as red or green.
Usually before a key breaks, one or more tiny
cracks will appear by the cut about to give way. You may want to check your keys right now - at least the ones
that you use and depend on every day. If you see a tiny crack being formed by one of the cuts or if the key is
bent or misshapen in any way, go to your nearest locksmith or key shop and get another one made.
To be safe, don't treat the broken pieces as trash
and carelessly toss them away. A new key could be made from the pieces and used to gain access your home or
Broken Key Removal Tools
We locksmiths have a variety of tools for
removing broken keys from locks. Two of the more effective tools I use are shown in Figure C.
These particular key removal tools are made of spring steel and
are approximately 5" long, 5/16" wide at the handle and .022" thick. Notice the barbs at the end of each tool. The
purpose of this sharp little barb is to dig or "bite" into the broken key piece so the piece can be
As long as the tool you use is made of sturdy metal, is narrow
enough to enter the keyway, and has a barb to grab on to the broken key it should do the job. A scroll saw or jig
saw blade should do the trick.
Broken Key Removal
The steps in this procedure should be all that are needed to
remove a key piece that has broken somewhere in the middle of a key (the most common situation). In other
words, the front part (or so) of the key is in the lock and the remainder in your hand.
FIRST - unless the lock has been in good working order (with the key going in and out smoothly) prior to
the key breaking off, spray a lubricant such as WD-40 or Tri-Flow in the lock's keyway first. You want the broken
key piece to slip out as easy as possible and a dry or gummy lock will make the job harder.
SECOND - insert the
removal tool into the lock's keyway so that the barb (or teeth) can contact the cuts of the key piece to be
removed. You should be able to tell how far to insert the tool based on how much of the key you still have in your
THIRD - let the barb
"bite" into one of the cuts of the broken key piece and give the tool a sharp tug towards you. The key piece should
coming flying out.
FOURTH - take the two
pieces of the key to your local locksmith or key center and get another one or two made.
When Most Of The Broken Key
Stays In The Lock
When the first cut in the key gets too weak (keys such as those
shown in Figure A), you can end up with just the head of the key in your hand. The danger in this is that all the cuts necessary to operate the lock may still be stuck in the lock. In
other words, you or anyone
else can operate the lock with just a small knife blade or
Test if the lock will operate by inserting a small screwdriver
in the keyway (next to the broken key piece) and trying to turn the lock cylinder. If the cylinder does not turn,
follow the procedure above to remove the key piece. If you can turn the cylinder to the right or left you have
to make sure the lock cylinder is positioned so the key can be removed.
Let me explain...
Figure D shows the most common position for a lock cylinder to
be in for key removal. If you were to insert a key in most any pin tumbler lock and turn it, the key could not be
removed until the lock cylinder is back in the position shown in Figure D. The same is true when removing a broken
key piece that still works the lock. The key
cylinder must be in its normal key removal position or you will be
wasting your time trying to remove the broken key piece.
Once you have turned the cylinder to its proper key removal
position, you are ready to follow the Broken Key Removal Procedure or, if enough of the key is sticking out, use a
small pliers or tweezers to remove the broken key piece.
Now that you have read this information, you should be ready
to attempt removing a broken key on your own and avoid this problem in the future. Good
Be sure to check out our new section on Home Security Tips.
Disclaimer: I have made every reasonable effort to produce an informative and
helpful article on Broken Key Removal based on my research and experiences. However, I make no representation or
warranties of any kind with regard to its completeness, accuracy or suitability for any specific situation or
purpose. See our Warranty Policy for more info.
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