History of Locksmithing
Locksmithing actually has a long and interesting history as one of the oldest professions in the world. It likely began in Ancient Egypt about 4,000 years ago when locksmiths created wooden devices with tin tumblers to prevent door bars from moving freely. These early door locks, similar to today’s pin-tumbler locks, could be as large as two feet long. Most locks in the ancient world were crude and made of wood, although they worked the same way as locks today with pins that could only be moved with a large wooden key.
It wasn’t long before this technology spread with pin-tumbler locks found in Iraq, China, Rome, and Greece. In ancient Rome, wealthy citizens even wore their keys as rings to display their status and show they were wealthy enough to have valuables worth locking up.
It wasn’t until 870-900 AD when metal locks began to appear. Early metal locks made of brass or iron were first attributed to English metalworkers. Over time, the profession of locksmithing began to develop and locksmiths became skilled metal workers. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, artistic achievements became popular among locksmiths who created locks with beautiful designs for nobility, including locks with royal symbols and crests. Despite the changes in style and material, the actual lock mechanisms didn’t change much until the 18th century when locksmiths figured out how to create more secure locks.
The industrial revolution of the 18th century introduced greater precision into engineering and better standardization of components to increase the complexity of keys and locks. The lever tumbler lock was perfected in 1778 by Robert Barron. This new tumbler design required a lever be lifted to a specific height to unlock and it’s still used today. A burglary in Portsmouth Dockyard in the early 19th century led the British Government to start a competition for a better lock which led to the development of the Chubb detector lock. This lock wasn’t just hard to pick; it also showed if the lock had been tampered with. Jeremiah Chubb won the competition after a lock picker was unable to pick the lock after three months.
Mass production of components during this period also led to changes in the profession of locksmithing with more professionals choosing to specialize. Many locksmiths began repairing industrial locks in particular while others went into work for security firms to design custom safes for governments and banks. This specialization is still important today with many locksmiths focusing on residential work, forensics, auto locks, or the development of more secure safes.
Why Become a Locksmith?
Are you interested in a fun and financially rewarding career? Becoming a locksmith may be for you. Locksmithing has many areas of specialty with a good job outlook and plenty of ways to advance your career by improving your credentials. As a locksmith, you can choose to serve homeowners and car owners, business owners, police departments, and the city itself while learning a trade that will never become outdated. After all, it’s been around for thousands of years and continues to adapt to changing times!
Not sure if a locksmithing career is the right move for you? Here are some of the many advantages to consider.
You Get to Help People
Sometimes your job will involve really helping the public, such as unlocking a home or car when there’s a child locked inside or helping the victim of domestic violence make her or his home secure. There’s nothing quite like the relief on a parent’s face when you unlock the car door and free their child on a sweltering summer day.
Many Employment Opportunities
As a licensed and certified locksmith, you can go into work in many different areas such as:
- Residential locksmithing
- Auto locksmithing
- Forensic locksmithing
- Contracting with property management companies to change locks during moves and evictions
- Working for the city to design and implement advanced security systems
- Commercial locksmithing serving schools, office buildings, and businesses
- Designing and building safes for government agencies and banks
- Implementing advanced systems for prisons, jails, and industrial buildings
The freedom to choose where and how you want to work can be a major selling point of the locksmithing industry. The skills you learn can be adapted to many industries and systems, from simple physical locks to state-of-the-art security systems. In most countries, including the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, locksmiths are self-employed.
If you love to solve puzzles and work with your hands, there are few careers as enjoyable as locksmithing. Locksmiths are presented with challenges every day and must keep up with changes in software, equipment, and technology to have the tools on hand to do the job. Your job will require analyzing systems and lock components to determine the right tools, the best way to solve the problem without causing damage, and what combination of cuts on a key will be needed to turn a lock.
Earn Side Income
Many locksmiths earn additional income on the side by publishing and selling locksmithing guides and teaching classes and workshops. For some, locksmithing itself is a form of side income or supplemental income. Some people choose to do locksmithing for additional income in retirement or as a complementary service to their full-time job, such as a real estate agent.
Financially Rewarding Career
On average, a locksmith in the United States earns $16.59 per hour, although the national average hourly rate scale is $10.20 to $25.06. Locksmiths can earn up to $40 or more per hour working overtime or doing weekend and after hours services, which account for a large share of the typical locksmith’s income. Locksmiths who choose to specialize or learn advanced technology have the potential for higher income. In Australia, on the other hand, the average locksmith (or precision metal trade worker) earns $1,000 to $1,250 per week (or up to $65,000 per year).
The locksmith industry also tends to be recession-proof with relatively stable earnings that aren’t affected by the wider economy. After all, when the economy takes a turn for the worse, business shifts toward evictions, repossessions, foreclosures, and property management jobs.
Locksmithing has the potential for excellent job satisfaction, if you get into the industry for the right reasons. If you’re the type of person who enjoys looking at your work with pride, working with your hands, solving puzzles, and helping people, becoming a locksmith may be a highly satisfying job. Your job will involve helping people secure their homes to feel safe, securing high-risk individuals in prisons and jails, protecting the livelihood of local business owners, and helping people get to work or protect their child after breaking or losing a car key. For some people, there is no greater satisfaction.
Downsides of a Locksmith Career
While there are plenty of great reasons to become a locksmith, it’s important to go into any career choice with realistic expectations. There are some unpleasant sides of the industry that you should keep in mind:
- Licensing and insurance. Most governments — both federal and local — regulate the locksmith industry a great deal. This is important because the industry deals with security, but the insurance, licensing, and bonds you will need to carry can cost a great deal. In the United States, for example, you will need to carry a city business license, a state locksmith license, a state contractor’s license to do security and lock work, general liability insurance, commercial vehicle insurance, two types of bonds, and you may need to become a member of professional trade organizations and local organizations to promote your business. Depending on the state, it may also be necessary to pay for fingerprinting and a background check.
- Paperwork. Prepare to do a lot of legal paperwork to document the who, what, where, when, and why of your work. After all, you never want to make keys for someone who does not have authority to the property and you are likely to end up in court for one reason or another.
- Ugly side of the job. You will definitely encounter some ugly situations that are frightening or depressing. This can include evictions, repossessions of homes and cars, and re-keying a home after domestic violence. You may sometimes find yourself standing beside the police re-keying a home and performing a security check while they assist the battered homeowner with a report.
- On-call 24/7. As a locksmith, you will probably always be on call because after-hours and weekend service can account for a huge share of your income, especially when you are just starting out. You can expect to receive plenty of calls in the middle of the night from people who have been locked out of their car or house.
Types of Locksmiths
You’re probably at least somewhat familiar with the type of locksmith you call when you get locked out of your home or car, but there are actually many different types of locksmiths and specialties in the field. If you become a locksmith, you can choose to go into residential locksmith services or you can even end up working with police as a forensic locksmith to solve crime. Here are major types of locksmith fields you can explore.
Residential locksmiths handle many areas of home security, not just door locks. A residential locksmith can handle everything from a jammed door or lost keys to lock repair, installing master key systems, duplicating keys, and even installing state-of-the-art home security systems.
Commercial locksmiths usually work in schools, commercial buildings, and offices to install advanced locks and security systems. A commercial locksmith can install key control systems, restricted key systems, magnetic locks, keyless entry, master key systems, and commercial strike locks that require visitors be buzzed in.
Auto locksmiths specialize in car and truck systems. An auto locksmith can duplicate car keys, replace lost keys, get broken keys out of a vehicle’s ignition, and craft smart car keys.
Municipal governments often employ specialized locksmiths to replace and repair locks used in public buildings, including courthouses, schools, and jails. This job may involve maintaining rather simple mechanical locks but it can also involve designing and installing more advanced locks for high-security facilities like jails and prisons.
Forensic locksmiths may have the most exciting job of all: they get to work with law enforcement to unravel clues. Forensic locksmiths usually work with investigative authorities to determine how a lock at a crime scene was broken into. They can also gather evidence about how a security system was breached to aid police.
How to Become a Locksmith
In most countries, becoming a locksmith does not require formal education, but extensive training and an apprenticeship is required to become certified and/or licensed. Coursework usually involves learning to pick locks, rekey, change safe combinations, code cutting, and managing a business. In the United States, most locksmiths start with training before accepting an apprenticeship, but only the completion of an apprenticeship or training program is necessary. In the United Kingdom, there is no nationally recognized qualification for locksmithing; most start with training courses before starting their own locksmithing business.
To begin work as a locksmith, you will not need a degree but you will need at least 3 to 4 years of experience (through a training program and/or apprenticeship), depending on your chosen sector, before you can obtain a state business license.
There are two primary ways to get training in locksmithing: training through a diploma or certificate program available at a vocational school, community college, or state locksmith association or an apprenticeship. Training will teach you how to repair locks, pick locks, make and duplicate keys, test security locks, and understand the mechanics of lock systems. You can also take courses in specialized locksmithing like auto and motorcycle locksmithing. Many training programs also educate you on the business and legal aspects of being a locksmith.
You can also choose to get training and experience through an apprenticeship under an experienced locksmith. An apprenticeship can be paid or unpaid, but it will teach you the technical, business, and legal aspects of the job from a practicing, experienced locksmith. An apprenticeship can last for two to four years.
In some states in the U.S., you will need to work full-time for at least 12 months at a licensed locksmith business before you can obtain your own business license. In this case, you will need to work for the business through which you completed your apprenticeship or get a job with a local locksmith business before you can strike out on your own.
Most states do require locksmiths obtain a business license to accept work. The licensing requirements vary by state, but at a minimum, most states require an application, fingerprinting through state and federal databases, and a background check.
While locksmith trade schools can be a great way to learn the skills you need, an apprenticeship under a master locksmith is usually the best way to learn tricks of the trade that will make your job faster and easier (which means higher profits) than the basic skills you will learn in a school.
Once you’re licensed, you may choose to continue your education with advanced training from locksmith associations, lock manufacturers, and locksmith schools to increase your earning potential. You can also choose to join a professional organization like the ALOA and local organizations. This can come with advantages like industry bonding, education opportunities, insurance options.
Locksmith Certifications & Specialties
In the United States and most areas, certification is not legally required to work as a locksmith. Still, getting certification is important to increase your specialization, boost your earning potential, and offer credibility — an important trait that customers will look for in a locksmith. In the United States, The Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) administers certification exams and grants several locksmith designations:
- Certified Registered Locksmith (CRL). This first level certification requires passing 10 mandatory categories and at least 2 specialized electives of your choice. The CRL designation shows you have good working knowledge of general locksmithing skills and practices.
- Certified Automotive Locksmith (CAL). This designation requires passing an exam to show good working knowledge of automotive locksmithing.
- Certified Professional Locksmith (CPL). This second level certification requires passing an additional 12 elective categories to demonstrate advanced knowledge of general locksmithing practices and many specialized areas.
- Certified Master Locksmith (CML). This is the highest designation and it requires proficiency in 90% of the available categories of the ALOA test.
All exams for certification are written and consist of 36 categories, ten of which are mandatory for first level certification. The 10 mandatory categories include: Cabinet, Furniture and Mailbox Locks; Basic Master Keying; Lockset Servicing; Lockset Functions; Professional Lock Opening Techniques; Key Impressioning; Key Duplication; Cylinder Servicing; Codes and Code Equipment; and Key Blank Identification.
Elective specialization categories include, for example, Motorcycle Locks, Exit Hardware and Exit Alarms, Keyless Mechanical Locks, Domestic Automotive, Foreign Automotive, Detention Locking Systems, and Safe Opening and Servicing.
Traits of a Successful Locksmith
Successful master locksmiths share many traits in common. Aside from the dedication you need to learn the skills of locksmithing, you will likely need many of the following traits.
Locksmithing may be your calling if you have a natural curiosity about how things work and you want to find out. Locksmiths are usually naturally curious and investigative to work efficiently.
One of the most essential skills a locksmith needs is the ability to work with their hands. As a locksmith, you will spend much of your time using your hands to pick locks, solve problems, and fix things. If you don’t enjoy being mechanical, a locksmithing career may not be right for you.
Love of Puzzles
Do you love figuring out complex puzzles? as a locksmith, you will spend plenty of time figuring out the right tools for a particular lock and how to solve problems. Locksmiths face plenty of challenges in varying levels of difficulty and a love for puzzles can make your job far more enjoyable.
Especially as a residential locksmith, much of your work will involve working directly with people. You will need to be able to judge a situation accurately and ask the right questions. This may require making your own deductions and reading subtle signs and body language to make sure you understand the situation. It’s not unheard of for locksmiths to respond in the middle of a domestic dispute where one spouse has locked the other out or after a break-in. Remember that you will also deal with many customers who are in the middle of an emotional crisis such as being locked out, being unable to contact someone like an elderly parent, or dealing with a break-in of their home. You will need to be sociable and have the ability to make people feel comfortable and at ease.
When it comes to locksmithing, your reputation will be everything. For a successful career, you should have a good moral compass and code of ethics to build a solid reputation for reliability and trustworthiness.
You may not enjoy work as a locksmith if you lack a healthy dose of patience. Being a locksmith requires the patience to deal with a certain amount of trial and error almost daily. Picking a lock isn’t always easy and sometimes you need to spend a lot of time trying different tools and techniques to ensure the job is done right and the lock mechanism isn’t broken in the process.
Tools of the Trade
Locksmiths use a variety of tools to install and repair locks, duplicate keys, and more. Necessary tools for the trade can vary by specialty, however. The following are some of the most essential tools for locksmiths by specialty.
Video by Mr.Locksmith
Residential and commercial locksmith tools:
- Adams Rite tool. This tool takes advantage of a flaw in popular locks used on aluminum frame glass doors to insert the tool into the latch and use it to operate the same mechanism as a key.
- Hollow follower set. A follower set can be used on many types of locks, including peanut-sized cylinders, cabinet locks, and pin tumbler letterbox locks.
- Tension wrench. This tool is used to apply torque to the plug of a lock to set pins in place. When all pins are picked, the tool can be used to fully turn the plug and open the lock.
- Broken key extractor. This tool fixes a common problem when keys get weak and snap inside a lock. This tool can be used to pull out the key pieces from the lock.
- Rake pick. This crude pick can be used to pick some locks by inserting it into the lock and wiggling it around to pick pins.
- Half-diamond lock pick. This is the most common lock pick used today and it’s typically used for single pin picking (SPP) pin tumbler locks and sometimes other locks like disc locks and wafer locks.
- Hook pick. This pick is like a half-diamond pick but it has a hook-shaped ending for basic lock picking.
- Ball pick. This pick has rounded sides on the end and it’s usually part of a standard lock picking set.
Automotive locksmith tools:
- Hand-held scope. A scope is used to visualize components in tight areas. Many scopes for use by locksmiths have LED technology with removable probes for manipulating tumblers.
- JMA cloner. This machine can clone standard cloneable auto keys and “electronic keys,” but this machine also clones proprietary keys.
- Impressioning tool. This tool clamps to a key blank for use during the impressioning process, or fitting a key to a lock without taking apart the lock.
- Gator tool. This tool is used to remove and replace the face caps on car door and deck locks without damaging the face cap.
- Ignition breakers. Sometimes the best way to fix a failed ignition lock is to break it and replace it. Locksmiths need a variety of breaks for different manufacturers and ignition styles.
- Determinator sets. While not a necessity, the Determinator sets are impression aids that make it easy to tell if cuts on a blank are high or low to make car keys faster and easier.
Job Outlook: Choosing a Career with a Future
If you’re considering becoming a locksmith, you’re likely concerned not only with how to get the necessary training and certification but also whether the career is worth it in the long run. The good news is locksmiths have a better-than-average job outlook, especially those who expand their skills beyond standard residential services. Locksmiths today no longer merely install and repair physical locks; they also install and manage electronic security equipment for municipal buildings, commercial businesses, homeowners, and more.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the locksmith industry is expected to grow 12% from 2008 to 2018, surpassing the 10% average growth rate for all jobs. Demand is expected to grow for locksmiths due to not only economic growth but replacement needs as more locksmiths retire. Many traditional locksmith jobs (or those involving installation and repair of physical locks) are being replaced with more advanced positions.
Now over to you. Tell me you think.