With as often as we use keys in our daily life, it's important to know what types of keys there are, which locks they belong to, and how exactly they work. This article provides everything you need to know.
Keys are a part of our daily life and almost everyone uses at least one key every single day – probably multiple times! So, how is it that we can still know so little about the different types of keys, the locks they fit into, and how they work? From common to rare, modern to antique, it’s time to finally figure out just how these devices work.
First, let’s discuss the anatomy of a key! The head of the key is the widest part which you hold the key by to lock or unlock something. The blade or neck is what extends out from the head, all the way down to the tip. Then you have the teeth, which are the jagged bumps on either side of the blade. The teeth are what push the pins inside the lock into the proper position and allow you to turn the lock over.
However, not all keys have the same design! How? Well, let’s get into it!
Practically everyone is familiar with the traditional car key that has to sink into the lock of your car door and ignition to work. Despite the ever-rising market for smart cars, it is still common for typical car keys like these to be sold with cars, even if they’re just intended to be a spare.
Smart Car Key
Smart car keys, otherwise known as smart key fobs or key fobs, are modern versions of standard car keys. These electronic devices have the ability to lock and unlock the doors of your vehicle, open doors and trunks, and sound an alarm. The action buttons will depend on the type and brand of the car, so you might not have all of those options available.
Key fobs run off of small batteries, the most popular and used being the CR2032 battery. These are small and round, and can be replaced at home with the required screwdriver. No need to spend extra on taking it to your local dealer!
Patio Double Glazing Key
A patio key is made specifically for patio door locks. The Mortise lock is the most frequent lock on sliding patio doors, which is an older type of lock that requires an older type of key. However, these locks can and are rekeyed with more modern keys, like the one that you see in the photo above, or to fit whatever style of lock or key system that you prefer.
While a chip key is a type of transponder key, not all transponder keys have a fob to go with them. A transponder key has a chip inside the handle that matches up with its counterpart in the ignition. This is often done as a vehicle anti theft measure. The primary key can be used as a regular key in another car but a spare key might stop the engine from turning over if used improperly. Improper use raises the suspicion of vehicle theft, such as starting and stopping the car too quickly.
Be careful – you might end up stuck in your own driveway without the primary key!
This key is pretty self explanatory. Blank keys are uncut keys that you can typically find at your local hardware store. Some of them can have designs on the handle, such as houses, characters, or simple colors. These are used most often to create duplicates of keys that you bring in. For example, if you needed more house keys you could take it in and ask for them to duplicate the key once, twice, and so on.
The valet key was designed with the intention of protecting the privacy of car owners when they go somewhere with valets, people who wait at the entrance of buildings where you can get out and let them park your car instead of searching for a space. They are also given to mechanics or people who work at auto repair shops, so the car can be driven and inspected as needed.
How is this key different from a regular car key? Valet keys can do everything a regular key can except for opening the glove box and trunk. That means that anything you have stored in your car won’t be disturbed by valets or mechanics while you’re away. Neat, right?
Commonly known names:
As you can assume from this photo, tubular keys are round, in the shape of a tube. This style of key is most commonly used for filing cabinet locks, vending machines, washing machines in laundry mats, and even in elevators. A tubular key works much differently than the standard key, depending on the pins that have been designed in circular arrangements that only fits with the matching lock. Pin tumbler locks are more difficult to be picked due to their complexity which is why they are preferred in different public places.
Commonly known names:
Circle Pin Tumbler Key
Paracentric keys are another complex style of key to prevent lockpicking and theft. This keys feature for security is that the grooves stick out further on either side of the blade. Trying to jimmy another key wouldn’t fit at all into the unique lock. Not only that, but it makes picking much more difficult to preform because of how the lock pins are spread, unlike a standard lock.
If you’re worried about theft, definitely consider installing a paracentric keyway!
Magnetic keys are similar to key cards in that they share the ‘magnetic’ ability to open certain locks. Of course, those locks must also be magnetic, otherwise you’d just be swiping your key around like a crazy person. Shown in the photo above, keys like this are still considered fobs because they aren’t a bladed key. Some, though, still bear the same standard key anatomy.
The way a magnetic key works is the key only responds to the correctly magnetic-coded lock – whether they are the standard appearance or fob. That magnetic quality is required to lock and unlock magnetic locks, other keys simply won’t do.
I know – it looks like swiss cheese.
Dimple keys are yet another way to deter theft and lockpicking. Instead of the typical key with teeth, the dimple key has round notches on the flat sides of the blade. These notches act exactly as the teeth of a standard key do. They shift the pins inside the lock to each specific dimple to turn the mechanism over to lock or unlock as needed.
The fact that dimple keys are designed on the flat part of the blade rather than the edge, where teeth would be, makes it difficult for lockpickers to push the pins in the typical fashion. Picking the lock is more difficult but be aware that it is still possible.
“ABLOY Key Systems are each designed to meet the specific needs of different types of standards, users and applications.”
Abloy is actually a manufacturer of keys, locks, and key systems. This quote comes directly from the Abloy website. They go on to explain the cylinder mechanism, each of the master keys feature, and how you can customize it all to fit your needs. Many people say that the amount of protection keys like these offer is incomparable.
Double Sided Key
Double sided keys are so interesting because of their unique look. Unfortunately, not all of them look as awesome as this one! A double sided key can have this long, cylindrical neck, but they can also look like an average key with teeth on both sides of the blade. The difference between a regular key and a key with teeth on both sides is that the former can not fit into a double sided keyway. This is because it can only turn one way, whereas one with a double sided blade has the ability to turn both clockwise and counter-clockwise.
Commonly known names:
Four Sided Key
A double double sided key!
Four sided keys are typically used for residential locks, much like keys with two sides, because it is an improvement for safety compared to the standard one sided key. Pins inside of the keyway meet the teeth of the blades from four different directions rather than one, making it four times as hard for someone to pick the lock open.
We’re all familiar with key cards but do you know how they work? Key cards are a form of magnetic key, unlocking doors through the magnetic strip when either waved over the sensor or slid into it. Hospitals, universities, and other public buildings that have rooms with restricted access will give their employees and students a key card to get them where they need to go.
Laser Cut Key
Unlike any of the many different types of keys, laser cut keys have very thick blades. The reason for this is because of how laser cut keys are made: with a long valley down the middle of the blade. Rather than a blade with teeth, the valley in this key is what will turn a keyway, as a laser cut car key for example.
Commonly known names:
Internal Cut Key
According to collinsdictionary.com, “A padlock is a lock which is used for fastening two things together. It consists of a block of metal with a U-shaped bar attached to it. One end of the bar is released by turning a key in the lock.”
That key, a padlock key, is generally smaller than regular keys. It has a shorter blade and, though the shape can vary, round headed padlock keys are the most common. Some padlocks can actually be opened by other padlock keys, meaning they are keyed alike. This is true for many key and lock pairs that you can buy in stores, such as diaries, decorative lock boxes, toy handcuffs and so on.
Cruciform keys are a type of four sided key, with a round shaft off the head that shapes into four faces. Four sided keys are commonly used in industrial settings because of the complexity and compact locks. For example, manufacturers might use a cruciform key to lock a steering wheel, which keeps the wheel of a car from turning when the engine is off.
Diary keys are keyed alike, which means you can use a different diary key to unlock a diary that it doesn’t belong to. This is typically true for diaries and keys from the same brand, but not always if you’re trying to jimmy an off brand key into your diary lock to get it open.
It’s much the same when you’re looking at handcuffs. That is what makes locks like these so easy to pick. There are keys referred to as ‘universal handcuff keys’ but they won’t actually open every single pair of handcuffs. Foreign locks and keys, for example, are likely to be different. What is considered a universal key in America might not work on a pair of handcuffs from Europe.
There is an endless amount of different types of keys that are antiques or vintage. Because these keys weren’t made in a time of mass manufacturing, many of them are unique with some being one of a kind. Not all of them are as cool and interesting looking like you see here but they each have their own style and personality that doesn’t come with modern keys. Older keys like these could have been used for lock boxes, chests, doors, cells, with possibilities as versatile as you can think!
Everyone should have a spare key, and if you don’t yet you should think about getting one. Whether you need it to get back into your house, or because you lose things too often like I do, it’s always a good thing to have a back up. If you’re interested in having a spare key made, don’t worry! It’s super simple! All you need to do is take your key to the local hardware store or even to Walmart, and have it duplicated.
No, a master key isn’t capable of opening any or every lock. Master keys are a key that will open multiple locks in a building. The purpose of master keys is to grant someone access to every room in a building where not everyone is allowed such clearance. Nowadays, we would just use a key card or ID card. However, because this option hasn’t always been available, master keys were created for the ‘master’ of the house or property – basically the owner or boss.
Skeleton keys are a type of master key, so the same rules apply: it will not open every lock you try it on.
“a key with a large part of the bit filed away to enable it to open low quality locks as a master key” is the Merriam-Webster definition of a skeleton key, confirming that skeleton keys are used as a master key. There are different types of keys like this, which can open different types of locks. For example, this set of five skeleton keys each have their own make and design so that you can try to open whatever locks you need. Find the one that fits, if there is one, and you’re good to go!
A bump key is the key that can force pin tumbler locks open, and any lock that they key fits into. It isn’t just a tool for thieves, but can be very helpful if you’ve lost your key or need to open a lock as quickly as possible. How does it work? The key is slid into the lock just one key short of being fully inserted, and is then bumped in the rest of the way. Both the key pins, which touch the key, and the driver pins on the other side of the key pins are rattled into a position that allows the lock to turn over.
Commonly known names:
Household Mortice Key
Mortise locks have been around since before the modern cylinder locks, requiring a special design in the door or furniture for the lock to work. It was used originally in the homes of the wealthy to lock the rooms most important to them. Due to the heavy lock, a sturdy key was required to open it. That is how mortice keys were introduced! The thick blade and teeth at the end of the key’s neck flips the lock over, through or out of the notch in the door that allows the bolt to slide into the doorframe.
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Jiggler keys are like bump keys that are designed specifically to open locks on car doors. You can probably guess how this works yourself, since the name pretty much explains it all! Just jiggle the key deeper into the keyway until it triggers the locking mechanism and open the door! It is possible to find a jiggler key for almost any brand of car, old and new, and jiggle the lock open. The type of lock used for cars, wafer tumbler locks, can also be found on cash boxes and electrical panels.
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