This article will outline six effective techniques for extracting a broken key from a lock.
An emergency can seem to arise from a broken key in a lock. You might believe that your only option is to call a locksmith, which could cost you up to £70 plus any new hardware you require. However, you should typically be able to fix the issue yourself, quickly, and affordably, using a few common items.
Using tools from your home, you can extract a broken key from a lock. Tweezers or tiny needle-nose pliers can be used to pull the key out of the lock if it is not too deeply embedded. If it is further in, you can rake it out with a small jigsaw blade, paperclip, or glue gun stick while pulling the key out.
There are a few more complex options available if the simpler methods fail. Below you’ll find information on several methods for extracting a broken key.
Why Do Keys Break in Locks?
There are several reasons why a key might break in a lock. The first possibility is that the key itself has grown weaker with time, making it more likely to break when turned, especially if done so violently. As an alternative, it’s possible that the lock is broken or that debris has gotten stuck in its mechanism. We’ll look at some of the typical problems with keys breaking locks and how to avoid them.
What Are Keys Made Of?
Keys are typically made of brass, a soft metal that isn’t as strong as we might think. Key cutting can continue to be inexpensive and much simpler to modify if the initial cut didn’t quite fit the lock it was made for because it is made of a soft metal. Most importantly, soft metals are used in the manufacturing of keys to greatly reduce the likelihood that they will corrode the door lock when inserted.
What Causes the Key to Weaken?
Keys are soft metals, so even seemingly harmless uses outside of their intended use can cause damage. For example, using your key to open parcels or tins of paint is likely to wear the teeth down and leaving the key in your back pocket or loosely “knocking around” in your bag can cause stress to the body making the key bend. When your key is damaged, it is much more likely to break off or get stuck inside your lock.
Only use keys for what they are intended for and try to keep them locked in smaller compartments within your bag so that they don’t travel and “bounce around” too much. Avoid leaving them out in the heat or putting them in your back pocket to avoid sitting on them.
What Causes a Door Lock to Weaken?
Typically, faulty installation, drastic temperature changes, a buildup of debris in the internal mechanisms, and/or rough key handling cause locks to become weak. We advise lubricating locks at least once a year to keep them operating smoothly. WD-40 is not appropriate for this, despite what many people think. Since WD-40 is a solvent and not a lubricant, it might wash any lubricant out of the lock cylinder. Use a Teflon-, silicone-, or graphite-based lubricant instead, like Du Pont Multi-Use.
In order to avoid breaking your key in the lock or, worse yet, having a break-in happen, we advise replacing your lock as soon as you suspect it isn’t functioning as it should.
Check out our article on the most popular lock types and which doors to use them with if you’re unsure of which lock you need.
Too much force
You are more likely to use too much force with your key when trying to open your door if you’re rushing, carrying other items like shopping bags, or if your door lock is stiff (and you should be replacing it). Reduce the likelihood that your key will become stuck in the lock halfway by using your key correctly and gently.
Why Has My Key Become Stuck?
How far the key has turned before becoming stuck can give you some insight into the problem:
The Key won’t turn in the lock
If the key has not turned at all, you probably tried to use the wrong key or a key that is badly cut, worn out, or broken. First, try a different key; then, if you’re certain it’s the right one, lubricate the lock with the Teflon, silicone, or graphite-based lubricant described above (not WD-40). Take the newly cut key back to the key cutters to have it redone if it still won’t turn. The lock may need to be replaced if it is not a key that was recently cut.
The Key is stuck and is half turned
The failure or improper operation of the lock may be indicated if the key won’t turn in the lock but has turned partially before getting stuck. Once more, this might be a sign that you need to replace the lock.
In either scenario, you run a very high risk of breaking the key inside the lock by repeatedly attempting to turn it.
What Not to Do When Your Key Breaks Inside a Lock
It can be tempting to keep pushing in an effort to pry the lock open if your key has broken off inside your door lock. This will probably do more harm than good and make your key even more difficult to remove, even for a locksmith with experience.
How to Get a Broken Key Out of a Lock
It can be challenging to make a list of the items we have on us when under extreme stress. Extrapolation of similar materials may be challenging when reading about thin metal or matches, which is understandable. Here are some items that you might already have on you or around you that will help you remove your key from the lock.
- Metal hair clip
- Bobby pin
- Paper clip
- Safety pin
- Button pin
- First aid kit
- Swiss army knife
The majority of people immediately reach for the tweezers when a key breaks off in a lock. The size of your tweezers and how far the broken key is inserted into the lock should be your primary concerns. The majority of tweezers are too small for this job and will only end up pushing the key deeper into the keyway. Make sure your tweezers can open widely enough to fit around the key but not too thickly that they can’t fit along the sides of the key. Your typical tweezers won’t fit because of the warding on most keyways. Tweezers will work best to extract a broken key from a lock if there is some of the key sticking out of the keyhole. The likelihood that you will push the key deeper in when it is too far back increases dramatically. We all love the game “Operation”, but sometimes life is more than just a game. Use your tweezers and only try this method if you are utterly confident in your skills.
2. Broken Key Extractor
The appropriate professional response to this issue is a broken key extractor device. This will be the tool used if the locksmith you call doesn’t make his or her own tools (which is likely the case). You should insert this tool along the key’s bitting to use it. To be more specific, you will attempt to connect the hook(s) on the extractor to the key’s teeth. Once along the biting, turn and pull; the key should be grabbed and extracted. Of course, it might take a few tries. If you want to buy a broken key extractor, I would caution you that, like lock picks, these tools come in sets that contain unused variations. I observe that some people (including myself) use a key extractor with a single hooked hook and others with a double hooked hook. The other profiles are unnecessary aside from that. In order to purchase one or two of these, try to save some money.
3. Jigsaw Blade
Making your own broken key extractor from a small jigsaw blade is an option if you don’t want to purchase a specialized model. (Mini hacksaw blades can also be used for this.) The smaller the better, as what you need is a thin piece of metal that can fit in your keyway along with your broken key. If necessary, use a pair of needle nose pliers to break the blade so you can fit the serrated edge into the lock. Put the blade in the keyway with the serrations facing backwards if your blade has angled serrations. As a result, it will be simpler to hook the key and insert the blade. By aligning the serrations on the blade with the bitting on the key, you can use this in a manner similar to the broken key extractor. Your damaged key should come out with a turn and a pull. Simply try again if the key won’t come out the first time. This approach works best if you already have some blades on hand or the means to visit a hardware store.
4. Super Glue
It seems a little counterproductive to use superglue to unjam a lock. Additionally, I frequently see this technique fail. Nevertheless, it is a possibility if you are in a pinch and have these materials. The goal is to secure the key with something like a match so that it can be pulled free. First off, do not attempt this if your key is deeply embedded in the keyway and no metal is visible. When the broken key is readily available, the super glue trick works best. Super glue should be applied to the end of a small wire or match. Remove any extra glue before placing this close to the keyway, or add more glue if necessary. Using too much glue could damage the lock. If not enough, the glue won’t stick. Hold that match or wire against the broken key’s edge. Ensure that you are not forcing the broken key deeper into the lock when you apply pressure.
5. Tapping the Cylinder
You need to be able to point the keyway down toward the ground so that you can tap the cylinder. This technique might work for you if you have a padlock or can take out a cylinder. Strike the lock with a hammer while the keyhole is facing down and the lock is in place. This would be ideal if you could slam the cylinder into a solid surface. If this is going to work, it should work either way, but I would advise striking the keyway side of the lock rather than the back. The key to this technique is to maintain lock immobility so that gravity can remove the broken key. There aren’t many times when this approach will be an option, but when it is, not many specialized tools are needed. If you accidentally overstruck the lock while using this method, you might want to have the lock core repaired by a locksmith. Further difficulties could arise in the future if the lock core is damaged.
6. Probe and Pull
You can pry open the keyway and extract the key using two thin pieces of metal. On either side of the key, align a piece of metal. When I say both sides, I do not mean the biting and smooth sides, but rather the sides that interact with the warding on the lock. Your tools don’t need to be inserted very deeply. Put them in just deeply enough to exert firm pressure. Pull the damaged key in your direction after that. This will most likely only slightly advance the key. Apply the method once more after that, and you will gradually pull the key out. In addition to pulling, you could try prying the broken key out. Turn your wrists inward so that the key almost slides out while both metal pieces are still in the keyway. These can be the ideal tools for the job if you are proficient in the various lock picking techniques or you happen to have lock picks on you. Because there’s a chance they’ll be slightly bent during this process, make sure the picks you use don’t hold a lot of sentimental value for you.
When to Call a Locksmith
To avoid harm to your lock and door, more complex locks will need the assistance of a professional locksmith to remove the broken key. A locksmith will be knowledgeable about a wide range of locks and will know how to extract a key that has broken in your door lock in the quickest and simplest manner possible.
Call a locksmith if:
You are in a hurry
Locksmiths are able to quickly and effectively remove hundreds of broken keys every single day.
You are unsure how complex your lock system is
If you aren’t careful, attempting to remove a broken key from a lock by yourself risked damaging the lock’s pins and mechanisms.
You are unsure how to extract the broken key using the tools above
The only way to ensure that the key will be removed accurately and that the lock will continue to function as intended is to rely on a professional locksmith.
In the end, a broken lock compromises your home’s security and makes you more susceptible to burglaries. Regardless of whether you can fix it yourself or need to call someone else, it must be fixed as soon as possible and functioning properly.
Purchasing a New Lock
Once the broken key has been extracted from the lock, it’s likely that the procedure has harmed the lock. Therefore, it is best practice to change your locks so that the integrity is maintained and your lock is as secure as before.
You can choose from a wide variety of lock types, but always keep in mind the lock’s accessibility and security features when making your decision. In addition to these, having locks with extra keys makes it simpler to open a door in the event that you misplace or break a key.
You should be able to extract a broken key from any lock using one of these techniques. If you have the right tools and materials, it shouldn’t be a problem, regardless of the lock type or the item to which it is attached. Just be careful to take your time. Rushing through these procedures will unavoidably make a bad situation into a terrible ordeal. The most effective way to save time is frequently to slow down. When rushing, don’t move quickly. Accidents occur in this way. In this kind of circumstance, the majority of people will panic. Not you; you will become more composed than you were before this incident. Maintaining your wits is the only thing that matters. Disregard your appointment. Call your office and let them know you will be late so they can reschedule. There is no loss if you arrive on time. Anything is possible for you, including this!
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