One Way to Remove a Broken Key from a Lock
In eleven years of homeownership, I don’t recall ever having to deal with it. . . . But, I got the call. It was a Friday afternoon and it had snapped flush off. In the deadbolt. Which was still locked . . . and yep, six exterior doors on our house, all but one . . . the same key.
Fortunately, I had placed a key to our basement door on her key ring. I had to remind her of that. So . . . she did in fact actually make it in. We said our goodbyes, and I hung up.
By the time I arrived home, she had tried these things, and some others … nothing so far had worked. . . . I reached for a set of steak knives (I know I shouldn’t treat our steak knives like that). My wife grabbed a pair of tweezers. We went that way, taking turns trying, for about a half an hour. But we eventually put it down for the evening.
Fast forward about a day . . . this door, the side porch door, opens right into our kitchen. And staring at it (only after trying with the steak knives for a few more minutes), I decided to take the lock off. And just about that time – wiping down the counters or something, my wife says, “Now what do we do?“ (*pause*) . . . I said – “Call a Locksmith.” (*pause*) . . . “Or run it down to the hardware store.”
(*pause*) . . . (Mind you Clement Hardware, where I purchased my sweet Baldwin locks and really one of the BEST hardware stores I have ever been in . . . ever, is about 45 minutes away. I KNEW they had/have a locksmith on staff.)
She did. And she came up with this article: http://www.doityourself.com/stry/remove-broken-key. She proceeded to read from it, out loud, and I listened . . . for the most part. I heard, “. . . coping saw blade, jig saw blade, . . . tweezers, . . . lock pick set,” and I thought for a moment. (*pause*) . . . And I headed down into the basement.
When I returned, I had a coping saw blade, which I actually discharged from my coping saw (I had extras), and my needle nose pliers in my hand.
One Way to Remove a Broken Key from a Lock (Building Moxie style)
- I used the snip cutter section of my needle nose to snip the blade’s end off. Actually it was a little bit more of a bending (or “braking”) action… and I went back to work on the lock, while holding it in my hand.
- Despite my efforts, and despite what the article suggested, I could not slide the saw blade into the key hole (which was occupied pretty fully by the key). I went at it, standing there, for what felt like fifteen minutes (actually I probably paced a little. I am known to do that sometimes).
- I sat down at the kitchen table . . . the TV was on; my wife and I began discussing our dinner plans. As I alternated my attention from the lock to my wife, I had (almost unconsciously) fashioned one end of the blade into a hook.
- I placed the hook into a small notch found immediately below the keyhole (I doubt all locksets have this). It did grab a hold of the key pretty easily, but as before . . . I could only move the key outward a small fraction of an inch.
- Again unconsciously, I began spinning the lockset’s “cylinder” around. It moved pretty freely. (As I write this, I think to myself that a lock is actually a pretty cool piece of machinery.)
- At about the 45 minute mark (or so it felt), I say, “We’ll just have to have you run it down to Clement sometime next week.”
- While my brain had given up on the work . . . my hands alone, not yet, they hooked the key one last time. And as if some hold on the key’s teeth released… the key suddenly popped out a full 1/2 an inch.
- “Woh!” I chirped.
- My wife said excitedly, “Did you get it?” (Relieved of course by the thought that an hour-plus round trip drive would be avoided.)
- I said, “I did.”
- I reached still with a steady hand for my needle nose and quickly removed the broken key.
- Later, I re-installed the deadbolt.
The funny thing is I really am not sure what I did. But it clicked (or unclicked) almost like magic. And while I have no real expertise on this subject (as you can see), it actually ended up being a nice opportunity for my wife and I to “work” together. (Really? It comes to this . . . after two kids. Yep!)
… and as I was organizing this post, this little section from the link above caught my eye. While I really don’t understand fully what it means, I feel it probably did have some bearing . . .
If the broken key shaft won’t budge, the lock may not be in a “neutral” position. The tumblers inside the lock are still holding onto the key shaft. If the lock isn’t in a neutral position, you can probably get it aligned by turning it with your saw blade in the lock.
Thanks for reading and enjoy. ~jb
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About jb bartkowiak (321 posts)
A one-time construction manager, and always handyman, turned blogger and editor - Your Home Project Assistant. My wife, Jen, and I are on our 6th property (. . . yes, together). She is a real estate agent. We have two beautiful daughters Evyn and Eva. We currently live and are restoring an 1889 farmhouse in Baltimore's Lauraville area.