Good Locks. Sometimes price doesn’t matter.

Often I am asked which locks and/or hardware are the best for residential application. It is unwise to specify a certain brand over another. Often people define (erroneously) the quality of a lock system by how easy it is to pick. Picking, or lack thereof, does not define lock quality, but this factor deserves mentioning……

Certainly, some of the more expensive locks are more difficult (or almost impossible) to pick, but a lock is only as strong as the door it secures, as well as the frame it’s bolt engages. If the door is a hollow core door and the frame is thin or cheaply constructed, the high quality lock will do little to prevent entry.

A skilled locksmith can pick locks. This is a job requirement.  But sometimes a dime store lock can be difficult to pick, while an expensive name brand lock can be picked in seconds.  Most of the difficulty (or ease) to picking a lock comes from the placement of it’s internal pins. If a lock has all short pins,  generally it can be picked easily. A lock with long pins mixed with short pins will generally be more difficult to pick. To see if your lock has short pins next to long pins, simply look at your key. Does the key have deep cuts, next to shallow ones? If it does, it may be a little more difficult to pick.

Picking locks is a skill and an art, and it requires practice.  As most people cannot pick locks, how difficult a lock is to pic is usually not a significant concern for people. Most criminals do not pick locks; they prefer unused locks.

Of GREATER importance is the quality of the metal, and the quality of the installation. The lock should be heavy and solid, and it should mount solidly in the door.  A deadbolt should mount cleanly in the hole drilled for it. Sometimes, a a do-it-your-selfer will  fail to drill the hole large enough for the hardware to seat properly. This leaves a gap that invites a prying/crowbar attack. The bolt should also be solid, and when engaged, it should slide all of the way into the door frame. A deadbolt not fully engaged with a frame (because the bolt hole is not deep enough, or is not aligned properly) is not truly “dead,” and can be “walked open” with a screwdriver or other instrument.

It’s All About the Keys

There are many brands of locks, but relatively few key ways.

The 4 most popular key designs in the United States are (in order) Kwikset (KW1), Schlage (SC1), Yale and Weiser. Many other key patterns exist, as well. Most of these other key patterns are used exclusively for commercial applications.

Many other companies are licensed to manufacture their locks using the aforementioned 4 key designs. Lowes has it’s Carriage House design, which uses the KW1 key way; Home Depot does the same with it’s Defiant brand. Of course, Kwikset, Schlage and Yale name brands are popular.

Yale uses a Kwikset key way for it’s residential applications, and has it’s own key type for commercial applications. Schlage has it’s own key way which sees extensive commercial and residential use.

Sergent, a high quality lock, also appears in residential applications but is more likely used commercially.

The quality of a lock is defined more by the quality of it’s installation. A poorly made lock is easy to detect; but economics usually prevent such locks from remaining available for purchase.

The only truly ineffective lock is an unused one.