Safe keys are tricky business. In a way, it’s reassuring that they are, because you wouldn’t want it to be too easy to get to your locked up valuables.
But what good is reassurance if you’re struggling to get a spare key copied? If you’ve already lost one key, you’re probably more worried about being locked out of your own safe after losing the second key than you might be worried about somebody breaking in.
In this article we explain the different types of safe key out there, why it’s often difficult to get copies, and what your options are.
Hang on? Do safes even still have keys?
You would be forgiven for thinking that modern safes don’t have keys anymore. It seems like every safe you see, be it in a hotel or on a shelf in a shop, has an electronic keypad, and no keyhole.
There are three reasons safes still have keys:
- If the battery that powers your safe’s keypad dies, a physical key is often there as a key override. The keyhole is often concealed under a plastic cover, but it’s there just in case.
- Keys can be a secondary layer of protection. Some safes require both a key and a code number. Imagine somebody sees you type in the code to your safe. They’d still need the key to get in. Similarly, if you manage to steal the key but don’t know the code, you’re also unable to get in. This is how ATMs work, too: you need the physical card and the corresponding PIN.
- Simply put, good ol’ mechanical safe locks aren’t all that bad. Mechanical safe locks tend to be very hard to pick (provided the safe is of a decent quality). They’re often also hard to drill. In many scenarios, you might not need the secondary protection that a keypad gives you.
Types of safe key
Safe keys come, broadly-speaking, in three types: Chubb-style keys (a long cylindrical stem with a ‘beard’ hanging from the end), side-cut keys (flat keys that look like Yale-style or, more often, small filing cabinet-type keys), and tubular keys (hollow cylinders with cuts around the edge).
Chubb-style safe key
The Chubb-style safe key comes in two broad forms, with one common variation.
Single-bit keys: The ‘bit’ is the blade of the key, i.e. the part that hangs from the end of the stem. A single-bit safe key just has one bit hanging from the stem, much like an ordinary, residential Chubb key.
Double-bit keys: Similarly, a double-bit safe key has two bits on the stem. The bits are next to never symmetrical. Given how precisely safe keys need to be cut (there’s very little room for error), having two bits makes the key-cutter’s life even harder. You need to ensure that about 10-20 cuts are exactly perfect.
The Mauer President lock is a common double-bit safe lock.
Pipe keys: Single- or double-bit keys can both be pipe keys. A pipe key is when the stem is hollow, like a pipe. A key can only go into the safe lock fully if the diameter of the pipe in the key blank is big enough.
In my experience, only the cheaper end of the safe spectrum uses side-cut keys. This is because such locks are unsophisticated, cheap and widely available.
You can normally get away with producing a bad copy (sometimes even a really bad copy) of the key, and the safe will still open.
If your safe has this type of lock in it, you shouldn’t really be using it to store valuables or anything at genuine risk of being stolen. It’s better to use it only for putting things where, say, children can’t get their hands on them.
Lastly, the tubular key. These keys aren’t overly sophisticated either, but can normally only be copied by somebody who has a suitable key machine.
They typically have seven pins, and are mainly used as key overrides rather than anything else.
Why is it so hard to get copies of my safe key?
This has a lot to do with the skill of a key-cutter and the equipment available to them.
As mentioned above, tubular keys need a special copying machine, which isn’t widely owned. To make matters worse, the tubes of these keys come in vastly different sizes, some too small to fit on the standard tubular copying machine.
The Chubb-style keys are similar: while every key-cutter will own a Chubb-style copying machine, not all of these machines are able to cut non-domestic Chubb-type keys. Many simply aren’t big enough (safe keys can often be very long).
On top of this, you’d need a good stock of single-bit, double-bit and pipe key blanks in stock in order to be able to cut many safe keys. These blanks can be quite costly, and many locksmiths simply don’t bother stocking them for lack of demand.
And on top of it all, they’re a challenge to cut: they take a long time to make, they require precision and concentration. Not everyone’s cup of tea.
Besides, getting copies of existing keys is only one of the problems facing safe-owners…
What if I’ve lost my safe key?
Not all hope is lost at this juncture. For numerous safe brands, e.g. Phoenix, Yale, FireKing, some Sentry safes, some B&Q safes, and a few others, it’s possible to make keys from code numbers. These numbers might be marked on the keyhole, or on a sticker with a serial number written on.
Fill in our online enquiry form and we’ll be able to advise you on the availablity of spare keys.
In the total absence of any keys and key codes, other measures must be taken. There are ways to do DIY openings on some of the cheaper, hotel-style safes, and otherwise a safe specialist needs to be called out (if you’re in Greater London, call 020 7608 0809 to get hold of our team of experts).
In many cases, your safe will be fine after the opening. The locksmith normally would have to damage the lock to get in, but the rest of the safe would be fine.
In other words, if we replace the lock (which usually comes in at a fraction of the price of a new safe), your safe is pretty much good as new.
Need a safe key copied?
We’re always happy to help.