As you can imagine, people ask us questions all of the time. Here are some of the most common questions we get at Lock Medic:
• What is a locksmith, and what do you do all day?
We unlock things that may be locked either due to damage, lost key/credential, or other circumstances; rekey houses, businesses, government buildings, replace lost keys, copy keys,fix doors, install new locks or repair existing ones, service, open and repair safes and vaults, repair broken locks on cars/houses/etc., design and install master key systems, install electronic locks, door closers, exit devices, program keys & remotes to cars, reprogram “coded” modules in cars, install access control systems, padlocks, install locks in office furniture. . . stuff like that.
Sales and marketing gurus: don’t ask a locksmith to give you an “elevator pitch” unless it’s a really long elevator ride.
• What’s all this talk about bump keys? Can someone break into my house with them? What can I do to protect myself?
A bump key is a specially-cut key that can be used to manipulate pin-tumbler locks. They’re not 100% successful, and do require a certain degree of aptitude to use, and are brand-specific. They’ve been around for years amongst locksmiths, but have recently been popularized through much publicity via the internet and news outlets.
Could someone use one to break into your house? Possibly, if they’ve got the proper key for the brand of locks on your house, and are proficient enough with them to be successful, and your locks are cooperative, and nobody catches them, etc., etc… For the record, we don’t even use them, and we unlock stuff for a living. We make no argument to the contrary that the threat is real, we’d just like to inject a bit of common sense into it.
Bump-resistant or bump-proof locks are available, and modifications can be made to many existing lock cylinders to increase the resistance to bump keys, but as is often the case, protection is a matter of what you’re willing to spend. At the top of the list, you could install Abloy deadbolts on all your exterior doors, coupled with some common-sense frame and door reinforcements, and sleep comfortably with the knowledge that your house is officially bump-proof. They’re also nearly impossible to pick or manipulate, so if security is paramount, Abloy is our first choice. Unfortunately we don’t stock or service Abloy locks (yet), but they’re easy enough to find through various outlets on the internet, or if you’re reading this from someplace other than east Tennessee, check with your local security professional. Not to say that Abloy is your only option, not by a long shot. Other manufacturers who offer bump-resistant locks: Medeco, Scorpion, Marks, ASSA, BiLock, Mul-T-Lock, and believe it or not, Kwikset’s Smartkey series is bump-resistant, if not outright bump-proof. Sorry, we don’t sell them (hard to compete with HD), but we’ll gladly install yours if you’ve purchased them elsewhere.
Another very good piece of advice we’ve heard dispensed regarding protecting your home from bump keys: install auxiliary locks with no outside cylinder (barrel bolts, slide locks, etc) on any doors you don’t normally enter through. It’s simple enough to do, and we’d say is worth considering for any door that is out-of-sight from the rest of the neighborhood.
Best advice: security works best in layers. Motion lights, dense, thorny shrubbery around windows, a security system, and a good quality safe are all worthy of consideration when upgrading your home’s security. A set of good, quality locks, properly installed, makes an excellent primary line of defense. A big, noisy dog and nosy neighbors don’t hurt, either.
Please remember this is just our opinion on the subject. Plenty of reading to do if you’re interested:
Our first service van was a retired (emphasis on ‘tired’) ambulance, and had evidently been adopted by an appliance repairman before we got our grubby little mitts on it. While sanding down years of old decals and lettering, Ben uncovered the name “Appliance Medic” . . . and in a staggering lack of creativity, decided to call the business “Lock Medic”.
Second choice was “Atlas Lock & Key”, but the cross/padlock logo proved easier to draw than a dude holding up the world.
• Are you a franchise?
Nope. Before the real-estate crash in 2008 we had a second store in Knoxville but we closed it shortly after and refocused our energy into our original Lenoir City store. Ben Turner, the store owner, is currently fantasizing about a career in aviation so he would entertain offers for the business and real estate if you’re interested.
• Can you open anything?
Given enough time and coffee, sure. Anything the customer is authorized to have us do so . . . and is willing to pay for. One thing that we encourage all our customers to keep in mind is, we are a potential solution to your immediate problem of being locked out . . . we are generally not the only solution. If your vault time lock has been over wound by a few hours. Waiting for it to time out is probably a more realistic solution than having us drill it open.
• Can you replace any lost key? Can you copy any key I bring you?
Almost anything . . . the limiting factor is usually access to the right key blanks. Noteworthy exceptions: we can’t copy or fit keys to proprietary or restricted key systems other than ones we sell, we can’t program the electronic portion (the anti-theft “chip”) of keys to some newer high-end European vehicles such as 98+ Mercedes Benz, 98+ Volvo, 2006+ BMW, and there are usually a few brand-new vehicles we might not be able to program yet. If we can’t help you, we can usually point you in the direction of someone who can.
• How do you make a key for a lock? Do you like, uh, squirt some goo in there that hardens and makes a mold of the key? (paraphrased from many different versions of this question we’ve heard)
As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. However, none of the ways of fitting a replacement key to a lock involves squirting any hardening ‘goo’ in the lock. We’ve really no idea where this rumor got started, but it most certainly wasn’t a professional locksmith. We won’t get into the physics behind why this won’t work, but suffice to say, anything you could squirt into a lock that would harden will be staying there.
The only thing you’ll ever see us squirt into a lock is lube or cleaner.
To answer the question more directly, our arsenal of methods of fitting replacement keys includes impressioning, disassembly & decoding, sight-reading, keyway specific pick & decode tools, and more direct methods such as by code. No single method works for all, so our technique is chosen by application.
• Why do you guys charge for opening cars when the police/firemen/random people with coat hangers do it for free?
Believe it or not, we get this question more often than you might think. Why do we charge? Because we like being able to eat, and pay the rent, and all that stuff . . . and also because it *costs* us money to be able to unlock things. A short list of the absolute minimum expenses that come in every month (whether or not we’ve had any billable services): fuel, vehicle payments, liability insurance, landline & cell phones, advertising, taxes (unemployment, payroll, property, personal property, city & county business license) professional licenses, continuing education, rent, and of course, the help likes to get paid, too. Now, if we were getting paid by the state (like police or fire depts.), we’d be happy to open your car for free.
Most police and fire departments only offer unlock service in life-or-death emergencies: i.e. only if someone is locked inside the car, such as an infant or someone either disabled or unconscious. Most departments that no longer offer non-emergency unlock service as a courtesy cite liability and the drain on their already overtaxed manpower reserves as reasons why. If your town does it, consider yourself lucky . . . and don’t abuse the privilege.
Something to keep in mind: better than half of our customers have some form of roadside assistance, either through a roadside club such as AAA, or on their insurance policy, or in the case of a new vehicle, often from the automaker, or many cell phone carriers offer this on their plans. Most roadside assistance plans cover unlock service. Each policy is different, and some are reimbursement (meaning you pay us, then submit our invoice and whatever assorted paperwork your provider requests, then they pay you back), others use their own contracted service companies or will pay us (or another provider) with a credit card over the phone upon completion. Best to ask YOUR roadside provider how this works rather than us. Either way, we’re happy to help as long as we’re getting paid to do so.
• How do I get into your line of work? Where can I learn about locksmithing as a trade?
Locksmithing has traditionally been and largely remains today a guilded trade, meaning most people in the trade now and those coming into it learned it under another locksmith. There are pros and cons in this method of learning, but it’s worked pretty well so far (i.e. has been more or less the only option), and colleges aren’t exactly offering master’s programs on the subject. That being said, the best way, in our opinion, is apprenticeship. It can be difficult to find a shop willing to take on an apprentice, so it’s not always an option, but if you’re serious about getting into the business and lucky enough to find someone willing to take you on, we say go for it. Our founder, Ben Turner, CRL, apprenticed under Tom Kirkpatrick, Jr., a second-generation locksmith, who learned it from his father, who learned it first-hand, largely by research, trial-and-error, and one of our favorites: “let’s take this apart and see what makes it tick!”
If apprenticeship isn’t right for you, or just plain isn’t an option, there are more than a few correspondence courses out there of varying degrees of credibility. Arguably one of the most well-known is a course offered by Foley-Belsaw. None of us here at Lock Medic (as of 2016) have ever even laid eyes on the course material, but several of our peers have learned through it and say it’s a decent fundamentals course. . . but as anything else, a lot of it depends on the individual. Much like an apprenticeship, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. There are a handful of specialized trade schools around the country that offer courses in locksmithing, and we’re told that some high schools offer vo-tech classes, but none are available locally that we’re aware of.
Last but certainly not least: ALOA, the most widely-recognized association for security professionals (the $5 term for “locksmith”), offers student memberships, and provides access to a wealth of information and fellowship. Several websites are devoted to the craft, one of our favorites being www.locksmithcommunity.com. And, of course, there’s plenty of dead-tree format (a.k.a. “books”) material out there, too. Take a look in your local library, or run through Amazon.com. TOOL (Tennessee Organization Of Locksmiths-www.tnlocksmiths.org ) offers classes in various (albeit usually intended for veterans of the trade) facets of the business from time to time.
As to getting into our line of work, if you’re serious about locksmithing and wish to do it for yourself one day (i.e. start your own shop and put us out of business); we’d strongly suggest trying it first by working for an established shop. It’s been our experience that enthusiasm does not always translate into aptitude, and just like most other small businesses, the failure rate vastly exceeds the success rate. Not saying you can’t do it, just that we see lots of “like new, barely used” locksmith vans and tool sets for sale in the trade classifieds. More often than not, trade proficiency and business sense aren’t found between the same pair of shoulders.
• Are you hiring?
Probably not right now, but if you’ve had at least 5 years experience in commercial, residential, or automotive locksmithing, safe & vault service, or bring something else to the table, such as experience in metalworking, woodworking, construction, or automotive; or you’re just an all-around mechanically, electronically, and socially adept person, you’re always welcome to leave a resume.
• I see one of the requirements to earn my TN state locksmith license is 40 hours as an apprentice under a licensed locksmith. Can I work those 40 hours at Lock Medic?
We evaluate apprentices on a case-by-case basis. If you meet the state licensing requirements otherwise (qualifying education, no prior felony convictions, etc.) odds are good we’ll be willing to take you on for your apprenticeship period as an unpaid intern. You will learn during the week, we don’t abuse our interns by limiting their tasks to remedial stuff like stamping keys or sweeping the shop.
• If I hire you to rekey or make a key for my house, car, business, etc., how do I know you aren’t going to keep a copy for yourself and come back later and steal my stuff?
First, we carry a bond that specifically protects our customers in such an event. Second, if we were the last people to touch your locks before your house gets burgled in a manner that suggests a key was used, you can bet that we’ll be on top of the list of police interviews. Third, we wouldn’t be in business for long if we had a reputation of breaking into our customer’s establishments. Fourth, we don’t like getting shot at.
• I hired you to rekey/make a key for [something] a while back, and now I’ve lost that key. Did you keep a file copy of my key so I can just come down and pick one up?
We never keep copies of our customer’s keys because of the liability and logistical nightmare it would create. We will note your key code or bitting on your invoice if you specifically ask us to, but make no guarantee this information will be available later, so you shouldn’t depend on us to do so. If we did note your key information on your invoice, the information, if available, will only be accessible during regular business hours at our storefront, not from our service trucks.
• What’s a “Service Call”, and why is it on my invoice?
The best way to describe it: The rental fee for one of our service trucks and a driver (one of our technicians) for the average amount of time it takes to get to a jobsite and back. This is typically charged once per invoice for field service. We didn’t just pull a number out of a hat, it’s actually based on what we calculated it costs to buy, outfit, maintain, insure, and operate a service truck and all the tools and machinery inside it on a yearly basis, plus the hourly rate of the tech driving it, divided by the average number of calls we run per year.