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How Does A Master Key Work?

Master Keying Multiple Cylinders

Say you own a business, and you need your office employees to be able to enter their own office as well as the front door. But some also need  access to private servers and file rooms. And HR has its own areas that others’ can’t access, and your cleaning staff needs to be able to get through every door in the building. 

What are you, as a business owner, to do in this situation? What affordable solution could keep confidential areas and materials safe? Is there any way besides having a full electronic access control system set up? There is, it’s called a Master Key System. 

What Is A Master Key?

A lot of people ask, “How does a master key work?” when they should be asking “How does a master key system work?” instead. Master keys are misunderstood by many people outside of the Locksmith trade. A Master key is the key in a Master Key System with the highest security clearance.

There is no one master key that opens all locks, for homes, cars, or commercial hardware. Such a key would defeat the point of locks existing in the first place!

In small master key systems, the highest key is usually referred to as the Master Key and stamped with the letter “M”. In larger key systems with more doors and individual keys, the Master Key is commonly referred to as the Grand Master or “GM Key”. Same key just a different label.

Real master keys are keys designed to open all pin tumbler locks in the same building, while still allowing single-access keys that only open Master Key Locksmithone of those doors on their own. The magic isn’t in the key, master or otherwise. It’s the individual pins and stacking of pins that allow the pin tumbler lock to turn with multiple shear lines, instead of one. 

How Do Locks Work?

Most locks operate on a pin tumbler system to where the cylinder spins with a level shear line. The shear line is the leveling of all pins in the cylinder that are created by inserting a working key. Inside the lock cylinder, there are usually 5 to 6 chambers.

In each chamber, there is a spring-loaded stack of pins or key pins that go up and down as it corresponds to the notches in the key. The spring pushes down a driver pin which in turn pushes down a master pin and bottom pin. The driver pin is flat on each side and its only purpose is to push down the pins below it into the divot of the key.

Under the driver pin is a master pin on top of a bottom pin. The master pin is flat on each side and stacked on top of the bottom pin. The bottom pin is flat on one side and pointed on the other, with the pointed side facing down towards the key blade. The master pins purpose is to add another variable or shear point in the cylinder in each chamber. This allows multiple keys to work the same lock.

Your key will push these pieces into place so that there is a gap (called the “shear line”) so that the lock cylinder can turn inside. This action unlocks or opens the door. Using a lot of math, locksmiths can set up essentially a ‘web’ of keys, allowing one key to work on most or all doors of a building while not interrupting others. This is what’s commonly called a master key system, a system of keys and cuts methodically organized and pinned to allow multiple keys to work in specific locks. 

 

 

How Much Does A Master Key Cost?

Making multiple keys work

Fortunately, a master key system is probably the most affordable solution when it comes to controlling access in a business setting. If you don’t have the budget available to install a full-blown access control system with card readers, biometrics, and pin code entry; a master key system is your best option. Usually, when incorporating a master key system into your existing keyed locks you are charged for rekeying each cylinder, and each key provided. 

No matter how the cylinders are keyed you will be charged a flat rate for each rekey usually between $14 to $20 each. You will also be charged for each provided key usually between $3 to $6 depending on the type of key your system uses, as well as a standard service call.

If you feel that you could benefit from a master key system, give us a call and get a free quote. These systems are very flexible and can be modified to fit any customer’s unique needs. Call today for your free quote! 832-534-8687

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