Key Stuck In A Lock? Try These 3 Solutions!
So your lock won’t let go of your key, you’re stuck on the outside wondering what to do. Pulling on the key might as well be pulling on the sword in the stone, it’s not releasing, and you’re worried about breaking it or the lock. What do you do? What happened inside the lock that brought you to this point? How can you ensure this never happens to you again? Today, your favorite Houston Locksmith Guardian Safe & Lock will go over this “stuck key” scenario to help make you aware of what happens when a key is stuck in a lock in detail, including what a non-locksmith can do to rectify the issue.
Why Is My Key Stuck?
Regardless of the type of pin-tumbler key you’re dealing with, they all operate on a similar principle. Each key has teeth on it, and each “valley” between the teeth on the key has to be a specific depth increment. This depth increment is dependent on the height of the bottom or “key” pin inside of the lock. Above the bottom or “key” pin is the top or “driver” pin, which is a plain cylinder shape and simply drives the bottom or “key” pin, which is cylindrical on the top like the “top” or driver pins but conical on the bottom to slide into the “valleys” on the key. On top of the stack of both pin types is the final component; a small spring that propels the top pin and in turn the bottom pin as well.
In a perfect situation; the key pushes the pins up to a specific point called the “shear line”. When the key is in this position, and if it has the correct depth teeth and valleys or “cuts”, the bottom or “key” pins are pushed so they align with the top of the cylinder, pushing the top or “driver” pins out of the cylinder entirely and into the housing. This allows the key and cylinder to spin, as the “shear line” where the cylinder or “plug” meets the housing no longer has any pins obstructing it.
In our situation, there are two very common possible causes that are serviceable on the spot; debris clogging the pins and the cylinder or “plug” loosening from the back and sliding in a manner that the pins are unable to slide back up into the housing. Let’s break down what to do with each possible cause.
How To Remove A Stuck Key
Ensure The Key Is In The Correct Position
When your key becomes stuck, as we covered before, the most common reason is that the pin-stack is unable to retract out of the cylinder due to it being aligned incorrectly or obstructed. Therefore; your first troubleshooting step should be to ensure that the key is properly oriented. The correct orientation is with the teeth of the key facing straight up, as this is the only position that allows the pin-stack to rise out of the way. While this is an incredibly basic first step, check to make sure that your key is aligned properly before attempting more troubleshooting. Having the key “upside down” may look correct from the outside but will not allow your key to be removed, as the pin-stack cannot fall back into place correctly in this position.
Steady The Lock Cylinder / Plug
The most common cause of a key “getting stuck” is a loose tailpiece or cam. Lock cylinders are built so that you can insert a key into the front of the cylinder to rotate the cylinder. The other, back side of the cylinder will have a tail of some kind that can be loosened or tightened that operates the lock. When this tailpiece becomes loose, the cylinder will be able to slide “forwards” and “backwards”– IE towards and away from you. Inside the lock, this causes the holes for the pins of the cylinder and in the housing to not align, meaning there’s no room for the pins to slide away from the key. Luckily for you, this is a complicated issue with a simple, temporary fix. Take a look at the video below for more information, as a visual explanation makes explaining what to do much simpler:
Attempt To Use A Teflon-Based Lubricant
If your key is correctly aligned and the lock cylinder doesn’t have a loose tailpiece, the problem could likely be an obstruction. Unfortunately; obstructions are not easily cleared when a key is occupying the cylinder, so your options for solving this issue are extremely limited. Really, the only practical advice in this situation is to use a Teflon-based lubricant. To do so correctly, position the straw of the lubricant directly above the teeth of the key lodged in the lock. Use a very small amount of lubricant here, less than 1 second of pressure on the nozzle should release enough, and attempt to work the key up and down or side to side in the lock. This process should work some lubricant into the lock mechanism and clear obstructions to allow the pins to release the key.
When lubricating locks in this or any other manner, DO NOT use WD-40. WD-40 is not a simple lubricant, it is a chemical designed to displace water (hence the name WD-40, “Water Displacement [Formula] 40”). WD-40 will only lubricate a lock for a few minutes before drying out even more than before you used it, leaving you with the same issue or worse, as this is what it was designed to do. Also; be aware that in hot, humid climates like the Houston, Texas area that graphite-based lubricants can gum-up and solidify in the lock; causing this exact issue to occur.
If the above tips don’t work this is the point where you may need to consider calling a professional Katy locksmith, as your issue may be more specialized in nature and unable to be solved by an amateur without causing undue damage to the lock or yourself.
How To Ensure Your Key Doesn’t Get Stuck Again
There are several things you can do to ensure your lock doesn’t bind in this manner again. The first is to ensure the tailpiece is firmly in place and not loose, but not too tight either; as too much pressure can bind the lock. You may also want to have that specific lock re-keyed. Like every mechanical device, keys and locks wear over time with use and fall out of spec. Simply cutting a new key may not work, as a fresh key with worn pins will not raise to create the “shear line” necessary for function. The pins inside of locks are brass, and will wear with age too. Re-keying your lock means fresh, new pins and a new key that can ensure many more years of operation.
You may also try lubricating your lock with a Teflon-based lubricant at least once or twice a year by applying the lubricant to the keyhole and running your key (Or ideally a blank key) in and out of the lock. This will clear debris before in can clog the cylinder, and lubricate it for long-term smooth function.
It’s also important to remember that locks are not immortal; and that with age the cylinder, housing, tail or any other components may warp out of their correct shape. A lock with a warped cylinder or housing especially may be physically impossible to restore full function to, and replacing it may be the only option. Your best bet is to contact a local Humble locksmith to determine if this is the case.
Guardian Safe & Lock – Your Local Houston Locksmith
Luckily for you, even if these simple tricks fail, you have a local locksmith that Houston trusts on your side. Guardian Safe & Lock endeavors to be the security company Houston calls for every sort of issue. From deadbolt lock installation or delivering a fire resistant safe to your home, to Houston commercial key duplication, and performing work as the auto locksmith Houston Texas knows gets the job done right the first time; Guardian Safe & Lock is ready to tackle your security challenges today!
Looking for more than keys? Guardian Safe & Lock is ready to Make Locksmithing Great Again, and is also fully licensed to quote, install and service access control systems (including PDK access control) as well as several types of Houston surveillance camera systems! Call now for a free estimate on our solutions for you: 832-534-8687