If you ever moved into a new place, lost your house keys or had to fire an angry employee, you’ve probably been in a situation where you considered changing your locks. Most people are not aware that instead of changing their locks, there is a much better, and often cheaper solution – re-keying them. In this article I’m going to explain what does it mean to “re-key” a lock, and more importantly – when should you rekey your locks rather than changing them. Why is this important you ask? Because it can save you quite a lot of money every year. Some locksmiths take advantage of the fact that people are not informed about the differences and instead of explaining the different options to the customer, they choose the more expensive option for them.
What is Rekeying a lock?
While “changing a lock” is quite self explanatory, simply referring to changing an old lock with a new one, rekeying requires a bit of explanation to be understood. Rekeying a lock means to change the working key of the lock to a different key, without replacing the lock itself. In simpler words – you keep the same lock but the old key will no longer operate it. This is done by taking the lock apart and replacing some of the parts inside (called “tumblers” or “key pins”). Every series of key pins in your lock correspond to a specific key so when you replace those pins with different ones, you essentially set a new key that will now operate the lock. However complicated this may sound, it’s actually an easy procedure that shouldn’t take more than a few minutes given the right tools.
In order to rekey a lock, the locksmith has to have its current matching key. Without the matching key, the only way to rekey the lock will be to pick it open, and although it’s usually not a problem for a skilled locksmith, it will often incur additional charges which can make it more expensive than replacing the lock altogether.
Rekeying a lock does not hurt the security of the lock, nor does it make it more secure. One of the factors that makes a lock secure is how many pins are inside of it. As long as the locksmith swaps the old 5 pins with 5 new ones, the lock will remain just as secure as it was before. If you’re looking to get better security of your locks, changing them to new, higher security ones will be the way to go.
Due to the extremely low price of the key pins in the locks, rekeying is almost always much cheaper than getting your locks changed. When rekeying your locks, you are only being charged for the labor, whereas when you get your locks changed, you’re paying both for labor and parts.
One important thing to keep in mind is that all the locks come with a built in option to be rekeyed, so you don’t have to wonder whether your locks are rekeyable or not. However, the way to rekey different locks is not always the same and often requires different tools. For example, some high security locks such as “Medeco” and “Mul-T-Lock” require a unique set of tools and key pins to be rekeyed.
Rekeying is not only used when you want to retire an old key, but also to match more than one lock for the same key. For example, if your home has several locks and each lock has a different key, which can be inconvenient, you may want to rekey the locks to all match the same key. Keep in mind that in order to match 2 locks or more for one key, the locks has to be of the same brand or to share the same types of keyholes. If your key fits into one lock but won’t go into the other, it means their keyholes (or “keyways”) are different and they cannot be matched.
When should you Rekey?
The 2 most common scenarios to Rekey your locks are:
1. If you are happy with your locks, but want to change the key so that the old key won’t work anymore. For example:
2. When you have different keys for different locks and you want them all to match one single key. (given that all the locks are of the same brand or keyhole)
When should you change your locks?
1. You want your locks to be in a different color or design. For example, if you moved into a new place and your locks are old and rusted, you may want to get a new, nicer looking locks.
2. When you want to upgrade your security and change your locks to high security locks or electronic locks.
3. If you have locks of different brands on your house and you want them all to work on the same key, you will need to change some locks so that all your locks will be of the same brand (or have the same type of keyway), only then you can re-key them all to one key.
In cases where you have one or more locks installed but don’t have the key to them at all, you will need to compare the price of a new lock versus rekeying them without a key (which requires extra labor) and make an informed decision as to what is more cost effective. Only in cases where picking the lock and rekeying it is more expensive than the price of a new lock, you should change it.
Note that when getting your locks changed, the locksmith should be able to supply you with at least a few locks with a matching key. Most hardware stores also have the option to match your locks for free upon purchase.
Can you do it yourself?
Changing a standard residential lock is a fairly simple task that can be done with a phillips screwdriver. I may upload a video to Front Range Locksmith youtube channel showing how to change a simple doorknob and a deadbolt, although if you’re a little handy you can easily figure it out yourself.
On the other side, rekeying a lock doesn’t only require learning and practice, but also requires you to have the right tools, which are quite expensive. A professional pinning kit to rekey most locks costs around $250, which is well over the prices of 10 new basic locks. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you try to change a lock yourself and fail, there isn’t much damage you can do to the lock, but unsuccessfully trying to rekey a lock will almost always ruin it completely.
Some newer types of locks offer the option to rekey them easily at home without having to take them apart or call a locksmith. These locks, such as the Kwikset smartkey and Schlage SecureKey are becoming more and more popular as the technology improves, however they still have some flaws. So if rekeying a lock isn’t something you do often, I recommend leaving your regular locks on your door for now.