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Nobody builds like MASTER. Nobody. (Son of a locksmith review)
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on June 10, 2021
My father was a full time locksmith for most of my life, and most of his own. He passed away less than a year after retiring. He loved locks. I could try to analyze his desire to solve real world, tangible problems under his control. Or perhaps he was just entertained by puzzles and got some kind of gratification using his mechanical skills to help relieve some poor, anxious person with lost keys, a broken lock, or who had been freshly burglarized and was beefing up their doors. Or, Dad's motivation may have been something else entirely. One thing is not in dispute. He loved, respected, and had deep knowledge on locks of all shapes, sizes, age, style, and most of all - how to defeat any lock, without a key.
My parents split when I was young, so I was with my Dad many, many weekends. This was doing the 1980s, before children were the center of the universe. I wasn't being entertained with nonstop activities on those weekends: I just did whatever Dad was doing. He was a full time locksmith because we have a gigantic university / hospital complex in town that has every type of in-house tradesmen as possible. This place is a small city within a city. They have their own power plant and fire department. So Dad worked in the "lock shop," with 3 or 4 other locksmiths. Constant new construction. New doors, cabinets, drawers, file cabinets, etc. Constant repair tickets. Stuff wears out and breaks. And Constant "dummy" moves. Locked keys in cabinet. Locked keys in office. Left keys inside patient during appendectomy. Lost key to file cabinet. Key broke off in lock. Guy from No Country For Old Men destroyed deadbolt with cattle-kill air powered bolt gun. That sort of thing.
Sometimes, Dad would be on-call on weekends. If I was with him, and he got called in, I went too. It fascinated me. The whole thing. This giant hospital / college. All the trade shops with huge machines and massive power tools I'd never seen before. Being a teaching hospital - they had research labs. My oh my. I dont know if this is still practiced, but back then, on a weekend someone lost some keys to cages, my Dad had to go in and open them up. Cages? CAGES?! Uh huh. Monkey's. Or primates of some sort. Research. Medical research. That is all I know and all I wanna know. They didn't look good. I remember that much. My Dad told.me that was tame compared to some of the stuff he had seen at work. Of course. Hospital. Yikes.
That, of course, was not his focus. He loved locks. Every time some advancement or innovation implemented in any lock product, he would go nuts. Learning it, obtaining one, taking it apart and reassembling over and over. Smart locks were just gaining traction when he passed away. I believe Bluetooth deadbolts existed, and a small selection at that - but he was jazzed.
Standard locks - meaning old school door handle locks and deadbolts, were always around. He was always taking them apart and putting them back together. Timing himself. But that was a fraction of the time he spent compared to picking.
Dad would scoff every time I watched a movie with him in which some spy or criminal walks up to a door, inserts his picks, turns the lock and opens the door, as if he had a key. Because he knew that even a professional with tons of practice on one given lock that has one key will STILL take a minute to rake the pins level with correct tension. If you practice on one lock enough, you can open it in a minute. Nit one type of lock - one lock with one key that works on it. You can sort of memorize pin position by feel if you pick the same lock 10,000 times.
Now you probably realize that I didn't just sit there and watch on those weekends. There was always a tray on the table with a couple locks on it, some parts and tools, and other cleaners and lubricant tools of the trade. I was welcome to grab one and mess with it. And what did I want to learn? Of course. Picking. So pick locks we did. It's also a lot easier to pick a lock you're holding in one hand, sitting in a chair at a table with all your tools. Not the same as bending down or kneeling with a flashlight in your mouth. Dad taught me how locks work. Showed me the inside of the lock cylinder, how each pin had to seat correctly and line up, or the lock would not turn. How the peaks and valleys on keys actually serve as a template for those pins in the lock to line up level, and allow it to turn.
We got a hold of some crazy, weird stuff. Handcuffs and a jail cell door lock from the 1890s. A Chinese "lock" that trapped the hand of anyone tampering with the lock. Lots of very old, very heavy, ridiculous locks that looked like they were torn out of cobblestone castle entrances. Other novelties people gave him. And padlocks. The man had a penchant for padlocks. If he heard someone across the room at a crowded party say something about a lost key padlock, the person he had been speaking to would be abandoned immediately, and Dad would be insisting on running home for some tools within five minutes.
He taught my sister and I to pick anything you'd find on any mechanical door today. Door handle locks. Deadbolts. Small locks on cabinets, desks, drawers. Lock boxes. Tubular cam locks, like the ones on vending machines. Electronic entry of some types had already infiltrated commercial and academic settings, so he worked with many keycard and combination systems using electric lock and release mechanisms. He brought some keyboard stuff home, and we learned that too. He showed us how easily each and every lock and locking device could be defeated. Even those keycard locks have a fatal flaw that $75 and a little wiring / soldering could get you the equivalent of a master key for the most common type of electronic lock operated by keycard.
Most of the time, we would just pick standard locks. We had the real tools and a real professional to teach us. And I was young and a sponge for new information and skills. My sister is three years younger than I am, but she was bitten by the bug just as bad. After you successfully pick a lock by yourself, without assistance, suggestions and advice, it feels like hitting a home run, or bowling a strike, hitting the bullseye. When you pick the same lock over and over, locking and unlocking again and again - you will feel the picks hitting the pins inside the lock the same way, over and over. These are 1 & 2mm changes, but you feel them in your fingers after raking the wafer thing metal tool over the pins, hundreds and thousands if times. Those minute, mm changes in pin position that are inside the lock - so you can't see them - can be memorized by touch. A sort of "muscle memory" can kick in if you've picked one lock 10,000 times, and your hands sort of do the work without thinking about it.
Now back to the movies and TV. Did I just say that with enough practice on one individual lock, a person could become fast at picking that exact lock? Yes. Fast compared to walking up to a lock you've never seen before. But not movies and TV fast. Nobody can do that.
My sister and I would sit at the table with identical model locks, each with our own lock pick set. My Dad would start the stopwatch, and say, "GO!" I got good. I started to know what to do and which picks and tension wrench to use when the lock was a Kwikset, or Schlage, or Yale. I saw that practicing on the same lock made me pick that one lock quicker. I became obsessed with trying to be as fast as it looked on TV, even after I was fully aware it wasn't possible. I got very fast, but not "one motion picks into lock, turn and open" nonsense. I could for sure open the one I used most under 30 seconds. That is in my hands, not in a door, and after opening it over 1000 times before I got that quick.
I could eventually pick anything. Those metal covered in black rubber "U" shaped bike locks some people called "kryptonite" locks back then had the cylindrical cam locks that people swore by - so I had to conquer those, too. Deadbolts. Tons and tons of different deadbolts. Taking apart. Rebuilding. Re-pinning. Making new keys by hand - with files, not machines. This is what I did all weekend, every weekend from age 8 until around 15. My sister as well. We got GOOD. Faster than our Dad at the standard fare picking of deadbolts and door handle locks. Picking is a small part of being a locksmith, and being able to do it is all that matters. Speed serves little utility in lockpicking unless you're a criminal or trying to save a life in danger, behind a lock. Knowing HOW to pick a variety of locks is WAY, WAY more important and useful than being excellent at one model of one lock manufacturer.
Eventually, my little sister surpassed me. In speed. In skill. Proficiency. She knew more locks and had successfully opened many, many more types and brands and models than I did. I found out she was doing it all the time, not just weekends. She was entertaining her friends with this talent, and being young and dumb, she got them into cabinets and behind doors that were locked for a reason. Teenagers.
For the record, my sister did not go on to run a crime syndicate. She is a suburban mother of two small kids, and works for a lawfirm. To this day, she has never been "locked out" of anything for more than a half hour.
We eventually each had all the tools of the lock trade. Nit just stuff to pick locks, but installation tools and templates, and our own pin libraries. And yeah... picks, tension wrenches, pick guns, Jimmy sticks and plastic wedges for car doors, everything. My sister got better than me. She probably still is. My Dad was so proud. I bet if had become criminals, he would have only been disappointed if we got caught because we didn't have the correct tools with us.
So what? What are we doing here? Writing the first chapter of "My Dad the Locksmith?" I dunno. Maybe. No! No.
He was a career professional who had to be versed in a hundred types of locks. From installation, operation, defeating, and repairing, to removing and replacing. He knew them all, quite literally inside and out. He knew which company started using a substandard latching mechanism, and the year the switch was made, along with the mechanical failure it caused. Hundreds of facts like that. Which company was bought and absorbed by another, making entire models of lock extinct, and ruined an otherwise solid product. It was his job, but he also really liked this stuff. And his opinions about doors and locks were always right. He knew what good product was, and more importantly, he could spot a piece of garbage door or lock a mile away.
When he passed away, I had all his keys. Still do. Giant ring like a jailer or something. I kept them. Except one. The hospital master key. There are less than 10 that exist. Nobody needs access like that. I took that one off the ring, and put it in his shirt pocket during his wake. So he still has it, and he always will.
That brings us to today. I still abide by every lesson I ever got about locks from my Dad. I scoff at movies with 3 second lock pick scenes. There are brands of lock that not only will I never buy, but brands I have taken out of doors that work fine, so I can put a reputable lock in. I embrace technology, as I know my dad would have. I have a smarthome wired to the gills. Electronic locks. Magnetic locks. Wifi locks.
The one type of lock that hasn't had major modern upgrades that have caught on is the humble padlock. Probably due to its size, portability, and the fact that half of all padlocks are combination. Whatever the reason, padlocks today are pretty much as they have been for decades.
When it came to padlocks, my Dad had one and only one piece of advice. One word, actually.
Buy Master padlocks. Don't even waste your time with anything else. Nothing compares to the quality of the parts. No other lock holds a candle to the longevity and indestructibility of a Master. There used to be an Ad in which a marksman shot a Master padlock with some rifle. It put a hole in the lock; a big one. The latch didn't, and still wouldn't release. The old man REPEATED that test after someone told him it must have been a trick. He did get the lock to pop eventually: after hitting it 11 times with a .45 caliber.
Master. Buy Master.
This lock you see here and are thinking of getting is NOT going to stop bullets. It probably wouldn't stop a determined person with a big hammer and some time. It's a small, personal item lock. Another gem my Dad had was, "Locks are to keep honest people out." Meaning, if a bad guy wants to get past a lock, he will. This small lock is meant for luggage, or a small lockbox, maybe for documents. You can see in the attached pictures that I've used mine on a couple Pelican type hard plastic cases, made to hold small electronics. The extended cable type shackle allows for some flexibility, and the latching mechanism is innovative. It's a strong lock in a small package. Much tougher and heartier, made with better parts than anything I've ever seen in this compact size. Usually the "luggage" type locks are toy-like and flimsy.
You set your own combination on this lock and can change it at will. I bought two, and it is nice to use the same combination on both.
You don't HAVE to buy this lock. It might be too small, or too big, or you want a keyed padlock. That's fine. Just do me one solid, and listen to my Dad, the professional locksmith.
"MASTER. Buy Master."