This is a subject ive been asked to give some basic tips on, which surprised me a little as so many good lock id books exist, and it really takes less time than many believe to learn and master.
Yet despite this, many still struggle with this simple but crucial skill, especially when you come across the odd door that looks more like a pepperpot from a previous locksmith visit.
When attending lockouts on mortice locks , Lock ID is a crucial part of the opening, regardless of whether you pick or drill , if unable to correctly id the lock , drilling or picking becomes a far harder and often messier job. Incorrect ID can lead to real hassles especially if drilling, and if honest , we have all been there.
I am sorry if this basic information is too basic for some, but as many student locksmiths will be reading this, i hope of interest to some and more importantly of some use. This is my way of doing it, it has never let me down in the past, others may have better solutions and i welcome there articles in the future.
Lock id is far from rocket science, and is based on a simple process of what we can see when shinning a torch in the keyway, and nothing else, just the small area around the keyhole that we can see.
It has in the past been posssible to get id hints via the escutcheon fitted and by the colour of the lock, but ive lost count how many doors ive been to with a chubb escutcheon and a union or era lock retro fitted, and colour is far less help these days for 2 main reasons, 1) so many manufacturers now use the same colour or same lock in different colours, and , 2) most colours i see when shining a torch in the keyway tend to be rust brown where the keyway has weathered. So although where evident i take note of these points , i rely on identification points such as hard plate shape , key gauges and curtains , for an accurate identification.
Hard plate shapes in most cases almost always give an accurate identification, and is the id that gives me the correct id 90% of the time.
Take for instance , you shine your torch into the keyway and you have a weathered case so no colour tips , what you see is a 5 gauge keyway with no hardplate around the keyhole, and you notice the hardplate running in a straight line across the top of the keyway , this alone limits the lock to 1 of 3 common makes, as only 3 common locks have this style of hardplate, examples of some of these are below :
Bear in mind that the above are new, we are tallking of a weathered lock in the door with no colour visible, so we have limited the lock to 1 of 3 locks, just by the hard plate, if looking closer at the curtains , ERA always have a dirty grey dull looking curtain, and often a dimple either side of keyway, the walsall always has a shiney chrome coated curtain that doesnt dull, so easily told apart from each other, the strong bolt is a new addition that also has a distinctive curtain, if you have these 3 locks in stock then turn the curtains both ways and inspect the throwers, all are very different, the new walsall will not turn in the locking direction at all.
So from hard plate shape we narrowed it down to just 1 of 3 x 5 gauge locks , ( had the lock been 7gauge then can only be an ERA profit with this hardplate. ) , via inspecting the curtain we id the correct lock very easily indeed, the whole process takes around 1 minute to complete.
Now consider that you shine in your torch and you see some colour , the lock is light grey, you see the hardplate running down both sides of keyway flush with keyway, 6 badged named locks have this style of hardplate, though in reality relates to only 2 locks, these are legge , and Chubb 3U114, id like to first mention what i mean by 6 actually being 2,
as most know the chubb 3U114 , Yale 560 and UNION 2134 are actually the same lock, only differences being the colour , badge and the price , and in the case of the chubb version, the little oblong cut out in the top of the curtain. So as the same lock for picking, decoding or drilling purposes we can treat it as just 1 lock.
Legge 5641 1998 onwards
This lock also had 3 main badged names , Legge in black (legge value in grey) , Asec in beige or Jewsons in dark green. Again the differences being only colour badge and price, so again we can treat these as 1 lock.
The common id mistake on these 2 lock types is normally made by locksmiths when colour can be seen with the Chubb 3U114 and the Legge value, as quick glance they see the grey and assume chubb, study the 2 locks below;
Despite both locks having similar keyways, both are clearly very different, both locks have a shiny 5 gauge curtain, and the obvious difference of shape with the inverted legge curtain is often missed. The instant give away is the hard plate, the Legge hardplate stops just short of the end of keyway, so the legge keyway is 1mm longer than the hardplate either side, and this is so for every legge bs lock regardless of badge from BS3621-1998 models to current models, and is a unique hardplate to legge and its badged derivitives.
Look carefully at the Chubb 3U114 lock, its hard plate is a full 2mm longer than the keyway on both sides, and is unique to chubb 3U114, union 2134 and yale 560 bs3621-2004 locks onwards.
So in taking a minute and looking closely at these locks a correct id is possible instantly.
Looking at some other common bs lock keyways and their unique hardplate shapes may help;
This lock has appeared under a host of badges, sterling , adore to name a few and in many colours including black , red , blue , purple , grey etc, and was once easily identified by its unique 7gauge curtain that used to turn a full 360 degrees on models up to BS3621-2004, no other curtain did this, but from BS3621-2004 the curtain no longer turns 360 degrees, but hard plate shape gives an instant id to any securefast lock regardless of year, look at the 2 pictures below;
Securefast BS3621-2004 onwards
Despite the change of curtain to now throw the bolt, and the change of colour, the locks unique hardplate design remains exactly the same, keyhole shaped hardplate around keyway, stopping ¾ of way down the keyway and always offset to the back of the lock, to the point that it looks like its been stuck on incorrectly. This shape is dicident of all bs securefast locks and is a unique hardplate to securefast.
Chubb 3U114 , Yale and Union 2134 locks bs3621-1980 and BS3621-1998 models
These too were the same lock bar badge , colour and price, and also had a unique hard plate shape, look at the 2 examples below;
Note the step in the hardplate on the locks rear side of keyway, we cant normaly see the full step through the keyway, but can clearly see that on the side of the keyway towards the rear of the lock, the hardplate stops just under half way down the keyway, so easily identified as again unique.
A few guys reported a few problems when using the safeventures decoder with plastercine impressions and reading the No 2s as marked in some when the levers changed just before the release of the BS3621-2004 E models with the extra bolt throw, this was due to the new levers being fitted in the last of the old cases, though off subject, a quick id point to id which lever you have is to turn the curtain in unlocking direction, the old levers curtain had a small triangle cut out in bottom of curtain the new levers curtain does not, may be of use to someone.
The Easy T lock
One of the most easy locks to id through the keyway, despite looking totally different on each side of the door, both are still unique;
Easy T L/H mounted
Easy T R/H mounted
Note the hardplate shape on this lock, it is totally unique to the easy t lock range , and on the right if you do miss the hardplate, the curtain thickness is a dead give away.
The ERA fortress Lock
Despite being a relitively new lock is already on its 3rd version, below are pictures of the 3 keyways on the fortress;
ERA Fortress BS3621-2004
ERA Fortress Classic BS3621-2004
ERA Fortress BS3621-2007
Despite the colour and the upgraded brass internals of the classic model the bs3621-2004 models of the fortress remain the same for picking or drilling, these 2 models have the distinctive concealed curtain and internal wards. And the new bs3621-2007 models have kindly put the instinctive dimple either side of the keyway for our id purposes, all 3 models have the distinctive era hardplates indictive to just ERA , Walsall and Union strongbolt, though union strongbolt and new ERA fortress are the same internals and the same for picking or drilling purposes.
NB : A word of caution for those using the safe ventures decoder on the Fortess classic locks, if you come across one you cannot read as the spacing is out , this is due to the very 1st run of the fortress classic locks that had a brass spacer between each lever, and altered the key spacing so the decoder didnt work.
I now want to look at common bs locks with hardplate designs of Arch cut outs around the keyway , the 4 most common of these were the Aldridge , Ingersoll, legge and avocet , the first 3 had similar slider levers and were the same for picking and for drilling purposes, so we will concentrate on the most common 2 , The legge 5641 BS3621-1980 lock and the avocet lock.
Legge 5641 BS3621-1980
One glance normally sufficed to tell these 2 makes apart, The legge has always had a straight keyway, the avocet has a very distinctive flared old fashioned I Spy shaped keyway which was unique to avocet bs locks however badged. Both locks came in an array of colours, but most commonly the legge in black and the avocet in marron or brown.
The final ( thank god many may say) hard plate shape i want to look at is the full oval cut out design of hardplate, in current years mostly found on just 3 BS locks commonly, ERA Invincible bs3621 1980 , yale titan and old chubb 3G114 and 1 non bs lock often mistaken for a bs lock The henderson, i believe modric did a green lock with oval cut out also but havnt seen one in the door to date.
We can not worry too much about the yale titan as fitted with invincible levers and for all intents and purposes despite being badged as yale was an old ERA invincible different only in badge colour and price. So we will look at the 2 bs locks and the 1 non bs lock most commonly seen with an oval cut out design of hardplate pictured below;
Chubb 3G114 old
ERA Invincible Old
You will see that these are easily told apart at 1st glance, The chubb has a distinctive brass curtain and hammerite effect case, the Henderson has a small cut out in top of curtain and the era oval is partially offset, so all distinctive in their own right.
The last common error often made by locksmiths when drilling is with the current chubb 3G114 and chubb 3G114E models, as the drill points are very different, at first sight from the pictures below the keyways look identical, and in fact the hardplates and cases are through the keyway as seen in the pictures below;
An almost instant id can be confirmed by simply turning the curtain 45 degrees in the unlock direction, and shining your torch through thr keyway as in the pictures below;
Note the gap at the bottom of the curtain/bolt thrower at the base of the keyway, the chubb 3G114 has only 2mm of gap, whereas , The chubb 3G114E has 5 to 6mm of gap, so quickly and instantly correctly identified.
This short basic guide is just that, short , basic and covering most common bs locks seen today, i am sure ive missed some shapes etc, but this has been written as a pointer to student locksmiths to assist with developing their own lock id database and knowledge, using locks taken out of doors, current stock, and distributor and manufacturer catalogues as much can be learnt from these.
You will always come across something that will catch you out now and then, if really unable to id , and despite best efforts unable to pick, and considering drilling, rather than pepperpot the door, follow some simple rules, the very worst scenario is a door with a maximum of 4 neat holes in a straight line.
• The stump measurement up is in most current bs locks ( almost all bar the 110 and 220 ) the length of the keyway up from the top of the curtain, the key cannot lift any higher.
• If a 7g or 8g keyway then 85% of locks with this size keyway are open ended levers so if this gauge keyway 1st hole 15mm towards bolt will in most cases be succesfull
• With most drill points for lever gate being either 15mm towards bolt, 4 to 6mm towards bolt or dead center of keyway the length of the keway up, one of these 3 small holes should always get the correct spot, occasionally the odd lock such as union 2101 and union butters will need a 4th hole 4mm away from bolt , no lock should ever require more than 4 neat holes in a straight line if unable to id, but if following the above and putting in a little effort to study, very few locks will catch you out.
As stated this isnt a drill guide, nor is it the definitive lock id guide, but for basic lock id it does work, we all develop our own methods, and if this article is a little basic, and teaching some to suck eggs then i do appologise to these locksmiths, but if of use and helpfull to some students struggling with id then i hope it helps.