If you find yourself with a stuck or broken key, don’t panic! There are a few things you can do to try and fix the problem. In most cases, the key will come loose with a little bit of jiggling. If that doesn’t work, here are some tips for removing a stuck key from a lock.
Lubricate the lock
You can lubricate the lock with lubricating fluid, such as WD-40, but graphite powder works better. You may have trouble getting the powder between the key and the inside of the lock, though. The best bet is to hold the nozzle of the plastic tube against the lock opening and squeeze very sharply in the hope that the pressure will force the powder into the lock and around the broken key. If it appears the powder isn’t penetrating, use spray lubricant. Because it’s a liquid, it can seep into areas that a powder can’t go.
It takes liquid spray lubricants a few minutes to dissolve the rust and dirt particles that cause sticking, so if you use one of these, you have to be patient. Graphite powder works right away, though, and you can begin extraction as soon as you apply it.
Push the plug in
The keyhole plug in a pin tumbler lock (found in deadbolts and key-in-knob locks) is just one part of a larger locking cylinder. What’s visible to you, the face of the plug, is the small circle surrounding the keyway—and your stuck key. Now, if this plug is loose, it can move slightly within the cylinder and prevent the pin tumblers from aligning, which makes it difficult to unlock the door or remove the key. So, try this:
- Push your key in as far as it will go.
- Turn the key so that the keyway slot is in the exact position it was in when you inserted the key; this is the correct position for the pin tumblers to align in the cylinder.
- With your other hand, use the tip of your finger to push firmly on the face of the plug next to the key.
- Gently twist and pull the key out.
The light pressure applied in Step 3 prevents the plug from shifting as you try to remove the key. In many instances, that’s all it takes.
If you don’t have access to the tools you need because they’re inside and you’re locked outside, look at where the key snapped. If only half the key is stuck in the lock and the rest is in your hand, no one will be able to pick the lock while you’re out finding tools. If all the key cuts are still in the lock, anyone can turn it with a screwdriver, so have someone you trust stand guard while you get the things you need — or find something narrow and flat and use it to turn the lock yourself, so you can get inside and access your tools.
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