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How Door Locks Work

April 14, 2019

FirstSourceUser

Although there are innumerable styles and models of door locks, all are based on relatively simple technology. The door lock was invented more than 6,000 years ago in ancient Egypt, and while locks have evolved since then, the basic physics remain the same.

how door locks work

Pin and Tumbler Locks

Pin and tumbler locks are exceptionally common. The mechanism contains a set of spring-loaded pins inside small cylinders. When the key is inserted, it compresses the springs, aligning the space between the bottom and top pins around a track known as the shear line. When the shear line is clear, the key will turn. The compression of an incorrect key will misalign at least one pin, blocking the shear line and preventing the key from turning.

Tubular Locks

The tubular lock is a specific type of pin and tumbler lock named for its unique circular key. A rectangular notch on the key matches a similar hole on the lock for proper insertion. Tubular locks are most often found on items that are left unattended for long periods, such as ATMs, vending machines, and glass display cabinets in retail stores.

Rim Locks

Rim locks are common on older homes but are not frequently used today. They are among the oldest types of locks, and are surface mounted onto the door. A rim lock generally uses a simple latch mechanism, with obstructions known as wards inside the keyhole to prevent the wrong key from being used.

Mortise Locks

A mortise lock is installed in a pocket, known as a mortise, that is cut into the door. Mortise locks may use simple latches or high security deadbolts. They are strong, durable and, depending on features, may be extremely secure.

Electronic Locks

Electronic door locks are arguably the biggest evolution in the history of locks. An electronic lock uses an actuator to connect the mechanical lock parts to a small motor buried inside the door or frame. The motor is activated by electrical impulse, which may be delivered by a keypad, an electronic card reader, or even a wireless remote sensor. The lock will not open until it receives the proper electrical signal. However, manual bypasses are generally available to guard against electrical failure.

Choosing the right type of lock can be confusing, and most people select different lock styles for different applications. To ensure that your home or business is fully protected, consider seeking advice from a professional locksmith.

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