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Homeowner holds a broken key in front of a door lock.

How to Get a Broken Key out of a Lock? Tips & Tools to Use

You’re running late for work, trying to get everything in order in a hurry. With your hands full, you quickly insert the key into your front door’s lock and twist it – only you don’t feel that fluid movement. Instead, you hear a snapping sound and, upon looking down, realize that your house key just snapped inside of the lock. What a way to start the day.

Having a key break off inside the lock is an irritating and inconvenient problem.

Why Do Keys Break in Locks?

There are a few issues that can cause this problem.

  • Standard keys are made of relatively soft metals, like brass and nickel.
  • The key has been damaged by wear and tear over time.
  • The lock itself is not adequately lubricated or has jammed.

What to Do After a Key Breaks in the Lock

No matter the circumstances behind the broken key inside the lock – whether it’s a house lock, business lock, or car lock – it should be addressed immediately.

  • The broken key piece can actually cause damage to the lock.
  • If the key broke inside lock before the door was shut, you’ll be unable to lock the door, thereby leaving your home, car, or office at a greater risk of theft.
  • If the key broke off in the lock after you’ve closed the door, you may be unable to reopen the door until the issue is resolved.

Choosing the Right Method: How Your Lock Type Counts in Key Extraction?

The method to remove a broken key often depends on the type of lock in question. Standard pin tumbler locks, like those commonly used on home doors, are usually fairly straightforward when it comes to broken key extraction, and they allow for methods such as using a key extractor tool, tapping the lock, or using a saw blade.

However, other types of locking mechanisms might require different approaches. For instance, car locks or sophisticated digital or biometric locks present unique challenges due to their complex mechanisms. Removing a broken key from such locks should ideally be left to a professional locksmith.

Similarly, padlocks and tubular locks require different techniques and potentially specific tools for successful key extraction without causing damage.

Therefore, understanding the type of lock you’re dealing with will help in choosing an appropriate method for extracting a broken key or determining if professional assistance is needed.

How to Get a Broken Key out of a Lock?

If a key has busted off inside of the lock and you notice that a portion of it is sticking out of the lock, you should consider yourself lucky. If this is the situation, you may be able to extract the piece of key remaining in the lock by simply pinching it between your fingers and pulling it out.

If you can’t get ahold of the piece remaining inside the keyhole, it’s time to grab your toolbox.

Tools for Removing Broken Keys from Locks

If there’s only a small amount of key sticking out, the job will be more challenging. You can try extracting it using a pair of needle nose pliers or a strong magnet that can pull out the remaining piece.

If you have to poke and prod and can’t quickly grab the key, you may be doing more harm than good. You risk pushing the broken piece further into the lock, causing damage. So, we actually advise against this – proceed with caution!

Key extractor tool

For situations where the broken key fragment is lodged deeper and cannot be pulled out easily with tools like needle-nose pliers or magnets, professional locksmiths use tools known as key extractors.

A key extractor tool is designed to remove offending, stuck fragments inside the lock. It’s fashioned from a sturdy, thin piece of metal with a hook or spiral design at the end to grip onto the broken piece of the key. The design aims to engage the serrations of the key piece lodged inside and leverage it out of the lock.

While the thought of doing it yourself might seem intriguing, situations requiring a key extractor often require professional handling. Utilizing a key extractor requires expertise and patience. Without the right skillset and know-how, you might push the key further inside or cause irreparable damage to the lock.

The Saw Blade Method

One homegrown method attempted by some involves using a small saw blade. However, it needs to be handled with utmost care and precision. Carefully insert the saw blade into the lock cylinder, aligning it with the teeth of the key broken off inside. Once the saw blade hooks onto the key, gently pull the blade out. The idea is to make the saw teeth catch the edge of the key fragment, enabling it to be pulled out. However, this method could harm the lock if not done properly, so it’s recommended only as a last resort.

Regardless of your chosen method, it’s crucial to understand that key extraction might not succeed in the first attempt. It might require several attempts, bit by a careful bit, to completely remove a broken key from a lock. Patience is key here (no pun intended) as haste could damage the lock mechanism or the broken key being pushed further inside.

Always Consider Professional Help

While these methods may help in some scenarios, unsuitable or incorrect attempts to remove a broken key could damage the lock cylinder, leading to an even trickier situation. If your search for DIY solutions and attempts to remove the key doesn’t yield results or if you’re uncomfortable attempting it yourself, remember, it’s always best to leave it to professionals. A skilled locksmith has the necessary tools and expertise to handle various situations and can easily remove a broken key without causing further damage.

How to Remove a Broken Key When Part of the Key Isn’t Sticking Out of the Lock?

If no part of the key is sticking out of the lock, the chances of you being able to remove it yourself are slim – especially if you don’t want to damage the lock in the process.

It may be possible to use a flathead screwdriver small enough to fit into the keyhole. By inserting it in the lock, you can try to lever or loosen the positioning of the key until part of it extrudes from the lock. At that point, you should be able to extract the broken piece with needle nose pliers or a strong magnet.

Again, it’s possible to cause further lock damage by forcing tools into the lock. It may be better to call in the help of a professional locksmith.

How to Prevent Broken Keys?

There are a few things that you can do to prevent a key breaking off inside of a lock from occurring in the first place.

Lock Lubrication

Often, keys snap inside of locks because the lock hasn’t received proper maintenance. A silicone- based lubricant should be sprayed into the keyhole about every six months, or whenever you notice grinding or excess friction when locking the door.

Replacement Keys

Keys are subject to a lot of abuse and are used very frequently. So, if you notice that your keys are starting to wear, it’s time to have a copy made and toss out the old one.

Related article: How to Restore the Locks on Your Older Home.

When to Reach out to a Locksmith?

If you’re unsure, have spent a significant amount of time attempting extraction, or have concerns about potentially causing more damage to the lock, calling a professional locksmith is advisable. Their experience and access to advanced tools are your best bet at getting the broken key out without damaging the lock mechanism itself.

Your priority should be resolving this inconvenience efficiently and safeguarding your lock mechanism. Therefore, in case of any doubts regarding the extraction of a broken key, it’s best to rely on the services of a professional locksmith.

Time to Call a Locksmith?

GV Lock offers emergency locksmith services for this very reason. Contact us at (610) 644-5334 or fill out the form below for an estimate.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2015 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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