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Dos and Don'ts

Most people, naturally, pay little attention to doors and locks; but if you're interested, here are a few observations that might help you; or help us help you.

  • Do use your deadlock when you go out

In 19 out of 20 break-ins that I attend, the door was only latched shut. A latch is easy to circumvent; both destructively and non-destructively.

  • If you have snapped your key off in the lock, please don't poke at it.

Poking will probably push the fragment deep into the lock and transform a 10 minute job into a 70 minute job. (And no-one I know of has succeeded in retrieving snapped off key ends with schemes involving superglue; this transforms a 10 minute job into a 90 minute job and will probably cost you a new lock as well!)

  • If you have high-security locks like Banham or Bramah, think about what you are going to do if you get locked out or if your lock misbehaves.

A high-security lock increases the difficulty of a locksmith getting you in just as much as it increases the difficulty of a burglar getting in. Keep the number of your high-security lock supplier in your phone or address book. (Banham is 020 7622 5151)

  • Do let the locksmith know if you have high-security, foreign or exotic locks (especially at the tops of skyscrapers or the ends of long garden paths).

We tend to bring the common tools and parts to your door. Describing a Banham, Bramah or Ingersoll lock as a "Yale" may mean that the locksmith doesn't come correctly prepared to help you.

  • Do have a look at what locks you have got on your doors.

Is your latch cylinder a traditional Yale? Is your deadlock a 5-lever Chubb? Having an idea as to what locks are fitted may well get you in faster and non-destructively should you ever lock yourself out. It can be difficult to tell, but straightforward cylinders have a name stamped on their face (where you insert the key); straightforward mortice deadlocks have a name and a description on the faceplate (where the bolt comes out in the edge of the door).

  • Please don't paint over locks.

If you or your painter are painting a door, please put some masking tape over the locks. If a lock gets painted in and you need to change it because your keys get compromised, the paint film will inevitably get damaged and spoil the finish. Also, a good deadlock has little rollers built into its bolt and they prevent someone hacksawing though the bolt. If you get paint into these rollers, you will glue them and stop them rolling, making life much easier for someone breaking in.

  • Don't put fancy mouldings around door frames

At least the first 17 mm of a door frame — the part you actually see around the door as you stand inside looking at the closed door — should be flat. Don't let your builder or carpenter fit an attractive moulding right up to the frame edge because then you won't be able to properly fit a London bar.

  • Do keep an eye (and an ear, and some fingers) on multi-point locks.

Probably the silliest invention of the last few decades, for doors at least, is the multi-point lock. It looks very impressive: you operate the handle and all manner of great-looking mushrooms, rollers, bolts and hooks swing into action.

However, they are probably all operated by the second silliest security invention of the last few decades: the euro-profile cylinder. Putting it another way: the typical multi-point lock has a single point of failure — the cylinder — and that single point of failure is insecure and fragile. I obviously won't go into how the euro-profile cylinder can be compromised but manufacturers are now selling add-ons, that bring the profile cylinder up to the security of a traditional pin tumber cylinder like the common-or-garden Yale. (The manufacturers — apart that is from the actual inventor — can't really be blamed. The bedratted thing has become a "standard".)

If your patio door, or possibly your front door is fitted with a mutli-point lock, and if it starts to get more dificult to operate, or starts making different noises to usual, get it seen to. If you leave it until it suffers one of at least half-a-dozen possible failures, you will face a long and possibly destructive job in getting it open again.

If the key starts to get more difficult to turn, or if extra clunks or grinding noises start to be heard, or if it sometimes takes extra turns of the key to unlock, or if the bolting or unbolting (usually the lifting of the handle) starts to get more difficult or noisier, have a locksmith look at it. If you wait until it fails, it could easily be three times more expensive and ten times more inconvenient. This is particularly important when wooden doors have been fitted with multi-point locks. uPVC has some give and a jammed hook-bolt can sometimes be freed without damaging the door. Wood has much less give and is unlikely to survive a stuck or broken mechanism unscathed.

Of course, if any lock gets progressively more troublesome to open or close, don't wait until it locks you out or in before you get it looked at.

  • Do try to get keys cut by someone who looks like they know what they're doing.

Key cutting machines need to be used correctly and they need to be callibrated from time to time, otherwise the copies simply won't work and you'll need to take them back. (So also consider using a service near your home rather than your place of work.)

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