Bump Keys: How they Work and the Security Up-Sell Potential

Posted by on Aug 14th 2019

Lock bumping or the 999 method is just one of the many techniques locksmiths use to gain access to your home or office whenever you get locked out.

Although many lock companies eskew using lock bumping, the method is sound, and it only takes a little practice to become proficient.

It is not a new technique, but even so lock bumping has experienced quite the upswing in recent years thanks to online availability, and it has become one of the simplest ways to enter a home if someone forgets or loses a key.

Given the spread of bump keys to the general public, there may be possibilities for up selling additional security measures to help ameliorate any weaknesses of bump key susceptible locks.

The following tips and tricks demonstrate the way you can deploy bump keys and make them part of your locksmith arsenal if the 999 method is not something you normally use in your day-to-day locksmith operations.

How it works

The lock bumping technique has been around since the 1970s when it was developed by locksmiths as a simple means of undoing a misassembled cylinder without damaging the lock.

Locksmiths originally referred to bump keys as 999 keys. This references the maximum setting for filing down a key – 9 – in a key-making machine. The cuts on bump keys are all at this maximum depth, so each cut is a repeated “9”, which makes bump keys relatively easy to mass-produce.

The process of lock bumping involves the use of simple tools: a bump lock key and a “driver,” which can consist of a mallet, a hammer, a screwdriver, or the heel of the hand.

The cut on the bump key allows access to any pin-tumbler lock that the key fits into. It is important to note that the brand of lock requires a bump key made from the same brand: A Yale lock requires a Yale bump key.

Hence, acquiring a full set of bump keys for all the major lock manufacturers, which make up about 95% of the locks in use in the U.S., is something you need to keep on-hand and in your response kit.

In a pin-tumbler lock, the key is specifically cut to open the lock by forcing all the small spring-loaded pins in the cylinder into alignment. Once these pins are in the proper alignment, the key can be turned, and the lock undone.

A bump key tricks this system with a “pull-back” method. The user inserts the key into the lock, then pulls the key out one key notch at a time.

As the key is pulled back, the user keeps rotational pressure on the key and lock. The person, using the heel of his or her hand or some other device, bumps the key into the keyway.

The pins jump slightly when bumped, which give them just enough of a boost to put them above the shear line.

If the pins clear the shear line, this allows the key, as long as the rotational pressure is applied, to turn in the cylinder, unlocking the lock.

Why You Need to Know How to Employ This Method

Up until recently, only locksmiths had access to bump lock keys, the main component in the bump locking process. The primary way to open a lock without a key, unless you wanted to break a window or door, was with a lockpicking kit.

Today, however, owning a bump key or a bump key set may be perfectly legal, and acquiring one to enter your home only requires knowing the lock manufacturer.

Additionally, lock bumping requires no real special skill, just a lot of practice. In fact, with the right tools, even a child could potentially master the technique.

When you consider that more than 90% of homes in the United States are secured with cylinder locks – the type of lock that is not only susceptible to bumping but for which the bumping technique was developed – the potential market for additional security measures is large.

By understanding and using bump keys, you can also better advise home and business owners as to how to guard against nefarious types who may try and use bump keys to illegally enter a dwelling or office.

What you can advise clients to do that will help protect against bump lock intrusions

1.Install a security system/camera

Installing a security system and visibly labeling its presence in your yard or on your door is one of the most efficient ways to deter burglars.

After all, most intruders are looking for a quick and simple job, and even the possibility of detection and surveillance can be enough to put off a would-be robber.

2.Ensure your doors and entry points are visible

Keep the landscaping around an office or home immaculate and ensure the front door is visible from the road. Many burglars look for homes with bush and tree coverage at the door to provide concealment while they break and enter.

Open, well-lit doorways are a deterrent, and adding motion sensor-activated lights to your outer entryways is an excellent addition to any building’s security.

3.Upgrade the locks

Cylinder locks can be upgraded with anti-bumping devices, such as a thumb-turn guard. You can also suggest installing security pins in the existing lock that make the lock much more difficult to bump.

You can also suggest adding chain latches to the outer doors as an additional barrier.

Your clients may want to upgrade the outer entryway locks of the home or office to stronger commercial grade or high-security locks for additional protection.

The takeaway

Any lock professional should maintain familiarity with the bump key method. Sometimes this method may be the quickest and simplest way to open a door or lock.

Understanding and remaining conversant in demonstrating how bump keys work can also help you explain to potential clients the importance of considering other security options to compliment a traditional lock.

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