Broken keys inside locks can be a frustrating and annoying problem. And if you need to resort to a locksmith, it's also a very costly problem!
But what if you could tackle it yourself and save time, money, and stress?
In this article, I'll guide you through easy and practical solutions on how to get a broken key out of a lock using both household tools and more advanced techniques. So strap in, and let’s dive into the world of key extraction!
- Lubricate the lock first for the best chances of successful key removal.
- Try common household tools such as needle nose pliers, tweezers, paperclips or bobby pins (hair pins) to extract broken keys from locks.
- Consider more advanced alternative methods and call a professional locksmith if needed.
Before diving into the actual removal process, it’s crucial to make some initial preparations. Properly lubricating the lock and assessing the broken key situation will determine the best approach and increase your chances of success.
Lubricate the Lock
The first step in extracting a broken key is to lubricate the lock. This will reduce friction and make it easier to remove the key.
For indoor locks (where conditions are dry), I recommend using dry lubricant, such as graphite.
For outside locks, such as bike locks or shed locks (which are exposed to wet conditions), I recommend a Teflon/Silicone based lubricant, such as Finish Line, TriFlow or Abus PS88.
You should generally avoid using oil-based lubricants, like standard WD-40, as they can negatively affect the lock’s performance. However, in this case, it's fine to use WD-40 if that's all you have to hand. Just remember to properly lubricate the lock with a more suitable lubricant, once you've got the key out of the lock.
By lubricating the lock, you’re not only making the extraction process smoother, but also ensuring the lock continues to function properly in the future.
Spray the lubricant directly into the keyway. After applying the lubricant, use a rag or paper towel to clean any excess residue from the key slide and lock exterior, ensuring a clean work area.
Assess the Broken Key Situation
Now that the lock is lubricated, it’s time to assess the situation. Start by determining how much of the key is protruding from the lock.
If the key is broken in such a way that the sharp metal edge is protruding from the keyway, you stand a better chance of removing it, as it will be easier to grip and pull out. If the broken section is flush with the end of the keyway (or even further inside), it's probably going to be more difficult!
Common Household Tools for Key Removal
There are several common household tools, available at your local hardware store, which can be used to remove a broken key from a lock if your key broke off!
Needle nose pliers, tweezers and paperclips or bobby pins (hair pins) are effective tools that you might already have lying around your home, especially if you’ve dealt with a key broken situation before.
Note: with all these methods, make sure the key fragment is rotated so that it sits vertically at 12 o'clock, otherwise the key won't come out.
Let’s explore how these tools can help you with key extraction after key breaks...
Needle Nose Pliers or Tweezers
Needle nose pliers are a handy tool that can be used to grip small objects with their long, narrow nose. When it comes to removing a broken key, these pliers are one of the best options when the end of the key is protruding from the keyway.
To use needle nose pliers for key extraction, carefully grip the part of the broken key that is protruding, rotate the key so it's vertical, and gently wiggle it out of the lock. It’s essential to ensure enough of the key is accessible for the pliers to grip securely.
Here's a video showing you exactly how to extract a broken key with a needle nose pliers:
If the key is protruding enough, you can try rotating it with the pliers or your fingers. This might be all it takes to remove the key from the lock.
If the pliers aren’t working, you can also try using tweezers, although their effectiveness will depend on their thickness and the depth of the broken key in the lock.
Paperclips or Bobby Pins (Hair Pins)
Another common household solution for broken key extraction is using paperclips or bobby pins, especially when dealing with a broken key that's flush with the keyway or even further inside the lock.
To use this method, straighten out the paperclip or bobby pin and bend it into a pick shape. Then insert the pick into the lock and move the pins out of the way to hook onto the broken key.
This video shows you exactly what you need to do to remove a broken key with a paperclip:
You can also create a tension wrench using a second paperclip or bobby pin to help turn the lock and get a broken key out.
While this method may not be as effective as using a professional key extractor tool, it can still work in some cases. Remember to be patient and gentle when using paperclips or bobby pins to avoid causing further damage to the lock or key.
Advanced Techniques for Key Extraction
If common household tools aren’t doing the trick, it’s time to explore some advanced techniques for key extraction.
Using just a few specialty tools, including key extractor tools and jigsaw or hacksaw blades, can be more effective and increase your chances of success.
Key Extractor Tools
Key extractor tools, such as spiral, hook extractors (single hooked key extractors and double hooked key extractors), are specifically designed to remove broken keys from locks and are probably the most effective method.
Specialty broken key extractors, like the single and double hooked key extractors above, work by inserting the tool at the top of the keyway with the barbs pointing down, lifting the handle upward, and leveraging it against the top of the keyway to dig the barbs into the key.
Here's a video that shows you how to remove a key from a lock with a hooked key extractor:
The barb should be positioned correctly for it to tightly hold the key. This will enable an easy and quick extraction from the lock.
Spiral key extractors, on the other hand, have a thin, flexible bar with spiraled threads. To use a spiral key extractor, insert it between the broken section of the key and the keyway, push it in as far as possible, and then bend the tool into the broken key piece so that the threads securely dig into it.
Slowly twist the spiral extractor in a circular motion. Leverage the tool against the key at different angles to get it out. The tool will catch the key and start rotating it. With each rotation, the key will be pulled back, providing the desired outcome.
Jigsaw Blade or Hacksaw Blade
Jigsaw or hacksaw blades are thin metal blades with serrated edges that can be used to hook into the broken key and swiftly remove it from the lock.
To use a jigsaw or hacksaw blade for key extraction, trim the end of the blade, so that the barbs are right at the end, and cut off the bottom portion of the blade so that it fits into the keyway. Then insert the blade into the lock and press the barbs into the broken key.
This video shows you how to remove a broken key from a lock with a strip from a hacksaw blade:
Gently wiggle and remove the blade from the keyway. With any luck, the key will come out with the blade!
Alternative Methods and Precautions
Apart from the methods discussed so far, there are some alternative approaches to consider when removing a broken key from a lock. Let’s examine these alternatives and the precautions you should take while using them.
Glue Stick Method
The glue stick method involves inserting a heated glue stick into the lock and allowing it to cool before pulling the broken key out.
When a broken key inserted into the lock is causing issues, heat up one end of a glue stick, to make it soft, push it against the visible end of the broken key and wait around 10 seconds for it solidify and stick to the key fragment.
Then pull the glue stick away from the lock. Hopefully the key fragments will come with it...
Be careful not to use too much glue, as it can cause the key to become permanently stuck in the lock!
While the glue stick method may not work in every situation, it can be a useful alternative if other methods have been unsuccessful. It’s important to remember that this method works best when the broken key has a sharp metal edge for the glue to hold onto during extraction.
While it might be tempting to use superglue to try to attach the broken section of the key, doing so can cause permanent damage to the lock. Superglue can cause the key fragment to become permanently stuck in the lock, making other methods impossible, and potentially damaging the lock itself.
When to Call a Professional Locksmith
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the DIY methods for removing a broken key may not work. In such cases, it’s important to know when it’s time to call a professional locksmith to prevent further damage to the lock or key.
Let’s explore the factors to consider when deciding to call a locksmith and the costs involved.
Assessing the Situation
If you’ve tried all the methods mentioned in this article and are still unable to remove the broken key, it’s time to call a professional locksmith. A locksmith can help you remove the broken key, make a new key, and ensure the lock remains undamaged.
In some cases, the lock may be too complex for DIY methods, and a locksmith’s expertise will be necessary. For instance, if the locking mechanism is damaged, or if the key is broken inside a car ignition or bike lock, calling a locksmith is the best option.
The cost of hiring a professional locksmith can vary depending on factors such as the type of lock and location, but the average cost is around $160 per incident.
While this may seem expensive, calling a locksmith can save you time and frustration, as they have the expertise to quickly and efficiently solve your lock problem.
Remember that the benefits often outweigh the expenses. A locksmith can ensure the broken key is removed safely and efficiently, make duplicates of damaged keys, and help you regain access to your locked car or door without causing further damage.
Unfortunately, sometimes keys break in locks. Removing a broken key from a lock can be a challenging task, but with the right tools and techniques, it’s possible to tackle the problem yourself.
From using common household tools like tweezers, needle nose pliers and paperclips to advanced techniques like key extractors and jigsaw blades, there are various methods to try.
Remember to lubricate the lock, assess the broken key situation, and know when it’s time to call a professional locksmith.
But with patience, persistence, and the knowledge gained from this article, you’re now well-equipped to conquer the broken key challenge!
If in the end you have to destroy your bike lock, because you couldn't get the key out, check my guide to choosing the best bike lock, and make sure you follow my maintenance tips to reduce the chance of the key breaking again!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get a broken key out of a lock with a paperclip?
You can sometimes remove a broken key from a lock with the help of a paperclip! Just straighten the paperclip out, bend one end into a pick shape and insert it into the keyway. Then wiggle and twist the paperclip until you have it firmly attached to the broken key.
Once it’s secure, slowly pull the paperclip out while keeping pressure on the broken key - this should extract the broken key from the lock.
Can a locksmith get a broken key out of the ignition?
Yes, a locksmith can get a broken key out of the ignition. With specialized tools and knowledge, they can quickly and safely remove the broken key while ensuring no further damage is done to the lock or the ignition.
Locksmiths can also provide you with a replacement key to get you back on the road.
What are some common household tools I can use to remove a broken key from a lock?
You can take advantage of some everyday items to remove a broken key from your lock. Needle nose pliers, tweezers, paperclips, and bobby pins (hair pins) can all be used to extract the broken key inside it.
How can I use a jigsaw or hacksaw blade to remove a broken key from a lock?
With a jigsaw or hacksaw blade, you can sometimes remove a broken key from a lock. Break off the thicker portion of the blade to fit into the keyway, then insert the blade into the lock and use it to hook onto the broken key and pull it out.
What are the benefits of lubricating a lock before attempting to remove a broken key?
Using lubricant on the lock when trying to remove a broken key can be incredibly beneficial. It allows for easier removal of the key by reducing friction and helps maintain the integrity of the lock, providing security and safety for years to come.