person holding silver colored skeleton key
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What Is a Skeleton Key?

Similar to locks themselves, keys come in many shapes and forms. If you have an older lock that just will not seem to open, then there is a chance that you might have something called a skeleton key. What is a skeleton key, and how does this work? Take a look at some helpful information below!

An Overview of a Skeleton Key: Its Purpose and Function

A skeleton key is a specific type of key that is designed to open a wide variety of locks. In order for a lock to open, the teeth on the key have to line up with the notches or levers on the inside of the lock. There are some cases where a specific key might be able to open a wide variety of locks purely because it has been designed that way. That is a skeleton key. 

In essence, a skeleton key is a type of master key. It usually has a lot of serrated edges that have been removed or filed down such that it will still work for a wide variety of locks. If a skeleton key has too many edges or teeth, then it might only fit a narrow subset of locks. If a skeleton key has too few edges, it might not be enough to open the lock. A skeleton key has hit the middle ground, such that it can be used to open countless locks, which makes it a master key.

A skeleton key has been given its name because it has been reduced to only its essential parts. Depending on the configuration of the wards, a skeleton key can also be used to unlock numerous warded locks. Most of the center of the key has been removed, which is why skeleton keys look so thin. As a result, it can pass through the ward itself without any interference. This allows us to open numerous locks. 

Even though skeleton keys are less common today, there are still some people who might run into them from time to time. If you have a skeleton key, you might be wondering how it works. That is why you need to rely on a professional locksmith who can help you use your skeleton key the right way.

How Does a Skeleton Key Work?

A skeleton key is usually used to open warded locks. The majority of the key has been removed during the manufacturing or design process. If you compare your skeleton key to the other keys you have on your keychains, such as your house key or your car key, you will probably notice that your skeleton key is much thinner. That is because the skeleton key has been filed down in such a way that it only has a thin rod with the teeth attached to it. To see how this type of key functions in the lock, check out this article from Express Locksmith on the subject.

In the past, lock manufacturers would add wards around the outside of the lock and in the center. This prevented skeleton keys from passing through the center of the lock. Today, skeleton keys are almost unheard of because locks have changed so much. Most people only have a skeleton key for the china cabinet.

If you have a skeleton key that still works, it works similarly to numerous other locks today. For example, skeleton keys are commonly used to open lever locks. When they are used for this purpose, they are usually dubbed master keys. The levers and wards meet with the teeth of the skeleton key on the side. Then, the top of the key will push the levers up until they reach the right height. As the skeleton key passes through the lock, all of the individual levers are pushed to the right position. This allows the skeleton key to pass all the way through to the end of the lock. Then, once the skeleton key reaches the end, the user can rotate the lock all the way around. This unlocks it.

There is usually a locking system that allows master keys and skeleton keys of different heights to unlock the levers on each lock even if there is a different set of wards for each door. This allows each lock to remain secure even though a master key can still open the lock. In the past, a skeleton key would have served this purpose as well; however, because locks now have wards installed on the outside, a skeleton key might not be able to open these locks anymore. 

If the master key does not have a warded section, then it can simply open the door using levers; however, an old skeleton key might not be able to do so. While master keys are still in practice today, particularly in hotels, locks have changed significantly, so skeleton keys might no longer be effective.

If you have recently discovered or inherited a skeleton key, you might be wondering if you need to hang on to this. You might be looking at your locks, wondering if the skeleton key opens something. If you have questions or concerns about a skeleton key that you have, then you should reach out to a professional locksmith who can help you. 

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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