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I lost the key to a closet and I need to open it. I don't need for the lock to remain operative after the operation, so I accept "radical" solutions.

The key is of this type:

keys

I have no experience of, nor tools for lockpicking. Any ideas?

Edit: I was not able to open it yet. I am adding pictures of the actual door and lock:

keyhole door with hinges, keyhole, and doorknob

  • 4
    You might want to firm up your question. I don't think "sawzall" is the answer you want but the question just about screams "sawzall" to me. – Joshua Nov 29 '18 at 22:21
  • @Joshua I do not own a sawzall and do not plan to buy one, so it is not an option. Thanks for the suggestion – Guillermo Vasconcelos Nov 29 '18 at 23:15
  • We really need a picture of the lock and the door. Not just the key. Not being familiar with US English, I'm not sure what you mean by 'closet'. Is it built into the wall or is it free-standing? – chasly from UK Nov 30 '18 at 11:38
  • The door hinges are designed so that the door would be removed by opening it and then lifting it off the hinges, rather than by removing the hinge pin. The lighting of the picture is not very good, but the appearance is consistent with either a crude warded lock or a crude lever lock. Does the keyhole extend all the way through the door? If so, and you can get a dowel the right diameter to serve as the shaft of the key, you might try putting a small finishing nail in the side of it (maybe an inch from the end), extending out about as far as a key would go, and then... – supercat Nov 30 '18 at 16:16
  • ...inserting it to different depths and turning it to see whether you feel spring-loaded levers or rigid warding. – supercat Nov 30 '18 at 16:17

12 Answers 12

41

Very few if any closets open inward -- which means the hinges will have their pins on the accessible side. Just drive the pins out of the hinges, and the entire door can be pulled out of the frame (and easily put back once the lock is either opened, replaced, or the key found and duplicated).

If the pins are peened in place, a tool like a Dremel could be used to cut one head off so the pin can be removed.

  • 7
    Thinking outside the "closet"... just remove the door +1 – Nelson Nov 30 '18 at 0:20
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    Why do you think the hinges would be outside when it opens to the outside? My closet has the hinge systems on the inside, but the doors open to the outside – Ferrybig Nov 30 '18 at 7:49
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    @Ferrybig a picture of the closet in the question would help. If it uses standard hinges, then they will be on the outside. (Butt, butterfly, etc) A barrel or concealed hinge will of course not have an outside hinge. Given the key, it's an older cabinet (so not a concealed hinge) which leaves the very common butt hinge, or comparatively rare barrel hinge, so it's a good bet that the hinge in this case is external. – Baldrickk Nov 30 '18 at 10:31
  • 1
    @Ferrybig Zeiss is probably assuming that because that's how the vast majority of doors work. It would take a non-standard hinge for doors to open on the opposite side. Something like that would not normally be done for something like an closet. – Kevin Nov 30 '18 at 12:59
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    Now that a picture has been added, it's clear that the type of hinges used do not have pins that can be removed, but this is still and answer that could help someone else. – JPhi1618 Nov 30 '18 at 15:17
16

Vintage locks employed two concepts, sometimes individually and sometimes together.

A warded lock has structures within the lock, called warding, which are designed to fit in notches carved into the key. A quality warded lock will be constructed so that the only way for a key to reach the mechanism is for it to snake around some complicated warding, but many cheaper warded locks can be opened with a skeleton key, which is a key blank that is filed down to remove everything except one or two simple projections or pairs of projections that will operate the mechanism. The way to defeat a quality warded lock is to construct a key by starting with a suitable key blank, covering it with soot or similar material, attempting to open the lock, moving the key back and forth a little at the place it is blocked, carefully removing it, and looking for markings in the soot. Cut, file, or otherwise remove the parts of the key where the soot was marked by the warding and try again. Either the lock will open, or new markings will appear, which again need to be removed. This process can sometimes be slow and tedious, but one will end up with a usable key, greatly increasing the value of the lock to a collector.

Lever locks have one or more levers that must be lifted to the correct height to allow the bolt to move. Lever locks will often have a different feel from warded locks, since warded locks will usually block the key before it has a chance to engage the mechanism, while lever locks will allow the key to engage the mechanism but will block the mechanism from moving fully unless the levers are lifted to the correct height. Many lever locks can be picked relatively easily with the proper tools, but picking would require using a pair of tools, with one being used to try to operate the mechanism which is blocked by the levers, while the other tool is used to try lifting the levers. Often, there will initially be one lever blocking the bolt; once that lever is moved to the right position (i.e. "set"), the bolt will be able to move a little bit before being blocked by another lever. If the bolt is kept under tension, this will rather conveniently hold the first lever in place while the picker focuses attention on the next lever that needs to be set.

The best locks combine these two approaches, requiring intricately-cut keys which need to move several different levers simultaneously by relatively precise amounts. Such locks are much more expensive to manufacture than current designs. Although they may be as secure or even more so than most recent locks, the additional security they offer is not sufficient to justify their cost.

I would not expect a closet door to have a particularly high-quality lock. If the lock uses warding to distinguish correct and incorrect keys, picking with crude tools may be easy. If it uses levers for that purpose, picking will require the simultaneous use of two tools that are designed to work together. There are many youtube videos and web tutorials that would explain how to make the required tools. If you can find some old keys that look like they would fit, I would suggest trying them and seeing what happens. If the key is blocked by something in the lock without engaging a mechanism, you probably have a warded lock. If the key engages the mechanism but the mechanism itself feels blocked, it's probably a lever lock.

  • A simple solution if it is just a warded lock is to use an allen wrench with some sort of handle to attach for rotational leverage. Source: Regularly locked and unlocked the attic door in my home like that when I didn't have the key. – Suthek Dec 3 '18 at 13:01
  • @Suthek: For simple warded locks, sure. The best warded locks could probably resist a non-destructive attack by even a well-equipped adversary for an hour or more, even if the only thing a key had to do was deliver some force to a particular point, if that point could only be reached via key of a very particular shape constructed out of strong material. The big problem with warded locks was not that they couldn't be made secure, but that other kinds of lock could be made secure much more cheaply. – supercat Dec 4 '18 at 16:52
  • @Suthek: One wouldn't find the best warded locks in a closet, of course, but one might find locks whose warding would block any straight path between the keyway and the actuating mechanism. Nothing wrong with trying an Allen wrench as a skeleton key if it's convenient to do so, but it's hardly guaranteed to work. – supercat Dec 4 '18 at 17:04
14

I should suggest trying a bobbypin or a smaller flathead screwdriver if you'd like to save it. From my experience, these types of locks are very easily opened, even with almost no skill in lockpicking. After all, you might find the key again.

Another option could be to drill out the center of the lock, therein making it very easy to open the door. This would, of course, entirely destroy the lock, but you have already said this is not an issue.

  • 1
    I was maybe 10 years old and grandma used to store chocolates and condensed milk on a closet with a similar key/lock. It was easy to open and close it with a strong paper clip :) – brasofilo Nov 30 '18 at 23:19
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    I'm not sure drilling the centre is going to help. You'll just destroy the mechanism but the bolt will still be in place. – chasly from UK Dec 1 '18 at 17:31
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    @chaslyfromUK Then you can turn it sideways and shake and the bolt will slide out. – wizzwizz4 Dec 1 '18 at 21:37
8

The original image of the key is interesting to me. You could just wander into the local locksmith and ask if they have a set of keys that might fit. There's a limited number of variants on these keys and you may just be able to buy one off the shelf as the lock is only a token gesture towards security.

If you're not overly attached to the lock, there's the question of how firmly it's attached. many cabinet locks are lightly attached to the inside of the door and if you attach a decent handle to the outside you could possibly just force it open. Though the hinges are quite heavy duty which implies a more solid door and lock mechanism.

7

Other suggested methods of removing the hinge pins or picking the locks are good.

You can also try to depress the latch via a thin wire if the door opens out or a thin plastic card if the door opens inward. What you goal would be is to depress the latch as if the door were closing on its own.

  • 2
    This is what used to be call "jimmying" the door, then later came be "carding" the lock. Works well for simple locksets intended for interior doors. – Zeiss Ikon Nov 29 '18 at 20:17
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    That won't work because it is a deadbolt, not the ones with a spring – Guillermo Vasconcelos Nov 29 '18 at 20:28
  • @GuillermoVasconcelos - yes my suggestion would not work then, picking seems like the best bet. – Gary Bak Nov 30 '18 at 12:35
  • In BrE, a "jimmy" (or "jemmy") is usually a crowbar; it's not even vaguely the same as using a wire or card on the latch. – Roger Lipscombe Nov 30 '18 at 14:47
  • @RogerLipscombe Can't talk to older history, but when I was a kid, a jimmy was what later became a "slim jim" -- mainly for opening car doors when the key was locked inside. Thin and flexible. Still won't work on a deadbolt, though. – Zeiss Ikon Nov 30 '18 at 19:51
5

Well, if you don't care about locking it again, I'd find my trusty old Fein multimaster cutter and just cut the lock open. Or if you want the gentle solution use a small hacksaw blade.

  • 2
    +1 to hacksaw. They cost pennies and you can easily fit the blade into that big gap – Valorum Dec 1 '18 at 20:59
3

Use a punch and hammer. Insert the punch where the key would go...use the hammer to drive the lock mechanism off the back of the door. A couple of good whacks and you should be wide open. Shame to bust it though..I would try the bobby pin method first.

1

Is that a skylight window above the door? Perhaps you can gain access through it.

I am not suggesting climbing in through the window -- that's probably not practical. But perhaps you can open it, and then with possibly reach through it with a stick or belt, open the lock from the inside.

I am assuming the door has an inside lock latch (for safety) which you might be able to toggle with a broomstick.

If such a latch is 'down' and you need to pull it 'up', a 1" eye-hook screwed into end of stick might give you the purchase you need to pull up on the latch. (You might need to screw the eye-hook in at 45degree angle on stick.)

A knob would be much harder to turn, but perhaps you could buckle a couple of belts together into a 3-4' diameter loop which you dangle down from the skylight, perhaps with some resin on one of them to make it 'sticky', loop one end around the knob as if it was a pulley, then attempt to turn it.

1

Several things in your favor with this door:

  • It's old, dry wood, easy to break
  • The hinges aren't particularly secure, and possibly made of a cast metal
  • The door frame is not substantial

Options, in no particular order:

  • See if the fancy molded (ogee style) wood around the large center panel can be removed; on most doors of this style this wood is a thin strip nailed to the body of the door on one or both sides of the door, or its a decorative strip covering a thin lip that retains the panel. Removing the strip allows the entire center panel of the door to be removed or it exposes the thin lip that can then be easily broken. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frame_and_panel for more info on door construction and how you might use a hammer and chisel to remove the molding securing the center panel: enter image description here
  • Use a hacksaw horizontally to saw along the center line in the hinge, cutting the pin, then pull the door off. Fit new hinges. You might need to cut into the frame slightly as you make your way through the hinge: enter image description here
  • Use an adjustable wrench to grip the hinge. The wrench should point vertically with the side of the wrench touching the door. Use a pipe slid over the wrench handle for extra leverage. Fit new hinges enter image description here
  • Chisel a square out of the door frame that the lock bolt fits into - there will probably be a small strike keep plate to stop the wood frame getting rubbed by the lock mechanism. Remove enough frame to extract the entire thing. Here's a strike plate in a door frame for an idea of what I mean: enter image description here
  • Chain drill(slow) or use an angle grinder with metal cutting disc(fast) the deadbolt protruding from the lock. If chain drilling, drill small holes closely spaced then larger holes. Drilling a small hole will act as a guide for a larger hole. Drilling a larger hole that overlaps with the next large hole effectively cuts through the deadbolt. Chain drilling technique: enter image description here
  • Similar to chain drilling, using an angle grinder with cutting disc will achieve a very fast result, but it's worth mentioning that angle grinders are often reckoned to be one of the most dangerous power tools a person can own. Cutting discs are about 1.5mm thick and will fit down the gap between door and frame to make short work of cutting off the protruding part of the lock. They would also go through the hinges in a matter of seconds. Being so thin, the cutting discs can shatter if abused and at 11,000+ revolutions per minute can end up flung far and wide. If cutting hinges horizontally beware that the door will drop as the hinge is cut through, gripping the sides of the cutting disc; that's when it will shatter. Prop the door underneath by hammering a wedge between the floor and door. The risk of bodily injury is high if you have no experience with an angle grinder; beware. Angle grinder with cutting disc: enter image description here
  • Neither the door, frame, hinges or screws are particularly substantial. Using a pry bar to force the door open will likely be successful. Use of a flat bar will be easier than a typical round bar. The door frame will require some easy repairs after: enter image description here
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  1. One way is to cut horizontally through each hinge where the join is. Then the door will open outwards on the hinge side (provided it's not very stiff which is a problem anyway).

  2. Look on YouTube and you will find many videos showing you how to pick or bypass different kinds of lock.

Example

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiFj3_4ZJcA

  1. Get a quote from a qualified locksmith. They will do it in seconds without damaging anything. It might be worth the money. Otherwise you could be spending it on repairing the closet.
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Open the back side of the cabinet :)

  • 1
    The cupboard appears to be built-in. To open the back would require breaking through the wall from another room. – Chenmunka Dec 3 '18 at 14:31
  • Oh yeah, that makes it harder; not impossible, but harder :) – Dima Tisnek Dec 4 '18 at 3:10
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You could have a mold of the Lock made, then have a skeleton key filed to match the Lock. If that does not solve the issue. You would want to locate additional information about the door, then determine if it will be possible to remove Door from Hinges and then resolving the issue with the lock and key at a later date.

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