A skeleton key is a type of key whose serrated edge has been filed away so that it can open low-quality locks such as antique locks. This key is designed to open certain types of locks without having the real key for those locks. The name "skeleton key" originates from the fact that the key has been stripped of all irrelevant parts so that it can successfully open older or antique lock designs. The stripping gives the key a long and skinny look, hence the name. In other words, a skeleton key is a product of an original key that has been altered in a way that it can turn inside a lock without getting caught in the wards. However, this key cannot be used to open modern locks.
How Does a Skeleton Key Work?
A skeleton key has been filed down to the bare essentials so that it can align with obstructions in warded locks. The locks that can be opened with skeleton keys have patterns that are the inverse of the patterns on skeleton keys. Therefore, these keys can bypass these locks because they do not have bitting to go through the lock's cutouts. As long as a skeleton key has notches on the teeth or bitting, it can turn the locking mechanism to open the lock.
Pros of Skeleton Keys
Despite the negative impression that has been created around skeleton keys, these keys can legitimately be used to open certain types of locks if the original key has been lost. Besides, skeleton keys eliminate the inconvenience of carrying a bunch of keys for each door.
However, skeleton keys decrease a property's sense of safety and security; so they are not the best keys if security is your top priority. Losing a skeleton key that opens several locks would be a serious security threat.
Skeleton keys are used to open warded locks--which are locks that use obstructions to prevent the incorrect keys from opening the locks. These keys can also be used to open ancient Chinese locks and some types of lever locks.
Locks That Skeleton Keys Cannot Open
You cannot use skeleton keys to open pin tumbler locks because they use pins that must be lifted to the right height for the locks to open. Since pin tumbler locks do not use wards, it would be impossible to pick a pin tumbler lock using a skeleton key. Other types of locks that skeleton keys cannot open include disk detainer locks (locks with slotted rotating detainer discs) and locks without keyholes.
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