Introduction: Duplicate Keys by Hand

Picture of Duplicate Keys by Hand

This will explain the process I went through to copy a key with a vice, a file and patience.

Step 1: Setting Up

Picture of Setting Up

You will need to clamp the original and blank together in the vice in a way that you can use the original as a pattern for the duplicate. Be sure to have the entire key lined up perfectly and tighten the vice.

*You can destroy the original in the next step, so be sure you already have a (professional)copy of the original if its a critical key*

Step 2: Begin Filing

Picture of Begin Filing

This is where patience comes in handy.
Begin filing down the key blank to the height of the tallest "mountain" on the original. Try not to scrape any metal off the original, this can destroy the key, derp.

Step 3: File the Valleys

Picture of File the Valleys

Now start filing the valleys, be sure to keep checking that the keys are lined up during this part. I just used the file at an angle, but if you have a smaller file that would make this alot easier. You maybe able to use a Dremel® tool, but I dont have one.

Step 4: Testing and Fine Tuning

Picture of Testing and Fine Tuning

The copy I made was for my front door.
When I first tried it, the key didnt work, so I got the file and the original, compared, fine tuned with the file, and tried again. It took a few minutes to get it to work, then another few to get it working as smooth as the original.

I did this just because I bought a few keyblanks for another project but that fell through, and I needed another key, so I thought why not DIY.


bhunter736 (author)2007-03-12

Im a locksmith by day. I find it very interesting how much the public knows about locks. To some extent you have it right. The thing about master keys only works if the person who chose the master in the system was not properly trained. A master key should have at least one cut that is shallower than the user key. This makes sure you can not file a user key to convert it to a master. I highly recommend the hand filing process, a dremel is too crude. A newer lock with good tolerance only allows 5 thousandths of an inch variance for cut height. Keep in mind that duplicating keys without permission from the owner of the lock is against the law. So if you pursue this, only do it for your own locks and your own knowledge. You will find that in some cases with sloppy lock brands that all of the above descriptions work. Have fun. When you get stuck, call your locksmith. We are still cheaper than a broken window and generally faster than the window repair guy. - Brad : )

Turbo (author)bhunter7362007-05-31

"Keep in mind that duplicating keys without permission from the owner of the lock is against the law" Hello, Perhaps, you should mention the country you're from, as "the law" is not consistent worldwide. In the USA, duplication of keys not controlled by a current utility patent without permission is by default, perfectly legal, with a few exceptions. As for patented keys, it becomes perfectly legal to duplicate a restricted key on the day the utility patent expires. The lock manufacture may require their authorized dealers to require authorization even on those keys, but that doesn't make it unlawful for anyone else to manufacture the blanks for restricted system with expired patents. In the absence of an enforceable law, a marking like "unlawful to duplicate" have no power. Exceptions known to me: Federal law regulates the duplication of Postal Serivce and military keys. State level: Some states have a law that regulates duplication of keys to state owned/operated facilities and some restricts the duplication process for keys marked with a phrase in the effect of don't duplicate. Example: State of Maryland, Art, 23 § 336B. What this means is that it is unlawful to make unauthorized duplication within the boundary State of Maryland, keys capable of being used on State of Maryland property. Since this is a state law, if you're in the adjoining state, it means NOTHING. (a) The State Department of General Services shall establish rules and regulations governing the use, distribution, manufacture, duplication, and possession of keys capable of being used in those locks in or on real property leased or owned by the State. (b) All keys subject to the rules and regulations established pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall be clearly identified by the words "Do not duplicate" or "Unlawful to duplicate" and possess symbology indicating ownership by the State. Ordinances: Some municipalities have a regulation controlling what you can duplicate. Again, invalid outside their jurisdiction perimeter.

bhunter736 (author)Turbo2007-06-01

Thanks for making a simple statement so complex. You are right about the country, my mistake. As for the rest, yes you are right to the letter of the law so to speak, but the interpretation is still that you are not allowed to copy a key without permission of the owner. As for presenting a key to duplicate, a locksmith has to reasonably assume that you have permission unless it fits the criteria you so overly describe. These are primarily just young guys and girls on this site learning about this stuff and a keep it simple note is usually adequate. I recommend Lexus Nexus here in the U.S. if you prefer to flex your legal muscle. Many of the projects here if you look around include things like Kinex - a building toy, or small hobby parts. No real lengthy legal disclaimers. - Thanks again for your comments. PS - I am not a lawyer, I am a locksmith and all of my comments are not to be used as fact or legal argument. Use at your own risk.

Turbo (author)bhunter7362007-06-02

I didn't make it complex. I said your statement is downright wrong. When I'm refuting someone, the burden of proof is upon me, therefore something to back up my saying. Did you believe it was illegal until m post or did you already know? If you already knew about it, it's wrong to mislead these "young guys and girls" by delivering the message "it's not nice to copy without permission" as "it is illegal to copy without permission" considering it's just that, "it's not nice to copy without permission" and not illegal. When you're youngin' and you're told something is illegal, it might cause them to not do something they otherwise would have and it is wrong to knowingly influence the behavior of others through misinformation.

fatpiece (author)Turbo2007-06-12

Turbo, do you have many friends?

RocktaviusU (author)fatpiece2015-04-03

He's brought alot more to the conversation than you...


angel316 (author)Turbo2011-09-17

is it possible to make a key without a copy? like through the key hole? I know it is in movies but can't really believe it can happen in real life

bhunter736 (author)angel3162011-09-17

Yes, locksmiths call this "fitting a key". In fact, it is still a common practice among locksmiths when car keys are lost. The labor to take apart a car door and ignition for access to the lock makes "fitting" a very realistic alternative. The process is very slow and would probably never be learned or practiced by a thief because the authorities would have plenty of time to arrive before the task is complete.

Another situation for fitting might be an antique where the original lock will maintain value for the item.

instead of argueing about it, why dont you look it up on a .gov website and post a link?

crickle321 (author)bhunter7362008-07-25

By any chance, are you familiar with the sport "Steel Bolt Hacking"? I wrote a research paper on it back in my undergrad days. I've found it hit and miss among the locksmiths I interviewed (which is somewhat surprising to me). Who wouldn't be excited to know there is a sport related to their profession.

bhunter736 (author)crickle3212008-08-07

I cant say I have. Sounds interesting. I know of safecracking competitions, but they are expensive to participate.

mbudde (author)bhunter7362008-07-22

One question, and this is completely irrelevant, but what is the beginning salary for a locksmith?

samando (author)bhunter7362007-03-13

we have an old house that has a lock that u can pick with a flathead screwdriver

bhunter736 (author)samando2007-03-13

springs are probably shot inside and top pins probably hanging up as well as being a sloppy combination. But this really happens. You are proof. A simple re-key of the lock in many cases will improve its security. If it is done right, all springs will be replaced as well as top and bottom pins. However, it is probably cheaper if the lock is this bad anyway to just pick up a new one at the hardware store. We get $15 around here to re key a single lock.

Lowriderpr (author)2012-03-11

I make my first one thanks for share.

angel316 (author)2011-09-17

Is it possible to make a key without a key on an apartment door?

angel316 (author)2011-09-17

does anyone know if it is possible to make a copy of a key without a key present? can you make a copy somehow through the key hole or some other way?

tgraham7 (author)2011-08-18

there is an easyer way not to damage your main key cut a coke can and trace the original key into the aliminum the line up the aliminum to the blank

nufflove T

123456789pos (author)2009-06-10

where do you get a blank?

npa4863 (author)123456789pos2009-06-25

hardware stores will sell you blanks or mess ups...

DIY Dave (author)npa48632010-11-12

Mess ups wouldn't work because they are already cut.

shuzo (author)DIY Dave2010-12-25

but mess ups can be used as bumpkeys

DIY Dave (author)shuzo2011-02-15

I found out recently that the big box stores like walmart and lowes have contracts with the key making companies and so they send back their mess up keys to the key maker for free replacement.

DIY Dave (author)shuzo2010-12-30

that's a great idea!

nak (author)DIY Dave2010-12-31

only if they're messed up in the correct way right? From what I've seen of bump keys they have to be alternating highest point to lowest point.

DIY Dave (author)nak2011-01-04

You would still need to file them down, but it's not difficult if you have good files.

npa4863 (author)DIY Dave2010-11-12

unless your key has smaller ridges then it will... y can always take more material off if you have to...

writerlady (author)2010-05-26

This one I just might try - though finding blanks to fit my '68 Beetle is the hardest part.

access_yogesh (author)2008-12-03

It is a nice tutorial but its not feasible for Car keys because of its plastic head grip.
I'll prefer to use idea given on the following site:
Try this now: Harison Keys

DIY Dave (author)access_yogesh2009-02-03

I would just take the rubber off the grip.

static (author)2007-06-15

Nice instructable. But where it costs all of a buck fifty to two bucks to have a duplicate made at the hardware store, why bother and risk damaging the original? In the event you live in Timbuktu, that's another story...

DIY Dave (author)static2008-10-01

Actually I've seen them for $1.25

mr.boom (author)2006-12-07

it would be easier to use a dremel with grinding bit

ilikefireworks (author)mr.boom2007-07-25

you have a good point. but why would anyone even need to go through all the trouble of duplicating a key?

nak (author)ilikefireworks2007-07-25

FACT: There are keys that have the words "DO NOT DUPLICATE" imprinted on them

BigD145 (author)nak2008-07-22

That never really stopped me from duplicating them when I last worked in a hardware store. It's not as if the key self destructed when I stuck it in the machine. Most of the time it was a property manager that needed some spares.

Pratty_the_JazzMan (author)nak2007-11-16


pfl (author)2008-07-22

A trick to help preserve the original key is to crayon over the teeth so you can see when you are nicking it with the file.

thoraxe (author)2008-06-13

i have a triangular file that should make this much easier

safdar (author)2007-08-27

i tried doing it and i accidently messed up the originalkey!!!!!!!!!

erckgillis (author)2007-05-20

A raprid protyping system & industrial laser cutter will make a nice key from blanks sheet steel or brass/alumnium with any CAD/CAM program. We scan our keys at work on one side for the profile, then again 'head-on' for the side "rails". These are more fun then the old three axis CNC machines we use to use for keys. I can now copy any personal keys with a simple quality scan in jpg, gif etc imported to 3D design software and then raster or vector converted for the CNC. Accurate to 1/10,000 of an in. ...hehe nice to have big toys at work

erckgillis (author)erckgillis2007-05-20

Free CNC key cut demo software...and

BMW/Porchase cutting templates

bowmaster (author)2007-04-26

At my school the same master key opens every lock there I mean lockers,doors,filing cabints,desks I mean everything!! But I don't have a master key :( can some one post a picture of a version 53 master key plz

leshba2a (author)2007-03-24

lek bedna nik ekhta lal maderse mann

leshba2a (author)leshba2a2007-03-24

by the way guys..we can open any locker in the WORLD..

AymericRdV (author)2007-03-18

WE used exactly that method in my boarding school to make a master key...came in very handy to get out on the week ends to party;) Unfortunatly nowadays the keys they use in Germany cannot be copied unless you are a professional locksmith since they are with pits in them (the pit replacing the 'teeth' on an american key)Just like a VW or AUDI car key!

dmacrae (author)2007-02-27

I have heard a similar method to this one described, for generating a master key using a normal key, many blanks and a lock that uses both the normal and the master key. To do so one copies the normal key onto a blank, leaving one pin's seat uncut, and then begins to check it on the lock, filing it down between each trial until it opens the door and is no longer the size of the grove in the normal key. now you know the height of the first pin in the master key. Then repeat for each pin using a new blank each time. Though tedious, this is the work of an afternoon and allows you to obtain your very own master key to do what you will with.

FireSnake (author)2007-02-13

dude, use a dremmel.

hugamoose74 (author)2007-01-11

Does anyone know what process is used to make painted keys?

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