How to Lubricate a Lock Using Graphite From a Pencil

Picture of How to Lubricate a Lock Using Graphite From a Pencil
Powdered graphite is the traditional material for lubricating pin tumbler locks. You can even buy powdered graphite that comes in a little tube with a thin nozzle specially designed for squirting the graphite powder into the keyway. Also you can buy powdered graphite in an aerosol spray, again a product intended specifically for lubricating locks. You just stick the plastic hose in the keyway and press the squirt button. What could be easier than that?

Well, this instructable assumes for some reason you don't have access to any of these modern conveniences like graphite-in-a-spray-can, and the only graphite you happen to have with you is in pencil-form.

Items needed for this instructable:
a lock that you own, or have permission to use
a key that opens that lock
a pencil (containing graphite)
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Step 1: Separate the graphite from the pencil somehow.

Picture of Separate the graphite from the pencil somehow.
If the pencil you've got is one of the mechanical variety, getting the graphite, also called "lead", out of it will be easy. Maybe too easy.

If the pencil is one of the old fashioned wooden types, then removing the graphite takes a little more work.

I recommend using a sharp knife. Use the knife to whittle away the wood surrounding the graphite. I realize I didn't explicitly mention a knife in the "stuff you will need" section, but then I just naturally assumed you'd have some kind of cutting tool with you. Most civilized people do. What happened? Did those goons at the airport "confiscate" it? Well, uh, if you don't have a knife, I suppose you can use your teeth or a sharp rock, or something.

Anyway, keep whittling until you have a good sized chunk of graphite. How much? I dunno. You want a good-sized chunk? Maybe an inch, maybe 2 cm? That's l. r = 1 mm. Volume of the chunk is pi*r2*l = approximately 60 microliters.

Those of you using the little sticks for a 0.5 mm mechanical pencil will have to adjust the recipe a little to get the same volume of graphite. You know, use your algebra skills: find the new l based on a new r. I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Of course, all you really need is a good-sized chunk.

Also try to make sure this chunk of graphite is free of little pieces of wood sticking to it. You want to put graphite in the lock, not wood.

Now at this point you might be worried because the graphite is in chunk form, not powdered, but I assure you there is no need to be worried. The powdering action happens in the next few steps.
I was reading your comment author, and I noticed that you said that burning the pencil would burn off the wood leaving just a hot graphite core?? Today I was burning a pencile of mine, it was ( HB 2 ) and I just noticed that after alittle while, the pen started to make popping sounds, and I saw the pencile cracking opened, and after it cooled down, everything was burned, as if the core was wood too?! Is there a special type that burns or that graphite do burn under some situations..?

Actually, I've noticed that too. For some kinds of wooden pencils, the graphite inside of them does not withstand fire very well. This kind of graphite cracks apart, making popping noises as it does this. So that kind of pencil graphite is not very good refractory, since it breaks apart when heated in a flame.

However there are some wooden pencils with a graphite rod inside that will stand up to flame. For example, that burning pencil I took a picture of, had a good refractory piece of graphite in it. That graphite rod would just glow orange while the outer wood casing burned into ash.

I don't know how to tell which pencils have the good graphite, and which ones have the crappy graphite that breaks apart with little popping noises. I mean how to tell prior to lighting them on fire.

Actually there is no realistic expectation that any pencil should have good refractory graphite. I mean they make them for writing with, not for lighting on fire. Also the graphite in pencils is not pure graphite. The Wikipedia article for "Pencil"
says "pencil cores are made of graphite mixed with a clay binder"

However, good, refractory, graphite will stand up to fire. I know this because I have seen crucibles made of graphite.

By the way, if you are looking for similar things, I think the "carbon" electrodes found in zinc-carbon batteries, are some kind of graphite, since they are made to conduct electricity.

If I get around to it, I'll try pulling one of those rods out of a zinc-carbon AA battery, and putting it in a propane torch flame, to see if it can be heated to glowing orange hot, without burning. If successful, hopefully I can also get a picture of this.

Also leads sold for mechanical pencils *might* be better quality than that found in wood cased pencils, maybe better able to withstand fire without cracking up. I dunno. Again, some experimentation is required.

gemtree1 year ago
I hate to tell you this but the locksmith that commented is probably rubbing his hands together with glee. I used to work with a locksmith. He LOVED people that used graphite on their locks because he charged them $65 to go to their place and spray WD-40 into the lock, jig it with the key, spray, jig, spray, jig until it cleaned the graphite out. EASY $65. Please don't use graphite. WD-40 is the best. It also helps keep the lock from freezing up in below freezing weather. If water gets into the keyhole, it keeps it out. Sorry, Locksmith guys/girls. I'm snitching you off!
Jack A Lopez (author)  dexterm1222 years ago
I have locked myself out of a car, by way of locking the keys in the car, on more than one occasion. 

One solution to this problem, is for me to carry a duplicate of the key needed to unlock the car somewhere on my person.  For example I put another key to the car door in a pocket in my wallet. When I'm out driving somewhere, almost always I'll have my wallet with me, in my pants pocket, on my person. 

Then when I lock the keys in the car, I can just unlock it via the spare key in my wallet.

But this trick might require some adaptation for a woman to do it, and the reason for that of course is that women have clothing and accessories that are different than those men have.  Women's clothes often lack pockets, and women carry their money and car-keys in little bags called "purses".  Or at least this is the way it is for the clothing styles and customs in my home country, the Former U.S.

I found an instructable is related to that topic:
But it only offers hints and suggestions. Or maybe it is not intended to be taken seriously at all.  Although I  tend to think the desire of women to find, and/or make, clothing with more pockets is very sincere.

Of course the car itself is neither male nor female, and is thus not bound by the same fashion rules.  The car is of robot gender, and robots are people too, sort of.  So you might consider the putting a pocket on the car

The usual trick is a key in a little box held on by strong magnets to some inconspicuous part of the car.
eelco_g3 years ago
Would toner from a laser printer work? I think that's graphite too.
Jack A Lopez (author)  eelco_g3 years ago
I dunno? Is printer toner slippery?

Toner is carbon black mixed with powdered plastic.  Moreover, carbon black and graphite are not the same kind of carbon.

I'm not totally sure what the microscopic differences are,

but macroscopically graphite is sort of gray and silvery in color, while carbon black is just black.

Another macroscopic difference is graphite is good conductor of electricity, while carbon black, or charcoal, is not.

Also solid graphite is refractory.  If you put a wooden pencil into the flame of a propane torch, the wood will burn away into charcoal, and the charcoal burns away into ashes, while the graphite core in the center just gets hot. Some pictures of this are attached, since I already had them.  I was making some homemade electrodes...

Anyway, to make a long story short:   printer toner is not the same thing as powdered graphite.    Although that fact alone does not prove printer toner is unsuitable for lubricating a lock...
Toner has some kind of polyester in it and it isn't good to breath. It's also even messier than graphite and more expensive per pound.
bhunter7366 years ago
Good instructable. : ) Im a locksmith and I can say that this will work for a lot of locks. If you do not have success, you should use a spray lubricant like Tri-Flo. Nothing with silicone, it will eventually gum up the lock, so no WD-40. Keep in mind, if your pieces are too big to start, it will be hard to force the key to break them up. By the way, just because I am a locksmith and understand that this will work doesnt mean I offer any warranty to anyone who tries this. Level of success will depend on the person performing the task to some degree.
read the side of a wd40 can it says no silicone since wd40 was first made in 1940
Good to know - thanks.  I don't think that label used to be there, although I have not read the ingredients on WD40 in many years.  However, it is still not preferred for locks by many locksmiths including myself.  In a totally dry environment, I will use graphite and everywhere else I prefer Tri-Flo.
Believe it or not the active ingredient in WD 40 is fish oil. WD stands for Water Displacement, so that's why it helps prevent rust. It will also dissolve gummed-up oil. I happen to like Tri-Flo and Corrosion-X as well.

The thing about graphite is it was first used when locks had large sliding parts with lots of clearance-unlike lock cylinders, which are fairly tightly miked. It would be OK if you only used it ONCE, but I've seen cylinders so packed with graphite the pins wouldn't move (I've been a locksmith for about 30 years).

What I like about the ultra lightweight spray oils (NOT silicone or PBlaster penetrant-though they do make a lubricant as well) is they tend to prevent freezing in low temperatures and will loosen up gummy locks. Finally, WD40 is available nearly everwhere and you can't overuse it...although you'll pull out graphite on the key if there's some already in the lock, so watch your hands and clothes.

Some high-security locks like Medeco are so tightly miked you can ONLY use something like WD40, or they'll jam up quick!
i use WD-40 for my bike locks because they alway stay outside and as i recall wd-40 also prevents rust. does it really prevents rust and if not does graphite?
One more thing, dont lock yourself out. Always do something like this with the door open, not just unlocked, open. If you goof it up you can still get in and out.
allen3 years ago
Hmmm, interesting idea. Less messy then liquid graphite and quick.

One thought though. I think mechanical pencil lead might be even easier since it comes in such thin sticks. Slide three or four .2 millimeter bits of mechanical pencil lead in the lock should be easy and it'll certainly break up easily enough.
aristide2023 years ago
easier results with a soft pencil , best a 2B if you have one , graphite looks e little darker an greasy . Check easily drawing something on paper.
sharlston5 years ago
i spray a bit of wd40 into the lock but i might use this method aswell csn it be used on pdlocks?
Phocian6 years ago
Use the softer leads. The hard-lead pencils are hardened with ground quartz, that is, sand. I would think the sand would eat the innards of the lock after a while.
pharmer16 years ago
Awesome instructable. It worked like a charm on my old stubborn locks, they now glide like new. Thanks for sharing.
Nicely done Instructable, I'll hopefully remember to show this to my dad if needed. Hope to see more Instructables!
Cornflower6 years ago
What about penciling in the key? rub the graphite on the key, a lot, into the grooves and along the enges. It might be a bit slower, but avoids any problem of a piece getting stuck in there...
bustedit6 years ago
Ingenius! Working the key in the hole is enough to grind the lead? Is there any way that a piece could migrate somewhere the key doesnt go and stop the lock from working properly?
LinuxH4x0r6 years ago
Cool! I'll try this on some old locks and then maybe my house and car
lamedust6 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
Jack A Lopez (author)  lamedust6 years ago
Hey, uh.. thanks for catching that. I think the editor-ap might have told me a pic was required for the intro step, and I had one there originally, but then I decided to change the list of ingredients and the original pic no longer fit. Anyway, I've fixed it. There's a pic there now. I'm looking forward publishing this instructable, my first. Hope y'all like it.