Introduction: Skeleton Keys

Finally! You can rejoice in the delight of having a purpose for all your random steel off-cuts. This set of keys was made for a theatrical production, and is a fun afternoon project with endless possibilities.



- steel scraps (rod, pipe, flat bar)

- gun metal blue (optional)

- paint or any other surface treatment experiments you'd like to conduct (optional)


- metal-cutting tools (bolt cutters, metal cutting band saw, cold cut saw, cut-off wheel, etc.)

- welder

- grinder with various attachments: (cut off wheel, grinding wheel, flap wheel, wire brush etc.)

- dremel with various attachments (sanding drum & rotary stone grinding bit (recommended)

- bench vise or other tools of persuasion (optional)

- precision metal files (optional)

- buffers or wire wheels (optional)

Step 1: Finding Inspiration & Collecting Your Scraps

There are so many designs, shapes, and sizes of skeleton keys, and you can use whatever you have around to replicate them! I primarily used scraps of 3/16" steel rod, 1/8" steel flat bar, and slices of steel pipe at various diameters. You could also incorporate coat hanger wire, washers, or even nuts!

Step 2: Designing Your Keys

Play around with the steel scraps you have and get those creative juices flowing!

1. The Stem: Begin by cutting your rods to whatever length brings you joy, keeping in mind you will be adding overall length with whatever you use for the bow elements. To keep in proportion with the size rod I had, I aimed to keep my overall key dimensions between 4-5" and cut my steel accordingly.

2. The Bow: Determine the thickness of your rod. It is best to cut your pipe to the same dimension. I used a cold-cut saw to slice my pipe. I had pipe of different diameters. Some I left as circles, others I pressed into ovals using a bench vise. You can also play around with other steel materials you have to make a design that is appealing to you.

3: The Bit: This element is possibly the trickiest feature to make because it is so small, so when possible I looked for steel pieces that I did not have to cut in any way to use.

That is not always an option, so if that's the case, I recommend starting with a much larger piece you can safely grip and carefully use a metal cutting band saw, or secure the scrap in a vise and use a dremel with a cut-off wheel to make your cuts.

Always remember to wear your safety equipment and protect your eyes especially when cutting metal!!

Step 3: Assembling the Keys

Because these are particularly small objects, it is recommended to work on a metal surface so you can clamp the ground to it instead of your tiny project.

Adjust your welder settings to accommodate the thickness of your materials.

Arrange the elements of your key and tack weldthem to each other!

Add additional welds as necessary to fill in gaps and ensure the elements look like 1 continuous piece.

Step 4: Finessing Your Keys

Once your keys are welded together, use a grinder to flatten the welds.

You can also use a dremel with a sanding drum or rotary stone grinding bit to round over and hard edges. Use a cut-off wheel to cut notches into the bit. You can work any additional embellishments you wish at this time, such as filing designs or rings into the bow and stem.

If you want your keys to look new, buff and shine them!

If you want your keys to look old, you can use a wire brush attachment on the grinder or dremel to rough up the surface to add texture, age, and wear. If you add a surface treatment like paint or gun metal blue, it will fall into the crevasses and provide character.

You can keep your keys loose, or add them to a ring!

Metalworking Contest

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