Why Your Duplicate Key From a Hardware Store Doesn’t Work

We see it all the time: a discouraged person coming into our shop asking, “Why doesn’t my duplicate key from the hardware store work?” While this is a frustrating thing for those people, it’s fortunate for them that they are far from alone — and we can help. So why don’t duplicate keys from big box stores always work? Well, there are several reasons.

For one, keys are not their specialty. They are ours. Think of where the key cutter is in a big store and think of everything around it. Maybe you can’t even picture where the key cutter is. That wouldn’t be surprising! When you want something done well, wouldn’t you rather go to an expert? Yes, you might think it’s convenient to pick up a key while shopping for a handful of completely unrelated items, but how worth it was that convenience when that key doesn’t get you into your house and you need to have the specialist fix it anyway?

At the big hardware stores, employees may know how to use the key-cutting machine, yet rarely have the opportunity to use it, so they don’t know or may forget the nuances of the machine and how to make sure keys are perfectly aligned and what it takes to create the perfect duplicate.

Because we are specialists in key cutting, our machines are of the utmost importance to our business and are top-of-the line. What you will find in a hardware store isn’t likely to be as good. In addition, no one at a big box store is necessarily paying attention to the maintenance of the machine, whereas we routinely calibrate our key cutter.

big box keys vs our keys

Can you spot the difference between the two keys? We can!

When it comes to cutting duplicate keys, precision is everything. As the photo shows, the key on the left was made by a big box store and on the right is ours. The big box key has the cuts too deep and too far back on the blade of the key. When you put a key into a lock, the pins inside the lock are supposed to fall into the valleys of the key creating a shear line at the top of the cylinder, which allows the cylinder to turn and unlock the lock.

So what are causes of a duplicate key gone wrong?

  • It’s incorrectly cut. Look at it. Are the valleys the same depth, or are they different, as in the photo? Do the lengths of the grooves and shoulders of the keys match up?
  • The incorrect blank was used. Keys will typically have a short number on the head. Does the number of one key match the other? With car keys, was the right type of car key used? The make and model of the vehicle needing a duplicate key is important.
  • The original key was damaged. Was there something about the original key that could prevent a perfect duplicate from being made? If it’s bent, rusted, or otherwise damaged, that could be your problem.
  • The duplicate was cut from a copy of a copy … of a copy. After about five generations of a key, duplicates can have picked up several flaws along the way and eventually, new copies won’t work.

No matter what you suspect to be the cause of an unusable duplicate key, come see us at All Secure Lock & Security and let the experts take care of it.