A lock is a mechanism that secures buildings, rooms, cabinets, objects, or other storage facilities to keep the contents safe. A key is often used to open a lock, in certain case one or more keys. Other means are now used, such as a combination lock where a series of numbers or a word acts as the key, or a key card which contains a number or password or a combination of both. Historically locks were made by locksmiths. The origin of the name Smith originally derives from the Old English term smib, meaning one who works in metal. It is related to the word smitten, the Old English form of smite, also meaning strike as in hit. Locksmiths were blacksmith who specialized in security devices using beaten and molded metal components. The earliest form of wooden locks were used in Egypt and later Greece. Mounted on the door posts the lock contained movable wooden pins that dropped into holes in the bolt locking the bolt and door. A wooden key was used to raise the wooden pins unlocking the bolt. Modern Yale is a development of the earliest Egyptian pin tumbler.
The Romans used metal locks and keys. They introduced ‘warding’ which is using shaped metal sections around the keyhole to provide an obstruction and prevent the use of the wrong key. This was developed into the use of notching to make each keys only fit one lock. As a refinement of the ward lock the double tumbler lock has levers or tumblers that fall into slots in the bolt to preventing movement. This double lever is moved by the key, each to a different height, before the key moves the bolt. This is the basis of all modern lever locks. Spring loaded padlocks were common for travelers. 14th to 17th Centuries was a time of superb craftsmen. locksmiths and skilled metal workers, but little improvement was made in security. Designs used complicated warding, the hiding of keyholes and trick devices. Puzzle combination locks that required the rings to aligned by letters or numbers developed into combination locks used on bank vaults. As techniques improved locks became more secure, keys became more complex, and locks more difficult to ‘pick’ Any lock will not keep out a determined intruder who has time, resources and skill. The alternatives of the noise of breaking a window or door are not attractive, and a good lock may persuade the thief to try some other less secure property.
There are many specialization within the locksmith trade depending on their skills and training – Automobile locks, safe technician, household security, are some of the areas. Some locksmiths call themselves Master Locksmiths whether they are qualified or not. Most locksmiths also work on any existing door hardware, not just locking mechanisms. Door closers, door hinges, electric strikes, frame repairs and other door hardware are all important parts of the security system. In the past locksmiths actually made the entire lock, working metal, hand cutting screws and doing much file-work. While there are still some expert locksmiths capable of intricate repairs and renovation work, the most locks are repaired by exchanging parts for new ones, or where this is not possible by a complete change of lock. As modern techniques have changed most locksmiths now need to be able to do electronic lock servicing, and make keys for transponder-equipped vehicles.
In terms of physical security, a locksmith’s work can now involve assessment of the level of risk a property presents, so that appropriate counter measures can be advised. For this he needs the knowledge of the field and the possible systems available to defeat or deter the thief. Locksmiths are experienced people who have come up against scores or lock problems – some that are relatively easy, and others which have presented a real challenge. It is possible for the amateur to tackle some lock problems, but as the end result may not be either satisfactory or permanent, the amount of time spent cannot be justified. There has been a great technological advancement in the materials used, and in the complexity and working of locks, and to repair or open them requires a range of very specialist tools. The police as standard call a locksmith to all incidents reported to them.