Pin Tumbler vs Wafer Lock Cylinders

What is a pin tumbler type lock cylinder?

A pin tumbler type lock cylinder is one that uses pins in conjunction with the key to allow the lock to operate. There are many different materials used in the manufacturing process of this type of lock cylinder. We’ve seen plastic, cast metal and solid brass to name a few. Some manufacturers use a combination of different materials for the plug and housing. The best made lock cylinder that is not considered to be high security is where the lock cylinder housing and plug are both made out of solid brass. The plug is the portion of the lock that you put the key into that turns when the correct key is inserted. The housing is the portion of the lock cylinder that encompasses the lock cylinder plug. The plug can only be turned when the correct key is inserted into the keyway or keyhole in the plug. The inside of the lock cylinder housing and plug are a  series of 5, 6 or even 7 holes that are bored into both which allow for the insertion of lock pins and springs. Each hole is called a chamber and each will contain one spring, a top pin and a bottom pin. The top pins are cylyndrical in shape and work in conjunction with the spring to force the bottom pin downward into the key hole or key way. A bottom pin is flat at one end and pointed at the other. Bottom pins are inserted into each chamber with the pointed end down. The pointed end is is the portion of this type of pin that sits in the cut of your key. Bottom pins vary in length to correspond with the varying depths of the cuts in your key. The whole idea is, when the correct key is inserted into a lock, the bottom pins in all the lock chambers are raised to the correct level and the plug can then turn, locking or unlocking the lock. Locksmiths refer to this as the shear line. An imaginary line that is formed when all the pins in a pin tumbler lock are raised to the correct height allowing the plug to turn. Generally speaking, it requires a slightly higher skill level to pick a pin tumbler type lock open. Pin tumbler locks can usually be found on building and room entrance doors, some desk drawer locks as well as some mail box locks and some file cabinets as well. They are most preavalent on building entrance doors.

What is a wafer type lock cylinder?

A wafer type lock cylinder uses wafers in conjunction with the key to allow the lock to operate. With this type of lock, the housing and plug are usually both made of cast metal. We have, however, on occassion, seen a cast metal housing with a brass plug. The wafers that are used are usually rectangular in shape and have a hole punched in the center of them. This acually allows a key to pass through the center of the wafer when inserted into the lock cylinder plug. Varying sized holes are punched into each wafer to correspond with the cuts in the key. It is basically the same principal for the pin tumbler as it is for the wafer type lock. When all the wafers are rasied to the correct level by the right key, a shear line is formed and the plug can then freely turn while using the key. Insert the wrong key and the plug cannot turn. The most common uses for wafer type locks are for mail boxes, desk and cabinet drawers, cash boxes among other applications. This type of lock is considered less secure and is more easily manipulated open than a pin tumbler type lock. Very limited skills are required to pick this type of lock open.

Security Article Written by: Toronto Locksmith


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