Top 10 door lock problems – and what to do about them – Part 1
28th July 2021
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Top 10 door lock problems - and what to do about them - Part 1

By Rob Staff, Secure Homes Security

Your door locks are something you use every day but don't really notice - until they go wrong.

Often, the problems can be quite small, and are easily fixed by a good locksmith.

But that's not much consolation when it's cold outside and you're locked out, or you're leaving for work in the morning but can't lock the door.

Whatever the problem, though, you can almost guarantee it will happen at the most inconvenient time!

So, with that in mind, here are the top 10 door lock problems you might encounter - and more importantly, what to do about them - either to stop them happening in the first place, or to get them fixed as quickly as possible if they do happen.

1. Broken key

If you’re trying to open a door with a lock that just won’t budge, it can be surprisingly easy to use too much force (especially if you’re in a rush) and snap the key off in the lock. Not good!

So the first thing to do is to make sure your locks are looked after and work properly. Assuming that you’re past that point, though, and are now have half a key in your hand, what’s the best thing to do?

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Here are seven ideas, using mostly household items, that you can try to remove a snapped key from a lock.

Tip: if you have some WD40 (or ideally dry PTFE lubricant) to hand, squirt some into the lock first to make the job a bit easier.

  1. Tweezers – just grab end of the broken key and pull.

  2. Small screw with a pair of pliers – Holding the screw in the jaws of the pliers, turn the screw until the thread just bites on the key, and carefully pull the key out.

  3. Kitchen knife with a sharp point (or two knives ­– one either side of the key – if it’s still stuck) – insert the point of the knife between the lock and the key, and gently lever the key out of the lock. Be careful, though!

  4. Fishing hook with a pair of pliers – hold the hook with the pliers and use the barb to drag the key out of the lock. You might need to bend the hook open a little for this one first.

  5. Small drill bit – drill carefully into the end of the key, taking care not to damage the lock. You should then be able to pull the key out using the drill bit.

  6. Hacksaw blade – again, insert the blade between the key and the lock and gently drag the key out. The blade needs to be as narrow and thin as possible, so you might need to cut it down to size with some tin snippers first.

  7. If you have a little more time, you can also buy a ‘broken key extractor set’ online (they only cost a few pounds).

2. Misaligned door latch

If your door isn’t latching properly, most of the time it’s because the latch is now too low in relation to the strike plate, due to the door (or even the house) moving and settling over time.

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Here are four ways to fix the problem, starting with the easiest solution first:

  1. Firstly, check the hinge screws haven’t come loose, and tighten them up if necessary. This one easy step will often fix the problem, but if not, move onto no. 2.

  2. Insert a big screwdriver into the strike plate hole and, being careful to avoid your fingers, hit the screwdriver sharply as close as possible to the door frame, to try and drive the strike plate down a little. You might also need to chisel a little extra wood from the bottom of the existing latch hole.  

  3. If no. 2 doesn’t work, try filing the bottom edge of the strike plate hole down a little.

    • Remove the strike plate from the door frame and, using metal file, run the bottom edge of the strike plate hole up and down the file to make the hole a little larger.

    • Refit and check if the door now latches.

    • If not, repeat the process until the door successfully latches, or move onto solution no 3.

    • Again, you might also need to remove a little extra wood from the bottom of the hole in the door frame.
     
  4. If no. 3 doesn’t work, try repositioning the strike plate.

    • Remove the strike plate from the door frame, hold the plate against the frame in its new position (around 5mm lower than its existing position generally works) and using a pencil, mark the positions of the new screw holes, and also the new position of the bottom edge of the plate on the frame.

    • Fill in the old screw holes using two or three toothpicks per hole, and plenty of superglue. You’ll usually need to do this because the new screw holes will probably be very close to the old ones, and the screws may well ‘slip’ into the old holes if you’re not careful.

    • Once the glue has dried, notch the protruding tooth picks as close as possible to the door frame with a craft knife. You should then be able to easily snap the toothpicks off more or less flush with the doorframe.

    • Using the pencil line you drew earlier to mark the bottom of the strike plate edge, chisel out the little bit of unwanted timber and, once again, enlarge the latching hole if necessary.

    • Drill the new screw holes where you marked them and refit the strike plate. Your door should now latch perfectly!       

3. Key won’t go into the lock

This is probably the simplest one to deal with.

If your key won’t go into the lock then the chances are the key is damaged or bent. You’ll need to get a new key cut.

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If it’s a newly cut key that won’t go in, then it might not have been cut properly. Giving the key a quick brush on a stiff wire brush will sometimes do the trick.

Or just take it back to place that cut it for you and they should recut it free of charge.

If your key isn’t damaged, bent or newly cut, then you’re probably trying to use the wrong key!

4. Key turns but doesn’t lock

Unfortunately this is likely to be a problem with the lock mechanism itself.

If you’re a confident DIYer, then you might be able to remove the lock and check it for any failed or worn parts.

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Youtube is always a great place to start if you’re not 100% sure how to proceed, but would like to have a go.

Failing that, you’re best bet will be to call a reputable locksmith and let them sort this one out for you.

Check out our article: 'How much do locksmiths charge?' for more information.

5. The key won’t turn

When was the last time you lubricated your locks? We’re guessing the answer is probably, ‘Never!’ 

If your key won’t turn in the lock, the most likely cause is a lack of lubrication.

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If this happens to you, it’s important not to force the lock – otherwise you risk snapping the key off in the lock – not good.

While you can use WD40 or oil in an emergency, we don’t recommend its use in the long term. The reason for this is that dust and grit will end up getting stuck in the lock, which over time will cause more wear and tear. Eventually, the lock will fail at some point, and you’ll be stuck - again.

What you should use instead is a silicone or graphite lubricant. These will stop dust and dirt getting stuck in the lock.

Pro tip: Open your stuck lock with a pencil. In an emergency, you can use a pencil to lube your lock, because the ‘lead’ is actually made of graphite. Simply run the pencil up and down your key several times, on both sides, to get as much graphite as possible onto the key. Then insert the key back in the lock and try to turn it. You may need to repeat this process several times, but eventually the lock should open.


That’s it for part 1! Stay tuned for the second part of Top 10 door lock problems – and what to do about them, coming soon.

More Information…

You might also like to take a look at these great resources:

How much do locksmiths charge in Hertford, Ware and Potters Bar?

Top 10 door lock problems – and what to do about them – Part 1

Is a smart lock right for you?

The Ring revolution

Extra security for garage locks

Your door locks could invalidate your home insurance

Christmas security tips from Hertfordshire’s leading locksmiths

About Secure Homes Security

Our website

About the author

My business partner, Mark Tinklin, and I run Secure Homes Security, a locksmiths covering Hertford, Ware, Potters Bar and all surrounding areas.

Our aim is to provide honest advice, excellent value and friendly service.

Check out our 100+ reviews here 


For a friendly, no-obligation chat about your project needs, just call or email:

Call: 01707 527133

Email: info@securehomessecurity.co.uk

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Rob Staff (left) and Mark Tinklin of Secure Homes Security


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My name is Victoria Hunter and I'm a true Hertford person - I went to school in Hertford and grew up here. I understand the importance of bringing trusted businesses and the community together, and believe...

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