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If you live in an older home, it is simply impossible to know how many house keys that fit your lock are floating out there. This worrying fact leads many homeowners and landlords to replace or rekey locks for exterior doors. Hiring a professional locksmith is the quickest solution here, but there is a cheaper way for those ready to flex their DIY muscles.
Here are the steps to rekey a lock yourself, whether you’ve just moved to a new place, lost your keys, or simply need to make room on your key ring.
Prepping to Rekey Your Lock
The most important prep step is to purchase a rekeying kit. These kits have everything you need to rekey multiple locks (up to six in each kit), including pins, keys, various tools, and more. They cost anywhere from $10 to $25, but you can’t purchase any old kit from the shelf (or digital marketplace).
Rekeying kits are tied to specific lock manufacturers. They are available for most lock brands but are not interchangeable. You’ll need to buy a rekeying kit from the same company. If you’re rekeying multiple locks throughout the home, you may need several rekeying kits to accommodate varying manufacturers.
If all your door locks were made by the same company, your rekeying kit is good for six locks. (You can always order more pins to accommodate more locks if needed.)
Remove the Door Knob
First, take the doorknob off the door so you can access the internal components of the lock. This process will vary slightly depending on the design of your doorknob, but the general procedure is always the same.
Place the old key inside of the lock, turn the key slightly to the right to align the cylinder, and grab the wire tool that accompanied your rekeying kit.
Insert this wire into the knob hole on the side and depress the knob clip. The knob should separate easily from the shank.
You may need to experiment with different placements for the key until the cylinder holes align. Also, if your rekeying kit lacks a wire tool, try using really small tweezers.
Remove the Cylinder
Photo: Dimco / Adobe Stock
Once that pesky doorknob is out of the way, it’s time to access and remove the cylinder. Just push the cylinder through the back of the knob assembly by hand. This should pop off the knob sleeve, allowing you to continue pushing the cylinder free from front to back.
If there’s a cap on the back, thus disallowing access to the sleeve and cylinder, remove it by applying gentle pressure with a flathead screwdriver.
Remove the Clip Ring
Next, remove the clip ring, otherwise called the snap ring, retainer ring, or C-clip. This ring helps keep the various assembly components snug in place.
Your rekeying kit should have a special tool to force off this thin clip ring. Just push this tool against the ring to pop it off from the cylinder. If your rekeying kit lacks a dedicated tool for this task, you can grab a pair of needlenose pliers, as the designs are similar.
Set the ring aside but don’t lose it. It requires reinstallation later on in the process.
Remove the Key Plug and Attach It to the Cylinder
Photo: Mikhail / Adobe Stock
This is the most critical and most delicate part of the process. Luckily, rekeying kits include a dedicated plug follower for removing the cylinder plug, or key plug, from the cylinder.
Insert the old key and turn it in either direction to activate the cylinder’s pins and strings.
Retrieve the plug follower and push it through the cylinder. Maintain consistent pressure between the plug and follower to ensure that the pins and springs don’t spill out.
If pins and springs do fall out, don’t fret. Keep them together and reinsert the springs by following the instructions accompanying your rekeying kit. Don’t worry about reinserting the pins, as they are removed next.
As you maintain that pressure, slowly push out the key plug from the housing.
Attach it to the cylinder that you removed earlier, leaving the plug following tool inside the housing to help hold the springs and pins in place.
Dump Out the Old Pins
Remove the old pins for disposal, using a pair of needle-nose pliers or a similar tool that accompanied your rekeying kit. The pins are color-coded, making them easy to recognize. Most rekeying kits include explicit instructions as to which colored pin goes where, but mark down the locations just in case. Once removed, take out the old key and place the new key inside of the lock.
Insert the New Pins
You are in the home stretch now. Insert the new pins that accompanied the rekeying kit, following the instructions as to color-coding and placement. These pins are tiny, so use needle-nose pliers or tweezers for this task.
Make sure the pins are flush at the top of the key plug. These pins dictate the actual shape of your new lock, so your new key works after the replacement.
Reassemble the Lock
Once the new pins are inserted, follow the above instructions in reverse to reassemble the lock. Start by reinserting the key plug, followed by the cylinder, and the clip ring. Finish it off by reinstalling the various door knob components. Each door knob is slightly different, so refer to your instructions if you run into hurdles affixing the knob cap or sleeve.
Once complete, admire your brand new lock and give the new key a few celebratory turns.
DIY vs. Hiring a Pro to Rekey Your Locks
Give this a shot yourself to save some money and to increase your skillset, as hiring a locksmith to rekey costs $80 to $160. However, if you run into any unforeseen complications, locksmiths are experienced with fixing and maintaining every component of a door lock, as breaking down a lock to rekey can sometimes expose other issues. Many common problems, such as broken deadlatches or improper strike alignment, lead to a total lock failure over time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it cheaper to rekey a lock or replace it?
Rekeying a lock is always cheaper than replacing it. Rekeying kits cost around $25, whereas replacing the entire lock costs around $500 on average. However, this doesn’t mean you should always opt to rekey locks—replacement is the better choice when you’re changing lock types or installing a deadbolt.
Should you change locks after buying a house?
It is always a good idea to replace or rekey locks after moving into a new home. You have no idea how many keys are out there, after all, so this simple step increases your home’s overall security.
Can you rekey a lock without the original key?
This is possible, but there is no easy DIY method. In other words, call in a pro to rekey a lock if you have lost the original key. They’ll start by shimming the lock to unlock it before removing the cylinder to complete the rest of the rekeying process.