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20 Different Types of Keys for Locks

Photo collage of keys

Quicklist: Types of Keys

  1. Transponder Key
  2. Laser-Cut Car Key
  3. Dimple Key
  4. Valet Key
  5. Keycard Key
  6. Tubular Key
  7. Primary Key
  8. Paracentric Key
  9. Abloy Key
  10. Skeleton Key
  11. Cruciform Key
  12. Magnetic Key
  13. Double or Four-Sided Key
  14. Mechanically Cut Key
  15. Smart Car Key
  16. VAT Keys
  17. Car Keu
  18. Home or Office Key
  19. Padlock Key
  20. Diary Key

The first keys appeared about 6,000 years ago in ancient Babylon and Egypt at the same time as the first locks were invented. The keys were wooden, tooth-shaped, heavy, bulky, and were used to lift the small pins hidden in the small opening near the bolts.

Rome improved upon these wooden locks with keys by making them smaller, lighter, and stronger with iron and bronze.

Soon the large flat keys with pins on their ends evolved into skeleton keys which were simple cylindrical shafts with one single, rectangular tooth.

During the 19th century, American mechanical engineer Linus Yale, Sr., and his son, patented several locking mechanisms, including a pin tumbler lock which required a small, flat key with serrated edges to open.

younger Yale founded the Yale Lock Manufacturing Co. in 1868, and the company continues to be a leading brand to this day.

Related: Types of Door Hinges | Types of Garage Doors | Types of DoorknobsTypes of Window Locks | Garage Door Alternatives 

Different Types of Keys

Transponder Key

Hand holding a transponder key with a car on the background.

This type of key is often called a “chip key” and is commonly used in vehicles. They operate by triggering a radio signal to the car.

The key design is great at preventing theft if the wrong circuit code is used, and since they are difficult to duplicate, it’s hard for someone to make a copy of the key.

There are some types of vehicles that will shut down when the wrong transponder key is used, which further reduces the possibility of it being stolen. Because the key has a microchip that is programmed to the ignition code, it will not be able to start any other vehicle.

These types of keys are expensive and difficult to cut and are some of the safest types of keys on the market.

It is impossible to duplicate the keys using key cutting machines, and a locksmith has to be able to access a car manufacturers’ database in order to get information about the car code in order to create a new key.

Related: Properly Secure Your Backyards | Type Smart Home Door Locks | Smart Home Cameras | Guide to Home Security Systems

Laser-Cut Car Key

Laser cut key

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While similar in style and design to mechanically cut car keys, these keys are much more accurate and complex, which will provide the owner additional security. They are also commonly called “sidewinder keys,” and they have patterns and ridges that are cut into the key on both sides.

This makes them significantly more difficult for people to duplicate. In order to duplicate this type of car key, access to specialized machinery is required.

Locksmiths are able to cut these keys by using an internal machine that will cut both sides of the key. The end result is a unique key that others will not be able to copy.

Dimple Key

Dimple keys

Dimple keys are less complicated types of keys that rely on cone-shaped, drilled impressions in the actual key to open a lock. The dimples on the key match with other dimples in the lock. When the dimples align properly, the lock opens.

There are usually two sets of dimples in the lock and the dimples located on the key are aligned in the same way on each side. This means that you don’t have to insert the key in a particular position in order to be able to unlock the lock.

Valet Key

Valet keys are specifically designed to open locked car doors and will allow the person with the key to start the car.

While these keys do contain RFID chips, they are coded so that they will inhibit any access to other parts of the vehicle. When you use a valet key, you will not be able to open the glove box, trunk, trunk release, or seat backs.

Keycard Key

Hand holding a keycard key to open a door.

Key cards have magnetic strips on them that will unlock a door when inserted into a locking device. Keycard keys are very similar in size and shape to credit cards and are used in situations where you need to be able to guarantee security or when you need to change locks on a regular basis.

One of the most common locations where you will experience using a key card is in a hotel. They are ideal because the manager can easily control which keycards will unlock which doors and can even cancel keycards if guests forget to return them after their stay.

These keys are also used in secure locations, such as government buildings.

Instead of making an employee carry a key for each door that they have access to, when they have a keycard, it can be programmed to allow them access to certain locations and to deny them access to others, if necessary.

Tubular Key

Tubular keys

Tubular keys are used to unlock tubular pin tumbler locks, and are sometimes referred to as “barrel keys.”

They have a hollow, cylindrical shaft that is larger in diameter and shorter than traditional keys. If you have a bike lock or need to open a vending machine, then it is very likely that you will use a tubular key.

One of the main benefits of using this type of key is they are difficult to duplicate.

Primary Key

Golden primary key

Primary keys are designed specifically to open multiple locks. The systems designed to work with primary keys have a number of locks or cylinders that will allow you to open the lock in addition to the main key holder being able to open the lock.

Paracentric Key

Mindy Locker Lock with Keys Zinc Alloy Padlock,3.5x1.5x2 Inch

 

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Paracentric keys are only used to open locks designed for them. They are generally fairly easy to identify due to their strange shape and unusual features. Generally, paracentric keys will have very small teeth at the end of the key in addition to a contorted blade.

Abloy Key

Abloy Key

This type of key is incredibly difficult, if not impossible to pick. They are used on disc tumbler locks. The lock has a special key that will rotate the discs like a tumbler, which will cause them to align so that the lock can open.

They are springless locks, which makes them incredibly difficult to pick. In some parts of the world almost all of the locks used are Abloy due to the safety and security of this system. 

Skeleton Key

Skeleton Key

This is a type of primary key that is also called a “passkey.” The serrated edge of the key is generally sanded down so that the key can open a number of different locks.

Some people use the term “skeleton key” to refer to any type of primary key or keycard that can be used to open a number of locks, while others erroneously use the term to describe bitted keys that are used on lever tumbler locks.

Generally, skeleton keys can be created by simply removing the middle of the key, which allows the key to enter and turn a number of locks.

Cruciform Key

Cruciform Key

These keys are easily recognizable due to the X-shape of the profile. The cruciform key has three sets of teeth that are located at 90-degree angles to each other. The four sides are flattened. While it is easy to duplicate this type of key, it is difficult to pick the lock.

Magnetic Key

Hand holding a magnetic key to open a door.

This type of key relies on magnets to operate the lock. When the magnets are oriented correctly then it will cause a push or a pull inside of the lock, moving the internal tumblers so that the mechanism will release.

This is a passive locking system that doesn’t need any kind of electronics in order to activate the mechanisms. By combining a number of different magnets with different strengths and aligning them at different polarities, you can create a secure mechanism. 

Double or Four-Sided Key

Four-Sided Key

These are the keys that most people think of when they try to picture what a key looks like. They have either two or four sets of teeth. The two extra sets of teeth will make the key much more difficult to pick. 

Mechanically Cut Key

Mechanically cut keys and an internal pin tumbler lock.

This is the most common type of car key and is also the oldest available. The ridges and lines that are cut into the key are only on one side, which makes it easy to use a cutting machine to complete the job.

Unfortunately, this also means that these keys are the easiest ones to duplicate. They can be made to fit any lock or type of keyhole.

Smart Car Key

Smart car key

While these car keys are very similar to transponder car keys, they are significantly more advanced. The owner of a smart car key is able to open and close doors remotely and can even start the car’s ignition from outside of the vehicle.

VAT Keys

VATS Key

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Vehicle Anti-Theft (VAT) keys are an upgrade to your normal key that will improve security and safety. They include additional safety measures, such as adding a security chip to the key.

Doing so will make it more difficult for people to open the door if they do not have the correct type of key. The type of additional security measures will depend on how much security the owner of the key wants to have.

These keys are difficult to replace, as the security chip that is embedded in the blade of the key is custom and the code will change.

Generally, locksmiths and other key companies will recommend to their customers to buy a new set of keys, duplicate the original key, and then create a new VAT chip.

Use for Keys

Car

Car key still attached to the car door's lock.

In order to open and start your vehicle, you need a key. These keys come in a variety of types and styles, depending on the year and make of your vehicle.

Since there are six different types of car keys available, it’s a good idea to know not only what kind of key your vehicle has, but also what you would do if you were to lose it and the information that you would need to have another one made right away.

Home or Office

A key with keychain still attached to a home or office door's lock.

To ensure that your key is secure, you need to make sure that you choose a lock and key that have patented keyways. This will reduce the possibility that someone can easily copy your key. Regular home or office keys are usually very easy to duplicate.

Some office keys are stamped “do not copy” to reduce the risk of employees making copies of the keys without permission. Most locksmiths will not copy keys that have this stamped on them, but this is not the best form of protection for a business.

Padlock

Transparent padlock with keys

Most people can easily recognize a padlock key due to its small size. They are generally about half of the size of a normal home or office key, and are designed for a specific padlock.

If you lose your padlock key, a locksmith can duplicate your key with the information from the brand of padlock and information about its type. Otherwise, there are other options to open the padlock including impresioning to create a new key or cutting the lock itself.

Diary

Pink diary with padlock and a small key

More for show than actual safety and security, diary keys are incredibly small keys that are used to lock the padlock on a diary.

They generally are all the same shape, which means that if you lose your diary key, you can use the one from another diary without any problems. Generally, diaries will come with more than one key in case the original is lost, but it’s easy enough to buy an extra online.

Different types of keys on wooden background.

Top Brands

Kwikset

Kwikset SmartCode 270 Keyless Electronic Touchpad Deadbolt, Auto Door Lock, SmartKey Re-Key Security, Venetian Bronze

When it comes to trustworthy lock and key brands, Kwikset is probably one of the first that comes to mind. This lock and key brand is a common option in homes and commercial buildings throughout the United States.

Not only is this brand reputable, but the products are actually quite affordable, too. You can find Kwikset products online and at many key kiosks as well as in most home improvement stores.

Kwikset sells a wide range of door hardware in a variety of styles that come in a myriad of finishes including sleek chrome, polished nickel, bronze, and more.

The company makes a range of bedroom, bathroom, and closet door hardware, like keyless smart entry locks, deadbolt door locks, levers, pocket door locks, and knobs for interior rooms.

Schlage

Schlage BE365 V CAM 619 Camelot Keypad Deadbolt, Electronic Keyless Entry Lock, Satin Nickel

This high-quality door lock brand specializes in heavy-duty hardware and tech-savvy updated smart locks. Schlage is at the forefront of electronic locks, like the brand’s Camelot Keypad Deadbolt lock. This sleek lock comes in a wide variety of gorgeous finishes to suit your décor and aesthetic.

It includes two pre-programmed codes so you can start using it right out of the box, and up to 19 different codes that you can assign to family and trusted friends for keyless security and entry.

The durable metal construction is sturdy and works in both residential and light commercial environments. This deadbolt from Schlage uses one included 9-volt battery and it also has a low battery indicator (although the brand claims you’ll get up to two years of battery life with standard use).

The silicone numbers on the keyboard light up when you press them and can be installed in just minutes without the use of a screwdriver. To unlock the door, simply enter a valid user code, then press the Schlage button and turn it using the thumb turn.

These locks and others from Schlage are backed by a limited lifetime mechanical and finish warranty and a three-year electronics warranty.

Baldwin

Baldwin Prestige 380 Round Single Cylinder Deadbolt Featuring SmartKey in Venetian Bronze

Baldwin hardware has been around since 1946 and continues to make durable, beautiful locks and other door hardware today, offering sleek, sophisticated designs geared toward the modern homeowner.

Baldwin is yet another trusted, high-quality lock brand that makes a range of products for today’s modern homes. The Baldwin Prestige Deadbolt adds modern luxury to your home with a sleek look and SmartKey security.

The round shape gives this deadbolt a smooth, seamless look that can easily be paired with several entry knobs from the brand’s Prestige Series. From Venetian bronze to satin nickel, these locks lend a beautiful element to your home’s overall look.

The SmartKey Re-Key technology lets you control who gets access to your home, and you can also re-key the lock in just three easy steps. It features an ANSI Grade 2 residential security rating and special patented BumpGuard protection for additional security.

The Prestige is one of the brand’s most accessible models and can be found on Amazon and in many retail stores throughout the United States.

Ultraloq

Smart Lock, ULTRALOQ U-Bolt Pro + Bridge WiFi Adaptor, 6-in-1 Keyless Entry Door Lock with WiFi, Bluetooth, Fingerprint and Keypad, Smart Door Lock Front Door, ANSI Grade 1 Certified

Ultraloq makes a selection of smart locks that make keyless entry easy. This high-tech door hardware brand can be found online and sells a range of options including lever-style handles, combo locks, and products from its popular U-bolt series.

You can control the lock at any time from any location, unlock the door or share access remotely, and even view a log of who has entered using the smartphone app.

You can also share your e-key or a code remotely with family, friends, contractors, or anyone else you’d like to give access to your home when you’re not there. The Touch and Go 360-degree Fingerprint ID and anti-peep keypad make it easy to enter without a key.

This smart lock automatically locks whenever you leave, and it unlocks whenever you approach the door, as long as you have your smartphone with you. It also includes voice control that works with Google Assistant and Alexa and is also compatible with Apple Watch.

The durable lock has a strong lifespan that has been tested and proven to be up to 35 times strong and longer lasting than standard residential locks. These locks are dustproof and weatherproof, and the external hardware is designed to weather the heat and the cold with no problem.

You can easily replace your current deadbolt with this awesome upgrade from Ultraloq with just a screwdriver. It’s also backed by a lifetime mechanical warranty and an 18-month electronic warranty.

Where to Buy

EasyKeys.com

EasyKeys.com is a company that started back in 2002 with the aim of providing a convenient way for people to order replacement keys for office furniture. Although the company began as a major office furniture dealer, it has since become a separate online entity.

They provide keys for cabinet locks, cubicle locks, mailbox locks, and so much more. Additionally, they work with a wide range of manufacturers, including popular ones like Knoll, Steelcase, and HermanMiller.

When you order from EasyKeys.com, you will most likely receive the keys on the same day, and if you shop for items worth more than $15, you can enjoy free shipping. They are also readily available to answer your questions. You can reach them via email, phone, or live chat.

Ilco

Kaba Ilco is among the leading key blank manufacturers based in North Carolina. This premium manufacturing facility produces millions of keys each week.

They are known for exceptional quality and competitive prices. They also have sister companies: Silca and Advanced Diagnostics, which are also known for providing excellent security solutions.

When ordering from Ilco, you can customize your lock’s key. For instance, you can have the name of your business embedded in the key. Their customer service is also remarkable.

American Key Supply

American Key Supply is a leading distributor of hardware supplies, like keys for locks. They have offices in Las Vegas, Nevada, but you can order and enjoy quick delivery to all 50 states, including Alaska.

The good thing about buying from American Key Supply is that you are spoilt for choice. They have keys of all types from any manufacturer you can possibly think of.

Sentry Safe

Since its inception in 1930, SentrySafe has been providing state-of-the-art security storage solutions. The company is an affiliate of the Master Lock Company LLC. Currently, SentrySafe sells its products in over 54 countries worldwide.

Although they are known for manufacturing security products like safes, they also offer a key replacement process. Once you land on the key replacement page on their website, you will be prompted to select your region to view available options.

It can take up to 7-10 days to receive your replacement key. However, you can call their customer service to expedite your order.

Grainger

Grainger is a reputable company with over 95 years of experience in security products like key blanks. Their website is incredibly extensive—you can find almost all answers to your questions there.

You can place an order, pay an invoice online, track your order, and so much more. Bulk shopping is also easy on the Grainger website. Should you need further assistance, you can give them a call. Even better, you can download their mobile application on Google Play or App Store.

Key Craze

If you like pop and color for your keys, consider checking out Key Craze. Key Craze is a wholesale company for locksmiths. They supply key blanks in innovative styles and beautiful colors throughout the United States and Canada.

Some of their popular styles include Disney keys, Harley Davidson keys, and sports themes. But if you don’t want anything fancy, that’s also fine. You can find traditional keys made of brass and other finishes.

Besides finding a key for your lock, you can also find a wide assortment of key accessories on the Key Craze website. These include key chains, wrist coils, and key reels. You can also buy in bulk. Even better, Key Craze offers free shipping within the U.S for orders above $100.

Mr. Lock

Established in 1976, Mr. Lock is a leading supplier of security hardware like door closers and key blanks. On their website, you can shop by manufacturers.

Some of the manufacturers they feature include JMA Key Blanks, Ilco, and Jet Key Blanks. You can also find vintage keys if they are you cup of tea.

Notably, Mr. Lock ships in the United States and beyond. If you are outside the United States, there is a minimum spend of $15.

Once you place the order, the estimated shipping and delivery date will depend on the availability of your selected items. That information will be displayed on the shipping quotes page.

Rockin’ Keys

You can tell from the name that Rockin’ Keys has some uniqueness to it. The company, established in 2006, sells guitar-shaped key blanks. So if you are a music enthusiast, this would definitely be your place.

Since you will buy directly from the manufacturer, you have a better chance of getting customized designs. They introduce new key shapes every month, so be on the lookout for that.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can police take your keys?

Police are not allowed to take your key unless they have reason to believe that they are evidence of a crime, or if taking them will prevent you from harming yourself or others.

Can a bartender take your keys?

While a bartender is not allowed to take your keys, they are allowed to call the police if they think you are too inebriated to drive.  

For this reason, it’s generally a good idea to either hand them over or show them that you’re finding another ride home.

What can you do with old keys?

Old keys can very rarely be repurposed or reshaped to work on other locks.  If this isn’t possible, consider making them into an art project or tossing them in the recycling bin.

Can you get replacement car keys?

Replacement car keys are almost always available from a dealership, but they will charge you a premium. A locksmith might be able to make you a cheaper set.

Can car keys be tracked?

Only car keys with a specific type of chip can be tracked.  If you don’t own keys like this, you may want to affix a locator tag to your key ring.

Why do keys break in locks?

When a key breaks in a lock, it is rarely the fault of the key.  Locks that are not aligned properly will force the user to apply too much pressure to the key, causing it to snap in half. 

Can you paint keys with acrylic paint?

Painting the top part of a key with acrylic paint is fine, but be careful if you want to paint the bottom.  

Paint that is not properly applied can clump, causing the key to no longer work properly.  If you want to paint your keys, look for thin acrylic paint.

Why do keys smell?

Many keys have a thin layer of protective coating that prevents them from rusting. This coating can sometimes produce a slight odor that is noticeable to some people. Over time, however, this odor will disappear.

Do keys contain lead?

Modern keys are legally not allowed to contain a significant amount of lead, but it is possible to find older keys that may contain this metal.  

It is very rare to find an all-lead key;  the metal was usually combined with another material in order to prolong the life of the keys.

 Because lead can be particularly dangerous to young children, however, take care to not allow young children to play with old keys.

How long can keys last?

How long a key lasts will depend on how well it has been cared for and the materials it is made from.  There are keys that are hundreds of years old.  

Keep in mind that it is more likely the locking mechanism will degrade or break before the key does for most locks.