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I used the wrong key, checking a lock. Can I get it out or do I have to get a whole new doorknob. Oh and this is just a regular front door lock.

  • Can you post a picture? – DarthCaniac Jul 7 '15 at 18:45
  • Is this a key in the knob or a separate locking cylinder? – bib Jul 7 '15 at 19:38
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When a key is stuck in a pin-tumbler lock, what that usually means is that one of the pins has dropped down into the key's cuts but isn't lifting back out of the way so the key can be withdrawn.

There are several possible causes. One is that the key was cut badly and doesn't have enough of a slope to lift the pin as it is pulled back. Uncommon, though sometimes done deliberately to trap a key in the lock so it can be used as a semi-permanent thumb turn.

But usually the problem is that the plug (the rotating part of the lock) is not properly lined up with the shell. For the bottom pins to lift, they need to be aligned with the chambers in the shell that hold the top pins. If the key is slightly rotated, that alignment doesn't occur and you can't remove the key...

... But the more likely malfunction scenario involves front-to-back misalignment. If the hardware holding the plug in the shell (usually the tailpiece screw or screws) becomes loose, the plug can slide toward you as you start to pull the key out, misaligning it and trapping the key. (This doesn't become a problem while inserting the key because there's a hard stop in that direction.)

I'm betting on that being the cause here. If so, pressing the plug inward with one hand while removing the key with the other will probably work, for the same reason that inserting the key worked; you'll be using the plug's shoulder as an alignment reference point.

Try it.

If that does the trick, your lock needs to be dismounted and the tailpiece screws (or equivalent) need to be tightened. Don't delay too long on that, or you may be facing more serious malfunctions.

If this doesn't solve it, we need more detail about exactly what you did and the current state of the lock. It may be necessary to disassemble things to resolve this. Which is sometimes challenging if you can't use the proper key.

(Courtesy of ORK Security Services -- full-service, very part-time, locksmithing)

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If it went in it will come out. Squirt some graphite lube in there and pull the key, hard, with pliers. If the lock breaks... you needed a new one anyway.

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    He may have bent or broke a driver pin, which then jammed against the key. If that's the case it'll take a vicegrips and a hammer to get the thing out. – Wayfaring Stranger Jul 7 '15 at 13:41
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    The tumblers (pins) are steel, the key is brass (or sometimes aluminum). In 20+ years of re-keying locks I have never seen a pin bent or broken by a key. Even if you were to pound it in, the key would give first. I have seen plenty of jammed-up locks though, and as Wayfaring Stranger mentions it may take destructive measures... meaning new lock time. – Jimmy Fix-it Jul 8 '15 at 2:07
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    I actually had one mangled in my car's ignition lock around '92. I think the hole the pin slides through had gotten worn, which allowed the key to put on some serious torque. Took the lock apart, jiggled and wiggled the bent pin out, then put the lock back in. Less secure by one pin, but who is going to notice that on an old beater anyway? – Wayfaring Stranger Jul 8 '15 at 2:31
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    Awesome shade tree hack! My dad rigged my '68 Firebird to start with just a pushbutton, no thief would have thunk to try it as the old broken ignition switch was still on prominent display : ) – Jimmy Fix-it Jul 8 '15 at 2:35
  • @JimmyFix-it One of these days, your '68 will be worth enough as a project car for some thief to really try. Not that a good injection switch would help any. ;-) – ALAN WARD Jul 9 '15 at 13:21
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There's a particular type of lock pick called a key extractor that is designed specifically for this purpose.

http://www.lock-picking.org/lock-picks.html

All locksmiths have one. If you know someone who likes picking locks, you can ask them if they have one or if they'd like to try using their diamond or hook shaped pick.

Or you can try yourself. Lock pick sets are inexpensive and legal unless used illegally. You can make your own quite easily as well.

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  • Probably not the right answer in this case. – keshlam Jul 13 '15 at 19:59
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    If he broke the tip of the key off in the keyhole, it is. It's unclear to me what the problem is. – RoboKaren Jul 14 '15 at 5:02
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    If there's a fragment of key in the lock then yes, extracting it while moving pins out of the way to do so would be an appropriate solution. I see nothing in the description to indicate a broken key is involved. (Also, fwiw, pick set legality varies depending on local law; California, for example, has specific legislation on that topic. Not that a pick set is needed in your scenario; if you dismount the lock you can usually perform that task with something as simple as paper clips, and not even have to bend them into pick shapes.) – keshlam Jul 14 '15 at 13:15

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