What Is a Key Cylinder?

November 24, 2021 8:23 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

The vast majority of locks available use cylinders to help lock and unlock doors, ignitions and more. Wondering what a key cylinder (also known as a cylinder lock) is? This helpful overview will distinguish between lock parts as well as the different types of cylinder locks on the market.

What is a key cylinder or cylinder lock?

A key cylinder helps open or close the lock. The cylinder is a cylindrical component that houses a series of spring-loaded pins. When you insert the right key for the lock, the pins are pushed into the right position. Instead of the pins blocking the shear line (a track), which would prevent the lock from opening, the key’s ridges align the pins with the track.

Cylinder locks can secure doors, but they’re also used in many vehicle ignitions. Instead of opening the door, the key aligns the pins with the shear line. Then the ignition lock cylinder rotates your car’s ignition switch. (These are two separate parts.) This is what allows you to turn a key one way, to use the lights or stereo, while turning it the opposite way rotates the ignition switch and turns the car on.

Types of cylinder locks

There are several common types of cylinder locks:

  • Deadbolt: When you slide your key into a deadbolt cylinder lock, the pins align along the shear line. Rotating the key causes the deadbolt to retract or extend as needed.
  • Key-in-knob/lever: These types of cylinders are used in “regular” household locks, like knobs and lever handles. When the key is inserted, it makes it possible to turn the knob or push down the lever handle to open the door.
  • Mortise: These are threaded cylinders that screw into the lock body. They’re available in both interchangeable and standard keyway locks.
  • Profile: Profile cylinders are more common in Europe than the United States, unless you count storm door locks. They’re characterized by a teardrop or oval shape. The cam in the middle operates the lock on either side.
  • Rim: Rim cylinders are usually used for exit points. They have a long tailpiece on one end, and are available in both standard keyway and interchangeable locks.

Signs of a failing key cylinder lock

There are three ways to tell that your key cylinder lock is failing. First, the key won’t turn. This can happen when the pins in the tumbler wear down over time.

Second, the key is becoming harder to turn—you might have to jiggle it. This can mean that the cylinder is starting to fail, and you may need to replace it soon.

Finally, if you’re in a vehicle, you might notice that your anti-theft warning light is on. That’s a strong sign you need to take your car in for repairs as soon as possible.

Now that you know what a key cylinder lock is, the different types and how to tell if yours is failing, put Toledo Lock & Key LLC on speed dial. We’re happy to help repair or rekey locks when you need us.

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