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The aspects of the locksmith profession differ, depending on whether one works for one's own business, in a shop for a master locksmith, or as an in-house lock expert for a large establishment, such as an apartment complex or a high-rise office building. However, the essential nature of the work for all locksmiths can be described in general terms. Basically, they sell, service, and install locks, spending part of their working time in locksmith shops and part of it at the sites they are servicing. Locksmiths install locks in homes, offices, factories, and many other types of establishments. In addition to maintaining the working mechanics of lock devices, locksmiths usually perform functions that include metalworking, carpentry, and electronics.
The basic equipment used by the locksmith includes a workbench, various tools, a key machine and supplies. Tools may include broken key extractors, drills, files, key blanks, springs, C-clamps, circular hole cutters, hammers, and screwdrivers.
While at the shop, locksmiths work on such portable items as padlocks and luggage locks, as well as on an endless number of keys. When they need to do work at a customer's site, they usually drive to the site in a work van that carries an assortment of the locksmith's most common equipment and supplies. When on site, they perform whatever function is needed for each specific job, be it opening locks whose keys have been lost, preparing master-key systems for such places as hotels and apartment complexes, removing old locks and installing modern devices, or rewiring electronic access control devices. Because locks are commonly found on doors and other building structures, lock experts often put their carpentry skills to use when doors have to be fitted for locks. And because locking devices are increasingly made with electronic parts, locksmiths must use their knowledge and skill to work with electronic door openers, electromagnetic locks, and electrical keyless locks.
Lock experts may spend part of their working day providing service to those who have locked themselves out of their houses, places of work, or vehicles. When keys are locked inside, locksmiths must pick the lock. If keys are lost, new ones often must be made. Locksmiths often repair locks by taking them apart to examine, clean, file, and adjust the cylinders and tumblers. Combination locks present a special task for locksmiths; they must be able to open a safe, for example, if its combination lock does not work smoothly. Manipulating combination locks requires expert, precise skills that are honed by much practice. The technique requires that the locksmith listen for vibrations and for the interior mechanism to indicate a change in direction while the dial is carefully rotated; this is repeated until the mechanism has been accurately turned. If it is not possible to open the lock through these methods, the device may be drilled.
Locksmiths work in any community large enough to need their services, but most jobs are available in large metropolitan areas. Some locksmiths work in shops for other professionals, and others work for large hardware or department stores. Also, many open their own businesses. Independent locksmiths must perform all the tasks needed to run any type of business, such as keeping books and tax records, preparing statements, ordering merchandise, and advertising. A locksmith's clients may include individual home or automobile owners as well as large organizations such as hospitals, housing developments, military bases, and federal agencies. Industrial complexes and huge factories may employ locksmiths to install and maintain complete security systems, and other establishments, such as school systems and hotels, employ locksmiths to regularly install or change locks. Many locksmiths are getting more involved in the security aspect of the profession and may be required to analyze security needs and propose, monitor, and maintain security systems for businesses and residences.