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Easy as one, two, three – master keying

Easy as one, two, three – master keying


In one of those crushing blows designed to disappoint 99 percent of AR’s readership, I’m here to tell you that despite what you’ve learned at the movies or from reading books, there is really no such thing as a skeleton key. Yes, there are keys that have been filed or cut so that they can unlock a variety of warded locks, but in the widest sense of the term – no. And, of course, most of you actually do know this already. Because logically there simply couldn’t be one key that fits every lock in the world – there are just so many different shapes of keys, or as they are known in the trade, profiles. And if you look at the broach of the key, where the cuts are, this has a particular shape to it and not every key fits every lock. Everyone knows this deep down, but still you hear them say, “Oh, I wish I had a skeleton key.”

What do exist, however, are master keys, which perform a similar function… to a point. In a nutshell, master keying allows convenience and security to an end user, so that they can go through their building using just one key, in most instances, accessing the doors they’re required to access.

And master keys have been around for a long time – allowing, for example, cleaning staff to access every room in a school without needing individual keys every time.

The innovations in this space revolve around the way the mechanical world of locks and keys is being linked to the electronic one. You may now find keys that have a key clip over the top of them. This then allows that key to have access control through front door readers of buildings, with the mechanical part of the key operating the internal mechanism of the door.

This means that when a system is being upgraded – in an office building or educational facility, for example – users are able to utilise a mechanical system within the building and an electronic one on its outside.


It is now also possible to change access with the way the key is used. A tenant or main user of the property wanting to allow a cleaner, for example, to have access can insert their key and turn it to the eight o’clock position. This will allow the cleaner to enter when appropriate, inserting their own key and operating the door as normal. After they have left, the owner/tenant is able to re-insert their key and turn it back to the 12 o’clock position, reverting the lock to its previous status and preventing further entry by the cleaner.

And this technology has now evolved further with the development in Austria and Switzerland of a design known as a SAT (Secure Access Temporary) function. This generally uses a Euro/profile cylinder and means that if a tenant or main user is away and a casual user has the right key, they still can’t get access unless the cylinder is turned to the right position.

This has myriad applications and possibilities in aged care, dementia care or places that require regular visitors such as healthcare workers or the aforementioned cleaners, but especially when perhaps not all of these visitors are necessarily well-known or trusted.

Construction keying

The very latest master keying system in the construction industry is what has been termed the one, two, three method. Simply put, this means when a building goes into construction, the security system has three phases. The first phase in an apartment building, for instance, sees one key given to all the people on-site. All of the necessary stakeholders and construction workers are able to operate every single door with the same key throughout the construction stage.

At the next stage, when, for example, white goods have been placed in the apartments and it’s important to ensure that this is where they stay, a new key gets handed over to the real estate agent or property manager. As soon as they enter their key, this automatically overrides the original setting and the construction workers can no longer gain entry. And this is done without the need for rekeying or a locksmith coming on to the site. The new key simply trips a wafer inside the cylinder, which automatically changes the combination of the coding inside and denies access to the first key.

The final phase is when the real estate agent sells the property to the end user, who enters the third key, which kicks off the second wafer, meaning the real estate agent too is now unable to access the property with their key.

This approach clearly saves a whole lot of time and trouble – there is no need to rekey, no need to relock and that second key throughout the construction phase saves a lot of money as it eliminates the very real chance of white goods and other valuable fixtures and fittings being stolen.

Previously it has been necessary to rely on a two-level construction key system, which requires two chambers in the cylinder of each lock, lessening the expansion of the system. It’s a little more technical and is a system not generally favoured by locksmiths, as it is difficult for them to allow for expansion due to the presence of the chambers dedicated to construction keying.

Other applications

The one, two, three method can be mightily useful in other scenarios. Imagine a person who has had their handbag or briefcase stolen, and their first key was in it, along with their address. They could simply call their partner or housemate, who could go home, use their first key to get in and then retrieve the second key from whichever safe place it had been secreted in, use that on the front door and the system would be instantly rekeyed, kicking out key number one. It’s as easy as one, two, three!

Danielle Lord is product marketing manager – Mechanical Key Systems | dormakaba Pacific.

Image: 123RF’s Charoensak Rungphakdeesawat  © 123RF.com


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