Protected By A Skeleton Crew


On a fabulous inspection the other day of a completely remodeled 1880's row house just blocks from the United States Capitol Building, I was impressed by the key that came out of the lock box to get us in.

It was a skeleton key!

I LOVE old skeleton keys!

Skeleton keys are used to open what were called "warded locks." 

Sometimes called "passkeys" their shape resembles a skeletal figure and that's likely how they got their common name.

And that is why they were, and are, so effective.  Only one key shape can open the lock.  It could not be "picked."

The key opened this lock, which has been there since the house was built!  It works inside and out.  I bet it only needs a little oil shot inside once a year.

Obviously someone still trusts this old lock and key to do the job because they are  protecting an investment selling for well above $1 million.  Only one key was in the lock box.  I suppose there are more.  And more can be cut!

What is a warded lock?

It is simple and every lock is different.  Which is why it is so very effective.

Wards are obstructions.  These obstructions are designed and placed inside the lock.  Any pattern of wards can be used.

The key is cut with slots to allow it to turn as it avoids the obstructions, allowing it to rotate, activating a lever or sliding a bolt and thus opening the lock.

And the key above, and therefore the lock on that house, is very simply cut.  There are many locksmiths still cutting these keys.

Put succinctly, it is SECURE.

My recommendation:  If you see a skeleton key come out of a lock box, rejoice!  It is a good lock!  Even my bump keys can't open it!

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jay | Fri, 07/29/2011 - 23:10

Thanks Reign, and stop by anytime. I try to be eclectic and informative.

Square One Home Inspection (not verified) | Sun, 04/25/2010 - 00:17

Very cool stuff you seem to run across Jay. I really enjoy reading your stuff as I always learn something from you. Thanks.

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Jay performs inspections Monday through Saturday, throughout Northern Virginia, from his office in Bristow to Leesburg and Centreville, to Great Falls and Vienna and everywhere in between!