DiResta: Skeleton Key

CNC & Machining Woodworking Workshop
DiResta: Skeleton Key

In each bi-monthly episode of DiResta (every other Wednesday at 2pm PST), artist and master builder Jimmy DiResta (Dirty MoneyHammeredAgainst the GrainTrash for Cash) lets us into his workshop, to look over his shoulder while he builds whatever strikes his fancy. On this episode of DiResta, Jimmy reverse engineers a key to open a vintage lock. -Stett Holbrook

YouTube player



  • Steel rods
  • Vintage lock
  • Mineral oil


  • TIG welder
  • Lathe
  • Hand saw
  • Files
  • Hammer
  • Bench grinder with wire wheel
  • Calipers
  • Vice
  • Hard styling clay

Jimmy’s Notes: I collect many things that inspire my thinking and inventing. Vintage locks and keys are always very clever in their design. In this video I make the key for a large door lock I picked up at a flea market in upstate New York. Inside the lock you can see a brass plate that is the main mechanism. It was handmade by someone many years ago. I wish there was a YouTube movie of the person making this mechanism: adjusting the spring tension and bending the plate just enough to get the parts sliding perfectly… this internal plate seems to have been made 50-100 years ago and it still works! I like reverse engineering the keys for these locks it is a great mental exercise.

12 thoughts on “DiResta: Skeleton Key

  1. Bob says:

    embedded video no work on my browser. Here’s a direct youtube link:

    1. Stett Holbrook says:

      There was a temporary bug with YouTube yesterday. It should be working now.

      1. annie says:

        This is one of the coolest videos I have ever seen – I love collecting old skeleton keys and have wondered recently how to reverse engineer them – I don’t do metal work – been drafting for 40 years.

  2. Ben Brockert (@wikkit) says:

    Remember kids, don’t leave the lathe chuck key in the chuck, and wear gloves while TIG welding to protect your hands from harmful UV radiation. Don’t be a Jimmy!


    1. nixieguy says:

      And also remember to NOT, under any circumstances, do any measures or marks on the piece while the late is spinning!

      1. David Rysdam says:

        And don’t use the half nuts to power feed the carriage.

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Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook
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