Random Antique Store Keys Open Vintage Locks

Random Antique Store Keys Open Vintage Locks


Andover, Minn.-based maker and artist Frank E. Yost has shared several great projects with us on the pages of MAKE, including the sheet metal College Bike Trunk (Volume 23), the Retro R/C Racer (Volume 11), and the Chatter Telephone (Volume 16). He recently got in touch to share a neat factoid he learned about vintage locks:

I collect padlocks. I don’t mind if they’re new or antique. The only rule is that they must have a key. That was, until I bought a cool bronze padlock for $4.50. It was made by Yale Lock Company in 1878 and it looked like jewelry to me, but it had no key.

I added it to my shoebox collection of locks, but I wanted to unlock it. One locksmith on the phone advised me to go to an antique shop and look for keys there. He said that many locks back then shared the same key.


That sounded too simple, so I dropped it off at my local locksmith shop. There they said it was impossible to pick because it was frozen, and it was just junk. So I remembered what the locksmith on the phone told me. Why not give it a try? I went to my local antique shop, where they had boxes and boxes of keys — too many to count. I bought six of them that looked promising.

Back in my garage, I drowned the old bronze padlock with WD-40. Oil dripped on the floor, making a mess. The first key went in but didn’t turn. The second was the same, but the third was magic. It turned, and to my surprise, it unlocked. Third time’s the charm. How cool is that? It was a eureka moment, and it reminded me that a difficult problem often has a simple answer.


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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at snowgoli@gmail.com or via @snowgoli.

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