How to Rekey a Lock
Keep your home secure with a budget-friendly alternative to replacing the locks
When you need your house door locks rekeyed, you can always buy entirely new locks and install them. But this is an expensive solution to a simple problem; it wastes locks and doorknobs simply for the sake of obtaining new keys. Plus, if you need to rekey multiple locks, you end up with multiple keys. The best solution is to rekey your locks.
Rekeying a lock is a common task for a locksmith, and this simple project only takes about 30 minutes to complete. The only tools you'll need to rekey your lock yourself are a rekey kit and the current key to the lock. This saves considerable money, especially when you need to access multiple locks with the same key. Plus, if you like new challenges, rekeying a lock can be an inexpensive project that helps you learn how locks operate.
Below, learn how to rekey a lock cylinder yourself using a rekey kit to keep your home secure without replacing the locks altogether.
How a Lock Works
Door knobs, door levers, and deadbolts with keyed locks usually have two sets of pins set within a plug: driver pins and key pins. Pushing a key into the plug forces the pins up and down at varying heights.
The driver pins are all the same length and attached to springs. These will not be changed out when rekeying the lock. The other set, the key pins, are of different lengths and will be removed and replaced during the rekeying process.
When a lock is locked, the two sets of pins act as obstacles, preventing the plug from rotating. When a key is pushed into the plug, it contacts the key pins. The key pins, in turn, contact the driver pins and bring them within alignment at the shear line, allowing the plug to turn and thus open the lock.
How Rekeying a Lock Works
When you rekey a lock by yourself, you will need to purchase a rekey kit that is specific to your brand of doorknob, lever, or deadbolt.
Rekey kits allow you to rekey a lock to match existing keys in the kit. You will receive several keys (often between three and six keys), all identically cut. A set of pins comes with the kit, numbered or color-coded to identify their positions in the plug.
The new keys correspond to the new pins. In most cases, all other pieces of the lock stay the same. A few simple tools are usually included with the kit.
Should You Rekey Your Lock or Replace It?
While rekeying your lock is considerably cheaper than replacing it, there are a few situations that require all-new locks. Here's how to tell when to rekey your lock or replace it.
Rekey the Lock
- Locks are most commonly rekeyed when one or more keys have been lost or stolen. Rekeying the lock or locks ensures that someone who might find the key—and can match the key to its lock—cannot open the lock and enter the home.
- Besides protecting against potential thieves, locks are often rekeyed when renters, housemates, spouses, or partners leave the home but still have a key or may have duplicated the key.
- If you want to make all the locks in your home fit the same key, it's best to rekey rather than replacing. This is a common first step for homebuyers when moving into their new home.
Replace the Lock
- If you do not have the lock's current key, you'll have to replace the lock. If you've lost the key that fits multiple locks on your home or you don't want a new lock for other reasons, you can also call a locksmith to make you a new key for the existing lock.
- When your lock becomes damaged or broken, the entire lock needs to be replaced.
- If you'd like to update the door lock style, it will also require a new key. For example, if you update your front door knobs from knobs to handles, the new lock will come with its own key.
Before You Begin
If all of the keys are missing, you'll need to call a locksmith. At least one working key is required to rekey a lock by yourself.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Original key for your lock
- Rekey keying kit for your lock
Remove the Exterior Knob
Insert the key and turn it a quarter-turn to the right. Use the remover tool included in the kit to press the clip that allows you to remove the knob from the shank.
Remove the Cylinder Lock From the Knob
Turn the key a quarter-turn back and remove the key. Remove the cylinder.
Push the Clip Ring Off
The kit will have a tool that helps you remove a C-shaped clip from the cylinder lock.
Remove the Key Plug From the Key Housing
The kit will have a pusher device that helps you to push the key plug from the key housing.
Remove the Old Pins
On a clean, flat surface, drop the old pins from the plug. Push them to the side so they don't get mixed in with the new pins.
Insert the New Key
Remove the old key and insert the new key.
Insert the New Pins
The kit should have a chart that shows the new pins' order. Follow this chart and insert the new pins, using the included tweezers.
Insert the Key Plug Into the Housing
Make sure the pins are flush at the top. With the key still in place, slide the key plug back into the housing.
Snap the Clip Ring On
With the included tool, snap the clip ring back on the cylinder.
Insert the Cylinder Lock Into the Knob
Reinsert the cylinder into the doorknob from the back.
Insert the Knob on the Shank
Slide the doorknob back onto the shank. Insert the key and turn it, allowing you to continue inserting the knob on the shank.
Is It Legal to Rekey Your Locks?
Generally, as long as you own the property to which the lock and key belong, you may rekey the lock. This assumes no other factors are involved. One notable set of factors may be landlord-tenant laws that limit or prohibit rekeying when the renter is still living on the property. Similarly, as a tenant, it is unlikely that you may rekey a lock without the landlord's permission.
As these can be complicated issues, consult a qualified attorney regarding the legality of rekeying your lock.
Tips For Rekeying a Lock
- Rekeying a lock involves handling tiny pins. If you have poor vision, you may need to use glasses or a magnifying lens for the procedure.
- Do not throw away the old key until you are certain that the new keys work with all of the rekeyed locks.
- If you are rekeying multiple locks, you can expedite the process by doing all of them at once. But be sure to keep all of the pins separate. You want to make sure that a specific group of pins stays with its own lock.
How much does it cost to have a lock rekeyed by a locksmith?
Locksmiths typically charge between $30 and $60 per lock for rekeying, often including an added charge of $50 to $100 for the trip to your home. You can save a considerable amount of money by purchasing a rekey kit and rekeying the locks yourself.
Can all door locks be rekeyed?
Most common door locks can be rekeyed, but if you have lost the original key or the lock is broken, the lock will need to be replaced.
Do you need the original key to rekey a lock?
Yes, the original key is necessary to use a rekey kit when rekeying a lock. If you do not have the original key, you can choose to hire a locksmith to make a new key or you can replace the lock.
How Much Does a Locksmith Cost to Hire? HomeAdvisor.