Forget calling a locksmith. Here's how to fix a broken key on your own.
When a key breaks off inside a lock, two things happen in your body: you get a sinking feeling in your gut, and thoughts of a $200 service fee race through your mind.
But don't go calling a locksmith just yet. Removing a broken key from a lock is a lot simpler than you might think. Your main task will be to insert a thin hooked piece of metal into the key shaft, grab the ragged side of the key, wiggle it out, and pull it with needle-nose pliers.
Though you may not want to invest in a set of tools for this task, you could buy a broken key extractor set for less than $30. This consists of several hooked tools to fit the angle of the opening and the shape of the key.
But you could also use a piece of wire or coat hanger with a bent end. The trick is to get a piece of metal that is thin enough to fit in the opening but strong enough to jimmy out the key.
Also, you want to make sure that you're trying to hook onto the side of the key with the ragged side. Some keys are double-sided and so this will not be an issue. But with a key having only one ragged side, it will be futile to try and work with the smooth side.
In some cases, the lock mechanism will not let the key get released unless you do a bit of jiggling. And you might find a squirt of lubricant like WD-40 to be helpful.
Another method, in case the key is broken off flush with the opening to the lock, is to use a strong magnet to pull the key out. You may have a magnet on hand. Check your set of screwdrivers and drill bits, as those are often magnetized to hold screws into place.
These methods are typically effective in extracting a broken key. But as one expert put it, if you've tried for a couple of hours and it still won't come out, "it's not meant to be." And it might be time to call in a locksmith. In the end, the lock might need to be replaced.
Here are more tips to consider:
• Keys often develop cracks long before they actually break off. Check out your keys from time to time to see if cracks are developing, and replace them before the break happens.
• Be aware of any stiff or difficult locks and keep them lubricated to prevent excess stress to a key. You can buy lock lubricant for this very purpose.
• Once you get the broken key out (we're thinking positively here), you can take both pieces to the key shop and get a new one made.
These are a few techniques for extracting a broken key. What's your method?