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A housecall from the locksmith

The locksmith came to rekey my locks and fix my backdoor lock so the key doesn’t just spin in it.

You know how some people just instantly inspire you with confidence? Well, he wasn’t one of them. And it wasn’t just because he looked like he was about 17 years old, it was more than that. It was because he looked flummoxed right from the start.

He took one look at the back door lock and slowly said, “Oooh, I hate these things.” Then he stood there staring at it and shaking his head and looking helpless.

Finally he opened his tool box. What a mess. It’s okay if you or I have a messy toolbox (frankly, mine is a little yellow plastic basket), but a professional should have a well-organized toolbox that is an inspiration to you and me.

He rooted around in it for a few minutes. I got the impression he didn’t know exactly what he was looking for, he was just hoping to see something that might inspire him.

“How the hell am I going to get that lock off?” he wondered, half to himself.

I kept knitting.

“I guess I could try with a screwdriver,” he offered, but he didn’t sound at all hopeful.

The screwdriver didn’t work.

“Maybe a file,” he said dubiously.

The file didn’t work.

“I could try drilling it,” he said pessimistically.

Drilling it didn’t work.

“Damn,” he said, “I broke my bit.”

He stared at the lock awhile longer, then tried the file again.

“Damn,” he said, “I don’t think you’re going to get that lock off today. I’m breaking all my tools. I just broke my file.”

“Try something else,” I suggested not-so-helpfully.

“I’ll go out to the truck and radio my boss,” he said, “Maybe he’ll have an idea.”

He returned a few minutes later.

“He had an idea,” he said, “Hit it with a hammer!”

“Ah yes,” I thought, “Why didn’t we think of that?”

He hit the lock with a hammer about 500 times, and eventually the lock succumbed.

“It’s kind of broken though,” he said sadly, “Pieces are falling out. I could try to rebuild it. But if I can’t, do you want me to replace it with another lock?”

“I think so,” I said, since the alternative would be to have no lock on my back door, and then I’d never be able to leave my house ever again.

Then he went out to the truck, leaving my door wide open, and returned about half an hour later.

“I rebuilt the lock,” he announced proudly, “I saved you $30!”

“Good work,” I said.

We worked in silence for a bit, him on his installing, me on my knitting.

“Tell me,” I said, “What’s involved in becoming a locksmith?”

“Oh, not much,” he replied, “There’s no courses or accredidation or union or anything. It’s just on-the-job training. But I’m a quick learner, so now they’ve got me doing house calls.”

“No accredidation?” I mused, “What about background checks, or security clearance?”

“Not really,” he said, “It’s up to the company. Some of the locksmiths where I work are bonded, but they didn’t even do a security check on me.”

Companionable silence ensued, while we both mulled over the implications of that.

“I guess that doesn’t make you feel any better, does it?” he said at last.

I smiled at him. “Well, at least you look honest,” I said.

In the end, when all was said and done, one lock was rebuilt, four locks were rekeyed, and I did actually feel safer. And it only cost $113.32, which I thought was very reasonable, considering it took him two hours and so many tools died in the process.

10 comments to A housecall from the locksmith

  • Gillian

    You’re remarkably calm. I’d have been fit to be tied. That ‘no security check’ is a shortcoming in the locksmith trade.

  • That sounds like a lot of money for rekeying the locks. We have a guy here, Harold, who does it for about $60…and he has about 40 yrs experience…maybe you did pay by the hour.

  • I have to laugh too about his tool box…Rob still teases me about mine…I have a slot screwdriver, but it is actually a butter knife. The steak knife works when a Philips is required. Haven’t found a knife to solve the Robertson problem though.

  • Debbie, you have to think outside of the knifeblock. Try a fork when when you’ve got a Robertson screw.

  • Gillian, I think I’m just naturally calm. I agree, a security check should be a minimum requirement, and being bonded would be nice. If he’d seemed like a shady character I might have been concerned…but he *did* have an honest face and I’m not worried. (I wasn’t even upset immediately after my home invasion…I just watered the plants while waiting for the police.)

    Deb, he rekeyed FOUR locks for $113.32.

    Dave, you’re just full of brilliant ideas. What would you use if your file broke?

  • Did he key them so the same key fit all? I had four done on my house on Meadow and they keyed three the same and one had to be different. That cost $60…but now that I think about Meadow, it was six homes ago…so maybe costs have increased.

  • Scott

    came across this when I was doing a search. I am a locksmith, my company would charge about 70 bucks to rekey four locks with the service call, plus about $1.25 per key you needed, plus tax.

    Many reasons can contribute to price differences….cost of living, big cities are more expensive, how far the locksmith traveled to you…and people charge different prices.

    Really, locksmithing is like any profession, there can be huge price differences, and their are some yahoos out there who seem to only pretending to be locksmiths. Some people in fact poorly on the rest of us. At the same time, as I could be quick to say the kid knew nothing, but everyone starts somewhere.

    The price seems relatively fair, a bit high, but like I said, there could be a few reasons for that.

    We are pretty cheap for our area, a couple people cheaper, even more are more expensive. It’s not uncommon for customers to tell us so and so wanted twice our price and occasionally three times as much. Locksmiths come in all different price ranges, and all different intelligence levels.

    Low price does not necessarily indicate lack of quality, as high prices do not reflect high quality. Research your locksmiths, get several qoutes on clear cut jobs, if you ask a price over the phone about unclear things it is hard to give a qoute over the phone. Call the better business bureau, lean towards a company who advertise being open for XX amount of time. Alot of companies are one guy and a van, it is easier to gain satisfaction from companies with a physical location, if you were to have problems with work, within a reasonable amount of time after work completion.

    Sorry, I had to add that last bit…we often get people calling and saying something like this, “you rekeyed my locks a year ago and now one lock isn’t working.” Yes they expect you to come fix it for free. An even better call, “you rekeyed my locks a year ago, and a few days after you left, one stopped working, I just never got around to calling back, please come fix it for free.”

    We try to bite our tongue, and tell them, we can come out and if we can determine it was our fault, no charge, if not it will be a service call and whatever else is needed, and we won’t b.s. you about it, we fix our mistakes.

    big companies can…not always, be more expensive, where a one man show may be cheaper. bigger companies may give better satisfaction in the long run, they have a rep to protect, that is if their employees care. Though I have heard numerous time, I had this guy out, he messed some stuff up, was supposed to come back, he didn’t and now he’s not returning calls.

    oh well, sorry to ramble, there it all is, for what it is worth.

  • Scott, thanks so much for stopping by and providing all this useful information! I guess I should contact the locksmith sooner rather than later to let him know that he forgot to rekey one of the locks.

    Are you in Ottawa?

  • Mike

    Read, understand and believe every last detail of what this man, Scott, has lined out for you. It is lenghthy, but,it is in the best interests of all who are concerned.

  • oh my! that was an entertaining time. I had no idea that there’s no accreditation. Maybe I should enter the line of work. I’m good with swinging a hammer. 😉