What Should You Do When Your Key Snaps Off in the Lock?

The average front door lock has 12 (if not more) different components, all working in harmony with each other. However, it's impossible for you to operate these components if your key has snapped off in the lock.

Extracting the Key Yourself

There are a number of hacks that claim to allow you to extract a broken key from a lock. It's unwise to use any of the methods involving glue (applying a small amount to a toothpick and then inserting it into the lock to gently prise the key out). Unless done with the utmost precision, you can very easily seal the lock with glue. If you have access to small (needle nose) pliers, you may be able to grasp the exposed end of the key fragment to rotate it, opening the lock. Your chances of success depend on how much of the key fragment is extending out from the lock (and if you have a pair of pliers in your vehicle or a pair that can be quickly borrowed from a neighbour).

Not a Complicated Problem

Locksmiths regularly have to deal with keys that have broken off in their locks, so it's not a complicated problem for them to solve. It's the quickest and easiest way to move forward, and it may be the only option if you're not able to access the necessary tools to extract the key yourself (and pliers should be the only tool you try to use; don't be tempted to improvise). Every second feels like an eternity when you're on your doorstep, unable to get inside your own home, so simply contact an emergency locksmith who can be instantly dispatched to you.

The Lock

The locksmith will simply extract the broken key from your lock. The lock itself probably didn't play much of a role in the problem, but it will be given a quick inspection to ensure it's in good working order. It won't be disassembled unless there's no other way to remove the broken key — which isn't likely and indicates a failure with one of the lock's other components, such as the cylinder's spring-loaded pins trapping the shaft of the key. 

Your New Key

A new key will be required, and this can be cut onsite while you wait. If you're concerned about experiencing this problem again, you might want to request a stronger key. Most keys are made of brass or a brass alloy (containing nickel), but stainless steel keys, which are stronger and generally more durable, are available. 

A broken key is a minor problem that can cause a major inconvenience. If you have access to pliers, you can try to remove the key fragment. If not, it's quicker to call out a locksmith.