Locksmiths provide a range of services relating to access and entry to secured objects and premises, changing, maintaining and fitting locking devices for public and private clients. They may work from a store, on a travelling basis or for a company network, and may work to actually construct locks using metal work skills, although the majority of work is now completed by changing pre-made parts.
Being a locksmith involves a range of activities. Common tasks would include:
- Operating a service through a freelance or store-based business
- Answering telephone calls and giving quotes to customers
- Travelling with equipment to carry out work
- Using tools to complete jobs such as changing locks
- Researching and practising with different mechanisms
- Being on call to respond to emergency situations
- Marketing a service through different media channels and word of mouth
- Servicing door hardware such as hinges
- Keeping account of sales transactions.
Some locksmiths are employed by larger companies on a set salary, starting at £12,000-14,000 and increasing with experience but most work on a freelance, self-employed basis and therefore earn variable remuneration, depending on the amount and type of business they are able to take on. Different jobs attract different fees, and in many cases locksmiths will give a quote for a specific job, based on the information they are given by a customer. In some cases, however, (if a job has lots of unknown variables for example) the locksmith may opt to charge an hourly rate. This can be anything from £30 to £80 and perhaps more, depending on transport costs, call-out times and other factors.
Locksmiths complete courses which allow them to gain access to most forms of secure doors and therefore have a responsibility to use their knowledge in their clients’ best interest and not allow information or tools to fall into the wrong hands. In addition, gaining access to secure systems for clients can be destructive and skill is required to gain entry without causing undue damage (by picking rather than destroying a lock for example).
Qualifications in the world of locksmithing are something of a grey area as there is no single national governing body for the trade, and indeed no single qualification which is essential in order to operate in the professional capacity.
A number of different guilds exist, offering courses at a variety of levels, and the level of credibility in each case depends largely on the reputation and track record of the organisation in question. A certificate of qualification in locksmithing can be gained from a training centre in a matter of weeks, but the practical knowledge and experience are harder to attain and ultimately more important to carrying out work, beyond the reassurance that a qualification or guild membership will provide a client.
As a result of this, the trade is fairly traditional and most trainee locksmiths complete a significant period in an apprenticeship to learn the practical skills and get the experience required to operate independently.
Being a locksmith requires a range of skills, including:
- Manual dexterity and practical thinking
- A good understanding of lock and security mechanisms
- The ability to market and run an independent business
- Being able to drive in order to be able to reach clients
- An interest in locks and keys
- Good customer service skills
- The ability to use a range of specialist tools
Locksmiths generally work in safe conditions but may have to travel fairly extensively to complete different jobs. Hours of work may be fairly antisocial, as being on call is an important way to make money. In addition, some jobs may require potentially dangerous activity in gaining access to buildings, if someone is locked out of a house for example. Using manual tools such as screwdrivers and hammers will also be a likely part of the job.
Experience of the trade is often extremely important, hence the fact that most locksmiths complete apprenticeships with more experienced tradesmen to gain vital practical tips. Formal qualifications are more useful for gaining certification and finding out what it is necessary to learn, rather than how to actually complete different tasks. This is something that can only really be achieved through practice, gaining experience of different mechanisms and honing skills to a high level.
Within the locksmith trade there is a spectrum from small independent operators to larger or more specialist operations dealing with electronic or corporate security. However, most locksmiths work freelance or for a company serving a local area, rather than for a national chain. In terms of national organisations the Master Locksmiths Association is a large network of accredited tradesmen, but this is more of a body to find locksmiths rather than a formal employer. Timpson is one of the few national operators to offer training and recruitment opportunities.
Given the traditional nature of the trade, the standard progression is to complete a course and then become apprenticed to a more experienced locksmith, before becoming, in time, an independent operator. After this, further courses can be completed to gain more specialist knowledge, of electronic locks for example, and a locksmith can aim to expand a business in a traditional way, taking on new staff and so on.
Also known as…
- Key Cutter
- Alarm Technician.
What’s it really like?
Jack, aged 27 is a freelance qualified locksmith serving local residential customers and businesses in Bicester.
How long have you been working as a locksmith?
I started training to become a locksmith over five years ago now and completed a formal certificate last year. After I finished school I did a few different jobs, running a market stall, working for a betting company and travelling. I got into locksmithing out in Thailand as it seemed a good profession in terms of flexibility and personal freedom. I did an apprenticeship with an English friend out there and then continued on my own when I got back. I am in the process of setting up a website to centre my business on, and am concentrating on growing the service in my local area.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
Hours vary hugely from day to day depending on what work is on. Most jobs are fairly straightforward and take around an hour but others can take longer. The standard procedure is that someone calls my work phone and I ask about what they need done and give them a quote over the phone. If they want to go ahead I will take the tools and travel out in the van and complete the job. Sometimes complications arise, such as if the information given over the phone is not accurate, but usually it is a case of helping the person while minimising the cost and disturbance.
What do you like and dislike about the job?
On the plus side, the hours are flexible and it is nice to get out and about and to meet different people in the community and help them out with a useful service. Lots of people are very grateful and it is nice to be able to solve people’s problems. Practically speaking, I also find the technicalities and problem-solving elements to understanding locks very interesting; it is a science that you can get better at through practice and study.
On the down side being on call can be stressful and it means your sleep is often disturbed, but then emergency business is very important so you have to take the rough with the smooth. Paying for your own tools, vehicle maintenance, insurance and so on can also be a pain, but it is all absolutely necessary. Also, some clients can be difficult and it can be hard to present them with difficult decisions.
Any other advice?
I would definitely advise anyone wanting to be a locksmith to do an apprenticeship or even work for an existing company before going freelance; you get so much provided and learn so many tricks of the trade and little tips about mechanisms it saves you a huge amount of time and effort. It also gives you a chance to network and find out about work in the local area before setting up on your own.
Practice is very important too, I would suggest buying a load of small locks to practise on. With the internet and various instructional videos on YouTube and so on it really is possible to improve significantly using your own research and trying things out on your own. The formal courses are necessary to get certified but they do not give the practical skill to complete jobs, more the abstract, theoretical aspects which you then have to look into in more depth.
Also, when dealing with customers asking you to help, make sure that the job is within your capabilities before you agree to it, and also take into account your costs such as travel time and fuel – there is no point travelling huge distances for minor jobs or jobs you will not be able to complete.