Having the only keys to your front door lock lost or stolen can be incredibly stressful. You may be locked out with no way to get back in. Rather than calling a locksmith to replace the entire lock at great expense, many wonder – can you simply drill out the old lock?
Drilling out a lock cylinder is possible in some cases and can save money compared to fully replacing the lock. However, there are risks of damaging the door or lock permanently in the process. This article will cover everything you need to know about drilling out a front door lock, including:
- When Drilling Out a Lock May Work
- Risks and Downsides of Drilling a Lock
- Steps for Drilling Out a Front Door Lock
- Alternatives to Drilling a Lock
- Hiring a Professional Locksmith
With the right tools and care, drilling out a lock is possible as a temporary solution until the lock can be fully replaced. However, there are many factors to consider first. Read on to learn more.
When Drilling Out a Lock May Work
In some cases, drilling out a front door lock cylinder can successfully unlock the door. This method may work if:
- The lock itself is still in good working condition, and only the internal cylinder needs replacing.
- The lock uses a standard cylinder size and shape that can be easily replaced.
- You have access to power drills and locksmithing drill bits. Standard drill bits won’t work.
- There is enough space surrounding the cylinder to drill.
- You can fully extract the cylinder after drilling without damaging the door.
Lock Types Best Suited for Drilling
Some types of locks are better candidates for drilling out than others:
- Standard cylindrical locks – The most common types of cylindrical door locks used for front doors can often be drilled out successfully.
- Mortise locks – These are also good potential candidates, as long as the mortise pocket is deep enough to allow drilling.
- Rim locks – Installed on the outside surface of doors, these can also sometimes be drilled out.
Make sure to inspect your specific lock style carefully before attempting to drill it.
Risks and Downsides of Drilling a Lock
While drilling out a lock cylinder is possible in some cases, there are also considerable risks:
- Permanent damage – Drilling too far or applying too much force can destroy the lock and make your door unusable. You will then need to fully replace the entire lock mechanism.
- Injury – Attempting to drill out a lock on your own could lead to hand or eye injuries from using power tools incorrectly or damaged locks breaking apart.
- Time and effort – It takes time, patience, and skill to drill out a lock properly. If you don’t fully extract the cylinder, you won’t be able to insert a new one.
- Security issues – After drilling out a lock, your home will be unlocked until you can replace the cylinder. This poses a security risk.
- Cost – You need to buy specialized drill bits and a replacement cylinder. With the risks and added costs, it may be better to call a professional.
While sometimes successful as a temporary fix, the risks mean drilling out your front door lock is best left to experienced locksmiths in many situations.
Steps for Drilling Out a Front Door Lock
If you decide to attempt drilling out your front door lock, take precautions and follow these key steps:
Gather Appropriate Tools
- Power drill – Use a variable-speed drill for control. An impact driver can destroy locks.
- Lubricant – Liquid lubricant can help keep the drill bit cool during cutting.
- Locksmithing drill bits – Regular drill bits won’t work. Get carbide or cobalt bits designed for drilling metal.
- Eye protection – Wear ANSI-rated safety goggles or glasses.
- Work gloves – Leather gloves will protect your hands from abrasions or sharp metal.
Prepare the Lock Area
- Remove the lock interior – Take off any interior escutcheons or plates covering the lock cylinder.
- Lubricate the cylinder – Spray or apply lubricant to the seams along the cylinder.
- Cover surroundings – Mask off or cover adjacent door surfaces to catch metal shavings.
Drill Out the Cylinder
- Drill straight and steady – Use medium speed and gently drill straight into the center of the keyhole. Keep the bit steady.
- Re-lubricate – Add more lubricant as needed to prevent overheating.
- Drill deeper – Progressively drill deeper into the cylinder as the bit cuts through each pin stack.
- Extract cylinder – Once fully drilled, use pliers to carefully extract the cylinder from the door.
Clean Up and Replace Cylinder
- Clean drill shavings – Carefully vacuum out all metal particles from the lock interior.
- Obtain replacement cylinder – Match your existing cylinder style and length.
- Install new cylinder – Gently tap the replacement cylinder into place until properly seated. Test key function.
Be extremely careful when drilling. Stop immediately if the lock shows damage. Rushing or using excessive force can ruin the lock completely.
Alternatives to Drilling a Lock
To avoid the risks that come with DIY lock drilling, consider these professional alternatives:
- Locksmith services – Hiring a certified locksmith to extract and replace your lock cylinder is the safest option. They have specialized tools and expertise.
- Lock re-pinning – Rather than fully replacing cylinders, some locks can be re-pinned with new key pins matched to your new key.
- New lock installation – For severely damaged locks, or if you want to increase home security, installing brand new locksets may be the best solution.
- Non-destructive entry – Some locksmiths can pick or open locks without any drilling or damage to the lock. However, success depends on your lock type.
While more expensive, using professional locksmith services will ensure your front door lock is properly repaired or replaced without being permanently damaged or leaving your home insecure.
Hiring a Professional Locksmith
For most homeowners, hiring a professional is the smartest choice for extracting and replacing a front door lock cylinder successfully. Here are some tips for hiring a locksmith:
- Find local, licensed locksmiths – Search for licensed, insured locksmiths operating in your area. Avoid scams.
- Look for experience with lock drilling – Not all locksmiths offer drilling services. Find one familiar with your lock brand.
- Get an exact price quote – Get a detailed quote for parts and labor costs beforehand. Beware vague pricing.
- Ask about warranties – Inquire if any warranties or guarantees come with cylinder replacement services.
- Schedule a fast appointment – Reputable locksmiths will dispatch technicians promptly for emergencies.
- Discuss home security – Talk about upgrading home locks and keys for better kick-in resistance and security.
Hiring a knowledgeable locksmith to handle cylinder extraction and replacement is worth the cost to avoid DIY risks. They have the ideal tools and parts ready to get your front door secured again quickly.
Drilling out your own front door lock cylinder is possible in some cases but also comes with many risks. For most homeowners without specialized tools and training, contacting a licensed locksmith for professional drilling and replacement services is the safest choice. While hiring a locksmith costs more upfront than DIY, you avoid permanent lock damage and enjoy warranties, improved security, and peace of mind.