Old mortice locks versus present day British standard mortice locks
Old type mortice locks
As a practising Edinburgh locksmith for many years I often discuss with my colleagues the nightmare jobs we encounter. From the stories I tell them and the ones they tell me it seems the most difficult job a professional locksmith will encounter is ones that involve British standard mortice locks.
We can get called to emergency situations for a variety of reasons. For example Sometimes people lose the keys to their house or their lock becomes faulty and they are trapped inside the house.
Back in the day a mortice lock was fairly simple to open. If a customer was locked out or a fault had occurred inside the lock, usually the situation could be sorted out very fast indeed. Inside these old locks were usually 2 or 3 levers (part of the lock lifted by the key). Anyone with a little knowledge of these locks could manipulate the levers to open the lock. A locksmith would have the Door open in a couple of minutes using ‘try out keys’ more commonly known as skeleton keys.
Introduction of the modern British standard mortice locks
Now because these old locks were so easy to open many households were being broken into by opportunistic thieves. After so many claims being made for these burglaries Insurance companies decided enough was enough. They began invalidating insurance policies unless the insured property was secured with 5 lever British standard lock. This is where the problems begun for thieves and Locksmiths alike!
some of the features added to these British standard locks are listed below
- They would contain a minimum of 5 levers as opposed to the old locks which contained 2 or 3 levers. An extra 2 levers doesn’t sound much but it makes a big difference in the world of lock picking
- As well as adding extra levers, most of these new British standard mortice locks had ‘false gates’ fitted to the levers. These gates are little grooves cut into the levers which snag the lock unless lifted to the exact height with the correct key. This means if anyone was trying to pick the levers, unless they got each lever to the exact position the lock would fall into a ‘false gate’ and jam up. even if you had picked the first 4 levers correctly if you got the last one wrong the lock would jam and you would need to start all over again. This is why they are almost impossible to pick open – even for a professional locksmith!
- Another safety feature they added to these new locks is a ‘metal curtain’. This curtain goes around the keyhole and stops anyone from sticking up picking tools through the keyhole to Manipulate the levers.
- These locks were also fitted with much larger bolts which fits into a ‘metal box’ in the Door frame when locked. Therefore, kicking the Door in was no longer an option, you would more likely break a leg before you broke down a door containing a British standard mortice lock
- Inside the bolt of this new type of lock, manufacturer’s would also fit rollers. These rollers are a very simple yet effective security measure. In the past thieves or locksmiths attending a lockout could simply wedge open a gap down the Door frame and saw through the bolt with a hacksaw. However with these rollers inside the bolt, if someone tried to saw the bolt the rollers would just turn therefore making it impossible to cut through.
- One of the last methods a locksmith will use when attending a lockout is to drill the lock open and move the levers manually into the open position. Lock manufacturers became wise to this and starting covering the lock case in a hard plate metal. This type of metal is very hard to drill through unless you have special hard plate drill bits which are very expensive, and hard to obtain outside the locksmith industry.
So as you can see from the added security features above, Instead of opening a mortice lock in a minute a locksmith could be there for a couple of hours opening a Door. Obviously this is good for your home security and insurance companies alike. However, if someone is locked out they will now have to pay quite a bit of money to get back in. If they try and force entry themselves by kicking the door, because of the size of the bolt of these locks they will definitely cause damage to the Door and frame. This damage could sometimes cost hundreds of pound to repair!
My advice would be if you don’t have British standard mortice locks fitted on your property take the steps to get them installed. They are not only important in mortice locks all locks should be British standard. If you are locked out and your door is fitted with the high security locks above, call our Edinburgh emergency locksmith number for free advice. Even with all the safety features described above, we have access to specialist tools and equipment which can still bypass all the safety features stated above. Not that the task will be fast or easy but it will cost a lot less than buying a new door and frame and paying a joiner to install them.