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The orientation could be standardized. Actually, it is standardized. Allen Tyson, of Diebold Inc., explains: “The individual lock manufacturers through the years have made locks to their own design and there was never an organization or documentation to restrict how the keys fit into locks. Every manufacturer has its own way of engineering locks. Some locks are pin locks and some are wafer. Some locks are double cut, some have slotted keyways, and some are flat.”

James Watt, the Northwest vice president of Associated Locksmiths of America, told us that in the United States, most pin tumbler lock designs require the lock cylinder to be oriented so that the teeth (or “biting’s,” as locksmiths call them) and key blade enter the pin tumbler cylinder facing up. However, most European lock cases incorporated a different design, so the biting’s usually enter face down. Master locksmith Jerome Andres commented wryly that even the Big Three carmakers can’t get their acts straight: GM makes you insert the keys with biting’s down; Chrysler has you put them in face up; and Ford (and many foreign makes) provides double-sided keys for those of us confused by the other two.

Some argue that the “biting’s up” position is inherently superior, both because it tends to put less wear and tear on the tumbler, and because it leaves less dirt in the lock. Yet others point out, that locks are “handed,” and are sometimes turned “upside down” (with the biting’s down) so that they can be installed in doors where the hinges are on the “wrong” side. As long as the key blade and biting’s are oriented in the correct position for the pin tumbler cylinder, an “upside-down” lock will work properly.

We cannot help but believe that Watt’s conclusion makes the most sense: “The main reason that not all pin tumbler lock cylinders in the US are mounted with . . . the biting’s in the up position is due to improper mounting in noncompliance with directed manufacturers’ recommendations. Most locks in this country are installed, not by qualified professional locksmiths, but by contractors, handymen, supers, or do-it-yourselfers. Little time is given to the instructions, and therefore installations are not always correct.”

Indeed, we couldn’t help but be charmed by the admission of Richard Hudnut, product standards coordinator for the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association, who evidently follows manufacturer specs the way we follow VCR setup manuals: “Most of us are not good at reading instructions and usually throw them away before the installation starts.”


(Submitted by Daniel Springer, Allentown, PA)  [Published in What Are Hyenas Laughing at Anyway, David Feldman, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 200 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016, 1995; pp. 59-60]


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