Access Control & Locksmith Musings


Who should do electronic access control? An IT company, a fire company, a security company, a locksmith, a general contractor? Short answer is someone who is qualified, licensed, and insured. But who is typically qualified? Who can install the required physical hardware, run wires, manage a WiFi network, and program everything in? Our answer, an alchemist.

I’m actively involved in many online forums and Facebook groups dedicated to security, locksmithing, computer networks, access control, alarm systems, and surveillance cameras. Yes, it’s a lot to keep up with. The gaps between what different groups of folks know, what they think, and how they complete their installations vary widely. In access control groups, I’m amazed by the basic questions people ask about lock and door hardware. In locksmith groups, I’m surprised by some peoples’ total lack of interest in electronic access control.

One of my friends said it best, “I think it’s easier to teach locksmiths how to wire things than teach IT people how to deal with locks.”

Our core belief is that the physical infrastructure has to be on point. Be that the locks, doors, frames, wiring, connectors etc. I’ve heard a statistic, that I kind of doubt the validity of, but that 80% of networking issues are rooted in physical problems: wiring, failed components, walls obstructing WiFi etc.

I’ve always had a passion for IT. I ran my first Cat5 cable when I was 12. I did and still do computer programming. I love Linux. However, when I started Lock Alchemy in Cleveland, I wanted to just to physical lock and door hardware. The Ring door bells and wireless locks came around every once in a while. Often times requiring door and lock knowledge to work properly. Then I met someone in access control and security that changed everything. He subbed all his lock work out. Everything to do with the physical door – the barrier protecting businesses and homes. The only obstacle physically stopping someone. The point of electronic access control is to “control the opening.” Perhaps we should focus a little on the physical opening.

Many access control companies actually sub out their lock and door work. Door closers, physical locks, cutting door strikes, hinges. In order for an electronic access system to work – the lock and door hardware have to be at least functional. A system can easily be compromised by a failure in the physical infrastructure. IT people don’t know how to diagnose hinge issues, problems with a door closer, or strike alignment. These can cause a door not to latch. An unlatched door is not a secure door.

Understanding why they do this is two fold. 1) There’s a lot of expensive equipment someone needs to purchase to be a real locksmith. 2) There’s a lot to know to be a good locksmith. I’ve invested thousands of dollars in key machines, keys, door hinge tools, jigs for cutting doors and strikes, and have a massive inventory of different style locks. The monetary barrier to entry to be a locksmith is high. Getting into access control, alarms, and cameras is much less. A few thousand dollars in cable, tools, and a ladder and you’re in. Most security professionals don’t carry an inventory and rightfully so. There’s no telling what a customer might need and there are too many products. Aside from some standard latches and maybe a spare camera, even larger operations carry a small inventory. Point two, knowledge. There’s a lot to being a locksmith. It can be hard dirty work. And a lot of people can’t or don’t want to do it. People that recognize their limitations and don’t do it should be commended. People who do sub-standard work should be reprimanded.

Technology is great but it’s not a panacea for security problems. After a door is functional with a closer, strike, and sensors it still needs a key. A think electronic access controls dirty secret is that locks still have keys. They still have keys for many reasons. They’re a pretty failure resistant backup, they allow emergency personal to gain access, and systems do experience problems. Often times these can be fixed quickly but in the meantime you want a viable solution – like a traditional physical key. The problem is that people don’t keep track of these keys. They get used to fobs and their system. They don’t think about their keys and their access control people don’t either.