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.


Pro Data Key immediately got my attention as a strong access control solution. I think the brand and image a company portrays gives an insight into the mindset that drives their products and services. Pro-data-key is a fun company. Bright yellow boxes, fun YouTube videos, and an understanding of what customers want. Cloud based access control is a going to play an even bigger part in the access control world. I believe Pro Data Key will be at the forefront of that movement.


Like it or not, cost is a huge factor for businesses. The price point of PDK’s hardware makes sense for many small businesses. The monthly cost of their cloud based subscription service is surprisingly low. Even their 99+ door tier is really accessible. The cost of their card readers makes you scratch your head and wonder why other companies sell them for twice the price.

The cost of the cloud subscriptions gets you more than just access to, well of course, their cloud. You get all of their updates. It’s also very easy to scale and add doors, add/delete/modify permissions, and keep track of what doors have been accessed by which person and when.


PDK is about cloud and mobile based access control which makes them at the forefront of tech. While using Bluetooth isn’t completely new, I think they implemented it in an intelligent way.  People lose fobs and cards. People absolutely panic if they misplace their phone and I don’t think anyone leaves home without their phone. Personally, I don’t like the idea of only having cell phones for access. People lose phone, set them down somewhere, or the battery dies. PDK offers keypad readers which I think should be the go to choice unless their is a reason not to (like the size of the stile.)


PDK offers a lot to buildings that are hard to wire. The door controllers communicate wirelessly to the cloud node. This is a huge advantage to buildings that are difficult to wire, expensive to wire, and for tenants that can’t modify certain parts of their building. Access control in the real world often has challenges like tenants not being allowed to modify walls. It’s fairly easy to drop a door controller above drop ceiling and call it a day. They have repeaters in case the distance is too far or obstructions block the signal.

The Achilles heel of PDK is that the controllers must connect to the cloud node. If the cloud node goes down that’s bad news. The door controllers do not store the information on board. Meaning, if the cloud node goes down the doors won’t work. I truly don’t understand why the system was designed like this. Most controllers keep permission records on the door controllers in case of a failure like this. Of course, the controller couldn’t communicate to the main panel to add/delete/modify users but it should keep all of the permissions status quo.

PDK has a solution to this. In my opinion, it’s an absolute band-aid. Each controller can handle up to 10 emergency cards that will work in case of an outage. Distributing these cards seems like a logistical nightmare during an outage. I sincerely hope that PDK comes up with a better solution that this. I think an integrator needs to do their due diligence and disclose this to any potential customer.





I’m not a fortune teller and I make no promises but I have a few thoughts about the impact of Covid-19 on the security industry.

Thermal Cameras: I need to address this first.  Every manufacturer is going to try and sell a fever detection system. Companies have already been caught faking the technology and accuracy of these products. There are going to be a lot of snake oil salesmen looking to make money off of this. Quality thermal camera systems with fever detection will exist. At the moment there are a lot of claims and marketing hype. Is something better than nothing? Maybe. But only if purchasers fully understand the limitations of the product.

Touchless Buttons: We’re going to see a lot exit buttons on doors, ADA openers, light switches, and other controls. The technology available right now is good and most products still have the ability to manually press the button. I believe this is a sensible, cost-effective, high ROI thing for bushiness to do.

Anti-Microbial Finishes: Anti-microbial finishes for locks have been available for a while. Aside from medical buildings, prior to Corona virus an anti-microbial finish was an after thought and if brought up during a sale, would sound like someone is trying to oversell. An anti-microbial finish now sounds very appealing. I don’t foresee many businesses switching out all of their hardware. I would imagine the installation of hand sanitizer stations would be more attractive. However, I think these products will play a larger role in new construction. There has been some controversy about their effectiveness with Covid-19. One major manufacturer has explicitly stated that their anti-microbial does not work against the Corona virus.

The Time in House Factor: The more people are inside and have time to think I believe they’ll make a mental list of things they’d like to have fixed. I think this goes well beyond locksmithing – I believe the entire home renovation industry will see a boom. New carpet, new floors, new cabinets, new counter tops. People are going to be tired of things and want upgrades.

Undoing Lack of Socialization: People are by nature social creatures. We crave interactions with other humans. As much as people joke about enjoying staying inside and watching TV most people do enjoy going outside and at least being around other people. When the quarantine and stay at home orders are lifted I believe there will be a huge swing in people wanting to be part of social gatherings and where people congregate. How we still need to protect ourselves from the virus will likely influence if people choose to be a part of large crowds.

Home Security Systems & Security Cameras: Uncertain times always make people more interested in security. Home alarm system sales are already up. People will naturally feel strange living their homes after being home so long. Many people will want to be able to monitor their homes when they’re away. Smart home integration with alarm systems continues to become more robust and people will enjoy the interconnectivity that systems offer.

Firearms & Safes: Firearm purchases always go up during difficult times. Gun owners are interested in securely storing their firearms to prevent unauthorized access and to prevent them from being stolen. Gun safes and bedside gun storage unit sales will increase.


Working with SFIC locks requires learning a new skill set and terminology. It’s a different way to think about locks. One point of confusion is the difference between machine and stamped caps. The LAB pinning kit comes with both machined and stamped caps and both types are readily available from suppliers. So which ones should you use and why? If you don’t care for the details – machined caps win.

How do you cap SFIC cores?

First, we need to understand how caps are placed in the chamber. They are either pressed in or struck lightly with a soft mallet. When I use a mallet (for mobile SFIC core production) I use a raw hide 2 oz mallet made by Garland. It’s around $20, works well, and reduces the risk of damaging anything. At the shop, I use an arbor press and a LAB SFIC Annex. A-1 made a press that would cap 7 at a time, however they’ve gone out of business. There have been rumors going on that someone has/will purchase the company and resume production. That remains to be seen. Aside from buying a used press the only other option right now it buy a BEST original capping system which is around $2,000.

So what is actually the difference between the machined and stamped caps?

They’re the same in diameter, the machined ones are flat on the top and bottom, the stamped ones have a slight taper on one side. The taper allows them to enter the chamber easier when using a hammer. Machined stamps can also be hammered into place but might be slightly more difficult – but it works.

Does the Brand of the Core Make a Difference?

Yes, no, and it depends. I try to use BEST original cores when possible. One, it’s a quality product that I can trust. Two, it costs me money and reputation having to return to fix something. However, the cost is more than double then “aftermarket” cores. This can add up to a lot more money and make a big difference to the customer. I always offer the option of BEST original or aftermarket explaining the difference. There are lot of aftermarket SFIC core manufactures.  GMS, KSP, Medeco and others just to name a few. When ordering from suppliers you often don’t have a choice in what you receive, they send what they have in stock. I’ve had bad luck using stamped caps with GMS cores. It’s almost impossible to get them to seat correctly.

The Verdict

It’s fairly inexpensive to try both out with your cores and see what works for you. In my experience, the stamped cores go in slightly unevenly and provides a less polished look. There also seems to be a little brass half oval that’s created when pressing them down due to them not being completely parallel. Machined stamps seem to win hands down.


Here in the lab, we capped used BEST SFIC 7 pin cores using all machined caps on one and all stamped caps on another. It’s difficult to get clear pictures of them so close. An overhead and side view of each core was taken.


machined SFIC cap


machined SFIC cap


stamped SFIC cap


stamped SFIC cap


Here are at Lock Alchemy in lovely Cleveland we like to mix it up and do the unusual. The latest thing to come out of the Lab is a DIN rail for fast prototyping, experimenting, set up, and trouble shooting.

What is a DIN rail? A DIN rail is a metal rail of a standard type widely used for mounting circuit breakers and industrial control equipment inside equipment racks.” (Wikipedia).

They’re used for PLCs (programmable logic controller) and other industrial applications. They’re a convenient was to connect different devices, remove / modify connections, and allow for modular expansion. The also happen to look over cool, especially when they’re neat and have ferrule connectors (something many equipment manufacturers actually require).

They can be used for complex light and automation controls but are typically not seen in completed access control systems.

Learning and buying DIN rails can be confusing but it’s not so difficult. Amazon has a great kit that comes with 20 terminal blocks, ground blocks, ends, and a rail.

What’s the point of using a DIN rail? For my purpose it’s like a wire but, beanie, dolphin connector, wago connector etc. It’s a great way to easily connect components, switch them around, and disconnect them.

For example: I have a new reader and want to test it or I’d like to make a change in the settings before installation. I can hook up wires from the panel to the blocks. Then hook up the reader to the blocks. All this with no cutting or adding connectors. I can insert the wires and screw down the terminals. When I’m finished, I can just disconnect them.

Here at the Lab, we have lots of wired pre-cut door testing. For example, I have 22/6 wire with farrules on both sides of wire. I can run the from the panel to the terminal blocks and then swap out different readers.

It’s easy to experiment when you can easily switch things out. I can also clearly see which color wires are being connected. It’s not a mess of different color wires in a bundle.

This entire system has a lot of uses. I can bench test every reader, strike, sensor, etc before deploying it in an install. Manufacturer defects aren’t common but this would help identify any. Also, it eliminates a step in field troubleshooting. I know the product works and know there’s a different issue in the system.

This set-up also makes it very fast to program components like readers. If I need to change on board settings such as lockout time, turn off a buzzer, or change a light setting on 5 readers going in for installation I can program them on my test bench.

Sure, one can change these settings at a door but there are reasons not to if you don’t have to. The gain is in saving time. I’d much rather spend an hour programming at my test bench instead of at the door. One, I can program them during an off hour late night and use my day hours for something more productive – things that can only be done during the day. Two, standing at a door isn’t always fun. People see going in and out and you might not want to deal with the interuptions at the door. Three, if someonthing isn’t going go to to go smoothly – I’d rather figure it out on my own time not in view of a customer.

Professional titles help people understand very quickly what someone does. Doctor, lawyer, teacher. We know what they do. However, the term “locksmith” is quite ambiguous.

The term “Locksmith” is related to blacksmith because locks and keys were forged. Creating locks and keys required the ability to heat, shape, and manipulate metals. Today, keys are cut using various methods but the name remains.

Today, the term locksmith is simply bad branding. Locksmithing includes a myriad of different sub specialties: automotive, safes, door installation and repair, electronic access control etc. The term likely locksmith is a decent catch all but doesn’t articulate what most locksmiths actually do.

The term “locksmith” has created customer confusion. Many people are surprised that I frequently install / repair door closers, hinges, and strikes. I’ve even had customers that were surprised that I drill bores for new locks – thinking that this was in the realm if a carpenter. While many carpenters certainly can drill lock bores, locksmiths do this with much greater frequency.

The term doorsmith would be misleading. Many locksmiths don’t install doors but rather just fix issues with doors once they arise.

The term Security Specialist or Technician is a reasonable contender. However, it implies they cover all aspects of security: electronic access control, alarms, cameras – and most locksmiths don’t cover all of those areas.

Security Integrator is a commonly used specialised term. It conveys selecting, installing, servicing, and of course, integrsting those various components. However, most Security Integrators don’t touch keyed locks. Most don’t have key a machines or pin kit. They are very far from being “locksmiths.”

There may be no superior term that the generic “locksmith.” But it certainly is a generic term that doesn’t articulate everything they do. For LinkedIn and marketing purposes I’ve decided to call myself a “Locksmith & Security Integrator.”

If I could choose a title that would easily convey what I do – I would choose “Tech Smith.” Bringing technology into the physical world and bringing the physical world to technology. The term smith implies an understanding of physical infrastructure that impacts how technology works. An access control system won’t work if the door doesn’t work.

Running cable, mounting TVs, installing server racks are very physical. I sympathize with my fellow low voltage technicians that get lumped in with IT. There is a big difference between being at a computer desk doing system adminstration and being out in the mud doing a point to point internet connection. I’m not lumped into general IT because my primary profession is being a locksmith… or Security Integrator… or whatever I call myself now.

The term “Tech Smith” is probably just another confusing title that will puzzle the populous but I like it.

Whatever you call yourself or do – remember you are unique human being that is more than just a title and the work you do. But whatever you do – strive to be the best whatchamacallit you can.

A ferrule is a metal tube crimped over stranded wire to secure the strands within a screw terminal. Electric wire ferrules are also called  electric end terminals, or bootlace connectors/ ferrules.

Why am I such a fan?

  • They’re useful
  • They’re inexpensive
  • They are very cool

It’s very European. Call me old fashion but I think European stuff is neat. I think people would be well served by looking into how people do things in other countries and consider adopting them. Take the best of both worlds. Take the metric system for example, we should adopt it immediately. (Opinions expressed in this article are my own and are reflective of Lock Alchemy’s opinions). It’s my new personal mission to get people to use these. #ferrulegang will be showing up on Instagram very soon.

It’s a fairly straightforward solution to be pretty obvious problem. Copper cable strands get mashed under terminals, get cut and sometimes a loose strand can cause a fault. Connect, disconnect, reconnect – you have a mess on your hands. Ferrules allow you to remove the wire from the terminal block and easily move to another location on your board or in your control box without have to deal with flattened or damaged wire.

These are very common in automotive wiring and wiring PLCs (Programmable Logic Controller). In automotive their used to create a more secure connection that’s resistant to vibrations. In PLCs, they’re used for all the above reasons and for the ability to easily change wiring. Often times their required by PLC manufactures.

Weidmuller has a lot of technical data available available about the benefits of ferrules for creating good electrical connections. I’m not posting any links because they might change where they store this information.


I don’t see a huge downside to using ferrule connectors. They’re is the cost of the crimping tool(s) and the ferrules themselves. Past that it’s time.

Learning Curve

Actually crimping them is very easy. Learning how to buy ferrules is more difficult. Firstly, they’re in Metric, like everything else should be. (Getting that I like the metric system yet?) There is a color coding system for the gauge of wire used in a ferrule. Sounds really smart and easy right? Sort of. There’s a German system and a French system. I’m really not sure what’s used where and what’s preferred in different European countries. I’d love to hear feedback on this.

Great – German system and a French system. The colors are based on metric wire sizes. So your AWG (American Wire Gauge) cables aren’t going to fit into that system without doing some math. Sure you can order European ferrules online. After shipping they get kind of expensive. Enter Ferrules Direct. They have tons of, you guessed it, ferrules. They sell ferrules in standard packs of 500 and mini packs of 100.

The French color for the equivalent of 22 AWG is Pink in the French system and Turquoise in the German convention. I don’t know about you but I’d prefer not to use those colors. Ferrules Direct has a W, D, and T series that only vary in colors. So you can get 22 AWG ferrules in white, orange, pink, turquoise, or yellow. So you can select a color based on personal preference or brand colors. I chose white and some orange ones because it’s like of Lock Alchemy’s color. Along with width for wire size another specification for ordering ferrules is barrel length.


UL & Legal Stuff

I’m not a lawyer, I’m not giving you advice, I’m not responsible for anything you do. Use UL rated connectors. They’re some discussion about matching a brand of crimper with brand of ferrule. Do your own research. It’s your customer, your company, and your name on your work – be proud of it.

Crimper Selection

I like using good tools that work well and will hold up. It’s not easy looking for crimpers for a few reasons: they’re expensive, they’re hard to find, the technical information is a little confusing. I did a bit of research about crimpers before I made my selection. Some people on Facebook groups swear by cheap crimpers available on Amazon. Knipex, Weidmuller, and Mullex all make premium crimpers ($200+). I’m sure there are other brands available. If I’m missing something send me an email.

Hexagonal or Sqaure

In general, square crimps for square blocks and hexagonal for round blocks. I’ve actually used the opposite crimp on some terminal blocks because they were very tight and the other crimp style fit in better. I’d recommend cutting off the old ferrule, re-stripping the wire, and crimping on a new ferrule as opposed to just recrimping the same ferrule.



Square crimp for square blocks




Hexagonal for round blocks


Crimper Review

I got a cheap set of ferrule crimpers to justify myself why I bought premium ones. They came with some  presumably non UL listed ferrules. They actually are pretty decent. Of course I wouldn’t use these in the field but they’re good for testing and playing around with different sizes. That way you don’t have buy 100 packs of “real” ferrules of various sizes for your tests.

The crimpers work pretty well. The ratcheting function is not as smooth as premium crimpers. The odd thing about these is that they put a strange strain on your hand. The end of the crimp is a little difficult. For 10 or so crimps it would be fine. If you have 100 to do, I’d consider getting a real crimper.





These are the crimpers I went with. The Weidmuller PZ SQR and PZ HEX. I got a screaming deal on them. A lot of people on Facebook forums like the Knipex one. I’m assuming they went with them because they’re already familiar with the Knipex brand and quality. I saw a few people mention that they like the Weidmuller better than the Knipex ones.

These are amazing. They feel great in the hand. Ratchet very easily and put very little strain on the hand. The end of the crimp is butter smooth. 10/10.


Here are two 18 AWG wires with single wire ferrules I crimped on. Less than 1 cent for both and 10 seconds of time – a lifetime of connection :)

I plan on updating this article with pictures from panels and boards.


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