It’s easy to to think of locksmiths only when you’re locked out and urgently need your door opened. But there’s a lot more to locksmiths than meets the eye. We sat down with Ben Gatenby, owner of 1st Defence Locksmiths and writer of the popular blog Locksmith World, to get some insight into the range of things that locksmiths do.

Ben took a big chunk out of his Saturday morning to walk us through the various services he offers. It’s important to be aware of the range of things you can hire a locksmith to do. Because once you’re informed about the areas that they cover, you’ll be able to make better decisions about securing your home.

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A locksmith can, of course, change and fix locks after break-ins; fix faulty locks; key alike (matching all the doors in a building to one key); install master key systems (creating one key that opens all locks within a building without making the locks the same). But beyond these standard services, here are some other things you can hire a locksmith for:

Security surveys

Ben offers to do security surveys for his customers for free. Most people don’t know how secure their house is. “If they live locally,” Ben said, “I’ll go out and survey their home for free. A quick survey involves identifying weak security points and offering some free advice. The idea is that if they do decide to upgrade their locks, they’ll give me the job. But it’s also a great opportunity for them to get a free consultation. It’s definitely worth calling up a local locksmith and asking if they do security surveys free of charge.”

During this survey, you can also get your locksmith to review your contents insurance, within which there are basic home security standards. Ben always asks to have a look at a customer’s insurance policy, so that he can check that their locks are up to standard. Windows fall under contents insurance as well, so he checks those too.

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Car access

While most general locksmiths are not auto-locksmiths, they can help you gain entry to a vehicle that you’re locked out of. Ben recommends using an auto-locksmith over visiting a garage or car dealer since an individual locksmith will provide a friendlier and more efficient service. Besides, they’ll come directly to you the same day, which saves you from calling a tow truck and waiting forever.

Wireless alarm systems

A strong lock goes a long way, but cautious people tend to install alarm systems and security lighting as well. While locksmiths don’t fit security systems, they are competent to a certain degree when it comes to fitting lights and alarms. For Ben, there’s a new wireless alarm system on the market that he can install from start to finish. “It’s completely wireless and can be operated via a smartphone,” he said. “The system’s sensors are programmed to take photos which upload to a cloud server. It’s safe and as for how it fares in comparison to a wired system? Well, I would trust it in my own house without a shadow of a doubt.”

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Hiring a locksmith

Some homeowners gave us their top tips for hiring locksmiths they can trust. The most important points were to check they are member of the Master Locksmiths Association and to ensure they had plenty of positive online reviews. But for Ben, what matters most is how they come across on the phone. “The perception a locksmith gives on the phone is crucial. Make sure that they’re able to answer your questions. You need to feel like you’re talking to someone with experience. Talking to a locksmith on the phone is also how you get a sense of how local they are to you—they’ll be of more help to you if they truly understand your area, which is something you’ll only gauge through a conversation.”

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Ben’s Story:

Ben’s training as a locksmith began when he was around eight years old. That was when his mother started working nights, leaving him in his father’s care. His father is a locksmith and Ben would accompany him from one job to the next. “At first,” he said, “I would just sit in the car, but eventually I started learning by watching him. Once I was a little older and didn’t need constant supervision, I would go along with him anyway, out of curiosity.”

When he left school at sixteen, Ben couldn’t work for his father because there weren’t enough jobs coming in. So he joined a friend’s business instead, working in a backroom where he cut keys. He worked there until he was eighteen, which is when he left locksmithery to dabble in cabinet-making and welding. As it happened, just around the time he started getting frustrated, his father was hired as part of a contract with the Leeds City Council. He had a lot more work, bought another van, and was able to take Ben on. It worked well until the contract ended.

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“My dad had to make me redundant,” Ben said. “But being a locksmith was everything I had ever known and so I started working for myself. It’s quite funny—in a sense, I became my father’s competitor, but the truth is that we helped each other out. We were never rivals—instead, we gave each other our overflow of customers. And once my blog took off, I helped him build his website. It’s easier now because he has moved to another area.”

“The best thing he’s taught me isn’t how to open a lock,” Ben said when we asked him to tell us the most important thing he has learned from his father. “The best thing he taught me was how to conduct myself in someone else’s house.”

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