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What is a Master Key System?

A master key system makes it possible for authorised people to gain access to different parts of a building with only one key. It eliminates the need to carry around a heavy key chain as it can open many different locks.

Master Key Systems are ideal for:

  • Businesses who require staff to have access to multiple areas around a building whilst limiting access in some areas.
  • Landlords and Tenants – landlords will require access to multiple rentals, whilst tenants may need to open more than one door to access their property.
  • Custodians who will require access to locked workspaces

If you are considering installing a master key system in your workplace you will need to think carefully on the level of access you want different people to have.

A good way to start planning your Master Key System is to create a flow diagram which clearly identifies the access areas, level of access and the doors that will need to be opened. From there you can start to add more detail to include staff rank.

For example, the Director will likely have the Grand Master Key which will unlock all doors. Supervisors/Managers may have a Master Key and Employees may have a Sub Master Key. Master Key systems are extremely flexible and you can pretty much adapt them to suit your corporate structure.

master key flow diagram

How does a Master Key work to open all these different doors?

cylindrical lockIt’s quite clever really! Master Key systems use cylindrical locks. Standard cylindrical locks only allow one key to rotate the lock so to operate a Master Key system the cylindrical lock is adapted. There are several pairs of pins within a standard locking mechanism and in a master key lock there is a third pin.

At the top of each void are small springs which hold the pins in place. When no key is in the lock, the bottom pins in each set rests completely inside the plug and the upper pins sits partially inside the plug. It is the placement of these upper pins that prevents rotation. Your key will have a variety of notches which will line up perfectly with the pins, so when the correct key is inserted and the lock is engaged it will push the pins to create a space called a ‘shear line’ and this enables the key to turn.

It is the change made to the pins and shear line that makes a master key system work. The Grand Master Key needs to open all locks in the system, so this key will raise the pins so that there is a shear line under the third pin. The Master Key will have less access than the Grand Master Key, so for this key the shear line may be created above the top pin, rather than below it.

If you are interested to install a Master Key System, please call Stuart on 07900 335525 or visit for further information on the range of locksmith services available.

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