How to Lock Used Furniture (If the Keys Are Long Gone)

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Have you ever come across a cool thrift store furniture find — perhaps a filing cabinet, desk or credenza — that had your style, but also had a lock with keys long since gone? Or have you lost your keys to a piece of furniture in your home? It's not impossible to restore locking function to vintage and antique furniture finds; here are a few tips on where to start from a locksmith.

When I found a vintage Steelcase filing cabinet while thrifting recently, even though the keys were long gone, I snatched it up at a deal because I knew there was the possibility of restoring the lock function of the piece. So I called Billysteve Korpi of Chastity Lock and Key in Austin (he did an awesome job on my locks when I moved into my new place) to give advice on locking a piece of furniture again for not only my new-to-me furniture find, but for all types of furniture.

Step 1: Try to find a key that fits

  • The easiest thing to do is to research the kind of furniture piece it is and see if the manufacturer sells replacement keys (Steelcase does — I've got a key shipping my way, cross your fingers!). Use the tiny number on the lock if your piece has one to know which type of key to order.

  • If it's an old antique piece with a bit and barrel key lock (sometimes referred to as skeleton keys), you can search online and order sets of these keys (like here as an example) to see if any of them fit your furniture (it's not as Herculean a task as it sounds; only a certain amount of these key types exist).

  • If you can't locate a key, a locksmith may be able to make a key that fits the lock (but not always).

  • Don't forget to search your piece really well. Billysteve says it's more common than you might think to find a key hiding in the back or under a drawer where it's fallen out of sight.

Step 2: Replace the old lock with a new one

  • If no key can be located or made, there's the possibility of replacing the entire lock. Some metal cabinet companies, (like Hon for example), have locks where the canisters can be pulled out and replaced with new ones (either those purchased from the original manufacturer or an aftermarket one your locksmith provides). This would mean you have a new set of keys (and if you find the old keys, they won't work).

  • Some older wood antiques can be retrofitted with newer more modern locks —but keep in mind this might devalue the piece since it won't be original.

  • If a steel furniture piece's lock can't be easily swapped out with a new, same-sized lock canister (if it's an odd size or just too hard to get to), you might be out of luck, since a locksmith can't easily retrofit a lock in a metal piece (again, not impossible, but potentially cost prohibitive).

Locksmith tips to remember (from a real locksmith):

  • Don't be freaked out if they need to drill out the lock (basically cutting a lock out to put a new one in); it's sometimes necessary to create a working lock. Billysteve says that a legitimate locksmith will view that as a last resort though.

  • Be wary of locksmiths who jump to drilling out the lock first and quoting prices way over $100 (this applies to doors in your home, too). Each lock and situation is different and some special cases might cost more than usual, but Billysteve says to be suspicious of locksmiths who don't want to try another method first.

Do you have any other tips/tricks for locking old furniture after you've lost the keys (or never had any in the first place)? How have you managed to restore the locking function in furniture — did you do something DIY? Share what you know about this with readers!

(Image credits: Adrienne Breaux)