- Wafer locks are a type of tumbler lock that uses flat, spring-loaded metal plates called wafers instead of pins and are generally used in low security applications like cabinet and drawer locks.
- The main components of a wafer lock include the plug housing, wafer tumblers, springs, plug, and cam.
- Two common types of wafer locks are single-sided (simple and cost-effective) and double-sided (offering moderate security and versatility).
- It is very easy to pick wafer locks with a tensioning tool and any lock pick.
Locks are a part of our daily lives, quietly guarding our homes, our privacy, and our belongings. But have you ever stopped to wonder about the mechanics of these essential security tools? Wafer locks might not be as famous as their pin tumbler cousins, but they’re a fundamental piece of the puzzle.
In this comprehensive guide, we’re going to dive deep into the world of wafer locks. We’ll explore their history, how they work including different components, the different types you might encounter, and even how to pick them – because knowledge is power, right?
So, whether you’re just someone who’s curious, trying to learn about locks, or thinking about being a locksmith, this article is here to show you everything about wafer locks.
What is a Wafer Lock?
Wafer locks, also known as wafer tumbler locks, use flat, thin metal plates called wafers instead of pins in traditional pin tumbler locks. However, the working principle remains the same as pin tumbler locks. They are used for securing various items, such as cabinets, desks, padlocks, and some types of vehicles.
The wafers are stacked horizontally inside the lock cylinder, and they must align perfectly with the notches on a flat key for the lock to open.
History of Wafer Locks
Philo Felter is credited with the invention of wafer locks way back in 1868. This patent came only 3 years after Linus Yale Jr patented the pin tumbler lock. 2 years later, Hiram S. Shepardson invented a different type of wafer lock that used a single bitted flat key.
However in due course of time, Yale Locks bought both Felter’s and Shepardson’s company and the use of wafer locks were restricted primarily to night latches and doors in mortise locks.
In 1924, Edward N. Jacobi of Briggs & Stratton filed for a patent for 5 wafer single bitted lock, which was first used in Hupp car.
The wafer locks that we know these days are generally 5 wafer single bitted ones.
Wafer Lock Mechanism
The mechanism of a wafer lock is a fascinating study in simplicity and efficiency. Let’s first understand different components of the lock before we dive deep into its working.
Parts of a Wafer Lock
Wafer lock involves several key components. Here is an explanation of them.
The plug housing is a crucial part of the wafer lock. It houses several key components, including the plug, wafer tumblers, and springs. In addition to holding these parts in place, the plug housing serves as a security feature. It blocks the rotation of the plug when an incorrect key is used, adding an extra layer of protection.
Wafer tumblers are thin, flat metal plates arranged in vertical slots in the plug with loaded springs which makes them protrude from the opposite side grooves. This protrusion prevents the plug from rotating; hence locking the lock.
When a key with the correct bitting is inserted into the plug, the wafers are pulled into the plug aligning them with the groove surface. This results in free rotation of the plug; thereby unlocking the lock.
Springs play a vital role in the wafer lock’s operation. They are responsible for pushing the wafer tumblers toward the cylinder when the key is removed. Working in conjunction with the wafer tumblers and the housing, the springs ensure that the lock is in a secured state unless the correct key is used.
The plug is the rotating component of the wafer lock, located within the plug housing. Inside the plug, you’ll find the wafer tumblers and wafer springs. The key is inserted into the keyway within the plug, and it interacts with these components.
The cam is another critical part of the wafer lock mechanism, working alongside the plug to control the bolt mechanism. Typically, the cam includes an attached arm that rotates when the plug is turned, influencing the locking or unlocking of the lock.
How Does a Wafer Lock Work?
Here is how a wafer lock works:
Correct Key Insertion:
- When the correct key is inserted into the lock’s keyway, it aligns with the notches or grooves on wafer tumblers.
- This results in pulling the wafers inwards so that their edges sit flush with the plug resulting in free rotation of the plug.
Incorrect Key Insertion:
- If an incorrect key is used, the notches on the key will not match the positions of the wafer tumblers.
- This misalignment causes the wafer tumblers to protrude, obstructing the plug from turning.
- In such cases, the lock remains securely closed, as an incorrect key cannot manipulate the wafer tumblers to align with the shear line.
Different Types of Wafer Locks
There are 2 ways to categorize wafer locks.
- Based on number of wafers in the plug
- Whether the wafers are single sided or double sided
More often than not, one usually finds 5 (or 6) wafers in locks these days.
Single-Sided Wafer Locks
Single-sided wafer locks, also known as single-bitted wafer locks, have wafers only on one side of the plug. Likewise, keys for such locks have bitting only one one side corresponding to the notches of the wafers.
As can be understood, this type of wafer lock provides minimal security and hence is used only for applications like cabinet and drawer security.
Double-Sided Wafer Locks:
As the name suggests, double sided wafer locks, also known as double-bitted wafer locks, have wafer on both sides of the plug. Accordingly their keys also have bitting on both sides.
Since picking these locks requires manipulating wafers on both sides, double sided wafer locks provide more security than single sided ones.
Picking a Wafer Lock
Picking wafer locks is a relatively simple process, similar to picking pin tumbler locks. All you need is a tension tool and a pick. I prefer to use the bottom of the keyway tensioning tool.
You can use a standard hook as the picking tool. If you don’t have a picking tool, you can create one with paper clips though you will take much longer to pick the lock.
You could also use raking to pick a wafer lock. Preferred raking tools are snake rakes and Bogota rakes.
To learn step-by-step instructions on how to pick a wafer lock, refer to one of our earlier articles.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. How to identify a wafer lock?
Answer – Identifying a wafer lock is usually straightforward. Look at the keyway or keyhole of the lock. If the keyway is relatively wide and has a series of horizontal, flat metal plates inside, it’s likely a wafer lock. These metal plates, known as wafers, are a distinctive feature of wafer locks. Also, the key for a wafer lock typically has notches on both sides, which correspond to the wafers inside the lock.
Q2. Are wafer locks hard to pick?
Answer – Wafer locks like their cousins pin tumbler locks are considered easy to pick. The simplicity of their design and the limited number of components can make them vulnerable to picking techniques.
Q3. Is there a difference between wafer Lock and disc Lock?
Answer – Wafer locks and disc locks (also known as disc detainer locks) are often confused to be one; however both have very different locking mechanisms. A wafer lock has thin metal plates that are spring loaded and are stacked vertically in the plug. Protruding wafers when an incorrect key is inserted prevents the plug from moving freely thereby locking the lock.
Disc locks on the other hand rely on discs that need to be rotated to a specific angle to unlock them. They don’t contain any springs or other feedback mechanisms thereby making them one of the toughest locks to pick.
Q4. Is there a difference between wafer Lock and pin tumbler Lock?
Answer – Even though the working principle of both wafer and pin tumbler locks are the same, they differ in one key area. In a pin tumbler lock, there are 2 types of pins that make up the locking mechanism i.e. – driver pins and key pins. When driver and key pins meet at the sheer line, the lock is unlocked. On the other hand, the locking mechanism in wafer locks is driven by single piece wafers..