Key Machines Key Terms

Unlock the right terms for understanding a locksmith's key cutting machine

Ever notice that keys come in a wide variety of different shapes and sizes? All of these different keys are shaped by key cutting machines, which duplicate keys either based on template information designated by a factory code or by carving the shape of an existing key into a blank, featureless key ready for copying. These key terms will help you get started with a basic understanding of what key cutting machines do.


A keyway is the hole in a lock cylinder that is shaped to accept only a certain shape of key. Keys made on inferior key cutting machines may match the original key closely in appearance, yet not mesh appropriately with the moving parts of the keyway, in which case they won't work.

Semi-automatic key cutting machines

Semi-automatic key cutting machines do most of the work for you. The template key is installed in one vise while the key blank is installed in another. The machine then grinds the blank key to match the shape of the old key exactly, following up with a high speed wire brush to remove any additional metal spurs on the previously blank key copy.

Key blank catalogs and cross references

Different shapes and sizes of key blanks are needed to match the wide variety of key shapes and sizes that a locksmith may be required to duplicate. While the key machine itself can handle almost any size and shape of key that fits into the vise, a locksmith may need a reference to make sure he's selected the proper key blank for duplication.

Associated Locksmiths of America

The Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) train and certify locksmiths to an exacting standard, including the use of key cutting machines.


Ilco is one of the most prominent companies that manufactures key blanks, key cutting machines and lock cylinders.

Code-cut keys

Cutting a key to code means duplicating it from the factory specifications for the original key, as opposed to duplicating the key itself. Using a code key cutting machine entails inserting a blank and inputting the key code. This creates the new key for you, and is the only way to produce the equivalent of a factory new key.

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