Why Padlocks Get Stuck
There are a few common reasons why a padlock may become stuck in the locked position and unable to be opened:
Rust formation – Padlocks are often exposed to the elements like rain and moisture which can cause rust to form inside the locking mechanism. Over time, this rust buildup can jam up the inner workings and prevent the lock from opening smoothly.
Debris accumulation – Small particles like dirt, sand, or other debris entering the lock from the environment can interfere with the moving parts. Even something as small as a grain of sand getting lodged in just the right spot can stop a lock from unlocking.
Lack of lubrication – Without occasional lubrication, the lock components are more prone to seizing up from friction. The lubricant helps keep everything moving freely. An unlubricated lock may bind and refuse to open after periods of non-use.
Wear and tear from overuse – Heavily used locks naturally undergo more wear on their components from repeated locking/unlocking cycles. Eventually normal wear can reduce precise tolerances enough to cause jamming issues over time.
Rusted or damaged keys – If the key insert becomes rusty, bent, or damaged from overuse, it may no longer match up perfectly to the locking mechanism and prevent smooth operation.
Incorrect combination – With combination locks, entering the wrong code can potentially cause further binding issues if accidentally over-rotated beyond the shear line.
Methods for Freeing a Stuck Padlock
There are a few techniques you can try to free a jammed padlock without resorting to bolt cutters right away:
Apply a small amount of dry lubricant spray directly into the keyway. Workgraphite or white lithium grease work well. Let it sit for a few minutes before attempting to unlock. The lubrication can help loosen any rust buildup or friction causing the binding.
2. Lock Shocking
Gently tapping the lock housing while applying unlocking torque to the shackle can sometimes jar loose any debris trapping the components. Use a non-marring mallet or hammer and don’t overdo it. Shield the lock from direct impact if possible.
3. WD-40 or Silicone Spray
Like lubrication, general purpose penetrants like WD-40 or silicone lubricant/protectant sprays may be able to seep into tight areas and loosen rust or contamination better than oil alone. Spray into the keyway and work the lock while spraying.
4. Jiggling the Key
With the key fully inserted, gently jiggle it from side to side or up and down while applying unlock pressure if it’s a standard pin-tumbler lock. The subtle movements may allow pins to fall back progressively. Be persistent but not forceful.
5. Warming With a Blow Dryer
Directing steady heat from a hair dryer or heat gun onto the lock casing for a few minutes can help expand any trapped corrosive elements slowing movement. Just don’t overheat the metal. Then try unlocking.
6. Ice Cubes or Freezer Treatment
For extreme freeze-ups, try placing the entire padlock into a sealed bag with some ice cubes or putting it in a freezer for 30 minutes. Upon warming back to room temperature, thermal expansion may do the trick where heat alone failed.
When to Consider Locksmith Help
If basic lubrication, jiggling, tapping, and freezing tactics don’t work at freeing a stubborn stuck padlock, it’s generally time to consult a professional. Here are some signs it may be beyond a DIY solution:
– The lock has visible/severe rust damage or pitting of components
– The shackle or internal parts feel completely seized with no response to unlocking torque
– Standard pin-tumbler locks that fail to yield to raking or slice manipulation
– Combination locks totally unresponsive to multiple dialing attempts
– locks that have been doused in harsh chemicals possibly warped the mechanisms
Professional locksmiths have specialty tools like impressioning picks, bolt cutters, drill bits and jaws-of-life types of cutters that allow controlled access without permanent damage. They also have experience knowing when repairs can still salvage a lock versus a total replacement is necessary. It’s best not to force complicated locks and risk further fouling things up.
Additional Tricks a Locksmith May Try
Here are some potential procedures a locksmith may attempt on a seriously gummed-up padlock before cutting:
An impressioning tool is a specially formed pick that can be inserted and moved in patterns intended to manipulate the driver pins progressively without the correct key. This requires great skill and specialized tools.
2. Lock Shimming
Thin metal or plastic shims can be carefully worked into the lock in hopes of lifting closed pins just enough to allow unlocking. Again this takes a deft touch.
When all gentle options are exhausted, a professional may need to remove the lock completely using controlled cutting methods. But many stuck locks can still be salvaged without damage.