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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

File Cabinet Lock Replacement: Everything You Need To Know

by Ralph April 28, 2021

File cabinet lock replacement is extremely important for the security and wellbeing of your private documents. Whether your filing cabinet is in a home or an office, the locks have to be reliable. So you need working locks that only certain people have keys to. No matter if your locks are working or not, you can undergo file cabinet lock replacement. That means if keys have gone missing, you should change your locks.

Here is what you will need to know to replace your file cabinet locks:

In this article, we will go over how to change the lock on a file cabinet, how to open a locked file cabinet, and what you need to know when looking for replacement parts. You may also be interested in the answers to some frequently asked questions about file cabinet lock replacement. So whether you are trying to rebuild your office security after a break-in or changing all the locks in your new home, including the file cabinets that were left behind, you should find all the information you need. For more info, be sure to contact a professional locksmith.


Can a filing cabinet lock be replaced?

Yes, filing cabinet locks can be replaced. But you need to be able to open the cabinet, have proper replacement parts, and know the replacement procedure. If you do not feel comfortable doing these things yourself, you can enlist the aid of a locksmith.

How can I lock a filing cabinet without a lock?

You can install locks on most filing cabinets that do not have locks. Often there is a punch on the top right of the cabinet that can be knocked out with a hammer to make room for a lock. You may also wish to install a hasp and padlock on one drawer and not others.

How do you get into a locked filing cabinet?

Picking, bypassing, and other keyway manipulation tactics are possible only if the file cabinet lock is working properly. If the lock is not working with the authorized key, then you will likely need to open the cabinet by drilling the lock. Consult a locksmith before performing any kind of destructive entry yourself.

How does a file cabinet lock work?

Most file cabinet locks have one keyed cylinder that controls a lock assembly. When the lock is opened, the corresponding lock assembly opens all other drawers. File cabinets where only drawers with locks can be locked, work by a cam or latch on the back of the cylinder that rotates into a locked or unlocked position depending on how the keyway is manipulated.

Can you drill out a file cabinet lock?

Most file cabinet locks have one keyed cylinder that controls a lock assembly. When the lock is opened, the corresponding lock assembly opens all other drawers. File cabinets where only drawers with locks can be locked, work by a cam or latch on the back of the cylinder that rotates into a locked or unlocked position depending on how the keyway is manipulated.

How To Open A Locked File Cabinet

For you to undergo filing cabinet lock replacement, you need to be able to get the top drawer open. This is simple enough with an existing key for a working file cabinet, but you might not have a functioning lock or a functioning key. So how do you open a locked file cabinet when you have either of these issues?

1. Broken File Cabinet Lock

A file cabinet lock will often break in one of two ways. The first is the lock cylinder will not work with the proper key. The second is a problem with the greater lock assembly. In either case, you might be able to temporarily get your broken file cabinet lock into a temporary working position. Solutions for a broken lock include using lubrication in the keyway, lifting and moving the drawer to alleviate weight issues. Make sure you are turning your key properly as you try these methods.

If there is no way to coax the broken file cabinet lock into opening one last time, it will need to be drilled open. Drilling a lock will not only open a lock without a key, but it will also open most broken locks. Be careful if you are drilling the lock yourself, as you could harm the file cabinet or yourself. Drilling a lock is best left to a professional locksmith, but the process can be done by an individual who has experience with power tools.

To drill a lock open, you will need a power drill and several bits, progressing in width. The final drill bit’s width should be roughly the size of the lock core. With all the internals ground out, you should be able to reach through the lock housing (with a tool) and exploit the lock assembly so the cabinet will open. If the lock cylinder has become detached from the lock assembly, manipulation will be more difficult. If you have any questions, consult a locksmith.

How to open a file cabinet with a broken lock:

  • Lubricate the keyway.
  • Lift the drawer as you turn the key.
  • If there is no way to open the cabinet with the key, drill the lock.
  • For proper lock drilling, contact a locksmith.

2. Lost File Cabinet Keys

When the lock is in working order, and you simply do not have keys to the file cabinet, it is much easier to safely open. Several bypass methods may work on your file cabinet lock, such as an actuator bypass where you insert a small thin piece of metal into the lock. Lift the pins, push the tool through to the back of the lock. While pushing in, push down and depress the actuator that controls the latch.

You may also be able to insert a small metal tool into the keyway, and jiggle it up and down while applying turning pressure. This simple process will even open most Hon file cabinet locks without a key. This is a process similar to bumping a lock but made easier because cabinet locks often use wafers instead of pin tumblers. Look into why bump keys don’t work on cars for more information about jiggle keys and wafer locks.

Other keyway manipulation methods are best left to a professional locksmith. You can look into how to pick locks, but it is going to save you from unnecessary frustration and losing valuable time to simply call a locksmith. In cases where you have simply broken your key, there is even a chance that a locksmith can copy the broken key and avoid changing the lock altogether.

Beyond getting a locksmith to pick open your file cabinet, you can also try some of the methods to open a broken file cabinet lock (outlined in the section above). But again, this is best left up to a locksmith technician so you do not need to replace the full filing cabinet. Make sure for your next keys you take steps to ensure you don’t lose your keys again.

How to open a file cabinet without a key:

  • Attempt to bypass the lock by reaching through the keyway and manipulating the actuator.
  • Insert a metal tool that will fit into the keyway and jiggle it up and down while turning.
  • Have a locksmith attempt to pick the lock.
  • Properly drill out the cabinet lock core, and manipulate the actuator.

Considerations For File Cabinet Lock Replacement

Now that you have your file cabinet open, it is time to take stock of what type of lock you need to replace. If you are using a residential or commercial locksmith, they will be able to handle this assessment. In cases where you are doing this work on your own, it is extremely important to determine which kind of replacement parts will fit your existing cabinet. File cabinet lock replacement does not work if you do not have a new lock that will fit your lock assembly and cabinet.

1. Lock Cams

The cam, tailpiece, or latch of a file cabinet lock is on the opposite end as the keyway. It is what catches on the interior lip of the cabinet to prevent the drawer from opening. It will also interface with the lock assembly that keeps the lower drawers locked. There are hooked tailpieces, latches, and short or long cams.

You can change which type of cam your file cabinet uses, but you have to check that it is compatible. A locksmith can figure out compatibility very simply due to their years of experience with file cabinet lock replacement. If you are doing this assessment yourself, you should try to find a replacement file cabinet lock that is visually identical. 

2. Cylinder Dimensions

There are a few standard sizes for cabinet cylinder length, so you need to measure your current lock and find its dimensions. You do not want to use a cylinder that is too short, as it may not reach the lock assembly or locking point on the cabinet. File cabinet lock replacement with a cylinder that is too long, is similarly problematic. 

Many of the kits you can buy for file cabinet lock replacement will have several cams/tailpieces, and washers to accommodate oversized installation holes. The length of your lock cylinder, however, is rarely going to be adjustable with the materials you find in your file cabinet lock replacement kit. Just make sure that you are using the correct replacement parts. And if you are ever in doubt about what you might need, call a locksmith.

3. Electronic Cabinet Locks

You may be using electronic locks for your filing cabinet, or wish to make this upgrade during the filing cabinet lock replacement process. It may surprise you to know that file cabinet locks are available with almost every electronic lock variation. This includes digital combination locks, RFID locks, and fingerprint readers. If you are looking to make these types of upgrades, remember what we have discussed in the sections above about tailpieces and cylinder dimensions.

These types of locks may be ideal for your office security if you want to be able to change access protocols without worrying about who may still have a key. These electronic options are built with key control in mind. Standard locks may be more reliable due to their physical components, but that physicality keys to be copied covertly. Physical locks also need to be physically changed to invalidate existing keys. Consider these differences when you are going through the file cabinet lock replacement process.

How To Replace A File Cabinet Lock

It is relatively easy to replace a file cabinet lock once you have opened the cabinet and have the proper replacement parts. You may still run into a few issues here and there, but if that happens a locksmith is just a single call away. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

1. Basic Replacement

Basic file cabinet lock replacement begins by removing the top drawer of the cabinet. With the drawer removed, reach behind the lock cylinder and locate the C clip. You may need a flathead screwdriver to pry the clip loose. With the C clip removed, detach the assembly linkage piece. (The linkage piece is attached to the cylinder’s cam and the cabinet lock assembly.) If you are going to be installing a new linkage piece, due to any changes between the old and new cylinder, you can also remove the old linkage piece. With the lock cylinder free, remove it from the knock out.

File cabinet lock replacement is as easy as reversing those steps. Install the cylinder into the knock out. Fasten the cylinder in place with the new C clip. Re-attach the linkage piece to the cam. (This might have to be a new linkage piece.) Using the new key, lock the cabinet. Check that the lower drawers are locked. You can lock and unlock a few times to make sure that everything is working reliably. Then with the cabinet unlocked, re-install the top drawer. Test again to make sure that all drawers lock and unlock. 

Tips for better basic file cabinet lock replacement:

  • Watch a video on this process to better understand it.
  • Do not re-install the top drawer without testing to see if the lock works.
  • Uninstall the new cabinet lock if it is not working, and call a locksmith.

2. Removal Keys

File cabinet lock replacement may require special tools, such as a removal key (aka control key, change key, or pull key). These are keys that act in conjunction with your file cabinet key to allow the removal of the lock core. Once the lock is open, this removal key must be inserted to remove the cylinder from the cabinet. Understand that this process only removes the lock core and does not fully replace any of the other hardware.

The process is as follows:

  1. Turn the lock to the unlock position.
  2. Insert the removal key.
  3. Pull the core out without turning the removal key.
  4. Place the removal key in the new lock core.
  5. Insert the new lock core into the lock housing.
  6. Hold the new lock core in the housing as you remove the key.
  7. Test your new core with the new key.

If you do not have access to the removal key for your lock, you can purchase one from your lock manufacturer. Alternatively, you can contact a locksmith and they will be able to handle this part of the process as well. Even without a removal key for your specific lock, a locksmith can pick the lock to the change position. Be aware that if you are just changing the lock core, you do not need to purchase any additional hardware, but it is even more important to get the accurate replacement core.

Tips for replacing file cabinet locks with removal keys:

  • Watch a video to better understand this process. 
  • Make sure you have the proper replacement lock core.
  • Call a locksmith for any additional information or services.

Locksmith For File Cabinet Lock Replacement

As simple as the file cabinet lock replacement process may seem, things can get complicated very quickly. Consider a locksmith the “uncomplicator”. If unforeseen events have left you in desperate need of this service, you might not have time to collect all the information and parts that you need. You can skip all of those steps and hire a commercial or home locksmith, depending on your needs. If you are worried about the cost of hiring a locksmith, don’t be. 

There are many ways that a locksmith can end up saving you money. Firstly, the job will be done quickly saving you time (which is money). All parts that the locksmith uses for the job will be correct the first time, which ensures you are not spending money on hardware you can’t use. A locksmith will be able to open your cabinet, which is a necessity for file cabinet lock replacement, and do so without harming your property. Also, locksmiths may be able to offer to rekey the lock instead of a full replacement. The cost to rekey a lock, being cheaper than total file cabinet lock replacement. 

Closing Words

Do not neglect your file cabinet locks. If something that used to be secure is now vulnerable, you need file cabinet lock replacement. If you no longer have access to important documents, you need file cabinet lock replacement. You don’t need a business security budget to tackle this problem. You can get the work done quickly, efficiently, and for a reasonable price by hiring a locksmith. So don’t stall on your file cabinet lock replacement!

Category: Commercial, How To's, Residential

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