How to Become a Locksmith in the U.S: Step-by-Step Guide
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Step-by-Step Guide: How to Become a Locksmith in the U.S.

Locksmith in his office using copying machine to make key

As technology evolves, so also do the trades. Home service businesses like locksmithing have seen a popularity boom as a career. If you enjoy solving puzzles and are good with your hands, then learning how to become a locksmith could be the perfect start to success – and lucrative, diverse opportunities – in an in-demand industry.

Are you ready to unlock your path and learn more about how to become a licensed locksmith? Modern locksmithing may be the perfect gig if you’re tech-savvy and enjoy complicated systems. Whether you’re researching this as a possible career path, or you’re already started, we’ve got you covered with our simple how to become a locksmith in the U.S. guide.

Keep reading or jump ahead to each section

Step 1: Understand What Locksmiths Do & Specializations

A locksmith repairs, unlocks, installs, and adjusts locks on doors, windows, safes, or vehicles. They may also install full security systems for homes and businesses, including those with electronic locks. Experienced locksmiths or those who choose a more niche area of expertise may also act as security consultants for businesses, focusing on the integrity of their locks and peripheral security systems.

A typical day in the career of a locksmith may see them responding to lock-out situations, making keys and re-keying locks, changing the locks on a building, installing a security system, or performing routine maintenance on clients, ensuring their security measures are in good working condition.

One aspect of the locksmith business to keep in mind is that it may demand unusual working hours. Many people may get locked out of their homes or businesses after traditional 9-5 working hours or on the weekends. If your focus is commercial security, you may need to come out after a storm or break-in to help secure the facility.

The field of locksmithing is diverse, with several areas of specialization. You may opt to be a jack-of-all-trades locksmith or delve deeper into the needs of specific niche areas of locksmithing, like auto/ vehicle locksmithing or a commercial electronic lock-focused locksmith.

Residential Locksmiths

The average residential locksmith customer is a homeowner or property manager who needs emergency services (like lockout situations) or more routine matters, such as re-keying or replacing a lock after a tenant moves out. Your primary focus when you’re learning how to become a professional locksmith for residential customers is enhancing the safety and security of a home.

Some of the most common tasks a residential locksmith performs include:

  • Installing, replacing, and repairing window and door locks
  • Rekeying locks
  • Home safe services
  • Master key systems
  • Security consultations (mainly for property management companies like apartment complexes)
  • Keyless entry systems
  • Security consultations
  • Electronic access control
  • Key cutting and duplication
  • Emergency lockout services

These may not be all the tasks that a residential locksmith is called out to do. Bear in mind that when residential customers need a locksmith, they are typically facing an urgent situation. Consider offering 24-hour services to capture a greater number of clients.

Automotive Locksmiths

If you’re looking for a recession-proof career, look into how to become an auto locksmith. Why? Because when your customers need you, they need you and will pay a fair price – and everyone has locked their keys in the car at some point! An automotive locksmith may keep unusual hours, including late nights and weekends, and should know how to work on all types of cars, commercial vehicles, trucks, or trailers.

Learning how to become an automotive locksmith isn’t just about taking a few courses and being done. Each automotive brand issues new models of vehicles each year, so as an auto locksmith, you’ll have to keep up-to-date with changes that each manufacturer makes in their vehicles.

Some key aspects of a career as an automotive locksmith include:

  • Key replacement, including manual keys and key fobs
  • Car lockouts
  • Security system access
  • Ignition repair and replacement

If you provide 24-hour emergency services, you’ll likely have a wider customer base. Additionally, some auto locksmiths benefit from developing professional relationships with car dealerships, mechanics, and tow truck companies.

Commercial Locksmiths

Commercial locksmith clients can include retail stores, office buildings, hotels, manufacturing plants, and warehouses. Many of these businesses rely on complex security systems, including various locks and controlled access systems, to protect equipment, products, or people.

When you’re considering how long it takes to become a locksmith for commercial clients, remember that many commercial security systems feature electronic locks, as well as traditional mechanical locks. You’ll need to learn about electronic lock mechanisms or choose to specialize in helping your commercial clients gain access when an electronic lock fails. So, this specialization may involve a combination of skills.

Some of the more common tasks that a commercial locksmith may handle include:

  • Master key systems, including designing a master key system that allows certain employees or groups of people access to different areas of a building. This may be seen in laboratories, for example, or hotels.
  • Access control systems, designing control, and access systems to regulate who is permitted to enter different parts of a building or larger facility. This may include installation, repair, and maintenance of biometric scanning systems, digital access codes, and hardware, like car readers and key fobs.
  • Surveillance systems, which could include security camera installation and access-granting, or syncing a security system to different locks in a facility.
  • Installation and maintenance of high-security locks designed to resist tampering, such as those in a vault or safe, or those in a jail or prison.

As your ability with commercial access, control, and locking systems grows, you may grow into consulting, advising commercial clients about the best way to secure their facility, monitor access, or indicate where their system is vulnerable and may need an upgrade or replacement.

Safe Locksmiths

Being a safe cracker seems like an exciting career, and many locksmiths diversify into gaining access to safes and similar secure vaults. You may work alongside historians or archaeologists, opening discovered safes or vaults. Or, you may help banks, credit unions, or other financial institutions install safes, change combinations, or otherwise improve the security of their facilities.

As a locksmith specializing in safes, your reputation means a lot. You’ll need to project an aura of trust and may benefit from having a robust library of customer reviews and testimonials on your website. Professional locksmith business software can help streamline the review gathering and posting process for you.

Electronic Access Control

Most people think of picking a traditional mechanical lock when they think of locksmithing, but there’s another rapidly growing subspecialty of this career. If you’re more computer-savvy, you may enjoy a career as an electronic control access locksmith. This career may be a little closer to computer programming or coding than picking a lock or re-keying one.

Electronic access control locksmiths install, maintain, and manage electronic security systems, including locks, that control access to parts of a building and other secure areas. You’ll be dealing with advanced technology, and your job may include:

  • Installing keyless entry systems, including those that involve key fobs or cards, PIN codes, or more advanced systems that involve biometric access (like fingerprints or retina scans)
  • Remote access monitoring and access, allowing certain administrators to permit or block access remotely
  • Electronic access system integration, which links the components of a building’s security system together. This may involve integrating electronic access systems with cameras, alarm systems, and the like
  • User management and auditing, helping organizations set access permissions, or trace how certain areas of the building were accessed (such as in cases of monitoring employee behaviors or after a theft or robbery)

Your primary job may involve conducting compliance audits for clients or acting as a consultant for a more comprehensive electronic security system.

Step 2: Obtain the Necessary Education and Training

The next step in becoming a locksmith is getting the necessary training and education. You may not need a formal degree or a lengthy term in trade school to become a locksmith, but you still need to learn the trade, including both electronic and mechanical locking. As more and more security systems become at least partially electronic-based, you may find it difficult to make a living if your skills only involve traditional locks.

At this point, you may wonder how hard it is to become a locksmith. The answer is that it depends on your state – some have stricter licensure requirements than others, which could take more time and study. It also depends on what kind, if any, specialization you wish to pursue.

Enroll in a Locksmith Training Program in Your State

So, how long to become a locksmith? Again, the time and cost depend on where you live, any skills you already possess, and what kind of specialization or niche services you want to provide. These steps can help:

  • Research Local Requirements: Will you need a license to become a locksmith? What about a tenure as an apprentice before you can work on your own? Look at the regulations for your state and even city—there are a few metro areas with specific locksmith regulations above what their state requires. A great place to get started with your research is the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA), which has state regulation guidelines for locksmith licensure and a list of endorsed training programs.
  • Complete a Locksmith Training Program: Look for a program accredited by the ALOA or another reputable institution. Your local community college or vocational school may have trade programs for locksmithing, both traditional and electronic.
  • Complete an Apprenticeship For Hands-on Experience: Many experienced locksmiths may tell you that their skills are honed with practical training and gaining a “feel” for different types of locks and security systems. Seek an apprenticeship or journeyman position with an experienced locksmith, or apply for a position with a locksmith in your area.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Locksmith?

The average length of time it takes someone to become a locksmith can be as little as six months or longer than a year—and even longer if they focus on a specialty like automotive locks or electronic security. Most people, though, can strike out as independent locksmiths within two years.

Step 3: Calculate Costs and Plan Your Budget

How much will your locksmith training classes cost? Develop a budget for your training courses, licensing tests or fees, and the tools and supplies you may need to complete your locksmith training. Some trade schools or vocational programs may offer financial aid or may offer secondhand locksmith tools at a discount for trainees.

Another thing to consider when you’re thinking about how much does it cost to become a locksmith is how you’re going to support yourself while you’re learning. If you have to complete an apprenticeship or internship to get your certification or license, you may need a side job while you complete the program, as you may be spending more time in class (and not getting paid) or working in an apprenticeship or training role.

How Much Does It Cost To Become A Locksmith?

Your costs for becoming a locksmith may depend on the state you live in. Thirteen states have locksmithing licensing requirements, which may mean you’ll have to have certain certifications, several hours spent in training, or proof that you’ve passed specific courses.

You may also learn certain skills on your own, purchasing professional training materials from the ALOA website or similar accredited institutions. Or, you could take a course online. Depending on which one you select, expect to spend several hundred dollars. One reputable locksmithing school in Texas charges $625 for an online program (with payment plans available), while in Ohio, a course may run you about $3,500, although the tuition includes certification.

You may have to pay for certification and exam fees, too. It’s important to do your research, as there are many fly-by-night programs out there; you can talk to locksmiths in your area about where they learned the trade or check with your local branch of ALOA.

Locksmith Tools Cost Breakdown

Spending money on good tools and plenty of diverse tools and sizes means that you’ll have more options when it comes to accepting jobs. Traditional locksmithing tools include:

  • Lock picks, which you may need in many shapes and sizes.
  • Pick guns, used to open pin-tumbler locks. You may see these called snapper picks, snap guns, vibration picks, or electric picks. They’re available in electric and manual forms.
  • Tension wrenches, L-shaped wrenches used in conjunction with lock picks to prevent the pins from falling out.
  • Key programming machines for reading and writing electronic information about the lock or the transponder chip in a key (card, fob, badge, etc.).
  • Key decoders to interpret electronic locks, used for re-keying or creating new access keys.
  • Key cutter and duplicator machines, which are used to replace damaged or lost keys.
  • Tweezers to pick up small pieces of metal that fall out – look for ones with magnetic tips.
  • Flashlights, including a headlight.
  • Scopes to shine light into the keyway so you can check for damage or debris.

Depending on your specialty, you may need other tools. The ones on this list will get you started, and you can slowly develop your collection over time. The cost can vary—you can purchase tools online separately or on sites with basic locksmithing kits. Expect to spend at least $1,000 on the tools, and don’t forget a toolbox!

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Step 4: Obtain Licensing and Certification (If Required)

Licensure for a locksmith depends on the state they live in. Right now, only 13 states have licensing requirements, although you should check with your state and county or counties you plan to work in to make sure that you don’t need county or city-specific licensing or certifications.

If there is an exam, study hard to make sure you pass. You may have a waiting period before you can retake the exam (again, this depends on your location), or you may have to pay the fee to take a retest, which can change how much it costs to become a certified locksmith.

Research State-Specific Licensing Requirements and Apply for a Locksmith License

Each state sets its own regulations for locksmith licensing and regulation. Currently, the following states require locksmiths to hold a professional license:

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Virginia

It’s also important to note that certain cities and counties have locksmithing licensing requirements. For example, the following metro areas have specific laws for locksmiths:

  • New York City
  • Nassau County, New York
  • Hillsborough County, Florida
  • Washington D.C.

In 2021, Nebraska and Tennessee repealed their locksmithing licensing requirements. Laws can change, so it’s important to check the ones in your area and remain abreast of changes in your state or local laws that could impact your business operations.

Step 5: Start Your Career and Explore Specializations

Now that you know how to become a locksmith, it’s time to develop your career! Being a locksmith gives you plenty of areas for growth, expansion, and niche work. But, simply hanging up your sign and buying a toolbox of the best locksmithing tools and equipment may not be very successful. Like the nay type of home-based service business, locksmiths have to cultivate their small business.

If you don’t want to start your own company (even if it’s just you), or if you’re freshly licensed and haven’t had paid experience yet, though, you may benefit from the training and experience you’ll gain working for a professional locksmithing company.

Entry-Level Opportunities

When starting out, check online job boards like Indeed or Zip Recruiter. These agencies allow locksmith companies to post jobs, so you can pursue different employment opportunities. Consider looking for a job with a security company, as they have diverse needs, or with a company that needs specific locksmith tasks performed, such as at an automobile dealership or a property management company.

Local community colleges, trade schools, and vocational training programs often help new tradespeople obtain internships, apprenticeships, and entry-level jobs.

Specialize in Areas of Interest

As you progress through your locksmithing training, you may realize that your natural skills and abilities lead you to a specialized type of locksmithing or security. Gearheads may enjoy the kind of locks that come with vehicle security, while someone who enjoys the more technical side of security could enjoy a great career as an electronic security consultant.

Locksmithing programs don’t just teach you the rudiments of opening and repairing locks. These programs also teach you patience, care, and how to think critically. So, if you start out as a general locksmith, over time, your skills and abilities may make it easier for you to specialize.

How Much Can a Locksmith Earn?

The average salary of a locksmith varies widely. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the states with the highest annual locksmith salaries (California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and Florida) average from $44,000 to $61,000.

Those five states may not have the highest demand for locksmiths, though – to earn a steady locksmith salary, you may choose to move to:

  • North Dakota
  • Nevada
  • Florida
  • Montana
  • Rhode Island

Determining an average salary for locksmiths gets trickier, as you could get paid in one of several ways:

  • Per hour, averaging $18-$33 per hour
  • Per year, with an annual salary of around $50,000
  • Per job, which could be as little as $100 to unlock a private car or tens of thousands of dollars to consult on a security system

However, you could earn much more if you started your own locksmith business.

Starting Your Own Locksmith Business

Pro closing wok car trunk door

Starting your own locksmith business gives you greater control over your earnings. You could offer niche services that others in your area do not or branch out into after-hours assistance, especially in larger cities where many people may need your help within a small radius.

When you’re ready to start your business, don’t forget about one of the most important tools of all – your locksmith business software. Using a system like Housecall Pro can help you book jobs more easily, provide plenty of information about your business and specialties for potential customers, and develop a robust library of positive reviews and testimonials.

Housecall Pro can help you streamline the back end of business operations, reduce paperwork, stay more organized, and bid on jobs—all from your phone or tablet! Consider trying Housecall Pro on a free 14 day trial today to learn more about how our software solution can help you in your journey to becoming a successful locksmith.


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Last Posted July, 2024
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