Breaking your key off into a lock can be a panic-inducing moment, especially when it is your own front door.
But if you have additional keys and need a way to remove a broken key from a lock, there are many creative and easy ways to do so.
In this guide, we'll cover 11 tried-and-true methods using various objects—many of which you likely have in your own home.
Before proceeding, it is essential to note that removing a broken key can cause further problems if rushed or done incorrectly. So be cautious and gentle while attempting any of the methods below.
With that, let's get to it!
Table of Contents
Preparing the Keyway
For any of the methods below, you'll want to reduce as much friction as possible. While this step isn't necessary, it can help significantly.
The most effective way to do this is by spraying a little lubricant into the keyway.
Ideally, you'll want to use dry lubricants such as graphite or Teflon. An excellent dry lubricant for locks is Houdini Lock Lube. However, for a full list of my top recommendations, check out my article covering the best lock lubricants.
However, you can also use oil-based lubricants, such as WD-40. Keep in mind that oil-based lubricants leave a residue within the lock that can collect dirt and cause a grimy buildup on the internal components.
How to Remove a Broken Key
Before jumping into any of the methods below, we must ensure that the keyway is aligned correctly.
Most locks are key retaining, meaning that unless the keyway is rotated to the correct position, the key can not be removed.
So the first step is to ensure that the keyway is aligned to the same position before inserting the key. On most pin tumbler locks—like those found on doorknobs and deadbolts—the keyway should be vertical.
Once the keyway is lubed and aligned, it's time to extract the key!
1. Broken Key Extractor
The first and best method to remove a broken key from a lock is to use a professional tool called a key extractor.
There are many different types of key extractors, but each is typically used the same way. They dig something sharp into the broken piece of the key and give you the leverage to pull it out.
Let's look at two common key-extracting tools and how to use them.
Hooked Key Extractor
Some extracting tools, such as the Peterson hooked key extractor, use a lock pick type tool with a barb on one end—similar to a straightened fishing hook.
To use a hooked key extractor, insert it at the top of the keyway with the barbs pointing down.
Once inserted, gently lift the handle of the extractor upward and leverage it against the top of the keyway to help dig the barbs into the key.
If done correctly, the barb will grip the key and allow you to pull it out of the lock easily.
Alternatively, you can also push the barb to the very back of the keyway and grab the tip of the key.
Spiral Key Extractor
Some extracting tools—such as HPC spiral blade key extractors—use a thin, flexible bar with a spiraled thread on it—similar to a screw.
To use a spiral extractor, insert it between the broken section of the key and the keyway.
Push it in as far as possible and then bend the tool into the key so that the threads dig into the key.
Slowly begin twisting the spiral extractor and leveraging the tool against the key at different angles. Eventually, the tool will catch the key and begin retracting it with every rotation of the tool.
2. Pliers or Tweezers
If the broken key is sticking far enough out of the lock, you may be able to grip and pull it out with pliers.
However, when doing so, be sure to pull it out slowly. The key could be snagged, which could be how it broke in the first place.
Yanking on a snagged key could result in further damage or broken pieces. If the key is jammed up, you can attempt to free it by gently wiggling it or turning it in both directions.
If the broken section of the key is not sticking out far enough to grab with pliers, you may be able to use tweezers instead.
Like with pliers, give the key a wiggle in several directions to help break it free of any bind that may hold it in the lock.
One final note, be very careful not to accidentally push the broken piece of the key further into the lock.
Paperclips are genuinely a magical tool and work decently well to remove broken keys—as long as the fractured piece isn't too small and it is not too deep within the keyway.
There are two ways to use a paperclip to extract a broken key. In my experience, thinner paperclips tend to work better and give you a deeper grip on the key.
The first method is to slip your paperclip under the bottom of the broken piece and then push it downwards to leverage it into the key.
If there is enough room, you can also insert the paperclip at the top of the keyway to try and grip the first cut on the key.
This process may take a few attempts, but if done correctly, it will slowly retract the key from the lock cut-by-cut.
The second method is to use two paperclips to grip the key from both sides and leverage it out.
Additionally, both methods work far better with lubricant, and if you can pull the key far enough out, you may be able to finish the job with pliers.
Note: If only a tiny piece of the broke off, you'll need to be cautious not to push the key further into the lock.
If the paperclip method above doesn't give you enough griping power and keeps sliding off the key, you may need to use something with a sharper tip.
The metal used for most keys is relatively soft, and typically the tip of a sharp knife will pierce the side of the key well enough to leverage it out.
However, to use this method, the key piece will need to be close to the edge of the keyway. If it is too far in, you won't be able to reach it.
To start, take your knife and poke it into the side of the key—like in the image above. Apply some force to stab the key as much as possible, and be very careful not to slip and annihilate yourself.
Once the knife is in the keyway, apply leverage to the key. If your knife slips, try digging it into various other places on the key, including the bottom.
It may take a few tries, but if done correctly, the key will retract from the lock cut-by-cut.
If you're feeling gutsy, you can also use two knives to penetrate both sides of the key—similar to our paperclip method above.
5. Fishing Hook
Another crafty way to remove a broken key from a lock is by using a fishing hook. This method also works well if the broken section of the key is deeper within the lock.
To use a fishing hook, begin by fully straightening it out with pliers.
Next, shove it into an open spot in the keyway with the barb facing perpendicular (90 degrees) to the key and then rotate the hook towards the key.
The barb will dig into the key and grip it enough to slowly pull it out!
If the broken section of the key is flush with the end of the keyway—like in the image below–you may be able to use a small screw to remove it.
To use this method, place the tip of your screw at any large gap in the keyway.
Next, apply some inward force to the screw and begin slowly turning it.
By twisting the screw between the plug and key, you will dig the thread into the key.
As you continue to turn the screw, the key will follow the spiral thread and slowly exit the keyway.
7. Drill Bit
Another excellent method to remove a broken key is with the help of a drill bit. Note that you can only use this method when the broken bit of the key is accessible from the keyway's entry.
Using a small drill bit, place a hole into the side of the exposed key piece—not the lock.
The goal is to drill a small divot into the side of the key and create a space that you stick something into and grip the key—such as a paperclip or knife.
8. Hack Saw and Jigsaw Blades
This next one may have you skeptical, but believe it or not, you can remove a broken key from a lock using a hacksaw or jigsaw blade. Most people will have dozens of these things sitting around their garages and toolboxes. And if you don't, you can buy them just about anywhere.
For this method, you'll need wire cutters and blades thin enough to fit between the broken piece of the key and the side of the keyway.
To make the hacksaw key extractor, cut off one side so that the barbs are at the tip of the blade. Additionally, If the blade is too tall for the keyway, cut off a bottom section so that it can fit.
Next, insert the cut-off end of the blade into the side of the keyway and push the saw's teeth into the broken piece of the key.
Gently jerk the saw blade out, and the key should follow.
It may take a few attempts, but this method is pretty powerful with a bit of patience.
9. Hot Gluestick
Strange as many of these objects are for removing broken keys, I believe this one takes the cake.
If the broken key piece is close enough to the front of the keyway, you may be able to use a gluestick to remove it.
To perform this miraculous technique, begin by melting the end of a gluestick with a lighter.
Next, push the melted end of the gluestick into the keyway and let it cool. Do this quickly before the gluestick begins to harden.
Let the gluestick cool, and then slowly pull the gluestick away from the lock as slowly as possible. If everything goes well, the gluestick will pull the key out.
This method works really well; however, it may take several attempts, so don't get discouraged and keep at it!
If the broken key is deep within the lock, an exciting and somewhat dangerous option is to use super glue.
Now any locksmith out there reading this is likely pulling the hair out of their head and screaming, "NO, NO, NO!"
Needless to say, this method can ruin your lock. If you're not careful, you can get super glue on the lock's functional parts, such as the pins.
However, if you are extremely careful or don't care if you accidentally ruin your lock, superglue works very well. Use this method at your own risk!
To use superglue, place a VERY small amount of glue on the broken section of the key. Smear the glue around and wipe away any excess globs so nothing smushes out.
Insert the key piece into the lock as straight as possible and apply inward pressure so that the two parts of the key smash together.
Wait about a couple of minutes for the glue to set, and slowly pull the key straight outward.
Note: Don't turn the key using this method, as it could cause superglue to squish out and cover essential components.
Removing a broken key isn't always easy and, if done incorrectly, can cause a real headache.
For example, if you slip up while removing the key, you could accidentally push it further into the keyway—aggravating the problem.
If you're not the risk-taking type, you may want to consider calling a locksmith.
Breaking a key in a lock doesn't have to be an ugly nightmare, and I hope this guide helped alleviate some panic.
While we covered 11 tried-and-true methods, there are endless other ways to remove a broken key from a lock—with a bit of creativity, of course.
If you would like to learn more about lock picking, locksmithing, and home security, be sure to check out my Academy for more free guides. Also, consider dropping by the Art of Lock Picking shop for the best selection of lock picking tools! Just be careful, lock picking is addictive!
As always, happy picking!