book reviews

Locks and locksmithing books

The Complete Book of Locks and Locksmithing
by Bill Phillips
McGraw-Hill, 2005, 588 pages


L ocks are not as simple as people think. Many subtle features distinguish good locks from bad ones. Most people don't realize, for example, that a lockset with master keys is inherently less secure than one without them because the pin arrangement has to be changed to accommodate the possibility of master keys. This book will tell you why many of the cheap door locks found in hardware stores actually provide minimal security. (The strike plates in particular are nothing more than a thin piece of sheet metal. Whenever I move to a new place, I always make my own strike plates from 1/4-inch steel.) It also describes the various types of physical locks and methods for selecting, installing, repairing, and opening them, without the key when necessary. Of course, picking locks is not always as easy as it looks (or so I've heard). So there is also a section on drilling locks.

The writing quality is generally good and the illustrations are clear. Oriented mainly toward beginning and intermediate locksmiths dealing with conventional mechanical locks. The section on electrical locks mainly covers the familiar "buzzer" type access control systems. Anyone concerned about their own security or the security of their stuff should know the information in this book. Conveniently, the author also covers handcuffs and prison locks, which will be useful when you become over-enthusiastic about your new hobby.

October 29, 2005

Electronic Access Control
by Thomas L. Norman
BH, 2012, 423 pages


F or most of us, electronic access control is just another obstacle that the 'haves' have created to keep the 'have-nots' away from their stuff. Those of us in the middle are the ones who pay the price in terms of clumsy building access and security systems designed to make sure you're the one who gets incinerated in the event of a fire. So why read this book? Simple: know your enemy.

I've seen them all. Magnetic locks with the mechanism on the outside. E-locks that froze up solid when there was a power loss (and sometimes had to be "encouraged" to open under normal conditions). Office buildings that required a key to exit, but had no barriers to entering. Exit sensors that required the occupant to perform a rain dance before they would activate. "Emergency exit" doors that appeared to be welded shut. These are the so-called "path of egress" doors—egress, that is, to the afterlife. The geniuses at the top who spend their days thinking up ways to achieve bankruptcy thought they were wonderful. The ones who actually do productive work, not so much. In many cases, the employees eventually broke the door trying to make it work.

Braille sign behind window Braille Fail

But that's nothing compared to the other things people do. The best one was the time they installed a warning sign with Braille markings indicating "Stair #2" behind a glass wall, with the bumps facing the glass (see photo at left). I guess it just looked nicer that way. The poor blind person would have to find out about the stairs the hard way. We had another door that would unlock automatically when you got close to it, but the difference in air pressure between the rooms was so great that it would fly open and slam into your face if you weren't careful.

In this book, Norman emphasizes that electronic access control is just one component of a secure system. He mentions that it's now a violation of the fire code (NFPA 101) to build a building that creates the possibility of people getting trapped inside. His style is part consultant, part advertisement of his company's knowledge. Each chapter ends with a summary and a brief quiz. The writing style is good, and sometimes even witty, but there's very little technical detail. This book is basically an executive summary of building security with sufficient detail for a building manager or occupant, but not enough for an architect or engineer. Other than a little about cabling, there's no information on how to design, install, or defeat electronic locks. Is this book worth the fifty bucks? Maybe, if you're in the construction industry, or if you got suckered into being on the design committee for the next building. Otherwise, wait for the movie.

 jan 16, 2012