Browse Tag: keys

Key Notes: Reviewing The Nite Ize S-Biner Key Rack

Readers of The Source will recall my travails with keys from a couple of months ago, when I went to make some duplicate keys and found a robot doing a significantly worse job duplicating keys than human hardware store employees once did. Because there isn’t a commercial real estate broker, owner or property manager working today who doesn’t struggle with keys and locks, let’s take another look at cutting-edge key technology: the Nite Ize S-Biner Key Rack.

photo of the Nite Ize S-Biner Key Rack
Above: The Nite Ize S-Biner Key Rack

Nite Ize?  S-Biner?

My pal Safety Jim, a born commercial property manager if ever there was one, told me about this nifty piece of gear right around the time we discovered the key-making robot I posted about back in June. Jim handles lots and lots different sets of keys every day, but I noticed that he doesn’t wrestle with steel rings keeping keys together. Instead, he rapidly attaches and disconnects keys from an odd bit of gear called a S-Biner Key Rack. It’s made by a company called Nite Ize, (pronounced “night eyes”). Based in Boulder, CO, Nite Ize products include flashlights, which explains the company name. The product name is a takeoff on the caribiner, an essential bit of mountain climbing gear that balances safety, speed and strength by controlling rope lines that are run through it.

The S-Biner treats keys and key rings like a carabiner treats rope: a innovative spring-loaded “S” shape allows super-quick attachment and removal of keys or key rings while providing pretty much stable locking of keys in place on the S-Biner.  The time and hassle this saves compared to mating keys using steel rings is significant.  It’s an absolute game-changer for property managers on the go; it even weighs less than the average master key ring, so it’s the kind of product that improves in ways you didn’t expect.

One Tradeoff

There is one area where the S-Biner pictured above can’t deliver the same thing that steel key rings can: absolute attachment security. A key can’t fall off a steel ring, but it is (very slightly) possible that a S-Biner attachment can disengage in an unwanted way, for example, when jostled inside a crowded pocket.  After two months of testing this hasn’t happened, but because I see that it could, it’s worth mentioning. It’s also worth mentioning that Nite Ize makes a wide range of variations on the S-Biner design that address and “harden” against this small possibility by using a slightly more complicated locking design.

At well under ten bucks (under five for the S-Biner) these products are worth a look, if you ask me. (Or Safety Jim.)

Using A Key Duplication Kiosk

A photo robotic key cutting vending machine in Chicago

Yesterday, I faced a situation that any commercial real estate agent or property manager will find very familiar: I needed to make a set of duplicate keys. I had three originals, and needed a number of duplicates.

For me, the usual solution for this task is to head down to the hardware store. There I find the friendly neighborhood key cutter and wait for a bit as he or she selects the right blanks, grinds out the duplicates and then buffs them using a wire wheel, eyeballing for a good match all the way.

But this time, the friendly neighborhood key cutter was a vending machine.

Installed in the doorknob aisle, I found an eight-foot tall, chartreuse-colored robot. A screen on the face detailed the process and a credit card receptacle beckoned. Like it or not, I was about to begin my first robotic, self-service key duplication chore.

The Set

We’ll call my original keys A, B and C.  A and B were padlock keys, C was a deadbolt key.  The A and B originals used the same blank type.

I started with A, a padlock key.  I inserted the original into a reader slot on the front of the machine, and it read the key’s teeth and shape. Through a window in the front of the machine, I could see the moving machinery and the tray of blanks it would pick from.  A friendly voice and a well-designed software experience guided me through the process, which boiled down to a) insert key  b) wait about two minutes for the machinery to read, select the right blank, cut the key, buff it, and drop the completed duplicate into a slot to be grabbed by the user.

Minutes later, I had my first duplicate. It had problems.

Photo of two keys matching up

Above, you can see the matchup.  The silver key in the foreground is the original, the brass colored key behind it is the duplicate.  You can see the teeth are aligned, but the blanks are in fact different shapes toward the base of the keys.  Here’s an extreme closeup showing the difference:

key-whoops-with-gap

The blank selected by the robot actually left more key material on the duplicate than there is on the original. I’ve highlighted the difference in red. I expected this would produce a misalignment — even though the teeth appeared accurate, I expected that this duplicate would not travel into the lock deeply enough to work.

I moved on to B, my second padlock key. Remember, B and A are of the same type — they both have the same number stamped on them at the blank factory. I inserted the original into the machine and waited.

The result was interesting. Even though originals between A and B were cut on the same blank, this time, the robot refused to cut anything: it apologized and said on a message on the screen that it could not duplicate this key.

So far, I was 0 for 2.

The third key, C, was for a deadbolt lock.  This time, the machine happily got to work, and the duplicate produced looked like a 100% match.

Quality

When I got back to the site of the locks, I tried A, and sure enough, it wouldn’t work no matter how much cajoling or graphite lube I added. It was a bust, and it was plainly because the blank selected by the robot was a mismatch — interestingly a mismatch that it appears the machine caught correctly on key B, when it refused to proceed.

Key C worked very well in its deadbolt, bringing us to a 33% success rate for the entire job. Something in the decades of history of using hardware store employees for this task — employees with good eyesight, experience in the trade and attention to detail — tells me that there’s room for improvement here.

Suggestions

One aspect of the job was that the machine produced duplicates that had burrs — small pieces of cut metal that stuck to the duplicate.  This is normal in key cutting but should be removed before handing to the customer.  I could see through the window inside the machine that a final step did include a wire wheel, but the wheel did not spin, rendering the duplicate messy when delivered.  I had to buff the duplicates myself at a nearby workshop to remove these burrs, otherwise I risked inserting pieces of metal debris into my locks.

Was my experience typical?  Was this machine out of adjustment or maintenance, or is there a fundamental flaw in the software and/or hardware?  I can’t say. I do know that I preferred a living, breathing hardware store employee, usually wearing a vest, skilled in the task. Rarely if ever did these folks turn in a 33% success rate, making what should be a single trip to the hardware store into at least three trips — as well as having to finish the buffing job myself.

I suggest the machine makers work harder on making the key-duplicating part of the robot work as flawlessly as the payment-accepting part of the robot.