How to Establish a Key Cutting Business

by David Weedmark; Updated September 26, 2017
Close-up of keys in hardware store

Keys are not only something everyone needs, they are also high-margin items that take little time to make. If you think cutting keys is a business you would enjoy, it's vital that you understand how state laws may affect your business. If you want to make master keys or original keys, you may need a locksmith license. Creating only duplicate keys does not require licensing.

Getting the Right Equipment

The equipment you need to be a key cutter depends on what kind of keys you want to make. A duplicating machine, used when someone wants a copy of a key he already has, can cost a few hundred dollars. To make original keys, a master key cutting machine can cost around $3,000 and an electronic key cutting machine, used for car ignition systems, may be 10 times that amount. To get blank keys you will need to set up an account with a key distributor. High-security patented keys, such as ASSA 6000 High Security Locking Systems, can only be obtained through authorized distributors.

Understanding State Laws

Before opening your key cutting business, make sure you understand the laws in your state. Some states, including Michigan, have no specific requirements to cut keys other than having a business license. Other states have laws pertaining to key cutting and locksmithing. In California, for example, it's illegal to cut an original key for a customer without first getting his identification and signature, and recording the date the key was made. In Texas, you must take locksmith courses and work for a licensed lock shop for at least one year before you can be licensed. In Nevada, you must obtain a locksmith permit from the county sheriff's office.

Becoming a Locksmith

In states that license locksmiths, you might need to get training and pass a criminal background check before you can begin cutting new keys. Both you and your shop may need to be licensed, depending on the laws where you live. If you only plan to cut duplicate keys, such as when a customer already has a key and just wants a copy, you probably won't need to be licensed as a locksmith. To find out how to become a locksmith in your state, contact your state locksmiths association.

Setting Up Shop

Because keys are commodity items, selecting a convenient and visible location is paramount for starting a successful key cutting business. Most hardware stores have duplicate key cutting machines and the staff to create duplicates. Automated key machines have even begun appearing in convenience stores. Setting up a small shop or kiosk in a shopping mall may be an ideal location, or making an agreement to set up your machine in a local store. Starting out in your home or garage may be an option as well, but you should check your community's bylaws to see if you need a permit to run a business from your home.

About the Author

A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has advised businesses and governments on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years. He has taught computer science at Algonquin College, has started three successful businesses, and has written hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines throughout Canada and the United States.

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