The Vertical Deadbolt Lock

By: Andrew Brassard

Vertical dead bolt locks are the most common secondary locking device sold in North America; and they are be found on both commercial and residential doors. Vertical dead bolt locks maybe used to secure both inward and outward opening doors. Furthermore, these locks can be defeated using several techniques from conventional forcible-entry, to through the lock and modified-entry tactics. In this article, we will look at some proven techniques for forcing doors that utilize these types of additional security locks.

The Vertical Dead Bolt lock is a surface mounted rim lock and is made up of four major parts:

  • The Cylinder
  • The Back Plate
  • The Lock
  • The Bezel Ring

The Cylinder

The Cylinder is a Rim Cylinder; they come in either standard or completely round. The round cylinder was designed to make it more difficult to pull it out of the door. The cylinder has two 10⁄32” screws that come off the back that attach to the back plate; the cylinder is placed through a 1 ⅜ inch hole drilled into the door 2 ½ inches away from the doors leading edge. The cylinder has a stem (tail) that comes off the back of the lock; this stem goes into a receiver that opens and closes the locking mechanism. The stem, moreover, comes off the back of the keyway. When the key is inserted into the keyway and turned the stem will rotate activating the lock.

The Back-Plate

The back plate is what holds the cylinder in place. The two machine screws that thread into the back of the cylinder pass through two corresponding holes in the back-plate. There are two general styles of back-plates that you will encounter during your forcible-entry operation: The first type is the original style of backplate that Samuel Segal invented in 1912; this back plate is as large as the actual lock and is made from light weight steel. When attempting through the lock forcible entry on this type of backplate, you will actually be pulling the screws through the metal comprising the back-plate. The other type of back-plate that you may encounter is a smaller and weaker back-plate that is found on most cheap “knock off” vertical deadbolts. This back-plate usually just covers the cylinder opening; when through the lock forcibleentry is attempted, the back-plate is often pulled through the door as opposed to the screws being pulled through the plate.

The Lock

The lock is one inch thick, six inches long, and four inches wide. It has a hand-lock on the back side that allows you to lock the door once inside. The locking mechanism slides up and down into two looped receivers that are mounted onto the door frame, this essentially attaches the door to the frame. The lock is mounted to the door with four screws. This makes the lock still susceptible to conventional forcible entry methods. These types of locks are secondary locks that are installed by the home or business owner after the property changes hands; unsure that the previous property owner has given all the keys to the new owner for the door locks, a new lock is installed to ensure the property’s security. Even though the vertical deadbolt design is almost one-hundred years old, it is still very popular and provides a descent security and a formidable forcible-entry challenge.

The Bezel Ring

The bezel ring is a small metal ring that goes around the cylinder to protect it from being pulled out of the door; it also gives the lock a more ‘finished’ look. The bezel ring is usually flimsy and is made of white metal or brass; newer versions of the vertical deadbolt locks have much more substantial bezel rings on them that are made from steel and in some cases: Boron or another hardened metal or alloy.

Through the Lock Operations

If you have the right game plan and the right tools, forcible-entry operations on these types of locks should be fairly straight forward. Conventional forcible-entry is the preferred method of forcible entry in commercial or residential situations when we are dealing with a working fire; but what about all the other call types where forcible entry may be required? During: alarm activations, medical runs, water and gas leaks, public assistance calls, etc., we often have time to try and use the through the lock forcible entry method as our primary entry method.


As with any forcible entry operation, a quick and thorough sizeup is vital. You also want to be sure to ‘try before you pry.’ After you have established that the door is locked, you want to verify which locks are in fact locked: a simple way to do this is to place the adz of the halligan or the prying end of the Officer’s Tool in between the door and frame. Once the tool is in place the firefighter can pry slightly to see if there is any “play” in the door. If there is a considerable amount of movement in the door at the location of the lock, this is a good indication that the lock may be unlocked. After the size-up has been completed, your forcible entry operation can begin.

Pulling the Cylinder

Selecting the tool you are going to use is important. Whatever cylinder puller you have on your truck, make sure you know how to use it. There are many different types of cylinder-pulling tools on the market today: K Tool, R Tool, A Tool, O Tool, and the Rex Tool. I prefer the Rex Tool, and feel it is the most versatile and a far superior lock pulling tool than anything else on the market. You will also require a key tool of some sort: you can use a standard one or you can use ones that have been fabricated into the handles of a pair of channel lock pliers. Some additional tools that you may want to have with you are a good Slot Screw Driver and a dental or automotive pick. Sometimes, depending on the material the bezel ring is made of, you may have to remove it with the slot screw driver; but for the most part, however, the blades of the Rex Tool will slice right through the cheap bezel ring and get a good bit in behind the lock cylinder. Some of the higher end bezel rings will actually aid the removal of the cylinder. Once the Rex Tool is in place, it will give a much larger base to pry on. Sometimes when the cylinder is very tight to the door, or in some cases flush-mounted, you may have to dent the door in slightly with the halligan and flatheaded axe to be able to get in behind the cylinder, although rare this tactic should be a well-known option.

Rex Tool Method

To pull the cylinder out of the door, simply place the Rex Tool – or other cylinder-pulling tool – directly above the cylinder. With blows from the flat head axe, drive the cylinder-pulling tool down onto the cylinder. Make sure you are watching where the blades are going: you want to ensure that the blades are being driven in behind the cylinder and that they are not biting into the face of the lock. The firefighter with the axe should only strike the tool when directed to do so by the firefighter holding the tool. Remember, you are just trying to set the blades in behind the cylinder; you don’t need to swing for the fences here. Once the blades are set onto the cylinder, the cylinder can be pulled from the door. To pull the cylinder from the door, the tool should be pushed or pulled sharply up or down depending on what direction is required. Sometimes for tough and stubborn locks, the Rex Tool can be rotated side to side to get the screws or back-plate to fail. To add additional leverage, protect the door from further damage, and give a firm base and reduce space between the tool and the door: Place the thin portion of the axe blade above the cylinder and underneath the head of the Rex Tool and pry.

Unlocking the Mechanism

Once the cylinder has been removed, you can start to unlock the door. Inside the hole where the cylinder was located, place the stem end of the key tool into the receiver on the back of the lock. Turn it all the way around until you hear the locking mechanism rotate and the vertical pins retract. I have heard people say and have read in some books that you always turn the locking mechanism in a counter clock wise direction to unlock the lock. This is not always going to work. It depends on the make and model of the lock. There is absolutely no absolute way of telling which way the mechanism will rotate just by looking at it, you will have to insert the key tool into the receiver and turn it to find out.

The Shutter Guard

More recent improvements to the vertical deadbolt lock are a device on the back of the lock called a shutter guard: also known as “the guillotine shutter.” This guard is spring-loaded and is designed to seal off access to the receiver on the back of the lock once the lock stem is removed. Operationally, the shutter is designed to prevent the lock from being opened with a screw driver or key-tool. To bypass this security measure, you will need a dental pick or an automotive nut pick to slide the shutter guard back. Place the pick into the hole against the shutter plate on the side closest to the middle of the door, use the pick to hook the shutter guard and pull it across. After the shutter guard is out of the way, the key tool can then be inserted into the receiver to turn the locking mechanism.

Cylinder Guards

Cylinder guards are an aftermarket installation that is designed to cover the cylinder keyway preventing it from being pulled. These guards come in all different shapes and sizes and are typically installed with four carriage bolts. These guards can be store bought or homemade, and are constructed of either steel or cheap white metal. When attempting the through the lock methods on these types of locks, you will be required to remove the cylinder guards first. The most practical method of removing the cylinder guard plate is to use a method called “bolt-shearing”.

Bolt-shearing is performed using a standard set of irons: you should only attempt to shear bolts that are a ¼ inch or smaller. To shear the bolts off, place the adz above the top of the guard plate and tap it into place behind the plate until it is up against the bolt. Once the adz is in place, a very powerful hit can be delivered. It is very important to deliver a powerful hit to get a shearing action. If you don’t hit the halligan hard enough with the axe head, the bolt will tear the metal door skin leaving you with nothing solid to shear the bolt against. On cheaper Brass or White Metal guards, only two of the bolts need to be sheared. Once the bolts have been sheared, the guard can be bent down exposing the cylinder. If the guard is made of heavier gauge steel, three of the bolts can be sheared and the guard rotated out of the way. Once this is done cylinder removal can begin.

Another type of lock guard that is very common is called a “Mul T Lock Top Guard,” or a “Fichte lock.” These lock are very high security and through the lock forcible entry should not be attempted. The Top Guard has the cylinder actually built into the guard: the guard is attached to the door utilizing ½ inch screws with Chicago style bolts making shearing impossible.

Modified Through-the-Lock

Modified through-the-lock is an excellent option for many different scenarios in forcible entry. Modified through-the-lock is essentially driving the cylinder through the door instead of pulling it out. Times where this is going to be an excellent tactic are:

  • The cylinder breaks during through the lock operation
  • To soften the door for conventional forcible-entry
  • The lock back-plate is in the way of the receiver
  • The shutter guard won’t slide
  • The cylinder has a guard on it

The Cylinder Breaks During Through the Lock Operations

Sometimes, as with any forcible-entry operation, it does not go as planned; sometimes, during forcible entry operations, the face of the cylinder can break off. Usually this happens with cheaper “knock-off” locks; once the face has broken-off, the lock pulling tool will have nothing to “bite” onto making traditional through-thelock techniques impossible. After the face is broken off, a modified through-the-lock tactic can be utilized.

Soften the Door

When a forcible-entry team encounters a substantially locked door with multiple rim locks, along with other types of locks, a modified through-the-lock can be utilized to make the door easier to force using conventional forcible-entry techniques. If there are three vertical dead bolts -and a key-in-knob lock- the door can be softened by utilizing modified through-the-lock technique before being forced conventionally with an axe and halligan. The pike of the halligan can be placed on each one of the rim cylinder faces and driven through the door causing the locks to be either drivenoff the rear of the door or loosened substantially. When the forcible entry team forces the door with the axe and halligan, it will be considerably easier.

The Back-Plate Gets in the Way of the Receiver

Through-the-lock forcible-entry is an inexact method, and from time to time things don’t go as planned: the back-plate getting in the way is one such problem that happens on occasion. After the cylinder has been pulled, the back-plate remains in the cylinder hole between the lock and the door. Sometimes it’s twisted or bent out of place making it difficult to get a key tool into the receiver. This is a great time to utilize a modified through-the-lock technique because it will utilize the hole that was created when the cylinder was pulled. This is a great forcible-entry option because the work that you did to pull the cylinder will not be wasted.

Shutter Guard Won’t Slide

On occasion the shutter guard slides over and covers the receiver and won’t slide back over or the forcible-entry team has forgotten (or does not have) the pick tool to retract the shutter guard. This is another perfect time to use modified through-thelock.

Cylinder Guards

Cylinder guards will not stop you from using a modified throughthe- lock entry technique: the hole in most guards happen to be the same diameter as the pike of the halligan, and the prying end of the Rex or Officer’s Tool. Sometimes the location of the bolt heads’ holes in the guard plate would make it difficult to remove the guard plate so a modified through-the-lock technique would be an option. Place the adz or the prying end of the Officer’s Tool against the cylinder guard’s hole and drive the lock through the door. Since the vertical deadbolt was invented, it remains one of the best and most widely used locks that you will encounter on the fireground. You must have a good understanding of how the lock works and know several entry options regarding these locks. Learn to examine these locks and your options so that you pick the best method of entry into the building.

The Lock and its History

The Vertical Dead Bolt lock has had many different names over the years, but the original lock was called a Segal Lock. The first Segal lock was made in 1912 by a New York City Police Officer Samuel Segal. Samuel Segal saw a need to protect the citizens of New York against what was at the time the most common breaking-and-entry method that the criminal element was utilizing at the time….. “Jimmying.” The term “jimmying” was named after legendary burglar turn movie star Jimmy Valentine. Jimmy’s trade mark entry method was to use a prying tool in between the door and door frame to carefully spread the door away from its fame causing the standard tubular locks to pull out of their keeper. This was a very quick and very quiet method of entry that quickly became the standard forcible-entry method for the criminal element: hence the term, “jimmying”. Samuel Segal saw the need for a lock that was “jimmy-proof.” He started making various locks and his first patented lock came in 1925. His designed was excellent because it actually attached the door to the frame making it next to impossible to spread the door away from the frame.

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