With low cost and virtually zero risk, owning a handcuff key as part of your everyday carry is a no-brainer. But just in case you need a little extra convincing, consider these facts:
There is no background check or special license necessary to carry handcuffs. You don’t have to provide proof that you’re in law enforcement or security. If you care at all about being prepared for the unexpected, this knowledge alone should be all it takes to convince you that it’s prudent to carry a handcuff key on your person.
A search on the FBI website for “home invasions” brings up 2,289 recent results. These incidents happen everywhere. This isn’t about fearmongering- it’s about being aware of the risks of living in modern society. A universal handcuff key should be a part of your everyday arsenal of self-defense and Escape & Evasion items, for the safety of both yourself and your family.
Violent crime in the US increased by nearly 4% in 2015. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program, this category includes murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery. Any of these crimes can easily involve handcuffs, which means carrying a handcuff key and knowing how to use it gives you a serious edge against becoming a victim.
Other self-defense and E&E tools require a lot of practice and possible even professional training to master. While you do need to practice with the handcuff keys until your hands are adept with them, the learning curve isn’t so steep that your wife and kids can’t learn to use them too.
A handcuff key is especially important if you’ll be traveling to unstable areas, or any place where you don’t know the language. Between the chances of being taken advantage of as a traveler or a severe misunderstanding due to language barriers and cultural differences, a handcuff key could save your life.
A few states consider a handcuff key “prima facie” evidence that you intend to commit a crime, but the vast majority allow them with little-to-no questions asked. Add to this the fact that it’s easy to purchase a key that is practically invisible and won’t even set off a metal detector, and you’re very unlikely to run into legal trouble for carrying one.
The most common type of handcuff key found on the market is the standard universal handcuff key that will accompany the purchase of a pair of handcuffs. The design is very simple- a barrel shape with a single tooth at one end, and often a small pin at the other. The tooth end is inserted into the keyhole and turned to disengage the ratchet mechanism on a standard pair of handcuffs, and can also be used to disengage the double lock by turning in the opposite direction first.
The pin on the end of a standard universal handcuff key is used to engage the double lock on some handcuffs, but is not necessary in order to unlock the cuffs, even if they are double locked.
Your average universal handcuff key can be used to unlock just about any standard pair of modern handcuffs. The most basic universal handcuff keys are most often made of metal.
A popular item among law enforcement and survivalists alike, the covert handcuff key functions in the same way as a standard universal handcuff key, but is designed to be a secretive everyday carry item that can be hidden in various locations on one’s person or in one’s gear. Covert handcuff keys are often made of nylon or another reinforced plastic. This reduces visibility, makes the key exceptionally lightweight and allows the bearer to pass through metal detectors.
Covert handcuff keys vary widely in design- you can find them on the end of tactical pens and shoelaces, inside zipper pulls, belt buckles and paracord bracelets, etc. Some have a tiny clip on the end to allow you to clip them to your clothes or gear.
Because covert handcuff keys are intended to be used as an emergency item, they sometimes do not have a pin on the end for engaging the double lock. However, they can often still be used to unlock double-locked handcuffs, by simply turning the key in the opposite direction first.
Though not technically a key, handcuff shims are a valuable emergency item for law enforcement and security officials to prevent them from being restrained with their own handcuffs. They are simply a strip of flat metal about the width of a standard zip tie, and when purchased commercially often look very similar to a standard universal handcuff key or the metal clip that one might see on a ballpoint pen. A handcuff shim is inserted directly into the ratchet mechanism of the handcuff, which is then tightened a notch or two and released. The primary purpose of the double lock on handcuffs is to prevent shimming, because when cuffs are double locked they cannot be tightened.
High security handcuff keys are different from universal handcuff keys in that they are intended to unlock only a single type of handcuffs. High security handcuffs cannot be opened with a universal handcuff key- because of the increased security and higher resistance to tampering like picking and shimming, they are favored for use on suspects and inmates who are known to be aggressive or likely to try to tamper with their cuffs. High security handcuff keys come in different designs: some have two small teeth on the end, while others have a single hooked tooth.
The purposeful design of the universal handcuff key means that most handcuffs can be opened with the same basic universal key shape. This is intentional; it allows for easy transport of prisoners between locations, jurisdictions, facilities, etc. However- as with all rules, there are a few exceptions.
For your basic non-malicious misdemeanor sort of bad guy, a normal set of handcuffs is fine. But there are some people that you just can’t afford to let loose. For the really bad guys, there are high security handcuffs. High security handcuffs cannot be opened with a universal handcuff key. Many high security handcuffs include a waist chain to further impede the prisoner’s mobility. These cuffs are pick-resistant with restricted key control systems, and some even include a secondary mechanism that increases the strength of the double lock. High security handcuffs are keyed individually.
Thumb cuffs are not anywhere near as common as handcuffs, in large part due to the increased risk of injury associated with them. Some thumb cuffs may be able to be opened with your standard universal handcuff key, but many come with their own personalized set of keys. Don’t count on being able to open them with a universal key.
You may find some variation amongst handcuff brands and find that your “universal” handcuff key doesn’t work with a particular brand. This may change even from model to model within a brand. But by and large the simple universal handcuff key design and a sturdy, well-made key will open just about any pair of standard modern cuffs you can get your hands on (or in).
Most models of today’s standard-issue handcuffs can be opened with a universal handcuff key, even across different brands. A universal handcuff key, while a little counter-intuitive at first thought, is intended to create a smoother process for both officer and suspect, and that means a tactical advantage for the average citizen as well.
Universal handcuff keys all have the same simple design: a hollow barrel with a small tooth on the end. When the key is turned, the tooth wedges between the ratchet and the pawl, disengaging the lock mechanism.
The simplicity of the handcuff key design is surprising when you compare it to a house key or a car key, but it’s for a very good purpose. Imagine the hassle of requiring a different unique key for every single pair of handcuffs: it would unnecessarily slow down what can be a very tense and dangerous process for law enforcement officers.
A suspect may be passed between several different officers from initial detainment to prisoner transport to the moment when the cuffs are removed. A universal handcuff key allows for this transition to occur smoothly, and as safely as possible for everyone involved.
Some handcuff keys include a pin on the back end; this is used to engage the double lock on some handcuffs. However, the pin is not necessary to unlock cuffs that have been double locked.
Handcuff keys can be made from metal or certain types of strong plastic (like reinforced nylon). Metal handcuff keys may last longer, but may be easier to see on your person and cannot pass through a metal detector without setting it off. A handcuff key made from a material other than metal can be useful for those who travel frequently to volatile areas and prefer to be prepared for anything.
The fact that anyone at all can purchase handcuffs, and the knowledge that they can be easily overcome with a tiny key of simple design should be reason enough to keep one on your person at all times.
This is a guest post by John V Cain. John writes about the vagabonding lifestyle at VINJABOND.
A covertly equipped handcuff key for a foreigner abroad is the smallest part of their gear but potentially the most important.
Gear to survive or endure dangerous and hazardous scenarios is valuable but gear to avoid them is invaluable.
-John V Cain, founder of VINJABOND.
Specialized handcuff keys and other escape tools have been a part of my everyday carry equipment for my professional life for years but have found them to be just as useful in civilian life, especially while traveling.
It’s my nature to be drawn to danger and unstable situations so don’t take it from me but from the experience of an ordinary traveler on holiday…
While packing up to leave a hostel in Bangkok, I met Alex. A Canadian pre-med student on his gap year interested in my strange gear. We got to talking and I gave him a TIHK handcuff key and showed him how to use it.
Then I headed north towards Vietnam, he headed south towards the Thai islands, where his story begins.
The Full Moon Party
Every full moon on the small paradise island of Koh Phangan, an event occurs that started in the mid 80’s. It’s called the Full Moon Party. With up to 30,000 attendees at each event, it’s the largest recurring beach party in the world. It’s gone through many changes over the years but what remains is its crazy-intense-debaucherous-wild-hedonistic essence.
Thousands of young travelers from every country mixing with each other with powerful music blasting on a true paradise beach. What could go wrong?
When you have this much explosive and dynamic social activity going on, the socially inept tend to have a hard time fitting in, even to the point of becoming a recluse.
Traveling alone through a strange country and attending a monstrous party with thousands of strangers, Alex became that recluse.
Recluses at parties are obvious but ignored.
Belly, a slick Thai local saw poor Alex, but instead of ignoring him like everyone else, he made him his party-protege, despite the language barrier.
Anyone in Alex’s shoes would be delighted to chill with Belly, especially with the 3 girls he was with.
And so he partied on, finally…
Nearly 10 hours later at about 5 in the morning with the party still going strong, Alex was resting, sitting on a picnic table staring into the abyss of dancers dancing away against the endless black ocean.
Suddenly, Belly appears from the moving crowd like mist. He runs straight to Alex out of breath and tells him something in broken English; “Police ???? hide ??? ??? later ???…” Then he hands Alex a Pringles chips bag (tubular paperboard can) and vanished into the crowd.
Dazed and confused, as Alex starts to put the Pringles can between his feet, he’s blinded by a flashlight.
The light then trails directly to the Pringles can. His eyes focus and he can clearly see it’s the police.
One of the cops takes the Pringles can as his partner looks around the vicinity for Belly (I presume).
Again in broken but better English, the cop asks Alex if the Pringles is his. Alex confirms. The cop then opens the can and lays out the contents on the picnic table. To shocking surprise, Alex sees it’s dozens of pills (probably ecstasy) with just as many baggies of white powder.
Alex immediately and nervously denies it’s his now and tries to explain that he was just holding it for a friend.
The cop then handcuffs him and yells at him in Thai.
Alex, now detained and in tears, sits with the cop as his partner searches for Belly within the crowd.
With the cop sitting right next to him but preoccupied also looking for Belly, Alex starts twisting his shorts to reach the key. He gets it and tries to open the cuffs…
He fails and drops the key, but not on the sand.
Blindly and nervously shaking, he feels for the key on the table. He finds it. Tries again. Drops it again. Repeat…
Click, clank, clack, clack, clack… Success!
Amazed at himself but also realizing the implications of it, he loses the key again but this time it drops to the sand, lost forever. But no matter, one hand is free.
Uncontrollably nervous, he dry vomits, paralyzed.
An eternity passes by (probably 5 minutes). His hand free from the shackles, making pretend it’s still engaged as he builds up the courage to run.
Another eternity later, he bolts into the sea of people like a bat out of hell. Adrenaline at max output with his left hand sporting a shiny bracelet. He runs and runs.
Alex has been sober all his life including this night but the euphoria he feels as he finally makes it back to his bungalow is the epitome of a natural high.
He remembers my “5 minute training” and shaves his mustache, gives himself a drastic haircut, bruises his cheeks and forehead, changes into completely different colored clothing and buries the ones he’s wearing.
Not long after that, he made it safely back to Bangkok.
Handcuff Keys and Shims for World Travel
A life saved by a piece of plastic, a handcuff key.
There will be detractors on civilians carrying handcuff keys. If you are one of those, I’d like to ask you: “What would you do in Alex’s exact situation?”
Would you let yourself be arrested and spend a quarter century in a foreign prison because the “law is the law”?
Remember, you didn’t murder anyone, steal from a store or even knew you were committing a crime. For all intents and purposes, bad friggen luck.
I don’t know about you but I will not go to prison for holding a bag of chips if I can help it. And it’s not like “I was holding it for a friend” or “I didn’t know it was drugs” is going to hold up in court in this scenario.
If you still don’t want to control your own destiny and trust a foreign justice system implicitly, then at best you can; get yourself officially arrested, processed into their system, go to lockup, wait to see a judge, meet with an embassy appointed lawyer, go back to lockup and 6 months later you’re rather set free or sent to prison.
Complete Escape Tool Gear Kit
I received the longest email ever from Alex (not his real name by the way) shortly after. I wish it was written on paper by hand as it was motivating and one of the most touching pieces of words I have ever read.
Back home or abroad, it’s unlikely to be unfairly or unjustly arrested but it’s more likely to occur as a foreigner because of unfamiliar international laws, cultural differences and inaccurate communication.
Then there’s also the possibility of kidnapping.
It will most likely never happen to you (or so you think), but it does happen quite frequently on a global scale.
So as Franz Kafka so wisely says, “Better to have, and not need, than to need, and not have.”, reinforced by the fact that a covert handcuff key is smaller than a clothing button and almost as inconspicuous. Reinforced by the fact that a covert handcuff key is smaller than a clothing button and almost as inconspicuous.
Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.
If you are familiar with today’s standard-issue handcuffs, you know that most models, even across different brands, can be opened with a universal key. A universal handcuff key at first seems like a very counter-intuitive concept, placing law enforcement at a tactical disadvantage. But consider which scenario is really of a greater disadvantage- one in which the cuffs being used to secure a suspect can be opened by a universal key, or one in which the cuffs can only be opened by a single unique key, easily misplaced or lost?
Universal handcuff keys have a simple barrel shape, popularized in 1932 by Peerless Handcuff Co. with the introduction of an updated cuff design. At the end of the barrel is a single small tooth, which is turned to disengage the lock mechanism. The simplicity of the design is intentional: the hassle of requiring a different unique key for every single pair of handcuffs used would slow down the process unnecessarily; a suspect may enter the custody of many different officers from initial detainment, to prisoner transport, to the moment when the cuffs are removed. A universal key allows for a much more seamless transition that ultimately works in the favor of all involved, including the suspect.
Naturally a universal locking mechanism can present the potential for unlawful escape attempts. Law enforcement works to prevent this from happening in a variety of ways- among them are thorough searches of the suspect, proper handcuff positioning to make it more difficult to tamper with the cuffs, and employing the double lock. There is a secondary advantage to the uniformity of handcuff keys, however, and that is the ability to escape should you become wrongfully detained. With its unprecedented ease of concealment, a covert handcuff key is the perfect solution for such a scenario.
As quick and simple as it is to secure most modern cuffs on an individual (with a pair of swing cuffs it can easily be done with one hand), there is quite a bit of technique that law enforcement officers must learn in order to place handcuffs most efficiently. The primary goal of cuffing a suspect is to restrain their hands (at the very least) so that they can be dealt with lawfully. Quality cuffs placed in just about any position will effectively provide some level of restraint, but an LEO must also consider the possibility that the suspect may try to escape, and cuff them accordingly without an extreme degree of discomfort for the suspect.
Handcuffs placed in front make it much easier for a suspect to attempt to pick the lock, open them with a universal handcuff key or even use their hands and arms as a weapon. An officer’s first line of defense, then, is to cuff the hands behind the back. Police recruits are typically taught to apply cuffs so that the palms of the suspects’ hands, already behind their back, face outwards with the thumbs up. This makes it more difficult for the hands and fingers to work together to pick or otherwise escape from the cuffs.
A concern, however, of this standard of hand placement is the possibility of handcuff neuropathy. Handcuff neuropathy is the occurrence of numbing, tingling, burning, or pain sensations in the suspects’ hands as a result of nerve compression from the cuffs. Handcuff neuropathy occurs in varying degrees, but if severe enough can be rather debilitating and long-lasting. One way officers may choose to lessen this possibility is by placing the palms together (still behind the back). This somewhat increases the ease with which the suspect may tamper with the lock, so the officer will likely also position the cuffs with the keyholes facing up and away from the hands. This makes the cuffs more difficult to open, even with a covert handcuff key.
A particularly motivated individual may attempt to slip their hands over their feet and legs in order to bring their hands to the front and into a better position to tamper with the cuffs. If this is a concern, a law enforcement official may choose to secure the cuffs, via zip ties or a carabiner clip, to the back of the suspects’ belt or belt loop. Belly chains are another option, often used when transporting high-security prisoners.
Along with many other types of survival skills, how to escape from handcuffs is the kind of practical information that everyone should know, and hope never to need. In the event that you do find yourself unlawfully restrained, knowledge of these escape tactics and the various tools required could be invaluable. This overview will cover the main ways to escape from standard ratchet-style metal handcuffs after maneuvering into the best position to do so: lock picking, releasing the pawl with a shim, and duplicate keys.
Upon unlawful detainment, the first thing to keep in mind is the position of your hands. If you can at all control your hand position as they are cuffed, you have a better chance of escape. Escaping from cuffs is very difficult if your hands are behind your back, so do everything possible to ensure that your hands are in front of you. In the worst-case scenario, you may need to sit or lie down, lift your legs and feet as close to your body as possible, and maneuver your hands around to the front of your body beneath your feet. This will put you in a much better position to begin to pick the lock. The more flexible you are the easier this will be, so practice this regularly if you are in a line of work or often find yourself in situations where being unlawfully detained is a threat.
Once your hands are positioned as best as you can get them, the lock can be picked with a simple length of wire such as a straightened paper clip or bobby pin (sans rubber cap).
The wire first needs to be prepared. To do so, bend the end into a 90 degree angle by inserting the pin or clip halfway into the upper portion of the lock and bending to the left to attain a 90 degree bend. Take it out and re-bend it in the opposite direction to achieve a roughly S-shaped bend, where both bends are about 90 degrees but heading in opposite directions. The next step will require the most practice to become proficient: insert the newly-bent pick into the upper portion of the lock (this may take a bit of maneuvering, as the pick needs to bypass the lip of the lock) and apply enough tension (mimicking the key pressing against the lock mechanism) to release the lock. Check out this helpful video tutorial from ITS Tactical:
If you do not have access to a suitable length of wire, you can also pick the lock by using a shim to release the pawl. A shim is any small, flat piece of metal you can find, about the width of a credit card and narrow enough to fit into the locking mechanism. To release the pawl, insert the shim between the locking mechanism and the teeth. With the shim in place, tighten the cuff a single notch, and simultaneously push on the shim. The cuff should unclick. This method will not work if the cuffs are double locked, because the double lock prevents the cuffs from ratcheting any tighter. WikiHow has a great series of photographs demonstrating the shimming technique.
While the aforementioned methods can work with practice and under the right circumstances, a much surer method of escape is to keep a duplicate key on your person. This at first sounds nearly impossible until you consider the fact that most handcuffs can all be unlocked with the same universal key- a feature that greatly simplifies the process for law enforcement. TIHK is an excellent solution due to the easily-concealable design that allows you to clip it to your clothing in undetectable places. A tiny inconspicuous handcuff key is a valuable addition to any survival toolkit, and can be easily taken with you and hidden on your person if you think you may find yourself in an unpleasant situation.
Why should a universal handcuff key be made available for everyone to purchase? While handcuffs themselves are in use by Law Enforcement Officers in order to protect and serve our communities, they can be legally purchased by anyone. It only takes a few minutes to place an order online and obtain the exact same handcuffs used by Law Enforcement nationwide.
If anyone can easily own a handcuff then why would it be illegal to own a handcuff key? It is not. In fact, there is no Federal or state law restricting ownership of handcuff keys.
While there are too many situations to list in which a Universal Handcuff Key could come in handy, the legality of its use is important to consider. If you are legally detained by a Law Enforcement officer and utilize a handcuff key, shim or other implement to remove the hand cuffs then you are crossing the chasm of legality. By doing so you have exponentially increased the risk to the arresting officer, and their potential response to your self-induced "freedom" may be commensurate. Along those same lines, it would be wise to notify an arresting officer of a Universal Handcuff Key on your person to avoid any ambiguity regarding your intent to escape or do harm.
So then why would anybody want to own or carry a Universal Handcuff Key? If you're a criminal, or plan on committing criminal acts, then you should not put yourself or any public servant's life in danger by having one. If you're a Law Enforcement Officer, Active-duty Military, Private Security, or other first responder then you should always have a backup universal handcuff key- for countless reasons. If you're a law-abiding citizen with common sense and want to be prepared for the unexpected event which may require its use then you also should own one.
In conclusion, handcuffs are prolific devices that can be purchased by anyone, including criminals. We do not encourage illegal use of our product, but firmly believe that a citizen has every right to own our product and make the decision on when they use it.
Notice to Florida Residents:
In the State of Florida there are some specific restrictions on handcuff key possession that prevent them from being carried by a person in a manner that could indicate an intent to prevent discovery by a law enforcement officer, unless you yourself are a law enforcement or security officer. You can find out more on this Florida State government website: http://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2011/843.021
Disclaimer: The TIHK is only to be used to counter illegal detainment and in accordance with all local, state and federal laws by trained law enforcement, military and security professionals. Improper use by civilians is not endorsed or encouraged. Use of the product is at your own personal risk and discretion.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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We prefer to resolve things amiably when possible therefore, you agree to the following dispute resolution policy in connection with any potential claims or disputes arising from your use of the Application. Start by notifying us of your dispute by sending a notice via our contact form.
These Terms, and any future updates we make, constitute the entire and exclusive understanding and agreement between you and TIHK. If for any reason a court of competent jurisdiction finds any provision of these Terms invalid or unenforceable, that provision will be enforced to the maximum extent permissible and the other provisions of these Terms will remain in full force and effect. You may not assign or transfer these Terms, by operation of law or otherwise, without our prior written consent. Any attempt by you to assign or transfer these Terms, without such consent, will be null and of no effect. If we provide certain notices or other communications to you, we will place the information on the Site.
TIHK’s failure to enforce any right or provision of these Terms will not be considered a waiver of those rights. The waiver of any such right or provision will be effective only if in writing and signed by a duly authorized representative TIHK. Except as expressly set forth in these Terms, the exercise by either party of any of its remedies under these Terms will be without prejudice to its other remedies under these Terms or otherwise.
Questions & contact information
If you have any questions regarding these Terms, please contact us.