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.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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