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How Do File Cabinet Locks Work? – All About Lock Mechanism

Fact checked by Teddy B.Miller

how do file cabinet locks work

What is a file cabinet lock? Locks in file cabinets are often installed with a pin-tumbler mechanism. Pin-tumbler locks use a certain number of pins that should be set or positioned to unlock them.

It is usually opened with a key that perfectly sets the pins inside the lock. It works because when the pins are correctly positioned, the key can easily be turned clockwise.

Read on to learn more about how do file cabinet locks work below.

File Cabinet Lock Mechanism

types of filing cabinet locks

The workings of a file cabinet lock depend on the type of lock that is installed. The types of filing cabinet locks can be among the four types of locks — lock bar, cam lock, electronic lock, and padlock.

1. Lock bar


The locking mechanism of a lock bar includes a metal bolt that runs vertically from one side of the cabinet to the other.

When file cabinet locks are put in a locked position, the lock bar is inserted into the gap (which is usually located at the top of the file cabinet) and stays until the lock is put in the unlocked position.

If the key is inserted and turned to the right, the filing cabinet lock bar will retract and go down, and the cabinet can now be accessed by pulling the file cabinet handle.

  • Improves security on top of your lock
  • Durable — made of steel
  • Secures multiple file cabinets
  • It may cost more than other locks
  • Installation might take time and professional help
  • Inconvenient for frequent access to files

2. Cam lock


Cam locks utilize a “tongue” that secures the drawer or filing cabinet. When a key is used, the metal tongue of the cam lock rotates to 180 degrees.

Rotating the cam lock and turning the bar vertically upwards puts the locking mechanism in unlocked mode. When you rotate the cam lock sideways, this file cabinet locking mechanism is put in a locked position.

  • It is affordable
  • Convenient to open and close
  • Can be easily picked
  • Vulnerable to wear and tear

Also, read more about cam lock and how it works here.

3. Electronic lock


Electronic locks utilized codes ranging from digits to letters in order to be locked or unlocked. When you input the correct code, the locking mechanism will disengage, giving you access to the files inside the file cabinet.

This lock is for those who do not want to carry keys with them.

  • Convenient to open
  • Can be accessed without a key
  • Expensive
  • Hard to access if you forget the code
  • Can’t be accessed without a power source

4. Padlock


Padlocks can also be utilized to secure your filing cabinet. This type of locking mechanism has specialized pins inside that are needed to be set.

When you insert the correct key inside the padlock, the design of the key will set the pins inside the lock, putting the lock in the unlocked position. If the wrong key is inserted, the pins will not be set and will stay in a locked position.

  • Secure, especially when you use a circular lock
  • Easy to install
  • Cheap
  • Many types of padlocks

What is the Purpose of File Cabinet Locks?


A filing cabinet locking mechanism is installed to protect the files from getting damaged by external forces or getting stolen by unwanted hands. It can also provide protection other than your files such as jewelry, money, and other valuables.

However, there are file cabinets that do not have locks installed. If you want to lock a file cabinet without lock, follow these steps:

Step 1. Install sensors to your file cabinet. Although it can take time and might cost more than installing a lock, installing a sensor will alert you that someone is trying to access your file cabinet.

Step 2. Hide the file cabinet. Place your file cabinet where people will not bother looking at it. It can be behind a couple of stacking boxes or out of the light.

Step 3. Paint over your file cabinet. File cabinets can be easily distinguished from other furniture or equipment. Painting over it will make it blend with other things.

How Do You Remove a File Cabinet Lock?


Be it because the lock is already rusty or you want to repair your file cabinet with a broken lock, you have to know how to remove and replace your old file cabinet lock.

To replace file cabinet lock, you just need to remove the old core with the core removal key. After which, you can replace it with the new one still using the core removal key.

How to Unlock a File Cabinet Lock?


To open a locked file cabinet with your key is as simple as inserting the key inside the keyway and turning it clockwise. However, if you lost your key and you want to break into a locked file cabinet lock, you can try opening the lock with a bobby pin.

To unlock a file cabinet lock with a bobby pin, make a tension tool and pick first out of the bobby pins. After which, you can now do lockpicking by setting the pins inside the lock while maintaining pressure on the tension tool.


Securing your files from other people’s eyes should be a must, especially when you have crucial information. With file cabinet locks, you can ensure the privacy of that information and keep it to yourself.

Knowing the answer to the question “how do file cabinet locks work?” will go a long way. If there is something wrong with your file cabinet lock, you would know how to deal with it in the future.

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