Key Cutting

by Jim Thompson

"I suddenly find myself in the possession of a nifty little item I'd never heard of before: a Curtis Key cutter."

The Curtis #14 Code Cutter (spinning wheels and all that, eh?): We're talking about a "Vintage" item. I have two of these myself (each with a wheel of its own), as well as the appropriate "carriages" used for almost every VW key pattern (or "profile" as VW called them) along with the code books. In addition, I also have the "newer" code cutter gun, Curtis #15, which is a little easier to use for the double-sided keys than the older #14 you have. I've been using mine to cut VW codes for over 20 years and have cut keys for several listmembers as well in the past year. I generally charge $9.00 to code cut a pair of keys (aftermarket blanks only - but I use the best quality I can get).

Curtis cutter guns are the locksmith's standard for cutting keys for just about anything with a code, not just VW's. Local locksmiths are always asking me if I wanna sell mine to them all of the time (nope - not for sale).

Locksmiths here in California generally charge $22.50 to code cut the first key, then $10 afterwards for each additional key. Some locksmiths charge double in some areas of California though. And like them, because of the fact I do this service as well, requires a locksmithing permit in almost every locale, costing from as low as $50 to as much as $900 per year. Again, depending on locale and it's a PITA when doing it for the first time. When I moved out of LA 5 years ago, it was not near as difficult to do in Shasta County versus LA County where it's a bureaucratic maze (and mess). From a friend of mine in Roseburg, OR, who retired from Pac Bell years ago, I hear the permit process and costs are a little more relaxed up there (he got into locksmithing as a part-time thing), but I'd check first before starting to publicly code cut keys.

Generally, the code book gives explicit step-by-step instructions which go something like this:

Look at the code on the cylinder and look it up in the appropriate section of the code book. It will tell you what Curtis Key # to use, then tell you where to set the wheel to the Curtis two or three letter code. Then it will tell you what carriage to use. The carriage is the neat little block of metal that holds the key. The code book will tell you where to insert the carriage and key into the cutter (locksmiths call it a "gun" BTW). Then it tells you where to set the little arm into the particular slots on the wheel that determine the proper depth of the cut (could be depth 1, 2, 3 or 4). Generally most VW keys of the 50's through mid 70's had five cuts, from the key head out. Once you get the hang of it, you can, by looking at an existing key, tell what the depth of each cut is and not even look up a code.

As far as the ring(s) of keys you have, the way to find out if they are Bus Keys is to look at the pattern of the "key milling" The key milling is the number and placement of various slots the blank key is, thus determining it's VW profile. VW profiles D, E, F, V, A & Z (Curtis V6, V23, Taylor 62VE, V68K, Ilco VW3) are used on Type 2's through 1963. Profile T (Curtis V19, Taylor V72L, Ilco VW64T)(Double Sided Cuts) is used on Type 2's 64-66 and profile L (Curtis V25, Taylor V78G, Ilco VW67S)(Double Sided Cuts) is used on Type 2's 67-70.

Maintenance tip: Always keep the cutter gun clean and lubricated. I use Lock-Ease brand graphite lubricant. And don't take it apart - this is a very precision adjusted tool that is most difficult to realign to the proper depth cuts - been there, done that, cleaned up the mess, waiting for the T-Shirt ;-)

A thing or two about codes: the code on the lock cylinder is not always the "be-all" information. It's very easy for someone to get into there and swap the tumblers (actually, the correct term is wafers for car locks), thus rendering the code absolutely meaningless. In addition, the wafers do tend to wear with age and even if the code cut is correct, the wear of the tumbler sometimes requires a teeny bit of filing to allow a more correct fit and smoother action of the lock.

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