Cylinders are made so that only a unique key design can operate the locking function of the cylinder.

This unique key design is the cross-sectional shape or configuration applied lengthwise to a key blade. If you look at a key straight on, you will see its unique shape. This shape is often referred to as the keyway or key section. The keyway can restrict the wrong keys from being inserted into the cylinder. Therefore, a cylinder with a particular keyway will only work with a key with the matching keyway.

The keyway is not related to the pinning and cutting of the teeth on top of the key.

A simplified way to think about this is to imagine the keyway as a generic shape, such as a triangle or a circle. Only circle shaped keys will work in cylinders with a circle shaped hole. However, a circle shaped key will not work in a cylinder hole shaped like a triangle.


Keyway Families

Schlage Keyway Family

Many brands have keyway “families” that can look similar. This allows for multiple keyway options, which provides some security within a brand, i.e. if you purchase a Schlage lock and so does your neighbor, you can specify a different keyway so that your keys don’t fit in each other’s locks. There are also open and restricted keyways which provide different levels of security as well (see below).

Keyways are formed by milling groves into the key blade creating a final shape.

(Watch: Video of Key Milling Tool).

There can be one or more milling groves in a key blade. A key blank can be cut into any number of keyways, but the correct tools are required to achieve more complex keyways. Simple keyways are often not patent-protected and can be available from common distributors.

There are more complex keyways that aren’t generally needed but are available. Multi-milled keyways, aka “multi-section” keyways, are able to fit in several different keyways within a keyway family. These will have a shape that fits inside two or more different keyways. It can be used for large key systems that have expanded into several keyways

Open Keyways vs. Restricted Keyways

When a keyway is specified as an Open Keyway, it means that a distributor can supply keys and cylinders with that keyway without any paperwork requirements or additional authorization. Some open keyways require manufacturer approval before a distributor can supply their products but, besides that, an open keyway can be sold right off the shelf to any customer who walks in.

For example, a Schlage “C” keyway is an open keyway that is available from many key and lock distributors. However, a Schlage “S123” keyway is available from only Schlage approved locations. While S123 is still an open keyway, it is only available from certain distributors. This provides a small level of security for end users within open keyways.

Schlage Everest & Everest 29 Keyways

Restricted Keyways, however, will require additional authorization from the manufacturer and the end user. Paperwork will need to be filled out for the initial order when the key system is set up. After that, any time new keys or cylinders need to be ordered, paperwork will need to be filled out and sent in with the order to the manufacturer to ensure signatures match as well as other details. This provides some security in ordering new keys. Distributors must be authorized to order and supply these keys and cylinders by the manufacturer.

So even if someone like a disgruntled employee tries to get a key copied before they are fired, they will not be able to obtain the key copy just by approaching a distributor with a key. The order will require a signature (and sometimes more) before the order will be approved and processed.

For example, a Schlage “S123” open keyway does not require any signature when an order is placed. But, if a Schlage “T” restricted keyway is ordered, the distributor will require a signature from an authorized individual before it is approved by the manufacturer


Again, by thinking in simplified terms it can help with grasping the concept. Let’s say you have an open keyway that is shaped like a circle. And let’s say there is a restricted keyway that is shaped like a triangle. You can go to any key distributor and order a circle shaped key without any extra steps. But if you try to get a triangle shaped key, you will be required to provide an authorized signature before the manufacturer will approve the order.

If you have any questions or concerns on getting the right keyway for your project, please do not hesitate to contact a Beacon sales representative. We can provide you with guidelines and solutions so you get the right product for the right level of security.