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How to Unlock an Antique China Cabinet

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Antique china cabinets can be a beautiful addition to your home, but often the keys have been lost and the cabinet stuck in the locked position. Opening the lock may be easier than you think, as most were just made for ornamentation and, with a little patience, can be unlocked in no time.

Unlocking the Antique China Cabinet

Prepare to "pick" the lock. Many antique china cabinets used the old skeleton keys and are relatively easy to pick. Even if you are not a professional lock picker or even haven't tried this before, you may be surprised at the results. Have an assistant shine a flashlight into the locked mechanism. If the detail is not clear, have your assistant hold the magnifying glass or loupe over the lock, so you better can see what you are doing. Once you can see inside, you will imagine an old skeleton key with a barrel base and flat insert prong going into this mechanism.

Identify the position of the lock. Insert the miniature screwdriver gently into the ball area where the ball of the skeleton key would go. It is natural to feel a springing sensation; this may be pushing back of the tumblers or barrels if this lock is this sophisticated. Using a paper clip (bend it straight) or bobby pin, insert it into the flat area where the flat part of the key would normally go. You should now have two different hands each holding a tool into the lock. Turn counter-clockwise at the same time, gently but firmly and applying the same pressure as if you are unlocking the cabinet with a key. If one or the other area isn't gripping, replace one of your tools with the Allen wrench and try again, turning both areas as the same time, the way in which you would unlock your front door. This may require some jiggling and patience, but should move the tiny bar mechanism and unlock your door. If not, spray lightly some WD-40 inside. Wait a day, and repeat these steps again.

Locate and purchase a standard key that is used to open these type of locks. According to James Hanna, owner of J&M Lock, it is commonly referred to as a "Warded Lock Key." Made to open most old furniture locks, these keys cost only a few dollars. A standard part number is CompX D8890--which can be cross referenced for years to come. Check your local hardware store, perhaps in the antique restoration hardware section. If one is not available, it may be special ordered. Otherwise, you can order this key online with a quick Internet search and cost is a fraction of paying a locksmith.

Try the key. If it works, now you have a functional lock and key and know how to get replacements.

Hire a locksmith. If the above steps haven't worked for you, prepare to locate a professional locksmith with references that specializes in antique hardware to pick the lock. A locksmith will know the best route in finding a replacement key.

Things You'll Need:

  • A large paper clip or bobby pin
  • Miniature screwdrivers (eyeglass repair kit size)
  • Small Allen wrench
  • Magnifying glass or loupe
  • Flashlight
  • WD-40


If you are having problems finding a locksmith who specializes in antique furniture, call your local antique mall or antique furniture store as it most likely have someone in mind who can assist.

Lock-picking kits are available for purchase, but you have to know how to use them in order to be successful. It may be just as cost effective to hire a trained professional to prevent you from doing damage to your cabinet.


  • Replacing the original lock with a restoration hardware kit with new lock and key, may decrease the value of your cabinet.
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