Wafer Tumbler Locks

A wafer is a kind of lock that operates with a series of flat wafers that stop the lock from opening if the wrong key is inserted. The wafer lock is similar to the pin tumbler lock and uses the same mechanism. But instead of a pin comprising two or more pieces, as in the pin tumbler lock, each wafer in the lock has only a one piece pin. Many people tend to confuse wafer tumbler locks with disc tumbler locks which operate using an entirely different system.

The history of the wafer tumbler lock 

The wafer tumbler lock was patented in the U.S. by Philio Felter in 1868. It works by using a flat double-bitted key. It came three years after a patent for the innovative pin tumbler lock (mortise) was awarded to Linus Yale, Jnr. Yale’s patent is believed to be the pioneer pin tumbler lock of the new era.

The Yale lock contained a flat steel key, which was known as a ‘feather key’ because of the significant difference from the heavy bit keys at the time. Two years later, another type of wafer tumbler lock was built by Hiram S. Shepardson. His model used a flat steel key with single bits, quite like Yale’s feather key.

In the following decades, the production and sales of wafer tumbler locks declined in the U.S. While Felter and Shepardson built the wafer locks for different uses such as desk locks, drawers, door locks and padlocks, the wafer tumblers sold during this time were mostly designed for doors in night latches and mortise locks.

In 1913, Emil Christoph built his wafer tumbler lock which used a double-bitted key. He assigned his patent to a new lock manufacturer, King Lock in Chicago. Two years later, Briggs & Stratton Corporation were using wafer tumbler locks made by King Lock in their ignition switches.

Years later, a request for the exclusive rights for a five-wafer, one-bitt wafer tumbler lock was presented by Edward Jacobi. In 1929, in the UK, this lock type was first produced by Josiah Parkes & Sons of Willenhall.

Wafer tumbler designs

The components of a wafer tumbler include:


A flat metal piece placed in the lock plug as the primary locking device. Each wafer may vary in size or protrusion in the centre. This makes them unique. When wafers are designed not to protrude from the plug, the plug and cam turn to lock or open the lock.


The springs are set on the side of the wafer to push them out towards the cylinder


The plug is the inner piece of the lock that revolves when the tension of the right key is inserted. It is affixed to the cam and triggers the bolt mechanism when it is rotated.


The cylinder is the part of the lock that contains the plug. Its role is to block the plug from rotating when the wafers protrude from the plug.


The cam is an additional feature behind the plug that activates the bolt into locking or unlocking the lock.

How wafer tumbler locks work

A series of wafers are used to block the plug from rotating at one or multiple points. In a low-security wafer lock, the block usually occurs at a single point. More advanced wafer tumbler locks block rotation at the top and bottom, using alternate components bitting on top and below the keyway. At the insertion of the correct key, all wafers are well positioned, and the plug is allowed to rotate and activate the bolt system.

How secure is the wafer tumbler lock?

The vulnerability often depends on the number of rotation points. While the wafer tumbler is effective in its own right, it is not without its vulnerabilities. They include lock picking, impressioning, decoding and bypassing. However, some brands make high-security wafer tumbler locks.

How much do wafer tumbler locks cost?

Most stores in Worthing sell them at different prices, depending on where you want to secure and the level of importance. For desk drawers and padlocks you can get them under £10, while they may be much higher for main door locks.

Contact KC Worthing locksmiths

If you are in Worthing and looking to buy wafer tumbler locks, you’ll need a police approved expert. Get in touch with our professional locksmiths.

Call KC Worthing Locksmiths today: 01903 641 250