How would you remove bark from a lock?

Would you take a blow-torch to your car… and for a reason other than claiming the insurance?

That’s what Mary from St. Louis was contemplating, this week on Car Talk. Her young son managed to shove a piece of bark into the driver’s door lock. And, predictably, it broke off inside. Now what she should do?

Tom and Ray thought the blow-torch concept was a bit overheated, so to speak. Their suggestion? A heat gun. Or, maybe, stump-removing solution. What do you think? Got a suggestion for Mary, so she can start using her lock again? Share it right here – and thanks,

Tom and Ray

Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers

Oh gosh don’t use a stump solution. Those products work by decomposing wood fibers over time…months. So, unless you want to compost your lockset I wouldn’t try it. If you have a Dremel-type tool, try using the tiny drill to break up the bark; use your shopvac or vacuum cleaner to suction the broken wood bits as you go. Good luck.

Use a small jigsaw blade, with the teeth pointing back towards the opening of the keyhole. You might have to remove the end of the blade, that held the blade in the saw frame, if it is that style blade. Try this yourself, or a reliable locksmith could surely correct this problem.

I wish this were Stump the Chumps, because you guys really are chumps here. (Where’s the Smiley?) Stump Remover is usually a Potassium (or Sodium) Nitrate powder that speeds up bacterial decomposition of the tree stump. Its purpose is not to dissolve the stump. This suggestion gave me a good laugh this morning.

As to offering an answer, I would go to the locksmith and get it repaired. But Mary sounds like someone who wants to tinker- so maybe get some dental probes and try to pick in the lock and get the stuff out.

The Stump removal material will take too long and may corrode your lock. Try a lock picking tool to carefully remove the bark piece-by-piece. If you don’t have access to such a tool and do any sewing, you may have a small “pick” that is used to pull thread snags back into the fabric. It has a small hook on the end that could that could be used to slowly pull small pieces of the bark out. Above all, don’t break any thing off in there while you are doing it. A locksmith could clean it out without removing the lock from the door if you don’t want to try it

 J. T. Reeves

Ray, You said you recently saw Tommy pushing bark into the lock in his car. Was he fishing for termites? Perhaps you need to raise his pay so he can afford decent food. Sincerely, Pete in Montana

A new lock.

Try squirting some enzyme based biodegrable material ‘eater’. It should eat away enough of the wood inside - hopefully enough to be able to dislodge the remaining wood inside.

A dental pick (a good tool store might have a set) might work. I suspect that one needs to be careful not to damage the pins in the lock. A straightened out hairpin or paperclip with a with a very slight hook bent into the end might be as good. I wouldn’t entirely rule out a blowtorch (propane torch), but I’d take the lock out of the car and detach anything rubber or plastic before I tried it. That’s a lot of work, so I think a locksmith might be a more practical choice.

Pet termites.

About the only area of car repair/care that you guys consistently miss is locks. Take this, and all lock related issues to a locksmith. Bark in locks. Broken keys. Duplicate keys. Worn keyways. Locksmiths are always cheaper than dealers. I even had a locksmith once re-key my ignition (to match the doors) cheaper than the dealer that changed the ignition switch, instead of just the busted keyway. A dealer recently quoted me more than $200 to “reflash” all my keys, but before I spent it, I took it to a locksmith, who replaced the batteries in my key for $5. Even many laser-cut keys can be duplicated by locksmiths, although there is only one in my city that does it. Ask around and call around.

Stick a carpenter ant in the lock.

With a couple of termites.

Chris N.
Cincinnati, OH

The bark can be fished out by using a coping saw blade with the end broken off. It will slip into the key slot and the teeth will grasp the wood.

I’d use a #30 to #55 hedstrom root canal file. Get one from your dentist. Careful
with the in and out. (!) Call an endodontist with easy touch… shouldn’t cost more than $1100. Careful careful. Frank the dentist

However you decide to handle the lock repair, I suggest: Let the boy help! Even if you end up taking the car to a locksmith, take the boy along and let him see how the locksmith solves the problem. This would be great for his curiosity and self-confidence. People who love to tinker sometimes break things, and learning how to fix things is part of growing up.

I’m surprised no one suggested using one of those high powered Vacuum cleaners like the computer techies use or for that matter - since she obviously wasn’t worried about the paint job (blow torch…) how about just getting out the shop vac and duct taping a good seal around the key hole. You might have to prime the hole by pushing around in there with a long nail or something to break up the bark. And if that doesn’t work - spring for the locksmith and call it good.
Makes ya wonder what the kid threw in the knot hole! Anyone missing some car keys?

(1) - Use a very small regular screwdriver (or miniature screwdriver) to push open and hold open the car lock tab (the little metal flipper keeps the water out of the lock). You might want to have another pair of hands to hold this open for you. (2) - Take a paper clip, bend one loop out so it’s straight, and leave one loop still in tact so you can hold on to it. With a pair of needle-nose pliers, make a 1/16" right-angle bend on the end of this straight section of the paper clip. With this paper clip “tool,” while holding the lock tabs open with the tiny screw driver (top side), insert the paper clip with the right angle bend into the lock and use this to pull at the bark. If anything you can “pick away” at the bark by working the paper clip in the lock trying to pull pieces of bark out. Be patient and take your time. [Charles B. Wright, Walpole, NH]

The lock has to be pulled. If she’s a do-it-yourselfer, go for it.

Since Mom wanted to use a blow torch, it sounds like her little apple didn’t fall far from the tree, using bark to open the lock! Stump remover is lye, a product of wood ash with water slowly dripped through it. Don’t put it in your lock! Add some rendered fat, heat the lye and fat slowly, stirring constantly, until you have soap. Put the soap in your lock,then flush with lots of water until the bubbles run out the bottom of the door. In this weather, in most parts of the country, the door will freeze until spring. Then it will be good as new and very shiny!

An alternate approach is to get some tweezers for Pete’s sake, or a very small crochet hook and clean the lock, keeping the crevice tool attached to a running vacuum next to the lock, to suck up the pieces. Have Junior help.

All four of you sign up for a safety class! :)))