One cool thing about pin-and-tumbler locks is that you can re-configure them to fit an existing key (provided that the key is for the same lock design). The advantages of this are obvious: You can add new locks to your home or business without attaching a bunch of new keys to your key ring.
To make a new key for an existing lock, you cut a series of notches in the key so that it raises each of the upper pins just above the shear line. Essentially, you cut a pattern in the metal that matches the pattern of the pins in the lock. To change a lock so that it fits an existing key, you simply work in the opposite direction: You change the pattern of the pins in the lock so that it matches the pattern of notches in the key. If the lock is designed with a universal keying system, any locksmith can re-key the lock in no time. You can also get locks re-keyed at most hardware stores.
The shafts of a pin-and-tumbler lock contain several springs and tiny pins.
In this basic six-pin lock set, you can see how this re-keying works. When you open up the shafts in the cylinder and empty them out, you have six springs and 12 tiny pins. All of the upper pins are exactly the same size. The remaining six pins (the lower pins) will be of various lengths to match up with the notches on the key.
The right combination of pins lines up perfectly with the notches in the key.