The Definitive Guide on Cam Locks

Do you remember those sturdy little locks in your high-school locker that carefully guarded not just your books but also your private diary, love notes, or anything else that you were afraid to stash at home? In this article, we will be exploring these, i.e., cam locks, in greater detail while also answering the question, What is a cam lock?

As a security expert, I can tell you that securing your valuables involves much more than installing locks on your doors and windows.  

For instance, how do you keep precious items like the silverware in your cabinets from being stolen? Or how do you ensure that sensitive documents stay safely locked in your desk drawer at home or office? 

The answer to all these questions is the same, i.e., installing high-grade cam locks at these places. 

Now, you may be worried about how to get the ideal cam lock for your requirements and what’s the best way to install and maintain them for long-term use. Don’t worry, I will be talking about all these aspects below.

What Is a Cam Lock?

Anatomy of a cam lock

However, before we dive deep into these aspects, let’s define what is a cam lock exactly?

A cam lock is a cylindrical fastening or locking mechanism that helps locks and secure cabinets, furniture, desks, and more. It is an L-shaped lock that has two main parts:

  • A cylindrical keyed nut 
  • A tongue bar

After a cam lock has been installed and firmly screwed into place, you can operate it, i.e., use it to open or close a cabinet or drawer using a key. 

Once the key is inserted into the lock, turning it changes the orientation of the tongue, and this motion is what helps lock or unlock the cam lock.

It’s interesting to see how cam locks work, isn’t it? Well, now, let us explore what they are used for. 

What Are Cam Locks Used For?

what are cam locks used for

After answering the question, “What is a cam lock?”, I will now talk about what cam locks are used for.  

Cam locks are among the simplest locks to use, and that’s why they are used in a variety of residential and commercial applications. 

Let us take a look at the most common uses of cam locks today:

Metal and Wooden Furniture

Cam locks are most commonly installed in wooden and metal office furniture like desks, drawers, filing cabinets, and storage units. The best part about cam locks is that they are barely visible on the outside and provide an easy way to secure sensitive items and documents. 

As a home security expert, I also store my client files and other agreements in a file cabinet with drawers that are secured using cam locks. 


Cam lock on Mailboxes

If you are still on the fence about whether you need to secure your mailbox or not, take it from me that you should.

While a mailbox should not be a matter of concern, it can be targeted by vandals or anti-social elements in your area, who wander around looking for something to damage or destroy. 

That’s why I always tell my clients to secure their mailboxes, as otherwise, they may end up losing important letters or packages. 

No, installing a cam lock is one of the best ways to keep the contents of your mailbox secure. On the other hand, installing a mailbox security camera is not a bad option either. 

Bicycle Locks

Cam lock as Bicycle Locks

Cam locks represent an incredibly popular option for securing bicycle locks, whether we talk about the actual bicycle lock or its accessories. 

Accessories for Automotives

Ever think about the type of lock that is used in the fuel filler cap?  You guessed it right! It’s a cam lock. This lock is also used in campers, trailer hitch locks, and motorhomes. 

Asset Management Systems

Cam lock on lockers

We all use vending machines, but have you ever taken a look at the lock on the glass case that stands between you and your favorite goodies? Yes, it’s a cam lock again!

Lockers and Enclosures

If you think about it, you may have spent all of your life being surrounded by cam locks. From the lockers at your high school to the ones at the regular gym, office, and even shopping malls, cam locks are used to keep your belongings safe everywhere.

At the same time, cam locks are also the top choice to secure enclosures for electrical panels and more. 

Domestic Windows

Installing cam locks is also a great way to secure your windows, whether we talk about your first-floor or upper-floor windows. 

Medical Offices

Cam lock on cabinets

One can also see the extensive application of cam locks in medical office furniture where the drawers and file cabinets have to be locked to secure expensive medical equipment and sensitive patient files. 

Special Mention: Cam Lock Fittings

Cam Lock Fittings

Cam lock fittings are a specific type of cam and groove couplings that connect or disconnect a hose or a pipe in a speedy, efficient way without using any heavy equipment or tools. 

Several cam lock fittings are used in ink manufacture, agriculture, oil supply, and strategic military deployment. 
Whew! That was quite a list! Did you enjoy learning about the different uses of cam locks? We will now take a look at how a cam lock works?

How Does a Cam Lock Work?

How Does a Cam Lock Work?

A cam lock comprises several parts, as seen in the diagram above. In order to understand how a cam lock works, you have to learn about its different components and how they are put together first. 

  • The primary structure comprises a metal plate or a cam. 
  • The cam is attached to the core of the locking mechanism and rotates once the key is inserted into the lock and turned. 
  • The cam or metal plate rotates between 90 to 180 degrees, locking and unlocking, respectively.

You can learn more about how a cam lock works by clicking on the video below. 

As mentioned above, cam locks are used either as locking mechanisms or fastening bolts to put furniture together. 

Additionally, a cam lock comes in various shapes and sizes due to its diverse applications and uses.

Therefore, before installing one, you need to know exactly where you will be using or installing it, and measure out the cam lock nut sizes accordingly. 

In fact, if you have ever assembled a piece of IKEA furniture, then you have probably used a cam nut to fasten the different parts together. 

Now, before you can learn how to measure cam lock nut sizes, you first have to determine which type of you need. 

Here’s How to Use Cam Locks Types

Cam Lock Type Usage Images 
Keyless Cam Locks -Also referred to as slotted cam locks, these cam locks are used for general latching and are operated using a screwdriver.

-These are most often used in desks and drawers. 
Disc Cam Locks -These are keyed cam locks that offer a higher level of security. They can be operated via individual or master keys, especially in commercial usage. 

-These locks are commonly used in metal or wooden furniture, personal equipment, and display equipment. 
Tubular Cam Locks -These are also keyed locks. However, they offer a higher security grade than disc cam locks as they are operated via tubular or barrel keys that are not easy to replicate.

– Tubular cam locks are used most commonly in lockers, cabinets, mailboxes, and other commercial applications. 
Weather Resistant Cam Locks -These offer the same level of security as disc cam locks, but have additional water-resistant features. These include a stainless steel dust shutter and an internal o-ring to stop water penetration.
-Due to their weather-resistant properties, these locks are best suited for external usage. 

I hope that this answers the question, “How does a cam lock work?

So, can anyone guess what I will discuss next? Yes, I will show you how to install a cam lock at home by yourself, so keep reading.

DIY Guide to Installing Cam Locks

DIY Guide to Installing Cam Locks

As the DIYers among you will know, it’s critical to prepare as much as you can in advance before embarking on any new project. 

In this section, I will try my best to make sure that you are well-prepared to install a cam lock on your drawers or any other piece of furniture. 

Special Mention: 

While you will need a proper toolkit to install a cam lock, one special item is a ¾ inch Forstner bit that is mounted on a hand-held drill. 

You can borrow one from a buddy or even buy one on Amazon

Here’s How to Fit Cam Locks

  • The first thing to do while figuring out how to fit cam locks is to measure the width or thickness of the panel where you are planning to install the cam lock. 
  • The cam lock should be big enough to go through the thickness of the drawer panel and emerge on the other side. 
  • You next need to mark the position where the cam lock is to be inserted. I would recommend choosing a point midway and near the edge of the drawer. 
  • Once you have marked the position of the cam lock, draw it’s outline on the drawer. 
  • You now need to start drilling the hole that will fit the lock. 
  • You need to use a ¾ inch Forstner bit mounted on a hand-held drill to create a hole for a standard cam lock, i.e., a ¾ inch cam hole, though it’s always better to check the ideal drill size for your specific cam lock size. 
hand-held drill to create a hole
  • It’s always better to clamp a piece of wood on the inside of the wooden panel for additional support.
  • Once the hole is ready, insert the main cam lock mechanism into the and see if it fits. 
  • Use a sandpaper or grit file to ensure the lock fits perfectly into the keyhole. 
  • Once the cam lock fits perfectly, you need to start fixing the lock on the inside. 
fixing the lock on the inside.
  • Fix in the trim ring, followed by the washer, and finally, screw on the nut that will hold everything in place. 
trim ring
  • You next need to select the 90° or 180° stop in place. It depends on the kind of locking action you desire. The 90° stop will have a shorter locking action while the 180° stop’s locking action will be longer, of course. 
locking action
  • The last step is to create a slot in the upper panel to receive the stop.

You can also learn the basics of installing a cam lock by watching the video below. 

However, we are not done yet. Let’s take a look at how to install cam lock fasteners next. If you wish to learn how to use cam lock screws to fasten furniture, continue reading below. 

Here’s How to Install Cam Lock Fasteners

  • As mentioned above, cam lock fasteners are used to fasten together the different parts of wooden or metal furniture. 
  • You need a screwdriver to fasten the lock pieces together as shown in the above picture. Make sure to pick a size that matches the size of your cam bolts. 
screw clockwise to tighten the bolt
  • First, you need to secure the threaded end of the cam bolt via a screwdriver. Turn the screw clockwise to tighten the bolt.  
insert the lock bolt into the pre-drilled hole
  • The next step is to insert the lock bolt into the pre-drilled hole above the cam connector.
align the cam connector
  • You next need to align the cam connector with its side opening. The two parts should fit snugly against each other.
perfect alignment has been achieved
  • Once the perfect alignment has been achieved,  use the screwdriver to keep turning the cam connector till it does not turn anymore. Do not use excessive force here. 

This is a way to fasten one section together. Once you have mastered the basics of how to install cam lock fasteners, you can repeat the process to join different panels together to build a drawer, cabinet, etc. 

For more information, click on the video given below. 

How to Repair and Maintain Cam Locks

How to Repair and Maintain Cam Locks

While cam locks are an easy way to lock your drawers, they are notoriously problematic as well. They often get stuck or start malfunctioning and then one is left with no option but to either tighten or replace the old unit. 

I will now show you what to do in such cases by answering your most pressing questions below:

Q.1. How do you remove a cam lock?

Answer: In the case that you have lost your key and are unable to make a duplicate or if your cam lock is damaged beyond repair, then the smart choice is to remove the old lock and get it repaired or install a brand new one.  

You can discover the step-by-step instructions below. 

Things You’ll Need:

  • A Screwdriver 
  • A Plier  

Here’s How:

  • First, use the lock’s original key to unlock it. 
  • If you have lost the key, then you can still unlock it by using an old screwdriver. Hammer it into the key slot as far as possible and use a pipe wrench to turn it to the required degree to unlock the article. 
  • Next, you need to find the blocking access of this drawer. 
  • Once you have located it, pull it out to the cam lock’s rear, and set it aside.
  • The next step is to remove the latch and the fastener. Use your screwdriver to loosen the fastener, and then detach the latch and the fastener from the cam lock’s end completely. 
  • You may find a retainer clip between the backside of the furniture panel and the lock, pull it out entirely if possible using a pair of pliers. 
  • The last step is to push out the lock at the key end. You may have to twist it a little bit, and take your time to push it out. 
  • Once the lock is out, re-attach the latch and the fastener. 

Pro-Tip: An easy way to get rid of an old, damaged cam lock is to simply drill it out of its hole. Just use a standard ¼-inch bit attached to a power drill to drill through the lock center. Do note that this method will destroy the lock completely. 

Q.2. How to tighten cam locks? 

Answer – Another common problem that occurs quite frequently is wobbly furniture that is caused by loose cam screws or locks. This leads many to ask the question, “How to tighten cam locks?”

That’s why it’s so important not to be so forceful while installing cam lock fasteners. These locks often get loose because the cam lock screws were either fixed in too tight or were not driven in all the way. 

A cam lock becomes loose even when due to poor measurements and or if the hole is drilled too close to the edge. Many times, the locks come loose when the main piece of furniture is moved around carelessly or roughly. That’s why it becomes important to know how to tighten cam locks.

First, you need to check that the cam lock screws are fully screwed into the mating panel. 

If, on the other hand, the drilled hole is too large for the cam lock, you will have to use a piece of newspaper or any other thin material to tighten the hole and fix the lock in place. You can eventually fill it in with a more sturdy material.

To Cam Lock or Not to Lock: Let’s Discuss the Pros and Cons

To Cam Lock or Not to Lock: Let’s Discuss the Pros and Cons
  • Diverse Applications: As mentioned above in the article, cam locks can be used for a variety of purposes from locking file cabinets to electrical panels and more.
  • Cam locks are also made from a diverse range of materials. The ones fashioned from standard steel or brass finish are great for indoor use.The ones made from stainless steel and with weather-resistant features are best suited to the outdoors
  • You can unlock these devices using flat or tubular keys. Some cam locks even have combination mechanisms, these are a good fit for school lockers and filing cabinets.
  • Lack Strength: While these locks can be used for several purposes, they are not the most sturdy or dependable locks and can be easily picked by burglars.
  • Irrespective of where they are used, these locks tend to get stuck quite often.
  • Another major problem with cam locks is that if you lose all your keys, it’s almost impossible to duplicate them. The only choice is to remove the cam locks and replace them with new ones.

Here Are My Top 3 Picks for the Best Cam Locks in 2022

Lock Name:12 Pack Tubular Cam Lock Set 1-1/8 Inch Cylinder 90° Cabinet Cam LockbyShanqianDefender Security U 9943KA (Keyed Alike) Drawer and Cabinet Lock20 PCS Furniture Connector Cam Lock Fittings 15mm x 12mm
Key Highlights:It’s a pack of 12 cam locks. Each lock cylinder is ⅛ inch long and can fit a material thickness of up to ⅞ inches. Each lock is a standard sized cam lock with a ¾ inch diameter. Each lock is made up of a zinc alloy, is chrome-plated, waterproof and weather-resistant. This lock is an excellent option to secure your drawers and cabinets at home or office. The lock is made from diecast and steel components. It’s finished off with a classic touch of bronze. The lock can be installed on both wooden and metal panels. The lock is sturdy, durable, and easy to install. These are furniture cam lock fasteners that are used to fasten the different panels of a piece of furniture together. Fashioned from zinc alloy, these cam lock fasteners are corrosion-free. User reviews offer testimony asserting that these fasteners are sturdy and not easy to twist off. Many users discussed how these fasteners helped them repair and upgrade their existing furniture. 
Usage: This pack of locks is a good fit for desk drawers, display showcases, mailboxes, and file cabinets, etc.It’s a great way to secure cash and other small valuables at home. These locks can be mounted on panels with a thickness of 1 max, 1 inch.These fasteners are great at putting together cabinets, dressers, wardrobes, and drawers. Many users reported using these fasteners to assemble their IKEA furniture for superior results. The fasteners helped make their furniture feel more solid and secure. 
Amazon Links: 

After exploring the top 3 picks for cam locks, let me now answer some of the most frequently asked questions on cam locks.


Q1. How do you drill out a cam lock?

Answer – In case you have lost all the keys to your cam lock, there’s no option left but to drill out the lock. Since you will be drilling a metal lock, you will need to get specific drill bits that are sturdy enough to drill the lock material. 

You start by using a small drill bit, i.e., ⅛ inch bit to create a hole in the center of the cam lock. Once you have drilled away the center, switch to a larger drill bit, approx. ¼ inch to grind away the rest. 

Once the bulk of the lock body is gone, use a screwdriver to pry the remaining parts of the lock from the hole.  

You can also learn how to drill out a cam lock from the video below. 

Q2. How do you rekey a cam lock? 

Answer – Rekeying a cam lock refers to the process of changing the lock code. In order to accomplish this, you need to take the lock apart and replace the old locking pins and springs with new ones. Once this is done, the cam lock can longer be locked or unlocked using the old keys. 

You can learn how to rekey a tubular cam lock from the video given below. 

Q3. Are cam locks strong?

Answer – Many of my clients keep asking me, “Are cam locks easy to break into?” or “Are cam locks strong?” My answer to both these questions is always the same. 

Cam locks are a good way to secure your sensitive documents and small documents. However, at the same time, these locks can be easily drilled through or picked by an experienced burglar. My advice is to do your research and opt for a lock with at least a Grade 1 or 2 ANSI rating. 

Q4. Are cam locks interchangeable?

Answer – Cam lock groove and couplings are interchangeable only if they are built to the same standard, i.e., dimensions. 

Q5. What does cam mean on a lock?

Answer – We have already taken a look at the various components of a cam lock above. However, if we focus specifically on the cam, it is the locking mechanism at the back of the lock mechanism that locks or unlocks with the turning of the key. 

Q6. How to use cam lock screws?

Answer – Cam lock screws are used to fasten different furniture parts or panels together to build wooden or metal file cabinets, dressers, drawers, and more.

Final Words

At the beginning of this article, we started with a simple question, “What is a cam lock?”

In the course of this article, we have taken a look at the various aspects, types, and properties of cam locks. 

While heavy-duty locks like mortise or Schlage locks are better suited to securing and reinforcing your front doors and entryways, these locks help protect the contents of your house. 

So, how are you planning to use cam locks to secure your valuables and furniture? Share it with our readers in the comments sections below. 

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