How Does Cam Lock Work? [Explained]

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Most homeowners prefer a cam lock over the padlock to secure their cabinets, safes, and lockers. One of the main reasons why this is more useful is because of its concealed design, which is relatively simple and safe.

So, if you are really interested to use a cam lock, you should know it works.

The basic cam lock mechanism depends on the cam and groove coupling. The rotational movement of the cam screw from 90° to 180° determines whether it’s locked or unlocked.

One thing is that if you haven’t operated it yourself, it will obviously sound tricky. But don’t worry! I will guide you through its core features, how it works right away, and more!

Before going to explain how does a cam lock works? You probably know what is it.

What Is Cam Lock?

A cam lock is a type of security device that is designed to secure cabinets, lockers, and other enclosures. These locks work by fitting the cam in one piece and the other screw is bolted into place.

When a key is inserted into the base, the cam is rotated between 180 and 90 degrees, depending on how the lock is installed. As such, the lock can be secured or released depending on which direction the key turning.

Mostly a Cam lock is an L-shaped lock made up of a tongue-like bar and cam nut. It follows the same mechanism as a regular lock.

I usually find cam locks in different furnishings such as – closures, lockers, and cabinets.

Basic Types Of Cam Lock

You will get 2 types of Cam Lock on the market.

(i) Flat Type Cam Lock

Flat Type Cam Lock consists of tongue-like cam & screws. It features a flat opening to insert the key. Also, it comes with regular flat-shaped keys.

Flat type cam lock

(iI) Tubular Cam Lock

The basic parts of tubular cam locks are – two connected and one hollow cylinder. This hollow cylinder will act as a key to unlock it. Its opening is circular so you can unlock it by inserting the rounded key.

Besides, some homeowners prefer combo cam lock couplings with modern dials. So, you don’t need to carry the key all the time.

Tubular cam lock
Source: LK Tubular Cam Lock

How Does Cam Lock Work?

When you insert a key into the base, the cam is rotated between 180 and 90 degrees. Depending on the way the lock is installed, the cam will either lock or unlock the door.

The male connector has a form that allows the cams to tightly lock into place when it is inserted into the female coupler.

This two-part connection provides a secure and reliable locking system. The cam lock is an effective and easy way to keep your belongings safe and secure.

Homeowners generally install cam locks on the enclosure’s front. Let’s check the differences between tubular and flat cam locks.

 Flat Cam LockTubular Cam Lock
ComponentTongue-like cam fastener and screw.Two tubular and one hollow cylinder.
Shape of keyholeFlatCircular
Shape of keysFlatRounded
How does the cam lock work?Turn the cam screw clockwise/anticlockwise for locking & unlocking.Dive the hollow cylinder deep inside the keyhole to unlock it.
SecurityThe standard cam lock is not so efficient to resist lock picking.The tubular lock features a pin tumbler system to resist lock picking.
Cost EffectivenessAffordableComparatively expensive.

Click here to learn more about Cam lock fittings.

Parts of a Cam Lock

The cam is fitted into one piece and the screw into another piece to be joined together. They are usually constructed with a

  • Stationary cylinder portion
  • A standard-sized cam
  • A cam screw
  • Keys
  • A cylinder nut and
  • A stop cam

To assemble the lock, the stationary cylinder portion is attached with the cam screw to the other piece. After that, the keys are inserted to lock or unlock it.

Furthermore, there are also other components that can be added such as a dust cover for extra protection and additional security.

Security of Cam Locks

Cam locks offer superior protection when compared to regular knob locks due to rotational motion. Furthermore, you can operate it using flat keys, rounded keys, or even combination mechanisms. So that it makes them ideal for high security applications.

How To Choose The Best Cam Lock?

Cam locks are generally available in most hardware stores in the locality.

1. Material

The quality of a cam lock will largely depend on its materials. Most users prefer to choose stainless steel/ zinc alloy over other metals.

2. Cam Lock Nut

Cam lock nut for secure joint

If you need a cam nut to connect hard materials like – wood, metal, or plastic, go for tee nuts. In this case, nut bowel connectors are best for repairing wooden furniture.

As zip bolts can bear high tension, they are best for staircase handrails.

3. Multiple locks With the same Keys

Do you need to purchase numerous cam locks? I bet it’s really a hassle to handle multiple keys at the same time. Just get a similar key to unlock all cam locks simultaneously.

If you don’t prefer keyed locks, choose thumb-turn cam locks for optimum security. Yes, they are prone to damage/theft. However, users love them for their ease of usage.


Is a Cam Lock Strong Enough?

The cam lock strength will vary as per the fitting materials. Stainless steel cam locks are pretty durable & expensive. It can easily undergo up to 500°F temperature and 100 PSI to 250 PSI pressure.

In contrast, affordable ½” to 12″ aluminum fittings can easily withstand 50psi to 250 psi. Moreover, brass fittings are especially well known for their damage & corrosion resistance.

What Size Cam Lock Do You Need?

The width of your cam lock will vary as per the measurement of the two flat spots. For instance, a ⅝” two flat spots are only compatible with the ⅞” long cylinder lock.


At the end of the explanation, the cam locking system is wholesomely dependent on the combination of the cam bar and screw. So be very aware as your level of handling & efficiency can design or destroy the whole project.

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