Cam Lock Types

A cam lock is a type of security lock in which a cylinder, the locking bolt itself, is attached to a metal plate or tailpiece that rotates when a key is turned. Cam locks were originally invented by Volker Gueick and are now made in a large variety of types and sizes and are commonly used as the locking systems for safes, file cabinets, lockers, furniture, vending systems, mailboxes, suitcases, and many other applications. The difference in cam lock types is primarily based on the tailpiece and the entry system.


Cam locks are often made from stainless steel or zinc plated die cast alloys.

Cam locks typically have one of three types of tailpieces. The straight tailpiece has one square hold on the side to connect to the lock. Hooked tailpieces also have a similar hole but additionally have a carved hook on the other side to latch onto an object not connected to the lock. Offset tailpieces are bent 180 degrees in the middle and then rounded out parallel again. This offset part of the tailpiece typically slides over another object to block or release movement.

Key0Based Locks

Cam locks with a key-based system require stander flat keys to operate. When inserted and turned, the tailpiece rotates with the key, typically 90 or 180 degrees, locking and unlocking the device it is attached to. This type of cam lock is commonly found on steel cabinet doors, apartment mail boxes, and drawers.

Tubular Locks

Tubular cam locks operate in a similar manner to flat key cam locks, rotating the tailpiece when turned. However, they are operated using a cylindrical, or tubular key, which must be inserted at the proper angle to fit a "key pull" location, typically at the 12 o'clock angle. Tubular cam locks are also found in file cabinets, drawers, computer cases and other small locking compartments.

Combination Locks

Combination cam locks use dials, commonly three or four, that must be set at the proper number combination to rotate the tailpiece and unlock the device. They are used for most of the same products as key based systems but are considered useful for situations in which many people require access to a lock. Lost keys, a common downfall of key based systems, are not a problem. Most combination locks can also be reset without any tools.

About the Author

Kara Page has been a freelance writer and editor since 2007. She maintains several blogs on travel, music, food and more. She is also a contributing writer for Suite101 and has articles published on eHow and Answerbag. Page holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of North Texas.