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.
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 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 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.