You just got a new bike. You want to store it in the shed, but you're worried that someone might take it for an unauthorized ride and never bring it back. Or maybe you're in school, and someone's been stealing your gummy bears out of your locker. What do you do? Get a padlock, that's what.

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to secure your belongings, a padlock is a portable lock with a shackle that slides through a ring or hasp on the door and into the lock base. Besides securing sheds and school lockers, padlocks can also go on chests, suitcases, and even diaries.

In industrial or commercial areas, you can use them on warehouses, perimeter gates, and various exterior installations. Padlocks are convenient, inexpensive, and available in different styles and materials to suit your security needs.

Types of Padlocks

There are two main types of locking mechanisms for a padlock: combination locks and keyed locks.

How Combination Padlocks Work

A combination lock has a numbered dial or a thumb-rolled or pushbutton number pad that opens the lock if you put in the correct code. Most combination locks allow you to set and reset the combination at will. The disadvantage of a combination lock, though, is that anyone with enough time and patience can crack the code. Also, if you forget the combination, you're in trouble.

The Important of a Padlock with a Key

Keyed padlocks are usually harder to crack than combination locks and are more convenient for people who have trouble remembering combinations. Most come with a spare key, just in case. Make sure, though, that you copy and then remove the key code number from the bottom of the lock-otherwise, a burglar can use this number to get a copy of the key from the manufacturer.

What's a Good Padlock Made of?

The shackles on most padlocks are made of either steel or brass. Although brass resists rust better, steel or a steel alloy makes for a stronger padlock. Since most attacks on padlocks involve cutting or prying, your best bet is a ½-inch (at least) hardened steel shackle-and if weather damage is a problem, you can get a special plastic covering to protect your padlock from the elements.

As for the lock itself, go for a pin tumbler lock (a five pin tumbler is best) with a double locking mechanism (i.e., both shackle legs). Padlocks are also available with a key-retaining feature, which means you can't remove the key until it's properly locked-recommended, since even the strongest padlocks aren't worth peanuts if you leave them unlocked.

Remember, too, that a padlock is only as good as the hasp it's attached to. A hardened steel hasp attached with carriage bolts should hold your padlock nicely. Whether you need to lock up the gate at a construction yard or just keep your friends away from your chocolate, a padlock is a simple, affordable way to protect your property.