Turnstile Buyers Guide

A turnstile is a type of gate that makes it possible to control entry and exit into and out of a specific location. A traditional turnstile consists of a set of 3 arms that extend horizontally from a post in order to only allow a single person access at a time. A turnstile can provide security, organize crowds, prevent losses from theft, and control access.

Turnstile Buyers Guide FULL VERSION


A turnstile is a type of gate that makes it possible to control entry and exit into and out of a specific location. A traditional turnstile consists of a set of 3 arms that extend horizontally from a post in order to only allow a single person access at a time. A turnstile can provide security, organize crowds, prevent losses from theft, and control access.

Turnstiles have a wide range of applications and are used in a multitude of venues. Places that commonly employ turnstiles include amusement parks, public transit systems, airports, and sporting venues. Most modern turnstiles are mechanical, allowing users to control how the turnstile arms act. This means that a turnstile can be built to spin in one direction, the opposite direction, or both, depending on end user needs. Further, many turnstiles are electronically operated. This means they contain an electronically powered locking solenoid that can remotely lock or unlock a turnstile mechanism. Still more modern turnstiles operate with optical sensors that detect lane passes without needing any physical barriers.

Turnstiles come in various sizes and configurations, ranging from waist high to full height models. A traditional three arm (tripod) waist high turnstile is a good choice for tight spaces or when a portable turnstile is needed. On the other end of the spectrum, a full height turnstile is a great option for high-security applications because it provides the floor to ceiling protection.

Because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 requires equal opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities, some turnstiles and gates are designed to be specifically used by those in wheelchairs, pushing carts or strollers, those with walkers, et cetera. These gates and turnstiles consist of wider lanes to accommodate handicapped individuals.

Additionally, there are a couple other methods used to control crowds and direct traffic. For example, stanchions (rail and posts systems) can be employed as semi-permanent to permanent crowd controlling solutions. This type of barrier is commonly seen used to designate lanes inside a bank lobby and are commonly used in airport terminals to organize the long, hectic lines. Temporary stanchions consist of moveable posts with retractable belts and can easily be moved or reconfigured. For a more permanent solution, a metal post and rail system may be installed and bolted securely into the ground.

Waist High turnstile is typically a tripod turnstile (one with 3 arms) that is approximately 39 inches tall. This height is perfect for most adults to walk through turnstile arms easily- using their hips or hands to push past them. Waist-high turnstiles are a good fit for a variety of applications, including stadiums, amusement parks, office lobbies and universities. Multiple turnstiles can be used in conjunction to create an entry border as seen in the picture to the right.

Full Height turnstiles are larger, more secure turnstile variations compared to waist high turnstiles. These models are commonly 7 feet high on the inside and come in different widths. These turnstiles operate similarly to a revolving door, leaving no possibility of anyone jumping over the units- an inherent issue of waist high turnstile models. A full height turnstile can be used for one direction or bi-directional applications. In many cases, tandem full height turnstiles are used to allow bi-directional, simultaneous entry and exit in a side by side configuration.

Optical turnstiles are security devices that restrict or control access to a building or other secure area using infrared sensors to detect people and objects. With optical access control systems, users present access credentials to fixed readers on the turnstile and if the credential is valid, the turnstile allows a single user to pass through the lane. Unauthorized users will set off lights and sound alarms to alert both the user and personnel of an unauthorized entry.

There are two basic types of optical turnstiles:

Barrier Free Optical Turnstiles do not have a physical barrier to resist entry. Rather, they operate solely through optical detection and trigger an alarm when unauthorized individuals pass through their lanes. These turnstiles are perceived by most as more inviting than turnstiles with barriers. Since barrier-free optical turnstiles are passive security devices without physical constraints, it is recommended that an attendant be employed nearby to address alarm conditions appropriately and confront possible intruders.


Optical Turnstiles with Barriers present a physical barrier to entry in addition to the lights and sounds exhibited with barrier free optical turnstiles. Basically, motorized barriers are used in conjunction with the optical sensors to present a physical barrier until a valid credential is presented. Basically, system users present access credentials to a reader installed in the turnstile and if the credential is valid, the barriers open. Once the user has passed, the barriers automatically close. Barriers may be composed of glass panels or metal arms.

 Drop Arm Turnstiles are of two types:

  •  Waist High Turnstile can have a drop arm system for emergency passage or handicap access, where the arms drop out of the way for unobstructed egress.
  • Optical Turnstile can have a Drop Arm style barrier where the arms start parallel and drop down 90 degrees to vertical to allow passage.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a Federal civil rights law that prohibits the exclusion of people with disabilities from everyday activities. Businesses with revolving turnstiles exclude people with disabilities unless accessible passage options are provided. This can be accomplished with the use of a swing gate or an optical turnstile used with an ADA compliant lane width of 36 inches. Access control systems should be designed with handicap access in mind.

There are times when turnstiles need to be portable to add crowd control for temporary applications like at fairs, carnivals, and other events. Waist high turnstiles may be made portable by elongating their baseplate and adding wheels to the lower back end of the cabinet. The elongated baseplate allows for the unit to be freestanding and eliminates the need to anchor it down, while the wheels make transporting the unit a breeze. These units are perfect for areas with fluctuating traffic that need flexible access control options on the fly.

Turnstiles come in a vast array of sizes, shapes, and configurations. Therefore, it is crucial to pick the correct turnstile for your needs; different configurations have different strengths and weaknesses.

There are some important questions that should be considered in your decision-making process:

  • What level of security is desired?
  • What environment am I putting the unit into? Inside? Outside?
  • How much traffic will the system encounter daily? In both directions?
  • Do I want full automation or a security guard present?
  • Are aesthetics important?
  • Do I want to be able to add accessories like readers and displays?
  • Portable or permanent solution?
  • Will I need handicap access? Free egress?

By answering these questions, you can narrow down your choices to a certain turnstile type, configuration, finish, and what options should be included.

Still unsure?  Call 203-647-9144 for Expert Advice and Assistance.

If you plan to connect a credential reader, implement an optical turnstile, or use controlled locking solenoids, you will need an electrically operated turnstile. Some units, like opticals, need electricity to function, while others, like portables, do not use electricity to operate.

In today’s environment, many options are available for turnstiles. Options are available ranging from very advanced, such as bullet resistant panels and biometric scanners to more simple options, such as electronic operation, counters, and status lights. Adding options to your turnstiles help tailor your turnstile to be more fitting to your specific needs.

When a turnstile is equipped with electricity, you need to decide how you want it to act when the power fails.  Fail Secure means that the turnstile will remain locked during a power failure.  Fail Safe allows the turnstile to go into “freewheeling” mode, which allows exit or entry without verification of credential via the card reader during a power failure.  Most fail safe systems can be wired into the building fire alarm systems to unlock during an emergency.

Fail Safe turnstile mechanisms are much more common as they are the safer option and they hold up to OSHA free egress guidelines.

Access control readers are used in physical security systems, such as turnstiles. They read credential information to determine if access should be granted or denied to the individual presenting the information.  An access control reader can be a magnetic stripe reader, a bar code reader, a proximity reader, a smart card reader, or a biometric reader.  In many cases, these can even be linked to a timecard system to log hours. Readers are programmed to be in communication with turnstile mechanisms’ locking solenoids for seamless locking and unlocking.


This buyers guide is intended to give you, the customer, an overview of the physical access control industry and what Hayward Turnstiles has to offer. We offer a full product line of turnstiles and gates manufactured in-house to customer specifications. Our knowledge of the industry is extensive, so for further clarification and more information, you can check out the other resources in our Learning Center or you can contact our sales specialists directly.