“Why should I ever learn to pick a lock?”
We’ve come up with a few good reasons as to why outstanding citizens such as yourself should learn how to pick a lock:
1. Understanding security and perceived security.
Locking doors keep our loved ones safe at night and to secure our possessions. Locks make us feel safe, but if someone really wanted to get in your house, they could easily pick the lock on your front door. You can’t just rely on a lock especially if locks start to just pop open for you once you’ve mastered the art of picking locks.
2. You gain a new ability
Locked out of your house or car? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just do it yourself? Not only can this skill save you a lot of time and money, it is pretty bloody satisfying.
Knowing how to pick a lock could save lives. There have been a few instances in which someone picked their way into an older parent’s home because they weren’t answering the phone, only to find their loved ones collapsed on the floor. Could they have kicked the door down or broken a window? Sure. But picking a lock just takes a few seconds and doesn’t leave any damage.
You also gain a cool skill that puts you up there with the secret agents of the world. James Bond or also known as 007 would give you that nod of acknowledgement just because you can now unlock anything that comes in your way. The world’s your oyster.
1. Understanding the basic keyways and locking mechanisms.
a. There are usually 3 to 7 small pins which are spring loaded within the locking mechanism. As the key is inserted into the padlock barrel, different notches on the key allow the pins to line up correctly. Once aligned then the barrel can rotate, unlocking it. Pins are also sometimes referred to as “binding pins”.
In order to unlock the mechanism, you’ll need to lift each of the key pins and driver pins to its correct height, which basically means ensuring the gap between the key pins and driver pins reaches the shear line. When all of the pins reach this position, it can now be rotated to be unlocked.
Sounds pretty easy right?
When picking a lock, you use tools instead of the key to line up the gap between the key pins and driver pins with the shear line between the outer casing and the plug. That’s it. Simple, simple, pineapple.
2. What Tools Do I Need?
a. There are various tools you can use to pick a lock. For this post we’re going to focus on using the most common lock picking tools: a tension wrench and lock picks. Some lock picks come with different numbers of ridges, which allow you to pick several pins at a time. There’s also a pick that allows you to pick one pin at a time. Some locks will require you to do that.
Lock picking leans more towards art than science.
There is definitely a need to develop a “feel” for it. Each lock is unique, but the same principles apply.
1. Insert Tension Tool into the Bottom of Key Hole and Apply Slight Pressure.
The tension tool is the key (no pun intended) to successfully picking a lock.
So take your tension wrench and place it in the bottom of the key hole. Apply slight pressure in the direction you would turn the key if you had it. And by slight I mean slight. If you apply too much pressure, you’re just going to cause the driver pins to bind below the shear line. You need to have enough give to let the driver pins rise above the shear line, but have enough tension that when they start dropping down.
How much is too much pressure? If your tension wrench is bending a lot, then you’re probably applying too much pressure. So lean on the side of applying less pressure than more.
2. Insert Pick At Top Of Lock Keyway
Pick your pick. Technically all picks can open a lock, so pick your favourite or check this YouTube video link out for a deep dive into the types of picks! . This one has picked every lock that I’ve used it on very easily. Slide the pick all the way to the back.
As you’re lifting the pin sets with your pick, you’ll need to apply tension on the plug. With the right amount of tension on the plug, once the driver pin passes the shear line, the plug will rotate slightly. When you pull your pick out, the key pin will drop back down, but the driver pin will catch the edge of the plug, thus staying above the shear line.
To help picture how the pins look in action, here’s a gif of a pick being inserted into a see-through practice lock:
Just keep lifting the pins with your pick while applying pressure with your tension wrench, until all the driver pins have cleared the shear line.
3. While Applying Slight Tension to Your Wrench, Scrub Your Pick Back and Forth in the Key Hole
Keep applying that slight pressure on your tension wrench. I use my left hand for that. With your right hand, scrub or rake the inside of the plug with your pick. As you pull the pick back, simultaneously lift up in order to apply pressure on the pins. It looks sort of like this motion:
4. Repeat Until All the Pins Set & Turn!
Keep applying tension on your wrench and scrubbing the pins until they all set. You may need to apply more tension and pressure on the pins with your pick as you get near the last one or two pins that need to be set. If you’re not making any progress, you probably applied too much tension with the wrench. Relax, let the pins reset, and start over again, focusing on not using too much pressure. Remember, strength and force does not help in this situation. It’s about getting them in the right place, with some luck and feels!
And that’s all there is to it. You can successfully pick most pin and tumbler locks using this scrubbing method.
You may run across locks that require a little bit more work and time by picking each pin set one at a time. In these trickier locks, you may need to try different strategies by looking for the pin stack that resists the most and picking it first and then repeating the process until all the pins are successfully picked. However, almost every locking mechanism works the same way!
Like I said above, lock picking is more art than science. The best way to learn how to do it is to simply pick locks as much as possible. Buy yourself different pin and tumbler locks at the hardware store and keep them on your desk or by your couch.
You’re one step closer to becoming James Bond’s buddy. Remember, only use your newfound ability for good. With great power comes great responsibility. Spiderman.