Learn Lockpicking: Tools + Techniques Every Beginner Should Know
Hello, lock pickers!
As we embark on this amazing, mysterious, challenging, and frequently frustrating art of lock picking, it can be somewhat daunting knowing what tools and techniques are best to learn when starting out.
With so many lock pick sets available and with so many different ways of using them, a beginner lock picker might get a bit confused and end up wasting both time and money pursuing areas perhaps best left for later or even not at all. In this blog, I'll give you some pointers to ensure your time and money practicing how to pick locks is spent in the best possible way.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: lock picking and owning lock-picking tools are both perfectly legal and ethical—so long as you don’t plan on using your skills to commit crimes!
When it comes to lock picking, I've made the mistakes so you don't have to. I've also spent nearly 20 years talking to customers who've also made mistakes. Like the man who wanted to know how to open his 5 Lever Chubb lock with his pick gun. Or the man who simply said, “These picks don't work” because he thought they were keys, essentially.
So if you find yourself standing at the gates of lock-picking paradise and want to ensure your time and money is spent in the most efficient way, read this blog. I'll outline the most useful and significant lock-picking tools and techniques for the beginner to ensure you're doing what you came here to do: learning how to pick locks.
How Lock Picking Works
Before I get into the ways to pick locks, let’s first learn how a pin tumbler lock works, as this is the most common type of lock you will encounter. This is a summarized version of how lock picking works, so if you want to read more, go to this post.
This lock has key pins and driver pins in it, which work together within the lock's cylinder. A pin tumbler lock has pin stacks, each with a lower key pin and an upper driver pin. Each key pin and driver pin rest in a series of shafts running through the lock's plug and housing.
When you put the right key in a pin tumbler lock, it lifts the key pins. They need to reach a certain point where they line up with a line (the shear line) between the lock's main part and its housing. This lets the driver pins sit right at the shear line. Then the lock can turn and open. Knowing how pin tumbler locks work helps beginners in lock picking.
In most pin tumbler locks, springs push the driver pins down. They stop the lock from turning if there's no key or a wrong key. The right key raises the key pins to where the space between the key pins and driver pins meets the shear line. This is the idea used in lock picking. Lock picks help you do this.
1 - Single Pin Picking (SPP)
There's no avoiding this one, really. Single-pin picking (SPP) is lock picking proper and what most people think of when they think about lock picking. As the name suggests, single-pin picking is a technique where you pick each pin individually, and when they're all picked, or “set,” the lock opens.
It's somewhat of a fallacy to say single-pin picking is difficult, since it really depends on the quality/difficulty of the lock you're picking. Most people can single-pin pick a clear practice lock with ease since they can see what they're doing, and on the whole, they're not very difficult to pick. However, put anti-pick lock with a sidebar, spool pins, and other security elements in front of a beginner and they may as well use their elbows to pick it considering the chance of them getting it open.
The reason the beginner should immediately learn to single-pin pick is that as well as it still the technique that will open the most locks, it will also teach you how pin cylinders work, and therefore the many principles behind lock picking that will go on to inform other tools and techniques.
The trick is to start on a clear practice lock or a cut-away lock so you can see how the security pins respond to your picks and the key. From there, you'll learn how to visualize what's going on in a “real” lock when you're picking it and learn how to interpret the information you get from your picks and tension wrench.
There is a language to single-pin picking, and when you can't see what's going on in the lock, you have to learn what's being said by the little changes that are transferred along your wrench and picks when picking a lock. We call it' feedback'.
To start single-pin picking, you need a decent beginner lock pick set, and while it's tempting to go cheap, you'll end up spending more in the end as you soon find out the limits of badly made or badly selected lock picking tools.
A good lock-picking set will have a variety of basic picks, at least a half-diamond, some hooks, a deforest. Also look for top-of-keyway tension tools and bottom-of-keyway tension tools. A couple of rakes are handy too as you'll see shortly.
I would also recommend you get some locks you can practice with, which, although generally not that much of a challenge, will serve as a learning aid, giving you a better understanding of how lock picking works. Clear locks and cut-away locks both serve this purpose, and you'll know you're way around the inside of a lock mechanism in no time.
I would also recommend a good quality lock-picking guide. While there are loads of lock-picking videos on YouTube that are definitely worth watching, a well-written and illustrated guide to single-pin picking is essential as it will take you through all the different stages, potential problems, and mistakes when you're learning how it's done.
Here's what I recommended for single-pin picking:
21-pc Praxis Dual-Gauge Lock Pick Set. Great picks, rakes, and both top of keyway and bottom of keyway tension tools. An all-round pro set of lock picks.
2 - Raking
I'm obsessed with raking locks. In fact, at this stage in my lock-picking journey, I'm raking more locks than any other technique. Raking is often dismissed as a beginner’s technique, something to be abandoned when you've adequately developed your single-pin picking. But I don't agree, I don't agree at all.
Not only can raking be developed far beyond the level at which most of such ignorant people dismiss it, it also has a couple of features that make it amazing. Before we look at those, let me give you a basic description of how raking works.
Whereas single-pin lock picking works on each pin separately, raking picks all the pins simultaneously. A rake is a kind of lock pick designed to engage all the pins at once and can be distinguished from picks used for single-pin picking because they have a variety of shapes along the picking shaft rather than a single detail at the tip of the pick.
Polaris Rake Set—probably the best set of rakes to pick locks with in the world. I spent over a year developing this set of rakes as I wanted a fully comprehensive set of rakes that came with 5,000-word digital guide to advanced raking techniques so people understood there was a lot more to raking than just moving your rake in and out.
The rake is inserted (after the wrench) and put bluntly, dragged backward and forward over the pins in an attempt to get them “set.” Once they're all set, the lock can open. Many people think that's it. But the rake can also be moved up and down, it can be tilted, it can be moved slowly or quickly. It can be moved in and out in an elliptical shape.
In fact, there are loads of variations, and the more variations a technique has, the more it can adapt to the many variations in locks, pin types, tolerances, and other things that make up the multitude of potential challenges provided by the world of locks.
The features that make raking stand out for the beginner are twofold. One, raking is fast! It's not uncommon to pick a lock quickly with a rake. Very quickly. I am talking a few seconds. And while that might be the extreme case, if a lock is going to respond to a rake, it will do it in a matter of minutes. In fact, if I'm raking a lock and it hasn't yielded in under two minutes, I am moving on to a different technique.
Believe me, it's good to know when to stop. Hours can be wasted, and frustration levels turned up to maximum spending time on a technique that just won't open the lock in hand. Raking will never do this.
Covert Nano Rake Set with wrench in magnetic real leather case. Exceptional raking potential that can either be slipped into your favorite lock pick set to improve it, or slipped into your jacket for emergencies.
The other reason raking is an absolute must for beginners is morale. Weird, eh? But I am serious, and lock pickers up and down the country will know exactly what I'm talking about. If you get your lock pick set through the post and sit down with your lock, lock picking kit, and your guide and start learning how to single-pin pick, it could be a long time, days, possibly weeks, before you manage to open a “real” lock (i.e., not clear or cut-away) using that technique. It just takes a while to learn.
Raking, on the other hand, in its most basic form, can be learned in a few minutes. Even using a tension tool is easier with raking. This means as long as you have a few locks at your disposal, the chances of opening one of them in an hour, or at least in an afternoon, is very high.
Lock picking successfully on the same day your picks arrive is an amazing feeling, any lock picker will tell you as much. So, if you're looking to buy a lock pick set or already have them in your hand, I would advise looking into raking because it's good to get a couple of early successes in the bag, as it motivates you to develop your skills further.
Recommended for raking:
3 - Electric Pick Guns
Perhaps a controversial choice in this blog, since electric pick guns offer almost zero pleasure, learning, or lock craft when opening locks. However, not all beginner lock pickers are learning this great art for pleasure. Many people have a problem that needs solving and if that problem happens to be picking locks, fast, and with not much practice, then the electric pick gun is for you.
You will need to learn how to apply tension, but if you have a few locks you can practice on and have a few YouTube videos of electric pick guns to watch, it won't be long before you're opening locks without keys with ease.
At the high end of the price range, electric pick guns are for people who need to open a lot of locks, and regularly. Apart from locksmiths, the obvious people are landlords, estate agents, property people of all types, military, emergency services, etc. With a bit of practice and a good quality electric pick gun, pretty much anyone can open locks in seconds with very little fuss.
Recommended for electric pick guns:
The KLOM Budget Lock Pick Gun. A fantastic electric lock pick gun that won't break the bank. Ideal for the beginner who wants to try this most effective of techniques.
4 - Bypassing
While bypassing is a group of techniques and tools rather than a technique itself, I would certainly advise the lock-picking beginner to familiarize themselves with a variety of bypass tools and techniques. Many of them offer similar features to raking in that they are generally quick to perform and will get results even in the hands of the new student of lock picking.
Whether it's something like MICA, the technique made popular in the movies where they open doors with credit cards, or thumbturn picks, which exploit the fact locks with a thumbturner at one end aren't actually locked, a selection of bypass tools and techniques will further inform your understanding of how locks and locking mechanisms work while starting the process of building up your repertoire of possible attacks—the mark of a true student.
Recommended for bypassing:
Peterson 4-piece Thumbturn tool set. Left & right and in two gauges. These tools exploit the fact that locks with a thumbturn on the inside aren't actually locked. Insert the tool through the lock and past the pins and turn the cam yourself, which opens the lock!
So, there you go. It doesn't have to be confusing. Just be patient, and don't try to run before you can walk. You don't need to learn everything all at once, and I would leave lever locks, impressioning, and all manner of other techniques until a lot later. Learn your way around a pin-cylinder lock with single-pin picking and raking. Indulge yourself in a few bypass tools to approach the non-destructive entry of pin cylinders from a different angle. And once you've got the hang of them, well, then read my blog, lock-picking for intermediates, which I guess I'd better write soon!
Happy picking and stay legal!