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How To Pick A Door Lock

Updated on January 22, 2011

Knowing how to pick a lock is a helpful ability – and is intended to help you out of those situations where you find you’ve lost your padlock key and can’t unlock your bike, get into your garden shed or even open your front door now you’re home after a great vacation.

It is not a skill to misuse. So when you’re picking a lock on a garden shed … make sure the shed you’re locked out of is yours …

The ability to pick a lock is quite easy to learn. All you need is an old lock, the lock picking tools, a little patience and some practice. You'll be surprised how easy it can become - once you understand the locking mechansim that's found in most car and residential door locks.

A locksmith can be an expensive alternative to losing a few hairs whilst learning how to pick a lock and let's face it - most of us lose at least a few hairs anytime we have to call out an emergency tradesman ... usually when the bill arrives.

You may as well go a little bald now - saving your much need hair for when you're old and grey or caught out in a winter storm without a hat.

The top tool is the tension wrench. This is what your paper clip will need to resemble. The others are various lock picks.
The top tool is the tension wrench. This is what your paper clip will need to resemble. The others are various lock picks.

Best Lock Pick

Lock Picking Tools

There are two basic lock picking tools; a tension wrench and a pick. That may sound like two complicated tools. They’re not. A tension wrench is simply a small ‘L’ shaped piece of steel. And the pick is … a long, thin straight piece of steel. But – you’re going to pick a lock with home-made lick picking tools, fashioned out of … paperclips.

So grab a couple – the standard size. Forget the girly ones that are a novelty item. Bog standard office ones will do.

Step One: Half straighten out one of the paperclips. Find something heavy (if you’re away from the nearest tool shed for e.g.) like a small rock. If at home, just use a hammer … forget the rock. Flatten the straight end of the paperclip. It’s fairly easy to do, more so with a hammer. You now have a lock pick.

Step Two: Fully straighten the second paperclip out. Make a 90º bend, about a third of the way up, creating an ‘L’ shape. This is your tension wrench. And you are now ... equipped.

The Tumbler Lock

Tumbler Lock

The two sets of pins. The lower set need to be in the shear position in order to allow the barrel to turn freely.
The two sets of pins. The lower set need to be in the shear position in order to allow the barrel to turn freely.
The key causes the key pins to meet the shear point - this is what you need to recreate with your tension wrench and lock pick.
The key causes the key pins to meet the shear point - this is what you need to recreate with your tension wrench and lock pick.

The tumbler lock is the locking mechanism most commonly used in padlocks, doors, windows and so on. It’s made up of a central barrel, or cylinder that consists of:

  • A plug – this is the component that rotates when the correct key is inserted into the lock.
  • The pins. There are two sets – driver pins and key pins.

The plug hosts the key slot, or keyway. When you insert the right key, the slots carved into the keys edge come into contact with the key pins. The driver pins are spring loaded, from above.

Once the key is engaged into the key slot and connects with the key pins, the key pins become aligned correctly and this is called the ‘shear point’ – the point at which the locking mechanism is freed up and allows you to rotate the key within the barrel.

This is your objective when lock picking: aligning the key pins to the shear point, in order to rotate the barrel.

Lock Picking

Best Lock Pick Guide

Now to the lock picking itself.

  • Insert the tension wrench into the cylinder, whilst holding the lock pick above it.
  • Using a little force (gently now) give the tension wrench a small twist.
  • Manoeuvre the lock pick in and out of the cylinder – gradually. Don’t be hasty or rough. Your aim is to manipulate the key pins that are inside the cylinder.
  • You’re intention is to move the pins into the shear point (as mentioned above). As long as it’s a quiet environment you can usually hear an audible ‘click’ when a pin moves up
  • The pins align one at a time.
  • As the individual pins align, the cylinder will slightly rotate – this is what will hold the pins in place and prevent them from dropping back.
  • Continue until you have all the pins in the shear point.

And that’s it. Consider yourself a fledgling lock picker. Practice a good bit, until you become relatively adept at feeling the key pins aligning into the shear position.

All that I ask is that you be a good citizen and only pick locks that belong to your good self or those that you consider family and friends.

And absolutely no snooping in the office HR cabinet when no one is looking!



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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      strangly easy, use full as i so often forget my house key, thanks frog! i wonder where i can by real tools.....


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Picking the right door lock is important because safety first before anything else. Anyway, thanks for sharing this with us.

    • bgigstead profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow I never thought it would be so easy.

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      osci - ahhhh we've all got a paperclip or two hiding somewhere. Usually where we least expect. Which means we can never find them ;)

    • oscillationatend profile image


      9 years ago from a recovering narcissist.

      Now to find some of these tools...cookie jar, here I come!

      Thanks for an amusing, and informative read. ;)

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Janetta - noooooo and shhhhhh! Quiet woman. You know you're not supposed to spill my sneaky secrets!

      jiberish - then may you and your keys never be parted. Alternatively ... make sure you've a couple of paperclips handy :)

      Mr - now that's a whole lot of keys!

      Jeri - I shouldn't laugh but I did. That's irony. There to keep folks out. lol! Then again ... your OH lives there so, you know, what he did was fine ;)

      Keira - as always, thankyou :)

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Jaspal ... um I have no idea and if I did, my mouth would be firmly clamped shut. You hear ... firmly ;)

      Mag - thankyou :)

      Mega - now that's a great tip. I hope others read and remember that one. Thankyou!

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Lisa - lol thankyou!

      Blake ... phew! I took you seriously ;)

      Candie ... eagle eye! I better spell check a little better mom!

      Art - I won't ask why :P

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Very good info, thanks Frogdropping. See you soon.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Very informative! I'll bookmark it just in case. Our HOA installed new walk gates to keep people who don't live here out just today. Unfortunately, my senior citizen husband was out on his morning walk when they put them in. So he was locked out. I don't know how much they paid for those two gates (probably a lot) and he just removed the hinge bolts and walked through. Feels no need to take the combination that they emailed everyone today as "top secret" -- no doubt I'll be getting a HOA letter about that next the first time someone sees him circumvent the system. :D

    • mroricle1973 profile image


      9 years ago from Virginia Beach

      WOW!!!! I like this... Hope I never have to try it... I keep a million keys everywhere... =)

    • jiberish profile image


      9 years ago from florida

      I wish I would have had this info the many times I've lost my keys. Thanks.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      And you claim your riches have come from AdSense! HA! I see what you've been up to! LOL ;)

    • mega1 profile image


      9 years ago

      Prevention being the best cure - here's a tip - if you have been known to forget to take your keys with you or you forget where there are - 1)everytime you put your keys down rattle them, listen, and look at where you put them - easy to remember where they are - 2) everytime you go out a locking door, have your keys in your hand and rattle them and look at them when you put them in your pocket or purse- the combination of listening and looking help you to never lock yourself out. It also helps to purchase a nice strong keychain device or key ring that will prevent them falling off. I found these things out the hard way! thanks for the instructions - they may come in handy!

    • magdielqr profile image


      9 years ago

      Excellent Hub!

    • Jaspal profile image


      9 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Thank you for this invaluable advice Frog ... do you think one could work this on bank lockers and safes too?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Believe it or not when I was 17 I could pick almost any padlock with a thick safety pin ; )

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 

      9 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      Frog!! Excellent tips! I know can be a secret agent and get into any shed!! (On a note in the first paragraph under tools you have "lock with home-made lick picking tools," I don't think we need home-make lick picking tools!!!

    • Blake Flannery profile image

      Blake Flannery 

      9 years ago from United States


      You are right. A thief may not want to read all of this text. Thieves would probably watch the YouTube videos on their stolen laptops using stolen internet access.

      Sorry you took my historical joke seriously.

    • Lisa Luv profile image

      Lisa J Warner AKA Lisa Luv 

      9 years ago from Conneticut, USA

      Very very interesting my dear watson--love the ronald mcdonald pic!

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      nicomp - ronald is an ass and whatever he was doing, he was caught red handed :) And what is that horse doing on your avatar?

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      ralwus - thankyou. For me, it really has been a handy (random) skill. To be honest, having been broken into several times, they don't pick locks. If they did (figuring they're coming in whatever) it would be a less expensive time afterwards.

      Have a great day :)

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      9 years ago from Ohio, USA

      I had no idea Ronald MacDonald had sunk so low. How sad.

      A hot juicy Angus burger would cheer him up.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      FD, this is most valuable for honest people. Don't take it down now. this info is readily available on the internet for anyone, honest or not. I thank you and never knew you were so handy like this. thanks dear, I may need it one day. Actually I needed it this morning for a little neighbor girl as she was locked out and she had forgotten something for school. She knew I did have a key to her house at one time but I returned it. Neighbors trust me and I have keys to several, I should get that one back again for just such emergencies.

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Mike - thankyou. I was simply sharing a skill I have, using the method I use. Something I've rarely had to do as an adult and to be honest you can only do it on cheap locks, not the more sophisticated and expensive type. All I did was write the actual method out - which I didn't know as a kid - I'd just be desperate to retrieve my school bag or similar but didn't want to get in trouble for breaking the lock :)

      Pacal - I'm honestly undecided. I mean ... when you think of some of the things I've written about and this one may cause shock. I'm feeling a bit ... sheepish for the first time :|

    • profile image

      Pacal Votan 

      9 years ago

      It can be used for just as much good as bad, I think. It saved your stupid brother's locked cupboard after all. If I had been in your place I would have used a sledgehammer. :)

    • MikeNV profile image


      9 years ago from Henderson, NV

      Interesting actually. I've copied my own keys before by buying blanks and using a vice and a file. I've never really tried to pick a lock. I don't see any problem with the information. Seriously if someone wants to use knowledge or tools in a bad way they will. Should we not make knowledge available because it could be used in the wrong way? And how many people are going to rush out and buy lock picking tools anyways?

    • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Pacal - I don't know if it's a good thing or not, this hub. I was undecided. It's a skill I learned as a kid, though only through sheer determination at regaining my belongings from my stupid brother's locked cupboard :)

      Nelle - um lol I don't know. Is it that bad?! Maybe I should unpublish it :|

      Blake - nope. I know nothing about tax cheating. And honestly, locksmiths learn this, it's a basic skill. And trust me - a thief won't need the help they'll read here.

      tori - thankyou.

    • torimari profile image


      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Haha, great hub. I need to try this out...of course only appropriately!:)

    • Blake Flannery profile image

      Blake Flannery 

      9 years ago from United States

      Looking forward to your follow-up hub, "How to Cheat on your Taxes" which, of course, is only recommended for citizens who have no representation.

    • profile image

      Nelle Hoxie 

      9 years ago

      well I'm speechless. can't wait to see the google adsense ads on this one.

    • profile image

      Pacal Votan 

      9 years ago

      Great actionable hub. lol

      A very handy skill to learn. :) Thank you.


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