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How To Pick a Lock

Updated on September 20, 2014

There are two essential tools when picking a lock. You've got one tool that turns the cylinder and a second tool that pushes the pins.

The cylinder-turner is called a torsion wrench or a torque wrench. It is L shaped like an allen wrench but at least one end will be flattened so that it can fit into the bottom of the keyhole easily. When you've put the torque wrench into the keyhole, the part sticking out acts as a lever. If you apply a very small amount of pressure to that lever while the pins are out of the way, it will turn the whole cylinder just like the key would. While picking the lock, you want to apply constant (tiny) pressure to the torque wrench. It might take you a few tries to get the feel for how much pressure to put on the lock but practice makes perfect.

The pin-pusher is called the pick. Picks come in a lot of shapes and sizes which each lend themselves to different lock designs, but you can pick a very large number of locks with the most basic tool. The important thing is that it has to be long enough to reach the back pin and thin enough to fit into the keyhole.

Lock picking takes advantage of the fact that physical reality is never as perfect as a diagram or concept. Diagrams will draw pins to show that they all line up perfectly, but the reality is that one pin will be a micrometer slimmer than the pin before it and a pikameter wider than the fourth pin, for example. Pins are rarely the same exact size. If you put just enough pressure on the torsion wrench, one pin will be blocking you (the widest pin) while the other four just wait a micron away.

With a pick, you can gently tap that one pin upward until it is exactly as high as it needs to go. Because you're applying pressure to the torque wrench, the pin will make a very soft click as it slides out of the way and the cylinder will rotate a tiny amount (often imperceivable). Now the next widest pin is blocking you and you can push it out of the way. You do this for each pin and you will find that all the pins are raised and the cylinder is turning at the gentle push of your torque wrench.

This is how it works in theory, and hook picks are great for pushing pins up individually. However, you can't always spend thirty minutes pushing up pins with minute finger movements. Some picks like diamond picks are designed for raking. Raking is when you drag the pick across all the pins back and forth and just sort of jostle them until they all get knocked up. It's the same as individually lifting them since only the next one ready to go will go up, except it can take far less time because it's more of a fluid motion.

Guide Step by Step to Lock Picking

Note: Read all of this information BEFORE you purchase anything.

Step 1: First Reading

My first recommendation is to read the MIT Guide to

Lock picking by Theodore T. Tool. Although the document is rather old (1987),

all of the information within it is still valid, and will apply to the majority of

the locks you run into on a daily basis. It gives a very good introduction on

how to pick pin tumbler locks (the type used on the door to your house). There is

simply no better place to start.

Step 2: Second Reading

After you've read the MIT Guide, I encourage to you read the Secrets of

Lock picking page. This page gives an overview of many different types of locks

and will help you identify the different types as you encounter them. This site

doesn't give as much detail about each lock as the MIT Guide, so I recommend reading

the MIT Guide first. For now, just concentrate on the wafer tumbler lock

information at this site. The other lock types aren't very common, so come back

and read those sections after you've picked some pin and wafer tumblers.

Step 3: Purchase a practice lock

That's enough reading. Now you're ready to purchase a practice lock. Odds are,

you'll end up destroying this lock, so don't go for anything fancy, or anything

you'll want to keep. Walk into any department store and buy a medium priced

dead-bolt. A dead-bolt is the easiest lock to disassemble, so don't stray away

towards any other type. Also, the really cheap locks can be hard to open even with

the key, so trying to pick them is even worse. The brands you want to look for

are either generic names, or Kwikset. Stay away from Schlage, it's

more difficult to pick due to the shape of the ward. The lock you purchase

should be a five pin tumbler (you would have a hard time finding a dead-bolt

that isn't).

Step 4: Remove all but one pin from your lock

Attempting to pick a five pin tumbler is way too difficult for someone just

starting out. So you'll want to make your job easier by removing all but one

pin from your lock. This will give you a feel for what it's like to pick a lock

so you'll know it when it happens. Taking the pins out of a lock without

destroying it isn't intuitive, so I've put together a

guide showing how to do it. You'll want to leave the first pin (the pin

closest to the front of the lock) in. This will allow you to see what you're


Step 5: Get a torque wrench and a pick.

You probably don't own a lock pick set, so you're going to

have to make due with household items. Here is a list of a few items which

will serve you well as a torque wrench:

  • Allen Wrench. This is the best tool. If you have a grinder, pick one

    which is a size or two too big to enter the key-way, then grind it's width down

    just enough to enter the key-way. If you don't have a grinder, use a file, or use

    a different item for a torque wrench. (Using one which fits exactly into the

    key-way will only work for a while, eventually you'll wear out the key-way).

  • Screwdriver. Use a very small one, but not so small that it doesn't touch

    the wards. You'll want to make it as effortless as possible to apply turning


  • Paper Clip. Find a sturdy paper clip and straighten it out. Then

    bend a loop just big enough to fit into the bottom of the key-way. Then bend the

    remaining wire about 80-90 degrees to the loop.

Here are some tools which may be used as a pick (most of these tools will work

well for picking the first pin, but you'll need to upgrade after you've added

a pin or two):

  • Allen Wrench. Pick the smallest one you can find.
  • Screw Driver. Again, pick the smallest one you can find.
  • Paper Clip. You'll need one strong enough to withstand the force of the


  • Straight Pin. File the point off so you don't stick yourself.
  • Safety Pin. Again, file the point off.
  • Staple. You'll need one strong enough to withstand the force of the

    springs. Straighten it out so it's flat, then turn it edgewise when picking.

Step 6: Pick the lock.

And now the moment of truth; you're ready to pick your first lock. Basically,

just do what you learned back in step1 and step 2. I find it easiest when the

lock is turned upside down. Then place your finger on the torque wrench, and let

gravity do the work (you may need to press down just a little bit). Then take

your pick and lower the first pin down very slowly. Once you hit the the sheer

line, you'll know it. The plug will turn, and you'll be amazed as to how easy it

was and how little time it took. Return the plug back to the locked position

and repeat until you're comfortable.

Step 7: Add some more pins and try again

Now that you know what it feels like, add another pin back in (add pin

two, just behind pin one). Now when you get a pin picked, you won't know for

sure, not until you try to pick the second one. Practice, Practice,

Practice. You'll want to become very proficient at picking two pins before

stepping up to three. If you try to advance too quickly, you'll hinder your

learning. So take your time. If you practice casually, it will probably take

you three to five days to work your way up to five pins. Also, you'll need better

tools to pick more than three pins, so order your pick set and practice with two

and three pins until your order arrives.

Step 8: Continue Learning

Use these links to learn more about lock picking and locksmithing.

LockPickShop Guide

Greg Miller's Guide To Lockpicking

WikiHow Guide to picking a lock

LifeHacker's Guide To Locks

Thanks to Greg Miller for this write up

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