How to Pick a Lock (Basics)





Introduction: How to Pick a Lock (Basics)

I show how pin-tumbler locks work and how they can be opened using lock picks. This is a fairly basic view about lock picking but I wanted to make it comprehensive to give people a good idea of the concepts. As well as a foundation for beginners in lock picking to get a better view of how a lock works and how it can be exploited. The pin-tumbler is a very common lock mechanism that uses pins of varying lengths to prevent the lock from opening without the correct key. Most locks around the home or office are simple pin-and-tumbler locks and can be relatively easy to open using a pick and a tension wrench.

While the process is simple and can be mastered with practice, picking such a lock requires a great deal of patience. It can be a hobby as well as a practical skill. Locksmiths define lock-picking as the manipulation of a lock's components to open a lock without a key. To understand lock picking you first have to know how locks and keys work. Most locks are based on fairly similar concepts but they do come in all shapes and sizes, with many design variations. As this is just to cover the basics I don’t go over security pins or more advanced techniques. This is for educational purposes only.

Lock picking is the art of unlocking a lock by analyzing and manipulating the components of the lock device without the original key. In addition, ideal lock picking should not damage the lock itself, allowing it to be re-keyed for later use, which is especially important with antique locks that would be impossible to replace if destructive entry methods were used. Although lock picking can be associated with criminal intent, it is an essential skill for a locksmith, and is often pursued by law abiding citizens as a useful skill to learn or simply a hobby. The move towards combination locks for high security items such as safes was intended to remove the weakest part of the lock: its keyhole.

Step 1: How a Lock Works:

A pin-tumbler is a cylinder based lock design that uses movable pins to prevent rotation of the plug. A key is used to properly elevate pins to allow the plug to rotate and the locking bolt to be retracted. Pin tumblers are a series of pin stacks pushed down by a spring. Each stack must be properly raised to allow pins to separate at the shear-line. Once all pin stacks are separated the plug can freely rotate and actuate the locking bolt to lock or unlock the lock. An incorrect key will not align all components correctly; rotation of the plug will be blocked at the shear-line.

- Key pins (bottom pins): The pins that are touched by the
key. Key pins are sized differently corresponding to the different depth cuts on the key. When the correct key is inserted, all key pins are aligned at the shear line, allowing the plug to rotate.

- Driver pins (top pins): The pins placed between the key pins and the springs. In their resting position, the driver pins block rotation of the plug. In more advanced pin-tumblers, driver pins may be sized inverse to the key pins to defend against decoding and attacks via comb picks.

- Springs: Springs placed above the pin stacks push pins down to their resting position, ensuring that pins cannot be trapped above the shear line while the plug is in the default position.

- Plug: The plug is the inner piece of the lock that rotates upon insertion and tension of the correct key. The plug is connected to the cam to actuate the bolt mechanism when rotated.

- Cylinder: The cylinder is the outer piece of the lock that houses the upper pin chambers and the plug. Driver pins and springs are trapped in the cylinder's pin chambers when the correct key is used and plug rotated.

- Cam: The cam is an extension connected to the back of the plug which actuates the bolt mechanism to lock or unlock the lock.

The diagrams and information on pin-tumbler locks:

Step 2: Tools

- Lock picks (Can be homemade or bought)

- Practice locks (That you own or have permission to open)

- Tension wrench (Can be homemade or bought)

I got the transparent lock from here:

How to make a Lock Pick:

Step 3: Watch the Video

(The video may not show up for mobile viewers)

Lock Picking a Master Lock No.3 and No.21:



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    We should just break down the door :D :P

    I can do it with one paper clip

    What about bumbing? Is not it easier?

    As an aside, we use GSA combination locks for file cabinets. We had a 5 drawer cabinet with a lock on each drawer. When the locks started feeling "stiff," had a "locksmith" come out to service them. They worked great at first, but within 6 months, they became so stiff, you couldn't open the drawers. It cost $500 per lock to get someone to break in without damaging contents. He simply drilled into each lock and released it. However, one lock was so gummed up, it wouldn't release and he had to cut the bolt.

    We now have electronic combination locks. They are about $1000. I don't know what you do if they fail. At least they won't gum up.

    How do you find a locksmith who knows what he is doing......

    I have found it extremely difficult to find a locksmith who could/would pick old ('60s) car locks. I own cars from 30s, 50s, and 60s. Often, you cannot find new locks and a used lock may be missing the key. Being able to pick an old lock can save a lot of money. I took a 1966 Mustang trunk lock to a locksmith. Even though the key code was readable, he wanted $50 to look at it and wouldn't guarantee he could make a new key. A friend, now dead, who was a locksmith, picked a lock for me in a few seconds. Where do you find these guys, today? You could spend hours visiting locksmiths trying to find someone who could pick these old locks. I believe my time is better spent learning how to pick them. And, for me, you're right. It's not something you can pickup in an instant. I started with just 2 pins in a S____ge.

    Unfortunately you are correct, most of the people I have met in my time that wanted to become a locksmith did not want to learn how to pick open locks because unless you want to preserve the lock there is no reason to do so. Drilling the sheer line takes about 20 seconds and works every time, they think "Why learn a skill that prevents me from selling a new lock? If I drill it, the customer gets in and the lock gets replaced, generally by a more expensive one that has anti-drill features." A locksmith today is not appreciated for bypassing the locks without damage. Also hardware stores have stolen the lock and safe business by selling really cheap versions that make people believe they are getting a deal. So, the locksmiths have to match the price of the hardware store, or only sell quality locks, when we sell quality locks, 80% of the populace believes the locksmith is cheating them when it is the hardware store that is reducing the quality of what people are willing to spend on locks. They think the $20 at the hardware store is the same lock they would pay $40 for at a locksmith, but in most cases that is not the case, a locksmith becomes legally responsible for selling a product that is inferior, so does the hardware store, but most people would never sue a hardware store but they would sue a locksmith that makes their home or business vulnerable.

    Locksmiths used to be the only place to go to get a key cut or a door lock rekeyed, or to have a safe installed and maintained, but today that doesn't happen. Electronic safe locks are the normal type now, even though the mechanical type are long lived, an S&G #3 type safe lock cost about $170 and lasts for thirty or forty years with proper maintenance, but now you can get an electric one for about the same price, but it only comes with a 90 day warranty and will likely stop working within five years. They are just as secure as a mechanical lock but the parts are designed to fail, again, you can't make money unless you are selling new products.

    So, keep buying your locks at a hardware store, where the hardware is manufactured in China, and designed to keep no-one out who wants in. Then when you simply have to pay the locksmith for his skills, he will have to charge you more for those skills that are not available through the hardware stores just so he can make a living. The old adage is still true, you get what you pay for.

    Don't pay a professional what they want to make you a key when you don't have one, if you have the code, generally it is cheaper to make a key off the code, but if the lock was ever re-keyed, which was very common on older autos, making a key by code is only guaranteed to produce the key for the code, making a key for the lock without a key and without damaging the lock is a different process than picking the lock. Picking the lock has no relationship to making a key, so just asking someone to pick a lock is often the wrong approach.

    The basic problem you describe is prevalent in many trades, carpentry is a good example. Because of automation and the pace of technology, it just doesn't pay to fix "stuff." I used to save old TVs because I could fix cheaper than buying new. Since flat panels came out, I've thrown away a number of perfectly good CRT televisions. I bought my first color TV, a 10" GE portable in 1968 for $180 when I was making $5000 a year. Even though the dollar is worth much less, today, look what you get for $180.

    Getting back to locks, I've found, I can re key the old car locks once I can turn the cylinder. I have re-keying kits for old autos and S--g. When my friend picked the lock for me, I was able to re-key it. So far, I haven't had to cut any keys. I've collected old keys and with an assortment of pins, I just key the lock to match the key I have.

    The one problem I ran into was the Mustang lock. I bought one on eBay cheap without a key. To see how it was put together, I drilled out the small pin holding the lock in the assembly. I discovered it was a straight pin held in place with a rubber o-ring. Normally, with the cylinder rotated, you could push the pin in far enough the release the cylinder. However, the pin was also removable if you could find a way to pull it. I used a very small drill to put a "notch" in the pin and used a sharp pick to lift it out.

    But the real problem was putting new pins in the cylinder. The pins in my Ford re-keying kit were too large to fit. I've come to believe Ford locks earlier than about 1965, used a smaller pin. Certainly, the Mustang did. I haven't been able to find any information about these pins and where to buy them, so I bought a couple of old locks, cheap, on eBay just for the pins. In addition, the kit I have includes top and bottom pins. The older locks I have seem to have the same size top pin.

    I have found Chinese repos for the Mustang, but for now, I'll stick with the used originals. Just wish I could find assorted pins instead of taking locks apart.


    Thank you. I liked seeing how basic locks work. Whoever wants to write lines and lines more about it. Perhaps make another instruction set all on your own. Seems you some time here so thank you!

    Super, extra!!!

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