Introduction: From Blank Keys to Working Keys Without Dismanteling the Lock (using a Handfile)

Picture of From Blank Keys to Working Keys Without Dismanteling the Lock (using a Handfile)

You've probably seen lockpicking explained on several "hacky" websites. You
might even have tried it yourself. But what if you need to open a lock a number of times? Wouldn't it be great to have an opening technique that would supply you with a working key in the process? A method to do this has existed for quite some time, but until some years ago it has remained quite unknown. Impressioning locks got "re-invented" by the lockpick community and the skill evolved to the level now shown at several international championships. What is it? How does it work? What skill is involved? Why is it the most interesting way to open a lock? These questions, and more will be answered in this instructable.

Step 1: Blank Key

Picture of Blank Key

To start of you need a blank, uncut key that fits in the lock. Preferably it should be brass, but other materials do work.

During the impressioning process, we will need to search for tiny marks on the surface of the key. As you can see in the picture the untreated surface is rather rough, so marks will be hard to see.

Step 2: Prepping Key

Picture of Prepping Key

A quick swipe with a file will take the toplayer off.

If your file is too fine, the surface will become too shiny. (which will be a bad thing in one of the next steps)

I recommend a swiss cut #4 file for this step

Step 3: Smoothed Blank Key

Picture of Smoothed Blank Key

The idea of this step is to get a consistent surface (preferably non-shiny). This will make it WAY easier to recognize marks.

Step 4: Getting Initial Marks

Picture of Getting Initial Marks

While applying a moderate turning force on the key, rock the key up-and-down.

Turn the key in the other direction and repeat the rocking motion.

Using too much force WILL break your key. Using too little won't produce marks. Practice makes perfect.

Make sure you have backups

Applying just enough force will probably not work bare-handed.

You can either spend WAY to much money on over-engineered equipment like

or go for something simpler (and way more effective) like

I use a custom grip made by

You can also use a normal vicegrip

Step 5: Identifying Initial Marks

Picture of Identifying Initial Marks

Using a magnifying aid will help tremendously in identifying marks. If marks are hardly visible, changing the angle of the key can make a huge difference.

Other possible tools are or

Step 6: Filing the First Cuts

Picture of Filing the First Cuts

On the spots where marks are visible, remove some material.

Try to leave sooth surfaces in the valleys you are creating.

Correct spacings and depths can be found here :

Which can be checked with calipers

Step 7: Rinse, Repeat

Picture of Rinse, Repeat

Put the key in the lock again and repeat the turn-and-rocking motion described earlier.

After examining the key you might find marks in the valleys you just created, or on new spots.

File those spots.

Step 8: More Rinse, More Repeat

Picture of More Rinse, More Repeat

Keep repeating this process.

At some point you might see "crater marks"; marks that are WAY bigger. These marks don't always occur, but when thy do they indicate that cut is almost at the correct depth. Be careful not to file away too much material!

Step 9: Success

Picture of Success

If done correctly, all of a sudden your key will turn! This will either mean you broke your key or .... SUCCESS !!

You have created a working key. If this key won't turn smoothly, check for cratermarks and remove a tiny bit of material.

Step 10: More Info ..

Picture of More Info ..

Unlike lockpicking, impressioning creates a fully working key for the
lock which can be used to lock and unlock the cylinder at will. With practice, this technique can consistently open a lock in 10-15 minutes (and potentially faster)!

The pictures for this instructable we made by Hack42's very own Dennis van Zuijlekom

Good job Dennis, they came out great!


howardcharl2 (author)2016-02-09

Good share

Moe Greatness (author)2016-01-27

wouldnt it be faster to dismantle the lock and file it without needing to repeat the proccess multiple times

Dismantling is not always an option. But yes, that probably would be faster (not counting the time it takes to search for the springs that just HAD to jump out)

Chris-Q (author)2015-08-22

Great work and 'ible!

afridave (author)2015-08-21

just an idea...but what if you cast a blank out of lead so that the impressions are easier to see?...

MeisterJos (author)afridave2015-08-21

Impressions would indeed be quite easy to spot, but your blank would also break WAY to easily. I've seen some research where they replaced only a part of the key, mitigating the breakage, but still keep the advantages of lead.

(haven't played with this myself)

silaswren (author)2015-08-10

Thanks for sharing

viw9419 (author)2015-07-19

It isn't just giving someone physical access to the key, it is also allowing someone to see your key for just a few seconds, or having them in a position where a photo can be taken.
I know that Jos could make a key based on a quick glance (as can I).
The part that most people don't realise is that this process which can be done in under 60 seconds, can be done over a period of days with only a few seconds at a time needed. Keys are easier to restrict access to than the locks themselves.

Excellent instructable Jos.

MeisterJos (author)viw94192015-07-27

Thanks Warren.

Like it a lot :-)

redmarkonthewall (author)2015-07-27

Would using something like layout fluid on the top surface help to see the marks or not?

Some people find that helpful. I'm not one of those people. But if if works for you, why not ? Just give it a shot.

Istvan01 (author)2015-07-17

Do not take my comment the wrong way but,

If you allow someone to have your key they can easily take it to Walmart and have it duplicated.

To maintain security do not share your key

MeisterJos (author)Istvan012015-07-17

I agree. I actually gave several lectures on that subject. See per example .

cybercapri (author)2015-06-26

Please do not take my comment the wrong way, but the road to hell was paved with good intentions. Why do I say this? It's obvious you have a wonderful skill, to be able to cut a key to ANY LOCK, without the need to COPY an existing key. Therein lies the Good Intention part, now for the HELL that FOLLOWS, you've just given away to those that wish to do harm to others a wonderful tool to use to do as they please. I do not blame you because no one can be held responsible for the actions of others because we do not control others. The fact is you have a great craft with good intentions that I fear others would use for malice...

JourPT (author)cybercapri2015-07-01

This an art, its too much work for a vulgar thief, most of them just want to do the "job" fast. As for malice, anything can be of use to do bad things, remote controls, drones, etc...Anyway I do get your point.

rsfluffy (author)cybercapri2015-06-28

If a person had the patience to learn a skill, practice that skill, bring that skill to a high level, thievery would not be needed. Thieves are lazy. No worries about this kind of info getting into the wrong hands. The hands that can learn this have jobs.

MeisterJos (author)rsfluffy2015-06-29

Nicely put.

See, the thing is, it's not this easy. This guy clearly has plenty of practice, and having experience with locks and lockpicking myself, I can attest to the fact that this is not the sort of skill a common thief would have the patience to pick up. Besides, not only does it take skill and time to know how to do it right, it takes skill and time to actually do it, making this not a very practical method of illegal entry.

On the other hand, knowing about how to impression a lock provides an opportunity to learn about locks and maybe help someone who's been locked out of an apartment who won't find someone hunched over a lock for a half hour with calipers and files weird.

Besides, as MeisterJos said, there are faster and easier ways to get in to a lock. Every thief knows how to smuggle and use a crowbar on a door, very very few use lockpicks, and I've never heard of impressioning being used for illegal entry (other than by governments who can spend those sorts of resources on a target).

I'd like to go on the record and state I have no moral objection to this demonstration. (I am not immoral)


MeisterJos (author)cybercapri2015-06-26

If your intentions are to do bad, there are WAY easier ways to get into doors (and definitely faster).

MattDoesThat (author)2015-06-29

Good primer. I would point out that this skill was never lost. It's always been taught in locksmithing schools. That's where I learned it. My best time was about 7 minutes.

jmorse3 (author)2015-06-24

I've seen this technique used on wafer locks, but never pin and tumbler. How effective is it getting impressions from tumblers that give under pressure?

MattDoesThat (author)jmorse32015-06-29

When you put turning pressure on the key, you are effectively trapping the bottom pins in the shear line between the plug and lock body. The trapped pins will create marks when you rock the key, while other pins arent trapped. This works because not all the holes are perfectly centered in the plug. It can help to turn the key in the opposite direction if you are having trouble getting a mark. As you reach the correct cut depth on some of the pins, the shear line on those is reached while other pins are trapped. Impressioning works better on cheaper locks because the machining isnt as good. Unfortunately, most locks on houses are cheaper ones.

neopolitan (author)jmorse32015-06-25

he's just getting the pin spacings from the rocking. The technique you are describing is to derive the depths on a different sort of lock

MeisterJos (author)jmorse32015-06-24

"give" as in "having some play"? That doesn't really effect the technique.
Or are you referring to something else?

tazmaniac_37752 (author)2015-06-26

What about blackening the key with lite matches? i know a lock smith who does it that way!

the author answered this 6 months ago: "People tried UV dye, candle soot and various other coloring aids with mixed results. Personally I don't like it as it becomes quite messy after a few tries. This can make it even harder to recognize the marks. But some people seem to like it."

MakeBromyard (author)acoleman32015-06-28

In the main, the use of smoking or nail polish on the blank is to get the spacings, when you are starting the process.
If it is a competition and this is already known, it is a waste of time and effort compared to using a tool to set it for you.
On an actual site doing a locksmithing job, you rarely know the details of the lock (in the UK anyway) - sure it says "Yale", but which generation of lock? Good luck doing it by the numbers!
So there you would likely either edge the blank, smoke it or fiddle for quite a lot longer to get your spacings.

The depths you will still have to determine by impression work though.

allen.benge (author)2015-06-27

When I was 16, I bought a blank Ford key and using a fingernail file, I duplicated the key to my mom's car, and when she went to church club meetings, I would go driving. Tip: Use a candle to blacken the shaft of the key, and the pins in the lock wil leave bare spots that you use to make the key.

fred3655 (author)2015-06-21

How do I get key blank material? How do I know what fits? thanks

Depends on your lock! I most commonly see SC1's or KW1's, which you can buy online pretty cheap.

They go for 10-20$ for a box of 50. The ones you'll find are from JMA or ilco, which aren't the original manufacturers but they make the same blanks as kwikset or Schlage. That PDF MeisterJos posted looks like a great resource, so that's another place to check out.

MeisterJos (author)fred36552015-06-21

A quick google search came up with


Another option is becoming friends with your local locksmith..

lockpro (author)2015-06-26























MEMJIM (author)2015-06-26

Meister Jos, very good illustration and instruction. I'll use this technique often. Thanx to ya' & keep on doin' it....jk

jbrauer (author)2015-06-22

Wow, this is really interesting. I've raked a couple of file cabinet locks for fun, but this is a completely different way of looking at it. I want to try cutting a key, but might use a ball mill in my Sherline.

And thanks for supporting Somafm. I try to kick them some money every year.

diverdale (author)jbrauer2015-06-26

Hey Man!!! Fancy seeing you looking at this awesome ible ;)

Stan1y (author)2015-06-21

I recall doing something similar to make a key for a mortice lock I blacked the blank in a candle flame to make the marks easier to see, would this help in this case or maybe using engineers blue?/ dark coloured artists oil paint

MeisterJos (author)Stan1y2015-06-21

Like I answered to FriXs, I personally don't like adding paints. But within mortice locks you normally have TONS of room, so yes, that could be useful.

FriXs (author)2015-06-21

I wonder if it would help to spray the key surface with some kind of color to help identifying the spots?

MeisterJos (author)FriXs2015-06-21

People tried UV dye, candle soot and various other coloring aids with mixed results. Personally I don't like it as it becomes quite messy after a few tries. This can make it even harder to recognize the marks. But some people seem to like it.

MeisterJos (author)2015-06-20

DOH! I totally forgot to mention these pictures are made by Hack42's very own Dennis van Zuijlekom

Hack42 (author)MeisterJos2015-06-21

You might want to edit your Instructable to add that, he'll appreciate it I'm sure.

MeisterJos (author)Hack422015-06-21


Hack42 (author)MeisterJos2015-06-21


pucksurfer (author)2015-06-20

Very cool

Edbed (author)2015-06-20

Great instructable!

Emilebedaux (author)2015-06-20

I like your sweater. And your interesting hobby.

MeisterJos (author)Emilebedaux2015-06-20

Sweater can be had at (but judging to your avatar, you already know this :-) )

Emilebedaux (author)MeisterJos2015-06-20

Black rock fm. Otherwise space station, beat blender or groove salad.
All channels that make you able to spend some nice hobby time.


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