Introduction: Introduction to Hobbyist Lock Picking Aka: LockSport

About: For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For wan…

Lock picking gets a bad wrap. When most people hear the phrase, it congers images of illicit activities and unscrupulous personas. But really, when it comes to petty larceny the most effective strategy isn't going to be lock picking. Destructive entry: bricks, angle-gringers, bolt cutters and sledgehammers are the order of the day. The time it takes to finesse a lock open isn't something most criminals would be willing to commit themselves too (or so I'd imagine).

The information to follow will strictly pertain to the budding hobbyist/enthusiast: how to get into "Lock-sport," as logically and cost-effectivly as possible. There will be no discussion on how exactly, to go about picking locks. There are plenty of web-sites and Youtube videos for that. Instead, this 'ible will focus on what to buy, where to buy it and additional resources that my be of benifit to you would-be pickers of the world.

It's important to note, prior to any purchases, the rules and regulations of whatever state/province in which you happen to reside, and to know that lock-picking carries with it a stigma, which could put you in an uncomfortable situation should something go missing in your school or place of work, as such, discretion is recommended, and even more so, DON'T GO BREAKING THE LAW!!!

Any and all sites/products mentioned herein I've personal experience with and have found either the information therein or merchandise supplied to be of merit sufficant to warrant their inclusion in this article. I've no affiliation to any web-site or businesses mentioned. Believe me, I wish I did! I'd have saved a pretty penny!

Hope you enjoy, Cheers.

PS: I've included a short glossary of terms in the final step in this instructable just in case. If you've any unanswered questions please feel free to drop me a line. Happy picking!

Step 1: The Three Laws of Robotics... Err, Lock Picking...

Before we get in too deep, it's important to know the three rules/laws of lock picking, or rather my interpretations of them, they are as follows;

Never pick a lock in use.

It may seem counterintuitive, but there's always the possiblity that in attempting to pick a lock you may damage it. It's no good attempting to pick open the front door of your fourth floor apartment only to have the pick snap off in the lock, trust me...

Never pick a lock you do not own.

If it's not yours, don't pick it! Not only is there the possibility of potentially damaging the lock, but there's also the very real possibility of jail time! You wouldn't pick your friends nose, you shouldn't pick their locks, without express permission of course. With permission, I guess it'd be okay to pick your friend's nose... weirdo.

Never commit a crime in possession of your picks.

Really, you should just never commit a crime. But, things happen: wrong place wrong time, traffic violations, drunk and disorderly, mistaken identity, jay-walking... It's not a stretch of the imagination for a court to argue felonious/malicious intent if you're already caught in the commission of a crime. It's always better safe then sorry. Best to leave your picks at home.

Step 2: Splashy, Splashly...

As with any emerging hobby, it's best to get your feet wet first so you don't go busting the bank chasing the thought of what could be, especially with lock picking. It takes a lot of practice/patience and certainly isn't for everybody. Also, as with most hobbies the resale market is pretty weak comparative to retail. So, it's not likely you'll recoup your initial investment if you should find it's not for you.

The great news is, it's not really an expensive hobby, or at least, it needn't be. You really can pick a lock with a bobby pin if that's your inclination. Point of fact, there's in instructable for that:

Hairpin lock picking:

Or if you're mechanically inclined you can make your own picks:

Myself, I went on Amazon and bought this set: Looching professional cutaway padlock + lock pick tool set.

(sorry, no link. But if you exercise a bit of google-fu I'm sure you'll find it.)

So, why Amazon and why this set? Well, I choose Amazon because it's a trusted site. If you google "lock picks for purchase," there are some awfully shady sites that spring up. The last thing I was looking to do was give my credit card number to some site touting low cost tools for larceny (told you lock-picking had a stigma).

Anyway, I chose the kit above because it seemed as though it had all the basics from my research and because it came with a solid metal cutaway practice lock. Having read a number of reviews (on Amazon) a lot of people had the clear plastic cutaway locks fail on them. I figured that the metal lock might be a bit more sturdy.

Once I received this first set I wasn't too convinced picking was for me. I think a large part of that was the quality of the picks themselves. They just looked and felt shabby. They came to me covered in machine oil, rough as all get out and the handles, though firmly riveted, were sharp and hurt my delicate little hands. The lock was the only thing that gave be hope

After a day or so, I decided to make due and solider on. I sanded down their rough edges (which wore away some of the black coating). I then appropriated straws from a number of different dining establishments till I found one (Duncan Dounuts) that slipped over the handle tightly enough to stay in place. After that, I had a grand ol' time picking my practice lock over and over till I could do so in under 20 seconds with my eyes closed! Then, I was hooked.

Step 3: If at First You Don't Succeed...

Once I'd throughly conquered my cutaway, I decided it was time to try something a little more challenging. Overly amped, I headed over to my local hardware store and picked up a brand spanking new Master Lock #3. From what I'd read, it seemed the most logical progression.

I will tell you this, don't watch a Bosnian Bill vid and think that Master Locks fall open at a whim. They do not. After watching a bunch of Youtube videos I thought all it'd take was a tension wrench a pick and a modicum of finesse... Yeah, not so much... After hours of picking I got nowhere and started to lose heart. Thankfully, I'm not the type to give up so easily.

It's was just a matter of persistence, patience and dogged determination. The master lock #3 is a four pin lock with no security pins. It's really a great stepping stone for those new to the hobby. After I got it open once, I was able to get the picking order down and then it wasn't even fair. I could pick it blind-folded, slightly inebriated listening to "golden eye," trust.

After that first purchase from the local hardware store ($7.95USD). I decided I couldn't go about buying anymore locks retail. With that, I turned to that warm ever-welcoming bosom of consumerism: Ebay. I managed to pick up four (older) American brand laminated padlocks NOS (new old stock).

Upon retrospect this was not a great buy. Older American brand locks are more well made with tighter tolerances then the good ol' number 3 to which I'd become accustomed . I say older because now they're owned by Master Lock. God bless America. Needless to say I was lost... till I learned about TOK tensioning that is.

Locks with tighter tolerances are more difficult to pick given that lock picking itself relies on slight manufacturing defects within any given lock. A perfect lock where everything is made with absolutely zero variance would be, theoretically, impossible to pick.

Step 4: Upping My Game.

After getting through my initial slew of locks (took a spell but I was finally able to conquer those old Americans) I decided to upgrade my kit. There are a number of great manufactures out there and one of the best things about them is that most of them allow you to buy one pick/tensioner at a time. It's really a cost effective way to incrementally build your kit to your specifications. My own personal kit is comprised of tools from these manufactures:

Sparrows: Sparrows website has more of a modern feel to it and they've a great assortment of kits and singles from which to choose. Also, they carry a bunch of other bits and bobs of tacticool type goodness. On top of all that they're in Canada so you can make out pretty alright depending on the conversion rates.

Peterson: Peterson's website is by far the most austere. But their product is the most robust of the lot. Their government steel "Gem" has become my go to pick for SPP (single pin picking). I also like how comfortable thei handles feel in the hand. Their customer service is excellent by the way.

Southord: Southord's picks are pretty sturdy and very inexpensive comparatively. That being said, the only pick I've ever broken (thus far) was from them, granted it was early on so my heavy handedness may have had something to do with it. I really like the shape/effectiveness of their bogota rake!

Southern Specialties:Southern Specialties makes some great euro picks though I've no familiarity with their american picks. Their website isn't the friendliest to navigate on a mobile device.

Each one of these manufactures has their own merit. Just be mindful. Buying one pick at a time, though convenient, can add up pretty quickly. Especially when you factor in shipping. Best to figure out what pieces your looking for from each manufacturer and make a single purchase from each. That way you save on shipping costs.

Step 5: Once Ya Pop, Ya Just Can't Stop.

Aside form the investment in picks and tensioners, locks are the only other expense. Like I said before, after that first master lock I decided purchasing locks retail just wasn't economical.

Ebay is probably the easiest place to pickup new locks in mass. I went and set up Ebay alerts for "Lock lots," "Padlocks," and "locksmith." It wasn't long before I was able to pick up a number of locks at bargain basement prices. I cherry picked my favorites, made sure I picked the rest and re-listed the dregs when I was done. Try to establish a maximum cost per lock your willing to pay. For me it's about 2.80USD. Once you've got your maximum per lock price established don't exceed your limit! There'll always be another auction. Besides, patience is a virtue

I've heard of people having relative success with the retail branch of habitat for humanity: ReSource. But the only venue I've really had any success with is Ebay. Of course, there's craig's list and hardware stores. But past dealings with Craig have left me jaded and hardware stores are crazy expensive.

When it comes to buying locks, one of the things you'll want to look out for are the type of locks you're buying. There are all sorts of locks: disc detainer, pin tumbler, dimple, warded... You want to make sure your buying locks suitable to your level of skill.

Personally, I've focused on pin tumbler padlocks, both static and re-keyable. As with developing skill, it's all about progression. One of the things you want to watch out for are security pins and para-centric key-ways. Do your research and make sure that you don't go wasting your hard earned green-basks on locks you can't pick.

That being said, if you come across a good deal it may be a good idea to stow away a few challenge locks for when your skills get up to snuff. Planing for the future never hurt anybody.

Step 6: Apples & Oranges

In the previous step, I mentioned places where you could potentially buy locks. Here I wanted to go over what brands to look out for, and which. may cost you a premium if you're looking to take 'em home.

Master Lock: Master lock brand locks are actually great locks on which to practice. They come in a variety of flavors and price points. I don't know if it's because of the their quality, or the ease by which they're opened (once you've gotten the knack), but they seem to last quite a while, and are great for those just starting out and are apt to be a little more heavy handed.

*Keep in mind that when you're picking, you're compressing the springs backing the key and driver pins. The more repetitively they're compressed the greater the likelihood of their failure.

American: American brand padlocks are now manufactured by Master Lock, but vintage American brand locks had much greater manufacturing tolerances and thus were a great deal more difficult to pick. Something to consider.

Abus: These locks can be quite expensive if you were to buy them singularly. Be careful which ones you buy. Depending on the model you may run into some security pins or über challenging warding. All in all, these are quality locks.

Paclock (pacific lock company) : These locks are made in America (for those of us who care for that sort of thing) and if I'm to be honest are insanely well built. These, like Master Lock run the gambit from cheaper laminated padlocks to re-keyable aluminum, brass and steel bodied locks. Again like Abus depending on the the model you may run into some security pins.

Wilson Bohannan: This company has been around since the mid-late 1800's so they must be doing something right! I'm not familiar with their locks' current incarnations, but their vintage stuff is choice. Look for their five pin locks. They're great practice. I owe this tasty little tidbit to Bosnian Bill's "improving your lockpicking" vid check it out:

Best: These locks are a bit more of a challenge depending. You'll almost always face security pins. Expect tighter tolerances making finding your binding pin that much more difficult. If that wasn't bad enough, you're looking at 6 or potentially 7 pins! I don't have any of these in my collection (yet).

Medeco: Pretty much a master-class lock. Not for the faint of heart from what I've seen. I expect to own one or more of theses well on down the line, but there's not much point till I significantly beef up my skill set. With these locks, not only must you lift the pins, but you've got to rotate them into place as well... what the hell!

Looking for something to do with your locks? Check out My practice and Display stand here:

Step 7: Tools of the Trade.

Now that we've gone over where to buy picks, locks and what brands to look out for, I thought I'd backtrack a little and tell you about my own pick set and go over the hows and whys of it all.

In order to begin picking, the only thing you really need is a hook and a proper tension tool. So, that's the base of the kit. From there. it's matter of personal preference.

I chose to purchase a few rakes. Though raking isn't my principle focus, it can be an effective method by which to pop a lock or to establish a false set. You can typically distinguish a rake by it's serpentine design.

I added diamonds, both: half and deforest to round out my SPP tools. I found the slopes of the half diamond can glide over/past pins making it easier to use on locks with stiff or heavily tapered key pins. The deforest diamond, i use as a reach tool primarily. It helps prevent over-setting the front pins while reaching into the back of the lock. It's really great for high-low bitting.

Hooks come in a variety of types. I started with the peterson "gem" which remains my go to. It's basically a medium hook with a flattened top. I also bought a euro fulcrum feeler pick from Southern Specialties. It had a weird little half ball on the inverse of the pick which I'd imagine was supposed to be the "fulcrum." Personally, I thought it made the pick too unwieldily, and difficult to navigate in restrictive keyways so I took a bastard file to it.

The tensioners I've saved for last, mainly because I've found them to be the most integral part of the kit. I purchased the "mace set" from sparrows (mostly for the tension tools) and it came with a plethora of tension tools (What'd I say?). I incorporated the three twist BOK (bottom of keyway) tools into my kit. They come in three different widths to accommodate different keyways of varying girths. I also purchased two TOK (top of keyway) tension tools from Sparrows as well. Initially, I was going to buy a set of Peterson Pry bars. But the Sparrows set was cheaper.

At first, I didn't think that I'd need a TOK tension tool, But those American padlocks I mentioned in step 4 really made the case for TOK. I now find it's my preferred method of tensioning.

Step 8: Advanced Tips and Insights (such As They Are)

Just thought I'd share some of the more subtle nuances of picking I've come to understand as time's gone on.

1.) Oil your locks. There's no need to drown them in machine oil, but a little in the cylinder will make your picking experience a great deal easier.

2.) Sometimes if a lock is stuck or you can't get any feel, it can help to depress the shackle a few times. Not entirely sure about the science behind it, but it seems to help every now and again.

3.) When it comes to tensioning, lighter is better. Over tensioning is a common problem for beginning pickers. When you over tension a lock you run the risk of binding more then one pin at a time which defeats the purpose.

4.) If BOK doesn't work, try TOK. It's a simple switch that can make all the difference,

5.) Practice counting pins prior to attempting to pick a lock. Once you can get a proper feel for the pins you'll better understand what it is you're dealing with from the get go.

6.) Pay attention to the rivets on the bottom and top of the keyway when picking laminated padlocks. It's not uncommon for your tension wrench to get caught up on one.

7.) If it feels like you've set all the pins and the cylinder wont turn, apply a little more tension. You may have popped the lock without knowing it and haven't overcome the spring tension of the cylinder.

8.) Sometimes, on particularly difficult locks, it's easier to go in and rake it first to establish a false set, then go back and SPP it from there.

9.) Some Euro locks have especially narrow keyways and require thinner picks to negotiate their warding.

10.) Most pick manufactures don't adequately finish their picks leaving rough edges here and there. Rough edges on your picks can get caught up in a lock, provide false feedback or wear the brass of the key-pins to the extent that the worn brass filings gum up the lock. Sanding/polishing your picks can allow them to slide into locks more easily and are less liable to cause damage to the mechanism. Some wet/dry 600 or 1000 grit sand paper works wonders.

11.) If your having trouble on a lock, set it down and walk away for a second. It's sometimes helpful to have a couple "gimmie" locks on hand to boost your confidence if you're having a dry spell you can't shake.

12.) Read and watch everything! I've found the videos from "Bosnian Bill" on youtube to be remarkably insightful/entertaining. Also, the folks over at Lockpicking101 are a wealth of knowledge and experience. I've been lurking their forums for a couple months now.


13.) Lock picking is a perishable skill. Practice everyday. You don't have to invest hours upon hours finagling locks open till your fingers bleed. But it's good to take at least 15-20mins out of your day to keep your skills up.

Step 9: All's Well That Ends Well (+ a Quick Glossary of Terms)

Well, that's about that. I hope you've found this article useful or. in the least, entertaining. As with all of my 'ibles please take from it what you will and ditch the rest.


SPP: Stands for single pin picking, the act of raising each pin individually to the sheer line

Raking: A method of rapad entry utilizing a rake type pick

BOT: Stands for "bottom of keyway," a method of tensioning utilizing a tool specific to applying rotation force to via the bottom of the keyway

TOK: Stands for "top of keyway," a method of tensioning utilizing a tool specific to applying rotational force via the top of the keyway.

Warding: The horizontal protrusions along the length keyway upon which the key slides.

Key pins: The pins in direct contact with the key

Driver pins: The pins directly above the key pins driving them down via spring tension into the keyway.

Keyway: The hole through which a key is inserted.

Shackle: The actual locking mechanism of a padlock

Oversetting: The process of lifting a pin well past the sheer-line causing the lock to bind up.

Sheer-line: The sweet spot of the core of a lock. Lock picking in it's many forms is all about getting the pins of the lock into this goldielock zone. Too low and the lock is locked. Too high and the lock is overset. The key raises all the pins to their proper level allowing the cylinder of the lock to turn freely. Lock picking aims to do this without the aid of a key.

False set: A false set is the ever so slight rotation of the core noting that you've set an unspecified number of pins. It's a means of knowing your on the right track toward successfully picking a lock.

Security pins: Key or driver pins that have been modified to make picking more difficult by adding groves or deformations i.e. spools, mushrooms, serrated etc.

Paracentric keyway: This is a type of keyway that is very serpentine or jagged, it can make it extremely difficult to get picks into a good position to manipulate the pins.

Binding order: The order in which the pins get caught up or "bound" as the core of the lock is put under tension. Typically, there's only one binding pin at a time. If you over tension you run the risk of binding more then one pin at a time, hence the necessity of light tension.

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