How to Pick Simple Locks/Latches With a Paper Clip





Introduction: How to Pick Simple Locks/Latches With a Paper Clip

About: My name is Jason Poel Smith I am a Community Manager here at Instructables. In my free time, I am an Inventor, Maker, Hacker, Tinker, and all around Mad Genius

You would be surprised at how many of the locks and latches around us can be bypassed with a simple paperclip. Some are cheaply constructed. Others are simply poorly installed. I am going to show you several examples. This illustrates how most locks are primarily just a deterrent and aren't 100% secure.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. The author, and website hosting entity will not be held responsible for any misuse of the information, including any and all activities forbidden by applicable laws.

Step 1: Improperly Hung Doors

You may have heard of people opening a door with a credit card. Well, you can usually do the same thing with a paper clip.

There are a number of ways that a door can be improperly hung that make it easy to get through. If a door does have not a deadlatch or if it isn't functioning properly, then the door latch can be pried open. It is even easier if there is a large gap between the door and the strike plate. Here is a quick video tutorial.

If you can't pry the latch open from the front side, you can also use a paper clip to pull the latch open from the back. To do this, start by bending your paper clip into a large hook. Then insert it into the gap in the door and feed it behind the latch. Keep feeding it through until the end of the paper clip comes back out the front where you can reach it. Grab both ends of the paper clip and pull. The door should pop open.

Step 2: Open Doors With Privacy Locks

Many houses have door knobs with privacy locks on bathrooms and bedrooms. These knobs are locked by pressing in the handle an rotating the knob slightly. This prevents the outer knob from turning. Privacy knobs mostly serve to prevent people from just walking through a door without knocking.

Fortunately, they are designed to be easy to open. The outer knob has a hole in the center that lets you insert small rod (in our case a paper clip).  This pushes on a pressure plate that disengages the latch. You can then turn the outer knob and open the door. 

Step 3: Simple Latch

Simple latches such as swing latches are also easy to open with a paper clip. Start by unfolding end of the paper clip. Insert it into the gap in the door below the latch. Then just slide the paper clip up until the latch is lifted free from the hook (called the keeper).

Your paper clip can also be used to re-latch the door. To do this, slide the latch down so that the door can barely close. Then with the door closed, use your paper clip to slide the latch down the rest of the way back into the fully latched position. This trick makes it looks like it was never opened.

Step 4: Cheap Luggage Locks

Cheap luggage locks like the kind pictured here are one example of pad locks that can be picked with a paper clip. These rudimentary locks just have a small spring loaded clamp that holds the U-bar (called the shackle) in place. To open the lock, all you need to do is pry this clamp open. You can do this with a paper clip whose end is bent into a small loop. If you have a key to use as an example, try to replicate its shape as well as you can. Then just insert it into the lock, and rotate the paperclip until the lock pops open. You may need to  move the paper clip around until you find the clamp. This method is easier and more discrete than other methods such as cutting it open with bolt cutters.

Step 5: Open Paper Towel/Toilet Paper Dispensers

No one is really concerned about the security of their toilet paper or paper towels. But it is useful to be able to refill them is you lose the key. There are a wide variety of latching mechanisms used on toilet paper/paper towel dispensers. But usually there are one or two spring loaded plates that latch around the front cover. You will have to examine the latch on your dispenser to determine exactly how it opens. 

Most often you can open a dispenser by inserting the straightened tip of a paper clip into the key slot and pressing down on the plate below. When there are two plates, you need to straighten out the whole paper clip and bend it into a U shape. Then use one end to depress each of the plates at the same time.

Step 6: Toy Handcuffs (and Other Toy Locks)

Most toy locks are a single spring loaded latch or pawl. To open them, you just need to use your paper clip to press on whatever plate or pin that the key would normally press on to release the locking mechanism. This spring loaded plate is usually located just above the key hole.

Note: A paper clip can not be used to unlock actual police handcuffs. While the construction is similar, a large paper clip is too wide to fit in the key hole and a small paper clip isn't strong enough to raise the pressure plate. So you will need to use a bobby pin to unlock those.

Jury Rig It! Contest

Finalist in the
Jury Rig It! Contest



    • Water Contest

      Water Contest
    • Backpack Challenge

      Backpack Challenge
    • Stick It! Contest

      Stick It! Contest

    132 Discussions


    2 years ago

    As a locksmith, I'd like to weigh in here.

    1) "Professional" thieves: Anyone who is expert at bypassing locks and alarms probably works for one of those "3 letter agencies." No, I'm not kidding. The average burglar uses a hammer, a crowbar or a foot to gain entry.

    2) Locks CAN slow burglars down quite a bit...if you have good ones (and reinforce the strike in the frame). Any lock rated Grade 1 will resist a good bit of force and locks can be keyed to resist picking. High security locks can be had that are virtually pick proof, but they're pricey. Your judgement call as to how much to spend.

    3) Breaking windows makes noise, which burglars don't want to make. Even so, you can apply film to glass to make it harder to break (3M makes it) or apply plexiglass over the windows in your door.

    4) Just having decent locks (especially dead bolts) can be enough to dissuade the casual would be burglar.

    6 replies

    Where I live thieves dont worry about the noise so much. they just smash and grab. unfortunately the know they are not likely to be caught.

    I have picked an Abloy and a Medeco in the same week before

    Very good, but burglars won't be doing that. Same with bumping. They want to get in and out quick. However, high security locks like Medeco and Abloy, etc. are also made sturdier than the stuff you find at Big Box.

    There was a lot of controversy back in 2008 about some Medico locks being "bump" picked (Google it). It very difficult and time consuming to pick a quality lock using conventional lock picks, but there are quite a few locks that have specific weaknesses you can exploit. Medico did redesign their locks after the bump-technique was revealed and they made a claim that the new design was bump-proof. However, I've read that Medico has quietly removed the bump-proof claim.

    Thank you! How does one reinforce the strike in the frame?

    At the least, replace the 7/8" long screws with 3" screws. Better yet, get a reinforced strike plate-they're larger and spread out the stress.

    If you normally pull the door open, meaning it opens towards you, you're better off with a wire hanger. Bend it however you need to because you'll need to insert the free end of the hanger between the door and the door frame in such a way that it hooks around the latch (sloped thing) from behind. Grab the free end as it pokes out below the latch and an effortless pull should do it.

    Want to get past a door chain without causing any damage? This could be handy if you have a door key (or you've just carded your victim's $hitty spring-latch lock) but your spouse (or victim) put the chain on before going to bed and you don't want to wake (alert) everyone up by knocking, shouting, ringing the doorbell, or kicking the door in.

    Get a fairly long piece of string. Tie a slip-knot at one end of the string.

    Now, open the door as wide as the chain will allow. Unless you're Popeye you should be able to get your arm through far enough to touch the knob at the end of the chain.

    Now tighten the slip-knot around the little knob and run the string up over the top of the door toward the hinged edge. Make sure the chain isn't caught on the string.

    Close the door while pulling on the string. Unless the grooved door plate has been installed so there is absolutely no slack when the knob is aligned with the open end of the track the string should pull the chain out. The lesser the angle of the string, the better, so that you are pulling the chain toward the hinges as much as possible, rather that upward, which can cause it to bind in the track.

    It might take a couple of tries but the chain will eventually come out.

    If there is no slack - even with the door closed - you can always use the hook and elastic method: Get a peel-and-stick hook and an elastic. (You do have these along with your duck tape and rope right?)

    Reach in and stick the hook to the door so it's along the same line as the track. You are going to be hooking the elastic between the little knob at the end of the chain to the hook you've stuck on the door (a thumbtack also works if the door is wood) so want the elastic to be as taut as possible at all times

    Slowly close the door and the elastic will pull the chain out of the track. Again, it might take a couple of tries if the chain binds at the end of the track.

    If you really want to do this on a regular basis, you could rig a stick-on hook with an extension that pulls the chain inward and outward away from the door as you would if you were taking off the chain by hand, lessening the chance of it binding.

    If you're the one who prefers to not sleep with one eye open while enjoying the security of speaking to someone without opening the door all the way, you might want to get the hinged alternative (see picture). You should also have a metal-clad front door. It not only holds up better against forced entry, but is also non-flammable, giving firefighters a lot more time to get you safely out of your apartment/condo window.

    3 replies

    My fiance has gotten past the door chain by unscrewing the part attached to the frame with a coin. Slow, but effective and from 3 rooms away I heard nothing.

    Except the doorchain, when properly installed, must be pulled towards the center of the door to unlatch it. Or, on some newer installations, upward and at an angle.

    Right. So you are using the string or elastic to pull the chain toward the centre of the door. Or at an angle if necessary.

    Sure. Cut the lanyard with anything you've got. Pull the lanyard part that has the key on it all the way to the bottom of the door. There is usually enough of a gap in the bottom of the door to pull the key out with the lanyard part that is still attached to it.

    I don't think you'd need to cut anything. The lanyard looks loose enough to slip off the doorknob.

    I did that a few times in my coaching career.

    To 'pick' the lock, I had a fellow teacher with a master key open my door.

    From the looks of the lock (and I use the term loosely) you could probably get it open by just yelling at it.