How to Pick a Lock

How to Pick a Lock

If you find yourself locked out of your home with no way to get back in, you’ll wish you knew how to pick a lock. Losing a key to a padlock can be a pain in the butt — why pay the high prices of locksmiths to have your locks opened for you? Most people have no trouble learning how to pick a basic lock — most locks in your home are simple pin-and-tumbler locks that are extremely easy to pick if you have the know-how and the right lock picking tools. Using a simple pick and tension wrench (you don’t need actual picks and wrenches — most of the time you can use everyday items as substitutes) you can go through the simple steps of picking a lock and eventually get that tough lock wide open.

Lock Picking Tools

Tension wrench

How to Pick a Lock - Picking Tools

Lock Picking Tools

You can buy lockpicking sets from catalogs and even in some hardware stores, but you don’t have to buy an expensive tension wrench to pick your lock. If you find an object laying around your home that is strong enough to apply pressure to the lock and thin enough to fit into the end of the keyhole, you’ve got yourself a tension wrench. Make sure the object you choose to use as a tension wrench isn’t extremely thin — your tension wrench should not be able to go all the way in to the keyhole. A tension wrench substitute needs to be small enough to give you lots of wiggle room for the picks you’ll be using. Some people take a small Allen wrench and file it down to fit into the keyhole, or if you own a thin lipped flathead screwdriver, you may have a perfect tension wrench without even knowing it.

Lock Picks

Lock picks are easy to come by — safety pins and paper clips have been used for years to pick locks. To turn a paper clip into a perfect lockpicking pick,¬†just straighten out the clip itself and bend it 90 degrees at one end. Using needle-nose pliers to bend the clip is ideal, as you need a really firm 90 degree angle. Bobby pins are also a good pick substitute — just cut off the “ball shaped” parts at the ends, bend the bobby pin into a right angle, and you’re all set.

Once you’ve got your tension wrench and pick substitutes ready, just slide the tension wrench into the lower portion of the keyhole.

Now you need to figure out which way to turn the cylinder inside the lock so that it unlocks. If you are used to opening the lock with a key, you probably have some idea which way the key turns. If you don’t know which way to unlock, use your tension wrench to apply gentle pressure to the lockcylinder itself, first in a clockwise motion and then counterclockwise. Even though the cylinder is still locked and won’t open, you can get a feel for which way the cylinder wans to turn. Wait for the cylinder to move about a fraction of an inch before deciding this is the proper way to turn. Some locks, especially padlocks, will open in either direction.

Apply a little bit of pressure to the tension wrench in the correct direction (the one that opens the lock), and hold the wrench there for a second. Depending on what kind of lock you’re using, you’ll need to use different kinds of pressure. This is where the patient part of picking a lock comes in — patiently keep trying the lock until you feel the right amount of pressure.

There’s a part of a lock called the “plug” — this is the cylinder you’re trying to move. Slide one of your picks into the upper part of the keyhole so you can feel the lock pins. While you hold your pick in the keyhole, you can probably press gently upwards and feel the individual pins with the tip of your pick. Go ahead and try to push one of the pins all the way up to the top of the lock casing. Once you find the toughest pin to push up, you’re in business. If all of the pins feel weak, you don’t have enough pressure on them from the tension wrench.

Found the stubborn lock pin? Push it up until you hear a click — this is that pin “setting”. Apply just enough pressure to that pin to counteract the heavy downward pressure of the lock spring. Your goal with all of this pushing is to move the top of the pin completely out of the lock cylinder. That way, when you stop applying pressure to the pin, the cylinder will be misaligned, and the upper part of the pin won’t fall back down into the lock. This is called “setting” the upper pin.

Keep applying gentle pressure with your wrench and continue pushing the pins up one by one until you hear them “set”. Your pressure on the cylinder must stay steady, otherwise the pins you’ve already set will fall back down into the cylinder and you’ll have to start over again.

Finish pushing up and setting all the pins, and you’re nearly there. Now use your tension wrench to turn the cylinder gently in the proper direction and the lock should pop right open.

A Final Tip

If you want to learn to pick locks in seconds, practice your “raking” or “scrubbing” skill. Raking is a technique used by lock pickers to prepare the pins for opening, and if done properly it can save you a ton of time picking your lock. To rake your lock’s pins, just insert your pick all the way to the back of the keyhole without the aid of a tension wrench. Now comes the raking part — quickly pull your pick out, “raking” it upwards against the pins while applying gentle pressure with your wrench at the same time. Ideally, raking these pins should pop the lock right open, but most of the time even the best lock pickers have to rake three or four times before the lock pops.

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