Beginner's Guide to Picking Locks (2023)

Lockpicking is not just a skill for would-be thieves. Learning to pick locks will help you understand how locks work and allow you to create a more secure home. It's also a fun pastime, not unlike solving Rubix cubes.

The first lock I chose almost ten years ago was the one on my own door.

A friend had come to visit and had just started picking locks for fun. His tools were basic, just a few picks, and most of his supplies were practice locks of varying difficulty. After a two minute tutorial explaining the basics of how locks work, he handed my husband the picks and locked him outside.

A single choice and less than a minute later, our front door was flung open.

When we installed the door, we took extra care to secure the door frame so it couldn't be opened. I assumed that picking locks was a difficult art and that anyone smart enough to learn it wouldn't worry about my meager possessions.

Watching my husband open it in less than a minute blew me away and made me realize how little I was stopping someone from getting into my house.

I wasn't that fast and it took me about 3 minutes to pick the front door lock the first time. Still, I was down to a 2 minute tutorial and then 3 minutes of work. Since then, we've invested in a much better locking system than Home Depot's cheap door handle, and the experience has taught us a lot about how to secure our home.

Beginner's Guide to Picking Locks (1)

With practice, I've picked this Schlage lock 3 times in less than 3 minutes...not much security there.

How does a padlock work?

To understand how to pick a lock, you must first learn how a lock works.

A standard door lock is a fairly simple mechanism. The lock has spring loaded pins that are "inserted" at different depths and once all the pins are set the lock will open. When you look at a key, the tooth pattern gives you an idea of ​​how the different pins are arranged.

To keep the pins in place, a second tool called a tension wrench is used to apply tension to the lock. It turns the lock very easily and the tension holds the pins as each pin is set. Once all the pins are seated, the latch is released and rotates in the direction of the applied voltage.

That's all you need to understand to pick a simple lock. The most advanced locks have tricky pins and complicated mechanisms to fool an aspiring locksmith, but the average front door lock uses neither of these advanced pins.

You won't find these advanced pins at your local hardware store and 99.9% of homes don't have them. It's incredibly easy to pick a door lock, and you'll have to put all your effort into finding a lock that's hard to get past.

This video has great visuals because it was made by a locksmith training company that sells training cut padlocks as educational tools. The video is a little slow to start, but after 3 minutes it starts with a cutaway lockout demo showing the basics of lockpicking:

(Video) Learn Lock Picking: EVERYTHING you Need to Know!

Lockpicking isn't just for criminal purposes, and there are many everyday uses for this fun and original ability. Because basic lock picking tools are small, they easily fit in a wallet behind a credit card.

In the event of a mass society collapse or pandemic, only a few of these will quickly prove useful. Long before that, having them handy more than once came in handy when a friend lost his door key and my youngest son accidentally locked himself behind a door.

You see… useful for daily use that has nothing to do with ripping off the neighbor.

Aside from getting into places you're otherwise entitled to on a daily basis, picking locks is actually a decent career path. Both my husband and the friend who introduced us to computer security lock picks and defenses against hacking.

As electronic anti-hacking methods become more sophisticated, it becomes more practical to hack by removing physical security and simply stealing the hardware.

This means that information security professionals are now required to certify companies and businesses in both physical security and electronic security. This work address is called„Penetration test“and learning how to pick locks and bypass other security measures is just another fun skill now available to Silicon Valley companies looking to hire more„Penetration test“Experts.

My husband majored in computer science in college and never thought he'd pick a pick for work, but here's the basic toolkit he has in his office these days...

Beginner's Guide to Picking Locks (2)

Our lock picking practice setup, perfect for spending long winter days by the fire here in the North Country. It's all about knitting anyway...

Lock picking tools are pretty basic and really small.

You can buy sets that are large and contain dozens of picks with easy-to-hold grips, but really, 3-4 small picks that are only a few inches long and flat are a much better option. They fit in your wallet or a small compartment in your car, which is much more convenient since they're close at hand when you need them.

HeLockpicking-Set desgasta TitanFor example, it has everything you need, and the tines have a slim profile that makes them perfect for everyday use.

The simplest basic kit consists of just two tools, a wrench and a feeler. Use the tension wrench to apply tension to the lock and then the chuck to adjust each individual lock pin while maintaining tension.


Tension wrenches come in different sizes and styles, depending on your ergonomic preferences, but also for different sizes and types of locks.

(Video) How to Pick a Lock (Basics) 🔓

They can be simple L-shaped pieces of metal, a bit like an Allen key, or they can have twists or notches, depending on what you're trying to achieve.

The simplest type is just a small, thin L-shaped piece of metal that will do the job in most cases.

Beginner's Guide to Picking Locks (3)

Several tension keys to open locks, the simplest one is in the middle.


As the name suggests, feeler picks are small picks that allow you to feel the pins in a lock and apply pressure to them one at a time.

This allows you to work through a lock by placing the pins methodically, and is my favorite method of solving the puzzle. Operating them requires much more practice and skill than a lock picking rake.

Once you've practiced, tentacle picks also have a higher success rate than other methods.

Beginner's Guide to Picking Locks (4)

lock picking rake

There's another tool called a lock pick rake, and instead of trying to set each pin individually, you can "rake" them back and forth more or less randomly. This is usually faster, but not all locks are raked.

Personally, I'm not a fan because I find lock picking to be a puzzle.

As I spend a cold winter evening by the fire picking locks, I consciously want to know what I did to make that lock open. So that's where the puzzle aspect comes from for me, and I want to feel the last pin and know that I've released it with that click before it opens.

Practically speaking though, raking is quick and effective on the field, and if I were to get somewhere fast, you'd better believe a rake pick is the first thing I'd try. They come in many different styles, each with a different success rate on a particular lock.

Beginner's Guide to Picking Locks (5)

When putting together a pick kit, choose a wrench, one or two styles of picks, and a few different styles of rake.

This hook kitIt has everything you could need for around $30. I prefer the slim profile handles (as seen in the image above) because I can slip them into my wallet, a book, or just about anywhere to make sure I have them handy in an emergency.

(Video) [182] How I Practice Lock Picking

I keep a couple of picks behind my driver's license in my wallet for emergencies.

If you want to have all your options at hand in an emergency, it's that simpleHandcuff lock picksthey are incredibly small and only cost a few dollars. I'll admit I've never tried handcuff picking, but it's on my wish list for lock picking.

Beyond the basics, there are always more fun toys you can pick up to hone your skills (or just play with for fun).

Customizable Hasp Locks

If you want to practice lock picking, creating your own puzzle using customizable cups with detachable pins is a fun exercise.

You can add increasingly difficult types of pins to create an ever-expanding puzzle to solve. If that's not the case, a great way to practice your skills on as many types of locks as possible is to simply pick up any spare locks you can find, often in garbage dumps or the like.

Beginner's Guide to Picking Locks (6)

Practice sets for lock picking

Locksmiths really need these skills and they need to be trained in some way. There are some basic locksmith training kits on the market that have sectional views so you can see the pins moving in the lock. Here are a few to trySectional lock set for locksmithsEducation.

There are many options, and most of them are good.Beginner Practice Padlock Kitsas well as.

I also recommend reading thisvisual guide to lock pickingif you really get into art.

Automatic Jigglers or Test Keys

On his next visit, the same friend who brought us our lock picking setup brought us another gift... Try Out Keys.

This is a series of "master keys" similar to the lock picks used by junkyards to start cars. Before cars had chipped keys, these keys could be used to start many different models, particularly Ford and older Japanese car models.

Today, some types of cars don't even have keys, just electronic sensors. So no luck with modern vehicles, but it's easy enough to open older cars with it. The first chips were introduced in 1996 and have grown in complexity ever since.

These come in handy every day when you find someone locked out of their vehicle. Also, I know many people who have them prepared for the zombie apocalypse where many cars without owners are driving around.

You can buy a set of these for just a few dollars.HereoHere. (They keep changing the links on these, so if they don't work try this generic auto jiggler key lookupHere.)

Beginner's Guide to Picking Locks (7)


Why use a small, quiet, pocket tool when a gun will do? A lock picking gun is basically a great tool that will pick the lock for you and can help you get into somewhere quickly. It's not elaborate, thoughtful or slick... but it's effective.

(Video) [370] Binding Order Explained Simply | Learn Lock Picking!

Simple weapons to open locksthey are also quite cheap.

improvised hooks

That's all well and good, but what happens when you find yourself out and about without your trusty set of lock picks? Basic lock picking tools are just small pieces of metal, and you can improvise them with other small pieces of metal.

Clips work great in a pinch, here's a tutorial on how to pick makeshift locks:

I know what you're thinking, only the possession of lock picks should be illegal. There's no way you can walk around with lock picks in your pocket!?!? Believe it or not, for the most part, owning lock picks is perfectly legal as long as you don't use them for criminal purposes.

People want to believe they are illegal so they can believe they are hard to come by and rest more comfortably at night. The problem is that it's simply not true.

Of course, if they were illegal, the only people who would own them would be criminals...legality isn't going to stop them from breaking into your house anyway.

There are some places that restrict lock picking, but they are by far the exception.united locksmithshas a good introduction to this, broken down by state in the US. Check your surroundings if you're considering lock picking as a hobby.

My main goal is not to teach you how to get into your neighbor's house.

My point is that it's probably very easy for just about anyone to get past the lock on your current door. Hardware stores generally don't have padlocks that are difficult to pick, as they are aimed at the mass market. If you really want something safe, you have to make an effort to find it.

When we learned that door locks were so easy to pick, my husband did a lot of research to find better locks for our house. I'll post some recommendations for these in a future article. Sign up for email updates in the form below so you don't miss this post.

More lock picking resources

If you think lock picking sounds like a useful skill and you're looking for more fun skills to get you through the long winter days (I've never been much of a knitter...), then there's a lot to learn beyond this basic tutorial. I would recommend using a good book as a starting point:

On top of that, get a basic lock picking set, grab some loose locks and let the fun begin!

Beginner's Guide to Picking Locks (8)

(Video) Learn To Pick Locks And Avoid Beginner Mistakes



Can you teach yourself to pick locks? ›

Picking locks might sound intimidating, but trust me, it's not rocket science. With a little knowledge, practice, and some basic lockpicking tools (purchased or homemade), you'll learn how to pick locks very quickly.

What are the golden rules of lockpicking? ›

In lock picking, there are two established golden rules: Rule 1: Never pick a lock that you don't own nor have permission from the owner to pick. Rule 2: Never pick locks that you rely on or that are in use.

What is a 999 key? ›

Bump keys are specially cut keys that can bypass the security mechanisms built into traditional pin and tumbler locks. Bump keys are also referred to as “999 keys” because all of their ridges are cut to the maximum depth (999) in a key-making machine.

What is the easiest thing to pick a lock with? ›

You can use paperclips as picks in a pinch, and a tension wrench can be any tool used to create tension, including a flathead screwdriver. One of the most common (and easiest to pick) locks is the pin-and-tumbler, which is a type of cylinder lock.

How do you pick a lock with basic household items? ›

For pin tumbler locks, including deadbolts and entry doors, make a pick set out of 2 bobby pins or paper clips. Stick them into the lock and wiggle them until the lock opens. Use an unbent paper clip or a hairpin for locks on privacy door knobs.

Is lock picking a talent? ›

Although lock-picking can be associated with criminal intent, it is an essential skill for the legitimate profession of locksmithing, and is also pursued by law-abiding citizens as a useful skill to learn, or simply as a hobby (locksport).

Is lock picking a skill? ›

Lock picking is an extraordinarily simple skill to pick up, whose core techniques can be learned and applied within hours. And to further the case of simplicity and expel your worries of learning how to pick each different lock, most locks you encounter are of the same type, the pin tumbler lock.

Do all locksmiths know how do you pick locks? ›

However, any professional, trustworthy locksmith will know how to pick your lock and get you back into your home or car without damaging the lock.

What is the rule 2 of lock picking? ›

The Rules. Rule 1: never pick a lock that you don't own or do not have permission to pick. Rule 2: do not pick locks that you rely on or that are in use.

What shape lockpick is best? ›

1. The Triangle Pick. The triangle pick is the most versatile kind of pick and can be used in a variety of ways. It's also one of the best choices if you're only going to pick one kind of lockpick.

What skill check for lockpicking? ›

An ability check for lockpicking with Thieves' Tools is almost always going to be Dexterity because that represents nimbleness, agility, and finesse, which are very important for the task.

Is there a master key for all locks? ›

Occasionally, someone will want the locks they use in their institution, organization etc. to have “mastered” locks. This means that although all the individual locks have individual keys, there's also a “master” key that will open them all.

What is a coffin lock key? ›

H2001. We call this a coffin lock but it is also known as a roto lock. Commonly used to lock scenery pieces or platforms together and has a wide variety of other uses. Heavy duty metallic construction and uses an industry standard 5/16" Hex Key to operate.

What is lock bumping technique? ›

Lock bumping is when a bump key is used to align the pins of a common cylinder lock. It's a picking technique used to unlock a door, usually for the purpose of burglarizing a residence. With a little practice, few tools, and the opportunity to commit a crime, burglars are able to easily enter homes with cylinder locks.

What is the fastest way to pick a lock? ›

The easiest way to pick a lock is to use the fast and dirty method: scrubbing.
  1. Insert Tension Wrench into the Bottom of Key Hole and Apply Slight Pressure. ...
  2. Insert Pick at Top of Lock. ...
  3. While Applying Slight Torque to Your Wrench, Scrub Your Pick Back and Forth in the Key Hole. ...
  4. Repeat Until All the Pins Set.
Sep 13, 2020

What is the hardest lock to pick? ›

Top 5 Most Challenging Locks To Pick
  1. ABUS 37/80 Granit Padlock. Made in Germany, this high-security lock is a trusted choice for homeowners worldwide. ...
  2. ABUS Diskus 20/70. ...
  3. Squire SS50CP5 Padlock. ...
  4. ABUS 83CS/55-300 Schlage. ...
  5. Proven Industries Model 2516 Trailer Lock.
Feb 14, 2023

Why do burglars not pick locks? ›

Since picking a lock requires a specific skill set to be successful, most burglars damage or remove doors and windows to gain entry when locked because it is faster and easier for them than using tools.

What kind of lock Cannot be cut off? ›

Shackleless Padlocks

Contrary to the name, these actually do have a shackle, but the steel body completely encases it. No part of it is exposed, making it impossible to tamper with or cut the shackle. Shackleless padlocks are generally combined with a specific security “hasp,” or latch.

Is it a crime to pick a lock? ›

Lock-picking tools and lock-picking are available and legal in the United States. In the majority of U.S. states and the District of Columbia, lock picking is legal by statute. In these states, the person lock picking must show intent. In other states, there are no specific laws regarding lock picking.

Which direction do you pick a lock? ›

Padlocks will open clockwise (right) and some will even open in both directions—such as laminated Master locks like the #3 or #5. So your best bet with padlocks is to always try tensioning clockwise first.

How many tries does it take to open a 3 digit lock? ›

A three digit lock can have its key value between range "000" - "999". So basically 1000 combinations have to be tried to open the lock.

How many pins is a number 3 Master Lock? ›

The four pin cylinder is generally referred to as the number W1 cylinder and is used in the number 1, 3, 5 laminated padlocks, and many other products.

Can you pick a deadbolt? ›

Lock picking is the first and best method to unlock a deadbolt without a key. It is a popular choice for those who want to avoid damaging their door or lock. Lock picking is an easy skill to learn—the basics required to pick a standard pin tumbler deadbolt can be cultivated within 10 minutes.

Why do hackers like lock picking? ›

Essentially, the practice of successfully picking a lock in the real-world, mimics what hackers do in the virtual world. They work to find vulnerabilities and flaws in systems, with the ultimate goal of unlocking the secrets inside and, as with lock picking, the motivations can be different.

How long on average does it take to pick a lock? ›

It can take anywhere from 7 seconds to 45 minutes for a locksmith to pick open a lock. Generally a locksmith should be able to unlock most doors in about 10 minutes. Of course this is effected by the type of lock.

Who is the world famous lock picker? ›

Alfred C. Hobbs: The American who shocked Victorian England by picking the world's strongest lock.

Is lock picking an expensive hobby? ›

For the beginner, this is not a terribly expensive venture. A quality set of lock picks that will last you for every stage of your lock picking journey and a couple locks to practice with will cost you less than $100. Not too bad for a hobby.

What states are lockpicks illegal? ›

Buying and owning lock picking tools is legal in the majority of states and most jurisdictions around the world. However, some US states, such as Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio, and Virgin, have specific laws directly restricting lock-picking tools or their use in some capacity.

What is the hardest deadbolt to pick? ›

CR's take: The Medeco Maxum 11TR503-19 is the strongest deadbolt across all of our lock categories. It's top-notch for drilling, withstands kick-ins very well, and is designed in a way that makes it quite difficult to pick.

What locks can locksmiths not open? ›

What Types of Locks Can a Locksmith NOT Open?
  • Locks to a Safe. This is one of the most common types of locks that a locksmith cannot open. ...
  • Locks to a Vault. ...
  • Smart Locks. ...
  • Rare or Vintage Locks. ...
  • Locks that Require Visual or Fingerprint Recognition. ...
  • How a Locksmith Opens a Lock.
Jul 9, 2021

How do you tell if a lock has been picked? ›

Signs of bumping
  1. Fresh nicks around the edges of the keyhole from pounding the key a little too forcefully.
  2. Shiny metal edges that look like they've been recently hit.
Oct 30, 2022

What is rule 1 always keep the doors locked? ›

Rule 1: Always Keep The Doors Locked

Home is meant to be a place where there is peace and tranquility and you do not want anyone to come in and out as they wish. The rule should also ensure that older kids go out with permission from the parents or guardians. They should not just bring anyone unannounced to the house.

How do you pick a lock in 7 days? ›

Lockpicks are consumable items that can be used to unlock locked containers. To do so, hover over a locked object and hold the "Activate" key to open the radial menu. Select the "Pick Lock" option to begin picking the lock.

Are lockpicks allowed on planes? ›

Tools that are 7 inches or less in length are allowed in carry-on bags. Please check with local law enforcement regarding traveling with this item. Any sharp objects in checked bags should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and inspectors.

What is a key that opens most locks? ›

A skeleton key (also known as a passkey) is a type of master key in which the serrated edge has been removed in such a way that it can open numerous locks, most commonly the warded lock.

Do lock picking kits work? ›

Q: Do lock pick sets work? Lock pick sets really do work! Check out Chad Christopher (formerly Greenlight Shooting) as he uses our beginner lock pick set to open real locks. And here is a video of us opening a Master Lock in less than 10 seconds using our travel lock pick set.

What is the strongest lock and key? ›

The Stronghold SS100CS padlock is the world's strongest padlock.

How do you master lock picking? ›

The easiest way to pick a Master Lock is by raking it. This is done by first tensioning the core and using a lock pick to bump all of the pins to the shear line. Master Locks can also be picked with a variety of makeshift tools including paperclips, bobby pins, soda cans, and even chicken bones.

Do burglars lockpick? ›

How do burglars try and get through your lock? Most burglars try and snap the lock. Unless you have the right lock in your door, a burglar will be able to snap the lock, using brute force and a screw driver, and be in your house in seconds. They will not be able to do this with the Ultion lock.

Can you open a lock without a key? ›

Use a Bump key

A bump key is a very simple tool that can be used to open most locks. The tool is inserted into a keyway and then one or more pins are bumped using an allen wrench or toothpick. That allows you to unlock doors without the use of a key. You can use this method during an emergency situation.

What are all the combinations for a 3 number lock? ›

By comparison, this 3-dial lock (three wheels, each with digits 0-9) has 10 × 10 × 10 = 1, 000 possible combinations.

What are the possible combinations for a 3-digit code? ›

There are 504 different 3-digit numbers which can be formed from numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 if no repetition is allowed.

Is there a key that can unlock any door? ›

A skeleton key has the warded section of the key removed so that it opens all the doors of a system. Some applications, such as a building with multiple entrance doors, have numerous locks that are keyed alike; one key will open every door.

How do you pick a lock with a screwdriver? ›

You first will need to take the screw driver and push it under the two latches on the side of the door on the lock. Keep pulling back on the latches with the screwdriver until the door pops open, this can take a few minutes or a few seconds depending on the lock strength. This will work on most normal door locks.

What two keys Cannot open a lock? ›

Which two keys cant open any door: The answer to this question is Don"key" and Mon"key".


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