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Common Lock Picking Mistakes
Ryan Brown
May 10, 2020

7 Mistakes Keeping You From Getting Better at Lock Picking

Sadly, making mistakes is the primary method we mortals use to learn. We learn to walk by falling hundreds of times. We learn to talk by babbling a thousand wrong babbles.

Mistakes are the necessary evil that grants us progress—in whatever area we seek.

BUT, they don’t always have to be “our” mistakes that we learn from!

I’ve made what seems like a million mistakes on my own lock picking journey—luckily I have lived to tell the tale. Here is my collection of the seven most common mistakes that I often see many pickers make that also plagued me in my early days.

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1. Picking That Lock 1,000,000 Times

There’s that age-old saying, “if you spend your whole life only reading ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ then ’50 Shades of Gray’ is going to be ‘hard’ material.”

Maybe that’s not the saying, but regardless the same principle applies when learning how to pick a lock.

Many pickers in their early stages, including myself, make the fatal mistake of picking the same lock over and over again with the false notion that the lock is getting easier because they are getting better at picking.

While there is a tiny inkling of truth to that, it is more accurate that by picking the same lock over and over again, you are merely memorizing how that lock is picked.

Crazy lock picking man with a lot of lock picks!

Every lock is different, and every lock is a puzzle. Thus every lock is a different puzzle. The more time you spend solving that “one” particular puzzle, the less that puzzle becomes about utilizing the skills it initially took to solve it the first few times.

It instead becomes something very dangerous.

It becomes a mindless sequence of motions that, not only, no longer requires much skill, but also something that begins to numb you to the feedback the lock is providing. When you can pick a lock through memorization, your brain will stop interpreting any feedback that isn’t in coherence with how that lock has been picked before.

Picking that lock is no longer about listening to what the lock has to say and more about waiting for it to say what you want to hear.

Teaching your brain to ignore feedback is a very nasty habit to fall into.

So don’t make this fatal mistake and keep your locks fresh. It’s significantly better to pick 100 different locks once than it is to pick the same lock 100 times.

I understand that supplying yourself with new locks can sometimes get pricey—trust me, I know—so be sure to check out my little guide on 5 Ways to Make Your Old Locks a New Challenge to help freshen up those old locks.

2. Picking Locks That Are Too Hard

On the opposite side of the spectrum are those who try picking locks way above their skill level.

While challenging yourself is crucial to getting better, picking locks that you don’t yet have the developed senses and skill to pick is only going to frustrate you and perhaps even deter you from continuing to pick locks at all.

Patience has its limits, and its limits are like beating your head against a wall—one way or another, you are eventually going to lose.

Lock picking is supposed to be fun, and the quickest way to get better is to make sure that it stays fun.

Here are two tips that can help steer you in the right direction and ensure lock picking doesn’t turn into frustration.

Tip 1: Have a Plan

If you are just starting, have a rough plan of progression. Don’t start picking locks with spool pins until you are comfortable with single pin picking standard pins.

I also highly suggest following a lock progression guide such as my 9 Best Practice Locks To Learn Lock Picking Quickly. You don’t have to use those exact locks, but having a little structure in what kinds of locks you should be picking at what stage can make all the difference in the world.

It’s easier to build a house from the ground up than from the sky down—a lot easier.

Tip 2: Take 5

If you’re feeling stuck on a lock, it’s best to put it away before you start feeling frustrated.

Throw it in a drawer for a couple of days or weeks and let it think about what it’s done. Work on some other locks or even go back and pop open some easier ones for some quick delight and motivation—we call these locks Ego Boosters.

Know that even the simplest locks can sometimes throw you a challenge you aren’t expecting.

Just recently, I ordered a bunch of new ABUS 80TI/50 (which are fantastic and cheap locks) and cruised through all of them except one. No matter how many hours I tried to pick this little devil, he just wouldn’t give. I put him away, and a couple of weeks later, randomly picked him back up for another go.

Within minutes of picking, it popped open without a sweat.

Sometimes we just aren’t prepared for the challenge some locks have for us, and sometimes we just aren’t in the right state to pick them. Regardless, if you can’t pick a lock, come back to it a little later after a little more experience, and I think you’ll be surprised at what happens.

3. Too Much Tension

It is said that lock picking is 90% how you use your tensioning tools and 10% everything else. I tend to agree. Except for practice, tensioning is the single most crucial aspect of lock picking, yet it is the most overlooked and undervalued.

A prybar tension wrench in the top of the keyway.

Heavy tension amplifies feedback.

It enhances the sounds of every click and the vibrations that resonate through your tools. By merely applying more tension, you will have more of an idea of what is occurring within the lock and what your actions are accomplishing.

BUT, there is a line, and many—including myself—often cross that line when starting.

Too much tension can cause two issues… well, three if you count breaking or bending your tensioning tool.

First, it will bind the pins so tight that you can not move them, which isn’t particularly helpful in your endeavor.

Second, because the pins are so tight, you risk breaking your picks while attempting to push on a key pin—also not helpful.

So if you’re pushing the blood out of the tip of your finger with your tension wrench or you can’t move any pins within the lock, lighten up!

Also, be sure to check out our guide on light vs heavy tension!


Heavier tension only works well with single pin picking.

Never apply heavy tension while raking a lock. If you snag your rake just right on a pin that is bound too tight, you will very likely snap your pick.

So stay super-light while raking!

4. Improper Tools

A significant mistake that many make when starting is they waste money on cheap lock picking sets like those you can find on Amazon.

I was also among these poor souls suckered into these crap sets.

The best beginner lock pick set is the GSP Ghost Lock Pick set by Peterson Manufacturing.The quality of your lock picks will affect the lifespan of your picks, the feedback they provide you, and the overall effectiveness they have in the lock.

If you choose picks made of poor material, they can easily bend, break, or rust—any of which makes it difficult to continue using the tool.

A quality set is an investment that may cost slightly more, but not only will it last you for years to come, it will also serve you much better in regards to developing your skills.

You also don’t need to spend hundreds and hundreds on every lock pick known to man. All you need is a couple of good hooks, rakes, and a nice variety of tensioning tools!

My recommendation for those looking for their first quality lock pick set is the Peterson GSP Ghost set.

You can check out my review of the GSP Ghost set here where I break down exactly what a beginner needs in a lock pick set, what they don’t need, and why the Ghost set is hands down the best lock pick set for any skill level.

However, if the Ghost set is not quite your speed, I would highly recommend finding a set similar to its setup from another manufacturer or building one like it.

Whatever route you go, invest in some degree of quality lock picking tools, and stay away from Amazon lock picks!

5. Relying On Transparent Locks

This is a significant sticking point!

The best transparent lock is no transparent lock!

When I started, I was obsessed with owning every cutaway I could get my grubby little paws on.

Lucky for me, the market for cutaways wasn’t as prominent as it is today. With cutaways flooding Amazon and pick manufacturers now riding the trend, they are almost impossible to stay away from.

Cutaways have one purpose and one purpose only, to display how locks and how lock picking work—that’s it.

They are not practice locks and should never be mistaken as such.

They are one of the biggest hindrances that I see people using today.

Lock picking is not a visual craft, so training yourself to rely on visual cues is only taking away from the other sensations that you should be focusing on and developing.

If you are just starting and haven’t yet invested in your first lock, a Master Lock #3 will teach you 100x more than a cutaway ever will.

And if you are currently using a cutaway for practice, it’s time to say your goodbyes. Build a tiny coffin, have a ceremony, and maybe bring it flowers here and there, but it’s time to let it go.

6. Focusing Too Much On Raking

One of the most exciting aspects of lock picking for anyone—new or veteran—is the ability to pop open a lock quickly. Nothing plays more heavily into this desire than raking.

Don’t get me wrong, raking is a remarkable and essential skill to develop as a lock picker, but it is one that will only get you so far.

Also, when you focus too much on raking as a beginner, you tend to falsely gauge where your level of skill truly is.

As you begin to conquer locks left and right, you will eventually smash up against locks that you just can’t rake. These locks will demand a more refined level of skill in both single pin picking and tension control that you haven’t yet developed.

It can be very discouraging when you are forced back to easier locks to refine the basics of single pin picking.

And even more discouraging when you struggle or can’t even open those locks through single pin picking when you know you can open them in seconds with a rake.

In my opinion, place raking on the back burner and focus on tension control and single pin picking (here is a cool little guide by Jgor on improving your single pin picking skills). By focusing on those two things, I think you’ll be surprised how far you get and how fast you get there!

7. Don’t Practice Regularly

I can’t stress this one enough.

A closeup look at a the insides of a pin tumbler lock.While basic locks will fall quickly to your mighty picks, anything with additional obstacles like security pins will require some proficiency and a more sophisticated understanding that only practice will deliver.

Lock picking is a “use it or lose it” activity. So always practice!

By practicing every day—even if only for 15 minutes—you are not only conserving the skills you have fought so hard to acquire, but slowly building on those skills.

It’s incredible how good you can get when you put in even a small amount of picking each day.

To Wrap Up

Remember that mistakes are a necessary evil. Without struggle and mistakes, we can’t progress as pickers. Failure is our best friend.

While there are hundreds of other little tidbit mistakes that we all make picking, these are by far the most common and, at the same time, the most avoidable.

Are you making any of these common mistakes? What are some other common mistakes we as lock pickers make on our way to greatness? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Picking!


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5 comments on “7 Mistakes Keeping You From Getting Better at Lock Picking”

  1. Good write-up. Definitely puts me in a different mind-set. As a mid-level beginner, I'll take all the advice I can get!

  2. Interesting read but I have to point out that I and Bosnianbill have a different viewpoint when it comes to cutaway locks.
    Number 7 Don't Practice regularly you don't stress this enough then you say Practising every day for 15 minutes conserves and builds on skills. Question: Which is it, don't practice regularly or practice regularly?

    1. Hi Koolbreeze. Thank you for your comment!

      So all of these are mistakes that lock pickers make, #7 "Don't Practice Regularly" is a mistake. I am not by any measure saying not to practice.

      I love Bill, but I believe him to be very wrong on this one. Transitioning between a transparent or cutaway lock is typically one of the greatest struggles for beginners and something that I get hundreds of emails a month about.

      The truth is, using any clear or cutaway lock to develop and practice your picking skills is going to do more harm than good for two main reasons:

      1. Lock picking is about developing patterns based upon the feedback we receive from the lock and the senses that we use to receive that feedback. When we develop these patterns using feedback and senses that we can't apply to real locks, these patterns become flawed and distorted.

      2. Locks are puzzles. The more times that we solve a particular puzzle, the more solving that puzzle again depends upon memory and less so on skill. When we have picked a lock using visual cues, we have denied ourselves the ability to solve that puzzle with feedback that can be used on a real lock. We have also denied ourselves the ability to establish a foundation in two critical skills. The first being the ability to draw a mental map of what is occurring within the lock. The second is the refinement of crucial lock picking senses – touch and sound.

  3. I'm a beginner and I've read a bunch on lock picking (mostly your articles), but currently I can only shop on amazon to get things. One set I'm looking at is a Lemoore beginners lockpicking set. Are there any sets on amazon you can recommend or is my best hope to ditch amazon and try somewhere else?

  4. well done this is a great post and I agree with every thing that has been mentioned having been picking every day-ish for the last 6 years as a Hobbyist have come across all of the down falls mentioned it is a great Hobby I love it (haha most of the time) so this post has been very well written and thank you for bringing all of us Pickers back to basics as we can all get ahead of ourselves sometimes A nice refreshing post thank you.

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