One of the great plights plaguing the name of lock picking and locksport is that the craft itself is born from malicious roots. That lock picking is a skill-based upon criminal intent and anyone wishing to learn of it beyond the scope of locksmithing must have some mischievous underlying purpose.
However, this criticism could not be further from the truth and is in some respects unfounded as only 4% of reported home burglary entries are due to some degree of lock manipulation.
Criminals share a singular mentality in regards to burglarizing – get in and out as fast as possible. The average burglar spends less than 10 minutes ransacking a home and knows that the longer they take, the more likely they are to get caught.
Lock picking is a skill of finesse and one of which nobody will take the time to learn and utilize when much simpler and quicker means of forcible entry are available.
Lock picking, however, can come into play in one's home security, but often not in a way that many think. One of the great benefits of learning the skill of lock picking is the unique insight into security that it grants you.
Upon picking your first lock you experience a paradigm shift in how you interpret the very definition of security. You no longer look at those simple metal devices on your doors and windows as a means of absolute protection, but instead as an illusion that grants only the naive a sense of false safety.
It is within the scope of our mission to not only teach the skills of lock picking but to help individuals truly understand what security is. Furthermore, it is often only with this understanding that one can truly gauge and further their own personal security to better protect themselves and the things – or people – that they value most.
It is with this goal in mind that we bring you the most recent burglary statistics relative to homeowners and our top five actionable steps to prevent becoming one of these statistics.
So what proactive actions can we take to avoid becoming one of these statistics? The ideal security situation for any home is one that has multiple layers and considerations. So let us take a look at what we consider to be the top five actionable steps that anyone can take to ensure the security of their home.
To defeat the criminal, you must first become the criminal. Get into the mind of the person trying to break into your home by attempting to do so yourself. Survey every inch of your home with unfaltering criticism.
Even the most complex and secure locks will only provide you with as much protection as you allow them to. An astonishing 30% of all home burglaries are the simple result of a criminal walking right through an unlocked door. So when you are not using a door or window, lock it up.
Statistically, 34% of burglars enter through the front door and 22% through the back door. This brings to attention the necessity of fortifying these access points.
Consider adding security film to your windows. This special polyester film holds a window together even if broken and increases the amount of time and effort required for a criminal to get through. It is also highly recommended that you add this to any sliding glass doors or glass panels.
About 74% of uncompleted burglaries can be attributed to the use of a security alarm. They also contribute to the majority of arrests made. While "top of the line" security systems can be expensive, there are cheaper options such as audible devices that sound when a door or window have been opened. These more affordable options can be obtained and installed fairly easily and offer a substantial increase in your home security.
Over the past few months, I've received a ton of requests to start a weekly Q&A to answer some common lock picking questions in a brief and easy to digest format.
I'm happy to announce that today, and several times a month, I will post a few answers to some of the questions that you awesome people send me!
My goal here is to focus on answering these questions as simply and efficiently as possible without any fluff or digression.
If you feel that something wasn't explained well or if you would like to see a more in-depth article or guide to one of the following topics, be sure to leave a comment below and let me know!
Also if you have any questions yourself, leave a comment or be sure to throw me an email here and I'll do my best to answer it – and if I can't answer it, I'll sure as hell find someone who can!
NOW, on to this week's questions about pick selection for deadbolts, which direction to tension a lock, and why people use lock picking vises!
It's hard to say what picks will work best on certain locks because every lock is different - different bittings, tolerances, security features, keyways, etc.
However, I would say out of all the picks available, the short hook and single pin picking are always going to be your best bet, and more importantly, the most consistent. If the lock doesn't contain security pins, then a rake will likely do you justice as well – but as for which picks are best... it depends...
Think of there only being two types of picks, a hook, and a rake. Everything else is just a variation of those two picks that are designed to overcome slight differences in a lock.
For example the rake. Both the City rake and the Bogota (triple peak wavy type rake) are effective rakes that can be used in the same way, however:
So it's sadly not as easy as one pick being best against a deadbolt, but more so that a particular pick is best against a very slight variation in the lock such as how the pins are cut (bitting.)
Single pin picking with a hook is always going to be the most "consistently" effective means of picking. So if you were to only have one pick against any pin tumbler deadbolt, I would always recommend the short hook!
This is a great question because picking a lock and finding that you tensioned it the wrong direction can cause more heartache than a thousand breakups.
Here are some general rules of thumb regarding pin tumblers:
If you do end of picking a lock in the wrong direction, typically the plug will turn... but not very far before it stops.
There is also a nifty little tool out there called a plug spinner – such as the Peterson Plug Spinner – for those unfortunate moments.
These tools are spring-loaded and will quickly snap the plug in the opposite direction fast enough so that the pins don't drop. Here is a video on those if you are curious!
Vises are amazing tools for holding locks while you pick them and will eventually become essential in progressing your lock picking skills. Let's look at a few advantages of using a vise, then we'll cover when it's appropriate to start using one and my recommendation for a good cheap vise.
One thing to also keep in mind is that most lock picking videos typically use a vise because it allows them to record the keyway without their hands getting in the way of the camera. It also keeps things stable so that the camera is always in focus.
Some awesome advantages of a vise:
So when should you start using a vise in your picking? Honestly, anytime you feel like it. However, I would say at the latest you probably want to start adding a vise into your picking after you start getting comfortable with spool pins. I say this because picking a lock in your hand and picking a lock in a vise are two completely different feelings. If you become too accustomed to picking in your hand, learning to pick in a vise is going to be a bit more of a challenge to get used to.
Once you have started using a vise, be certain to make it a habit to pick padlocks both in your hands and in the vise. Try your best not to neglect one or the other because each will feel different and grant you more lessons from each lock you pick. Think of it like this, those who practice picking a lock at several different angles will always develop more skill than those who practice picking at only one angle.
Also, note that you'll likely find some locks are far easier to pick in a vise while other locks are much easier to pick in your hand.
So what do you need in a lock picking vise? There are essentially two things you should look for when purchasing a vise: a swiveling clamp and a solid sturdy base.
Swiveling Clamp: You'll need a vise that allows you to adjust the angle of the clamp so that you can comfortably pick at any angle you want.
Solid Base: If the base isn't solid or heavy enough, you run the risk of a lock being too heavy and the vise will tip over – which completely negates the purpose of the vise in the first place.
My recommendation for a cheap vise and the one I actually use myself is the Bessey BVVB Vacuum Base Vise. I've used this vise now for over a year and a half and have found it to accommodate all of my needs!
Also if you live near a Harbor Freight you can find a very similar one there.
I hope this first round of answers to some of your guys' questions was helpful and being that this is the first of many Q&As... if you have any feedback or recommendations of how I can better improve these posts going forward I would absolutely love to hear your feedback!
Remember that if you have ANY questions regarding lock picking, drop your question in a comment below or email me here!
Ratyoke is known throughout the entire world for making the best lock picks in the history of Locksmithing and Locksport. A master jeweler and world traveler, this full-time goldsmith puts his skills to work with his 100% custom, 100% handcrafted artisan lock picks.
Exotic woods and fine metals are found in his rare and highly sought after works of art. Read further and find out how he became the world’s finest lock pick maker!
Also be sure to check out this awesome guide Ratyoke made for crafting your own awesome lock picks just like him!
Q: Let’s start this interview off by telling us about yourself. What do you do for a living, and how are you involved with the Locksport community?
"I am a goldsmith. I make custom jewelry and do jewelry repairs. I’ve been doing that professionally for about 11 years. I also spent 5 years teaching English in South Korea and came back to the US at the end of 2016. That’s the reason I mostly disappeared from pick making for a while.
Q: What got you into lock picking and making lock picks?
"Lockpicking and pick making both started in 2008. My friend’s father is a locksmith and my friend could pick locks and it just seemed like a cool skill to have. So the two of us hung out at his dad’s shop one night and my friend gave me some picks and a lock and briefly explained how to pick it. I worked on it for over an hour until I finally got it. After that I looked around online, read more about how to pick and found Southord, and ordered some picks. But I’m too impatient to wait for the picks so I made one or two before the Southord picks arrived. I was using anodized aluminum in a lot of my jewelry and artwork at the time, so I made some anodized handles for my picks. I posted photos on the forums and started getting people asking if they could buy them.
In 2008 I was working as a security guard at night, in addition to my jewelry work. That gave me a lot of time with nothing to do but pick locks and read books. I left that job around the end of 2008 and mostly stopped picking. I kept making picks so I stayed involved in Locksport in that way."
Q: Who were some of the people in the Locksport Community that you really looked up to or aspired to be as good as when you first started making lock picks?
"On LP101 I liked Locknewbie21’s picks. He had some nice curves on his picks. I also liked Raimundo’s picks. The 2 pick sets held together with a coiled spring and a safety pin so you could pin it somewhere. I thought that was a really great design. Really cool, like something someone should have in a spy movie."
Q: What are some lock picks you are working on at the moment?
"I have about 12 wood handle picks in various stages of completion. I just finished a pick last weekend with an ebony and holly handle and was very happy with the way it turned out. It got a really good response on Facebook and I plan to make more in a similar style this fall."
Q: Are there any lock picks you wish you could make but don’t have the time or resources to do so?
"If I had a CNC mill I would probably start producing my aluminum handle picks again. I think that would let me produce them fast enough that it would actually be worth my time to make them. All the ones I did in the past were cut and shaped completely by hand. It’s too time consuming and I got totally burnt out doing it.
I would also like to make some with precious metals and gems. I’m not really sure I want to put the money into materials for something like that though. Of course I could do one in silver and cubic zirconia, but that just doesn’t have the same impact as gold/platinum and diamonds.
There’s never enough time to make all the things I want."
Q: Do you have any tips on anyone wanting to get into making their own lock picks?
"Use files to make the final shape. So get some decent files and something to hold the pick steel when you file it, like a hand vise. I hate Chinese tools, but Harbor Freight is a good place to buy tools if you aren’t sure if you are ready to invest the money in good tools. If you are ready and willing to invest in better tools, then I recommend getting some good Swiss files first (brands like Frederich Dick, Glardon Vallorbe, Grobet). Jewelry suppliers carry them (www.riogrande.com or www.ottofrei.com)."
Q: Do you have any tips on anyone wanting to learn more about making jewelry or becoming a professional jeweler?
"Take classes at community college or university to learn the basics if you can, but I have never seen a college metals program that teaches the skills you need to work as a professional jeweler. If you want to become a professional I would recommend a jewelry trade school."
Q: In your opinion, how has the Locksport community changed over the years and where would you like to see it go from here?
"It seems there are more creative and higher-quality homemade pick designs now than when I started in 2008. I like to think that I had some influence on the people that started after me.
I would like to see the craftsmanship in homemade picks continue to improve."
Q: You have been known to be a world traveler, can you tell us a little about where you’ve been and do you have any plans on traveling again in the future?
"I taught English in South Korea for 5 years, which gave me a lot of opportunities to travel to Asia cheaply during school vacations. After I finished teaching in Korea last year I traveled for 7 months nonstop. I walked about 620 miles on the Camino de Santiago in Spain from Sevilla in the south to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest. Then traveled to Portugal (loved it and wish I had allowed myself more time there), Morocco (hated it and wish I hadn’t planned 2 weeks there), Korea, Turkey, U.A.E. (Dubai), Thailand, Myanmar, Taiwan, Japan, Korea (again!) and then back to Chicago in November.
I won’t be going anywhere this year. Korea and Japan are my favorites, and also the two languages I study, so hopefully in 2018. I also definitely plan to go back to Thailand and Taiwan someday."
Q: Finally, what is your favorite beer to drink while making lock picks?
"I don’t drink beer. I do like to get drunk on occasion...usually soju or some other Korean liquor. But no alcohol while I’m working."
If you would like to contact Ratyoke, you can reach him at the following…
Facebook: Ratyoke Custom Lockpicks
Well to get started, there are over 36 lock pick manufacturers as of 2016, with 1 or 2 new ones popping up in China every couple of months. Let's start with a list of current lock pick brands.
A1 - http://demanda1.com
Dino - http://www.northerntool.com *A1 Variant
Dangerfield - http://www.ukbumpkeys.com
ES (manufacturer/distributor unknown)
Falle - http://www.mbausa.com
Goso - http://gosolockpicks.com
Honest (manufacturer/distributor unknown)
H&H (manufacturer/distributor unknown) *A1 Variant and Jackknife Picks
H&S (manufacturer/distributor unknown) *China
Haoshi (manufacturer/distributor unknown)
HPC - http://www.hpcworld.com/
HUK - http://huklockpick.en.ecplaza.net/about.asp
Ilco - http://www.kaba-ilco.com/
Klom - http://klom-tools.com/tag/lock-picks *Goso Variant
Lab - http://www.labpins.com/
LSI - http://www.lsieducation.com/
Lock Technology (manufacturer/distributor unknown) *Sold by Walmart and Grainger
Lockmasters - https://www.lockmasters.com/ *Old LSI Website and Tools
Lockmaster - http://www.lockmaster-benelux.eu/ *France
Mad Bob - http://www.madbobpicks.co.uk/
Majestic (only found through distributors)
OFC - http://www.ouverture-fine.com *France
Peterson - https://www.thinkpeterson.com/
Pro Lock - https://www.pro-lok.com/
Rytan - http://www.rytan.com/HOME/
Secure Pro - http://gosolockpicks.com/ *Goso Variant
Sere Pick - http://www.serepick.com/
Shalon (manufacturer/distributor unknown)
Souber - http://www.soubertools.com/
Southern Specialties - http://www.lockpicktools.com/
SouthOrd - https://www.southord.com/
Sparrows - http://www.sparrowslockpicks.com/
Storm - http://www.stormlockpicks.com/
Trade Locks - http://www.tradelocks.co.uk
Toool - http://toool.us/
Vigilant Gear - http://www.vigilantgear.com/ *Distributor of Bogota Brand Picks
HOLY COW! That's a lot of companies! So which one should we choose from?
Well, this debate is similar to guns. I cannot tell you which brand will be best for you, but I can drop a few names to help point you in the right direction.
Peterson International is a step up from HPC and Southord, but quality and ability is still a matter of preference. Peterson offers tools in spring steel that is nickel plated, but this brand is specifically known for its "Government Steel" lock picks. Those start at around $8 per pick and cost as much as $15 per pick!! I personally have over 50 of them and I love them all. I would consider Peterson Picks to be the “Snap-On Tools” of lock picks. These picks are known for having rubber handles, dipped rubber handles, and plastic handles all with colors that help differentiate the thickness of the steel used. They have picks in the 0.025 range, the 0.018 thickness range, and even a 0.015 thickness range for those pesky Euro Cylinders with the thin keyways. But these picks are not favored by pickers in the UK because of their shipping costs, and they have been virtually unheard of in the Midwest and West Coast of America due to distribution. They are however very popular on the east coast among locksmiths.
HPC is a decent brand to start out with. They offer spring steel and stainless steel lock picks. A typical pick will sell for $1.50 each. A typical 15 piece set will sell for $25. When I was an apprentice locksmith, all the guys and gals I worked with used HPC, but that was mostly because their distributor offered them at a good price. You can’t go wrong with a spring steel HPC lock pick. These are like the Craftsmen of lock picks (when Craftsman Tools were still made in America)
SouthOrd is another great choice. I never personally got on this bandwagon as I went from HPC picks to more expensive Peterson picks, but they have a very good reputation for strength, reliability, sensitivity, and great quality. They are favored in the UK and most of Europe. I’ve personally considered these to be the Kobalt of lock pick tools, but they do offer a higher-end line that people swear by.
Finally, Sparrows are becoming a very reputable name brand. Not widely used by locksmiths as much as Locksport enthusiasts and the Mil/LEO community, but are very reputable nonetheless. They were originally designed by Wizwazzle, the famous YouTuber that introduced the world to the sport of lock picking years ago. Sadly a short bout with cancer has kept him out of the limelight, but before he left he was head of R&D for Sparrows Lock Picks. You can’t go wrong with these tools. They could be considered the MAC Tools of lock picking. These picks are certainly reliable and up there with the best.
Remember, the best in Locksport is all a matter of opinion and ability. There's no use to have an $8 lock pick if you don’t know how to use it. But if you enjoy having nice things, and collecting nice tools to show off, who cares! Buy what makes you happy, and use what feels great in your hands. Skill will come with time no matter what you choose at the end of the day.
To we lock pickers feedback is absolutely everything. It is our sixth sense, our third eye, our perception within the lock that is beyond ordinary sight. The feedback we sense through our tools is what guides us and without it, we are but lonely souls probing the dark depths, looking for any signs of life – but forever finding none.
So what better way to hinder our lock picking efforts than to distort and defile that feedback we so rely on? To make those sensations that we have spent so long learning to identify act against us rather than for us.
This is the purpose of security pins, to take everything we as lock pickers have acquired – our knowledge, our experience, our techniques, and our developed sense of feel – and plot it against us.
So is this the end? Are security pins where lock picking goes to die?
Not even slightly. This is where our lock picking skills will flourish!
While security pins may disrupt the feedback that we have come to know and understand, they also provide us with some additional types of feedback that not only SCREAM to us that they are security pins, but also guide us in easily picking them. Ironically enough, once you understand these crafty little pins, they can actually make a lock very easy to pick.
However, to identify and pick a security pin, we first need to understand how they work. So let's first start there.
The most vital component of lock picking is the torque – the rotational tension – that we apply to the lock's plug. Without this torque, we would not be able to bind the driver pins nor set and hold them at the shear line.
To better understand this, let us briefly review how a pin is set on a simplified lock.
As we can see, we set the driver pin by first binding it with rotational torque on the plug and then raising it to the shear line. Upon reaching the shear line, the pin breaks the bind and sits on top of the plug – thus "setting" the pin.
So if we think about it, to hinder a lock picker's efforts, there would have to be some method of stopping the driver pin from reaching the shear line if—and only if—the plug is under tension.
So how could this be done?
In 1865, Linus Yale Jr. (inventor of the modern pin tumbler lock) took a first step in solving this problem by slicing a notch into the driver pins (Patent US48475). This simple modification would cause the driver pins to "catch" at the shear line if the plug was lifted under tension.
Let's look at a simple example of this in action.
So as we can see, while the driver pin is under tension and lifted, it rubs against the wall of the plug until the notch meets the shear line and snags. However, this snag is not only significant because it stops the pin, but also because it fools the lock picker into believing the pin is set at the shear line when it is in fact under-set.
This state of being snagged and under-set is what we call a "false set" and is the fundamental principle behind the security pin.
So besides the driver pin being snagged and under-set at the shear line, there are two additional factors of the false set that add to the trickery of fooling us lock pickers into believing that we have correctly set the pin.
1. The first of these two deceptions is that upon being falsely set, the gap in the security pin will break the bind and allow the plug to rotate until it once again finds the nearest pin to bind on (See Binding Order). This rotation is very similar to what we feel when a pin is correctly set at the shear line.
However, depending on the type of security pin used – as we will soon see – and the depth of the cuts into the pin, this rotation can often be very dramatic. If there is a huge degree of rotation in the plug, as you will come to learn and recognize, it is typically a crystal clear sign that we are dealing with a security pin.
2. The second of these deceptions is that when the driver pin is falsely set, it will no longer be active in the keyway. This not only tricks the picker into believing the pin is correctly set at the shear line, but will also lead them down the frustrating road of finding the next binding pin – which they will never find because it's jammed at the shear line and not in the keyway.
This will often lead pickers to the conclusion that they over-set a pin, causing them to release tension, drop the pins, and start again. However, like before, they will find themselves in the same aggravating situation as they once again push the security pin to a false set.
This is the power of security pins.
Before we jump into the primary types of security pins and how to pick them, it is absolutely crucial that we understand one last concept—counter-rotation.
It's short I promise!
So what would happen if we continued to push at a notched security pin that was in a false set? Let's take a look.
As we can see, something incredible happens. As we push at the pin, it attempts to straighten itself by pivoting around the area in which it is snagged. This directly causes the opposite side of the driver pin to push back against the plug causing it to rotate in the opposite direction that we are applying torque, thus the term counter-rotation.
Counter rotation is crucial for two reasons.
1. It is a clear indicator that we are dealing with some type of security pin and that the pin is in a false set.
2. It aids us in picking the security pin by counter-rotating the plug just enough to push the pin past the jamming point and to the shear line.
Now that we fully understand the fundamental principles behind the security pin, let us finally dive into the most common type of security pin - the spool pin!
Acquiring its name from its seen resemblance to a spool, the infamous spool pin has the same diameter as a standard pin on both its top and bottom segments, however, it has a wide horizontal serration making it narrower along its midsection.
First developed in 1865 by Linus Yale Jr. (founder of the Yale Lock Company), the spool pin – due to the simplicity of its design and the ease of manufacturing it – is the most commonly used security pin in locks today.
But with this simplicity comes a cost. As we will soon see, the spool pin is not as sneaky as it tries to be. Due to its design, this pin is insanely easy to detect when in a false set and once detected, just as easy to pick.
So how do we go about identifying a spool pin? Because of their design, once the upper and wider section of the spool pin crosses the shear line, the plug will rotate significantly more than a standard pin because it has more distance to travel before it stops on the narrower than usual midsection. It is this significant rotation that warns us of a spool pin and the potential of a false set. Additionally, the bottom ridge of the pin will catch at the ledge of the shear line, causing the pin to stick.
There is an additional step to verifying that you are in fact stuck on a spool pin. While maintaining light tension on the plug, apply a more than usual upward force on the pin.
If you are indeed caught on a spool pin, the bottom ridge of the pin will slightly push back against the plug as you place pressure on the pin. You will feel an increase in pressure on your tension wrench as the plug slightly rotates in against it. This backward pressure on the plug is illustrated below.
So now that we have identified our spool pin, the question remaining is how do we go about picking it?
The answer is quite simple. All we have to do is very slightly lighten up on the pressure applied to the tension wrench and begin very gently pushing on the spool pin.
As you push on the spool you will experience counter-rotation – this is good and means you are doing it right.
Continue raising the pin until you feel it set – a click or vibration like you would feel by setting any other pin.
That's all there is to it! Easy right!
There are however two common issues that you may run into while attempting to pick these pins.
The first is that because the spool pin causes the plug to counter-rotate, some pins that you had previously set could drop back into the plug. This is normal so don't fret if you have to re-pick pins you have already set.
The second problem is that of over-setting a pin. This occurs when you apply too much force to where the key pin is pushed past the shear line and sticks.
This problem can sometimes be remedied by release a small amount of tension on the plug and tapping on the pin in hopes of jarring it back into the plug. However sometimes over-setting pins may be grounds for release all tension and beginning again!
Finding the binding order is one of the first steps to picking a pin-tumbler lock.
When applying rotational tension to the plug within the cylinder of the lock, it will force the pins to "bind" making them seem stuck or hard to move.
Manipulating those binding pins first will put you on the path to finding the sheer line of the lock, allowing you to rotate the plug completely, thus opening the lock.
If the order in which the pins are binding have been memorized, then, in theory, you should be able to manipulate the lock a second time, in the exact same order. This is the binding order. It is also believed that you cannot open the lock until the proper binding order had been achieved.
Below are my concepts and theories on finding a binding order for any given pin-tumbler lock:
Use this tutorial with North American Pin-Tumbler locks in mind. In North America, our pins are stacked at the top of the plug, with the key pins are below the driver pins, and the driver pins are below the cylinder springs. This is the opposite in most European locks, but it is really only relative to how the lock is installed into the door itself. But this tutorial is primarily discussing locks as they are applied in North America.
In lock picking, there are two natural occurrences that produce a binding order of a lock. The first is the placement of the holes drilled into the top of the plug.
Depending upon the quality of manufacturing, these holes can be minutely staggered, hardly noticeable to the human eye. However, that discrepancy is there, which means not all the holes are aligned perfectly. The one pinhole that protrudes the furthest from its intended center line, will be the hole that contains the pin that will bind first. This is all depending on two smaller details. One factor being the rotational direction of the plug (clockwise or counterclockwise). The other factor being the placement of the holes in the cylinder itself, and how they align with the holes in the plug, as there are two different parts to every lock… the plug, and the cylinder.
The second natural occurrence of binding order in a lock is produced from the type of tension applied to the plug itself. If applying bottom of the keyway tension in a clockwise fashion as the lock faces you, then the lock will find a natural binding order that is relative to that type of tension applied (being bottom of the keyway). But if we apply counterclockwise rotation, while using bottom of the keyway tension, then you should get a completely different binding order of the pins in the lock.
The same goes for adding Top of the Keyway tension (TOK), for both clockwise and counterclockwise tension. So we have come to find that a lock can have up to 4 different binding orders just from the different types of tension we apply to it.
That is why I have stated that there is no such thing as a 'natural binding order' because we are manipulating a specific binding order that is only relative to the type of tension applied to the plug itself.
I also don't agree with the statement, "the binding order of this lock is..." because there is no singular binding order to be found at all.
Further details of manipulating the binding order are discussed below.
If using Bottom of Keyway tension (BOK), it will cause a pivot point in the middle of the plug, almost like a fulcrum, thus making a seesaw or teeter-totter out of the plug itself, as it sits inside the cylinder.
The tension wrench becomes the "load," the back of the plug becomes the "force," the middle is the fulcrum. Thus, if we apply downward pressure at the front of the plug, the first binding pin will naturally be the back pin since it is located at the top of the plug.
This is not absolute, and will not happen every time as it will depend upon tolerances of every given lock. But you are indeed increasing the likely hood of forcing the back pin to bind first by using Bottom of Keyway tension in the front of the lock. The front pin doesn't want to bind first because you are pulling the plug down while applying rotational tension. It's very small in movement, but it's there.
To say that torsion alone is being applied to a plug is incorrect. A brief definition of torsion is: "In the field of solid mechanics, torsion is the twisting of an object due to an applied torque."
You will notice, we are not twisting the plug, we are merely rotating it. Therefore the correct terminology is Torsion Tensor. The brief definition of torsion tensor is: "The companion notion of curvature measures how moving frames roll along a curve without twisting."
So since the plug is merely rolling along the curve of the cylinder that holds it, and the plug itself is not twisting or changing its physical form, Torsion Tensor is the correct terminology to use when describing the action of applying tension to a plug, in a rotational manner. This could be sufficient to say why the British in the UK call a tension wrench a "Tensor" and not a torsion wrench or a tension wrench. They clearly have a better grasp of the physics involved with turning the plug of the cylinder.
The British are known for being extremely accurate in their measurement, so it's always safe to fall upon their descriptions instead of North American terminology as it pertains to locks.
Not only is the tension wrench turning the plug, but you are literally pulling down on the plug as well, causing the back end to pop up (very minutely) thus causing the last pin to bind first (typically). If you use Top of Keyway torsion, it's the opposite, and the front pin will usually bind first (because you are forcing the front of the plug up).
The middle pin should be the least affected by this as it is the 'pivot pin' in this lever effect. But it can still be the first binding pin if the first natural occurrence is present, which is the misalignment of the pin holes themselves.
That is what was taught to me when I was an Apprentice Locksmith. All the locksmiths at my shop picked from back to front, then front to back, then randomly, while applying Bottom of Keyway tension. This is because it was perceived that the last pin would bind first due to this lever principle. I have never known or worked with a locksmith that understood or practiced finding natural binding order. They always just used physics to create a binding order from the back to the front or find an order that is dependent upon the tension being applied.
This technique doesn't always work, as all locks and manufacturing processes differ, but it’s a safe place to start when picking an unknown lock.
I was told once, that the only way to find a natural binding order of a lock, the kind most people claim to have found while using Bottom of Keyway tension, could only be done by using a tension wrench so long (on the working end that is inserted into the plug) that it would have to go all the way through the lock and stick out the back. This would allow you to apply completely even rotational tension and pressure on the plug within the cylinder.
That is the only way to find the “natural” binding order in a lock. That’s the actual binding order which was created by inaccurate machining and milling processes.
Pickers think they have the natural binding order, but really it's just the binding order that is relative to the type of tension you are applying to the plug within the cylinder.
In addition, if there was such a thing as finding the “natural binding order” of a lock, and the physics of applying downward pressure as well as torsion tensor (rotational tension) to the front of the lock didn't exist, then picking a lock would be as easy as reading a list of numbers, 1-2-3-4-5, then picking that order, while going down the list... 1-3-4-5-2, 1-4-5-2-3,
This sequence of numbers is called a permutation. There are only 120 possible combinations with 5 digits if none of these numbers repeat.
If the physics above did not apply, and you went through all the possible combinations out of 5 numbers, for a total of 120 combinations in total, you would eventually open the lock without any skill involved whatsoever! But that's not going to happen because on earth we are governed by physics, and you are indeed changing the “natural binding order” and creating a completely different binding order that is relative to these 3 things...
1. Pulling force on the plug itself (down/up, fore/aft, pitch/yaw)
2. Torsion Tensor (rotational tension)
3. And the consistency of both factors listed above
So don’t give up, and create your very own binding order that is unique to the type of tension you apply to your lock.
Someone recently asked me for advice on how to get better at single pin picking (SPP).
While drafting a response I thought this might be useful to others so I've decided to make it available publicly. I know that some of this may sound self-righteous or incoherent and rambling, but this brain dump is my best attempt at explaining it to those who might value my opinion.
My credentials, for what they're worth: I've had a hand in running the Longhorn Lockpicking Club in Austin since 2007 where I've taught hundreds of beginners over the years, organized a number of lock pick villages at hacker conferences and other similar workshops for everyone from Facebook headquarters to schoolchildren.
And at DEFCON 17 I won TOOOL's U.S. speed-lockpicking competition, going head to head with a personal hero of mine Schuyler Towne for the final match and earning the title of U.S. champion & invitation to compete in the world championship at my first of many LockCon competitions.
When I was first learning how to pick a lock, I researched the idea online and observed that people generally thought single pin picking was the most skilled technique, so I stubbornly refused to practice any other way until I had learned what I perceived to be the best one.
My goal wasn't to open the lock quickly; I wanted to be able to open a lock reliably, knowing that if I repeated the same steps each time I'd likely get similar results, even if it took me much longer than other people.
I think I was scared that otherwise if I went to show my skill off to other people I wouldn't be confident about the outcome, at best I'd just know that I could sometimes open locks quickly but other times I might fail for no reason.
This principle has guided many aspects of my life, for instance when I learned the Linux operating system, research told me people thought Slackware was the hardest to learn but once you were comfortable with it you'd be comfortable with any Linux version so that's what I started with, or how I'm trying to learn guitar now and prefer to practice harder finger-picking patterns rather than relying on strumming chords to play simpler versions of songs.
My attitude, for better or worse, seems to be that any time spent learning something other than the hardest technique is potentially wasted time since you'll eventually surpass it. That attitude forced me to improve because I would either open a lock by deliberately single pin picking it or the lock would not open, I didn't leave myself another choice. It's to this stubborn extremist attitude that I attribute whatever skill I have now.
So with that said, I think my first piece of advice would be don't give yourself a way out. Decide that if you don't understand exactly why something happened at each stage of the picking process, then even if the lock opens, it is not a victory.
There's no use falling back to raking the lock open just to feel better or impress someone.
If anything opening the lock without knowing why it opened or being able to repeat it should upset you. Since we're diving straight into the deep end with the hardest method for opening the lock, we need to start with the smallest possible part of a lock you can attack.
Buy a cheap Kwikset deadbolt – They suprisingly cheap on Amazon like this one – with the easily-removable pin cover, pull out all the pins and repin it with only the first pin stack in the lock.
Try pushing on the pin with just your hook pick, feel what an unbound pin feels like, then apply tension and feel it again. Memorize the feeling of that binding pin, then slowly start lifting it and see what it feels like to set the pin, both how it sounds and how it feels through the tension wrench and pick.
Then add a second pin stack and repeat the process, this time with the added challenge of first identifying which pin is the binding pin and which is not. Can you tell the exact moment when that first binding pin sets, and suddenly the second binding pin that was loose is now bound?
Try it over and over until identifying that tell-tale resistance of a binding pin in the lock is second nature to you. Work your way up to a 5-pin lock, then swap the order of the pins each time you feel confident you have mastered a particular bitting for a new challenge.
With basic single pin picking technique out of the way, let's talk about tools. First, the pick. I like the idea of learning one simple pick shape and mastering it. In my case that's the standard short hook – also known as a feeler pick. I like knowing that I can pick up any standard lock pick set and find the tool I'm comfortable with there.
When I'm picking locks at a club meeting or lock pick village I try to use the same spare hooks that are on the table for others to use, and while my competition set can have upwards of 20 picks in it, they are all variations of the hook pick, just with different lengths, widths, angles, stiffnesses, etc.
All we want to do is scoop our hook underneath the pins then lever it against the opposite side of the keyway to push up on the pins. Different hooks may be necessary for different keyways or locks of varying states of wear, they'll all be used with the same general technique.
Tensioning tools, on the other hand, are extremely important, and the more ideally your tension matches your target lock the better luck you will have with it. We need to apply as close to perfectly circular tension as possible to the plug – hence the invention of the pry bar.
The better your tension, the more prevalent the binding force becomes on the pins and the easier it is to set them.
I know it's commonly taught to use very light tension, but I've found that when the right tension is applied a heavier force will help you find the binding pins, and I tend to use moderately heavy tension.
On simple straight keyways like the Kwikset KW1 it's easy, we can just stick our tension tool in the bottom of the keyway in either direction and it will apply a good turning force.
An example of suboptimal tension that I see frequently is trying to use clockwise bottom tension in the Schlage SC1 keyway. On the SC1 the bottom of the keyway angles diagonally to the right as you approach the bottom.
If you insert your tension tool sticking out to the left and apply a counter-clockwise force it works with the slant to apply a circular force, but if your tension tool is sticking out to the right to go clockwise it's working against the slant and will apply more of a downward / outward force.
Another good example is a keyway where there's a small gap under a ward in the bottom, such that when you apply tension your tool is able to slip into that gap and angle itself much further down than normal. At this point, the force you're applying is less circular as much as outward (upward?) and it will be very difficult to get that binding feel feedback from the pins.
I've found a few solutions to deal with this, depending on the keyway.
The first is to take a paperclip, straighten out one segment, then stick it straight into the gap under the warding to fill up that space, and then stick your tension tool in normally beside it. When you apply tension it will hit the paperclip instead of sliding into the gap, and the correct tension is preserved.
The other way is to stick your tension tool in the bottom of the keyway normally but then angle it upward such that the end furthest into the lock is higher than the part outside, where the higher internal part can get caught between the higher wardings on either side of the keyway and prevent it from slipping into the gap at the bottom.
Off the top of my head the locks this works great in from our club's collection are the Brinks Shrouded and Brinks 527 series padlocks. The paperclip technique seems to work great in the American 1105 and 5200 padlocks.
I like top tension, but it seems to be even harder to match your tension tool to the particular lock when you're using top tension. Any standard tension wrench where the length of the end sticking into the lock has been cut in half or shorter vs a normal bottom tension tool will serve the purpose for simpler keyways, but on more advanced locks you'll want a tension tool whose thickness matches the width of the keyway as closely as possible.
In my competition set I have a number of tension tools that have come from various commercial sets as well as homemade, from short thin flat ones to stiff bulky ones to small square ones designed to lock tightly into specific keyways. It's not uncommon for me to try 3 or more tension tools in a competition lock before finding the one that applies the cleanest force and gives me the most obvious binding feedback.
Now that we have a solid foundation for picking locks in general, we can work on speeding up the process. When I attack a lock, rather than trying to move to a certain pin's position and deliberately push that pin up, I will move my pick to the back of the lock, lever it upward slightly as if I were starting to pick a pin behind the very last one, and pull forward across the bottoms of all the pins until I feel resistance.
The non-binding pins will give way easily, but once you encounter resistance there's a good chance you're at the edge of the binding pin. Set the binding pin, then finish your sweep forward, then go immediately to the back and repeat the same process.
I also find myself "bouncing" my tension finger slightly during this process, applying slightly less or slightly more pressure, hoping one of these slight variations will make the binding force more apparent.
If I've been pushing on a certain pin and it goes higher than expected I'll generally assume it's been over set, often I can then slowly lighten the pressure until I hear a pin drop to unset it then immediately move on to a different pin and continue my search for the binding pin without having to completely reset the lock and lose all my progress.
I love locks with security pins because they seem to give you "more" feedback than those without. If you're picking normally and setting a pin causes the plug to turn significantly before stopping again, you know you're in a false set and are usually on the right path.
Once in a false set, it's generally easy to find the next pin you want to work on because pushing on that pin will apply a counter-rotational force (it will feel like it's trying to push back on your tension tool), whereas wrong ones will feel solid and not budge. In the majority of cases just pushing up on the pin is enough, and by slightly letting pressure off of your tension finger the counter-rotation will do all the work until finally you feel the pin set and you re-apply heavier tension.
In some cases the pin will lock itself up and you have to apply the counter-rotation yourself. In these cases I like to use short double-sided tension tools so you can wrap your finger around the opposite side of the tension tool and pull the tool upwards slightly in addition to lightening pressure, or you can twist your pick in the keyway while lifting the pin to help apply the turning force.
That's all I can think of at the moment. I welcome questions from folks, and if I think of anything further I'm sure I'll add to this post. Also for the record to avoid confusion, this is written from a hobbyist's perspective where the goal is solving a lock as if it were a puzzle. I'm not a locksmith or professional where quick entry is the main priority and a dishonorable victory is adequate. I wish to manipulate a lock to manually simulate the correct key.
Hopefully you find something here that is of use in your single pin picking adventures!
You can learn more about Jgor in our exclusive interview here.
For every great journey, there is an unusual beginning. A moment of decision in which we walk the line between taking our first step forward or turning away and venturing in a different direction.
It is often at this line that we contemplate the value of stepping forward — its worth, its inevitable struggles, and its likely outcome.
However, what often deters us most from taking that first step are the unknowns – the questions we have in which we can initially find neither a solid nor direct answer to. It is because of these uncertainties that we often miss out on some magnificent opportunities.
The art of lock picking is no exception. It is a craft that seemly everyone wishes to venture in, but at first glance are discouraged by the fog of mystery and vagueness surrounding it.
So let’s lift the veil and look at lock picking in its purest form —unhindered by bias and mystery — so that we may take our first confident step forward in this exceptional journey that is lock picking!
But first, to break any misconceptions of what lock picking is, let us start by truly defining it.
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Lock picking falls within the scope of what is called physical bypassing. A bypass is nothing more than a technical term for going around or through something by means other than normally utilized. However, bypassing typically takes advantage of a flaw or weakness in design.
For example, we normally use a key to get through a padlock. However, if that particular model of padlock utilizes a spring-loaded bolt to hold the shackle, we may be able to very simply and quickly bypass it by sliding a thin sheet of metal between the bolt and shackle — thus releasing the shackle and unlocking the lock. This method of "shimming" is very commonly practiced among bypassers and can even be accomplished by cutting up a soda can.
Another example would be taking a more violent approach and melting the padlock to a frothy liquid with a blowtorch.
Regardless of the method, the goal is the same — to get through the lock without using the key.
When it comes to physical bypassing, the sky is the limit. Your only restrictions are your imagination and innovation. Any and every lock can be bypassed, it is only a matter of how and when — there is no such thing as the perfect lock.
However, in the vast multitude of bypasses possible, lock picking is the apple that falls furthest from the tree. Unlike any other known method, lock picking has an extreme elegance about it — being both highly subtle and strikingly artful.
Lock picking has a very subtle nature about it. Not only is it a very soft and silent technique, but it also leaves behind little to no trace of ever being performed. Utilizing minimal equipment – typically two small pieces of metal – lock picking can often be performed anywhere without drawing attention.
But even with this subtle nature, lock picking’s elegance is granted primarily through its artfulness.
It is artful in the sense that no other method utilizes upon the attention to detail that lock picking does. While anyone can pick a lock, those who have mastered this skill have mastered their senses.
The practiced master of lock picking — using nothing but their pick, tension wrench, and sense of feel— can visualize what is occurring within the lock and, in essence, can paint the key within the lock using his pick as a brush.
Just as there are many styles of painting, there are a variety of unique techniques available to the lock picker.
Some, like an artist throwing paint at a canvas, are erratic and volatile — much like that of zipping or raking a lock.
On the other hand, some methods are pencil precise, requiring more skill and finesse over that of madness — like that of single pin picking.
This is what we refer to as the Art of Lock Picking and leads us — finally — to our definition and understanding of what lock picking truly is.
Lock picking is the act of mimicking the key through artful manipulation of the lock’s internal componentry to the same state they would be in if the correct key were inserted.
In other words, we are tricking the lock into believing we are the key.
There is one additional definition that we believe lock picking to maintain:
To learn lock picking is to learn just how poorly designed and manufactured most security devices are. When you delve into lock picking you are not just picking locks, you are developing an awareness of what security sincerely is. The only way to truly security ourselves is to learn the flaws in that security. Lock picking is a means of self-defense.
There is one irritating reality to learning the craft of lock picking — the degree of misinformation, bias, and vagueness surrounding it.
This aggravating combination of traits is typically enough to deter most people from ever pursuing this craft — mainly due to the frustration of finding straightforward answers to very simple questions.
This is extremely disheartening that so many abandon this extremely fun and valuable skill before even starting.
So to help avoid this frustration, here are some straight and simple answers to the most commonly asked questions about learning lock picking.
This question is often met with conflicting answers. However, this is not to say people are being deceptive nor have any true knowledge of the craft.
People’s answers are relative to how they understand the question and this is completely dependent on what their philosophy of learning lock picking is.
The learning of lock picking can either be:
1. Easy: Acquiring the basics, thus having “learned” to pick locks.
2. Hard: The continual process of learning till mastery, and beyond.
Let’s quickly cover each.
Picking up the basics of lock picking is a very quick and uncomplicated task. Locks are very simple and stupid creatures based on ancient technology so old, we haven’t an inkling of whom first invented them and when.
After understanding the fundamental principles behind locks — again very simple and stupid creatures —, acquiring the appropriate tools, and with a little proper guidance in technique, most can expect to pick their first basic lock very, VERY, quickly.
From my own personal experience, I picked my very first lock — a Master Lock #3 — in under 3 minutes using an 8-page pamphlet that came with my lock picks. Within an hour of practice, I was able to pick this same lock within seconds.
To center our expectations, it is important to understand that lock picking — like any skill — will only get you as far as you practice.
While basic locks — which are the majority of locks — will fall quickly to your mighty picks, anything containing additional security features will require some proficiency and a more sophisticated understanding that only practice will deliver, thus placing us on the “harder” road to mastery.
The mastery of lock picking is a long, but wondrous, road and — like any skill — requires a certain degree of dedication, persistence, and passion.
But the difficulties of this road are not due to the act nor craft of lock picking. These difficulties instead live in the strife and struggle of discipline required and the consistent, but necessary, failure that will occur.
The basics of lock picking are easy because they require very little investment and very little failure. But mastery craves investment and it demands for failure — hours and hours of failure.
Getting stuck on a lock for hours — even days — is the type of failure you will encounter. But this is the price of proficiency and the price of mastery. Every attempt you make and every failure you encounter, you will add something new to your toolbox and come back better as a result.
So to those looking to master this skill, never be discouraged by your inability to open a lock. Each failure is a lesson and each lesson will bring you closer to picking that lock and every lock that follows!
The cost of success is failure and every individual that travels the road to mastery must pay their toll.
The most deterring aspect of lock picking is its fundamental nature. Its very purpose is to bypass means of security and, as such, it's completely understandable why it would be thought of as an illegal or unethical craft.
However, just because something can be used maliciously doesn’t mean it will nor does it mean it is unlawful or wrong in any way to learn or utilize.
In comparison, martial arts also has the same underlying nature and capacity to be used in a harmful manner. However, few learn it with the ambition to use it maliciously. It is instead a means of discipline, self-mastery, and self-awareness. Lock picking also develops and demands of these traits.
The act of lock picking is not illegal, so long as you are picking your own locks or have permission from the owner of that lock, which you absolutely better — Serious!
However, there are locations, including the US, that have restrictions on owning locksmithing equipment — such as lock picks and bump keys.
For instance, there are 5 states in the United States with regulations towards owning lock picking tools — Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Tennessee.
Of these 5, only Tennessee strictly prohibits owning lock picks. The rest fall under what is called prima facie evidence, which basically means intent to commit a crime — or guilty until proven innocent.
The legality of lock picking is a subject all of its own and is better suited for its own extended discussion.
If you wish to learn more, take a gander at our Legality Article: Is Lock Picking Illegal?
But the bottom line is lock picking isn’t unethical and while there are a very small amount of governing regulations to consider, so long as you are aware of them, you are in the clear.
There are two things you need to begin picking locks — a set of locks picks and a lock.
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.
Here is an example of an ideal combination for the beginner to start with.
This set includes a standard hook, a Bogota rake, and a top of the keyway tension wrench. Basically everything you will ever need to tackle any pin tumbler lock.
They are also constructed of government steel, making them much tougher than traditional picks. This stronger steel is ideal for those just starting out because beginners are typically much rougher on their picks.
Master locks are terrible, atrocious, and appalling locks that truly only serve one purpose — to be a practice lock. It is their calling and final destination!
Seriously, it’s like Master Lock designed these locks just so you could learn lock picking!
These locks are poorly made and have terrible tolerances — meaning finding and setting binding pins is especially easy because they have tons of slop in the core.
They can literally be opened using any method of bypassing including single pin picking, raking, bitch picking, zipping, shimming, light tension, heavy tension, or even using a chicken bone — yes a chicken bone (YouTube that one haha.)
But let us, for a moment, compare lock picking to learning math... Yeah, I know, yuck!
However, if you practice the same problem over and over again, you will eventually just memorize that problem and won't truly learn anything. But by continuing to solve different problems, patterns emerge and you begin to learn.
Every skill gets progressively more expensive as you progress — lock picking is no exception. Every lock is unique and each must be picked in its own particular way. However, once you learn the sequence in which that lock can be picked, it ceases to be a challenge — and the challenge is what most hones our skills.
So to progress in the craft of lock picking, we must pick everything we can get our hands on and never spend too much time picking the same lock over and over again. Once you have picked a particular lock a few times, it's time to move on.
This is where lock picking can meet the less desired side of our wallets. However, there are a few known ways of getting around buying a ton of new locks such as:
With a little innovation, you can always stretch your dollar far.
An important note on buying lock picks:
First and foremost: Do NOT buy a cheap lock picking set from Amazon or similar sites! These sets are made of cheap malleable metal that you will end up throwing away very quickly. A quality set will cost you around the same amount and will serve you much better in regards to developing your skills.
You also don’t need a fancy nor huge set of lock picks to begin, or even master, this craft. Truly, you only need two picks — a hook pick and rake pick. About every starter kit includes at least one of each of these two styles of picks. So save your wallet and start small; invest in locks.
So as we can see, lock picking truly isn't as ugly as most think and those little tiny unknowns that deter so many people are nothing to be feared.
Lock picking is exceptionally easy, inexpensive, and – which the exception of a couple governing regulations in a few locations – totally legal and ethical to learn.
There's no other thrill similar to that of the subtle click that occurs when you successfully pick a lock. This unique thrill – this burst of excitement – is something you will never go numb to. Every success is just like the first.
So check out the guides in our Academy and take that first step on your journey today!
Also be sure to throw us comment below! We love to hear what you guys think and any other questions you might have!
One of the quickest ways of progressing in any craft is knowing exactly what steps to take, and in which order to take them. With lock picking, this can be as simple as knowing which practice locks to focus on first.
With every new practice lock you pick, you'll walk away with some new knowledge—a lesson taught through the tears and struggle of picking.
The purpose of this little guide is to give you a progression of best practice locks to help you quickly learn lock picking. Locks that will not only give you the greatest lessons but do so in an order that will prepare you for the next practice lock on this list.
From absolute beginner to tackling spools and serrated security pins—all in 11 locks!
However, to get the most out of this lock progression, I recommended that you pick up at least two or three of each lock because every lock is different. You can pick 10 of the same model of lock and have an easy time with some, a hard time with others, and perhaps even find that one or two are seemingly impossible to open.
This is because every lock is different. Each has a different bitting, a different binding order, and different tolerances that will affect the way in which it is picked. Some may agree with your level of skill or method of picking—some may not.
So when trying to master a specific style of lock and learn what they have to teach, it's best to grab a few of them.
With that all being said, let's get on with our list!
Best Practice Locks
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One of the greatest challenges many new lock pickers face is learning how to sense and interpret the feedback a lock gives while picking. Because of this, the ideal lock for a beginner will be one that provides consistent and clear feedback.
Now this is can be a challenge when it comes to cheaper standard pin locks.
Sometimes they can be made so poorly that there is too much slop in the core and as a result, trying to pick these locks is almost like sticking your pick into a bowl of mash potatoes. It feels mushy and the feedback is very dull—which makes it very hard to learn or accomplish anything.
This dilemma is what brings us to our first practice lock, the Master Lock 141D.
While it may look like something you would find securing a little girl’s diary, it is hands down one of the best locks that you can have as a beginner.
The Master Lock 141 has a black plastic cover, 4 standard pins, a wide-open keyway, and a lightly spring-loaded core. It also has decent tolerances compared to other cheap standard pin locks of its type.
So if you are looking for a lock that will teach you the fundamentals of lock picking, binding order, and tension control, look no further than the Master Lock 141D.
The Master Locks #3 is a terrible, atrocious, and appalling lock that truly only serves one purpose—to be a practice lock. It is their calling and final destination!
Seriously, it's like Master Lock designed these locks just so you could learn lock picking!
These locks are poorly made and have terrible tolerances—meaning finding and setting binding pins is especially easy because they have tons of slop in the core. They can literally be opened using any method of bypassing including single pin picking, raking, bitch picking, zipping, shimming, light tension, heavy tension, or even using a chicken bone—yes a chicken bone (YouTube that one haha.) It doesn’t matter because you can easily find success with any method available and it will lay an important foundation for each method to be built upon.
They have only four standard pins, a very wide and open keyway, and a spring-loaded core. However, their single downfall as the perfect single pin picking practice lock is that because they are built so poorly and their tolerances are so bad, there is a ton of excess friction from the internal components rubbing and binding—even when there is zero torque on the core.
As a result, trying to pick some of these Master Locks is almost like sticking your pick into a bowl of mash potatoes. It feels mushy and the feedback is very dull – which makes it very hard to learn or accomplish anything. Now, this doesn't represent every Master Lock #3, but it is important to note that if you get a lemon with too much internal friction, you may have a frustrating time with it.
So if you do go the route of the Master Lock #3, I would pick up at least two. They are pretty cheap if you hunt around Amazon or even eBay.
Now that you have a slight understanding of how the picking process works, it's time to hone those skills with a Master Lock #7.
This lock is very similar to the Master Lock #3. It has 4 standard pins, poor tolerances, an open keyway, and a very light spring-loaded core.
However, its keyway is smaller, much smaller.
This small keyway will not only refine your skills but teach you the art of finesse—which an important cornerstone to lock picking.
You will learn how to squeeze and maneuver your picks in very tight spaces and be forced to learned how to leverage the most out of your picks.
Now it's time to bump up the difficulty a bit to a lock that has slightly higher tolerances... oh and a few security pins—YIKES!
Security pins may seem scary at first, but they are nothing to worry about and as you'll learn, they can actually make the lock much easier and more fun to pick.
There is nothing like counter-rotation in the morning to make you feel alive!
The Master Lock 140 is a great introduction to spool pins as, like the #3 and #7, it has a very open keyway, light spring tension on the core, and terrible tolerances.
These practice locks have a four-pin core and typically include one standard pin and three shallow spool pins (the shallower the spools the easier the pick.) However, there have been cases in which there are sometimes fewer spools, but in most cases, there are three.
This lock can sometimes throw new pickers for a spin, but regardless it will teach you a critical lesson in how to tension spool pins and help you better understand the feedback locks provide.
The Brinks 40mm brass padlock is an absolutely amazing lock that can play a pivotal part in transforming any beginner's skills.
Just like the Master Lock 140, this lock has a four pin core with three spool pins and one standard pin. Yet, it is a much higher quality lock with tighter tolerances and much deeper cut spools.
The feedback you'll receive from these deeper cut spools is significantly amplified compared to the Master Lock 140 whose spools are shallow and allow for very little counter-rotation. The deeper cut spools will provide you with a nice amount of counter-rotation that is almost impossible to miss.
These locks are an absolute must for learning spools and will help you truly understand false sets and counter-rotation!
Now it's time to combine everything that you have learned so far into a new and more challenging lock – behold the ABUS 55/40.
These cool little locks have a four-pin core and a very small but open keyway, much like that of the Master Lock #7. However, these locks contain three nicely cut spool pins and one standard pin. They also – like most ABUS locks – have very good tolerances and typically a nice challenging bitting.
These little guys are freaking awesome. If you are having a bad picking session or haven't picked in a few days, warming up with one of these little guys will usually set you straight. They truly force you to learn how to maneuver your pick.
Alright pickers, now it's time to upgrade to five pins!
The Master Lock 570 is a higher quality lock with much better tolerances than the previous Master Locks on this list. As stated, it has five pins, four of which are spools and one standard. These spool pins are not as shallow cut as the Master Lock 140 making it slightly more challenging in that aspect.
This lock's keyway is very open and shaped just like the Master Lock #3, except in reverse.
The keyway is also slightly smaller and the key pins sit a little further down in the plug giving you less room to work with – which is why you practiced on the ABUS 55/40 right?
These locks will also introduce you to a feature called a dead core. This means that the core is not spring-loaded and that there will be no spring acting against you while tensioning.
Dead cores are tricky little devils when combined with spool pins because they require you to really focus on tension control.
Unlike spring-loaded cores where you can simply release tension to set a spool, dead cores don't give this luxury. Sometimes you'll find that you manually have to pull back on the tension to let the spool slide to a set.
Dead cores also don't absorb vibrations like springs loaded cores do. This means that you will receive more feedback from these locks.
Now it's time to really have some fun.
The ABUS 64TI/50 is an amazing lock that has a five-pin core and typically contains one standard pin and four quality spool pins.
These locks are excellent training locks because they have very high tolerances and provide a lot less feedback than most locks.
This forces you to really focus on the feedback the lock is giving you and will teach you a thing or two about patience.
Additionally, these locks have a Yale style keyway with a mild amount of warding to add a little extra pain to the process. Warding can not only get in the way of your pick but can also muffle the feedback as it absorbs some of the vibrations from the pick!
So what could possibly be next? How about 6 pins?
The ABUS 80TI/50 is one of my personal favorites and I don't think I could possibly own enough of them – I have 14 of these little training locks.
Just like their little brother the 64TI, they are absolutely amazing training locks with very good tolerances that make you really focus on what you are feeling with your tools.
These locks have a 6 pin core with one standard pin and 5 spool pins.
They also have a pretty open keyway with a very small amount of warding for good measure.
The Titalium series of ABUS are amazing practice locks and I can't suggest them enough.
Alright pickers, it's finally time to move on to something worthy of the title Lock Slayer. It's time for a true challenge – a test that will surely break your confidence, bring tears to your eyes, and perhaps even instill regret from ever picking up this hobby in the first place!
It's time for the American 1100 and her nasty gang of serrated pins!
Did I hype that enough?
Fear not, these locks aren't as terrible as they seem and once you understand how to pick them they are heaps of fun and are amazing practice locks!
The American Lock 1100 is a classic favorite among many pickers and has a 6 pin core that contains a mixture of serrated and spool driver pins.
They also have serrated key pins that snag at the shear line if you accidentally overset them which is a common problem for those just starting out with serrated pins. If anything these locks will teach you finesse while lifting pins.
American locks will also force you to use top of the keyway tension as the core is designed to bind if tensioned from the bottom.
Remember that every practice lock is a lesson and to truly get good at any craft is to receive as many lessons as possible. Avoid picking the same lock over and over and instead venture off to other locks as best you can.
If any of these locks absolutely stump you with defeat, fret not! Put them away in a dark corner for a couple of days or weeks and practice with other locks. You'll often find that locks that you couldn't pick one day will fall open the next day with a little more practice!
I hope that this guide on the best locks to learn lock picking will serve you well and if you have any comments or questions, leave them below or throw me a message on our contact page and I'll always do my best to help!
When it comes to developing any skill, the single most effective way of getting better is continuing to challenge yourself. To move past the known and travel into the unknown.
With lock picking this can be as simple as challenging yourself with new training locks.
You should never continue to pick a lock that you have already beaten several times. If you pick the same training lock enough times in the same way, you'll eventually memorize the process of picking that particular lock. From then on, picking that lock becomes more about recalling a series of vague events rather than relying on your skill.
As a matter in fact, continuing to pick the same lock over and over can actually put you a few steps back in progressing your skill. As they say – if you don't use it, you lose it.
So continuing to challenge yourself is crucial for improvement but the problem is, this can sometimes get expensive. How can we expect to buy a new practice lock every time we conquer one? Beating a lock should be a time for excitement and joy, not a time to feel sorrow for our wallets.
But what if there were some ways in which we could take a training lock that we finally picked and immediately turn it into a new challenge? Well, I have 5 quick suggestions that can do just that!
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The first thing you can do is practice picking that lock in the opposite order. If you pick from the back pin to the front pin, try reversing your process and picking from front to back. Depending on your tension and the lock this also has to potential of swapping up the binding order.
Some locks can be tensioned and picked in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. By switching the direction in which you apply tension you will essentially have a new binding order which you can consider as a "new lock."
Note that when you pick a lock in the wrong direction you likely won't be able to fully rotate the plug to disengage the lock. However, you will be able to rotate it enough to know that you successfully set all the pins.
Remember that not all locks can be picked in both directions so you first need to determine if a particular lock can be picked in the opposite direction. To do this you'll need to first test if the pins will bind in that direction. To do so apply opposite tension to the plug, rake or zip some pins, and then release the tension. If you can hear or feel pins drop then that lock can very likely be picked in both directions. If you can't bind or set any pins while tensioning in the opposite direction then that particular lock can only be picked in one direction.
Picking in the wrong direction is also good practice for using a plug spinner – such as the Peterson Plug Spinner. These tools are spring-loaded and will quickly snap the plug in the opposite direction fast enough so that the pins don't drop.
Note: While most locks can only be opened in one direction and picked in both directions, there are some exceptions like most laminated locks – Master Lock #3 – which can be picked and opened in both directions.
Practice picking each lock both in your hand and in a vise. Both will have a different feel, a different technique, and will improve your skill in both scenarios.
If you don't yet have a vise consider looking at the Bessey BVVB Vacuum Base Vise. It's super cheap and I've found it to accommodate all my needs!
If the lock you are picking is repinnable this opens up a world of opportunities to do a little custom work and make that lock fresh! This can be as easy as gutting the training lock and simply rearranging the pins.
By just doing this you will not only have a new bitting to deal with but will also very likely change the binding order – especially if that lock has security pins!
Remember that the pins are also prone to manufacturing tolerances. This means that some pins will naturally be made thicker while others are thinner. Also, older pins tend to have thinner points from everyday wear and tear.
Thus when you swap around the pins you have a very good chance of changing up the binding order!
Note: If you swap around the pins, the original key will no longer work!
Wait.. isn't this the opposite of what we want to do? Isn't memorizing the process of picking a particular lock bad?
Not at all! The problem with picking a training lock over and over again is honestly not so much about just memorizing the procedure – like the binding order – but more specifically about subconsciously memorizing and recalling vague feelings while picking. An example of this would be if you felt a click near the front of the lock and experience with that lock reminded you that you now need to probe near the back of the lock next. It's not defined and focused memorization, but instead a hazy recollection of how that lock is picked.
Instead the type of memorization that we should strive for here is to know exactly – with pinpoint accuracy – what pins to set in exactly what order. To put this into perspective, let's say we are picking a five pin lock with all standard pins. The goal here should be to figure out exactly in what order each pin binds so that we can continually pick the lock by only touching each pin once.
This exercise ensures that everything you are doing in the lock is intentional and focused. Intentional memorization is using and refining your skill; unintentional memorization is not.
If you are to take only one thing away from this please let it be to never stop challenging yourself. Keep pushing that threshold and I promise you that your lock picking skills will explode!
What other ways can you think of turning your average beat down training lock into a new challenge? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!