Oddly enough, the first headache inflicted by this awesome craft of lock picking typically isn't from picking a lock. Rather it’s caused by beating one’s face repeatedly against the nearest hard object while trying to establish what the best beginner lock pick set is.
With so many different types of picks and random-looking tools out there today—it's truly a daunting task for anyone just starting out.
So let's jump into what exactly you should look for when investing in lock picks, what you should avoid, and why the Peterson GSP Ghost Set is hands down the best beginner lock pick set out there!
What Makes the Best Beginner Lock Pick Set?
When it comes to selecting your first set of lock picks, it truly boils down to two primary concerns – the quality and selection of your tools.
Let's cover each and see where the GSP Ghost set fits in!
Quality of Tools
Quality is one of the most important aspects of lock picks, yet it is sadly one that many beginners tend to overlook or ignore. There are several characteristics that determine the quality of a lock pick.
These qualities not only affect the lifespan of your picks but also the feedback they provide you and the overall effectiveness they have in the lock.
Let's look at a few important characteristics of a good lock pick.
1. Pick Strength
Lock picks are thin and fragile creatures by nature that are designed for the simple purpose of opposing the force of a small spring and the slight amount of friction caused by binding pins.
But regardless of their fragile nature, beginners tend to have a very heavy hand while picking and are typically very abusive to their picks – often without knowing it. If you choose picks made of a poor material they could easily break or bend – either of which makes it difficult to continue using the tool.
Many cheaper picks, like those found on Amazon, are simply stamped out of very soft and malleable steel that will bend and break very easily.
This is where the GSP Ghost set has a HUGE advantage over other lock pick sets.
The GSP stands for "Government Steel Picks."
Government steel is a special stainless steel alloy similar to the 420 stainless steel that is used in many surgical tools when they don't want pieces breaking off into people – like scalpels.
So this means that GSP picks are very strong and can put up with a ton of abuse for a long time.
When it comes to the quality of the material used, remember that it typically costs considerably less to start with quality picks than it does to replace cheaper ones several times over. Invest in quality, stay away from Amazon.
2. Pick Profiles
The profile – or shape – of your picks will directly affect how effective they can be in the lock.
Different manufactures have different standards and designs at which they uphold. To illustrate this, let’s look that the common short hook from two different popular manufactures — Peterson vs. Sparrows.
As you can see, the Peterson short hook has a much wider and flatter tip while the Sparrows is much thinner and pointer. This difference may seem slight but it can make a huge difference in how the lock pick acts on the pins.
Notice that the bottom of the key pin is very narrow and imagine the amount of precision it would take to align a pointy tipped hook with that pin and lift it without it slipping off.
This is where the Peterson short hook has the advantage for a beginner. Because the tip of the hook is wide and flat, it is easier to locate the pins and control them while lifting as they are less likely to slip off a flat surface.
Note that this isn't stating that Sparrows lock picks are low quality, but rather that they hold a different standard and profile.
There is something about holding tiny tools in your hands for an extended amount of time that will cause you pain… and not just physical, but emotional. There are few things worse in this world than being so close to opening a lock and having to drop your tools because of hand cramps or bleeding fingers.
To solve this affliction the GSP Ghost set has a very ergonomic and comfortable plastic handle molded onto each pick.
These handles not only make your picking sessions more enjoyable but can also increase the feedback you receive due to more surface area of your hand being on the pick.
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Selection of Tools
The truth is, you really don’t need that much to start lock picking — actually, you don’t much at any skill level of lock picking. Most tools are fluff. They are nice to have and can make things much easier in specific circumstances, but in essence, are all slight variations of the same tool with very small differences in utility.
Think of a lock pick set as a box of crayons. Yes, having that massive box of every color known to man will help sketch a more detailed drawing, but really all you need is a couple of basic colors to draw and shade any picture effectively. A green dog with pink eye may not be the prettiest, but dammit, it’s still a dog, and it just wants to love you.
Furthermore, progressing your skills is about developing your senses and recognizing patterns based on those sensations. As a beginner, swapping between 17 different tools will only give you 17 different variations of the same feedback. It can be very difficult to learn anything when the information you receive is always changing.
So as a beginner, start with what you need and expand from there!
But that begs the question, what tools do you actually need in a beginner lock pick set? Let's start with the ideal pick selection and then touch on tensioning tools!
The Best Beginner Lock Picks
When choosing lock picks, it's important to understand that there are two fundamental styles of lock picking — single pin picking and raking. Each of these styles uses different techniques that require different styles of picks.
It's also important to note that every type of pick has its strengths and weakness in regards to its effectiveness in specific locks – such as keyway profiles or pin configurations.
The GSP Ghost set not only includes an effective selection of picks but also picks that complement each other's strengths and weaknesses.
Let's look at each pick the Ghost set offers and why it's ideal.
The first of our rakes is the Bogota. This is arguably one of the best and most commonly used rakes and is an absolute must for any beginner lock pick set.
This rake has rounded and polished peaks that reduce friction and allow them to slip and slide like butter within the lock while raking. Because of the triple peak, they can manipulate several pins at the same time!
The Bogota is very effective against high-low-high-low pin cuts, which is something many other types of rakes cannot claim.
Note: The GSP Ghost set includes two Bogotas in different thicknesses – one in .025" for standard locks and one in .018" for those smaller keyways!
How to Use
One of the most common methods of using the Bogota is the most traditional raking technique called scrubbing. Simply apply light tension, insert your pick to the back of the keyway and begin scrubbing the pins as you would if brushing your teeth.
As you rake, slightly adjust the angle of your pick to ensure the peaks of the Bogota have a chance to set shorter cut pins.
The Bogota can also be effectively used with the rocking technique. This technique is demonstrated with our next pick – the City Rake!
The City rake gets its name from its resemblance to a city skyline and has a very similar profile to that of the biting of a key. Other common names for this rake are the "L Rake" or the "Long Ripple."
Because this pick is used in a rocking manner, it rotates around the center of its profile, making it very effective against locks with high-cut pins in the front and back and low-cut pins in the center. This is illustrated in the animation below!
How to Use
Many beginners make the mistake of using the City rake like most other rakes – that is in a scrubbing manner as demonstrated above with the Bogota.
However, the City rake was actually designed and is most effectively used in a rocking manner!
To use this pick first apply light tension to the plug. Then insert your pick to the back of the keyway and begin lightly rocking the pick by changing its angle within the lock.
As you are rocking, slowly move the pick in and out of the lock to ensure that each pin is manipulated!
Single pin picking is a game of pinpoint precision and finesse. So the most effective picks will be those that can:
- Easily manipulate individual pins.
- Is agile enough to not bump anything unintentionally.
One of the best-known designs that is both precise and agile is the short hook!
Because of its shorter profile, the short hook allows you to maneuver in both open and tight spaces. This is ideal for picking the vast majority of pin tumblers.
The short hook is often the most used and versatile tool in any lock picker's arsenal. Mastery of this pick is often correlated with mastery of lock picking itself. So if there was but one single pick that you were to have, it should be the short hook!
How to Use
The short hook and the remaining lock picks on this list utilize the skill of single pin picking, which is beyond the scope of this guide. To learn how to pick a lock with single pin picking check out our free Beginner's Crash Course!
But if you're curious, here is a quick animation of how the short hook works!
Deep and Offset Hooks
As versatile and powerful as the short hook is, sometimes it just doesn’t have the reach needed to easily get around tricky pin configurations. Some locks are pinned in a manner that makes reaching and setting specific pins very difficult.
But having an additional hook with a little bit longer reach for those tricky situations can quickly turn a headache into an open lock. Deeper and offset hooks allow you to reach pins further back in the stack without the chance of oversetting the more forward pins.
They are also extremely helpful for setting high-cut pins that are behind low-cut pins and are used exactly like the short hook – that is, as a single pin picking tool!
So let's look at two very powerful variations of deeper and offset hooks that are included in the GSP Ghost Set!
The Deep Hook
The Deep hook – also known as Peterson's Hook 5 – is simply an extended version of the short hook that makes it very easy to pick those sneaky short pins that are hiding behind longer cut pins.
In addition, these picks are VERY useful in dealing with extremely paracentric keyways.
Be sure to check out my guide on how to deal with paracentric keyways!
The Peterson Reach is an offset hook that combines the reach of the deep hook and the agileness of the short hook. It has very a low profile on the shank that allows it to squeeze into tight places and is great for rotating pins if you find yourself working with high-security locks.
So that's it! When it comes to lock picks this is all you will really ever need and the GSP Ghost set offers it all!
It is said that lock picking is 90% how you use your tensioning tools (turning tools for the purists) and 10% everything else. I tend to agree.
With the exception of practice, tensioning is the single most important aspect of lock picking, yet it is the most overlooked and undervalued.
When it comes down to choosing your turning tool the most important thing to remember is that the majority of the feedback you receive from the lock comes from your turning tools and it is crucial that you use one that will provide you with the most feedback possible.
This is yet another place where the GSP Ghost set shines bright!
It offers 6 non-twisty tension wrenches in a variety of thicknesses, widths, and lengths that will fit just about any sized keyway!
It's always best to have several sizes of tension wrenches because the lip of the lock between the plug and lock body can cause problems if you don’t use the correct size wrench — for instance, if you use a wrench that is too small it can bind against the lock and you won’t be able to properly torque the plug. Yet, if you use one too big, well then you may not have any room for a pick.
Also, as a beginner, you ideally want to start with a non-twisty style of tension wrench.
The twists in tension wrenches act similar to a spring and dampen the vibrations moving through the wrench.
To better illustrate this, think of the springs used in the suspension system of a car. If you were to hit a pothole, the springs will absorb and dampen the vibrations you feel as a driver. However, if you were to take out the springs and drive over that same pothole… well let’s just say you as a driver would know you hit it.
Remember that when it comes to picking, feedback is everything. We want to feel every pothole, speed bump, and crack in the road as we metaphorically drive our lock picks up and down the pins of a lock. So be sure to start with flat tension wrenches!
This set also includes a 0.040" pry bar. These are absolutely amazing tools that allow you to tension the lock from the top of the keyway. This not only solves some frustrating problems — like potential pin oversets –, but also gives you a ton of extra room in the keyway to work.
Another great benefit of using a prybar in the top of the keyway is that it torques the lock’s core from the center, which aids us in two ways.
- First, sometimes the bottom of the keyway tension wrenches rub and bind on the body of the lock. This friction adds unwanted and distorted feedback to the picker in addition to just being outright frustrating.
- Secondly, there is no chance of binding the lock’s core. Some lock manufacturers have specially designed cores that will sometimes bind if tensioned from the bottom – such as some models of American Locks.
The GSP Ghost set is one of the best beginner lock pick sets with the ability to pick a ridiculous variety of locks without needing any other tools — essentially making it one of the most versatile small form pick sets out there.
Furthermore, because beginners tend to be rougher on their tools, it is far less likely that a novice will break a GSP.
If you haven't yet, check out the GSP Ghost Set here!
And if you still find that the GSP 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.
I hope that if you take anything away from this guide, it's to invest in quality and that as a beginner, you don't need a lock pick set with 50 different picks. You only need a few good picks and a handful of tensioning tools to conquer the high majority of locks out there.