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 sweat, struggle, and tears 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 serrated security pins – all in 9 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!
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The Master Lock #3 is absolutely the first lock you should ever consider getting as a beginning lock picker. While these locks can be short-lived in the amount of time it takes to master them – no pun intended – they are one of the most versatile practice locks for the beginner.
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 bypass including single pin picking, raking, bitch picking, zipping, shimming, light tension, heavy tension, or even a chicken bone (yes a chicken bone)... 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 and a very wide and open keyway. They also have a very light spring-loaded core that fortunately doesn't do much to muffle your feedback.
It's almost like Master Lock made these as practice locks just so you could learn lock picking!
Pro Tip: You can also use a Master Lock #1 or #5 instead as they have the exact same core as the #3. The only difference is that the #1 has a smaller body and the #5 has a bigger body – all three will pick the same.
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!
Pro Tip: As you start learning how to pick security pins, you'll want to start using lighter tension. If you are applying too much tension without fully understanding what counter-rotation feels like, you won't be able to sense it. Lighten up a tad for this and the following locks!
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!