Locks are fragile creatures—vulnerable to so many attacks, it is a wonder we trust them at all.
At the end of this guide, you will have learned seven simple ways to break a lock—including methods that work on padlocks, door locks, or both. You can accomplish many of these methods using things you may have sitting around your home or are easily accessible at a local hardware store.
The knowledge on this page will not only make you incredibly handy in emergencies, but locks will tremble at the first glimpse of your shadow!
The methods in this guide are considered destructive entry techniques and may destroy the lock in the process. If you desire to preserve the lock, consider checking out my guide covering ways to open a lock when you don't have the key for some techniques to try before this last-ditch effort guide!
Important Note: Only use these techniques on locks that you own unless you have the explicit permission of the owner to defile their property. If you are renting a property, you do not own that lock—your landlord does!
Why You Should Know How to Break a Lock
Believe it or not, there is an excellent justification for knowing how to break locks.
The first, and most important reason, is that it teaches you about the fundamental vulnerabilities of locks.
With this knowledge comes a true understanding and power. Knowledge of how locks can be broken and the power to help you make better decisions about the types of locks you use, where you use them, and how much you trust them.
For example, drilling a lock is a common technique that can easily bypass many different locks. Without this knowledge, one might assume that the expensive lock on their front door will protect them from all the world's woes.
However, with this new knowledge and awareness, you'll not only know better, but you'll likely discover ways to better protect yourself against such attacks. You might consider replacing the pins in your lock with hardened steel replacements or upgrading your lock to drill-resistant ones.
When it comes to security, the more you know how to break it, the better you can be at preventing others from breaking it.
The second reason to learn how to break a lock is emergency purposes. You never know when getting through a locked door can mean the life or death of a stranger, a neighbor, or even a loved one.
Method 1: Drill the Lock
The goal of drilling is to destroy or remove a section of the lock that prevents you from opening it by other means.
There are many ways to drill a lock successfully and many different areas you can target with your drill.
- You can target the screws that hold the lock body to the door, and once removed, you can use a screwdriver to actuate the locking mechanism.
- You can target the screws in a padlock that holds the plug in the body.
- You can target the top of the pin stack and destroy the shear line of the lock, which keeps the lock's plug from rotating without the correct key. For reference, check out the lock diagram below!
- You can target the springs that push the pins into the plug on euro-profile locks.
Lock drilling is an art, and the best way to know which method to use in which situation comes down to understanding how a lock works and the standard anti-drill countermeasures commonly used–such as drill-resistant pins made of hardened steel.
Lock drilling is a topic too large to cover in this guide; however, some good rules to follow when drilling are:
- Spend some time understanding how locks work and what each component does. Locks are simple creatures, and you can learn most there is know within 10-15 minutes. Check out my guide on how locks work to get a running start!
- Spend a little time examining the lock for any anti-drill countermeasures. For example, is the front pin made of steel or brass; or is there an anti-drill faceplate that will spin or catch if you drill the keyway?
- Larger drill bits will destroy more components and (in most cases) will make the job easier.
- Use good quality drill bits and use a starter punch to create a place to drill.
- Never drill a padlock while holding it in your hand. Any slippage may result in "not-so-fun" time.
- Be careful drilling the keyway of euro-profile cylinders. You can destroy the cam if you drill too far, and the lock won't open.
Method 2: Use a Screwdriver
A screwdriver driver can open a lock in so many ways.
If you have a heavy-duty flat-head screwdriver, you may be able to rotate the keyway and snap the internal components (the pins). For most locks, this will require a significant amount of turning force to accomplish and may require the use of another tool to give you the leverage to turn the screwdriver.
Additionally, if you have a can of compressed air, you can turn the can upside down and spray it into the keyhole of the lock. This may seem like movie magic, but compressed air can freeze the metal enough to make the metal more brittle and easier to break.
If this method doesn't work, you might be able to use a screwdriver to open a lock in other ways—such as prying the door away from the doorframe and slipping the latch. Or might be able to remove the hinges if they are on your side of the door.
For a comprehensive list of other ways to use a screwdriver on a lock, consider checking out my guide on how to open a lock with a screwdriver.
Method 3: Melt it!
If you have a blowtorch sitting around and don't mind melting your lock into a frothy puddle, you might consider using fire!
I don't recommend this method as it is dangerous, but it is an excellent last-ditch effort option if nothing else works or there is an emergency.
Additionally, if you use a blowtorch, only use it on loose locks like padlocks or even chains, never on home locks or any type of lock embedded into something that can catch fire.
Method 4: Use a Hammer
There are two common techniques to open a lock with a hammer and which you use depends on the type of lock you are trying to open.
The Door Lock Method
If you are trying to get through a door lock—such as a deadbolt lock or doorknob)—the approach you'll want to take is complete and total destruction. Note this method will likely ruin your door and maybe your door frame.
Take the hammer and start bashing the lock at a downward angle until it ultimately comes off the door or there is enough space for you to actuate the locking mechanism with a screwdriver.
The Padlock Rapping Method
This method aims to knock the locking bar out of place, freeing the shackle from the lock.
To use this method, pull on the shackle and begin rapping your hammer against the side of the lock. If the lock doesn't open, try hitting the other side.
Now, this technique doesn't work on all locks. Many higher-quality padlocks use a different locking bar mechanism that prevents this type of attack. But as a last-ditch effort, it's always worth a shot.
As a final note, if you don't have a hammer, you can always take the caveman approach and try breaking the lock with a rock. It's been before and can likely be done again!
Method 5: Cut a the Lock
When most people think about destructively bypassing padlocks, the first thing that typically comes to mind is a bicycle thief running around with bolt cutters snapping locks and riding away into the sunset.
Cutting the shackles of padlocks is a tried and true method but does come with its own set of obstacles. There are quite a few ways to cut locks, but four common methods include bolt cutters, hacksaws, angle grinders, and cutting torches.
When using any of the methods below, be sure to take appropriate safety measures, including eyewear, gloves, and common sense! Whatever is on the other side of the lock likely isn't worth losing a finger.
Using Bolt Cutters
Using bolt cutters is a little more complicated than you might think. You'll need to consider the durability of the lock's shackle and the leverage the cutters give you. If the bolt cutter's handles are too short, you might not even make a dent in the shackle. A set of 30-inch bolt cutters will get you through most locks.
Using an Angle Grinder
Angle grinders with the correct grit and material disc can make quick work of locks—shackles and lock bodies alike. Ideally, you'll want to use a 1.2 mm 60-grit disc.
To cut a lock using an angle grinder, cut slowly and perpendicular to the shackle. Consider using a vise or pliers to keep your hands away from the lock and keep it from slipping. The lock will be hot, so give it some time to cool!
Using a Cutting Torch
If you want to take the overkill approach, a cutting torch or plasma cutter is your huckleberry. These fire-slinging hell monsters will cut through most shackles like butter.
Using a Hacksaw
Hacksaws work fantastic against cheap padlocks, however, higher-quality hardened-steel shackles will put up quite a fight, and you may end up wearing down your blade before you even make a dent. If you're up against some harder steel, you can use heat to help soften the metal—such as a propane torch!
To use this method, heat the shackle until it glows red. Give it a minute to cool, and then start hacking away!
Method 6: Ramset
A Ramset gun is a nifty tool that uses .22 caliber blanks to actuate a piston that can drive nails into hard surfaces like concrete or steel.
However, it didn't take long for people to realize that by using these guns at strategic locations on the lock, you can easily bust them open!
You can find Ramset guns online or at most Home Depots!
Method 7: Shoot the Lock
I think it's important to state here the guides at Art of Lock Picking are solely designed for informational and sometimes entertainment purposes. We by no means are responsible for your or anyone else actions.
For what I hope are obvious reasons, using firearms to open locks should only be used with extreme caution. If you genuinely can't think of a reason why shooting a lock is a bad idea, it's probably best for everyone to skip this method.
Additionally, this method should only be considered for padlocks. Nobody needs bullets flying through a door or into a neighbor's house.
That being said, bullets are a great way to destroy a lock and can even open of the world's strongest locks—check out the video below!
I've never shot a lock, so I can't offer any advice beyond the fact that it does work!
Whether you have lost your only key or there's an emergency that requires you to get through a locked door, knowing how to break a lock is a handy skill to have that could one day save a life.
I hope that you found this guide helpful. However, if it didn't answer all your questions or you feel there is any way that I could make this article more valuable, consider dropping me an email on my contact form. I always love to hear from my readers!
Thanks for reading, and happy picking!