Padlocks are a common security measure used to protect various types of property, from lockers to storage units. However, there may be situations where breaking a padlock is necessary, such as losing a key or encountering an unauthorized lock.
The truth is, locks are fragile creatures with so many vulnerabilities it's crazy that we trust them at all.
In this guide, I'll introduce 10 different methods for breaking a lock. Many of these methods also work on all types of locks and can be accomplished using items you may have sitting around your home or are easily accessible at a local hardware store.
Most of 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!
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!
Let's get to it!
1. Two-Wrench Method
The Two-Wrench Method is an effective approach to breaking padlocks when you don't have specialized tools available. This method involves using two wrenches that apply enough leverage to pull the shackle from the lock.
To perform the Two-Wrench Method, follow these simple steps:
- Select two wrenches, preferably with similar thicknesses and lengths. The ideal size for most padlocks is between 8-12 inches, although it can vary depending on the lock.
- Insert one wrench into the shackle opening and position it against one side of the padlock's body. This will be your base.
- Insert the second wrench into the same shackle opening but at a 90-degree angle so that it rests on top of the other wrench. This wrench will be used to apply leverage.
- Apply a downward force to the top wrench.
The goal of this method is to create enough force and stress on the shackle to cause it to fail and break open. However, keep in mind that this technique may not work on all padlocks, especially those with reinforced or thick shackles. In addition, it's important to exercise caution when using this method to avoid injury.
2. Drill the Lock
Drilling is an effective method to break a lock when you have no other option. By using a drill with a suitable drill bit, you can target the lock mechanism and render it useless.
There are many ways to drill a lock and multiple vulnerable areas you can target with your drill.
- Drill the screws that hold the lock body to the door. Once removed, you can use a screwdriver to actuate the locking mechanism.
- Drill the screws in a padlock that holds the plug in the body.
- Drill 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!
- Drill the springs that push the pins into the plug on euro-profile locks.
Start by choosing a drill bit that is not bigger than the diameter of the key slot. This will ensure that you can penetrate the lock without causing unnecessary damage to the surroundings. It's important to grip the lock securely with strong pliers or, even better, a bench vise.
Once the lock is held in place, aim the drill bit at the key slot, positioning it as centrally as possible. Begin to drill slowly, applying steady pressure while allowing the drill to do its work. As you drill, you are targeting the shear line within the lock, attempting to disrupt the internal mechanism and release the shackle.
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. This method requires some level of skill and experience with power tools. It may take some trial and error to become proficient in drilling padlocks.
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 known 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.
3. 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.
4. Melt it
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.
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.
So if you have a blowtorch sitting around and don't mind melting your lock into a frothy puddle, you might consider using fire!
5. 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!
6. Using an Angle Grinder
Angle grinders with the correct grit and material disc can make quick work of locks—shackles and lock bodies alike.
Begin by securing the padlock, ideally in a vise or clamp, to ensure it remains stable and safe while cutting. Make sure to wear safety gear, such as gloves, safety goggles, and hearing protection, to prevent injury during the process.
Select an appropriate cutting disc for the angle grinder, usually a metal-cutting disc with a suitable cutting depth for the lock. Ideally, you'll want to use a 1.2 mm 60-grit disc. Carefully position the angle grinder's cutting wheel onto the lock's shackle while keeping a firm grip on the grinder's handle. Steadily apply pressure and maintain a consistent speed to cut through the shackle.
The lock will be hot, so give it some time to cool!
7. Bolt Cutters
Bolt cutters are a common and effective tool for breaking padlocks. They work by applying significant force to cut through the shackle of a padlock, allowing it to be opened without a key. Bolt cutters come in various sizes, with larger models providing more cutting power.
To use bolt cutters effectively, position the jaws of the cutters around the shackle of the padlock, making sure the jaws are as close to the lock body as possible. This will help to maximize the force applied and make cutting easier. Hold tightly on the grips of the cutters and squeeze the handles until the shackle is cut.
It is important to note that some padlocks have shackles made from hardened steel, which can make them more difficult to cut with bolt cutters. In these cases, larger bolt cutters or alternative methods may be required. Examples of padlocks with hardened shackles are the Abloy lock, which has a 10mm shackle and can be difficult to cut with standard bolt cutters.
Additionally, consider the following when using bolt cutters to break a padlock:
- Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from any debris generated during cutting.
- Ensure you have a firm grip on the handles to maintain control and prevent slipping.
- Use the appropriate size of bolt cutter for the padlock, as using a smaller one may not provide enough force to cut through the shackle.
8. 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!
9. Prying with a Crowbar
Prying with a crowbar can be an effective method to break a padlock when other tools are unavailable or when brute force is needed. A crowbar is a commonly found tool with a curved, flat end that can provide significant leverage when applied correctly.
Before attempting to pry open a padlock with a crowbar, it's essential to assess the type and size of the lock, as well as the strength and durability of the crowbar. Larger, more robust padlocks may require more force and a sturdier crowbar for successful prying.
To pry open a padlock using a crowbar, follow these steps:
- Insert the flat end of the crowbar into the gap between the lock body and the shackle (the U-shaped loop).
- Hold the handle of the crowbar firmly and apply outward pressure to widen the gap.
- Continue applying pressure and leverage until the shackle releases from the lock body, breaking the padlock open.
Although prying with a crowbar may result in damage to the padlock, it can be a useful and effective method in desperate situations or when other options have been exhausted. Remember to always take safety precautions and assess the risks before attempting to pry open a padlock with a crowbar.
10. Lock Picking
While not technically destructive, lock picking is a technique that involves manipulating the internal components of a lock in order to open it without the use of a key. It requires practice, skill, and the right tools. Often, a simple set of lock picks, and a tension wrench are used to perform this task.
Before attempting to pick a padlock, it's essential to understand the type of lock mechanism you're working with. One of the most common padlock types is the pin tumbler lock, which consists of multiple pins that need to be aligned in the correct position to unlock the padlock.
Here is a general procedure to follow when picking a pin tumbler padlock:
- Insert a tension wrench into the bottom of the keyhole and apply gentle pressure in the direction the key would turn.
- Using a pick, carefully probe each pin in the lock, lifting it upward until you feel a slight click. This indicates that the pin has been set to the correct height.
- Continue picking each pin in the lock, constantly maintaining tension on the wrench.
- Once all pins have been set, the tension wrench should turn smoothly, opening the lock.
For a more comprehensive resource on lock picking, check out my lock picking 101 guide.
Note that not all padlocks are vulnerable to lock picking. High-security locks may have additional security features or may require specialized tools and methods to defeat them. Be sure to practice on a simple padlock first to develop your skills.
11. Freeze and Smash
The Freeze and Smash method is an effective way to break a padlock when you've lost the key. This technique takes advantage of the fact that many metals become more brittle at low temperatures. By freezing the padlock, you can weaken its structure enough to enable shattering it with a hammer or similar blunt instrument.
To execute the Freeze and Smash method, you'll first need two cans of compressed air, which are commonly used for cleaning electronics. Invert the cans and spray the padlock with compressed air to cause rapid freezing. Make sure to wear gloves and eye protection, as the chemicals in the compressed air can be harmful to your skin and eyes.
After the padlock is adequately frozen, place it on a hard surface and use a hammer or similar tool to strike it with force. Depending on the size and strength of the padlock, multiple strikes may be necessary to break it. Aim your hits at the shackle or the base, where the padlock is most vulnerable to force.
Remember that the Freeze and Smash method can damage the surface the padlock is attached to, so use caution when breaking the lock. Additionally, this technique is less effective on higher-quality padlocks with non-metal components that resist freezing.
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!
13. 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!
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 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 protect yourself better 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 for 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.
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.
It is important to remember that breaking a padlock should only be done for legitimate reasons, such as lost keys or emergency situations. Using these techniques for illegal purposes could result in criminal charges.
When attempting to break a padlock, always prioritize safety and use protective equipment, such as gloves and goggles. Additionally, be prepared to invest time and effort into learning and mastering these techniques, as not all methods will work instantly or on every type of padlock.
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!