How to Pick a Lock – The Absolute Beginners Guide

How to Pick a Lock – A Step By Step Guide To Slaying Locks

Ready to learn how to pick a lock?

Is that a yes?

Good because this beginner’s guide to lock picking has helped thousands learn the art of lock picking and it will help you too!

I know intros can sometimes be more boring than watching a sloth eat plain chicken for 8 weeks straight so let’s get to the good stuff already!

Lock picking is not rocket science and with a little knowledge and a decent set of lock picking tools, you’ll learn how to pick a lock very quickly, I promise.

As you will come to see, locks are extremely stupid creatures that put up little defense against anyone trying to bypass them — with that, let us get started.

Lock Picking Guide – Quick Navigation:

  1. Introduction to Lock Picking
  2. How a Pin Tumbler Lock Works
  3. Flaws Are Good: Manufacturing Tolerances
  4. Lock Picking Tools
  5. The Tension Wrench
  6. How to Pick a Lock with Single Pin Picking
  7. How to Pick a Lock with Raking
  8. The Legality of Lock Picking

Introduction to Lock Picking

So what exactly is lock picking? Simply put, lock picking is a non-destructive way to open a lock without using the original key.

This can be done through a variety of different ways, but all have the same goal in mind — to mimic the key by using something other than the key.

But in order to mimic a key, we must understand how a key works in a lock. This is done by first understanding how a lock itself works.

There are many different types of locks utilized today, but all are based on fairly simple concepts — remember, locks are stupid creatures. For the purpose of this guide, we will be focusing on the most basic and commonly used lock, the pin tumbler lock.

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The pin tumbler lock makes up about 90% of locks used today and is what you will find on about every deadbolt, door lock, and padlock. They are extremely simple in their design and essentially 6,000-year-old technology.

It is also often thought that learning how to pick a lock requires some Zen-like focus. That you must sit quietly in some candlelit room for hours upon hours to find any success at the craft of lock picking.

But it is, in fact, quite the opposite. The basic concepts and techniques of lock picking can be learned and applied easily within minutes.

How a Pin Tumbler Lock Works

The first step in learning how to pick locks is to understand how exactly the lock itself operates. Let’s start with the quick anatomy of a pin tumbler lock.

These locks have six main components:

There are 6 parts of a basic pin tumbler lock.

1. The Housing: The housing of the lock is essentially a fixed outer shell that holds all the functional parts together.

2. The Plug: The plug — or cylinder — is where we insert the key and rotates freely inside the shell when the key is inserted. The plug has a series of holes drilled down the center that allows small pins to enter and exit.

3. The Shear Line: The shear line is the physical gap between the plug and the housing. As we will see later, the shear line plays one of the most important roles in lock picking.

4. Driver Pins: The driver pins are the top set of pins and typically sit halfway between the housing and the plug. Because of this, the plug is restricted from rotating freely as any rotational force placed on the plug would result in binding the driver pins.  These pins are the meat and bones of the lock and are what keep the lock… well locked.

5. Key Pins: The key pins are the bottom set of pins and do exactly as the name suggests, make contact with the key when inserted. Each key pin is a different length to match the bitting — or cut — of the appropriate key. We will see the significance of this in a moment.

6. Springs: The springs do what springs do best, push stuff. Their purpose in the lock is to force the driver pins into the plug, thus keeping the plug from freely rotating.

When the key is placed into the cylinder, it pushes the key pins flush with the shear line causing the driver pins to exit the plug. When the gap between the key pins and driver pins is exactly that of the shear line we can rotate the plug and disengage the lock.

A key works in a lock by pushing up a series of pins to a specific height.

This is the basis of pin and tumbler lock picking, to mimic the key by bumping every pin flush with the shear line and then rotating the plug. But why is it that we can do this in the first place and how is it that we can keep every pin at the shear line without the constant pressure of a key? The answer is simply “flaws.”

Flaws Are Good: Manufacturing Tolerances

Nothing is perfect. Nothing can be produced without its flaws or some variation from its ideal design. Everything is designed with a tolerance in mind.

It is because of these flaws in production that we are able to manipulate and bypass locks. In the case of the tumbler lock, we have only but to look at the plug.

During the production of the plug, holes are drilled to hold the key pins. Ideally, these holes would all run down the true center-line of the plug and would be in perfect alignment with each other hole. But again nothing is perfect. Each hole drilled has some variation from both the true center-line and from each other hole.

The quality of the lock greatly depends upon the quality and care that is put into drilling these holes. Cheaper locks will generally have a greater variation between holes than that of higher quality locks.

In any case, this variation can be as slight as a thousandth of an inch, however, it’s because of this tiny distortion that we gain our ability to pick locks.

Perfectly Drilled Lock Plug

Perfectly produced lock plug. All pin holes run perfectly down the centerline of the plug

Flawed Lock Plug

An exaggerated example of a real lock plug. All pin holes vary in distance from the true center-line of the plug.

There is an important term that lock pickers refer to as the “binding pin.” This pin is defined as the pin furthest from the plug’s true center-line. If you were to attempt to rotate the plug without the key, the binding pin would be the first in the line of pins to stop the plug from turning.

This binding pin will become bound between the housing and the plug before any other pin. Because of the way the pin holes are drilled into the plug, the binding pin has a slight likelihood of being either the first or last pin in the plug, but regardless of this tendency, it’s still more likely for its location to be completely random.

Before we move on let’s review the two essential concepts required for understanding lock picking.

  1. We must raise the pins to the shear line in order to turn the plug and open the lock.
  2. Because of manufacturing errors, the pins all hold a different distance from the center-line of the plug. The pin furthest away from the center-line will also be the first pin to bind if the plug is rotated without the key. This pin is called the binding pin.

With an understanding of these two basic concepts, we can, at last, begin to take our first practical steps in learning how to pick a door lock, or any lock for that matter.

Lock Picking Tools

The most important part of successfully picking any lock is using the proper tools.

The great thing is you don’t actually need a lot of tools. As a matter in fact, a couple of hooks, rakes, and tension wrenches are all you’ll ever need, regardless of skill.

Our suggestion for a fantastic beginner lock pick set is the Peterson GSP Ghost Lock Pick Set because its pick selection has a special focus on single pin picking and is going to allow you to pick a much wider variety of locks with a much wider variety of techniques without ever needing to go out and buy any other picks.

Best Beginner Lock Pick Set - GSP Ghost Set

You now have your lock pick tools, it’s time to get down and dirty!

The Tension Wrench

The first order of business is learning how to properly use the tension wrench. This little bent piece of metal is used to accomplish two things.

Firstly, it acts similar to the key where it gives us the leverage we need to turn the plug. But more importantly, this tiny wrench is the tool that helps us to keep the pins at the shear line as we pick them.

Here is how it works. As we put slight tension on the wrench, the binding pin will stop the plug from rotating.
It’s here that we can now understand the importance of the binding pin. As the pin begins to bind, we push it up past the shear line with our pick and once up and out, the lock will turn ever so slightly as the plug finds the next binding pin to stop on.

But what also results is if you maintain the correct amount of tension on the wrench, the driver pin will remain out of the plug and above the shear line while the key pin falls back into its hole. While the plug only turns ever so slightly, it is enough for the driver pin to catch on the top of the plug and if the tension is released, the pin will fall back.

We pick a standard pin by applying tension and pushing it to the shear line. Once at the shear line, the plug will rotate and the pin will set on top of the plugSo now that we know what we are trying to accomplish inside the lock, let’s get down to it. Take your tension wrench and insert the shorter end into the lower part of the keyhole.

While not always necessary, we sometimes need to determine in which direction the plug turns. To accomplish this apply pressure to the tension wrench clockwise and then counterclockwise. The plug should turn slightly both ways before it stops.

As you rotate the plug both ways, focus on how the tension wrench feels as it stops. If it feels stiff and has little give, this is likely the wrong direction of rotation. Whereas the right direction of rotation will feel mushy and give a little more. Something else to keep in mind is some cheaper locks will open in whichever way you rotate the plug, such as the majority of padlocks.

Once we are aware of which way the plug turns we can begin to put tension on the wrench in that direction.

The amount of tension we exert is key to successfully picking the lock. If we exert too much pressure the pins will bind below the shear line. If we don’t use enough tension the pins will simply fall back into the plug. Developing this feel for the tension wrench is the primary skill involved in lock picking.

A general rule of thumb when using the tension wrench is to use one finger and start with the slightest touch, increasing pressure as you find it necessary. As we apply slight tension on the plug, the binding pin will begin to bind. The next step is to find this pin and push it above the shear line.

How to Pick a Lock with Single Pin Picking

So now that we know all this mumbo jumbo we can finally address the task at hand, picking a lock. While there are multiple methods that one can use to pick a lock, we are first going to look at the method called single pin picking — also known as SPP.

In this method, we simply bump each individual pin up one at a time using a hook-type pick.

While single pin picking is not the fastest nor easiest method, it is the best in regards to learning how to pick a padlock or door lock as it gives us a better understanding of exactly what is going on inside a lock. Obtaining this understanding can be the difference between the mediocre and the master. With that being said, let’s give it a shot.

Peterson Short Hook - The best and most versatile lock pick1. The first thing we have to do is locate the binding pin.

Insert your tension wrench and give it the necessary pressure to bind the first binding pin. You will need to keep tension on the plug during the entire process of picking the lock.

Next, insert your pick into the top of the lock and, starting from either the front or back, begin to cautiously probe each pin by lifting it up slightly. As you push each pin up, gauge how difficult it is to move.

Most of the pins will be relatively easy to lift with the exception of the binding pin. This pin will feel stiff and if you were to release the tension on the plug it would once again feel like the rest of the pins.

2. Once we have found the first binding pin we need to raise it above the shear line.

While continuing to apply light pressure on the tension wrench, begin to gently lift the binding pin. When the pin reaches the shear line there will be a very slight give in the turning of the plug. You may also feel a slight click vibrate through your tension wrench.

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How to Pick a Lock - A Step By Step Guide To Slaying Locks 1

These both are very good indicators that you have successfully “picked” the pin, or what lock pickers refer to as “setting a pin.”

If you were to at this point release tension on the plug, you would hear the pin fall back into place. Note here that you have only lifted the driver pin out of the plug and not the key pin so don’t be alarmed when you still feel it wobbling around inside the plug.

3. Find the second binding pin

As a result of setting the first pin, we have removed the first binding pin from interfering with the plug. Because of this, the plug will turn until it hits the next furthest pin from the center-line.

This becomes our new binding pin and our next target. Just like with the first pin, you will need to probe the remaining pins to find the new binding pin. Once found, slowly lift it up past the shear line until you again feel the click and give of the plug and it turns ever so slightly.

How to pick a lock with single pin picking

4. Continue to apply pressure on the tension wrench, repeat the same steps of locating the new binding pin and setting it.

Once all the pins are set, the plug will give and allow us to fully rotate it as if we had a key. That’s all there is to it!

If by chance the pins either don’t set or keep falling, it is likely that you need to re-adjust the amount of pressure that you are applying to the tension wrench. With some practice, you will develop a feel for exactly how much pressure to exert throughout the entire process. Additionally, check out our guide to honing your single pin picking skills.

How to Pick a Lock with Raking

One of the easiest ways to pick a lock is called raking. Raking has currently become the most common method for lock pickers as it’s quicker and the easiest way to pick a lock.

Raking is accomplished by inserting your pick into the back of the lock and quickly pulling it across the pins repeatedly with an upward force while at the same time applying tension on the plug. This will cause the pins to bounce up above the shear line.

While it works for most cylindrical tumbler locks, this method will struggle if the pins have any dramatic changes in size. An example of this would be as follows: one short pin – one long pin – one short pin – one long pin.

While raking can be accomplished with just about any type of pick, it is most commonly and more efficiently done with a rake-type of pick. These picks commonly have a wavy edge but can also include picks such as the diamond or ball pick.

Although there are many variations of each type of pick, a basic example of each can be seen below. 3 Types Of Rake Picks

Similar to single pin picking, the success we have in raking depends vastly on the use of the tension wrench. Too much tension will cause the pins to bind below the shear line, while with too little tension the pins will again fall back into place. With that being rehashed, let’s get raking.

Just as before insert the tension wrench into the bottom of the keyhole and apply slight tension to the plug. Now insert your pick into the back of the lock while applying upward pressure on the pins. Gently snap the pick out in a scrubbing sort of motion being sure to bump all the pins on your way out.

Repeat this three or four times until all of the pins are set and the plug turns. If the lock does not unlock within five rakes, release the tension on the plug and carefully listen for any set pins to drop.How to Pick a Lock with Raking If you do not hear any pins drop back into place this means you were either using too much tension or not enough. Adjust the tension either lighter or heavier and try raking the lock again. Continue doing this until all the pins set and the plug turns.

With practice, you will gain a feel for the appropriate amount of tension to place on the plug as you rake and will soon be able to open a lock within your first couple of attempts. If raking doesn’t seem to be working on a particular lock, it can still be used to set several pins and you can finish off the lock with the single pin picking method.

The Legality of Lock Picking

The greatest deterrent of those interested in lock picking is not the skill itself, but its legality. In the eyes of society, lock picking has an extremely negative bias attached to it.

It is because of this bias that many people believe that owning lock picks must be unlawful. But in truth, owning and utilizing a set of lock picks is legal in most states and countries, so long as you have permission from the owner of the lock.

For those living in the United States, here is an interactive map containing current lock picking laws. Hover over your state to check the legality of possessing lock picks and click to read relevant law excerpts.

Also, be sure to check out our awesome new article that goes in more depth about the legality of lock picking. It’s not too long and is totally worth the read. Knowing your laws is the best way to protect yourself against an unfortunate situation with the law! Stay safe!


Please note: This chart is specific to lock pick possession. Also, note that we are not lawyers and do not offer legal advice. We do our best to represent the current laws on this chart and keep it updated, however, do not guarantee its accuracy.

If you found this guide helpful, help us out and spread the word with a share! Also, don’t forget to leave us a comment below! We love to hear about any and all success, failures, and questions!

Happy Picking!


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Thank you so much! I picked my cabinet lock in What seemed like a minute using two paper clips. It really isn’t as hard as I thought it would be.


Awesome information. Thanks! I happened too come across 4 different types of dead bolt display stands at a yard sale, promised self I would learn to unlock them. With this no s*#t explanation you presented, I can’t wait to pick(lol) up my first set and get practicing.


I just finished picking my first lock using this guide. I had locked myself out of my house and my door only had one lock to deal with. After hours of torment. I managed to scrounge up two pieces​ of thin yet workable wire and pick the accursed lock. I’m grateful to the bottom of my heat for this guide. Thank you.

Do you know how to do it with a paper clip?


Loved your article! I purchased the picking tools you suggested, very nice! Very much enjoyed your graphics to get a good visual on what you were talking about. Loved your writing in general. Excited to begin learning to lock pick! Thank you for the introduction!

Cam Mason

Just wanted to say thanks for this, and the whole site really. I’m an intermediate picker so most of this I already knew, but I never knew the bit about torsion tensor, or the part where TOK vs BOK would affect binding order. It makes complete sense now that I think about it, but hey, learn something new everyday. If you are interested I can put together a short paragraph and diagram relating to the laws of Canada and the provinces if you’d like. I live in BC and was told numerous times it was illegal to possess them here,… Read more »

Thomas Stoodley

Hi Cam I also live in Canada and am the new owner of a 17 pc. set of picks. I am interested to read what you have about the laws here. I found your reply very interesting.

David Lemire

This is a good guide and a fun read. I’ve got one suggestion for improvement: you discuss the tension wrench but don’t specifically either (i) point out which tool(s) in the kit is the tension wrench, nor illustrate it’s handling separate from the various picks. An additional illustration focused on the tension wrench seems like a useful addition.

Carol Barringer

I don’t know how to pick locks, and really don’t have the need to do it (yet!), but I am writing a novel in which a character does know how to pick locks, but is unsuccessful in picking “heavy security locks.” I need to know if what I am writing is realistic. Would you be willing to read some short passages and tell me if the description is accurate?

James Harrison

Where can I buy these lock pick tools?


This is great! My mom got me a lock pick set for Christmas, and this article was the perfect thing to help me get started learning. Thanks a lot for putting this out. I now can kind of do this! Gonna be real handy if I get locked out of my house

Tony Matthews

Have had reasonable success with padlocks and wafer locks (work locker) However euro locks (patio doors etc with security pins as yet no success …very tough.


thank you

The Rx

I’m pretty sure you don’t wanna get caught with picks in NYC…. LoL

Great info.Thanks


If I am locked out and lost my keys, is it possible to re-lock a tumbler pin after you have picked the lock successfully? I have the necessary tools.


What is your opinion on goso lock pick sets? And thank you because the knowledge from just this article here. I went and got a master lock from the store and had it unlocked in a minute. What’s the next lock I should look up?


This is great, so comprehensive!


Yay! I just opened a lock three times! To be sure, it’s just a Kwikset, but this evening is the first time I’ve ever tried. This afternoon after work I fished a used wiper blade out of the trash at a car parts store, and made my own pick and tensioner. What a hoot.

Slade Cotton

Super useful! Got it figured out in 5 mins. Thanks

Robert Harrison

I’ve barely unwrapped my first lock pick set and found this website. I’m from the UK, so don’t know as yet the differences between locks, but you can rest assured this site is bookmarked. I’ve also managed to get several clear locks to fiddle with. Thanks for an insightful and concise write up.

Chat Alberto

Thank you for the imformative excting lessons you have given us lock pickers and wanna be lock picker someday. Ive tried and tried to pick this master padlock and I failed. After learning the basics I was a show off to my wife and said, we dont have a key to that padlock with chain in the garage? No problem. Im a lock picker. Hours has pass by STILL was locked. So I got me a wrench unbolt the u-hinge and “wala” the gate is open , but the padlock is still lock. Hihihi, That was embarrassing. Luckily my audience… Read more »


I gotta say thanks. I have a rake and tensioner. After I read the first lesson, I picked a master lock padlock in about 2 1/2 min. Can’t wait for the rest if the lesson.


I really gotta give you guys so much props! I am so glad I found your site and “bootcamp” tutorial. I had been looking for something like this site, the tutorials were so very well thought out and the illustrations made it so easy to follow along and learn. in just a few days I was able to learn enough to pick a padlock spp and rake style, I had tried to pick locks with a set I had got a couple years ago but had no success. with this tutorial I not only had success learning to pick locks… Read more »


How do you even know where the pins are… I am trying pick one lock for about 5 months. But really. Raking = not working too. Single-pin = not working too. I am trying, but nothing happens… Keyhole size is average. I have Southord MPXS-08 lockpicks, but no, i cant pick it. I dont hear pins, pins are hard to move. So what am I supossed to do???

Gerald Lee

Maybe it’s a wafer lock which work differently from pin tumblers in some ways. Or maybe it’s full of spools and other security pins. Try another lock to see if you’re doing it right.


Instantly helped improve the areas I was lacking which are basic but crucial fundamentals. I am already picking way better now just with some of the overlooked basics that I wasn’t paying attention to

Brad Bergholdt

Great job explaining and illustrating this!
As a 30+ year career technical education teacher I appreciate an excellent and concise presentation!


visual demonstration says the most to me thanks for that.


Well written and presented, and very educational. Definitely recommending this as a starting point for anyone I find who’s interested in this art. A security-minded individual could hone the necessary skills for lock-picking after reading this article alone, and only once.


Every lock in my country is installed upside down. This way it is really easy to push the key pin over (in our case under) the shear line, gravity keeps it there. And they make the first key pin pretty long, this way it is easy to push it over the shear line using the single picking method, and I think it is almost impossible to rake.
I would be thankful for any tips in these cases.

Bill swallow

A very good read for a complete novice such as my self,only 3 weeks in ,bill.

Norman Lampton

I am trying to find the right amount of pressure on the tension wrench, Also I can’t figure out to keep the tension wrench from blocking the pick insertion.


Thank you…i opened my deadbolt on the very first attempt…havent been able to do it since but wow it was easy!

[…] learn how to pick a lock we must first learn why a lock can be picked. To do that we need to take a quick look at the […]

bob mcglynn


very useful but what technique would you use to pick a lock that has pins on both sides??

Gerald Lee

They make picks for those. Usually found in cars and such if I’m understanding you correctly. They are different.


I’m having trouble coating the pins past the pin closest to the outside of the lock. Any tips?

[…] How to Pick a Lock: A Step By Step Guide To Slaying Lock [+] […]

[…] is a strange confidence that comes with learning how to pick a lock. A confidence in your ability to more accurately gauge your own security. It is not until you try […]


This is an excellent guide with easy to understand steps. However, my problem is that the pick either only finds a ridge of the profile and smoothly glides across it as I move the pick in and out, or the pick gets jammed in between the ridges that I hardly can feel if a pin gets moved or not. My guess is that the pick is too thick.

Gerald Lee

Have you tried using wider or bigger picks?


Thanks for this piece of wonderful information! I am a newb when it comes to lock-picking (I learned about it a few days ago), and this has given me a great sense of how it is done. Overall, thanks!

[…] one point or another, everyone has wanted — or needed — to learn how to pick a lock, but few ever pursue that […]

Very nicely written!! It has been an inspiration for my own Dutch lockpick blog 😉

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