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How to Pick a Lock with a Bobby Pin: Guide & Animations

How to Pick a Lock With a Bobby Pin
Last Updated on May 19, 2023
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There is a strange satisfaction that comes with using bobby pins to pick locks.

A satisfaction that brings with it a level of confidence that screams to the heavens, “I am the master of my destiny; let no door, padlock, nor any such annoyance stand in my way, for I am a lock picker, master of pins and destroyer of security!

If you too would like to scream these words into the night and learn how to pick a lock with a bobby pin, then this guide is for you!

To keep things simple and structured, this guide is broken into three sections:

  1. How a Basic Lock Works
  2. How to Make Bobby Pin Lock Picks
  3. How to Pick a Lock With a Bobby Pin

Also, don’t forget to check out our comprehensive beginner’s guide on how to pick a lock, where I cover the basics of lock picking in much more depth!

1. How a Basic Lock Works

Locks are extremely simple creatures that, in all honestly, offer very little security against those who understand how they work.

So before we can tackle the actual techniques of lock picking, we must first understand what we are trying to accomplish within the lock — don’t worry, it’ll be quick!

While there are many other types of locks, this guide will focus on the pin tumbler lock mechanism, which makes up nearly 90% of the locks used in the world today. This means if you master picking these locks, you stand a good chance at picking most of the locks out there!

The Pin Tumbler

The basic pin and tumbler lock has six main elements: the plug, driver pins, key pins, springs, the shear line, and housing to hold everything together. While each part has an important part to play, we will mostly concern ourselves with the "shear line."

The shear line is the physical gap that separates the plug from the housing and, by means of the pins, is the reason why a lock won't turn without the correct key.

The 6 parts of a lock you must understand before learning how to pick a lock

When the correct key is placed into the lock, it lifts the key pins flush with the shear line and as a result, the driver pins are forced out of the plug.

When the difference between the key pins and driver pins is exactly the same as the shear line, we can then rotate the plug and disengage the lock. This can be better understood by the animation below.

How a Key Works - Lock Picking Theory

So the objective of lock picking is to mimic the key by pushing the pins flush with the shear line, thus allowing us to rotate and disengage the lock.

But how do we keep the pins from falling back into the plug once we have lifted them?

This is where things get cool.

The Plug: Manufacturing Flaws

A simple reality is nothing can ever be produced perfectly. When a lock is made, there is an acceptable error tolerance that is allowed during production. It is these imperfections in the lock that allows us to pick them.

Let’s take a look at one common flaw that makes lock picking possible.

During the production of the plug, holes are drilled to hold the pins. In a perfect plug, these holes would all run down the true center-line of the with perfect alignment. But because nothing can ever be produced to perfection, there will always be some variation to where these holes are actually drilled.

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

Ideal Plug - Lock Flaws Real Plug - Lock Flaws

So why is this important? Well as we can see every pin holds a different distance from the true center-line of the plug.

This means when we apply rotational tension to the plug, one pin will bind between the housing and the plug before any other pins. This pin is what lock pickers refer to as the “binding pin” and is defined as the pin furthest from the plug’s true center-line.

By now, we should understand two important concepts.

  1. First, to disengage a lock, we must first lift all the pins to the shear line.
  2. Secondly, because of manufacturing flaws, pins will bind in a specific order starting with the pin furthest from the plug’s true center-line.

Now that we understand these two basic concepts, it’s finally time to craft our tools and pick some locks.

2. Making Bobby Pin Lock Picks

If you’ve ever seen a super-spy pick a lock in a movie, you may notice that they typically stick one tool into the lock and wiggle-jiggle- BOOM, the lock falls open.

While lock picking is very simple and can be done very quickly on basic locks, the movies don’t quite do it justice.

To pick a lock, you are going to need two tools: a pick (duh) and a tension wrench.

  1. Lock Pick: The pick allows us to lift the pins to the shear line just like the key does. There are a variety of different styles of lock picks that you can form with your bobby pin, however, this guide will be focusing on the hook style pick.
  2. Tension Wrench: This odd little tool is used to apply rotational torque to the lock, just as a key would. The purpose of this tool will be explained in a moment when we get to the actually picking.

A Good Starting Lock Pick Set

The best beginner lock pick set is the GSP Ghost Lock Pick set by Peterson Manufacturing.Learning how to pick a lock with a hairpin can be a fun challenge, but sadly it doesn’t always work. Bobby pins are bulky, and some locks have slimmer keyways that are too small for a bobby pin to enter.

So if you really want to learn lockpicking, I would highly suggest considering a basic lock picking set.

One of the best beginner lock pick sets is the elite-grade GSP Ghost Lock Pick Set. This high-quality lock pick set includes everything that any beginner needs to get a running start into the craft of lock picking.

Be sure to check out my hands-on review of this lock pick set where I explain exactly why it is the best for a beginner and exactly why each tool is ideal!

However, if you do wish to proceed MacGyver style, continue reading.

So now that we know what we need, let’s start bending some bobby pins!

Bobby Pin Lock Pick

Forming our bobby pin lock pick is a very short and simple task.

The first thing we have to do is remove the rounded tip from the straight side of the bobby pin. This can be accomplished easily by using fingernails, pliers, or even your teeth.

Once the rubber end is off we can begin making our bends. Start by pulling the bobby pin apart and roughly straightening it as such.

Bobby Pin Lock Pick - Bend 1

Next, stick the straight end of the hairpin about one centimeter, or about 1/3 of an inch, into the keyhole of your lock and apply enough pressure to bend the end of the pin into a hook. The result should look something similar to this.

Bobby Pin Lock Pick

Now that we have our completed lock pick, let’s move on to forging our tension wrench.

Bobby Pin Tension Wrench

The tension wrench has the very uncomplicated shape of an “L” and this makes forming it as simple as a single bend. Start by placing the closed end of the bobby pin about an inch into your lock’s keyhole and firmly apply pressure downward until you bend the pin 90 degrees. That’s all there is to it.

Bobby Pin - Tension Wrench

We now have a usable set of lock picking tools, but before we can attempt to pick any locks it is important to first understand how exactly a pin and tumbler locking mechanism works.

Now that we have our picks and tension wrench we can get down and dirty!

3. How to Pick a Lock with a Bobby Pin

Before we get to play with our new toys, we first need to learn how to properly use our bobby pin tension wrench. As was briefly mentioned earlier, this little tool is used to accomplish two things.

First, it gives us the leverage we need to apply rotational tension to the plug, similar to that of a key. Secondly, it is this little-bent piece of metal that helps us keep the pins at the shear line as we pick them. But how? Well, let’s take a gander.

Keeping in mind the concept of the binding pin, as we apply rotational tension on the plug, the binding pin will… well, bind, and stop the plug from rotating. While the pin is bound we push the pin to the shear line using our pick. It is here that everything comes together.

As the first binding pin reaches the shear line, the plug will turn ever so slightly as it finds the next furthest pin from the true center-line to bind on. But something else extraordinary happens.

Because the plug slightly rotates, the pin we forced up will settle on top of the plug and so long as you maintain the correct amount of tension, it will stay there. This is what we call “setting a pin,” as illustrated below.

Setting Standard Pin - Lock Picking Theory

Using the Tension Wrench

It’s time! Now that we know exactly what our goal is inside the lock we can finally get started on picking those pesky pins.

First, take our bobby pin tension wrench and insert the shorter, closed-end, into the lower part of the keyhole and begin to apply slight tension in the direction the key would turn.

The amount of tension we apply is key (no pun intended) to whether or not we are successful at picking a lock.

If we apply too much pressure we stand a chance of binding more than the first binding pin, making it difficult to determine the binding order and set the remaining pins. However, if we apply too little force, the pin will not set and will fall back into the plug.

A general rule of thumb for using the tension wrench is to start light, increasing tension as necessary.

Developing a feel for using the tension wrench is the major factor separating the novice from the master.

Now that we have a slight amount of tension on the plug our next step is to locate our first binding pin and set it with our freshly made bobby pin lock pick.

Picking the Lock

Now for the moment that we have all been waiting for….let’s start picking some pins. While there are many different methods of lock picking and types of lock picks we will be focusing on what is called “single pin picking” using our “hook-type” bobby pin lock pick.

Once again insert our bobby pin tension wrench into the lock and give it the necessary pressure to bind the first binding pin. Note that throughout the entire process of picking and setting pins we must continuously hold tension on the plug.

Once the plug binds, we can insert our bobby pin lock pick into the lock with the small hook facing into the pins. Starting from the back, probe each pin by lifting it up slightly gauging how difficult it is to lift.

Most pins should be relatively easy to lift with the exception of the binding pin, which will feel stiffer and harder to move.

Once we have probed around and found our first binding pin, it is time to get it out of the way. Using our pick, apply upward pressure to the pin and once it reaches the shear line there will be a very slight rotation of the plug as the pin sets.

It is also common to feel a faint vibration through the tension wrench, but as we are using bobby pins, it is unlikely we will feel such a wonder. Also keep in mind that we only pushed the driver pin out of the plug so don’t be alarmed if you feel the key pin wobbling around inside the plug. All is well.

Now that we have set our first pin we need to locate and set the next binding pin. Just as before we need to begin probing the remaining pins until we yet again find the stiff one. Once found we can give it a little nudge to the shear line thus setting our second pin.

The entire process of picking a lock is repeating these two steps of locating the binding pin and setting it. Once all the pins are set, the plug will fully rotate as if we had a key and the lock will disengage. If this happens, Congratulations! You have picked your first lock!

How to Pick a Lock With a Bobby Pin Animation

Note that if you run into difficulties setting pins – meaning they either don’t set or keep falling – you likely need to readjust the amount of force you are applying to the tension wrench. Remember the key to picking any lock lies in the temperance of the tension wrench.

To Conclude

To conclude this guide on bobby pin lock picking, I want to speak in regards to two things.

The first being that you should never use these skills maliciously and only on your own locks or with the permission of the lock owner.

Secondly, speaking of your locks. It’s highly advised that you don’t practice on locks that you need to function, for example, your front door’s deadbolt. Doing so could permanently damage them. For the purpose of practice, it’s recommended you buy or salvage practice locks.

Additionally, if you find yourself enjoying this craft while picking with bobby pins or paperclips, you may consider picking up a real set of lock picks. They are an extremely cheap investment and having the correct tools will exponentially increase your success in both picking locks and developing your skills.

Fantastic beginner lock pick kits can be found in our store, and if you wish to take lock picking to the next level, a great place to start is our lock picking academy.

If you enjoyed this little guide and as always happy picking!

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