Bobby Pin Lock Picking

The Beginner’s Guide to Bobby Pin Lock Picking

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 keep reading as 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 to lock picking! Click here to check out my full guide 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! 

This guide will cover the pin tumbler lock which makes up nearly 90% of the locks used in the world today.

While there are many other types of locks, this guide will be focusing on the Pin Tumbler lock 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!

You may also like to read:

The Pin Tumbler

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

Parts of a Pin Tumbler 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

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.

Perfectly Drilled Lock Plug
Perfectly Drilled Lock Plug: All pin holes run down the plug’s true center-line
Flawed Lock Plug
An exaggerated example of a real plug: All pin holes vary in distance from the plug’s true center-line

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. Crafting Our Bobby Pin Lock Picks

If you’ve ever seen 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.
Beginner Lock Picking Set

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 lock picking, 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.

First bobby pin bend

Next, stick the straight end of the hair pin 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.

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The Beginner's Guide to Bobby Pin Lock Picking 1

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.

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 plug

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 an 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

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 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 that is lock picking, you may consider picking up a real set of lock picks as they are an extremely cheap investment and while you can get away using a bobby pin, having the correct tools will exponentially increase your success in both picking locks and developing you skills. Fantastic starter sets and other lock picking tools 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, have any questions, or want to share your success/failure, drop us a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

Question or Comment?

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I cant pick my door locks. Like front door or nothing cos the tension wrench bobby pin wont fit what do I do? Its the thinnest bobby pin I could find


Instead of using a super thin bobby pin for the tension wrench and bending it like they say, bend the pin so the straight edge and curved edge are at 90 degree angles, you can use both the straight edge or the curvy edge but the straight edge tends to work better. Try not to use a small bobby pin as I find it slips out pretty easy
This worked on my front door, I haven’t tried it on other locks yet!


Sometimes you will need a thicker bobby pin.


I wish I had some Bobby pins to try this


this peaks my curiosity not only as someone wishing for information, but merely on the potential to create locks. so this works because of the shear lines, proper rotational tension, and, I’m assuming, the fact that every lock is basically two dimensional. what happens if we have a lock that utilized two different axis or more? you may be able to pull off picking the lock if two of them aren’t on the exact same distance from the plug centerline. so basically, no matter how many axis are used, if every pin is offset then it’s possible to pick the… Read more »

Amazing info


This will be useful for pranks, emergencies, and the occasional “I left my keys in (insert place here)”.

FYI, I tried it with paperclips instead since I find more of them than bobby pins, same concept. Works.


How did you use the paper clip as tension?

Perfect, I forgot the keys to the PC

I have always wanted to learn how to pick a lock with a bobby pin. I think it is a good skill to have. I just didn’t know I need more than one bobby pin to do the job. However, I must say that a professional locksmith will probably do a better job than I would. Still, it will be nice not to be worried about being locked out.


How would you reset the lock?


locking it again


Very very helpful! I locked myself out of my house and managed to pick my way back in using a couple wires. Thank you!


It worked but sadly I only had 2 bobby pins and the tension wrench broke 😛

Martin Sztein

Very informative blog post thanks! I thought that it would be really difficult to do and would take hours of study to figure out. Yet within two minutes of getting a set of picks in my hand, I had successfully picked my first lock.

Allan Hill

Very Impressive post thanks! I look very hard to do but with the help of your post, I learn this within few minutes.



Could you use other things for the tension wrench, such as a flat head screwdriver?


I made a z tension wrench with two different heads for different lock sizes and I found that I had to grind a bobby pin to fit inside a lock. Also I have watched many videos and read many articles and this was by far the best article/example i have found


Can you pick a lock with only one bobby pin or not?


Ive seen lock picking in the fallout seires gane and it sparked my intrest in this subjuct i wondered if it could actually be done with a flat iron and a bobby pin and its true.


Same thing hete!!!


Same here


Even the smallest bobby pins don’t seem to fit into any lock. Paperclips bend too easily.


Let me start by saying that I am the most technically and mechanically person in the world. My success rate with this kind of thing hovers around zero. But these instructions were so detailed and easy to follow, I was into my mailbox in less than 5 minutes. Anyday I can avoid my grumpy old pain in the neck mail carrier is a good day. Thank you for your excellent instructions.


Why is this the sexiest article I’ve ever read????

Rogan French

I have picked my locks 40 times


That was actually so dope, thanks! I had to improvise because the lock that I was picking is tiny, I used a pin like a sharp pokey one to hold clothing stuff together as my pick. Surprisingly the lock I used only had 2 pins and the first one was the first binding pin.

He Who Shall Not Be Named

I just stuck a flattened paper clip in the lock and jiggled it and it worked.


You just saved our easter holiday week! =)

After first forgetting the main key for the house but being able to find a spare one we were stuck figuring out how to open the cabinets to access all the other stuff, such as skiis and bed linens.

Never give up! =)


Thank you for making this so easy ans clear to follow, you’re amazing dude


I can’t figure out where the pins are. I’ve been trying to pick my door lock and I don’t know if I’m doing it right or not. I also don’t know if I have the right lock either so ;-; How do I figure out where the pins are?

Dale Beckstrom

You stick your pick inside the hole and you’ll feel when you’re pushing the pins.

You can also peek inside the lock to get a rough idea but ultimately you’ll need to visualize it mentally as you’re touching each pin with your pick

Kk grace

Reading this was a waste of my time!

[…] How to Pick a Lock with a Bobby Pin [+] […]


it didn’t word


can you do it with anything else???

no 1 criminal

Thanks so much


Great illustrations!


Thanks 4 this! Used paper clips and got the wrong ones, so bobby pins will help!

The Spidermonkey

Hi, I’m writing a story in which a character bends a pair of gold earrings into picks to unlock a door…is that plausible? If you can do it with bobby pins, could she do it with gold?

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