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How to Pick a Master Lock

how to pick a master lock
Last Updated on May 3, 2023
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Let's say you've lost the keys to your Master Lock, and nobody in town will sell you a blowtorch since that one "misunderstanding" a few years back.

So, what is the next easiest way to pick a Master Lock?

The easiest way to pick a Master Lock is by raking it. This is done by first tensioning the core and using a lock pick to bump all of the pins to the shear line. Master Locks can also be picked with a variety of makeshift tools, including paperclips, bobby pins, soda cans, and even chicken bones.

If some of that didn't make sense, no worries. I'll explain and walk you through it in the steps below!

At the end of this guide, you'll understand the basics of lock picking and how to pick a Master Lock, as well as a few other methods that don't require lock picking tools!

Alternatively, if you are looking for a more in-depth resource, consider checking out my massive beginner's guide to lock picking. It dives much deeper into all aspects of lock picking and will also aid you in picking that pesky Master Lock.

Are Master Locks Hard to Pick?

I bet you're wondering if lock picking is hard and if you should even invest the time reading this guide and attempting to pick a lock.

So how about it? Is it hard to pick a Master Lock?

Most Master Locks are very easy to pick and are considered one of the easiest beginner locks when practicing lock picking. They have four standard pins and a wide-open keyway that can be quickly bypassed in many ways, including picking them with improvised tools such as paperclips, bobby pins, or even a chicken bone.

Now notice how I said "most Master Locks." The funny thing about these locks is that they are built so terribly, with such poor tolerances, that they provide dull feedback while picking that can sometimes make the lock harder to unlock with specific lock picking techniques, such as single pin picking.

However, there are a lot of other quick and easy techniques to bypass a Master Lock that don't heavily rely on feedback—which we'll cover below.

Basics of Lock Picking

To pick a Master Lock, you really don't need to understand how a lock works nor the principles behind how we pick them. So if you're in a hurry you can skip to the tools section below. But if you're curious, I'll briefly cover lock theory here.

In a nutshell, the goal of lock picking is to mimic the effects of the key. So we first need to understand exactly how a key works.

How a Key Works - Lock Picking Theory

If you look at the animation above, you’ll notice there are five pin stacks with two pins in each stack—an upper pin (blue) and a lower pin (red).

The lower pins (red) are called “key pins.” These pins sit in the core of the lock (keyway area) and are cut to different lengths that match the different “cuts” in the key.

The upper pins (blue) are called “driver pins.” These pins sit between the core and body of the lock, and their purpose is to obstruct the keyway from turning when no key is present.

When the correct key is inserted into the lock, the key pins will be lifted to the correct heights, and push the driver pins out of the core so that they no longer obstruct the core from rotating.

This is the goal of lock picking, to push each of these pins to the correct height and remove the driver pins from obstructing the core from rotating and thus allowing the lock to unlock!

Now, this is a mile-high description, and if you would like a deeper dive into how locks work and why we can pick them, consider checking out my following guides:

Essential Locking Tools

Before we can pick a Master Lock, we need to talk about lock picking tools.

You don't need to buy lock picking tools to pick a Master Lock, and can easily use improvised tools, such as bobby pins and paperclips. You can find information on making homemade tools further down this guide or by clicking here.

However, if you are looking for a good set of lock picks, you can consider checking our selection of lock picking sets in our Lock Pick Shop.

To pick a Master Lock, we will need two different tools to get the job done—a lock pick and a tension wrench.

The Lock Pick

The purpose of the lock pick is to move the internal components (the pins) to the correct positions.

There are a ton of different types of lock picks that we can use, but by far, the best and easiest style of pick to use on a Master Lock is a rake.

Below is an example of a Bogota lock pick, as well as a homemade paperclip and bobby pin rake. 

picking a master lock lock picks

The Tension Wrench

The second tool we need is a tension wrench. The purpose of this tool is to apply a slight rotational force to the core of the lock.

This will allow us to hold pins in position, as well as allow us to turn the core and unlock the lock once all the pins are bumped into position.

Below is an example of a standard wiper tension wrench, as well as a paperclip and bobby pin replica. 

picking a master lock tension wrench

Once you have your tools, it's finally time to pick a Master Lock!

Let's Go!

How to Pick a Master Lock

Alright, now that all the boring knowledge-based stuff is out of the way, let’s get started picking.

Step 1: Insert your tension wrench and apply slight tension.

Start by inserting the short end of your tension wrench into the bottom of the keyway. Then lightly tension the lock by applying a very slight rotational force to the core—just like you would with a key.

You want to keep your tension force pretty light, as if you apply too much, you chance binding up the pins too much to move. Imagine how much force it takes to press a key on a keyboard. That is just how little force you should apply.

For a Master Lock, it doesn't matter which way you apply this force, so go with whatever is comfortable.

You’ll also need to maintain this force on the tension wrench the entire time. If you remove this tension, all of the pins that are set will drop back into the plug, and you'll have to start over.

Step 2: Insert your pick and start raking.

While applying light tension, take your rake-style lock pick and insert it into the keyway just above your tension wrench. Push it all the way in until you feel it hit the back wall of the lock, and then slowly lift it up against the pins.

Begin scrubbing the pins back and forth, just as you would brushing your teeth. For reference, check out the lock picking animation below.

Paperclip Lock Picking Animation

Slightly alter the angle as you rake the pins until you feel the tension wrench give and the lock open.

If the lock doesn't open after 10-15 seconds, reset the lock by releasing and reapplying tension and try again.

If, after a dozen or more attempts, you are having trouble picking your Master Lock, try adjusting your tension by applying a little more or a little less force.

Getting your tension right is often the "key" to lock picking.

How Do You Pick a Master Lock Without Tools?

If you don't have any lock picking tools, fret not! There are a ton of other improvised ways to pick a Master Lock that don't require fancy tools.

The truth is, you can pick a Master Lock with just about anything that fits into the keyway, so long as you can apply tension and move pins.

But below are the more "tried and true" methods to bypass a Master Lock without tools!

Picking a Master Lock With Paperclips

First up is the paperclip, and they actually work very well on the wide-open keyway of a Master Lock.

You will need two paper clips to pick a Master Lock—one for your tension wrench and another for your lock pick. A set of needle-nose pliers will also be helpful. However, you can get away without them, but it's going to be a pain.

Crafting Your Lock Pick

To make your paper clip lock pick begin by first fully straightening the larger side of the paperclip.

Next, take your pliers and bend the very tip of the paperclip downward 90 degrees.

Continue making small bends upward and downward until you have two or three peaks on the top of your newly formed rake.

The result should look something similar to the illustration below.

easy paperclip lock pick

There you have it! A paperclip lock pick!

Now let's move on and make our tension wrench.

Crafting Your Tension Wrench

To make your tension wrench, begin by first straightening out the middle section of your paperclip.

Next, crimp the large side of your paperclip. Try and make it as tight and small as you can.

Finally, stick the crimped end of your paperclip about a pinky fingers width into the keyway of your lock and bend it about 90 degrees.

easy paperclip tension wrench

That's it!

Once you have your tools, jump back up the page and follow the lockpicking steps provided!

Alternatively, you can also check out my full paperclip lock picking guide here, which dives a little deeper into picking locks with paperclips.

Picking a Master Lock With Bobby Pins

Next up is the notorious bobby pin. While bobby pins are typically too large to pick most locks, they actually work well against the wide-open keyway of a Master Lock.

To pick Master Lock with a bobby pin, you will need two bobby pins for your tension wrench and lock pick.

Crafting Your Lock Pick

To make your lock pick, start by removing the rubber tip from the straight side of the bobby pin. You may need pliers or a knife to do this.

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

Next, bend a wavy pattern into the straight side of the bobby pin so that it looks similar to the image below.

easy bobby pin lock pick

Crafting Your Tension Wrench

To make your bobby pin tension wrench stick 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.

The result should look something like this.

easy bobby pin tension wrench

Once you have your tools, jump back up the page and follow the lock picking steps provided!

Alternatively, you can also check out my full bobby pin lock picking guide, which will teach you another technique with bobby pins.

Happy Picking!

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