Locking yourself out of your home is never fun. But don't despair! There are a few techniques you can use to unlock a deadbolt from the outside without a key.
Deadbolts have fewer vulnerabilities than traditional doorknob latch locks, but they are still pretty easy to bypass with the right approach.
In this guide, we will discuss several popular techniques for unlocking pin tumbler deadbolts, including lock picking, lock bumping, and drilling the lock.
With a bit of patience and some practice, you'll be able to unlock just about any high-quality deadbolt without a key. So the next time you find yourself locked out, remember these tips, and you'll be back inside in no time.
Let's get to it!
1. Pick the Lock
Lock picking is the first and best method to unlock a deadbolt without a key. It is a popular choice for those who want to avoid damaging their door or lock.
Lock picking is an easy skill to learn—the basics required to pick a standard pin tumbler deadbolt can be cultivated within 10 minutes. All you really need to know is the barebone basics behind how locks work and a few of the techniques used to pick them.
In addition to this fundamental knowledge, you will also need lock picking tools: a lock pick and a tension wrench.
If you are in a pinch and have the materials on hand, you can craft make-shift lock picking tools using bobby pins, paperclips, or other stiff and thin metals.
However, improvised lock picks are too large to fit into the keyway. In this case, you'll need a professional or hobbyist lock pick set designed to be used in small or parametric keyways.
If you would like to give lock picking a try, I've written several very comprehensive guides on how to pick locks with different tools, which include animations and step-by-step directions.
Check out the following guides:
- Lock Picking 101—The Ultimate Beginner's Guide
- An introduction to picking locks with bobby pins
- How to pick locks with paperclips
There are a few drawbacks to this approach. If you are using a high-security deadbolt or if your lock utilizes anti-pick features such as security pins, you're probably not going to be able to pick it without considerably more practice.
Additionally, the internal components of locks can be fragile, and if you are unlucky, you could damage something—such as snapping a spring.
Only pick your lock if:
- You own the lock (if you are renting, you do not own it)
- You understand there is a slight risk you ruin the lock.
Lock picking has its drawbacks, but it is still a powerful way to unlock a deadbolt without a key.
2. Bump the Lock
Another very effective tactic for bypassing deadbolts without the original key is lock bumping.
Lock bumping is a technique that uses a grinded-down key called a “bump key” that has been cut to its maximum depths.
You can buy pre-made bump keys for your particular deadbolt online, or you can make your own.
However, to make your own, you need access to another key that you don’t mind destroying that also fits into the keyway of your deadbolt and a tool to grind that key down. Both of these items can be found in nearly any local hardware store.
To make a bump key, check out the video below.
Once you have your bump key, it’s time to get to work!
Insert it into the key fully, then slowly pull it back until you hear the rearmost pin in the lock drop. Then apply a slight turning pressure to the key.
Using a rubber mallet or the palm of your hand, strike the back of the key—abruptly forcing it into the lock. The teeth of the key will strike the pins and send them upward. If done with the right amount of force and with a little luck, the pins will completely leave the lock’s plug, and the lock will open.
While this method is effective against the majority of pin-tumbler deadbolts, it might not always work. Higher-quality deadbolts may utilize anti-bump features, which prevent lock bumping from being successful.
If you would like to learn more about lock bumping or how to prevent it from being used on your locks, be sure to check out my comprehensive guide on how to bump locks for a deeper dive.
3. Drill the Lock
If you don't mind completely destroying your deadbolt, you might consider drilling the lock.
There are several ways to drill a lock successfully and many different regions where you may aim your drill. You can drill the shear line, the bottom stack of pins (key pins), the top stack of pins (driver pins), the springs, or even the screws that hold the deadbolt to the door.
The best way to know which method to use in which situation comes down to understanding how a lock works and the common anti-drill countermeasures normally used. Anti-drill components are typically harder steel or ceramic parts that protect vulnerable areas.
For example: If you look into the keyway and see a steel front pin rather than a brass one, your deadbolt is likely using hardened anti-drill pins that will be more difficult to drill.
However, inexpensive deadbolts typically don't use anti-drill countermeasures, so you can likely just target the shear line by drilling right above the keyway.
To drill a lock, follow these steps:
- Select a location to drill and begin by using a small drill bit to make a short starting hole to guide a larger bit.
- Starting with a 1/8th inch drill bit, begin drilling until you feel your bit bore through 5 pins
- Upgrade to a 1/4th inch drill bit and repeat
- Insert a flathead screwdriver into the keyway and attempt to turn the lock.
If it doesn't open, look into the hole and see if there is the 6th pin. If there is another pin, drill a little deeper to obliterate that pin as well, and then try to open the lock again.
If there is not another pin and the lock doesn't open, you may need to upgrade to a slightly larger drill bit to do a little more damage!
4. Break the Glass
If there is a glass panel on the door you are trying to bypass or if there is a window within arm's reach of the deadbolt's thumbturn, you can break the glass and reach through to disengage the lock.
Unless it is an emergency, I really don't recommend this approach. Reaching through a broken window could leave you with more problems than you started with. Not to mention, glass can be more expensive to replace than simply calling a locksmith.
Speaking of locksmiths!
5. Call a Locksmith
If all else fails, you may need to call a locksmith to unlock the door. Most locksmiths have the tools and experience necessary to unlock just about any door without damaging the lock.
Plus, locksmiths typically charge a lot less than the cost of replacing a broken lock, door, or window. The average cost of getting locked out is about $150, but that will vary on your location and the locksmith. You learn more about calling a locksmith and their costs here.
If you're stuck and don't know what to do or don't have the tools necessary, your best bet may be to call a locksmith.
Why Deadbolts Are a Little Harder to Bypass
Most exterior doors use two different types of locks: a deadbolt and a doorknob (also referred to as a "deadlatch").
Doorknob locks use a spring that automatically pushes and holds a latch into the doorframe when the door is closed.
Because the latch is held in place using a spring, it is vulnerable to any attack that can retract the spring. A popular attack called loiding slips a thin piece of material (such as a credit card) between the cracks of the door and compresses the spring-latch.
Deadbolts, in contrast, do not use a spring. Rather they must be mechanically retracted using the key or thumbturn. Because of this, they can not be loided and it is much harder to directly manipulate the bolt.
How to Prevent Getting Locked Out Again
Getting locked out really sucks, but there are some ways that you can minimize the chance of it ever happening again.
1. Make sure you have a key hidden outside your home in a safe place
Your best option is to have a key hidden outside in a safe place. This could be in a flower pot on your porch, under a rock key lock box in your garden, or somewhere else that is inconspicuous and out of the way.
If you have a key hidden outside, you can simply retrieve it and let yourself back into your home. No need to call a locksmith or fuss with the lock!
2. Have a copy of your key made and give it to a friend or family member
If you don't want to hide a key outside, another option is to give a spare key to a trusted friend or neighbor. This way, if you ever get locked out, you can just ask them to let you into your home.
3. Replace your deadbolt with a keyless lock
A third option is to use a keyless entry system, such as a keypad lock or a smart lock. Keyless entry systems don't require a physical key, so you'll never have to worry about getting locked out again.
So, there you have it. Whether you're locked out of your home or just want to be prepared in case of an emergency, now you know how to unlock a deadbolt without a key.
We discussed four methods, including lock picking, lock bumping, drilling the lock, or breaking a nearby window. Some of these techniques might not work against high-security door locks, in which case you can always call a locksmith.
Prevent getting locked out in the future by hiding a key outside, giving a spare key to a friend or neighbor, or upgrading to a keyless entry system.
We hope you never need to use this information, but it's always good to be prepared!
Thanks for reading!