Beginner Lock Picking Questions

Common Questions Week 1: Tension Direction, Pick Selection, and Lock Picking Vises

Over the past few months I’ve received a ton of requests to start a weekly Q&A to answer some common lock picking questions in a brief and easy to digest format.

I’m happy to announce that today, and every single Thursday from this day forth, I will posting a few answers to some of the questions that you awesome people send me!

My goal here is to focus on answering these questions as simply and efficiently as possible without any fluff or digression.

If you feel that something wasn’t explained well or if you would like to see a more in depth article or guide to one of the following topics, be sure to leave a comment below and let me know!

Also if you have any questions yourself, leave a comment or be sure to throw me an email here and I’ll do my best to answer it — and if I can’t answer it, I’ll sure as hell find someone who can!

NOW, on to this week’s questions about pick selection for deadbolts, which direction to tension a lock, and why people use lock picking vises!

Question #1: “For your everyday deadbolt, what kind of pick would you recommend? A normal hook pick? A city rake? A wave rake? A diamond pick?”

It’s hard to say what picks will work best on certain locks because every lock is different – different bittings, tolerances, security features, keyways, etc.

However, I would say out of all the picks available, the short hook and single pin picking are always going to be your best bet, and more importantly, the most consistent. If the lock doesn’t contain security pins, then a rake will likely do you justice as well — but as for which picks are best… it depends…

Think of there only being two types of picks, a hook and a rake. Everything else is just a variation of those two picks that are designed to overcome slight differences in a lock.

For example the rake. Both the City rake and the Bogota (triple peak wavy type rake) are effective rakes that can be used in the same way, however:

  • The City rake is more effective against locks with high cut pins in the front and back and low cut pins in the center.
  • The Bogota is very effective against high-low-high-low pin cuts.

So it’s sadly not as easy as one pick being best against a deadbolt, but more so that a particular pick is best against a very slight variation in the lock such as how the pins are cut (bitting.)

Single pin picking with a hook is always going to be the most “consistently” effective means of picking. So if you were to only have one pick against any pin tumbler deadbolt, I would always recommend the short hook!

Question #2: “Which direction should I apply tension while picking pin tumblers? To the left or to the right?”

This is a great question because picking a lock and finding that you tensioned it the wrong direction can cause more heartache than a thousand breakups.

Here are some general rules of thumb regarding pin tumblers:

  • Generally padlocks will open clockwise (right) and some will even open in both directions — such as laminated Master locks like the number #3 or #5. So your best bet with padlocks is to always tension clockwise.
  • Deadbolts will always open in the direction AWAY from the bolt, or that is towards the hinges of the door. So with deadbolts just remember tension towards the hinges and away from where the bolt jams into the door frame.
  • Mortise locks will typically open towards the latching mechanism. So if the latching mechanism points to the left, the cylinder must be picked in that direction as well.
  • Then there is the typical door-knob style lock. These ones are really a crapshoot. In my experience, most Kwiksets will open counterclockwise and most Schlage locks will turn clockwise. Beyond that, I have never truly identified a standard so with these types of locks I always try clockwise first.

If you do end of picking a lock in the wrong direction, typically the plug will turn… but not very far before it stops.

There is also a nifty little tool out there called a plug spinner — such as the Peterson Plug Spinner — for those unfortunate moments.

These tools are spring loaded and will quickly snap the plug in the opposite direction fast enough so that the pins don’t drop. Here is a video on those if you are curious!

Question #3: “Every lock picking video that I come across the picker is using a small vise. Even for padlocks. Are these helpful and something I should look into getting?”

Vises are amazing tools for holding locks while you pick them and will eventually become essential in progressing your lock picking skills. Let’s look at few advantages of using a vise, then we’ll cover when it’s appropriate to start using one and my recommendation for a good cheap vise.

One thing to also keep in mind is that most lock picking videos typically use a vise because it allows them to record the keyway without their hands getting in the way of the camera. It also keeps things stable so that the camera is always in focus.

Some awesome advantages of a vise:

  • You can angle the lock to your advantage and comfort. They also aid in reducing hand cramping from holding the lock.
  • Because your hand is no longer concerned with holding the lock, you can focus more on controlling your tools and interpreting the feedback they give you.
  • A common beginner mistake is that they often times move the lock rather than the pick. Using a vise will stop this nasty habit and force you to fully leverage the most from your pick.
  • Your going to receive more feedback from a vise — especially if the clamp doesn’t have padding — such as rubber clamp grips. Setting pins will feel more crisp which can be very helpful while training with serrated pins.
  • A vise easily allows you to use top of the key tension which will give you more room to maneuver your pick. This is extremely helpful in tighter and paracentric keyways or in leveraging your pick to reach those shorter pins hiding in the back. NOTE: You don’t need a vise to use top of the keyway tension, but it definitely makes things easier.
  • Using a vise more accurately simulates picking a lock that is positioned in a door.

So when should you start using a vise in your picking? Honestly, anytime you feel like it. However, I would say at the latest you probably want to start adding a vise into your picking after you start getting comfortable with spool pins. I say this because picking a lock in your hand and picking a lock in a vise are two completely different feelings. If you become too accustomed to picking in your hand, learning to pick in a vise is going to be a bit more of a challenge to get used to.

Once you have started using a vise, be certain to make it a habit to pick padlocks both in your hands and in the vise. Try your best not to neglect one or the other because each will feel different and grant you more lessons from each lock you pick. Think of it like this, those who practice picking a lock at several different angles will always develop more skill than those who practice picking at only one angle.

Also note that you’ll likely find some locks are far easier to pick in a vise while other locks are much easier to pick in your hand.

So what do you need in a lock picking vise? There are essentially two things you should look for when purchasing a vise: a swiveling clamp and a solid sturdy base.

Swiveling Clamp: You’ll need a vise that allows you to adjust the angle of the clamp so that you can comfortably pick at any angle you want.

Solid Base: If the base isn’t solid or heavy enough, you run the risk of the a lock being too heavy and the vise will tip over — which completely negates the purpose of the vise in the first place.

My recommendation for a cheap vise and the one I actually use myself is the Bessey BVVB Vacuum Base Vise. I’ve used this vise now for over a year and a half and have found it to accommodate all of my needs!

Also if you live near a Harbor Freight you can find a very similar one there.

To Conclude

I hope this first round of answers to some of your guys’ questions was helpful and being that this is the first of many Q&As… if you have any feedback or recommendations of how I can better improve these posts going forward I would absolutely love to hear your feedback!

Remember that if you have ANY questions regarding lock picking, drop your question in a comment below or email me here!

Happy Picking!

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First of all, I wanted to thank you. Really very useful data you’ve given. I am looking for such information like this. I could know much information about lock picking. Thanks for sharing these answers.

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