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New vs Used Locks: A Picker's Guide to Practice Locks
Ryan Brown
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May 22, 2020

New vs Used Locks: A Picker's Guide to Practice Locks

Choosing your next practice lock to conquer can sometimes be more of a challenge than picking the damn thing itself. So many options, brands, and sometimes even colors to choose from. But a factor that is often overlooked is that of buying new or used? Is there a difference and if there is, should we even care?

Do new locks have anything more to offer us pickers than the blissful smell of fresh brass and lubricant? Or could those awesome old locks that litter 100's of pages of Ebay be a goldmine in disguise?

Let's explore the characteristics of each to help better guide your lock buying decisions!

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As they say, age before beauty, so let's begin with used locks!

Used Locks

What could used locks possibly have to offer besides rust, broken components, and the smell of old pennies? Speaking of pennies...

1. Happy Piggy Bank

The first and most obvious characteristic of buying your practice locks used is of course the cost. While it can sometimes be a daunting task, sifting through heaps of junk just to snag a couple locks worth picking, you can save a ton in the process and end up with a handful of perfectly good locks for the price you would pay for a single new one.

Every lock – new or used – is a lesson in lock picking and every lesson is progress towards mastery.

2. Sloppy

Just as water cuts and carves the land away to create rivers and streams, so do the internal components of locks rub and erode away.

The tips of key pins flatten as the key violently scrubs and scrapes against them. The body of each pin will shrink in diameter as it rubs against the walls of each chamber, sometimes unevenly, which can result in a dynamic binding order — we'll touch on this cool phenomenon next! The walls also rub away as the pins bump against them on their journey up and down.

The point is that all this erosion causes everything to loosen up and for those once tight tolerances to diminish. Or in fancy lock picking terms, there is a lot of slop in the lock. This can make any lock significantly easier to pick in this regard.

3. Uneven Wear

If a pin rubs the same way long enough, it will begin to erode in the same way – that is it will erode unevenly. This will cause one side of the pin to become thinner than the other sides. As a result you will have a pin whose binding order can change.

One of the determining factors of a pins binding order is its thickness. For example, when picking an uneven pin it could bind the first time on the thicker side, causing it to bind sooner. However if the pin rotates to expose the thinner side and we pick it yet again, it will bind later. In a nutshell, used locks can have an inconstancy about them, that can be fun, but also frustrating!

4. Dirt and Grime

Older locks — especially those exposed to the elements — will likely have some buildup that will to some degree increase the friction between some or all of the components.

Houdini Lock Lube - Cleaning Old LocksThis buildup can be caused by dirt, dust, worn brass particles, or even dried lubrication that has gone sticky. Increased friction within a lock essentially means that the feedback will be dampened — especially if that friction comes from something gooey.

Ideal feedback comes from metal on metal.

If you go the route of used locks, I would highly recommend cleaning them up using something like Houdini Lock Lube.

On a positive note, an increase in friction will make it easier to avoid oversetting pins because they will not lift as smooth and fast as they typically would!

However, the other side of that sword is that if you do overset them they could get stuck in an overset. They may even stay stuck after you release tension.

 

New Locks

Many of the characteristics of new locks are polar opposites of used locks — I know big surprise. But we'll cover those as well for good measure.

1. Snappy and Crisp

The most beautiful thing about a new lock is... well it's new! These locks will be snappy and responsive with minimal friction and wear.

Everything that should be round will be round and every edge will indeed have it's edge. Because of this crispness you will experience slightly more feedback from newer practice locks!

For example, pins will set much more abruptly. Think of a ball rolling off your kitchen counter versus a one rolling down a slope. Which will hit the ground with more force and send more vibrations through the floor?

2. Tighter Tolerances

Because there is minimal wear on newer locks, tolerances will be at their absolute tightest. There will be minimal slop in the core and pin chambers.

Key pins will have sharper tips that can add a degree of slippage between the tip of your pick and the pin – a good reason to have lock picks with good profiles.

Springs will also be at their springiness!

Needless to say, in this regard, new locks can be much more of a challenge!

3. But There's a Snag

An ironic issue that can sometimes plague new things is that they can be too new. Most things made from metal have a high potential to have very sharp edges or left-over metal slag that failed to be buffed away.

It's very easy to catch or snag your tools on these areas while picking which can cause false feedback and distortion or even sometimes break your pick.

This is a reason why it's always a good idea to lightly sand your picks when you get them – especially in locks with tighter keyways. Sanding your picks will ensure that your picks are smooth, even if the metal in the lock is not.

4. Locks that Lie

Like that egg salad sandwich sitting on the shelf at your local gas station or your mother's true age, you never know how old a lock really is. Some have been sitting around for years and years before you decided to pick it up and bring it home to poke and prod.

In these new — but old — locks, there is a chance that any factory lubricant could have dried up long ago, leaving behind a very sticky residue that picks up dust and other free particles very quickly.

So while the lock itself is free of corrosion, it still might act less responsive than a lock with fresh lubricant. So be wary that not all new locks will always act completely new – another good reason to have some lock lube on hand!

5. New Technology

While it may seem that newer locks should be more secure than their elders as time typically brings with it improved manufacturing techniques and improved security features, it's not always the case.

The sad reality is that some newer versions of locks have gotten worse with time as some manufactures begin to cut corners on the quality of components. As a result a lock's age, or "freshness," is a faulty measurement of a lock's effectiveness and challenge.

For example, older American Locks have much tighter tolerances than newer manufactured Americans, due to Master Lock Company acquiring the American Lock Brand. While some other manufacturers have done well to patch exploits to better their products.

To Conclude

The takeaway of this little breakdown can be of your own making. If you are a newbie and looking to spend as little as possible on locks, picking up a handful of older locks and cleaning them up could be ideal. However, a key component of learning a new skill is pattern recognition and newer locks will deliver the most consistent experience.

So as we can see the benefits and drawbacks of each will truly depend on your goals as a picker. One picker's cons may be another's pros!

So which do you prefer? New or used locks? Let us know in the comments below!

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