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How to Pick a Lock With a Paperclip

How to Pick a Lock with a Paperclip
Last Updated on April 13, 2022
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If you’re reading this then I’m going to go out on a limb and say you want to learn how to pick a lock with a paperclip?

I’m totally psychic, right?

Well, today is your lucky day. Whether you have locked yourself out, don’t have lock picking tools, or are just looking to have a little fun—this guide is all you’ll ever need!

This technique will work on doorknobs (deadlatches) as well as deadbolts!

Let’s get down to the brass tacks and turn you into a paperclip-yielding lock-slaying monster!!!

You may also like to read:

How to Pick a Lock with Paper Clips

So our first step in improvised lock picking is crafting our tools.

Now contrary to what happens in the movies, we actually need two different tools to pick a lock—a tension wrench and a lock pick.

The goal of picking locks with paper clips is to mimic both of these tools. This naturally means that we will need two paperclips as it's sadly not possible to pick a lock with one– unless you cut it in half.

I also highly recommend a set of needle-nose pliers or any other tool that you can use to bend your paperclips.

This will help you make smaller and more precise bends, which will help your paperclip lock pick fit and slide within the lock more easily.

What You'll Need:

  • 2 Large Paperclips
  • Pliers (recommended)

Alright, now that we have our materials, let's bend them into picks and slay some locks!

NOTE: Never use plastic paper clips as they run the risk of breaking in your lock. There is only one thing worse than being locked out and that's completely disabling your lock.

Step 1: Make Your Tension Wrench!

Okay, so our first step is going to be making our tensioning tool. This tool performs two tasks.

  1. Applies a binding force: Firstly, the tension wrench applies a binding force to the pins. This binding force allows us to lift the pins and "set" them between the core and the housing of the lock—thus keeping them out of the way and disengaging the lock. To better understand this, check out the illustration below.
  2. Acts like a key: The second task of the tension wrench is to mimic the key and give us the leverage we need to rotate and disengage the lock once we have picked all the pins!

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

Simple enough right?

Cool! Let's craft the little devils!

Bend #1: Straighten Out Your Paperclip

Okay, so our first step is to straighten the center of our paperclip as illustrated below!

Paperclip Tension Wrench - Bend 1

Bend #2: Crimp the Fat Side

Next, we need to crimp the bigger end of our paperclip and because this is the part that will be fitting in the keyway, we want to make it as small and tight as we can.

This is where our pliers are going to come in handy, and you don’t have pliers on you, look around for something hard—like a rock—and use that and the ground to crimp your paperclip.

Paperclip Tension Wrench- Second Bend Example

Bend #3: 90° Bend to the Side

Alright, one final bend! Next, take the end that we just crimped and about a pinky fingers width, make a 90-degree bend on the paperclip to the side! If you do not have pliers, you can accomplish this by sticking your crimped end slightly into the keyway and applying your bend.

Paperclip Tension Wrench- Third Bend Example

It is very important that you make the bend sideways as illustrated above. If you fail to bend it this way, your tension tool will be too thin and will slip in the keyway while under force.

That's it! Now let's move on to our paperclip lock pick!

Step 2: Make Your Paperclip Lock Pick!

In the Art of Lock Picking, there are typically two different types of lock picks—hooks and rakes. Of these two types, rakes are the easiest and quickest to use.

Hook vs Rake - Comparison

So for the sake of simplicity and speed, we are going to make and use a “rake type lock pick” by copying the template of the rake seen above.

Let's get bending!

Bend #1: Straighten Out Your Paperclip

Alright, our first step is to fully straighten out the large section of the paperclip as seen below.

Paperclip Lock Pick- First Bend

Bend #2: Bend the Tip Downward

Next, we need to bend the end of our paperclip into our wavy rake!

If you are using pliers, grab as little of the tip as you possibly can and bend it 90 degrees downward—the smaller you can make these bends the better!

Paperclip Lock Pick- Second Bend

Bend #3: Finish Your Bends

Now take your pliers can grip just before your first bend and this time bend 90-degrees upward—again, the smaller the better.

Continue to make two more small 90-degree bends alternating in direction. After your last bend, you should have something like seen below!

Paperclip Lock Pick- Third Bend

Step 3: Apply Tension!

Now that we have our tools, it's time to finally get picking! Start by inserting the short end of your paperclip tension wrench into the bottom of the keyway as shown below.

Paperclip Tension Wrench - Keyway

Next, apply a very VERY light amount of force on the tension wrench in the direction you would naturally turn the key.

Now when I say light force I mean very light. Think of the force that it takes to press a key down on your keyboard, or even the weight of a penny—this is how light we are talking.

That's it!

You are now applying tension to the lock and the pins are likely binding and ready to set!

Step 4: Rake The Lock!

While maintaining light tension throughout this entire step, insert your paperclip lock pick into the keyway with the two bumps facing the pins.

Push your lock pick all the way into the lock until you feel it hit the rear of the keyway.

Next, press your lock pick against the pins until you can feel them slightly lifting. At this point begin scrubbing the pins back and forth—similar to brushing your teeth.

Paperclip Lock Picking Animation

Continue to rake the lock for 10 to 15 seconds. If at this point the lock doesn't open, remove your pick and reset the pins by pushing your tension wrench in the opposite direction. Keep an ear out for pins dropping!

After resetting the pins, once again apply tension and rake the lock. Continue raking and resetting the lock until you feel the keyway turn significantly.

Step 5: Turn and Open!

While raking you feel the plug rotate significantly in the direction you are tensioning.

Apply heavier tension and continue to rotate the keyway until the lock fully disengages!

Congratulations, you have just picked your first lock!

Note: Paperclips are made of very soft metal and risk bending while raking. If this occurs, take the time to straighten out your lock pick before continuing to minimize the risk of it snagging and breaking within the lock.

FAQ - Picking Locks with Paperclips

If there is one thing that is certain in life, that's nothing ever happens according to plan. To battle any problems you may run into while picking, here are some frequently asked questions when things don't go perfectly!

1. What if my tools don't fit?

The sad reality of picking locks with paperclips and bobby pins is that they don't always work. Most higher-quality locks have smaller and odd-shaped keyways that paperclips will never fit in.

If this is the case, your next move is to find a similar strength but thinner wire or to craft your lock picks out of other homemade materials. Check out our guide on the best homemade lock pick materials for a few ideas!

2. What if the lock doesn't open?

If you find the steps above are not working there are several things you can try.

  1. Firstly, reset the pins by releasing tension and once again apply it with more or less force than before. Tension is very much the key to lock picking and sometimes you need to play around with it to get it just right. Attempt raking your lock with several different levels of tension.
  2. Secondly, increase and decrease the speed at which you pick. Try slowing things down, as well as speeding them up.
  3. Lastly, rather than raking, attempt to use your lock pick in a rocking motion.

3. What kind of locks can I pick with a paperclip?

You can pick simple locks with wide-open keyways such as basic master lock padlocks, deadbolts, most cheaper Kwikset's, and Schlage—as well as most other simple and cheaper locks.

More advanced locks tend to have trickier and smaller keyways and security features that paperclips likely can't defeat. Lock picks are specifically designed to deal with odd lock characteristics that paperclips would never stand a chance against. So if you are looking to pick something a little trickier, you may wish to invest in some lock picking tools!

4. Can this ruin my lock?

Absolutely! Paperclips are not built for picking and could break apart inside your lock. In addition, locks are not designed to handle the forces of lock picking and could potentially break internal components—such as springs.

The two general rules of lock picking are:

  1. Never pick locks that you don't own.
  2. Never pick locks that are in use. 

The only exception to rule #2 is if you are facing an emergency—such as being locked out—and you fully accept the risks of permanently breaking that lock.

Wrapping It Up

If you have any questions that were not covered above, be sure to throw me a comment below and I'll do my best to answer and maybe even update this guide!

Happy Picking!

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