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Picking a Lock Without a Tension Wrench

picking a lock without a tension wrench
Last Updated on May 3, 2023
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Lock picking is a skill that requires precision, an understanding of the mechanics involved, and the proper use of tension tools to manipulate the lock's pins. Traditional tension wrenches are widely used in lock picking; however, there are instances where you may not have access to one or prefer to use alternative tools.

Tension wrenches and other lock picking turning tools play a critical role in lock picking by creating a binding force on the pins, providing feedback through vibrations, and rotating the plug to open the lock. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of lock picking without a traditional tension wrench, focusing on alternative tension tools and methods to develop your lock picking skills effectively.

In this guide, you'll gain an in-depth understanding of the importance of tension in lock picking, explore alternative tension tools and materials, and offer tips and tricks for successful lock picking without a traditional tension wrench.

By following the guidance provided in this guide, you can create your own tension tools, learn to apply tension effectively and develop your lock picking skills using alternative tools and techniques.

Why We Need to Use a Tension Wrench or Other Turning Tool

A tension wrench, or another turning tool, is crucial for lock picking as it provides essential functions that enable the unlocking process. Let's quickly look at the important role a tension wrench or other turning tool plays in lock picking.

Creating binding force on the pins

The primary function of a tension wrench is to apply a binding force on the lock's pins. This force is necessary to keep the pins in place after they have been lifted above the shear line.

When you apply tension, one of the pins will bind first, allowing you to manipulate it with a pick while keeping other pins in place. Without tension, it would be impossible to set the pins at the shear line and unlock the lock.

Providing feedback through vibrations

A tension wrench or turning tool also serves as a means of communication between the lock picker and the lock itself. When manipulating the pins, the tension wrench transfers vibrations and subtle feedback from the lock to the lock picker's hand.

This feedback allows the lock picker to identify when a pin has been successfully set above the shear line or when the lock has been successfully picked.

Without a tension wrench or other turning tool, this crucial feedback would be absent, making lock picking extremely difficult.

Rotating the plug after successfully picking the lock

Once all the pins have been set above the shear line, the tension wrench or turning tool is used to rotate the plug, which is the inner cylinder of the lock.

This rotation disengages the lock mechanism and allows the lock to be opened. Without a tension wrench or other turning tool, you would not be able to rotate the plug and open the lock.

Alternative tools for tensioning

While a traditional tension wrench is a common choice, other tools can also be used to apply tension and accomplish the functions mentioned above. Some alternative tools for tensioning include:

  1. Top of keyway pry bars: These tools are designed to fit into the top of the keyway, providing a solid tension point and freeing up more space in the keyway for lock picking.
  2. DIY tension tools: Various everyday items can be repurposed to create makeshift tension tools, such as paperclips, bobby pins, and windshield wiper inserts.

Let's look at what types of materials can be substituted for a tension wrench.

Creating Your Own Tension Tool

picking a master lock tension wrench

Creating your own lock picking turning tools can be a cost-effective and practical solution, especially when you don't have access to a traditional tension wrench. The below step-by-step guide will teach you how to make your own tension tools using common materials.

Common Materials for DIY Tension Tools

The following materials can be easily found and repurposed to create effective DIY tension wrenches:

  1. Paperclips
  2. Bobby pins
  3. Bra wire
  4. Windshield wiper inserts
  5. Hacksaw blades
  6. Piano wire
  7. Street sweeper bristles
  8. Other small, flat pieces of metal

Creating Your Tension Wrench

To create a DIY tension wrench, follow these general steps, adapting them as needed based on the specific material you are using:

  1. Select your material: Choose one of the materials mentioned above or another suitable option. Ensure that the material is strong enough to withstand the tension applied during lock picking but flexible enough to be bent into the required shape.
  2. Prepare the material: Depending on the material you have chosen, you may need to cut a small section or remove any unnecessary parts. For example, with bobby pins, you would need to remove the rubber tips, while with windshield wipers, you would need to extract the metal insert.
  3. Bend the material: Create a 90-degree angle at one end of the material to form an L shape. This bent end will be inserted into the lock's keyway to apply tension. Ensure that the bend is smooth and that there are no sharp edges.
  4. Test the tension tool: Insert the bent end of your DIY tension tool into the keyway of a practice lock and apply tension. Make sure that the tool is secure and comfortable to use, and adjust the bend as needed for better performance.
  5. Refine your tension tool: If needed, you can further refine the shape and size of your DIY tension tool to better suit your lock picking needs. For example, you could create a smaller bend for a tighter keyway or file down rough edges for smoother operation.

Additional Considerations

When creating your own tension tool, keep the following considerations in mind:

  1. Material strength and flexibility: Ensure that your chosen material can withstand the force applied during lock picking without breaking or deforming. If the material is too weak, it will not provide adequate tension and may break during use.
  2. Size and shape: The size and shape of your DIY tension tool should be suitable for the specific lock you are trying to pick. If the tool is too large or has an improper shape, it may not fit into the keyway or effectively apply tension.
  3. Practice and patience: As with any lock picking technique, practice, and patience are essential for success when using DIY tension tools. It may take some time to create the perfect tension tool and to develop the skills needed to effectively pick locks using it.

By following the steps outlined above and considering the additional factors mentioned, you can create your own tension tool using common materials. This DIY approach allows you to effectively tension locks even when a traditional tension wrench is unavailable, ultimately helping you develop your lock picking skills.

Tips and Tricks: Lock Picking Without a Proper Tension Wrench

When using a DIY tension tool or alternative turning tool instead of a traditional tension wrench, there are several tips and tricks that can help you achieve success in lock picking. In this section, we will discuss some of these techniques

Developing a Feel for Tension

One of the most critical aspects of lock picking is applying the right amount of tension. Too little tension will not bind the pins, while too much tension can make it difficult to lift the pins or even damage the lock. To develop a feel for tension:

  1. Start with light tension and gradually increase it until you feel the first binding pin.
  2. Pay attention to the feedback you receive from your tension tool, such as vibrations or changes in resistance.
  3. Practice with different locks and tension tools to develop a better understanding of how much tension is needed for various situations.

Recognizing Binding Pins

Binding pins are the pins that need to be set above the shear line to successfully pick the lock. Identifying and setting these pins is crucial for successful lock picking. To recognize binding pins:

  1. Apply tension and gently probe each pin with your pick, feeling for resistance.
  2. The binding pin will typically feel stiffer or harder to lift compared to non-binding pins.
  3. Once you have identified a binding pin, carefully lift it above the shear line and set it in place while maintaining tension.

Patience and Practice

Lock picking is a skill that requires patience and practice, especially when using non-traditional tension tools. To improve your lock picking skills:

  1. Dedicate time to practice regularly, focusing on the fundamentals and refining your technique.
  2. Experiment with different types of locks and tension tools to broaden your experience and understanding of lock picking.
  3. Be patient with yourself and recognize that it may take time to become proficient in lock picking, particularly when using DIY or alternative tension tools.

Developing a feel for tension, recognizing binding pins, and practicing patience are all essential components of successful lock picking.

Final Thoughts

As we conclude this guide on lock picking without a traditional tension wrench, it is essential to emphasize several key points to ensure that you can effectively develop your lock picking skills using alternative tools and techniques.

Tension is a crucial element in lock picking, as it creates a binding force on the pins, provides feedback through vibrations, and rotates the plug to open the lock. Regardless of the specific tool you use, understanding and applying the correct tension is vital for successful lock picking.

While a traditional tension wrench is a popular choice for lock picking, it is not the only option. Alternative tools, such as top of keyway pry bars or DIY tension tools made from common materials like paperclips and bobby pins, can also effectively apply tension to a lock. By learning to create and use these alternative tools, you can enhance your lock picking abilities even when a traditional tension wrench is not available.

Lock picking is a skill that requires practice, patience, and a deep understanding of the mechanics involved. Even without a traditional tension wrench, you can develop your lock picking skills by following the tips and tricks provided in this guide, including developing a feel for tension, recognizing binding pins, and practicing patience. By dedicating time to learning and refining your technique, you can become proficient in lock picking using alternative tension tools.

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