Lock Pick Sets
At the heart of this craft lies the lock pick set, a collection of specialized lock picking tools designed for various types of locks and situations. These sets typically include an assortment of lock picks, tension tools, and other accessories to provide the user with the means to tackle a wide range of lock picking challenges.
Choosing the right lock picking set can be challenging, particularly for beginners. With hundreds of options available on the market today, it's crucial to focus on the essential features that matter.
In this comprehensive guide to lock pick sets, we’ll dive into everything there is to know about lock picks.
The selection and characteristics of lockpicks included in your lock pick set will impact the effectiveness, consistency, and enjoyment of picking locks. To fully understand exactly what tools will best serve you, let's look at the six main characteristics of lock picks:
Contrary to popular belief, a vast collection of lockpicking tools isn't necessary for success. A handful of quality and well-selected lock picks can help you develop skills and unlock a wide variety of locks. As you advance, you can gradually increase your toolkit with specialized lock picks for specific situations.
Lock Picking Sets: Buyer's Guide
Note: This guide is intended for choosing a lock pick set for pin tumbler locks. For other lock types, different considerations and tools may apply.
Lock Picks: Hook Profiles
Hooks are primarily used for a lock picking technique known as single-pin picking. This technique concentrates on manipulating each pin individually, requiring a tool that is exceptionally thin and accurate. Therefore, single-pin picking tools are typically shaped like a hook.
While hooks come in various shapes and sizes, they primarily fall within three categories:
- Short Hooks: These hooks are short enough easily to maneuver within the keyway yet long enough to reach and set pins. However, one drawback of shorter profile hooks is reaching shorter cut pins that are stacked behind longer cut pins. An example of a Short Hook is Peterson Hook 1.
- Deep Hooks: As versatile as Short Hooks can be, sometimes they don't have the reach needed to get around tricky pin configurations or other lock conditions—such as heavy warding. Deep hooks fix this issue by extending the hook length and giving you more reach within the lock. However, when you add length to a hook, it begins to lose maneuverability. A deep hook can be harder to maneuver within a lock. An example of a Deep Hook is Peterson Hook 5.
- Offset Hooks: An offset pick is a type of lock pick that “offsets” and extends the tip of the pick in a gradual manner. As a result, we get a pick that is deep, precise, and, best of all, not overly clunky nor intrusive in the keyway. It's a hybrid between short hooks and deep hooks. An example of an Offset Hook is Peterson Reach.
To have an effective single-pin picking set, I recommend snagging both a short hook and one variation of a deeper or offset hook. These two lock picks are all you will ever need for single-pin picking and effectively all you will need for most locks.
Lock Picks: Rake Profiles
Rakes are used for the technique called "raking." This technique focuses on speed over precision and can quickly open most common locks making it perfect for emergencies or busy locksmiths. Raking is an erratic and volatile style of lock picking whose purpose is to manipulate as many pins as possible in the shortest amount of time.
Theoretically, the more contact you make with the pins while raking, the faster you will set those pins and unlock the lock.
There are different ways to use a rake, with most rakes designed for three primary techniques:
- Scrubbing: Scrubbing is a simple method of raking that resembles the scrubbing motion when brushing your teeth. The back-and-forth movement bounces pins to the shear line. An ideal style pick for scrubbing is the Bogie 1.
- Rocking: A gentle method in which the picker continually changes the angle of the pick within the keyway** with the goal of lifting pins to the shear line. An ideal pick for scrubbing is the Long Ripple.
- Zipping: This technique violently bounces pins to the shear line by forcefully pulling the lockpick out of the keyway while applying an upward force on the pins. The best rake for zipping is the Triple Rake.
However, rakes can't open all locks. Locks with anti-bump pins, security pins, paracentric keyways, and other security features can easily thwart rakes. To bypass these locks, other methods are needed, such as single-pin picking.
If you would like to learn more about each specific lock pick---including their strengths, weaknesses, and how to use them---check out my full guide on the different types of lock picks.
Types of Steel Use For Lock Picks
The steel used in lock picks can affect the strength and durability, the tactile feedback transmitted from the lock, and the consistency of the tool.
The main seven characteristics of steel that affect lock picks are:
- Hardness: This determines the tool's ability to resist deformation, indentation, or scratching. A harder pick is less likely to bend or break but might be more brittle.
- Toughness: The ability of a material to absorb energy and resist fracture. Toughness is essential for lock picks to withstand the forces applied during picking without snapping.
- Yield Strength: The ability of a material to return to its original shape after being deformed. Springiness is crucial for lock picks to maintain their shape and function after repeated use.
- Springiness (Elasticity): This defines the material's ability to return to its original shape after being deformed. For lock picks, a high degree of springiness is preferred, as it allows the tool to return to its original shape after use.
- Wear Resistance: The ability of a material to resist wear and tear due to friction and abrasion. This characteristic prolongs the life of lock picks, ensuring they remain effective over time.
- Machinability: The ease with which a material can be shaped and worked on. This characteristic is important for producing lock picks with the desired shape, size, and precision.
- Tactile Feedback: While not a property of the steel itself, the choice of steel can influence the amount and quality of feedback a lock picker gets from the tool. A material that transmits subtle vibrations well can give the picker a better sense of what's happening inside the lock.
Let's now dive into the differences between the three types of steel commonly used in lock picks: 301 Cold Max stainless steel, 301 High Yield stainless steel, and 420 stainless steel.
- 301 Cold Max stainless steel is highly elastic and has a good yield strength, making it relatively resilient under stress and more likely to return to its original shape after bending. However, its hardness and wear resistance is not as high as 420 stainless steel, which may lead to quicker wear and tear or deformation over time.
- 301 High Yield stainless steel, as the name suggests, has an even higher yield strength than 301 Cold Max. This means that it can withstand more stress before deforming. However, like 301 Cold Max, it falls short in terms of hardness and wear resistance when compared to 420 stainless steel.
- 420 stainless steel is the hardest among the three, offering superior wear resistance. It's less prone to bending or deformation, meaning it can retain its shape and effectiveness for longer. However, its high hardness might come at the expense of reduced springiness, potentially making it less forgiving if used improperly.
Despite these trade-offs, 420 stainless steel is often considered the best choice for lock picks. Its high hardness and wear resistance make it highly durable and reliable, even under repeated use. In addition, it still provides excellent tactile feedback, a crucial characteristic for successful lock picking.
We offer top-of-the-line Peterson GSP lock picks made from a specially engineered version of 420 stainless steel. This proprietary steel offers unmatched resilience, ensuring our tools retain their effectiveness over time. While others may use 301 Cold Max or 301 high-yield stainless steel, our 420 stainless steel picks offer superior hardness and durability for reliable lock picking.
Lock Pick Thickness (Gauge)
Pick thickness, the gauge of metal used to make a pick influences its strength and maneuverability within the lock's keyway. It is determined by the stock sheet manufacturers use to cut their picks.
There are two main thickness categories:
- Standard .025″: Suitable for most pin tumbler locks, .025" thick picks are ideal for beginners who may be rough on their tools. Most locks can be unlocked with this thickness—it's mostly about technique.
- Slender / Slimline 0.015″ - 0.022″: For locks with tighter or narrower keyways, you'll need thinner picks. Usually sold within the .015” - .022" range, the exact thickness can vary by manufacturer.
The GSP lockpicking tools that we offer are color-coded with standard 0.025" picks having black, euro-slender 0.018" picks having purple handles, and slender 0.015" picks having blue handles.
When choosing a gauge, consider your location and experience:
- Location: If you live in regions like Europe or Japan, where locks often have smaller keyways, a slimmer pick may be useful. North American locks typically have wider keyways, so thinner picks are usually not necessary until dealing with more complex locks.
- Experience: Beginners are advised to start with 0.025" picks. Thinner picks in wider keyways lack lateral support and can flex sideways, leading to potential damage, especially if handled roughly.
As a beginner, it's best to use the thickest pick possible. Once you've gained experience and started dealing with locks with narrower keyways, it might be time to start training with slimmer picks. Until then, the standard .025" picks should serve you well.
Lock Pick Handles
Lock pick handles form a crucial part of the lock picking tool, significantly affecting its usage, comfort, and efficiency. The type of handle on a lock pick can greatly influence the user's experience, from the level of tactile feedback to durability and comfort during prolonged use.
There are five main types of lock pick handles commonly used:
- No Handle (Bare Metal): This handle-less lock pick is a minimalist option, valued for its lightweight and compactness. However, its lack of ergonomic design can lead to discomfort during extended use.
- Metal Handle: Providing improved grip and control over the bare metal, the attached metal handle offers a sturdy feel. Despite its weight and potential discomfort in extreme temperatures, it offers satisfactory feedback and control.
- Plastic Molded Handle: These handles, made of hard plastic, are lightweight and comfortable. They provide good grip and can be ergonomically shaped, although they may lack the durability of metal handles.
- Thermo Plastic Coated Handle: Offering a textured surface for enhanced grip, these handles protect against temperature extremes and are resistant to wear and tear. However, they can be bulkier than other options, and the coating may wear off with heavy use.
- Rubber Handle: Excellent for grip and control, rubber handles cushion the hand and insulate against temperature extremes. They are, however, larger and may absorb more feedback than harder materials.
When choosing a lock pick handle, several factors come into play. Here are the top five factors to consider:
- Tactile Feedback: This refers to how well the handle transfers the sensation of the lock's inner workings to your hand. Metal handles are generally excellent in this regard due to their solid, non-absorbing nature. However, plastic molded handles can also provide good tactile feedback, as they are rigid enough to transmit subtle vibrations.
- Comfort and Ergonomics: If you're going to be using your lock pick for extended periods, comfort is crucial. Ergonomically designed handles can help reduce hand fatigue. Plastic molded handles shine in this area, as they can be shaped into ergonomic designs that fit comfortably in hand.
- Durability: The handle should be able to withstand frequent use without degrading. Metal handles are typically very durable, but thermo-plastic coated handles also offer great resistance to wear and tear.
- Temperature Insulation: If you're picking locks in extreme temperatures, you'll want a handle that doesn't conduct heat or cold. Rubber handles are great for this, providing insulation against temperature extremes. However, thermo-plastic coated handles also offer decent protection against temperature extremes.
- Grip: The handle should provide a firm grip to prevent the pick from slipping during use. Rubber handles are excellent in this regard, providing a strong grip even in wet or oily conditions. But plastic molded handles also offer a good grip, and their hard surface can prevent the pick from slipping out of sweaty or oily hands.
Taking these factors into account, plastic molded handles often strike a balance in many aspects, making them versatile and popular.
For example, our Peterson GSP lock picks each come with a large, ergonomically designed, textured plastic-molded handle that offers excellent feedback. They are color-coded based on the thickness of the pick: standard 0.025" picks have a black handle, Euro-Slender 0.018" picks have a purple handle, and Slender 0.015" picks have a blue handle.
Lock Pick Shank Height
There is a common misconception about "euro-style" picks that are often confused with pick thickness. However, euro picks have nothing to do with pick thickness and everything to do with the pick profile. **Euro simply means a reduction in shank height.
To illustrate this, look at the example below:
As you can see, the shaft of the euro pick is much shorter than the standard profile. This shank reduction makes it much easier to access more restrictive keyways and get more leverage within the lock.
Lock Pick Profile & Precision
In addition to the shank profile discussed above is the manufactures profile.
The overall profile—or shape—of your picks will directly affect how effective they can be in the lock.
Different manufacturers have different standards and designs which they uphold. To illustrate this, let’s look at the common short hook from two different popular manufactures—Peterson vs. Sparrows.
As you can see, the Peterson Short Hook has a much wider and flatter tip, while the Sparrows are much thinner and pointer. This difference may seem slight, but it can make a huge difference in how the lock pick acts on the pins.
Notice in the image above that the bottom of the key pin is very narrow. Now imagine the amount of precision it would take to align a pointy-tipped hook with that pin and lift it without slipping off.*
This is where the Peterson Hook 1 (short hook) has the advantage for a beginner. Because the tip of the hook is wide and flat, it is easier to locate the pins and control them while lifting, as they are less likely to slip off a flat surface.
Selection of Turning Tools in Lock Pick Sets
The effectiveness of a lock picker isn't solely reliant on their choice of lock pick, but is significantly influenced by the turning tool they utilize.
A critical aspect to remember while choosing turning tools is that most feedback received from the lock stems from tension. Thus, it's imperative to select a tool that maximizes this feedback.
For pin tumbler locks, there are two predominant types of tools to consider: tension wrenches and prybars.
A tension wrench is an essential tool in lock picking, as it allows the lock picker to apply precise and controlled tension while manipulating the lock's mechanisms. The amount of tension applied with the wrench is critical, as too little or too much pressure can hinder the picking process.
Skilled lock pickers learn to feel the feedback and subtle feedback from the lock to determine the correct tension required for successful picking.
Tension wrenches come in various shapes and sizes to accommodate different types of locks. Some are simply L-shaped pieces of metal, while others have more complex designs to provide a better grip or more precise control. A correctly sized and properly used tension wrench is crucial for successful lock picking.
Here are the three primary tension wrenches in most lock pick sets:
- Straight Tension Wrench: This tool is a flat steel piece with a 90-degree bent at one end. It's ideal for maximizing tension due to its rigidity under torque application.
- Twisty Tension Wrench: Similar to the straight wrench, but with an added 90-degree twist down the shaft, acting as a spring and potentially dampening lock feedback.
- Double-Ended (Z-Shaped) Tension Wrench: A versatile 2-in-1 tool reducing the need for multiple wrenches. It has long and short sides to accommodate various keyways.
Tension wrenches typically come in three thicknesses: Thin (0.1“ or 1.5mm), Medium (0.11“ or 2.75mm), and Thick (0.13“ or 3.5mm).
In lock picking kits, prybars are critical tools that provide the ability to apply tension from the top of the keyway, also known as TOK. They offer four significant advantages over tension wrenches applied at the bottom of the keyway (BOK).
First, prybars create additional room in the keyway, making it easier for lock pickers to maneuver their picks. Second, because prybars apply tension nearer to the shear line, the point of resistance, the forces are distributed more evenly throughout the lock. This reduces the chances of the keyway binding up.
Third, using prybars eliminates the risk of accidental rubbing against the housing at the bottom of the keyway, which can cause distorted feedback or binding. Lastly, TOK prybars are available in three sizes, .50", .40", and .30", which are thicker than BOK tension wrenches. Their added thickness ensures a snugger fit in the keyway, providing better control during the picking process.
For any good professional lock pick set, including at least one TOK Prybar is a must, with a .40" thick prybar being an ideal starter tool. To learn more about this type of lock picking tool, check out my collection of tension wrenches and turning tools.