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The Truth About Transparent Practice Locks

The best transparent lock
Last Updated on February 11, 2022
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If you are just getting into lock picking and are looking at snagging a transparent lock for your first practice lock, you probably aren't going to like what I’m about to say – but it is a truth that is so important that it can very well determine your success or failure at learning lock picking.

This truth is...

The best transparent training lock is no transparent lock at all.

Using any sort of clear and plastic lock to develop and practice your picking skills is going to do more harm than good for two main reasons:

  1. Firstly, lock picking is about developing patterns based upon the feedback we receive from the lock and the senses that we use to receive that feedback. When we develop these patterns using feedback and senses that can't be applied to real locks, these patterns become flawed and distorted.
  2. Secondly, locks are simply puzzles. The more times that we solve a particular puzzle, the more solving that puzzle again depends upon memory and less so on skill. When we have picked a lock using visual cues, we have denied ourselves the ability to solve that puzzle with feedback that can be used on a real lock. We have also denied ourselves the ability to establish a foundation in two very important skills: the ability to draw a mental map of what is occurring within the lock and the refinement of crucial lock picking senses – touch and sound.

Now before we dive a little deeper into why these locks can hinder your ability to learn and progress your lock picking skills, I do want to clarify that these transparent locks do have two very useful purposes.

They are excellent visual aids for understanding and explaining how locks and lock picking work and they are great at demonstrating how particular tools affect internal components of the lock.

However, beyond simple demonstration, these locks should never be used for practice.

If you are looking for your first practice lock, be sure to check out this progressive guide on the best locks to learn lock picking.

With that, let's jump a little deeper into the reasons why these acrylic and transparent locks can be so damaging to those who are just getting into lock picking!

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1. Bad Patterns

The first danger of transparent locks is that they completely distort our understanding of the feedback – the sensory outputs like vibrations or clicks – that the lock gives us.

In the simplest of nutshells, lock picking is nothing more than developing and recognizing patterns.

The patterns in lock picking are essentially our understanding of how a lock is picked and how feedback and cues fall into that process.

When we first learn how to pick a lock, we have no experience nor patterns to base our actions on. We poke and prod within the lock with no idea what is going on.

However, as we poke around, we begin to sense feedback and while we understand that this feedback means something and in some strange way is telling us what to do next, we don't yet have the experience to give it proper meaning or context.

But as we continue to practice and continue to sense that feedback, we slowly begin to understand its meaning and give it context. We begin to understand what a stiff pin feels like and what it means, what a click feels like and what it means, or what a floppy pin feels like and what it means.

Finally, we begin to arrange this feedback into patterns, and rather than simply experiencing the feedback, we intentionally search for specific feedback – once we understand the pattern of picking a lock, we understand what feedback we are looking for next.

Now if this entire process of understanding feedback is distorted, if we develop our patterns upon information that we can’t use, the whole process falls apart.

This is the danger of transparent locks. They disrupt the learning process by giving us feedback and developing patterns based upon that feedback that can’t be applied to real locks.

This disruption comes in two forms: visual feedback and odd feedback.

Visual Feedback

Minds eye within the lock

Lock picking is not a visual craft and sight is an extremely dominant sense that quashes all other senses.

When we train ourselves to recognize the feedback and signals a lock gives us using visual support, we absolutely distort our understanding of that feedback and those cues. Our understanding has been tainted and in a way become dependant upon visual feedback.

While this isn't the end of the world, it will force us to take a step back and develop a new and more accurate understanding of what the feedback is and what it feels like without visual corruption.

It is always easier to learn things right the first time.

Odd Feedback

Real lock and plastic locks are different in many ways including the material they are made of, how they are constructed, and the tolerances built into them.

As a result, the feedback that we get from these locks – such as the friction of lifting a binding pin, the vibrative and haptic click of setting a pin, or even the feeling of tensioning the core – is different between the two.

Starting with a plastic lock is likely going to cause you some confusion and even frustration because when you transfer to a real lock, things are going to feel different.

This setback and frustration are sometimes so great, it causes many new pickers to quit picking altogether.

2. Missed Opportunities

The Best Transparent Lock

Every lock is different and every lock is a puzzle. Thus every lock is a different puzzle. The more time you spend solving that “one” particular puzzle, the less that puzzle becomes about utilizing the skills it initially took to solve it the first few times.

It instead becomes something very dangerous.

It becomes a mindless sequence of motions that, not only, no longer requires much skill, but also something that begins to numb you to the feedback the lock is providing. When you can pick a lock through memorization, your brain will stop interpreting any feedback that isn’t in coherence with how that lock has been picked before.

Picking that lock is no longer about listening to what the lock has to say and more about waiting for it to say what you want to hear.

Furthermore, if we spend time picking a lock visually and then later transition over to picking it without looking or any visual feedback, the damage has already been done – we have already begun to understand how to pick that particular lock.

We have wasted the lessons that particular lock had to teach us by picking it using feedback that can't be applied to real locks!

Furthermore, we have deprived ourselves of developing a mental map – the picture that we paint in our mind's eye of where we are in the lock, what we have done, and what is left to do – and even more damaging, denied ourselves the ability to establish a baseline understanding of haptic and sensual feedback.

Note: I do want to clarify that there is a huge difference between clear plastic locks and metal cutaway locks. While there is still a visual component to cutaway locks, they provide much of the same feedback that you would get from a real lock. So if you absolutely must have a visual aid, I would highly recommend grabbing a metal cutaway lock over a fake plastic lock. Additionally, most manufactured cutaway locks – like from Sparrows – are repinnable, giving you the added benefit of being able to set them up and practice picking tricky pin configurations!

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