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how to unlock a door without a key

7 Ways to Unlock a Door Without a Key

We’ve all been locked out a time or two—for the married folk maybe more. But worse than being locked out is not having a crafty way to get back in.

There are various ways to unlock a door without a key. You can pick the lock with lock picks, bobby pins, and paperclips. You can bump or shim the lock. And for the uninspired, you can even resort to brute force and kick in the door or drill the lock.

In this guide, we’ll look at some common and effective methods to open a locked door without a key.

Let’s go!

Lock Picking

Our first method of unlocking a door without a key is the infamous craft of lock picking.

Don't worry, lock picking is actually very easy to learn and apply, and I'll cover the basics in this guide. That being said, if you would like a deeper dive into lock picking, consider checking out my Ultimate Lock Picking Guide.

A pin tumbler lock has 6 primary components:

  1. The Housing: This contains all of the other functional components of the lock.
  2. The Plug: A cylinder that rotates within the housing. The front of the plug is where the key is inserted.
  3. The Shear Line: The physical gap between the housing and the plug.
  4. Key Pins: The bottom set of pins that make contact with the key. They are various lengths to match the cuts of the key.
  5. Driver Pins: The upper series of pins that sit between the housing and the plug. They obstruct the shear line and keep the plug from rotating.
  6. Springs: Push the pins into the plug and help the key pins read the key.

Now to understand the goal of lock picking, we need to see how all these pieces work together. Below is an animation of a key being inserted into a pin tumbler lock. If you would like to learn more about the key, check out my guide, "Parts of a Key and How They Work."

How a Key Works - Lock Picking Theory

As we can see, when the key is inserted into the plug, it raises the pins to a specific location in which the driver pins are no longer obstructing the shear line.

To pick a lock, we simply need to raise these pins to the same height that a key would.

Now lock picking is best accomplished using lock picking tools and contrary to what most people think, lock picks are not illegal in most places. However, if you're in a pinch you can sometimes get away with using improvised tools such as bobby pins and paperclips.

So let's move on and look at three quick and dirty ways to pick a lock using lock picks, paperclips, and bobby pins.

Just be warned, lock picking is an addicting hobby.

Using Lock Picks

If you're not in a pinch and have the time to buy some lock picking tools or know someone with a set, real lock picks are ideal.

They will always outperform improvised tools and not all locks can be opened using bobby pins and paperclips. Some keyways are too small and some locks include extra security features that just can't be bypassed without proper tools.

If you've got time to spare, consider picking up a lock pick set for emergencies. I recommend the Peterson GSP Ghost lock pick set. It's beginner-friendly and has an excellent selection of tools that can bypass nearly any pin tumbler lock that stands in your way.

If you want something a little more discrete, you can also snag a lock pick card that fits in your wallet and has all the tools you need to pick basic locks. I recently posted a review on the best wallet lock pick cards for everyday carry.

Picking a lock requires two different tools: a lock pick and a tension wrench.

The lock pick will be used to lift pins to the correct height. There are a lot of different types of lock picks, however, we're going to focus on using a rake—which is the most beginner-friendly and easiest lock pick to use. Below are examples of two very common rakes.

bogota and snake rake

The tension wrench acts similar to the key. We use it to apply a rotational force to the plug which binds the pins and turns the plug after we pick the lock.

tension wrench labeled

 

Once you have your tools, you're ready to start picking.

Step 1: Insert your tension wrench into the bottom of the keyway and apply a very slight rotational force similar to turning a key.

Step 2: While maintaining tension on the plug, insert your rake into the keyway and begin scrubbing the pins like you would when brushing your teeth.

Step 3: Continue scrubbing the pins while slightly altering the angle of your pick until you feel the plug rotate and you can unlock the lock.

Lock Picking With A Bogota Rake

Note: If the lock doesn't open within 10 seconds of scrubbing, release tension on the plug to reset the pins and attempt steps 1 - 3 again. Also, try adjusting the amount of tension that you put on your tension wrench. When raking, less is typically better.

Using Bobby Pins

While picking locks with bobby pins may sound like movie magic, they're actually a viable option against basic locks.

That being said, they don't work well on locks with tiny or paracentric keyways. But, if you're dealing with a wide-open keyway, this method may work for you.

To pick a lock with a bobby pin you need two tools, a lock pick, and a tension wrench. I briefly covered both of these tools in the section above (click here to scroll up and review that).

You can find the step-by-step directions to bending the tools in my complete guide to bobby pin lock picking. If you're looking to use bobby pins it's worth checking out.

Once you've bent your bobby pin lock picking tools, follow the steps below.

Step 1: Using two bobby pins, bend your tension wrench and lock pick.

Step 2: Insert your bobby pin tension wrench into the bottom of the keyway and apply a very slight rotational force similar to turning a key.

Step 3: While maintaining tension on the plug, insert your bobby pin rake into the keyway and begin scrubbing the pins like you would when brushing your teeth.

Step 4: Continue scrubbing the pins while slightly altering the angle of your pick until you feel the plug rotate and you can unlock the lock.

Note: If the lock doesn't open within 10 seconds of scrubbing, release tension on the plug to reset the pins and attempt steps 1 - 3 again. Also, try adjusting the amount of tension that you put on your tension wrench. When raking, less is typically better.

Using Paperclips

Next up is the paperclip, and they are actually quite handy at picking basic locks. However, just like the bobby pin, they struggle with tighter keyways and radical warding.

To pick a lock with paper clips you need two tools, a lock pick and a tension wrench. I briefly covered both of these tools in the section above (click here to scroll up and review that).

If you need, you can find my step-by-step directions to bending your paperclip lock picking tools in my paperclip lock picking guide.

To pick a lock with a paperclip, follow the steps below.

Step 1: Using two paperclips, bend your tension wrench and lock pick.

Step 2: Insert your paperclip tension wrench into the bottom of the keyway and apply a very slight rotational force similar to turning a key.

Step 3: While maintaining tension on the plug, insert your paperclip rake into the keyway and begin scrubbing the pins like you would when brushing your teeth.

Step 4: Continue scrubbing the pins while slightly altering the angle of your pick until you feel the plug rotate and you can unlock the lock.

Paperclip Lock Picking Animation

Note: If the lock doesn't open within 10 seconds of scrubbing, release the tension on the plug to reset the pins and attempt steps 1 - 3 again. Also, try adjusting the amount of tension that you put on your tension wrench. When raking, less is typically better.

Using Homemade Lock Picks

If you are the crafty type, it's actually pretty simple to make your own lock picking tools. While they take a little more effort than bending a paperclip, they do work significantly better.

If you're interested in going this route, check out the following guides:

Lock Bumping

Another way to open a lock without a key is using a technique called lock bumping. Just like lock picking, lock bumping requires a special tool called a "bump key" or "999 key."

But wait, I thought this guide was about how open locks without using a key?

Well, the bump key is no ordinary key.

A bump key is a specially crafted key in which all the cuts are cut to the maximum depth of 9. So virtually any new key blank can be turned into a bump key.

Bump keys work by violently bumping pins causing them to jump to their correct positions—the shear line.

This is accomplished by inserting the bump key into the lock, pulling it back out slightly, and while turning the key slightly, hitting it with your hand or a tool such as a bump hammer. Each strike forces the cuts of the key into the pins and throws them upward towards the shear line.

While bump keys can be quite effective against most pin tumblers, some locks have anti-bump features that can make it difficult, if not impossible, to lock bump.

Bump keys are legal in most locations and can be bought online. They are also lock-specific, meaning if you want to bump a Kwikset, you'll need an identical Kwikset key.

Loiding or Shimming

Loiding, also known as “shimming,“ is a physical bypass that targets the spring-latch of a door lock using a thin tool such as a credit card, latch slipping tool, or even a knife.

We call the thin tool a “shim” or “loid” and use it to retract the spring latch by slipping it between the door latch and the strike plate.

However, loiding requires you to know what direction the slant of the latch is facing.

doorknob latch

An easy way to tell is by which side the hinges are on. If the hinges are not on your side of the door, then the slant is facing you.

A drawback of this method is that some locks utilized a deadlatch plunger to prevent loiding. The deadlatch plunger is an awesome innovation in security and if you’d like to learn more about it, consider checking this guide on the parts of a doorknob lock.

Loiding also doest work on doors using a deadbolt.

Now that we understand loiding let's look at three methods that you can utilize to open a door without a key.

Use a Credit Card

You’ve probably seen it in the movies a million times. Someone pulls out their VISA card and sticks it between the door and door frame. They give it a little wiggle and “click!“—the door opens.

Believe it or loiding a lock with a credit card works quite well on doors using a spring-latch doorknob.

However, to use this method, the slant of the latch needs to be facing the exterior of the door—the hinges should be on the opposite side of the door as you.

There also has to be a little wiggle room between the door and the doorframe. Tight trim around the doorframe can make loiding difficult—if not impossible.

To shim a lock with a credit card, wiggle it between the doorframe and the lock until you hit the spring latch. Continue pushing the card into the latch, and once it's fully retracted, the lock will give and the door will open.

Use a Knife

If there is a ton of space between your door and door frame, you may use larger objects such as a butter knife.

Just like the credit card, knives will only work when the slant of the latch is facing you.

To slip a lock using a knife, slide the blade between the doorframe and lock until you feel the latch. Push the blade into the latch until it fully retracts and the door opens.

Use a Door Latch Shim

Credit cards and knives only work on outward-facing latches. What if the latch slant is facing away from you?

In this scenario, you can use a latch slipping tool. A latch slipping tool is a thin piece of metal with a hook on the end.

To use a latch loiding tool, insert it between the door above or below the latch. Push the tool through the door seam and slide the hook around the latch.

Next, pull on the tool to retract the spring latch and open the door.

You can buy latch slipping tools online or easily make them yourself.

Screwdriver

A screwdriver can be handy when dealing with an interior door using a privacy lock—those doorknobs with the little hole on them.

To unlock a privacy lock you’ll need a flathead screwdriver small enough to fit into the hole on the doorknob.

If your doorknob uses a button-lock, you’ll need to push the screwdriver straight into the hole until you hear a click, at which the door will open.

However, if your doorknob uses a thumb-turn, you’ll need to insert the screwdriver into the hole and rotate it until it falls into a slit. Then you’ll rotate the screwdriver further until you hear a click.

If you’re not sure which type of lock you have,  try both.

Additionally, you can use a screwdriver to remove hinges or shim a doorknob lock if there is enough room between the door and the doorframe.

Remove Hinges

If you’re lucky enough to have the hinges on your side of the door, you’ve got an easy entry.

Most hinges can be removed with a screwdriver and hammer.

Once off the door will swing open from the latch.

Note the hinges should never be on the outside of any door you rely on for your security.

Destructive Entry

kicking in doors art

Whether there is a fire behind a locked door or your children locked themselves in their room with your credit card—sometimes you need a door open and you don’t care what it takes.

If you find yourself in a pinch and don’t mind paying for a new door, doorframe, or lock, you can always resort to destructive means of entry.

Kick In Door

There is nothing more classic than kicking down a door.

To kick a door wind up and aim your kick either above, below, or to the side of the lock. The lock is the point of resistance and the weakest part of the door.

Before kicking take into consideration the material the door is made up of. You may not get far kicking a stainless steel door.

Also, check the direction that the door will swing. If the hinges are on the outside, you consider popping the hinges—if you have time.

Also if it’s not an emergency, consider looking up the pricing for a new door. It may change your mind.

Drill the Lock

If kicking down a door is not your style and you want a more subtle and cheaper option, you can always drill the lock.

Call a Locksmith

Sometimes you’ll need to cut your losses and concede. The lock won the day, but the war is far from over.

In these cases it’s best to call a locksmith, who will essentially attempt many of the things on this list, but with the finesse of a seasoned warrior.

To Sum Up

As we can see, there are a lot of viable ways to open a lock without using a key.

We learned that we can pick the lock, shim the latch, remove the hinges, or even kick down the door.

But this guide only scratched the surface. If you would like to learn more about the topics discussed in this guide, consider checking out my Academy where I publish other free lock picking and security-based guides.

I hope that this “maybe-too-long” guide gave you all the clarity you needed to unlock a door without a key.

Have a wonderful day and happy picking!

Best Beginner Set!

GSP Ghost Lock Pick Set

Peterson GSP Ghost Lock Pick Set - Best Lock Pick Set
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