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Which Way Do You Turn the Lock?

which way to turn lock
Last Updated on May 3, 2023
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When we are approaching a new lock what direction do we turn the lock? Do we turn them clockwise or counter-clockwise?

This is a great question because picking a lock and finding that you tensioned it in the wrong direction can cause more heartache than a thousand breakups.

In this short guide, we'll cover the basics of determining which way to tension a lock.

Let's get to it!

Which Way To Tension

This is a really hard question to answer because there are no set standards for the direction that specific types of locks turn. However, when it comes to picking pin tumblers, there are some general rules of thumb that we can use as a guide.


Padlocks will open clockwise (right), and some will even open in both directions—such as laminated Master locks like the #3 or #5.

So your best bet with padlocks is to always try tensioning clockwise first.


Deadbolts will always open in the direction away from the bolt, or that is towards the hinges of the door.

So with deadbolts, just remember tension towards the hinges and away from where the bolt jams into the door frame.

Mortise Locks

Mortise locks will typically open towards the latching mechanism.

So if the latching mechanism points to the left, the cylinder must be picked in that direction as well.

Knob-Style Lock

These ones are really a crapshoot.

In my experience, most Kwiksets will open counterclockwise, and most Schlage locks will turn clockwise.

Beyond that, I have never truly identified a standard, so with these types of locks, I always try clockwise first.

Plug Spinner

If you do end up picking a lock in the wrong direction, typically, the plug will turn… but not very far before it stops.

There is also a nifty little tool out there called a plug spinner — such as the Peterson Plug Spinner — for those unfortunate moments.

These tools are spring-loaded and will quickly snap the plug in the opposite direction fast enough so that the pins don't drop. Here is a video on those if you are curious!

Happy Picking!


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