Step by step on how to pick a lock.
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How to Pick a Lock for the One Time You’ll Need It

Covert entry can mean the difference between life and death, and knowing how to pick a lock could get you out of a jam. I’ve been locked out before by my wife. I also have a toddler and a wife who takes that child’s naps very seriously, and banging on the door can be met with severe consequences. Just ask our FedEx driver. Well, you could, if he were still around, but I digress.

Nevertheless, learning how to pick a lock is a skill worth cultivating. Whether you’re in the CIA, are locked out or have lost a key to a door that you need entry to, knowing how to pick a lock can make all the difference. Therefore, let’s go over how to pick a lock for the one time you will need it.

How to Pick A Lock

Lock picking is the opening of a lock, without the original key, in a nondestructive manner. There are many different types of locks, such as warded locks and combination locks, but the most common lock is the pin tumbler. This is what you will find in doors, deadbolts and padlocks, and it will be our focus here.

The pin tumbler lock consists of six distinct parts. The first is the cylinder, which is the container that houses the other components. It sets the upper limit of the shear line. Next, we have the plug that rotates freely inside the lock, creating the rotational shear line. The front of the plug is where the key goes, and the back has a cam that retracts the latch when rotated.

Tools for lock picking are specifically designed for the task at hand.
Photo by Adobe Stock Images

The shear line is the gap between the plug and cylinder. If the shear line becomes obstructed, then the device locks. By picking the lock, we will clear the shear line and allow the plug to rotate freely. Two sets of pins create the obstructions. The key pins’ design helps read the key. This is done by varying the length of the key pins and cutting a key to match. The second set are the driver pins that obstruct the shear line and prevent the lock from opening. The last components are the springs that force the pins into the plug.

A Practical Skillset

Now that we understand the lock, let’s talk about the tools we need to bypass it. A quality set of lock picks is ideal. There are many types of picks, but we can open most locks with three basic tools. We have hooks, rakes and tension wrenches. Hooks are designed for single-pin picking. They are precise and work one pin at a time. Most locks have five to eight pins that open in a random order based on which pin binds in the lock as tension is applied.

Rakes have many peaks and are designed to set multiple pins at once as it is scrubbed through the lock. This is less precise, but with the right technique can be done very quickly. The most important tool is the tension wrench. Use it to apply torque to the plug, which causes the pins to bind. Once you push the bound pins into place, the shear line clears, and the lock will open.

Here is the technique for how to pick a lock. Insert the short end of your L-shaped tension wrench into the lock and give it a twist. The lock should turn a little more in one direction than the other. This determines which way the key needs turned. Apply pressure to cause the first pin to bind. Insert your hook to lift each pin. You are looking for one that is stiffer than the others.

Locked and Loaded

This is the first pin that you will raise to clear the shear line. Maintain steady pressure with your wrench, and the first driver pin becomes held in place, clearing that line. Be careful not to overset your pins, which means that you’ve pushed the key pin past the shear line, which creates an obstruction. If you overset the pin, you can back off the tension until it falls back into place and start again. Repeat this process with each pin to clear the shear line, and the plug will rotate and open your lock!

We can also attempt to rake the lock. Apply your tension wrench, and then insert the rake and begin to scrub the pins back and forth as if you were brushing your teeth. Vary the angle, pressure and speed as you scrub and attempt to set multiple pins at once. As with the hook technique, once the shear line clears, your lock will open.

This illustration shows the internal parts in a lock cylinder.
Photo by Adobe Stock Images

Picking locks takes both experience and patience and is a lot like solving a puzzle. It is a worthwhile endeavor and could certainly come in handy in this crazy world in which we live.

To learn more skillsets, check out this article! Pick up a copy of our magazine at OutdoorGroupStore.com and keep up with us on Facebook!

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