Lock Picking

Lock picking is technically part of Shinobi iri, or, Kakurejutsu (Stealth and entering methods).

We will discuss the various methods for gaining access to locked areas, legitimately, not for nefarious purposes.

Building door locks

Anatomy of a lock:

Anatomy of a lock

1. Bump Key: This method uses a bump key that resembles a regular key but the bumps are all uniform. You insert the key into the lock, pull it back out one click, then apply gentle tension in the turning direction and strike the end of the key with you hand or an object. The strike causes all the pins to jump up simultaneously, and the rotational tension will cause them to get stuck on the shear line on the way back down. If you don’t get it the first time, try again. Experiment with different tensions, objects, and directions. It tends to work best on a deadbolt. The bump key type must fit the lock or it won’t work. Kwikset locks (the most common type for homes) have 5 pins, for example, so the bump key must have been cut onto the same type of key.

2. Shimming: This method is simply finding something in your environment, or having pre-made shims on you to stick between the door latch and the frame. This will only work on spring loaded latches that will move in without a key when you close the door while it’s locked.

3. Picking (raking): This method uses a few tools, primarily, the torsion wrench and the S rake. Most kits come with other tools to manipulate the pins in stubborn locks or if you want to practice getting better, but the basic method is great. The tools also usually come in a compact wallet size, which are more difficult to use because of their flimsiness, and a slightly larger and robust version. The tension wrench applies gentle turning pressure, which will hold the pins at the shear line when you “rake” the S rake (the one that snakes up and down) against the pins. In and out, over and over, perhaps lifting on the S rake enough to press against the pins, until they all stick on the shear line and the tumbler rotates. Voila! Sometimes the pins can get stuck too high above the shear line, or won’t stick at all. In this case, remove all tools and start over. Calmness and concentration are key (no pun intended). If you start getting frustrated, it will become more difficult. Deadbolts are easier. Cheap locks too, like filing cabinets or padlocks.

4. Picking (gun): This method is similar, except it uses a device that looks like a pistol grip with tools attached to do the raking. They can come in a manually triggered or motorized versions. With this tool, you still need to use a torsion wrench, but the trigger mechanism has to be pulled over and over quickly, which, if you notice the angle on the rake, must hit all the pins simultaneously and they stick at the shear line. If it fails after a time, release everything and start over to reset the pins and tumbler.

5. Clay Impression: Wood’s Metal is a metal that melts at 70°C. The idea is that you make an impression of a key in oil-based modelling clay, then use a syringe (without a needle) to squirt the liquid Wood’s Metal into the 2-sided mould. Then you reveal the key and use it to open the lock. (bullet making ladle, butane lighter, very small silicone ice cub tray)

Chain door lock

6. Elastic & tape: The chain across the door is normally called a “chain door guard”. This method uses an elastic band wrapped around the chain and loop tape around the elastic, and you then reach through the door crack and stick the tape onto the door, with the elastic and the chain inside the loop of the elastic, at the far end of the locking bracket. Next, when you close the door again and the chain gets slack, the elastic pulls the end of the chain to the open slot and falls out, allowing you to easily open the door all the way.

7. Photograph: Yes, you can open a door lock, or just about any lock, with a photograph...sort of. So you need a photo of a key that will open a target lock. By measuring a blank of a similar key (of which KwikSet locks on houses make-up 98% of all houses), you can cut a blank with a file against the tracing/photo of the actual key. You can cut with a key machine from the tracing also. You could even photograph the impression the key makes on your skin if you press it in for a shape. You could then enter the photograph in AutoCAD and overlay it with a 3D blank key, then 3D print the key.


Anatomy of handcuffs:

Anatomy of a Handcuff

8. The key: Is that obvious? You do have a universal handcuff key in your EDC gear (Every Day carry), right?

9. Bobby pin: 75% of the world’s police forces use the Smith and Wesson Model #100 handcuff. And if they don’t, this method will probably still work. Break a bobby pin into a single tine, then bent it just a bit at the end so it resembles a little 45 degree hook (same thing for a paper clip). In a pinch, you can use your teeth, but if you like your teeth, don’t practice this way. Use pliers, or you could stick the straight bobby pin into the key hole and end it down flat against the metal of the cuffs. This will usually conveniently bent a little 45 degree hook at the end. Now place the hook into the bottom of the key hole and scoop toward the center of the cuffs. It should open right up. Should your handcuffs be double locked (a method police use if you are an asshole), you will need to place the bobby pin into the bottom of the keyhole facing away from the center this time, and carefully (and usually painfully) shimmy the bobby pin all the way around the pin in the center of the handcuff until the hook has made an arc almost 3/4 of the way around until you press the double lock’s release lever, then you can shimmy the key back to the bottom and flip it around to do the regular method too. This will take some practice. Practice without looking also since the cuffs could be behind your back. (see through cuff)

10. Hair Barrette: Break the hair barrette in such a way that you get a thin tine small enough to fit into the gears of the clasp. Slide it into the clasp and make sure it’s as far in as it will go and not caught up on a gear tooth making you think it’s all the way in. Next, folds it against the clasp a bit so you don’t cut yourself. It also needs to move in unison when you press the clasp in 1 or 2 clicks. You may only get one chance at this since it will get very tight on your wrist. Now, without letting the shim move back out, pull out on the clamp. It should slide over your shim and open right up. This method will not work if the cuffs are double locked.

Police car gun locker

Police cruiser gun locks

11. Magnet: Both AR-15 and shotguns stored in police cruisers are locked in devices that can be overcome with a strong magnet. You simply hold it against the back of the lock and run it up a bit and they will open. The AR-15 lock in particular looks allot like handcuffs and they can also be shimmed open at the teeth the same was a handcuffs. In an emergency post-apocalyptic scenario, you might need quick access to a firearm this way.


12. Wrenches: While you may have seen videos of people using 2 wrenches to pry and break a padlock open, real life testing would indicate this does not work as it appears. However; a student of mine accidentally discovered that prying the latch open vertically does indeed work. Place one wrench against the top of the latch, prying against another wrench or object down against the body of the lock. It will break the small latching hook within the body of the lock.

Tubular lock

13. Bic pen: In slightly older style bike locks, pop machines, or other devices that use a tubular lock, they can be defeated by using a Bic pen tube. Simply remove the ink cartridge and force the empty pen tube over the center pin of the tubular lock that is approximately the same size. As you do this, give it anti-clockwise turning pressure. The pins will make permanent impressions in the plastic and once it opens, that pen tube will always work on that lock. Newer styles that have tried to correct this defect can be overcome with tubular picks that are designed exactly for these style of locks.

14. Individual Number Combination style: This can be opened with a thin metal piece of a hair barrette. Once you break the hair barrette as required, you insert the band to the upper right of the third wheel quite far in, then you press and scoop up (reference the numbers being read right side up), and press on the latch in and out until it falls open.

15. Warded locks: Warded locks have a keyhole that resembles wafers stacked on top of one another that spin. The key fits into the whole such that is passes through the middle of each wafer, usually five. It is opened with only specific wafers turning to the right while the rest must not. This is the combination. A warded pick set contains five different combinations of wafer style keys spaced at different intervals. The idea is that one of these five will always open a warded lock. You start with the first one and push it all the way in so it tries the lowest set of wafers. If it fails, you pull back to leave the lowest wafer untouched and try again, and so on. By doing this, you try every possible combination and it will eventually open.

Trailer lock16. Trailer locks: A trailer lock is a lock with a bolt across the top and sort of looks like a deadbolt, sometimes called a monoblock padlock. These can be defeated by inserting a very sharp pick along the top of the key way and scooping down to retract another bolt that runs vertically to the horizontal one.

Dimple locks

17. Dimple locks: Dimple locks are basically a lock similar to Kwikset house style locks but the pins are side loaded and the key has dimples on the side to control the pin depth. This can be picked with a torsion wrench again, and a pick called a flag, that looks like a thin pole with a tiny metal flag on the end that is used to press in each pin one at a time. It could take a few rounds at the pins to be successful.

18. Shims: These are slivers of thin metal shaped like a T that you can shim down the insides of the lock latches, both sides, and they wedge between the latch and the ball-bearings and open. The can be made by cutting aluminum pop cans, but you can buy hardened steel ones that will endure much better.

Car door locks

19. Slim Jim: Every car after 1992 or so has barriers in place to prevent a Slim Jim from reaching the car’s door locking mechanism. You also run the risk of unplugging wires or being electrocuted. The design of the Slim Jim is basically a long thin tool you slide behind the weather stripping of a car window to hook in both directions so you could push or pull. To further complicate this, every make and model are designed differently internally so you would basically need to know exactly what that car looks like inside the door to be successful.

20. Jiggler Keys: These are keys, much like a bump key, that fit any car door, usually prior to the year 2000. They are keyed on both sides, and you just insert it and jiggle them up and down with gentle turning pressure. They are very hit and miss.

Real Estate

21. Brinks real estate key lock box: This is a lock box on the doorknob of a house that is for sale, and the keys are inside this lock box so real estate agents can get into the house to show it to prospective buyers. They usually have a combination opening, but more modern ones also have a call-to-open mechanism that you can open with a cell phone. In any event, the tumbler combination can be opened with a hair barrette which you can fashion a hook onto the end. You insert the “tool” between the dials, grab a bar behind the dial and pull it toward you, then rotate the dials one at a time and the correct combination will be felt with a gentle easing of the dial turn, thus granting you access to the actual keys within.


22. Straitjacket: There are some you can buy that are trick jackets designed for easy escape. We are not talking about those. We are talking about the real deal here. So there are a few things to keep in mind. If possible, expand your chest as much as possible when the jacket is applied. Also, as your arms are put inside the sleeves, try to secretly grab as much of the inside of the sleeve as you can roll into your fists. If you cannot do these, it could still work, but these would make things much easier. Next, breath out deeply and hug yourself tightly. Slip your arm strap that's below the other arm strap over the tip of the elbow. Next, slip it over that same shoulder. Next, look down tightly into the opposite elbow hole, much like you are escaping a choke-hold, then slip that arm strap over your head. Next, finagle that arm to a straight position (sometimes it may get caught up on the buckles on your back). Next, hook the canvas between your arms around one knee and pull to buy you even more space on one arm so you can slip it out of the sleeve. Now you can pull out your other arm and release the latch in your crotch. Now slip the whole thing up over your head. You’re out.


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