A Comprehensive Guide How to Pick Locks

Lock picking is a fascinating skill that has both practical and recreational applications. Whether you’ve accidentally locked yourself out of your home or you’re interested in the art of lock manipulation, learning how to pick a lock can be a valuable skill to have.

In this guide, we will explore the basics of lock picking, delve into the different types of locks and their vulnerabilities, and provide you with a step-by-step walkthrough on picking pin tumbler locks and wafer locks.

Before we begin, it is essential to note that lock picking should only be practiced in a legal and ethical manner. It is important to have proper authorization or seek professional assistance when dealing with locks that do not belong to you. This guide aims to provide you with knowledge and techniques for educational purposes, allowing you to understand the mechanisms behind locks and improve your security awareness.

So, whether you’re a beginner looking to learn the fundamentals or an experienced enthusiast seeking advanced techniques, join us as we dive into the world of lock picking and uncover the secrets behind unlocking various types of locks.

Understanding the Basics of Lock Picking

Lock picking is an art that involves manipulating the components of a lock to gain access without using the original key. To become proficient in lock picking, it’s essential to understand the fundamental concepts and principles that govern the process.

At its core, lock picking relies on exploiting the mechanical characteristics of a lock. Most locks, such as pin tumbler locks, consist of a cylindrical plug and a series of pins that are housed within the lock’s body. These pins are of varying lengths and are divided into two sets: driver pins and key pins.

The key pins are precisely cut to match the pattern of a specific key. When the correct key is inserted into the lock, it aligns the key pins with the shear line, allowing the plug to rotate freely. In the absence of the correct key, the misalignment of the pins prevents the plug from turning.

Lock picking involves manipulating the pins to create the necessary alignment that mimics the effect of the correct key. By applying tension to the plug using a tension wrench, the lock picker can create a slight rotational force. This tension, combined with precise manipulation of the pins using various picking tools, allows the pins to reach the shear line incrementally.

Successful lock picking requires a delicate balance of tension and pin manipulation. The lock picker must carefully feel for feedback from the pins as they bind or set into place. This feedback is tactile and can be sensed through vibrations or changes in resistance.

Understanding the basics of lock picking also involves familiarizing oneself with the different types of picking tools available. These tools range from tension wrenches and hooks to rakes and diamond picks, each designed for specific lock characteristics and techniques.

It is important to note that lock picking is a skill that requires practice, patience, and ethical usage. It should only be employed in legal and responsible situations, such as gaining access to your own property or with proper authorization. Developing an understanding of the basics of lock picking can not only expand your knowledge of security systems but also enhance your problem-solving abilities and critical thinking skills.

Essential Tools for Lock Picking

When it comes to lock picking, having the right tools is crucial for success. Each tool serves a specific purpose and helps in manipulating the lock components effectively. Here are some essential tools you’ll need to have in your lock picking toolkit:

  1. Tension Wrench: Also known as a torque wrench, this tool is used to apply rotational force or tension to the lock’s plug. It comes in various shapes and sizes to accommodate different lock types and keyways. The tension wrench creates the necessary pressure required to hold the pins in place once they are set.
  2. Lock Picks: Lock picks come in a wide variety of shapes and designs, each suited for different lock mechanisms. Some common types of lock picks include:
    • Hook Picks: These picks have a curved or hooked end, allowing you to individually manipulate the pins one by one. They are versatile and useful for single-pin picking techniques.
    • Rake Picks: Rake picks have a zigzag or saw-like shape, enabling you to quickly manipulate multiple pins simultaneously. Raking is a popular technique for swiftly moving the pins to set them.
    • Diamond Picks: These picks have a diamond-shaped end and are effective for manipulating both standard pins and wafer pins found in wafer locks.
    • Ball Picks: Ball picks have a spherical or rounded tip, making them useful for wafer locks and certain pin tumbler locks with ball-shaped pins.
  3. Key Extractor: This tool helps in removing broken keys or foreign objects that may become stuck inside a lock. It has a hooked end or serrated edge that can grab onto the lodged item, allowing for its safe extraction.
  4. Tension Bars: Tension bars are alternative tensioning tools that offer a different grip and control than traditional tension wrenches. They come in various shapes, such as Z-bars or L-bars, and are particularly useful for specific lock configurations.
  5. Decoder Tools: Decoder tools are specialized instruments used to decode or read the depths of the pins in a lock. They assist in determining the correct key bitting or understanding the lock’s inner workings.
  6. Lubricant: Lock picking can be smoother and more efficient with the use of lubricant. Applying a small amount of lock-specific lubricant, such as graphite or a lock lubricating spray, can reduce friction and ensure the pins move more freely.

Remember, having high-quality tools is essential for achieving reliable and consistent results in lock picking. Invest in reputable brands and materials that offer durability and precision. Additionally, always ensure you are using these tools responsibly and legally, respecting others’ property and privacy.

Different Types of Locks and Their Vulnerabilities

Locks come in various types, each with its own unique design and mechanism. Understanding the different types of locks and their vulnerabilities is crucial for developing effective lock picking techniques. Let’s explore some common types of locks and their specific characteristics:

  1. Pin Tumbler Locks: Pin tumbler locks are widely used in residential and commercial settings. They consist of a series of spring-loaded pins that separate the plug from the housing. When the correct key is inserted, the pins align along the shear line, allowing the plug to rotate. The vulnerabilities of pin tumbler locks include:
    • Picking: The pins can be manipulated individually using lock picking tools to align them at the shear line, allowing the lock to be opened.
    • Bumping: Bumping is a technique where a specially crafted key, known as a bump key, is inserted into the lock and then struck, causing the pins to jump momentarily and align, allowing the lock to be turned.
  2. Wafer Locks: Wafer locks are commonly found in automobile doors, cabinets, and some padlocks. They use a series of flat wafers that prevent the plug from rotating. Each wafer must be lifted and aligned to the correct height for the lock to open. The vulnerabilities of wafer locks include:
    • Single Pin Manipulation: Each wafer can be individually manipulated using lock picks or other specialized tools to lift and align them to the correct height.
    • Impressioning: Impressioning involves creating a working key by making an impression of the lock wafers using a blank key and slight rotational movements. This method requires skill and patience but can provide a working key without disassembling the lock.
  3. Combination Locks: Combination locks rely on a sequence of numbers or symbols to open. They can have various mechanisms, including dial, wheel, or push-button configurations. The vulnerabilities of combination locks include:
    • Brute Force: Brute force attacks involve systematically trying all possible combinations until the correct one is found. This method requires time and patience.
    • Manipulation: Combination locks can sometimes be manipulated by exploiting design flaws or weaknesses in the mechanism. This may involve applying tension or specific movements to determine the correct combination.
  4. Padlocks: Padlocks come in different varieties, including combination padlocks, key-operated padlocks, and disc-detainer padlocks. The vulnerabilities of padlocks vary depending on the specific type, but common vulnerabilities include:
    • Shimming: Some padlocks can be vulnerable to shimming, where a thin piece of metal is inserted between the shackle and the locking mechanism, bypassing the need for a key or combination.
    • Key Bypass: Key-operated padlocks may be susceptible to key bypass methods, such as impressioning or using a specially designed key blank to bypass the pins.

It is important to note that the vulnerabilities mentioned above are for informational purposes and should only be used responsibly and legally. Lock manufacturers continually work to enhance security measures, so it is crucial to stay updated on the latest advancements and vulnerabilities.

Step-by-Step Guide to Picking Pin Tumbler Locks

Picking pin tumbler locks is one of the most common lock picking techniques used to gain access to pin tumbler locks found in residential and commercial settings. Follow this step-by-step guide to understand the process and develop your skills in picking pin tumbler locks:

  1. Prepare Your Tools: Gather the necessary lock picking tools, including a tension wrench and a set of lock picks suitable for pin tumbler locks. Ensure that your tools are clean, in good condition, and appropriate for the task.
  2. Insert the Tension Wrench: Insert the tension wrench into the bottom of the keyway, applying slight pressure in the direction that the lock would naturally turn (usually clockwise or counterclockwise). Maintain consistent, gentle pressure throughout the picking process.
  3. Feel for Binding Pins: Insert your pick tool into the top of the keyway. Gently push each pin upwards while feeling for resistance. Binding pins are the ones that require more pressure to move and will feel like they are “stuck” or “set.”
  4. Lift Binding Pins: Once you identify a binding pin, apply upward pressure while slowly lifting it to the shear line. The shear line is the point where the upper and lower pins align when the correct key is inserted.
  5. Set Binding Pins: When a binding pin reaches the shear line, you will feel a slight click or hear an audible sound. This indicates that the pin is set. Keep the tension on the wrench while continuing to set the remaining binding pins, one by one.
  6. Check for Loose Pins: After setting a binding pin, release the upward pressure and check if the pin stays in place. If it drops back down, it means it is not fully set and needs further adjustment.
  7. Repeat the Process: Repeat the process of identifying binding pins, lifting them to the shear line, and setting them until all pins have been properly set.
  8. Rotate the Plug: Once all pins are set, apply a gentle rotational force on the tension wrench. If you’ve successfully set all the pins, the plug will rotate, and the lock will open.
  9. Practice and Refine: Lock picking is a skill that requires practice and refinement. Experiment with different techniques, varying degrees of tension, and different picking tools to improve your proficiency.

Picking Wafer Locks: Techniques and Tips

Wafer locks are commonly found in various applications, such as automotive doors, cabinets, and some padlocks. Picking wafer locks requires a different approach compared to pin tumbler locks. Follow these techniques and tips to enhance your skills in picking wafer locks:

  1. Evaluate the Lock: Examine the wafer lock to determine the number of wafers it contains. Some locks may have a visible keyway that allows you to estimate the number of wafers, while others may require disassembly or specialized tools to assess the internal components.
  2. Choose the Right Tools: Select lock picks suitable for wafer locks. These may include wafer lock picks, hook picks, or diamond picks with a thin profile to fit inside the narrow keyway of the lock.
  3. Insert the Pick: Insert the pick tool into the keyway, aligning it with the wafers. Gently push the pick all the way in, ensuring it reaches the back of the lock.
  4. Rake or Rock the Pick: Once the pick is inserted, you have two main techniques to choose from: raking or rocking.
    • Raking: Use a raking motion with the pick, applying slight pressure up and down while moving the pick in and out of the lock. The goal is to manipulate the wafers simultaneously, mimicking the motion of a key moving across the wafers.
    • Rocking: Alternatively, you can use a rocking motion by applying upward pressure on the pick while moving it back and forth. This technique engages individual wafers and allows you to feel for feedback as each wafer sets into place.
  5. Feel for Feedback: As you rake or rock the pick, pay close attention to the feedback you receive. When a wafer aligns at the correct height, you may feel a subtle click or sense a change in resistance. This indicates that the wafer is set.
  6. Continue Manipulating Wafers: Continue raking or rocking the pick while feeling for feedback. As you set one wafer, move on to the next until all wafers are aligned to the correct height.
  7. Test for Proper Alignment: After setting the wafers, test the lock by applying rotational force to the tension wrench. If all wafers are correctly aligned, the plug will rotate, and the lock will open.
  8. Practice and Refine: As with any lock picking technique, practice is essential. Familiarize yourself with different wafer lock designs, experiment with various techniques, and develop a feel for the feedback provided by the wafers.

Remember to always engage in lock picking responsibly and legally, obtaining proper authorization or practicing on locks you own. Lock picking should be used for educational purposes or when authorized to do so.

Bypassing Combination Locks: Methods and Precautions

Combination locks are widely used to secure various items, including lockers, safes, and briefcases. While lock picking is a common method to open pin tumbler locks, bypassing combination locks involves different techniques. Here, we’ll explore some methods and precautions to consider when bypassing combination locks:

  1. Brute Force Method:
  • Brute force is the most straightforward but time-consuming method. It involves systematically trying all possible combinations until the correct one is found. While this method can be effective, it requires patience and can be impractical for locks with long combinations or complex dials.
  1. Shimming Technique:
  • The shimming technique is used specifically for combination padlocks with a shackle release mechanism. By inserting a thin piece of metal, such as a shim or a thin strip of plastic, between the shackle and the lock body, you can bypass the need for the correct combination. The shim pushes the locking pawl away, allowing the shackle to be released.
  1. Decoding or Manipulation:
  • Some combination locks may have design flaws or vulnerabilities that can be exploited for decoding or manipulation. This method requires understanding the specific lock’s mechanism and discovering any weaknesses that allow for a shortcut in determining the correct combination. However, it’s important to note that manipulating combination locks without proper authorization is illegal and unethical.

Precautions: When attempting to bypass combination locks, it is crucial to keep the following precautions in mind:

  • Legal and Ethical Considerations: Ensure you have proper authorization or legal permission to bypass a combination lock. Engaging in unauthorized activities is illegal and unethical.
  • Respect for Property: Only bypass combination locks that you own or have explicit permission to open. Respecting others’ property and privacy is essential.
  • Avoid Damage: When attempting bypass techniques, take care to avoid damaging the lock or surrounding area. Applying excessive force or using inappropriate tools can result in permanent damage.
  • Professional Assistance: If you are unable to bypass a combination lock using legal and ethical methods, consider seeking professional assistance from a locksmith or relevant authorities who can provide proper access.

Remember, bypassing combination locks without proper authorization can lead to legal consequences. These methods and precautions are provided for educational purposes and should be used responsibly and within the bounds of the law.

By understanding different bypassing methods and adhering to precautions, you can gain insights into the vulnerabilities of combination locks. This knowledge can be valuable in assessing the security of combination locks and making informed decisions to protect your belongings or address vulnerabilities in authorized scenarios.

Decoding Master Key Systems: An Advanced Approach

Decoding master key systems is an advanced technique used to analyze and understand the complex hierarchy and structure of master key systems. Master key systems are designed to provide different levels of access, where a master key can open multiple locks while individual keys can only open specific locks within the system. Decoding these systems allows for a deeper understanding of their design and potential vulnerabilities. Here’s an advanced approach to decoding master key systems:

  1. Study the Key and Lock Structure:
  • Examine the keys and locks in the master key system. Observe the patterns, notches, and depths of the key cuts, as well as any markings or codes on the keys. Pay attention to any similarities or differences among the keys.
  1. Identify the Master Key:
  • Determine the master key within the system. The master key is designed to open all locks in the system, providing access to every level of the hierarchy. Look for unique characteristics that differentiate the master key from other keys.
  1. Analyze the Change Keys:
  • Focus on the change keys, which are individual keys that provide access to specific locks within the system. Analyze the key cuts and corresponding lock mechanisms to understand the relationships between the change keys and their associated locks.
  1. Note the Incremental Key Differences:
  • Look for incremental differences in the key cuts between change keys. Note any patterns or progression in the key cuts, as these can indicate the hierarchical structure of the master key system.
  1. Create a Key Bitting Chart:
  • Develop a key bitting chart to document and visualize the key cuts of each key within the system. This chart will help you identify the relationships between the keys, allowing for a better understanding of the master key system’s structure.
  1. Determine Sub-master Keys:
  • Analyze the key bitting chart to identify sub-master keys, which are keys that provide access to a subset of locks within the system. Note the similarities in key cuts among the change keys and group them accordingly.
  1. Test the Key Hierarchy:
  • Use the key bitting chart to test the key hierarchy and verify the relationships between the master key, sub-master keys, and change keys. Attempt to open locks using different keys to confirm their levels of access.
  1. Document and Analyze Vulnerabilities:
  • Document any vulnerabilities or weaknesses you identify during the decoding process. These vulnerabilities could include key similarities, predictable key bitting patterns, or potential methods for unauthorized access.

Note: Decoding master key systems requires advanced knowledge and experience in lock mechanisms, key analysis, and lock systems. It is essential to approach decoding with ethical considerations and legal authorization.

Decoding master key systems provides valuable insights into their structure and potential vulnerabilities. However, it is crucial to respect the integrity of master key systems and use this knowledge responsibly and within the boundaries of the law.

Legal and Ethical Considerations of Lock Picking

Lock picking is a skill that can be used for both legitimate and illicit purposes. It is essential to understand and abide by the legal and ethical considerations associated with lock picking. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Legal Authorization:
  • Lock picking should only be practiced on locks that you own or have explicit permission to pick. Engaging in lock picking activities without proper authorization is illegal and can lead to criminal charges.
  1. Professional Use:
  • Lock picking can be a legitimate profession when employed by licensed locksmiths or security professionals. These professionals are trained and authorized to assist individuals in gaining access to their property or provide security services.
  1. Educational Purposes:
  • Lock picking can be pursued for educational purposes, such as learning about lock mechanisms, improving security awareness, or studying forensic locksmithing. However, it is crucial to ensure that these activities are conducted within legal and ethical boundaries.
  1. Ethical Use:
  • Lock picking should be approached with a strong sense of ethics. Respect the property rights and privacy of others. Using lock picking skills to gain unauthorized access to someone else’s property, regardless of intent, is a breach of ethics.
  1. Emergency Situations:
  • Lock picking skills can be valuable in emergency situations, such as when someone is locked inside a room or a child is accidentally locked in a car. In these cases, lock picking may be necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals involved. However, always prioritize seeking professional help or contacting emergency services before attempting lock picking.
  1. Responsible Sharing of Knowledge:
  • If you possess lock picking knowledge, it is important to share it responsibly. Encouraging responsible use, emphasizing legal and ethical considerations, and discouraging any illegal or malicious activities associated with lock picking can contribute to a safer and more secure community.
  1. Personal Development and Hobby:
  • Lock picking can be pursued as a personal hobby or for personal development in skills such as problem-solving, patience, and dexterity. When engaging in lock picking as a hobby, always ensure that it is done within the boundaries of the law and with respect for others’ property rights.

It is crucial to note that laws regarding lock picking may vary between jurisdictions. Familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations of your country, state, or locality to ensure compliance.

By adhering to legal and ethical considerations, lock picking can be a responsible and legitimate pursuit. Always prioritize safety, respect for others, and the lawful use of lock picking skills.


Lock picking is a skill that combines art, science, and precision. It can be an intriguing and valuable skill to possess, whether for practical purposes, personal development, or educational exploration. However, it is essential to approach lock picking with a strong sense of ethics, legal compliance, and responsible use.

Throughout this guide, we have covered various aspects of lock picking, including understanding the basics, essential tools, different lock types, and specific techniques for picking pin tumbler locks and wafer locks. We also discussed bypassing combination locks and advanced approaches like decoding master key systems.

It is crucial to remember that lock picking should only be practiced on locks that you own or have explicit permission to pick. Engaging in any unauthorized or illegal activities is strictly prohibited. Respecting the property rights and privacy of others is paramount.

Lock picking can also be pursued for educational purposes, personal development, or as a profession within the bounds of the law. Learning about lock mechanisms, studying security systems, or becoming a licensed locksmith are all legitimate avenues for applying lock picking skills.

By adhering to legal and ethical considerations, continuously expanding your knowledge, and sharing your skills responsibly, you can contribute to a safer and more secure community. Always prioritize safety, respect, and the ethical use of lock picking techniques.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do you pick a lock easily?
A: Picking a lock easily requires practice, proper tools, and understanding the lock’s mechanism. It is recommended to learn the techniques from reputable sources or seek professional guidance.

Q: How can you pick a lock without a key?
A: Locks can be picked without a key by using lock picking tools such as tension wrenches and picks. It is important to note that picking locks without proper authorization is illegal and unethical.

Q: How do you pick a lock with a paperclip?
A: Picking a lock with a paperclip is possible, but it requires shaping the paperclip into a suitable pick and tension tool. However, using proper lock picking tools specifically designed for the task is recommended for better results.

Q: How do you pick a lock with a bobby pin?
A: Picking a lock with a bobby pin follows a similar principle to using a paperclip. The bobby pin needs to be modified to function as a pick and tension tool. However, using dedicated lock picking tools is more effective and reliable.

Q: What is a 999 key?
A: A 999 key, also known as a bump key, is a specially crafted key that can be used to bump or momentarily align the pins in a lock, allowing it to be opened. The use of bump keys is generally considered illegal and unauthorized.

Q: Are some locks harder to pick?
A: Yes, some locks are designed to be more secure and challenging to pick. High-security locks often incorporate additional mechanisms and advanced pin systems, making them more resistant to picking techniques.

Q: Can a paperclip open a lock?
A: In certain circumstances, a paperclip can be improvised as a lock pick, but it is not an ideal tool for lock picking. Proper lock picks designed for the task offer better control, precision, and effectiveness.

Q: How do you pick a lock with a knife?
A: Picking a lock with a knife is not recommended. It can damage both the lock and the knife, and it is considered unsafe and unreliable. It is best to use appropriate lock picking tools for better results and safety.

A Comprehensive Guide How to Pick Locks