A pair of swing cuffs can easily be placed with one hand with a little practice, but handcuffs still need to be placed properly to avoid tampering or escape. Handcuffs placed in front make it much easier to attempt to pick the lock or open them with a universal handcuff key. If you are handcuffed unlawfully, you need to be aware of the following methods of escape.
Escaping from handcuffs is very difficult if your hands are behind your back whether you’re using a handcuff key or another means of escape, so do everything possible to ensure that your hands are in front of you. If your captor insists that your hands be behind you, try the following maneuver:
Sit or lie down and fold your legs and feet as close to your body as possible.
Pull your hands down, under your feet, and up to the front of your body. You’ll be in a better position to perform this maneuver if you keep your body flexible and in good shape.
Practice this regularly if you are in a line of work or often find yourself in situations where being unlawfully detained is a threat.
Once your hands are in the front, produce your handcuff key (if you keep it on your back belt loop, you’ll want to grab it while your hands are still behind your back). Insert the key as far as you can into the keyhole. With a firm grip turn the key clockwise, just far enough to disengage the locking mechanism.
Because the ratchet & pawl mechanism of most modern handcuffs is simple by necessity, picking a handcuff lock is a pretty simple maneuver. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to practice, a lot. In a tense situation you’ll largely be relying on muscle memory.
Most handcuffs can be unlocked with a single universal handcuff key. Because most types of cuffs can be unlocked with the same key, they can also be picked in much the same way. All you need is a very thin length of wire, and patience.
Keep in mind that this will be much easier if your hands are in front of you. If you are using a bobby pin, straighten it and remove the rubber cap on the end. If using a paperclip, straighten it. It’s wise to keep a prepared bobby pin or other length of wire on your person so you’re not fumbling with getting it ready in the moment.
Bend the end into roughly a 90 degree angle- the easiest way to do this is by inserting the pin or clip halfway into the upper portion of the lock and bending it. This will allow you to wiggle the wire into the lock and apply tension in the appropriate place.
Insert the newly-bent pick into the upper portion of the lock, the curved portion of the pick heading toward the center of the cuffs. Apply enough tension to release the lock. The wire is mimicking a handcuff key pressing against the locking mechanism.
A shim is any small, flat piece of metal about the width of a credit card and narrow enough to fit into the locking mechanism. You can purchase pre-made shims that look very similar to a handcuff key, or even create one from a length of cut soda can. Insert the shim in between the locking mechanism and the teeth. Push on the shim and tighten the cuff a single notch. The cuff should unclick. (This method will not work if the cuffs are double locked.)
The surest method of escaping handcuffs is with a universal handcuff key. Using a handcuff key removes the stress and guesswork of trying to use a shim or pick the lock with wire. You’ll want a handcuff key with an easily-concealable design- a key you can clip onto your clothing or gear is ideal. A tiny inconspicuous handcuff key is a valuable addition to any survival toolkit.
If you're a professional who travels abroad often or otherwise find yourself in dicey situations, you need a rod saw.
What other device allows you to cut through almost any material with nothing but a small thin rod and as much time and patience as you can manage? A small rod saw, easily concealable on your person, and a little know-how is all you need to be sure that you can escape just about any restraint- from rope, to cord, to metal chain.
There are two primary types of rod saw available- carbide and diamond.
A diamond wire blade is simply a wire impregnated with diamond dust of various sizes, but don't underestimate its strength. The diamond dust enables the wire saw to cut through nearly any material: rope, cord, metal bars, chain-link, etc. Any material softer than the ultra-hard diamond surface can eventually be cut through with time and patience. A diamond wire blade will be more expensive for obvious reasons, but is more brittle and, with a thinner diameter, may snap.
What a carbide rod saw may lack (compared to diamond) in hardness, it makes up for with its overall strength. In addition to greater affordability, a carbide rod saw is thicker in diameter than a diamond saw, and much less brittle and less likely to break during use: a crucial attribute if you find yourself in a life-or-death situation.
For less-dense materials like rope and cord, a cord saw is your best friend. Quicker to use for lighter materials than a rod saw, a cord saw is equally small and concealable.
The keys to successfully using survival saws are practice and persistence. Get a feel for how they works with different materials and the best stroke speed and length for each before you find yourself in a survival situation, and we guarantee you won't regret keeping one of each with your everyday carry.
Lars was an avid traveler: he embraced the challenge and excitement of traveling alone, usually with little more than the clothes he was wearing and a small backpack. In spite of his few possessions, he considered himself pretty well prepared. He carried a small handcuff key in his back pocket along with a good pocket knife. He got pretty chummy with a fellow drifter he befriended in a hostel in Central America. Unfortunately, he let down his guard after a few drinks one night and let it slip during the lighthearted conversation that he was carrying quite a bit of cash on his person. In his bleary half-drunken state Lars thought it was still a joke when his new friend suddenly produced a pair of handcuffs and cuffed his hands behind his back, but he sobered up quickly when he realized that his acquaintance was going through his meager possessions and pocketing everything of value.
He reached for the handcuff key in his back pocket and managed to fish it out despite his trembling fingers, but having never actually practiced with it his fingers had no muscle memory. He fumbled with it behind his back, unable to find the keyhole. His shaking hand dropped the key after a moment, and a crack on the head made him black out.
If you are a frequent foreign traveler, a law enforcement or security officer, in the military, or otherwise determined to be prepared for anything, a handcuff key should have a place in your everyday carry. This is an excellent first step, but just like any other specialized gear, a handcuff key is worthless to you in an emergency situation if you have no experience using it. Lars’ story is an all-too-common one, about an individual who considers himself well-prepared because of the gear he carries. His huge and potentially deadly mistake was in not cultivating the skill to actually use his handcuff key. His lack of applicable skill rendered the key useless.
The answer to this problem of false preparedness is simple practice. Just as you can tie your shoes in just about any circumstance without thinking about it, your goal is to develop the muscle memory to be able to use a handcuff key in a variety of situations- in the dark, while distracted, with your hands behind you, etc. An excellent tool to assist you in this is a handcuff trainer. A handcuff trainer is a real working handcuff with a cutaway side so you can see the movement of the inner mechanism as you work on the lock. Practice with a trainer will increase your overall understanding of how handcuffs work, increasing your effectiveness at escaping and thus your overall chances of survival. The real question is not why you need a handcuff trainer, but why don’t you have one yet?
Get prepared now with our handcuff trainer kit -- Check it out!
This is a guest post by John V Cain. John writes about the vagabonding lifestyle at VINJABOND.
A covertly equipped handcuff key for a foreigner abroad is the smallest part of their gear but potentially the most important.
Gear to survive or endure dangerous and hazardous scenarios is valuable but gear to avoid them is invaluable.
-John V Cain, founder of VINJABOND.
Specialized handcuff keys and other escape tools have been a part of my everyday carry equipment for my professional life for years but have found them to be just as useful in civilian life, especially while traveling.
It’s my nature to be drawn to danger and unstable situations so don’t take it from me but from the experience of an ordinary traveler on holiday…
While packing up to leave a hostel in Bangkok, I met Alex. A Canadian pre-med student on his gap year interested in my strange gear. We got to talking and I gave him a TIHK handcuff key and showed him how to use it.
Then I headed north towards Vietnam, he headed south towards the Thai islands, where his story begins.
The Full Moon Party
Every full moon on the small paradise island of Koh Phangan, an event occurs that started in the mid 80’s. It’s called the Full Moon Party. With up to 30,000 attendees at each event, it’s the largest recurring beach party in the world. It’s gone through many changes over the years but what remains is its crazy-intense-debaucherous-wild-hedonistic essence.
Thousands of young travelers from every country mixing with each other with powerful music blasting on a true paradise beach. What could go wrong?
When you have this much explosive and dynamic social activity going on, the socially inept tend to have a hard time fitting in, even to the point of becoming a recluse.
Traveling alone through a strange country and attending a monstrous party with thousands of strangers, Alex became that recluse.
Recluses at parties are obvious but ignored.
Belly, a slick Thai local saw poor Alex, but instead of ignoring him like everyone else, he made him his party-protege, despite the language barrier.
Anyone in Alex’s shoes would be delighted to chill with Belly, especially with the 3 girls he was with.
And so he partied on, finally…
Nearly 10 hours later at about 5 in the morning with the party still going strong, Alex was resting, sitting on a picnic table staring into the abyss of dancers dancing away against the endless black ocean.
Suddenly, Belly appears from the moving crowd like mist. He runs straight to Alex out of breath and tells him something in broken English; “Police ???? hide ??? ??? later ???…” Then he hands Alex a Pringles chips bag (tubular paperboard can) and vanished into the crowd.
Dazed and confused, as Alex starts to put the Pringles can between his feet, he’s blinded by a flashlight.
The light then trails directly to the Pringles can. His eyes focus and he can clearly see it’s the police.
One of the cops takes the Pringles can as his partner looks around the vicinity for Belly (I presume).
Again in broken but better English, the cop asks Alex if the Pringles is his. Alex confirms. The cop then opens the can and lays out the contents on the picnic table. To shocking surprise, Alex sees it’s dozens of pills (probably ecstasy) with just as many baggies of white powder.
Alex immediately and nervously denies it’s his now and tries to explain that he was just holding it for a friend.
The cop then handcuffs him and yells at him in Thai.
Alex, now detained and in tears, sits with the cop as his partner searches for Belly within the crowd.
With the cop sitting right next to him but preoccupied also looking for Belly, Alex starts twisting his shorts to reach the key. He gets it and tries to open the cuffs…
He fails and drops the key, but not on the sand.
Blindly and nervously shaking, he feels for the key on the table. He finds it. Tries again. Drops it again. Repeat…
Click, clank, clack, clack, clack… Success!
Amazed at himself but also realizing the implications of it, he loses the key again but this time it drops to the sand, lost forever. But no matter, one hand is free.
Uncontrollably nervous, he dry vomits, paralyzed.
An eternity passes by (probably 5 minutes). His hand free from the shackles, making pretend it’s still engaged as he builds up the courage to run.
Another eternity later, he bolts into the sea of people like a bat out of hell. Adrenaline at max output with his left hand sporting a shiny bracelet. He runs and runs.
Alex has been sober all his life including this night but the euphoria he feels as he finally makes it back to his bungalow is the epitome of a natural high.
He remembers my “5 minute training” and shaves his mustache, gives himself a drastic haircut, bruises his cheeks and forehead, changes into completely different colored clothing and buries the ones he’s wearing.
Not long after that, he made it safely back to Bangkok.
Handcuff Keys and Shims for World Travel
A life saved by a piece of plastic, a handcuff key.
There will be detractors on civilians carrying handcuff keys. If you are one of those, I’d like to ask you: “What would you do in Alex’s exact situation?”
Would you let yourself be arrested and spend a quarter century in a foreign prison because the “law is the law”?
Remember, you didn’t murder anyone, steal from a store or even knew you were committing a crime. For all intents and purposes, bad friggen luck.
I don’t know about you but I will not go to prison for holding a bag of chips if I can help it. And it’s not like “I was holding it for a friend” or “I didn’t know it was drugs” is going to hold up in court in this scenario.
If you still don’t want to control your own destiny and trust a foreign justice system implicitly, then at best you can; get yourself officially arrested, processed into their system, go to lockup, wait to see a judge, meet with an embassy appointed lawyer, go back to lockup and 6 months later you’re rather set free or sent to prison.
Complete Escape Tool Gear Kit
I received the longest email ever from Alex (not his real name by the way) shortly after. I wish it was written on paper by hand as it was motivating and one of the most touching pieces of words I have ever read.
Back home or abroad, it’s unlikely to be unfairly or unjustly arrested but it’s more likely to occur as a foreigner because of unfamiliar international laws, cultural differences and inaccurate communication.
Then there’s also the possibility of kidnapping.
It will most likely never happen to you (or so you think), but it does happen quite frequently on a global scale.
So as Franz Kafka so wisely says, “Better to have, and not need, than to need, and not have.”, reinforced by the fact that a covert handcuff key is smaller than a clothing button and almost as inconspicuous. Reinforced by the fact that a covert handcuff key is smaller than a clothing button and almost as inconspicuous.
Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.
All About Disposable Restraints
As many of our loyal customers have pointed out to us, a handcuff key will be of little use if you find yourself tied up in disposable restraints. Read on to learn all about disposable restraints, the circumstances in which they are often used, and some tips for escaping unlawful detainment.
What are They?
A disposable restraint can be an extremely effective tactic, yet as simple as a single zip tie. Zip ties come in different units of “tensile strength”, which is the maximum stress they can withstand before failing. A standard nylon tie sold for the purpose of detainment (such as a Flex-Cuf) will likely have a tensile strength of anywhere between 300-600 pounds. (Cable ties sold at your local hardware store will be tough, but likely with a lower tensile strength.) These cuffs come in two types: a single length of cable that is wrapped around both wrists, or a set that looks more like traditional handcuffs with a separate loop and lock for each wrist. Zip ties function with the same ratchet mechanism as standard handcuffs, the difference being the absence of a lock and key.
Silverxxx / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / GFDL
Where Are They Used?
Disposable restraints are most often seen when law enforcement anticipates a high number of arrests that renders metal cuffs impractical, such as riots or demonstrations. They are cheap, lightweight, and easy to carry in bulk, which makes them ideal for detaining a large number of individuals at once. They can also be more easily attached to one another than metal cuffs, which allows an officer to easily contain a group of detainees if working alone. Zip ties are also a common restraint of choice for those with more sinister motives, for the same practical purposes: cheap, quick to use, and lightweight, not to mention easily concealable.
helloturkeytoe / CC BY 2.0
Should you find yourself unlawfully restrained with plastic cuffs, rest assured that with a little practice and resourcefulness, there are several ways to escape them. The effectiveness of these tactics will depend on the material type and thickness as well as the positioning of your hands and what tools you have at your disposal.
-Brute force: by tightening the cuffs as much as possible and then bringing them down hard against your body, it is possible to snap the cuffs.
-Melting: a flame or cigarette lighter may be able to melt the plastic, weakening it enough for you to pull the cuffs apart (preferably before burning yourself).
-Sawing: a sharp serrated edge may be able to saw through the material, if you can position your hands correctly or rub them against the tool.
-Shimming: because zip ties operate with a ratchet mechanism, you can shim them in the same way you may shim standard metal cuffs that haven’t been double locked.
Check back next month for a more in-depth study of disposable restraint escape methods.
Have you ever locked yourself out of your car, and in those helpless moments before you call the locksmith, you imagine how much easier (and cheaper) the whole situation would be if you knew how to pick a car door lock? It’s a skill you probably imagined you would never need…until that moment. Similarly, the ability to pick a handcuff lock is one that may come in handy when you least expect it; anyone can legally purchase and carry handcuffs, therefore everyone should have knowledge of how to escape should they be unlawfully restrained.
Picking a handcuff lock, while requiring practice and the right circumstances, is simple in theory. Most handcuffs can be unlocked with a single universal key. The reason for this is ease and speed of use for law enforcement officers- imagine the difficulty if every single pair of handcuffs required a unique key! Because most types of cuffs can be unlocked with the same key, they can also be picked in much the same way. All you need is a length of wire, about the circumference of a paperclip or bobby pin, and patience.
One thing to note is that this method is much easier if your hands are in front of you, and you can see what you are doing. It may be necessary to maneuver your hands around your legs into a better position if they have been cuffed behind you. If you are using a bobby pin, straighten it and remove the rubber cap on the end. This is much easier to do with pliers, so it isn’t a bad idea to prepare a bobby pin in advance and keep it on your person. If using a paperclip, straighten it.
Bend the end into roughly a 90 degree angle- the easiest way to do this is by inserting the pin or clip halfway into the upper portion of the lock and bending it. This will allow you to maneuver the wire into the lock and apply tension in the appropriate place.
The next step will require the most practice to become proficient: insert the newly-bent pick into the upper portion of the lock, the curved portion of the pick heading toward the center of the cuffs (this may take a bit of wiggling, as the pick needs to bypass the lip of the lock.)
Then apply enough tension, mimicking the key pressing against the lock mechanism, to release the lock.
Double locks make handcuffs significantly more difficult to pick. In order to disengage double locked handcuffs, insert the pick into the upper portion of the lock as you would with a single-locked cuff, but face the curved portion in the opposite direction. Maneuvering the pick into the right location will require some practice. Once again apply tension to mimic the key disengaging the lock- a double lock may require significantly more force. Once this lock has been disengaged, you will need to remove your pick and re-insert it in the opposite direction to pick the single lock.
If you like to be prepared, you will want to supplement your newfound lock-picking knowledge with a useful tool like the Tiny Inconspicuous Handcuff Key, which removes the guesswork of a length of wire and is even easier to conceal!
Along with many other types of survival skills, how to escape from handcuffs is the kind of practical information that everyone should know, and hope never to need. In the event that you do find yourself unlawfully restrained, knowledge of these escape tactics and the various tools required could be invaluable. This overview will cover the main ways to escape from standard ratchet-style metal handcuffs after maneuvering into the best position to do so: lock picking, releasing the pawl with a shim, and duplicate keys.
Upon unlawful detainment, the first thing to keep in mind is the position of your hands. If you can at all control your hand position as they are cuffed, you have a better chance of escape. Escaping from cuffs is very difficult if your hands are behind your back, so do everything possible to ensure that your hands are in front of you. In the worst-case scenario, you may need to sit or lie down, lift your legs and feet as close to your body as possible, and maneuver your hands around to the front of your body beneath your feet. This will put you in a much better position to begin to pick the lock. The more flexible you are the easier this will be, so practice this regularly if you are in a line of work or often find yourself in situations where being unlawfully detained is a threat.
Once your hands are positioned as best as you can get them, the lock can be picked with a simple length of wire such as a straightened paper clip or bobby pin (sans rubber cap).
The wire first needs to be prepared. To do so, bend the end into a 90 degree angle by inserting the pin or clip halfway into the upper portion of the lock and bending to the left to attain a 90 degree bend. Take it out and re-bend it in the opposite direction to achieve a roughly S-shaped bend, where both bends are about 90 degrees but heading in opposite directions. The next step will require the most practice to become proficient: insert the newly-bent pick into the upper portion of the lock (this may take a bit of maneuvering, as the pick needs to bypass the lip of the lock) and apply enough tension (mimicking the key pressing against the lock mechanism) to release the lock. Check out this helpful video tutorial from ITS Tactical:
If you do not have access to a suitable length of wire, you can also pick the lock by using a shim to release the pawl. A shim is any small, flat piece of metal you can find, about the width of a credit card and narrow enough to fit into the locking mechanism. To release the pawl, insert the shim between the locking mechanism and the teeth. With the shim in place, tighten the cuff a single notch, and simultaneously push on the shim. The cuff should unclick. This method will not work if the cuffs are double locked, because the double lock prevents the cuffs from ratcheting any tighter. WikiHow has a great series of photographs demonstrating the shimming technique.
While the aforementioned methods can work with practice and under the right circumstances, a much surer method of escape is to keep a duplicate key on your person. This at first sounds nearly impossible until you consider the fact that most handcuffs can all be unlocked with the same universal key- a feature that greatly simplifies the process for law enforcement. TIHK is an excellent solution due to the easily-concealable design that allows you to clip it to your clothing in undetectable places. A tiny inconspicuous handcuff key is a valuable addition to any survival toolkit, and can be easily taken with you and hidden on your person if you think you may find yourself in an unpleasant situation.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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