Most handcuffs come with two metal handcuff keys. These keys are perfect for locking handcuffs, but what about when you need a more covert option?
It may seem to the outsider that a handcuff key that can pass through a metal detector is prima facie evidence of the bearer’s intent to commit a crime. But the choice to carry a handcuff key is completely logical when you consider all the reasons why you may need one.
Handcuff keys made from a strong polymer have a leg up on metal keys for several reasons:
Particularly if they have a matte finish. They won’t reflect light and potentially draw the eye the way a metal key will.
The best everyday carry items don’t weigh you down.
This is useful for people whose work or travels take them through metal detectors often, but who feel more comfortable not removing or disclosing their gear with every check point. As always, we recommend that you comply with your local laws.
Pick up covert handcuff keys here.
With low cost and virtually zero risk, owning a handcuff key as part of your everyday carry is a no-brainer. But just in case you need a little extra convincing, consider these facts:
There is no background check or special license necessary to carry handcuffs. You don’t have to provide proof that you’re in law enforcement or security. If you care at all about being prepared for the unexpected, this knowledge alone should be all it takes to convince you that it’s prudent to carry a handcuff key on your person.
A search on the FBI website for “home invasions” brings up 2,289 recent results. These incidents happen everywhere. This isn’t about fearmongering- it’s about being aware of the risks of living in modern society. A universal handcuff key should be a part of your everyday arsenal of self-defense and Escape & Evasion items, for the safety of both yourself and your family.
Violent crime in the US increased by nearly 4% in 2015. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program, this category includes murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery. Any of these crimes can easily involve handcuffs, which means carrying a handcuff key and knowing how to use it gives you a serious edge against becoming a victim.
Other self-defense and E&E tools require a lot of practice and possible even professional training to master. While you do need to practice with the handcuff keys until your hands are adept with them, the learning curve isn’t so steep that your wife and kids can’t learn to use them too.
A handcuff key is especially important if you’ll be traveling to unstable areas, or any place where you don’t know the language. Between the chances of being taken advantage of as a traveler or a severe misunderstanding due to language barriers and cultural differences, a handcuff key could save your life.
A few states consider a handcuff key “prima facie” evidence that you intend to commit a crime, but the vast majority allow them with little-to-no questions asked. Add to this the fact that it’s easy to purchase a key that is practically invisible and won’t even set off a metal detector, and you’re very unlikely to run into legal trouble for carrying one.
The most common type of handcuff key found on the market is the standard universal handcuff key that will accompany the purchase of a pair of handcuffs. The design is very simple- a barrel shape with a single tooth at one end, and often a small pin at the other. The tooth end is inserted into the keyhole and turned to disengage the ratchet mechanism on a standard pair of handcuffs, and can also be used to disengage the double lock by turning in the opposite direction first.
The pin on the end of a standard universal handcuff key is used to engage the double lock on some handcuffs, but is not necessary in order to unlock the cuffs, even if they are double locked.
Your average universal handcuff key can be used to unlock just about any standard pair of modern handcuffs. The most basic universal handcuff keys are most often made of metal.
A popular item among law enforcement and survivalists alike, the covert handcuff key functions in the same way as a standard universal handcuff key, but is designed to be a secretive everyday carry item that can be hidden in various locations on one’s person or in one’s gear. Covert handcuff keys are often made of nylon or another reinforced plastic. This reduces visibility, makes the key exceptionally lightweight and allows the bearer to pass through metal detectors.
Covert handcuff keys vary widely in design- you can find them on the end of tactical pens and shoelaces, inside zipper pulls, belt buckles and paracord bracelets, etc. Some have a tiny clip on the end to allow you to clip them to your clothes or gear.
Because covert handcuff keys are intended to be used as an emergency item, they sometimes do not have a pin on the end for engaging the double lock. However, they can often still be used to unlock double-locked handcuffs, by simply turning the key in the opposite direction first.
Though not technically a key, handcuff shims are a valuable emergency item for law enforcement and security officials to prevent them from being restrained with their own handcuffs. They are simply a strip of flat metal about the width of a standard zip tie, and when purchased commercially often look very similar to a standard universal handcuff key or the metal clip that one might see on a ballpoint pen. A handcuff shim is inserted directly into the ratchet mechanism of the handcuff, which is then tightened a notch or two and released. The primary purpose of the double lock on handcuffs is to prevent shimming, because when cuffs are double locked they cannot be tightened.
High security handcuff keys are different from universal handcuff keys in that they are intended to unlock only a single type of handcuffs. High security handcuffs cannot be opened with a universal handcuff key- because of the increased security and higher resistance to tampering like picking and shimming, they are favored for use on suspects and inmates who are known to be aggressive or likely to try to tamper with their cuffs. High security handcuff keys come in different designs: some have two small teeth on the end, while others have a single hooked tooth.
The purposeful design of the universal handcuff key means that most handcuffs can be opened with the same basic universal key shape. This is intentional; it allows for easy transport of prisoners between locations, jurisdictions, facilities, etc. However- as with all rules, there are a few exceptions.
For your basic non-malicious misdemeanor sort of bad guy, a normal set of handcuffs is fine. But there are some people that you just can’t afford to let loose. For the really bad guys, there are high security handcuffs. High security handcuffs cannot be opened with a universal handcuff key. Many high security handcuffs include a waist chain to further impede the prisoner’s mobility. These cuffs are pick-resistant with restricted key control systems, and some even include a secondary mechanism that increases the strength of the double lock. High security handcuffs are keyed individually.
Thumb cuffs are not anywhere near as common as handcuffs, in large part due to the increased risk of injury associated with them. Some thumb cuffs may be able to be opened with your standard universal handcuff key, but many come with their own personalized set of keys. Don’t count on being able to open them with a universal key.
You may find some variation amongst handcuff brands and find that your “universal” handcuff key doesn’t work with a particular brand. This may change even from model to model within a brand. But by and large the simple universal handcuff key design and a sturdy, well-made key will open just about any pair of standard modern cuffs you can get your hands on (or in).
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.
Most models of today’s standard-issue handcuffs can be opened with a universal handcuff key, even across different brands. A universal handcuff key, while a little counter-intuitive at first thought, is intended to create a smoother process for both officer and suspect, and that means a tactical advantage for the average citizen as well.
Universal handcuff keys all have the same simple design: a hollow barrel with a small tooth on the end. When the key is turned, the tooth wedges between the ratchet and the pawl, disengaging the lock mechanism.
The simplicity of the handcuff key design is surprising when you compare it to a house key or a car key, but it’s for a very good purpose. Imagine the hassle of requiring a different unique key for every single pair of handcuffs: it would unnecessarily slow down what can be a very tense and dangerous process for law enforcement officers.
A suspect may be passed between several different officers from initial detainment to prisoner transport to the moment when the cuffs are removed. A universal handcuff key allows for this transition to occur smoothly, and as safely as possible for everyone involved.
Some handcuff keys include a pin on the back end; this is used to engage the double lock on some handcuffs. However, the pin is not necessary to unlock cuffs that have been double locked.
Handcuff keys can be made from metal or certain types of strong plastic (like reinforced nylon). Metal handcuff keys may last longer, but may be easier to see on your person and cannot pass through a metal detector without setting it off. A handcuff key made from a material other than metal can be useful for those who travel frequently to volatile areas and prefer to be prepared for anything.
The fact that anyone at all can purchase handcuffs, and the knowledge that they can be easily overcome with a tiny key of simple design should be reason enough to keep one on your person at all times.
It’s a simple little piece of gear, so it’s easy to overlook the value in a paracord bracelet. The intricate braiding brings to mind something a pair of BFFs might fashion at summer camp rather than a serious survival tool. But don’t let looks fool you: a paracord bracelet can be a lifesaver.
The strong yet compact nylon rope is used in the suspension lines of parachutes, from whence comes the name paracord, but it is widely used for other purposes, especially survival gear. The most commonly used cord for this purpose is mil-spec 550 cord, which has a tensile strength of 550 lbs.
Nylon is powerfully strong at a molecular level: hydrogen forms strong bonds between polyamide chains. The heating and cooling that takes place during the production process allows the bonds to settle and bond further.
Nylon is actually a word used to identify an entire sub-group of synthetic plastics. When stretched into filaments they can be used for products like paracord, toothbrush bristles, and fabrics (including the women’s stockings by the same name). It’s an excellent choice for survival gear because it’s resistant to the mold, fungi, and insects that may wreak havoc on natural materials, given enough time.
Paracord is perfect for virtually anything that you need to tie, secure, fasten, connect, lash together, etc. Its’ uses are limited only by your imagination.
Clearly, paracord is extremely useful. Because a significant length of the lightweight cord can be compacted down into a very small space, there is virtually no excuse for not including it in your EDC and/or bug out bag. But it can do even more for you: a survival bracelet like the Superesse strap bracelet includes not only paracord but multiple built-in survival tools, enabling you to carry an entire survival kit on your wrist. Shop now!
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.
Facing 10 to 20 years in a Thai prison, he remembers the handcuff key I gave him. But the key is hidden on the front of his shorts with his hands cuffed in back.
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.
It’s true that, aside from law enforcement and military personnel, the individuals you are most likely to find in possession of a handcuff key are the bad guys. But beware of drawing fallacious conclusions: possession of a handcuff key does not a criminal make. It simply follows that those who are most likely to desire a secret way of escape are those who have something they feel the need to escape from: i.e. jail time.
Because of this notion, we often receive earnest questioning from people who wonder why in the world we would market a tiny inconspicuous handcuff key to the general public. They are sure that the majority of our clientele must be those who would do harm to the good guys. While we acquiesce that products falling into the “wrong hands” is an unfortunate reality of the marketplace (and one that we do not condone), consider the fact that handcuffs also can also be purchased by anyone.
Take, for example, the very recent story of a Los Angeles couple who were detained in their own home by home invaders in ski masks. The couple was detained not with rope, wire, zip ties, or any other shady tool to which we may erroneously assume the bad guys are limited. They used regular old handcuffs. Fortunately the couple was not harmed in this case by the trespassers brandishing a screwdriver and a handgun- merely robbed. No one would suggest that they should have freed themselves, should they have had the means, while the invaders were in their home, but who knows how long they had to wait, and scream for help, and pray that the thieves didn’t return while they sat helplessly cuffed?
Choosing to possess a universal handcuff key as part of your everyday carry is not an immediate sign of a criminal, or even of a paranoid person. It’s the choice of someone who knows how frequently the bad guys use handcuffs, and who chooses to do everything in their power to be ready, should the worst-case-scenario happen. It’s about taking responsibility for your life into your own hands, rather than putting it into the hands of someone who would do you harm.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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