If you’re ready to take the plunge into lock picking but are unsure of how to start, rest assured that you don’t need a huge arsenal of weirdly shaped picks to get started. For picking a simple pin tumbler lock, you only need the following items:
A tension wrench is a necessary component because it maintains tension on the lock, which is what enables you to set the pins and turn the lock once you’ve picked it successfully. Without a tension wrench, picking a lock is impossible.
While you can pick a lock pin-by-pin (called single pin picking or SPP) with just a hook or other pick, a rake is especially useful for beginners. It is also possible to pick a lock entire with just a rake and a tension wrench, but this often requires luck more than anything else. It’s not wise to rely on luck, so pack a rake in your kit but also be sure to include the final item...
A hook pick is a very simple lock pick in (surprise!) the shape of a small hook. It can be used for careful single-pin picking or as a sort of simple rake.
Armed with some knowledge of the anatomy of a pin tumbler lock and how they function as well as these three tools and a lot of patience, you can successfully pick your first lock. The tension wrench maintains tension on the lock for the entire time you are picking, the rake can be used to try your luck at scrubbing the lock (setting as many pins as you can by chance), then the hook pick can be used to complete the picking process on any pins that didn’t set with scrubbing. There are many other shapes and kinds of lock picks available that are useful for different styles and methods of lock picking, but these initial three tools will carry you far until you’re ready to advance your lock picking skills.
Why would anybody bother owning lock picks? If you’re not a locksmith, doesn’t carrying lock picks around imply that you intend to commit burglary? Isn’t it a little paranoid to assume you’re going to need lock picks in day-to-day life? Why not just call a locksmith if you get locked out of your house?
These are all great questions, but they assume that you will always have access to a locksmith in an emergency, not to mention that you’ll always have the funds to pay them. Carrying around a set of lock picks doesn’t make you a burglar any more than carrying a set of matches makes you an arsonist. Choosing to own lock picks (and learning how to use them) is about taking responsibility for your own life, your own possessions, and your own safety.
You don’t have to have a wild imagination to imagine a scenario or two in which you may be locked out of your home or car without a cell phone. If you can’t contact a locksmith for whatever reason, or you don’t have easy access to potentially several hundreds of dollars to pay them, what is your next plan of action? Carrying a set of lock picks gives you peace of mind that if you need it, you’ll have a backup plan in place. It also allows you to be available to help others in need at a moment’s notice.
Lock picks are a low-maintenance emergency item that are easy to carry on your person every day without a second thought. Many small lock pick sets can be slipped right into your wallet, or take up so little space that you can carry them in your pocket without the annoyance of extra bulk. Lock picks are light, thin, and convenient.
Carrying lock picks is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. There is such a wide variety of lock picking tools available that you can find one to suit your tastes, your needs, and your skill level. You may want a full 12- or 24- piece lock pick set, or you may prefer just to carry a simple shim or even a credit card tool. Even if you aren’t prepared to carry a full set of lock picking tools, knowing that you have at least something on your person will provide you with an advantageous edge and tremendous peace of mind.
And why every survivalist, prepper, and regular person needs one.
What is a lock pick? Can you picture in your mind’s eye what a lock pick set looks like? What about a bump key, a shove knife, or a shim? Obviously we all understand the basic function of a lock pick without needing to be able to draw one from memory, but an understanding of the wide variety of available lock picks and how they work is an important first step to being more prepared for whatever life might throw your way.
The easiest way to categorize lock picks is by the locks they are intended to open. A simple breakdown is:
The most common lock pick used for car doors is known as an auto jiggler. If you’ve ever had to call a locksmith because you locked your keys in your car, you may have seen them produce a large keyring of what look at a glance like regular car keys. Jigglers are also sometimes called “try out keys”, the purpose of which is simply to keep trying one in the lock until it opens. This requires less skill and practice than actually “picking” a lock with a lock pick set.
...you lock yourself out of your car a lot. Or you are the single owner of your car and don’t share a set of keys with someone else. Or you don’t have the extra cash laying around to pay a locksmith to get you out of a tight spot. Some people choose to keep auto jigglers around so that if they ever come across a dog or a baby trapped in a hot car, they can take quick action and possibly save a life.
Pin tumbler lock picks are probably the most common type of lock picking tools available, due to the popularity of the cylindrical pin tumbler lock. Most standard door locks use the pin tumbler design. Picking a pin tumbler lock requires two separate tools- a tension wrench, which is used to maintain tension on the lock and keep the lock pins from moving once they’ve been set in the correct position, and lock pick for moving and setting the pins. Some basic lock pick shapes include the rake, hook, ball, and diamond. Each of these types comes in many different sizes and variants, and will be effective on different types of locks.
Rake lock picks are a little different in function from hook, ball, and diamond picks. The purpose of a rake is to literally “rake” the pick along the pins, with the intention of bumping several pins up to the shear line at once. This is a quicker, if less precise and inelegant, method. It doesn’t always work.
… you breathe air! A lock pick set and some basic knowledge is an incredibly valuable skill to have, not just for survival situations but for day-to-day matters. We’ve all locked ourselves out of the house at least once. Have you ever resorted to breaking your own window to get back in? Or what about that old locked briefcase that’s been in your garage for years without a key, or the mom down the street who’s frantic because her toddler just locked her out? Lock picks are not just for preppers and locksmiths.
A bypass tool is a tool that allows you to literally bypass a lock without picking it. The most well known bypass tools are probably shims and the humble credit card trick, made famous thanks to Hollywood (but be advised that attempting to get into a locked door with a credit card is likely to render your card bent out of shape and unusable). Any tool that allows you to get past a locked door without actively picking the lock would be considered a bypass tool. Depending on the tool and your expertise with it, you may or may not cause damage to the lock or door that could prevent it from being usable once you’ve gained access. A coat hanger or slim jim that is used to unlock a car door, for example, could potentially damage the lock inside the door not to mention delicate electronics, airbags, the window mechanism, etc.
This is why practice is so important: a working knowledge of the inside of the locking mechanism will allow you to understand what is happening whether you pick or bypass a lock, and reduce your chances of destroying the lock altogether.
...you are a first responder of any kind. Bypass tools are quicker than lock picks for gaining entry when every second counts. They’re also useful for individuals in the repossession business. Aside from specialized careers, anyone would benefit from keeping a shim amongst their everyday carry, because you truly never know when one might come in handy.
Tubular lock picks are special picks intended for, surprise, tubular locks.They are intended to be more resistant to picking than pin tumbler locks (they still contain pins, but they are arranged in a circle rather than in a line), although some people find them easier to pick with the help of a specialized tubular lock pick.
...you own anything that contains a tubular lock. Tubular locks can be found on computers, gun safes, and vending machines, among other things.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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