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.
Lock picking is a practice that requires patience. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, more advanced lock picking will naturally come more easily. The challenge lies in the initial mastery. In order to develop proficiency with lock picking you’ll need to spend a lot of time practicing. Lock picking is all about paying very careful attention to minute tactile feedback, and you’ll need to develop new muscle memory in your hands to get really good at it.
That being said, lock picking is not always inherently difficult. The basics of lock picking are fairly simple, and a thorough understanding of the inner mechanism of a traditional pin tumbler lock will be of tremendous help to you.
Don’t let the idea of lock-picking intimidate you! Like any other skill, it takes practice and patience. But unlike many other skills, not only could it get you back into your locked house or car… it could possibly save your life.
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.
Although some locks can be incredibly tricky to pick, the fundamentals of picking a basic pin-tumbler lock are fairly simple. The key to success, and eventually speed, is practice. With the exception of clear trainer locks (which are a great investment as you are building your lock picking skills), you’re not going to be able to see what you’re doing when you pick a lock. You’ll have to rely solely on tactile feedback, so the key to training your hands is repetition.
First, there are two basic rules to picking locks with integrity. The first is that you must not pick a lock that is in use. The second rule is that you may only pick locks that belong to you, or for which you have been given express permission to pick from the owner of the lock. Following these rules will ensure that you don’t venture into the realm of illegal activity, and should you choose to join a locksport organization it will keep you in good standing.
These instructions are for picking a basic pin tumbler lock. As mentioned above, a clear practice lock is an excellent choice to allow you to get a visual of the lock components and what is going on inside the lock as it’s picked. Once you’ve obtained your lock, ensure that it is clean and free of dirt or cracks. Older, worn, or dirty locks will be harder to pick and shouldn’t be attempted by beginners.
Begin by assembling your basic lock picking tools. There are a wide variety of different picks available, but for beginning with a basic pin tumbler lock you will need only a tension wrench, a rake (or several rakes), and a hook pick.
The application of tension to the lock plug mimics the tension of the key inside the lock. Tension is necessary to keep the driver pins in place once they’ve been moved above the shear line. Without the proper amount of tension, the pins will simply drop back down and prevent the plug from turning. To apply tension, insert the short end of the tension wrench into the bottom of the keyway with your non-dominant hand. Gently turn the tension wrench in the direction in which you would turn the key to open the lock. Turning the tension wrench in the wrong direction will prevent the lock from opening.
Begin with your rake tool. The rake is intended to quickly bump the pins up the shear line without the need for individual picking. To use the rake, insert it quickly into the keyway and scrub it back and forth with a motion not unlike toothbrushing. Continue to apply tension with the tension wrench the entire time. You will feel the plug give a bit as the pins align above the shear line, and if by chance you are able to move all the pins with only the rake, the lock will eventually turn completely.
There are many different shapes and styles of rakes available. If the first rake you try doesn’t catch all the pins, try a different one. Don’t forget to maintain tension in the keyway as you switch picks. If the tension is released before the lock is opened, you will have to start over.
There may sometimes be stubborn pins that do not respond to raking. These will have to be picked individually. A common pick for this purpose is a hook pick. While maintaining tension with the wrench, insert the hook into the keyway and feel for pins that have yet to be engaged at the shear line. If there are multiple pins remaining, one will be less “springy” than the others. This is called the binding pin, and it should be engaged first. Using the hook, push the pin upwards until it clicks into place and remains above the shear line. Then feel with your pick for the next binding pin. Continue in this fashion until the remainder of the pins have been set. This requires you to pay close attention to the tactile feedback you’re receiving through the pick, since you won’t be able to see what’s going on.
As you continue to apply tension in the direction that the key unlocks, the plug will give a little more and more with each pin set. Once all the pins have been set, maintain tension and continue to turn the wrench in the correct direction until the lock opens.
Need a simple lock pick set? Check out our urban survival gear for light, compact options.
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.
Here at TIHK we very often receive the question- why would anyone who isn’t a criminal need to carry a handcuff key?
The answer is simple: anyone can buy handcuffs. That includes people who intend to do you harm. And no… bad guys don’t all use duct tape or zip ties. Being prepared for anything means being prepared for the possibility that handcuffs could be used unlawfully against you. A few simple news searches should be enough to negate the argument that carrying a handcuff key amounts to nothing more than paranoia:
>>In the summer of 2015, a postal employee with a restraining order placed against him by family members was arrested and discovered to be in possession of multiple weapons and handcuffs on federal property. Read the story here.
>>In the fall of 2012, an offender with no prior record perpetrated multiple kidnappings and sexual assaults using, among other tools, a sedating drug, zip ties, and handcuffs. Read more.
>>Earlier this year, three victims were kidnapped and detained in handcuffs in the basement of a man who appeared to be having a “schizophrenic episode”. See the whole story.
>>This past spring an older man was handcuffed and physically assaulted in his own home after a group of burglars broke in. Read what happened next.
>>In 2015 an elderly couple was handcuffed as their home was burglarized of over $10,000 worth of cash and jewelry. See the rest.
These types of news stories go on for pages and pages with a simple internet search. These also don’t include any of the disturbingly numerous stories of individuals arrested for impersonating a police officer (including carrying handcuffs) for nefarious purposes.
The evidence that being prepared with a handcuff key for your own personal safety is a wise idea only mounts further when you consider the number of kidnappings and home invasions that occur on a yearly basis in the United States. In 2015 alone there were over 15,000 kidnappings and 449,000 burglaries and home invasions (statistics from the official FBI Crime in the United States report, available here: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015).
There is simply no way to know that it won’t happen to you, and the circumstances are a crapshoot. Will you be home when your house is invaded? Will the perpetrators be violent? Will they attempt to restrain you? There are so many variables that you can neither predict nor control. When viewed from this perspective, the choice to carry a handcuff key on your person is the exact opposite of paranoia. It’s a wise decision made knowing that crimes involving handcuffs do happen, and being prepared in every way possible will provide you with increased peace of mind that you’ll be ready if, God forbid, it happens to you.
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.
America under Trump is vehemently divided in a way few living citizens have seen. Tensions are high, and violent outbursts by and against both sides seem to be on the rise. It doesn’t matter who you voted for, or whether you side with the elephant or the donkey (or neither)... now more than ever it’s important to be prepared for the possibility of an urban emergency.
An urban emergency is going to look vastly different depending on the location, the kind of people perpetrating the violence or causing the unrest, and what their purpose is. It could be a riot, a terror attack, or the appearance of marshall law militias. There’s the very real possibility that you’ll see neoliberal extremists attempt to use force to take away your rights.
Even if you can’t predict exactly what shape an urban emergency will take in Trump’s America, you don’t have to be paranoid or a full-fledged prepper to recognize the need to be prepared.
Do you have a plan to get home if you’re stuck in the city when violence breaks out around you? What if you can’t get to your car, or the route home is blocked? Do you have the skills you need to take shelter in an urban setting? What if you find yourself the target of someone else’s violence?
One of the most important things you can do is develop a plan for a variety of scenarios. Talk through them with your loved ones, and rehearse them in your mind. When SHTF, you won’t be caught entirely by surprise and you’ll have a plan in mind.
We can’t all be MacGyver. If you aren’t prepared to get yourself out of a sticky situation with nothing but duct tape and a length of shoestring, do yourself a favor and enhance your everyday carry with some low-profile urban survival tools. For all-around preparedness we love the EvadeClip, a tiny tool made to get you out of the hairiest of situations.
If you everyday carry for urban survival, you’ll want a small lockpick set. Check! The EvadeClip features a set of heat-treated stainless steel picks including a tensioner, a w-rake and a half diamond pick.
In addition to the lock picks and a carbide glassbreaker tip, the EvadeClip includes two saws for escape and evasion. The carbide grit rod saw can cut through just about anything, even chain link, and the stainless steel rod saw is perfect for hacking through ropes and cords.
As its name suggests, the EvadeClip includes a sturdy clip for attaching to gear or clothing, so you always have it handy. Just in case. Pick yours up 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.
In the business of urban survival gear, we frequently receive the comment that handcuff keys are, or should be, illegal for the average citizen to own. There is a lot of confusion about who can and cannot legally purchase and possess a handcuff key. Regarding the question of whether anyone should be allowed to carry a handcuff key, our stance is a resounding yes. Anyone can legally and easily purchase a pair of handcuffs, therefore anyone should be able to legally and easily purchase a handcuff key as well. It’s a simple matter of being prepared for anything.
The legality of handcuff keys is fairly straightforward. With the exception of the state of Florida, which does have some specific restrictions on handcuff key possession, handcuff keys are legal to possess in the United States. Again, with the exception of Florida, there are no Federal or state laws restricting the ownership of handcuff keys. Of course just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s always a smart idea. We recommend that if you choose to carry a universal handcuff key on your person and you find yourself in a brush with law enforcement, you immediately inform them of the location of the key to avoid the implication of any intent on your part to escape or do harm.
We do not encourage any illegal use of handcuff keys. However, we do believe that all individuals, particularly law enforcement, military, and security professionals but not excluding prepared citizens, have the right to purchase, own, and carry a universal handcuff key in the interest of self-preservation. Handcuff keys are legal and easy to obtain and carry. There is nothing to lose from being prepared, there is everything to lose if you are not.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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