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.
A pin tumbler lock with no key by Pbroks13 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
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.
“Lockpicks” by Ydam is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
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.
“Rake lock picks” by Willh26 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
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.
“Wafer Lock Try-Out Keys” by Willh26 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
...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.
“Lockpicks” by Ydam is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
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.
“Rake lock picks” by Willh26 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
… 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.
Legal Gavel and Closed Law Book by Blogtrepreneur is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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.
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 modern standard of handcuffs is the design popularized by Peerless in the early 1900’s, with few alterations since then. Most handcuff brands now bear a similar design, with only minor variances amongst the locks themselves. The design is known as a swing cuff, which features a freely swinging ratchet arm that allows law enforcement to secure the cuffs with just one hand, improving speed, agility, and safety. The most significant differences between handcuffs are found in the way the cuffs connect.
Chain handcuffs are the most widely used among law enforcement for everyday arrests due to their ease of application. The two cuffs are attached by a short chain, just one or two links long. This chain allows the cuffs to be folded in half for improved portability. The ratchet arms on chain cuffs are usually swing-through for ease and speed of application: they can be applied to the subject’s wrist with just one hand.
Hinged cuffs are very similar to chain cuffs, but they are connected with a large hinge rather than chain links. Hinged cuffs are shorter than chain cuffs when extended, which allows for less hand/arm mobility. This makes hinged cuffs potentially more secure, but somewhat more difficult to apply to a testy subject. Many law enforcement officers find that the solution to this problem, if one wrist has been cuffed but the subject is non-compliant, is the ability to apply uncomfortable torque on the cuffed wrist as a method of persuasion. The hinge adds some overall strength to the cuffs as well. Though it’s very rare, the occasional Hercules (probably somebody on drugs) may be able to snap the chain links between traditional handcuffs, but with hinged cuffs on he’s going nowhere. Like chain cuffs, hinged cuffs can be folded in half.
Solid bar handcuffs provide the same level of tamper-resistance as hinged handcuffs and even less mobility, but they come with the caveat of being harder to carry because they cannot be folded in half. Their appeal lies in the ability for an officer to apply pain-compliance techniques. Handcuffs connected with a solid bar are most likely to be used for prisoner transport of individuals who are known to be non-compliant.
Though not technically a type of handcuffs by themselves, waist chains are worth noting here for the added security they bring. The purpose of a waist chain is to further reduce a subject’s mobility. They are unable to bring their hands higher or lower than their belly, thus preventing violence and tampering.
High security handcuffs can take the form of any of the three basic types of handcuffs listed above. The primary difference is that high security handcuffs cannot be opened with a standard barrel-shaped universal handcuff key. High security handcuffs are keyed individually and are more pick-resistant than their lower security counterparts. Some high security cuffs include an additional locking position to increase the security of the double lock.
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).
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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NEITHER TIHK NOR ANY OTHER PARTY INVOLVED IN CREATING, PRODUCING, OR DELIVERING THE SERVICES, PRODUCTS OR TIHK CONTENT WILL BE LIABLE FOR ANY INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, INCLUDING LOST PROFITS, LOSS OF DATA OR GOODWILL, SERVICE INTERRUPTION, MOBILE DAMAGE OR SYSTEM FAILURE OR THE COST OF SUBSTITUTE SERVICES ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THESE TERMS OR FROM THE USE OF OR INABILITY TO USE THE SERVICES OR CONTENT, WHETHER BASED ON WARRANTY, CONTRACT, TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE), PRODUCT LIABILITY OR ANY OTHER LEGAL THEORY, AND WHETHER OR NOT CLASSPOP HAS BEEN INFORMED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE, EVEN IF A LIMITED REMEDY SET FORTH HEREIN IS FOUND TO HAVE FAILED OF ITS ESSENTIAL PURPOSE. IN NO EVENT WILL TIHK’S TOTAL LIABILITY ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THESE TERMS OR FROM THE USE OF OR INABILITY TO USE THE SERVICES OR CONTENT EXCEED THE LESSER OF THE AMOUNTS YOU HAVE PAID TO TIHK FOR USE OF THE SERVICES OR TIHK CONTENT OR FIFTY DOLLARS ($50), IF YOU HAVE NOT HAD ANY PAYMENT OBLIGATIONS TO TIHK, AS APPLICABLE.
TIHK is in no way responsible or to be held liable for any claims, including for physical, bodily or financial injury, arising out of your use of TIHK product(s) on the whole, and your use of TIHK product(s) in your state, and you are subject to the additional terms and policies of each applicable private venue, local, state and federal laws as applicable.
We prefer to resolve things amiably when possible therefore, you agree to the following dispute resolution policy in connection with any potential claims or disputes arising from your use of the Application. Start by notifying us of your dispute by sending a notice via our contact form.
These Terms, and any future updates we make, constitute the entire and exclusive understanding and agreement between you and TIHK. If for any reason a court of competent jurisdiction finds any provision of these Terms invalid or unenforceable, that provision will be enforced to the maximum extent permissible and the other provisions of these Terms will remain in full force and effect. You may not assign or transfer these Terms, by operation of law or otherwise, without our prior written consent. Any attempt by you to assign or transfer these Terms, without such consent, will be null and of no effect. If we provide certain notices or other communications to you, we will place the information on the Site.
TIHK’s failure to enforce any right or provision of these Terms will not be considered a waiver of those rights. The waiver of any such right or provision will be effective only if in writing and signed by a duly authorized representative TIHK. Except as expressly set forth in these Terms, the exercise by either party of any of its remedies under these Terms will be without prejudice to its other remedies under these Terms or otherwise.
Questions & contact information
If you have any questions regarding these Terms, please contact us.