Disposable restraints as used by bad guys most often take the form of zip ties that you can buy at your local hardware store. At first escape seems daunting- how do you pick a non-existent lock? But rest assured, with a little practice and resourcefulness, there are several ways to escape unlawful restraint via zip tie. The effectiveness of these tactics will depend on the material type (these tactics are much less likely to be effective on the plastic cuffs used by law enforcement, nor should you try to) as well as the positioning of your hands and what tools you have at your disposal. As with normal handcuffs, if you think you may find yourself in a situation from which you need to escape, it’s a great idea to practice your tactics in advance.
Silverxxx / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / GFDL
Breaking Zip Ties
Zip ties operate with a ratchet mechanism, very similar to traditional handcuffs, but without the double lock that prevents them from being tightened further once they’ve been secured. While tightening your restraints further may at first feel counterintuitive, it can actually work to your advantage. This method can work whether your wrists have been bound with a single tie, or with two ties bound together: tighten them as much as you can (you may need to use your teeth), then bring your arms up high, and pull them down quickly. Flare your elbows out and simulate touching your shoulder blades together on the down-swing as your hands hit your stomach (or your rear, depending on whether your hands were cuffed in front of you or behind you). For a visual, check out this video from ITS Tactical:
If you carry a lighter on your person and can maneuver to angle the flame toward the plastic between your wrists, you may be able to soften it enough to pull the plastic cuffs apart or more easily break them using the method outlined above. This method of course runs the risk of burning your own skin, but in a risky situation it will likely be worth it.
With a little forethought, you may be able to afford yourself extra wiggle room to maneuver around inside the zip ties. If you are able to, present your hands to your captor with your fists side-by-side, palms downward and thumbs pressed together. Then, once they have cuffed yours hands together, you can twist both hands sideways (palms both facing inward) and will find that you have much more room to work with, and you may even be able to slip out of the cuffs altogether.
A sharp serrated edge may be able to saw through the material, if you can position your hands correctly from the beginning to afford yourself as much wiggle room as possible (see above). You can also use a length of paracord to create a friction saw. Keep your eyes open to the objects around you that can be used as tools.
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. A shim can be any small, flat object that you can fit into the ratchet mechanism between the locking bar and the tie itself- including the excess end of the zip tie. Inserting the shim separates the ratchet from the locking mechanism, allowing you to easily loosen your restraints.
For more escape tips, check out this overview of handcuff escape methods.
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.
If you are familiar with today’s standard-issue handcuffs, you know that most models, even across different brands, can be opened with a universal key. A universal handcuff key at first seems like a very counter-intuitive concept, placing law enforcement at a tactical disadvantage. But consider which scenario is really of a greater disadvantage- one in which the cuffs being used to secure a suspect can be opened by a universal key, or one in which the cuffs can only be opened by a single unique key, easily misplaced or lost?
Universal handcuff keys have a simple barrel shape, popularized in 1932 by Peerless Handcuff Co. with the introduction of an updated cuff design. At the end of the barrel is a single small tooth, which is turned to disengage the lock mechanism. The simplicity of the design is intentional: the hassle of requiring a different unique key for every single pair of handcuffs used would slow down the process unnecessarily; a suspect may enter the custody of many different officers from initial detainment, to prisoner transport, to the moment when the cuffs are removed. A universal key allows for a much more seamless transition that ultimately works in the favor of all involved, including the suspect.
Naturally a universal locking mechanism can present the potential for unlawful escape attempts. Law enforcement works to prevent this from happening in a variety of ways- among them are thorough searches of the suspect, proper handcuff positioning to make it more difficult to tamper with the cuffs, and employing the double lock. There is a secondary advantage to the uniformity of handcuff keys, however, and that is the ability to escape should you become wrongfully detained. With its unprecedented ease of concealment, a covert handcuff key is the perfect solution for such a scenario.
As quick and simple as it is to secure most modern cuffs on an individual (with a pair of swing cuffs it can easily be done with one hand), there is quite a bit of technique that law enforcement officers must learn in order to place handcuffs most efficiently. The primary goal of cuffing a suspect is to restrain their hands (at the very least) so that they can be dealt with lawfully. Quality cuffs placed in just about any position will effectively provide some level of restraint, but an LEO must also consider the possibility that the suspect may try to escape, and cuff them accordingly without an extreme degree of discomfort for the suspect.
Handcuffs placed in front make it much easier for a suspect to attempt to pick the lock, open them with a universal handcuff key or even use their hands and arms as a weapon. An officer’s first line of defense, then, is to cuff the hands behind the back. Police recruits are typically taught to apply cuffs so that the palms of the suspects’ hands, already behind their back, face outwards with the thumbs up. This makes it more difficult for the hands and fingers to work together to pick or otherwise escape from the cuffs.
A concern, however, of this standard of hand placement is the possibility of handcuff neuropathy. Handcuff neuropathy is the occurrence of numbing, tingling, burning, or pain sensations in the suspects’ hands as a result of nerve compression from the cuffs. Handcuff neuropathy occurs in varying degrees, but if severe enough can be rather debilitating and long-lasting. One way officers may choose to lessen this possibility is by placing the palms together (still behind the back). This somewhat increases the ease with which the suspect may tamper with the lock, so the officer will likely also position the cuffs with the keyholes facing up and away from the hands. This makes the cuffs more difficult to open, even with a covert handcuff key.
A particularly motivated individual may attempt to slip their hands over their feet and legs in order to bring their hands to the front and into a better position to tamper with the cuffs. If this is a concern, a law enforcement official may choose to secure the cuffs, via zip ties or a carabiner clip, to the back of the suspects’ belt or belt loop. Belly chains are another option, often used when transporting high-security prisoners.
It’s impossible to trace back through history to the very first appearance of handcuff-like restraints. After all, as long as humankind has been around there has been the necessity to restrain some less-than-savory characters. Before metal handcuffs, of course, people used rope and animal hide and presumably any other strong material that would get the job done.
The first recorded mention of handcuffs appears in Virgil’s telling of the myth of Proteus, an ancient Greek shape-shifting god. According to the myth, Proteus possessed the gift of prophecy, and men desired to learn from him. But any time a human would approach and request that Proteus share his knowledge, he would shift his shape and escape. Finally Aristaeus, son of Apollo, particularly motivated by the desire to learn why his bees were dying of disease, learned (and utilized) the secret to preventing Proteus from shape shifting and escaping: handcuffs.
The first metal handcuffs as we may recognize them today came into existence with the Bronze and Iron ages, and were “one size fits all” for centuries. This lack of adjustability according to wrist size posed a serious problem: if a suspect’s wrists were too large then the cuffs were painful or simply wouldn’t close; too small and the detainee could slip right out of them. Finally, in 1862, W.V. Adams patented the first adjustable ratchet design. Orson C. Phelps followed a few years later with a patent that improved upon the original ratchet design, and beginning in 1865, John Tower (of the once industry-dominating Tower Handcuffs) used Adams’ and Phelps’ patents to manufacture what were until World War II the industry standard.
There were still problems to overcome, particularly the ease with which a suspect could shim or otherwise tamper with the lock. In 1879, Tower Handcuffs introduced the first double-locking cuff design, which effectively solved this problem by preventing the handcuffs from being ratcheted tighter, a common tactic used when shimming and otherwise attempting escape from handcuffs.
Handcuffs came closer still to the standard that we see today in 1912, when George Carney invented the first swing cuff. This design was revolutionary, as it made it possible for a law enforcement officer to quickly secure the cuffs with just one hand, greatly improving security and ease of use. The Peerless Handcuff Company, still the largest manufacturer of handcuffs today, began selling these swing cuffs, and with the exception of brand variances and small changes, the design of today’s industry standard has remained much the same. TIHK works on most Peerless-style cuffs, and has been reported to work on many other brands as well!
Take a moment to visualize a modern pair of handcuffs. In your mind’s eye, you likely see a pair of metal ratcheted cuffs attached by a short chain. Peerless Handcuff Company began manufacturing the exact cuffs that you are likely picturing in 1914, and to this day continues to lead the industry in handcuff manufacturing.
Handcuffs were revolutionized in 1912, when inventor George Carney patented the swing cuff design. Swing cuffs feature a freely swinging ratchet arm that allows law enforcement to secure the cuffs with just one hand. This was a game-changer, as officers could now cuff suspects with greatly improved speed, agility, and safety. James Milton Gill quickly purchased the patent and founded the Peerless Handcuff Company, and in 1914 began selling the first design based on Carney’s patent. The quick popularity of the swing cuff led to the obsolescence of most other designs.
Ever since, Peerless has been innovating and improving upon the standard cuff design. Along with a thinner cuff, the recognizable barrel-style key was introduced by Peerless in 1932, becoming the industry standard for universal handcuff keys. By 1978 Peerless had sold 1 million cuffs (6 million, as of 2011).
The TIHK is designed to work with most Peerless-style cuffs. When Carney’s original patent expired, nearly every other handcuff company copied the Peerless cuff design, which means there is a very wide variety of brands and styles that TIHK is likely to fit. Order now and never be caught unprepared!
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!
There is a wide variety of ways to pick and tamper with standard handcuffs, the locks of which are operated by a rather simple mechanism. Naturally, this can cause a host of troubles for law enforcement officers, which is why the invention of the double lock by John Tower (of Tower Handcuffs, once a giant of the handcuff industry) in 1879 was revolutionary.
The double lock, which stops ratcheted handcuffs from tightening once the lock is engaged, is now a standard on most modern handcuffs, regardless of the cuff style. While the mechanism of the double lock may vary somewhat depending on manufacturer, they all serve the same two-fold purpose: to prevent potential nerve damage or loss of circulation in the event that the cuffs are tightened, and to prevent the cuffs from being picked.
The basic mechanism of a double lock involves a catch which, when engaged, checks the movement of the ratchet wheel to prevent it from tightening further. This catch is typically engaged with the blunt spike you’ll see at the end opposite the tooth on most handcuff keys, although there are also double locks that are instead engaged with a lever on the cuffs, preventing the need to fiddle with the key after cuffing the subject. The double lock is generally disengaged by rotating the universal handcuff key opposite the direction that unlocks the single lock.
A common lock-picking strategy for ratcheted cuffs is releasing the pawl with a shim. To release the pawl, a thin piece of metal is wedged between the locking mechanism and the teeth and then tightened one notch, thus unclicking the lock. This method is rendered useless with the double lock, because the ratchet will not tighten. Lock picking of every kind becomes more difficult with a double lock, because now the single lock will not release until the secondary lock has first been disengaged, even if the lock has been picked “correctly”. A subject who is unaware that the double lock has been engaged could pick at the lock for hours without success.
It’s very unlikely to come across a pair of modern handcuffs that doesn’t include a double lock; if you do, pass them up in favor of a pair that does. The double lock is one of the surest ways to prevent picking and tampering, and ensure the safety of individuals on both sides of the cuffs.
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.
Why should a universal handcuff key be made available for everyone to purchase? While handcuffs themselves are in use by Law Enforcement Officers in order to protect and serve our communities, they can be legally purchased by anyone. It only takes a few minutes to place an order online and obtain the exact same handcuffs used by Law Enforcement nationwide.
If anyone can easily own a handcuff then why would it be illegal to own a handcuff key? It is not. In fact, there is no Federal or state law restricting ownership of handcuff keys.
While there are too many situations to list in which a Universal Handcuff Key could come in handy, the legality of its use is important to consider. If you are legally detained by a Law Enforcement officer and utilize a handcuff key, shim or other implement to remove the hand cuffs then you are crossing the chasm of legality. By doing so you have exponentially increased the risk to the arresting officer, and their potential response to your self-induced "freedom" may be commensurate. Along those same lines, it would be wise to notify an arresting officer of a Universal Handcuff Key on your person to avoid any ambiguity regarding your intent to escape or do harm.
So then why would anybody want to own or carry a Universal Handcuff Key? If you're a criminal, or plan on committing criminal acts, then you should not put yourself or any public servant's life in danger by having one. If you're a Law Enforcement Officer, Active-duty Military, Private Security, or other first responder then you should always have a backup universal handcuff key- for countless reasons. If you're a law-abiding citizen with common sense and want to be prepared for the unexpected event which may require its use then you also should own one.
In conclusion, handcuffs are prolific devices that can be purchased by anyone, including criminals. We do not encourage illegal use of our product, but firmly believe that a citizen has every right to own our product and make the decision on when they use it.
Notice to Florida Residents:
In the State of Florida there are some specific restrictions on handcuff key possession that prevent them from being carried by a person in a manner that could indicate an intent to prevent discovery by a law enforcement officer, unless you yourself are a law enforcement or security officer. You can find out more on this Florida State government website: http://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2011/843.021
Disclaimer: The TIHK is only to be used to counter illegal detainment and in accordance with all local, state and federal laws by trained law enforcement, military and security professionals. Improper use by civilians is not endorsed or encouraged. Use of the product is at your own personal risk and discretion.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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