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.
Since the invention of the highly-effective ratcheted handcuff model, patented by W.V. Adams in 1862, nearly every style of handcuffs sold has used some version of the ratchet design. The primary differences among modern handcuffs, aside from brand variances in lock design, lie in the way the two separate cuffs are connected. The three main styles of ratchet handcuffs in use today are chain cuffs, hinge cuffs, and cuffs connected with a rigid bar.
Chain cuffs are by far the most popular cuffs for everyday use in law-enforcement due to their ease of application (even on a struggling subject) and the fact that they can be folded in half for better portability. The two cuffs are attached by a short chain, typically just two links long, and the ratchet arms are usually swing-through for even greater 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 in every capacity save the connection point: they are attached by a hinge rather than a chain. Hinge cuffs are shorter than chain cuffs when extended, thus allowing for less movement on the part of the subject. This makes them potentially more secure, but more also potentially more difficult to apply if the subject is in motion. 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. This method of eliciting compliance would be difficult or impossible with the more flexible chain cuffs.
The third most common type of cuff is connected by a rigid solid bar. When actively used on a subject, they function more like hinged cuffs, holding the hands closer together than chain cuffs and providing the least mobility for the subject. This makes them more secure than chain cuffs, but the downside is that they are also more difficult to carry even than hinged cuffs because they cannot be folded in half. Rigid bar cuffs, like hinged cuffs, allow the law enforcement officer to apply pain-compliance techniques that aren’t possible with chain cuffs. Where chain cuffs are more likely to be used during an initial arrest, rigid bar cuffs may be used when transporting a subject from one place to another, particularly if the subject is known to be non-compliant.
What all of these cuffs have in common is the potential to be opened with a universal handcuff key such as TIHK. Regardless of the type of connection between the two cuffs, most modern handcuffs have a very simple lock design for practical reasons. As a result, a universal cuff key may very well be able to open chain cuffs, rigid bar cuffs, and hinged cuffs, though ease of use may vary according to the varied mobility provided by the different styles. Variations in manufacturing and lock styles notwithstanding, TIHK can open every one of these types of handcuffs.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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