How to Pick a Pin and Tumbler Lock

At one time or another, everyone has found themselves on the wrong side of a locked door without the proper key to open it. Before you call in a locksmith, you might consider trying your hand at a little basic lock picking. The most common style door lock today is a simple pin and tumbler lock, one of the simplest types of lock to pick.

If you are interested in trying your hand, you will need a couple of basic tools to do the job. Unless you happen to own a locksmiths tool set you will need to settle for makeshift tools. Fortunately, simple household items will do the job quite nicely. First you will need a lock pick. A lock pick is a small thin strip of metal with a tiny upward curve at the end. Locksmiths use it to align the lock's pins. A straightened paperclip with a small upward curve at its end will do in a pinch.

Secondly, you will need a tension wrench. A tension wrench rotates the lock's tumbler once the pins are properly aligned. A small thin screwdriver does the job very nicely. Depending on the lock, the largest size from a jeweler's screwdriver set should do. If necessary, you can step up to the smallest thinnest driver from a standard set. The larger handle and longer shank make it ideal providing the blade fits into the lock's key slot with room left to work your pick.

Before you can start to pick your lock, you need to have a basic understanding of how the pin and tumbler lock works. Just above the key slot moving from the front of the lock to the back are a series of holes, usually five, or six depending on the lock. Each of these holes contains a set of two pins stacked on top of one another. Each of these pins is of a different length. When the key is not in the lock these pins drop down into the tumbler and make it impossible to turn. However, when the key is inserted the groves in the key move the pins into proper alignment allowing the tumbler to turn freely.

There are two picking techniques you need to learn. The first is called raking. To rake the pins you insert your tension wrench into the bottom of the key slot leaving as much room as possible to work with your pick Next insert your pick all the way to the back of the lock. Pressing up with your pick, pull it forward out of the lock in one quick motion. At the same instant, you must begin to apply a gentle but constant clockwise pressure on the tumbler with your tension wrench.

This first technique, when done properly, will cause several of the pins to move upward and catch on the edge of the tumbler that is moved slightly out of position by the pressure you are applying. Occasionally, on super cheap low-end locks you can pick the lock using this technique alone. However, most locks you encounter will require more effort.

After you rake the lock, be sure to maintain a constant pressure on your tension wrench. If you let off the pressure for even an instant the pins will all fall back into place and you will need to redo the rake. Now reach back into the lock with your pick and feel gently for each of the pins. This is the most difficult technique to master. As you find each of the pins test them with the pick. Some will not move up any further while others will. The ones that move should be pressed upward gently. You will feel them click into place as you get them aligned. As soon as you align the final pin, the tumbler will rotate and the lock will unlock.

Picking the final pins correctly can have a bit of a steep learning curve. Be patient and practice and you will soon master them. Start out by practicing on low-end locks. The cheap construction tends to amplify the sensations you need to feel for as you pick those final pins.

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