The Basic Art of Lock Picking

Whether you're training as an international spy or have simply locked yourself out of the house, lock picking is a valuable skill to learn. While you may be intimidated by the apparent difficulty of the task, learning to pick locks is actually quite easy. With practice, a steady hand and the right set of tools, anyone can learn to pick locks.

The Mechanics of Pin-Tumbler Locking Devices

In order to pick a lock, you must first be aware of the mechanics of basic pin-tumbler locking devices. Once you understand their basic strengths and limitations, the rest is a matter of practice.

A basic tumbler lock includes a cylindrical rotating tube, known as the plug, set inside the shell of the lock itself. When rotated, the plug separates the locking mechanism from the door jam and allows the door to open. In its locked state, four or five spring-loaded pins are set inside the plug prevent it from turning.

Each pin inside the lock is cut in a spot perpendicular to its length. When a key is inserted, the pins are pushed upwards against the springs with the amount of force determined by the particular pattern of the key. The force of the key pushes the cut of each pin to the border, known as the shear line, between the plug and the shell. When the pins reach the shear line, they click into place and remove the resistance hindering the rotation of the plug. This opens the lock.

Finding an Opening

Ideally, the pins in such a tumbler lock would be perfectly aligned, meaning that all would have to be pushed simultaneously to the shear line. This makes picking the lock almost impossible. Due to the inaccuracies in the manufacturing process, however, small variations exist within most locks that leave the pins somewhat misaligned.

Picking the Lock

With a basic set of tools, such as a standard pick and tension wrench, the task of lock picking becomes about determining the first pin restricting plug movement. From there, use the standard pick to push the restricting pin upwards until the cut reaches the shear line.

Next, use the tension wrench to turn the plug. The plug will move slightly, leaving the aforementioned pin in the unlocked position. You can then determine the next pin restricting plug movement and repeat the process to effectively pick the lock.

Understanding Lock Picking

At the end of the day, picking locks is all about removing the restricting pin. Once you have determined that, the correct use of tools and patience will have you picking locks and taking names for as long as you like.

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