Your Guide to Lockpicking

Although locks are meant to keep others out, what if you need to get in? Picking keyed locks is entirely possible with the right knowledge and tools, but it takes more than just jiggling a bobby pin around in a keyhole.

The popular cylinder lock has a key rotate a cylindrical plug to either pull or push the spring-equipped bolt that controls the state of the door. A deadbolt lock, on the other hand, doesn’t have a spring, making it harder to pick.

Cylinder locks feature several coupled pins that sit in the lock’s shaft, either on the top or bottom. When the lock is engaged, the top pins sit between the plug and housing while the bottom pins sit entirely in the plug, ensuring the lock stays closed. Putting the right key inside adjusts the pins to match the point at which the housing and cylinder meet. The plug and housing are no longer connected and the door can be opened.

 To disengage this type of lock, you just need to shift each pin coupling to the right space. You’ll need a pick and a tension wrench to do this. The former is a thin, curved strip of metal that can move pins, and the latter allows you to hold and adjust certain positions.

Insert the tension wrench into the keyhole and rotate it like a key to reposition the plug. Hold the wrench in place, maintaining some pressure on it, then slide your pick into the keyhole and jiggle it around to raise each pin coupling into the housing. You can also rake the lock by putting a wide-end pick into the keyhole and rapidly withdrawing it repeatedly while turning the plug with the wrench. A click and a plug turn later, the door lock is open.

You may happen across wafer-tumbler locks as well. Single-wafers come with pin-like tumblers and springs, while double-wafers have coupled tumblers. The right key will lower all tumblers into the plug, so to pick this kind of lock, keep the pressure on the wrench as you adjust the wafers on either side. The more expensive and secure tubular lock has pins encircling the plug, which are difficult to pick.

It’s also fairly easy to change a key to fit a lock, or change a lock to fit a key. Create grooves in a strip of metal that correspond with the lock’s pin positions if you want a new key, or adjust the pins to match your key’s grooves if you want to change your lock. Of course, it’s usually a good idea to have this professionally done by a locksmith who offers key making services or a hardware expert.

Many people can get by without knowing how to pick locks, but it’s an important skill for locksmiths to have. Thieves that don’t care about being discreet typically break windows to enter houses instead of picking locks, though some people learn how to do it just for fun. No matter who you are, understanding how locks work is always useful.