9 Clever Ways On How To Pick A Lock For Survival

1. Lock-picking

 Locksmith in Las Vegas and Henderson NV
Locksmith in Las Vegas and Henderson NV

The most popular and well-known method of opening a lock is via lock-picking. This technique typically requires a set of lock-picks but can be accomplished using a couple of paper-clips.

The lock-picking steps may seem simple, but they actually take time and practice to truly master. If you find yourself getting locked out frequently, this may be a handy skill to have. Several locksmiths use this technique before anything else. You only require two tools – a tension wrench and a rake.  

  • The first step is to insert the tension wrench into the lock and rest it on the opposite side from where the teeth of the key would normally rest. If you do not know which way the lock turns, turn the wrench to identify the most likely direction. This will be the direction to turn when the time comes.
  • Hold the tension wrench twisted in the correct direction and insert the rake into the lock where the teeth of the keys would go. Push and pull the rake out of the lock, twisting it and working by feel.  
  • By working the rake in the lock, you should feel the key pin reach the shear line (where the teeth would push them to)
  • Twist the tension wrench in the correct direction, and the lock should spring open!

Like I said earlier, this sounds much easier than it is in practice.  In a pinch, you can use paper clips, but they will not have the same ease of use as real lock picks. 


Lock Picking Tools

Lock picking requires particular tools for the job. As you already know, the basics of lock manipulation are that the plug must be tensioned and that the pins must be moved within the keyway.

For more particular guidance as to what items you need in your first lock pick set, you can take a look at one of our past articles. But here are the basic tools you need in order to start lock picking.

Tension Wrench

Tension tools come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and profiles. The two most common tension wrenches are the pry par (used mostly for “top of the keyway tension”) and the L Bend (used mainly for “bottom of the keyway”).

It is important to have a tension wrench you can insert into the keyway without blocking the pins. You also need the tension tool not to slip in the keyway. If you lose tension, you undo all of the lock picking you had done.


This will be the choice tool for how to pick locks the simple way. A rake works on the idea of moving all of the pins randomly and moving them fast.

They are designed to give the best odds for opening a lock by chance. The most popular rake profiles are the L Rake (aka City Rake) and the Bogata.


Hooks can be standard, offset, and come in many different sizes and thicknesses. They can be used to try and open the lock the simple way, but are more often used for the method of how to pick locks the hard way.

With a hook, you are looking to find something that can move well in the keyway. It needs to be able to access the pins in a way that allows each stack to be leveraged. With hooks, you are looking to get the greatest range of motion while lock picking.

How to Pick a Lock with a Paper Clip

Similar to the bobby pin, the paper clip has the ability to be used as a pick but requirements some adjustments (and may be a bit cumbersome to handle in real-life).

The challenge with paper clips is making sure they don’t bend too much once you begin trying to pick the lock with them. They are often made of softer metal than hair pins, so use a gentle touch.

Type of Locks

The type of lock is crucial when trying to find the most secure lock option for yourself and your family to avoid lock picking from an intruder.

Advanced Lock Picking

Simple lock picking is a trade that anyone can learn. However, advanced lock picking is a craft that requires mechanical sensitivity, physical dexterity, visual concentration and analytic thinking. If you strive to excel at lock picking, you will grow in many ways.

Mechanical Skills

Learning how to pull the pick over the pins is surprisingly difficult. The problem is that the mechanical skills you learned early in life involved maintaining a fixed position or fixed path for your hands independent of the amount of force required. In lock picking, you must learn how to apply a fixed force independent of the position of your hand. As you pull the pick out of the lock you want to apply a fixed pressure on the pins. The pick should bounce up and down in the keyway according to the resistance offered by each pin.

To pick a lock you need feedback about the effects of your manipulations. To get the feedback, you must train yourself to be sensitive to the sound and feel of the pick passing over the pins. This is a mechanical skill that can only be learned with practice. The exercises will help you recognize the important information coming from your fingers.

Zen and the Art of Lock Picking

In order to excel at lock picking, you must train yourself to have a visually reconstructive imagination. The idea is to use information from all your senses to build a picture of what is happening inside the lock as you pick it. Basically, you want to project your senses into the lock to receive a full picture of how it is responding to your manipulations. Once you have learned how to build this picture, it is easy to choose manipulations that will open the lock.

All your senses provide information about the lock. Touch and sound provide the most information, but the other senses can reveal critical information. For example, your nose can tell you whether a lock has been lubricated recently. As a beginner, you will need to use your eyes for hand-eye coordination, but as you improve you will find it unnecessary to look at the lock. In fact, it is better to ignore your eyes and use your sight to build an image of the lock based on the information you receive from your fingers and ears.

The goal of this mental skill is to acquire a relaxed concentration on the lock. Don’t force the concentration. Try to ignore the sensations and thoughts that are not related to the lock. Don’t try to focus on the lock.

Analytic Thinking

Each lock has its own special characteristics which make picking harder or easier. If you learn to recognize and exploit the “personality traits” of locks, picking will go much faster. Basically, you want to analyze the feedback you get from a lock to diagnose its personality traits and then use your experience to decide on an approach to open the lock. Chapter 9 discusses a large number of common traits and ways to exploit or overcome them.

People underestimate the analytic skills involved in lock picking. They think that the picking tool opens the lock. To them the torque wrench is a passive tool that just puts the lock under the desired stress. Let me propose another way to view the situation. The pick is just running over the pins to get information about the lock. Based on an analysis that information the torque is adjusted to make the pins set at the sheer line. It’s the torque wrench that opens the lock.

Varying the torque as the pick moves in and out of the keyway is a general trick that can be used to get around several picking problems. For example, if the middle pins are set, but the end pins are not, you can increase the torque as the pick moves over the middle pins. This will reduce the chances of disturbing the correctly set pins. If some pin doesn’t seem to lift up far enough as the pick passes over it, then try reducing the torque on the next pass.

The skill of adjusting the torque while the pick is moving requires careful coordination between your hands, but as you become better at visualizing the process of picking a lock, you will become better at this important skill.

Step 1: How a Lock Works:

A pin-tumbler is a cylinder based lock design that uses movable pins to prevent rotation of the plug. A key is used to properly elevate pins to allow the plug to rotate and the locking bolt to be retracted. Pin tumblers are a series of pin stacks pushed down by a spring. Each stack must be properly raised to allow pins to separate at the shear-line. Once all pin stacks are separated the plug can freely rotate and actuate the locking bolt to lock or unlock the lock. An incorrect key will not align all components correctly; rotation of the plug will be blocked at the shear-line.

– Key pins (bottom pins): The pins that are touched by thekey. Key pins are sized differently corresponding to the different depth cuts on the key. When the correct key is inserted, all key pins are aligned at the shear line, allowing the plug to rotate.

– Driver pins (top pins): The pins placed between the key pins and the springs. In their resting position, the driver pins block rotation of the plug. In more advanced pin-tumblers, driver pins may be sized inverse to the key pins to defend against decoding and attacks via comb picks.

– Springs: Springs placed above the pin stacks push pins down to their resting position, ensuring that pins cannot be trapped above the shear line while the plug is in the default position.

– Plug: The plug is the inner piece of the lock that rotates upon insertion and tension of the correct key. The plug is connected to the cam to actuate the bolt mechanism when rotated.

– Cylinder: The cylinder is the outer piece of the lock that houses the upper pin chambers and the plug. Driver pins and springs are trapped in the cylinder’s pin chambers when the correct key is used and plug rotated.

– Cam: The cam is an extension connected to the back of the plug which actuates the bolt mechanism to lock or unlock the lock.

The diagrams and information on pin-tumbler locks:

Basic Picking The Binding Defect

The flatland model highlights the basic defect that enables lock picking to work. This defect makes it possible to open a lock by lifting the pins one at a time, and thus you don’t need a key to lift all the pins at the same time. Figure 4.3 shows how the pins of a lock can be set one at a time. The first step of the procedure is to apply a sheer force to the lock by pushing on the bottom plate. This force causes one or more of the pins to be scissored between the top and bottom plate. The most common defect in a lock is that only one pin will bind. Figure 4.3a shows the left pin binding. Even though a pin is binding, it can be pushed up with a picking tool, see Figure 4.3b. When the top of the key pin reaches the sheer line, the bottom plate will slide slightly. If the pick is removed, the driver pin will be held up by the overlapping bottom plate, and the key pin will drop down to its initial position, see Figure 4.3c. The slight movement of the bottom plate causes a new pin to bind. The same procedure can be used to set the new pin.

Thus, the procedure for one pin at a time picking a lock is to apply a sheer force, find the pin which is binding the most, and push it up. When the top of the key pin reaches the sheer line, the moving portion of the lock will give slightly, and driver pin will be trapped above the sheer line. This is called setting a pin.

Chapter 9 discusses the different defects that cause pins to bind one at a time.

  1. Apply a sheer force.
  2. Find the pin that is binding the most.
  3. Push that pin up until you feel it set at the sheer line.
  4. Go to step 2.

Table 4.1: Figure 5: Picking a lock one pin at a time.

Figure 4.1: (a) Sheer force causes driver to bind

Figure 4.2: (b) Pick lifts the binding pin

Figure 4.3: (c) Left driver sets and right driver binds

Homemade Lockpicks

Improvised lock picks are some of the easiest to create due to their simple shape, allowing you to make a decent set of picks in only a few minutes, but they do come with some limitations.

Most lockpicks produced today are made out of a spring steel with specific tip shape to ensure they are able to withstand the forces experienced during picking.  Improvised picks lack much of the strength of traditional picks, meaning they will likely need to be reshaped between picking attempts.

Improvised picks are also limited in their functionality because of their size, as the material used is often thicker than normal lock picks.  This can make some keyways impossible to access, particularly if they are narrow or weirdly shaped such as is seen in higher end locks.

In spite of their limitations, improvised lockpicks can still be relied on when needed so let’s have a look at how we can start making some lock picks.

Paperclip Lockpicks

The paperclip lockpick is a cliché in countless movies, and while they normally get lockpicking completely wrong, paperclips can be relied on to craft reasonably good lockpicks. 

Paperclips bend incredibly easily yet can hold their shape well enough to function as a pick to an impressive level.  All you need to do is straighten out a portion of the paperclip then create the shape of your tip.Hook picks and rake picks typically work best because of their relatively simple shape, however, these two styles are incredibly versatile that can handle most locks you will likely face.

This is normally as far as most lockpicking in movies will go to, creating only the lock pick and ignoring a means to rotate to core.  Tension wrenches are also required for lockpicking and can be made from paperclips by folding the paperclip against itself and then placing a hook in the end. 

While possible to make a paperclip tension wrench, they can be improvised with much more effectiveness using other common items such as pen clips or bobby pins.  As these materials are thicker than the tension wrenches produced using a paperclip and offer much better control over the lock’s rotation.

A paperclip and bobby pin lockpick set will struggle against high-end locks with security pins but can be an extremely effective attack on cheaper Master Locks, and with their small size conceal in almost any kit making them a great addition.

Wiper Blades

Another great source of material you can use to make lockpicks out of can be found in almost any car wiper blade.  Modern wipers use steel, contained within the rubber wiper to reinforce the blade, which can be removed with relative ease.

As most modern lockpicks already use spring steel in their construction, these homemade tools are able to hold up much more effectively than paperclips however are not a perfect solution for lockpicks on the go.

Unlike using paperclips, this method is much more involved as the steel cannot be easily bent into shape and will often need to be filed.  They are however able to last much longer and withstand the forces experiences during picking so are worth the investment of crafting them. 

Wiper blade lockpicks can also prove an effective technique as they can be formed easily into a tension wrench to much greater effect than paperclips providing a complete set of tools from a single wiper blade.

This method may not work well if you are attempting to make lock picks while already within a restricted location because of the preparation required to turn them into functional picks.  It does however prove an extremely good option if you are looking to make your own picks cheaply or are looking to source lockpicks in a foreign country where they may otherwise not be available.


mike on May 14, 2013:

Thanks this helped my understanding very much. This site shows you how to do it with some paperclips.

Likeidgiveyoumyname on March 30, 2012:

This article is good but it doesn't teach you HOW to really pick locks. I think it's a useful skill worth learning for sure, because if you're good enough you can break into vending machines.

Gary on January 30, 2012:

I've picked locks for years, and shown many a coworker how to do it(though all were too dense to grasp knowledge) this is a very simple yet rather informative article of the subject, giving me even a little new insight to the behind the scenes workings of why I can easily pick some locks and not others. Kudos, and if you can keep 'em coming.

p.s. the tennis ball farse: I think this method to THEORETICALLY work would involve freezing temps. and the ball to be wet to create that vacuum seal that is required to pull the pins inward for lockpicking success, none the less, this will fail with something like a 99.9% rate of failure,unless you or a friend happens to own a major POS.:) it is a nice thought but realistically un- pheasable.

Tom on December 15, 2011:

I'm here freezing my ass off trying to find ways to get into my house using the wi-fi from outside my house although this guide is good it requires too much preparation

Mozza80 on July 25, 2011:

Absolutely brill, love the page!! Although it is possible to open a car with a tennis ball, some but very few have an air powered central locking system and you are able to pressure it open

Preston on August 28, 2010:

Interesting article..

jazzy on July 30, 2010:

Mac don't you have anything better to do than talk to americans!you must have no life!!!!!!!!!!

That's just SAD!!!!!

jazzy on July 30, 2010:

how do you pick a lock.i went on like a billion websites but it just seems so hard.maybe im just PARANOID!

evian on June 27, 2010:

thanks for this guide, i don't want to be a locksmith, but being able to pick a lock is a good skill. oh and thanks for the good cover up-i got caught by the police yesterday when i tried to pick my house lock haha.

WeAreAnonymous on March 19, 2010:

Is it possible to pick locks without using certified 'lock picking tools'? Say a paper clip/girls hair accessory (called a kurby) and a homemade torque wrench?

Ryan OConnell (author) from California on January 18, 2009:

Depends on the lock, Sara. Most bathroom doors can be forced open or shimmied though.

HARRIS from Phoenix, Ariz on October 18, 2008:

Truly Said A must art to learn. But does it work from inside like when your stuck in a bathroom and without tools. If it does a noble recommendations for you! Great Hub

campbell on October 16, 2008:

well that was some useful lock pick info now i can put a stink bomb in someones locker lol jk

Trsmd from India on July 28, 2008:

very informative hubpage.. thanks..

BernieQuimpo from Philippines on June 27, 2008:

You're my kind of geek, mroconnell. Awesome hub. Now, to look for a lock to pick…

Steve Andrews from Lisbon, Portugal on June 12, 2008:

These skills could have come in handy in my past when I have had to break in. Nowadays I am just ultra careful not to lose my keys! lol Great hub!

Ryan OConnell (author) from California on May 10, 2008:

Amen to that. I've broken into my own belongings more times than I care to remember.

Woody Marx from Ontario, Canada on May 10, 2008:

Utterly fascinating! Everyone should know these things. You never know when you will have to 'break into your own house/car/etc.'

matt on April 30, 2008:

Good basic info for beginners. If andy newbs out there want to learn a bit more in depth, go to <a href=>lock pick guide.com</a>

beachbum_gabby on April 17, 2008:

hey cool~ maybe I can use this when my parents lock me up in my room because I'm grounded. ^___^ Vote you up, great hub.

surfchicky23 from New Zealand on April 17, 2008:

Yay now I can get out of jail!

Ryan OConnell (author) from California on April 16, 2008:

Thank you so much, Robie. There are some really cool graphic representations at the how stuff works page. I used to barely be able to pick my nose, and now I can handle a lot of locks. But I'm glad you can enjoy my scatterbrain even if our hobbies are different. I'm sure we line up somewhere along the what makes me laugh out loud line.

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on April 16, 2008:

Ahhhhh Mroconnell–you are a man of many talents LOL. I have to admit that I am so mechanically challenged that I can't visualize the workings of a lock, but I see that you have organized the information beautifully, written it up well, and provided all the info a would-be lockpicker needs to embark on a new career. This is great. I love the way your mind works!


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