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Lock Picking 101

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Tools of the Trade

Pin/Tumbler and Wafer Pick sets

The tools for lock picking Pin/Tumbler type locks and wafer type locks can be improvised from common items, or machined at home with relative ease. This is also the case with warded locks. These type above cover the vast majority of American and European domestic locks, the UK being an exception where five lever mortice locks are a requirement for home insurance. A different tool set is required for more complex locks such as mortice locks which are not as easily fabricated.

The process of picking pin/tumbler and wafer locks is concerned with causing the two sets of pins (upper or driver pins and bottom pins) to separate such that the cylinder will turn. The point at which the pins properly separate when the lock is unlocked is called the shearline.

Lock pick kits can be purchased openly via the Internet. Many different selections are present. Nine-piece sets and a 32-piece set equipped with a Pick Gun for example differ in value and price greatly. However, many lock pickers state that for most simple locks, a basic set of five picks is enough; therefore it is unnecessary to carry around a wide variety of professional lock picks.

Torsion wrench

A traditional pickset. From left to right: Torsion wrench, "twist-flex" torsion wrench, offset diamond pick, ball pick, half-diamond pick, short hook, medium hook, saw (or "L") rake, snake (or "C") rake.

Often called a torque wrench or a tension wrench, a torsion wrench is a tool used in picking locks. Typically shaped like a letter "L" (although the vertical part of the letter is elongated in comparison to the horizontal part), it is used to apply torsion to the inner cylinder of a lock, in order to hold any picked pins in place, while the other pins are shifted. The tension wrench is then used to turn the inner cylinder and open the lock.

Despite its popular name, the tool provides torsion, not tension. A tension wrench would be, by definition, a tool that stretches something. A torsion wrench would be a tool that twists.

Some torsion wrenches (called "Feather Touch" wrenches, among other names) are coiled into a spring at the bend in the "L", which helps the user apply constant torque. Some users, however, maintain that such wrenches reduce torsion control and the feedback available to the user.

Other torsion tools, especially those for use with cars resemble a pair of tweezers and allow the user to apply torsion to both the top and the bottom of the lock. These would commonly be used with double sided wafer locks.

Also, high tech torsion tools exist which sit over the lock face allowing the user to see a display of the amount of torsion applied. This aids with the process of feeling when a pin has set.

The torsion tool is just as important, if not more so, as other tools in the set, but is often neglected and is rarely represented in fiction.

For avoidance of doubt, it is not possible to pick a pin/tumbler or wafer lock without a torsion tool, even with the use of a pick gun.

Half-diamond pick

Perhaps the most basic and common pick, this versatile pick is included in all kits and is mainly used for picking individual pins, but can also be used for raking and for wafer and disk locks. Each of the ends of triangular 'half diamond' of this pick can be either steep or shallow in angle, depending on the need for picking without neighboring pins, or raking as appropriate. A normal set would comprise around three half diamond picks and a double half diamond pick.

Hook pick

It is similar to the half diamond pick, but has a hook shaped tip rather than a half diamond shape. The hook pick is sometimes referred to as a 'feeler' or 'finger' and is not used for raking. This is the most basic lock picking tool and is all that a professional will usually need if the lock is to be picked in the traditional sense rather than opened by raking or using a pickgun. A variety of different sized and shaped hooks will be available in a normal set.

Rake picks

These picks, such as the common snake rake, are designed to 'rake' pins by rapidly sliding the pick past all the pins, repeatedly, in order to bounce the pins until they reach the shear line. This method requires much less skill than picking pins individually, and generally works well on cheaper locks.

When the pins are excited they bounce all around the shear line and with the skillful application of a torsion tool this is the easiest way to pick a lock. This is also how beginners begin. Advance rakes are available which are shaped to mimic various different pin height key positions and are considerably easier to use than traditional rakes.

Slagel pick

A rarely used pick mainly used for opening electronic locks. It is often made with small magnetic regions. The Slagel pick is named after James Slagel, who is a leading security technician for IBM. The Slagel pick works by selectively pulling internal parts of the lock to the correct positions.

Warded pick

A warded pick, also known as a skeleton key, is a device for opening warded locks. It is generally made to conform to a generalized key shape relatively simpler than the actual key used to open the lock; this simpler shape allows for internal manipulations. This style of pick can also be used to 'rip' the lock. This is where the pick is placed at the back of the lock and then pulled out in one sharp fast 'ripping' action.

The keys for warded locks only require the end section which is the one which actually open the locks. The other parts are there to distinguish between different variation of their locks. I.e if you have a chest of drawers with a warded lock you can make a skeleton key for that type of warded lock by filing away all but the end of the key.

Pick guns

Often seen in movies and in the tool box of locksmiths, manual and electronic pick guns are a popular method used today for quick and easy ways of opening doors. The higher-end electric pick guns are usually made of aircraft aluminum and hard steel. The pick is operated by simply pressing a button that vibrates while the normal tension wrench is being used. A manual pick gun (or Snap gun) is used in a similar way but usually has a "trigger" that creates an upward movement that must be repeated rapidly to open the lock.

These operate on the same principle as Newton's cradle. They transfer sudden upwards energy to the bottom pins which communicate this to the top pins causing those pins only simultaneously to jump. A pick gun is used in conjunction with a torsion tool and the only skill required here is learning the timing.

* Information above was gathered from

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