I’ve been picking locks since high school. For me, lockpicking has never been a nefarious thing, in spite of the stigma surrounding it. This activity is about knowledge, dexterity, and skill.
If you’re looking to commit a crime, then a bolt cutter, crowbar, and hammer will likely be your most effective breaching devices.
The benefits of lockpicking
We live in a world of locks and most of them offer very little protection… and most people don’t even know it.
When it comes to security, physical or digital, I think that the best way to defend oneself is through understanding.
Plus, the mechanisms are really cool and I enjoy developing finesse skills.
Ethics, common sense, & the law
One more thing before we get into specifics: There are a few ethical and common sense rules that all lock pickers should follow, regardless of skill level:
- Don’t pick a lock unless you own it or have permission to pick it.
- Don’t pick a lock that you need to rely on.
- Be aware of the laws in the countries, states, counties, and municipalities that you visit. Most places in the US are lockpicking-friendly, but a few are not (especially Tennessee).
In short, don’t be a criminal and don’t be an idiot.
A bonus rule for escape room players so that our readers who also own escape rooms don’t mail me a bomb: Don’t bring a damn lockpick kit into an escape room. That is not the point of the escape room… and that’s not the point of this post.
How pin & tumbler locks work
While not succinct, this video provides a through explanation of how your typical pin & tumbler lock operates.
A good starter lockpick kit
There are a ton of junk lockpick kits on the market. Any lockpicks that you find on Amazon are crap.
If you want to dabble in lockpicking, here are the tools you’ll need to start out:
North American locks generally have a wider, more open keyway than European locks, so you can get into them with thicker picks. This is great for pickers because the heftier metal is less likely to break (although they will eventually).
I recommend North American newbies pick up the Kick Start from Sparrows.
This comes with a triple peak (for raking), a city rake (for rocking), and a pair of hooks (for single pin picking). That’s enough to get anyone started. If you’re looking to drop a little more money, you may want to add on a worm rake and a classic snake rake as raking is the first skill you’ll want to learn.
If you’re a European, you’ll need thinner picks to maneuver in tighter keyways. I recommend that you explore lockpicking on American locks first because it simplifies some of the early skill-building.
How would I go about using this stuff?
LockLab’s “Bosnian Bill” is lockpicking’s YouTube star. If you think I’m being facetious, he has over 338,000 subscribers and more than 96,400,000 views on his more than 1,100 videos.
Bill is an incredibly talented picker, but his real superpower is explaining stuff in an effortlessly engaging and entertaining way. Most of what I know about picking I’ve learned from his videos… Lisa will confirm… I watch them daily on 1.25 speed.
Bill has an old, slightly politically incorrect video that walks you through all of the standard lockpicking attacks for a typical pin & tumbler lock. These are the basics:
A few locks to learn on
Some of the most common locks are also among the easiest to learn lockpicking on. This may shock some of you, but the following are locks openable with minimal training by beginners:
Also known as the escape room locker lock (because they are cheap and look official), the 141D is fun to learn on because it’s a trivial pick. “But don’t worry, your phone is secured.”
Masterlock No.1, 3, & 5
This exceptionally common lock comes in a few sizes and all of them use the same core (locking mechanism) in different sized bodies (except for the itty bitty Masterlock No.7, which uses an even smaller, junkier core, but it’s a harder pick because it’s tough to maneuver in it).
I recommend the Masterlock No.3 because it’s affordable and comfortable to hold.
If you get serious, you should buy a bunch of locks that all look the same but are pinned differently, so that you can rotate through them and really learn how to manipulate the lock (rather than memorize how to open one particular lock). This is a tip that I’m borrowing from The Lockpicking Lawyer.
I do want to make sure that this is clear: these locks offer little to no security. While these Masterlocks are incredibly common, that does not make them strong. If there’s interest, I’ll do a follow-up on more serious locks.
Resources for diving down the rabbit hole
For additional information, I have three go-to sources:
- Bosnian Bill’s near daily videos
- Bill’s website LockLab, which has tons of tutorial information
- The LockPicking Lawyer’s near daily videos which I watch on 1.5 speed because he is probably a trial lawyer who has been trained to slowly articulate every word he speaks… which he does magnificently, but I have stuff to do.
(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)