One of the first decisions you have to make as a new picker is what lock pick set to start with. With all of the choices available, it can be hard to know which is the best lock pick set for you.
It’s like if you tried to buy a screwdriver, but you’d never used one and didn’t really know what kind you needed so you shop for a box of lock picking tools and hope you find what you need in there.
Hopefully, though, this article will answer some of your questions and help you make the right decisions.
Beginner Lock Pick Sets
Many people looking for a beginner lock pick set mistakenly look for a “cheap” lock pick set. While you can absolutely get started on a budget, finding the most picks at the low est cost is not a good way to go about it.
The first thing that fools people with a cheap lock pick set is that they are loaded with picks and rakes (more on rakes later). They appear to give a great sense of value! But most of those picks are redundant or nearly useless.
They also come with very few turning tools, often called “tension wrenches”. Ironically, when new pickers get started they quickly realize they only need a couple of different picks and a wider variety of turning tools. The best budget options come with only a few picks and tension wrenches, but they are high quality and will last a long time.
A serious drawback to those cheap lock pick learning kits you can find on places like Amazon is that the picks are very weak and sometimes too thick to fit properly into a lot of locks.
Note: Click here if you are wondering if lock picks are legal where you live.
TLDR: Best Beginner Lockpick Set Table
|Pick Set||Picks||Turning Tools||Case||Price|
|Covert Instruments – Genesis||4||3||No||~$25 USD|
|Sparrows – Tuxedo Pick Set||7||6||Yes||~$32 USD|
|Southord – C1500||11||4||Leather||~$38 USD|
|Sparrows – Gotham||7||9||Expandable||~$39 USD|
|Law Lock Tools – Valyrian||13||6||Yes||~$50 USD|
|Multipick – Elite 11||7||3||Leather||~$62 USD|
Types of Lock Picks for beginners
Before we look at where to get the best lock picking kits, let’s take a moment to talk about the types of tools you’ll want to look for. Of course, you’ll be looking for picks, but there are a lot of different types of tools that qualify under that name.
In particular, you should know that there are picks meant for single pin picking, or SPP, and pins meant for “raking”.
Lock raking is generally considered to be a low-skill method and becomes less useful as you progress to higher security locks. However, when you’re first learning it’s a great skill to learn and can really help you get those first few opens! My recommendation is to get a rake or two, but disregard the lock pick sets that have a dozen tools, and almost all of them are different profiles of rakes. Armed with a triple peak (also known as a Bogata) and a city rake (also known as an L-rake) you can get into most rake-able locks. Many pickers, though, quickly get bored by raking and move on to SPP.
Tension Wrenches / Turning Tools
Regardless of whether or not you’re raking, single pin picking, or both, you’ll want a variety of turning tools or tension wrenches.
Why are they sometimes called tension wrenches? What are they tensioning?
Well, technically they don’t apply “tension” to the lock by engineering definitions. It’s jargon used by the locksmith industry, and not to be taken as an engineering or physics description.
The best advice I can give you if that bothers you is the famous movie mobster quote: “don’t worry about it”. This also happens to be a great way to respond to people when they ask you why you want to pick locks as a hobby.
Most starter kits include a few bottom-of-keyway (BOK) tools, which are usually good enough to get started. But soon you’ll want to look into top-of-keyway (TOK) tension tools, and that’s where your collection will start to grow very quickly.
When choosing a TOK tension wrench, you’ll want to pick something that fits snuggly into the keyway. As I’m sure you can imagine, that leads to quite a few tools with slightly different thicknesses. But don’t worry, start with a few and see what you like, and then you can start piecing together your personalized advanced kit.
Additionally, if you’d like to try locks with dust covers or car locks, don’t look for a special car lock pick set. Get any set of lock picks and include a Y-wrench. They look a bit like BOK wrenches connected halfway down the handle.
Now that we’ve discussed picks vs rakes and we’ve talked about tension wrenches, it’s time to talk about picks used for single-pin picking.
The pick you’ll probably find yourself reaching for the most is the short hook or standard hook. Some pick manufacturers will call it other names, such as “hook number one”, and there are many picks that are nearly identical and interchangeable, like the euro hook or the short SSDEV.
The latter is from a collaborative German specification of a few different hook profiles, and they are available from a variety of manufacturers.
There are many other types of hooks with many names, such as the half-diamond, Tron (named after the picker who designed it), deforest diamond, offset hybrid, high-reach, notched picks, and many more. People often end up trying a few and choosing what they think feels the best to them while picking. However, to start, the pick you need to start with is the short hook.
You’ll also probably want a medium hook (or even a deep hook), which comes in handy when the bitting* prevents you from reaching a high-lift pin behind a low-lift pin. Why not use a medium hook all the time? It’s harder to navigate through the warding of the lock. The warding is the shape of the keyway that is intended to limit what type of blank can be used for that lock. This type of warding serves several purposes.
What is Lock Warding?
Warding can be used to enhance security by making it difficult to fit lock picking tools into the keyhole. And that leads us to why various deep hooks or skeleton keys might not be as useful as one might think.
Warding often makes it difficult to maneuver a deep hook in the lock. However, it’s better to have one in your lock pick kit so that when you need it and can use it, you have one handy.
What is Lock Bitting?
The arrangement of how high or low the pins have to be lifted to open a lock. This can be seen on the key; a deep cut on the key indicates a low-lift pin and a shallow cut on the key indicates a high-lift. Typically, bitting or pinning numbers start at 0 for nearly no cut and go up as the cuts get deeper.
Warding prevents you from using some pick designs without scraping against them and dulling the feedback you can get from the pins, but some of that can be mitigated by using thinner picks. The drawbacks to thinner picks, however, are that feedback is generally not as clear from those and then bends and breaks more easily. So, when planning your lock picking set, consider getting each pick and rake in multiple thicknesses.
The thickness of a Lock Pick
Most common thicknesses of picks:
- 0.023-0.025” ≈ 0.6mm
- 0.018-0.120” ≈ 0.5mm
- 0.015-0.015” ≈ 0.4mm
In my opinion, that middle thickness is perfect for attacking the infamous American 1100 series and many other locks that are just barely restrictive enough to cause trouble for the thicker picks. Some options that are even thinner than 0.015” or 0.4mm are available, but these are less common and not usually necessary. They do come in handy, though, if you get into higher security locks with particularly restrictive keyways.
One final note before we get into specific sets is the handle. Many pick sets have a plain metal handle, which some pickers find to be uncomfortable. You can use shrink tube, tape, or add-on or slip-on handles to help with that. Other picks might come with laminated steel handles for added comfort or various slip-on solutions. Some picks come with plastic or rubber handles as well, to improve comfort and grip.
Now that we’ve talked about lock picking tools in terms of picks vs rakes, turning tools or tension wrenches, pick profiles, thickness, and handles, which lock pick sets are the best to start out with? Let’s take a look at a few! I want to mention that I personally own and have used picks from each of the companies reviewed, but my experiences are my own and your experience might vary.
Sparrows Lock Picks
Many Sparrows lock pick sets are well known for being great as a beginner lock pick set. You can get a minimalist set like the Kick Start, which is modestly priced, contains 2 hooks, 2 rakes, 6 tension wrenches, and comes with a small carrying case.
They have a variety of sets that are basically expanded versions of this, like the Tuxedo set, the Spirit set, or the Controller.
Sparrows also carry more advanced lock pick sets, a variety of cases, individual picks, various training locks, starter re-pinning kits, and all manner of tools to make your journey to lock picking mastery fun. Their tools are reasonably high quality in fit and finish, the steel used is strong, and most of their products are very reasonably priced. The only criticism I might offer is that they may need a little bit of finishing work with fine sandpaper, and some of their products seem a little bit gimmicky and are more like toys than serious lock picking tools. So just avoid these (unless, of course, you want them!) and it’s hard to go wrong with Sparrows lock picks.
Peterson Lock Picks
These lock picks are well known to be some of the most durable on the market. They make some of the most popular profiles and have comfortable plastic handles.
Many pickers, from beginners to the most advanced, will reach for a Peterson pick before even considering anything else. The as-received finish leaves a bit to be desired, however, and most pickers will touch these up with fine-grit sandpaper (600,1000, then 2000 or higher) before using them. They also often leave people who are new to the hobby with a bit of sticker shock.
In spite of these drawbacks, Peterson makes some of the strongest picks on the market and they have many excellent pick profiles to choose from. If you do choose one of their basic lock pick sets, plan to expand it with some more tension wrenches, as their more basic sets often come with only one turning tool.
This is a well-known brand of lock picks that have good profiles and finish. They also have their standard line and the “Southord Max” line which is made of higher strength steel.
Having tried both types of picks, I recommend people stick with the more expensive Max picks, as I found the standard product line to be made of relatively weak steel. I thought it was a bit too easy to bend these picks and didn’t use them much because of this.
The Southord Max picks are much stronger but are correspondingly more expensive. Unfortunately, they don’t have a starter lock pick set in the max line. They do, however, have a nice simple set or their basic picks that come with a lock picking guidebook at a very affordable price.
If you want a set that can carry you from beginner to advanced picking without breaking the bank, it’s hard to beat the Dangerfield Praxis kit. Excellent strength and profiles, 21 total pieces including the 2 most common pick thicknesses, 3 BOK wrenches, 2 TOK wrenches, and a case that has plenty of room for expansion.
I’d start with expanding to more TOK wrenches, of which Dangerfield also makes a nice selection. The downsides of these tools are that they may require a bit of attention with some fine-grit sandpaper, and the thin handles are uncomfortable to some. That said, those are both easily remedied.
These are some of the first picks I ever bought, and I’m still using them to this day.
Multipick is exactly what you might expect as an example of German engineering and manufacturing. Each one of these beautifully finished and crafted picks has the pick type and serial number laser etched on the handle.
They have laminated steel handles, leather cases, an enormous variety of pick profiles, and a good selection of tension wrenches. They aren’t the cheapest picks on the market, but they are easily in the running for the best.
If you’re the kind of person who wants to have the best tools of the trade and you know that quality comes at a cost, then you will be satisfied with the Multipick ELITE lock pick sets that range from 7 to 40 pieces depending on your needs.
These aren’t lock picks just for hobbyists, these are marketed as professional lock pick sets for European locksmiths who find themselves confronted with some of the world’s highest security locks. You might find yourself getting your Multipicks out just to admire them from time to time.
LockPickingLawyer’s Covert Instruments / Southern Specialties
With the popularity of LockPickingLawyer it would be a disservice to the community not to mention the picks he sells at CoverInstruments.com. The Genesis set contains 2 hooks, 2 rakes, and tension wrenches.
The tools are of excellent quality, and I don’t believe a picker at any level would be displeased with the strength of steel, profile, or finish of these tools. The handles are spot welded sandwiched steel and reasonably comfortable, and the Genesis set is about the best value you can find for a starter lock pick set.
Unfortunately, it does tend to sell out. But there’s some good news; you can buy the exact same picks from Southern Specialties at lockpicktools.com!
Law lock Tools
Based in the United Kingdom, these are a favorite for many Europeans and not just because of where they are from. Law lock tools are excellent in fit and finish, and are high quality in every way you want.
They have an excellent selection ranging from beginner to advanced, in addition to a great selection of tension wrenches. The Valyrian set is one of the most popular beginner sets, giving a superb selection of hooks, as many rakes as one might need, and 3 of each BOK and TOK tensioners. No matter where you’re from, Law Lock Tools picks are a great choice for beginners and advanced pickers alike.
Ratyoke / other custom lockpick makers
These are ART more than lock picks. Make no mistake, though, Ratyoke makes an excellent quality pick in terms of the quality of the pick itself. But where those picks really stand out is the handle. They are comfortable, they are among the highest quality in terms of fit and finish, and they are beautiful! Also, they are expensive! You’ll pay more for a single pick than you will most starter sets. If you’re just starting, these are not a good value. If you become more experienced and you’re somebody who enjoys the finer things, or you love objects that are both functional and beautiful, these may be for you.
Dimple picks and Disc Detainer (DD) picks
As a quick note, there are some less common types of picks to match somewhat less common types of locks, which are also typically high security. In particular, the common styles are dimple locks and disc detainer locks. These special locks will likely require special types of picks to open. These won’t be covered here for the sake of brevity.
The choices can seem overwhelming, especially if you don’t know to ignore the countless other cheap lock pick sets that are full of poor-quality tools and gimmicks. But if you choose something from the companies above, you’re sure to have a learning experience that isn’t hindered by poor quality lock picks.
Of course, you can always buy a more advanced kit with many more tools from these companies, but most folks hesitate to spend that kind of money when they’re just learning. And don’t forget to save some of that starter cash for the locks to pick!