Lock picking is the practice of manipulating a lock to cause it to open without using the key and without damaging the lock.
You can achieve this with specially made lockpicks or other items used to manipulate the lock.
Lock picking is an activity that has existed for as long as locks have themselves. As locks have become more secure to keep lockpickers out, lock picking has evolved with better tools and techniques over the years. As a result, it has become more complicated and requires more skill as locks have improved over the years.
Many people see lock picking as an activity used only by criminals and spies for nefarious purposes. However, it is more and more becoming a common hobby.
Lock Picking Explained
How Lock Picking Works
Lock picking involves exploiting small variations in the parts in each lock that are inherent to the manufacturing process. However, every single part in a lock is slightly different, and each lock ever made will be different.
This results in a phenomenon in a lock called the binding order. This is where one pin in the lock will be locked in place before the others because it is slightly larger than the others or the hole it’s in is slightly out of alignment with the rest.
Think of this like trying to line up the head of four pins precisely in line with nothing but your hands. While you may get very close, it will never be perfect. The same problem exists in the creation of locks, but at a much smaller scale.
These tiny differences allow a lockpicker to feel the movement of the pins and, with practice, place them in the correct positions to open the lock.
Note: The bigger the differences in manufacturing a lock, the easier it is to pick. This is one of the reasons why locks of higher quality, made with smaller tolerances, are much harder to pick. So, as a general rule, when it comes to locks, you get what you pay for most of the time.
You can read more in our article about how lock picking works here.
Is Lock Picking Legal?
This is a common question that beginners always ask and the basic answer is yes, but it depends*.
*Note: Be sure to check the laws in your local area as they vary a lot around the US and all around the world. See our article below for more information.
How to Lockpick
You need the right tools, a tension wrench, a lock pick, some patience, and a steady hand to pick a lock.
All you need to do is use something to turn the lock the same way the key would while giving you access to the open keyway.
Next, you use a lockpick or another tool to reach into the lock and lift each pin one at a time. You must lift each one until the driver pin above the key pin stays in place. You keep repeating this until you have moved all the driver pins above the shear line, and the lock will open.
Note: This is only for a pin tumbler lock. Many types of locks, like disc-detainer and tubular locks, work differently from this.
How to Learn Lock Picking
Learning lock picking takes patience and an interest in it as a hobby.
There are only a couple of things you will need, and they are.
- A lock to pick: Preferably something easy to start with. If you are unsure what to start with, look at our practice locks article to find a good starting point.
- Some lockpicks: While not essential, bobby pins and paperclips bend easily and will not serve you very well for learning to pick locks, so we recommend you get a real set for yourself. But don’t worry, they are relatively inexpensive, and you can find our list of lock pick sets here.
That’s all you need to start picking.
Watch people pick locks on YouTube to get a better idea of the technique you should be using. A great channel to start with is LockNoob.
Finally, just do a lot of practice. As you improve, you can start picking harder and harder locks.
Our lock picking practice guide will help you improve as fast as possible.
Lock Picking Tools
While you can open locks with many different things, from the favorite bobby pin to a screwdriver or even a knife, there is a whole industry creating a full range of lock picking tools for any type of lock that you can get your hands on.
The most common of these would be the humble lock picking kit. A lock picking kit is a collection of tools usually designed to open pin tumbler locks that are collected together. There are many lock pick sets, some with more tools and some with fewer, while some are better than others.
Locks for Lock Picking
Lock picking only exists if there is something to pick. This entire activity is to open locks in ways that were not supposed to be opened.
This is an ever-advancing war between lock makers and lockpickers, the former continually trying to create locks that are harder and harder to pick and lockpickers continually improving their techniques and tools to open more and more secure locks.
Types of Locks
Pin-tumbler locks are the most common you will come across in the world, and they are the best starting point for starting lock picking. But there are a lot more out there.
Here are some of the most common types, and each one uses different picking tools to be able to open them:
- Wafer locks: With double-sided keys, wafer locks are what you will find in a car. Instead of pins, they use sliding metal wafers that interact with the key. They come in wide varieties of difficulty, from very easy to pick to highly advanced, and are one of the most common types of locks you will come across.
- Dimple locks: Normally considered a higher-security alternative to a standard pin lock, dimple locks work in a similar way to a pin tumbler but have dimples on the sides of the key that the pins fall into rather than cut along the top edge.
- Most people consider Tubular locks high-security; these will be seen in many places like lock boxes. Unfortunately, unless they have been manufactured specifically to resist it, picking these types of locks is very easy with an inexpensive tool you can get on eBay.
The Lock Picking Community
There is a large and passionate community around lock picking that includes many different online forums and websites, competitions, and events worldwide.
From the millions of viewers of lock picking videos on YouTube to the nearly 190 000 members of the Lock picking subreddit, they have their belt system to rank the ability of lockpickers worldwide.
There are also lock picking organizations, such as Toool, that have chapters worldwide.
Lock Picking Community Rules
While anyone is free to do what they want, the community of lockpickers has created rules that they expect everyone to follow to keep the hobby safe and within the bounds of the law.
- Never pick a lock in use, or you rely on: Any lock you pick should well not be in use, so no picking your neighbor’s door lock or anything like that.
- Only pick locks you own: Picking locks and damage or destroy them, so unless you own it and are ok with it being destroyed or damaged, don’t pick it. Not to mention picking a lock you don’t own could be illegal and carry heavy penalties.
These are straightforward rules that were created to protect the hobby of lock picking and the people who are a part of it. Following these rules will help to ensure that you never get in trouble.
Note: Lock picking and lock picking tools are generally not illegal, but they can be if carried or misused, so have a look at our article where we talk about if lock picking is unlawful.
Lock Picking Celebrities
Lock picking has a large following and therefore has its own celebrities. But, strangely enough, the most famous of them don’t show their face on camera, and the most famous are entirely anonymous online.
The LockPickingLawyer – @lockpickinglawyer
As the most famous lockpicker in the world, the LockPickingLawyer has many followers, but only a few have seen his face, and fewer still know his full name.
It is common knowledge that his first name is Harry, but many details about him remain a secret, which is why he would like to keep it. If you want to find out more, we have gathered all the information we could gather about who the LockPickingLawyer is here.
What got the LockPickingLawyer passionate was that MasterLock threatened him with a lawsuit when he was creating videos because he called out the company for having very low-security products. You can read more about that here.
The lockPickingLawyer has also never shown his face on camera, save a few distorted reflections and the back of his head—all of which we have in this article.
LockNoob – @locknoob
Newer to the YouTube game than the LockPickingLawyer but still interesting in his own right LockNoob from the UK create similar videos to LPL. Still, his videos are much more focussed on the lock picking community.
If you want more information about lock pickers on YouTube, you can check out a list of the top ones.
Lock Picking Competitions and Events
No large community would be complete without its conventions and competitions that the diehard fans can sink their teeth into.
There are many worldwide, from smaller lock picking events to larger conventions like LockCon, where you will find all the tool makers and best pickers hanging out together.
Impact of Lockpicking on the Security Industry
While some companies don’t listen to the lock-picking community and continue to sell inferior products to unsuspecting consumers that don’t know any better.
Several others actively engage with the community and incorporate feedback from lock pickers to improve their products.
- Watch YouTube videos to see the technique people use to open locks.
- Start with a clear lock to understand how lock picking works.
- If you are finding a lock hard to pick, try applying more or less tension while you pick the lock.
- Get your hands on as many locks as you can to practice with. The more different locks you can practice with, the better.
Lock Picking Questions
Does a Pick Proof Lock Exist?
No, there is no such thing as a pick-proof lock. There are only locks that are easier or harder to pick.
In theory, any lock can be picked; some have only been picked a couple of times. Such as the Bowley lock that only around five people in the world have picked.
Is Lockpicking Legal?
Yes, but this depends on where and how you are doing it, so you should check our article on the legality of lock picking for more information.
If you own the lock you are picking, it is not in use as a lock, and you are picking that lock in your own home as a hobby for personal interest, then you should be safe.
Is Lockpicking a Cheap Hobby?
Lock picking is a relatively cheap hobby. The main cost of lock picking comes from where you get the locks that you will learn to pick with.
It will be very cheap if you can get them all for free from your home, friends, or possibly a locksmith. Then it will be very affordable. However, if you need to buy all the locks, it will be much more expensive.
Is lock picking easy?
Yes, basic lock picking is easy to learn, and anyone can get started quickly with some essential tools.
But like many skills, there are many levels, ranging from beginner to highly advanced. Becoming a master lock picker takes many years of dedicated practice and experience.
Who is the world’s best lock picker?
There is no “no.1 best lockpicker” in the world. This is because lockpickers have different skills and all locks are different, so it is tough to compare two pickers.
Unlike players of a game like chess, where the game is very rigid, there is a clear winner.
Lock picking may have once been a skill developed by thieves, robbers, and spies it has become much more these days.
It is a legitimate hobby for people who love puzzles and challenges, it has a real potential to push forward the security industry much the same way as ethical hacking has done for the cybersecurity industry.
It has a large and passionate community of people who want to help each other and improve their skills.
So if you find yourself interested, don’t fear. Pick up some cheap lockpicks and get started.
Thank you for taking the time to read our article, and don’t forget to share it with your fellow lock picking enthusiasts.