Locksport

Locksport – Guide to a Controversial Hobby

Whether you’ve inadvertently locked yourself out of your house and required the services of a locksmith, or you’ve seen it on the small screen and wondered how it was done, this article will answer all your questions about picking locks and the hobby of Locksport.

Is Lock Picking a Sport?

Yes, locksport is the term used to describe the hobby of opening locks without a key or knowing the combination. This means opening a lock with tools or other objects. Locksport can be just an interest or can even be done at a competitive level. 

It can be done with lock picks, bypass tools, or even with discarded objects. It can be done against the clock, against a fellow competitor, or by yourself home alone.

Locksport picking a lock

The Origin of Locksport

From its early days in underground bookshops and security-related conferences with cool-sounding names like DEFCON or HOPE (Hackers On Planet Earth), a community has grown that is inclusive to all its members and freely supports the exchange of knowledge. 

As we’ll soon see, the internet has only magnified this sharing of knowledge and simultaneously, forced lock manufacturers to come up with newer and more innovative solutions that make life a little more secure for the rest of us.

Locksport Tools

The tools of Locksport can range from homemade tensioners formed out of discarded windscreen wiper blades to the high-end Bogota rake picks that use cutting-edge mathematical algorithms to determine the peaks and valleys mostly likely to correspond to the widest variety of the pinning configurations. 

lockpicks for locksport

Bypass tools, like padlock shims which can be made from empty beer cans, can open combination padlocks sometimes faster than dialing the correct numbers. 

The latest tools making a splash in the Locksport community are called Lishi tools, which allow you to not only open the lock. They also allow you to determine the cut (otherwise known as the bitting combination of the key) without dismantling the lock – you can read more about Lishi tools here

No matter what type of tools you employ, the goal is the same, hearing the lock mechanism click and opening the lock. It can become quite addictive. 

Is Lockpicking Legal?

Yes, knowing how to pick locks is legal, provided you’re doing it on a lock you own or have permission to pick, and the lock is not currently being used. If you want more information, you can find it here

Lockpicking Organisations

One of the first locksport organizations – The Open Organisation Of Lock-pickers (TOOOL), was founded back in 2002 on the belief that the more you know about locks and how they work, the more informed decisions you can make about which locks are best to use to secure your property and your belongings. 

The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers

LockJudge is continuing this tradition by only recommending locks and security products that the Locksport community has thoroughly tested. You may have even noticed that some of our recommendations now include a colorful belt next to them (no, we aren’t offering gift wrapping suggestions).

Lockpicking Belt Ranking System

These colored belts refer to the Lock Pickers United belt system – working much like the belts in Karate, virtual belts are awarded for opening specific locks. 

Lockpicking reddit belt rankings legendary

Progressing through the belts requires picking locks of greater difficulty, often requiring hours of practice, disassembling and re-assembling a lock and mentoring newbie pickers ….. but it is indeed possible to become a black belt in picking locks.

Pro Tip: If the lock you’re currently using to secure your bike is on the list to qualify for the white belt, it’s time to consider upgrading.

Can I Go Around Picking Locks Once I Know Wow To Do It?

There’s a hard rule in the Locksport community that you don’t pick locks in active service.

What does that mean? If a lock is currently being used to secure a building or someone else’s property, you don’t attempt to pick it. This even applies to “love locks” – padlocks locked on bridges/fences and engraved with a couple’s name whose keys have been thrown off the bridge to signify their undying love. 

TOOOL, the governing body of the Locksport community, has created a code of conduct called Love pickingas to if and when a love lock should be relocated to preserve the lock from overzealous councils and maintenance men.

Locksport picking a padlock

Aside from the ethical consideration against picking a lock in active service, there are several other reasons to leave them alone:

Lockpickinglawyer tools
  1. It may be against the law. Even the legality of carrying lock-picks can vary in different places; check out our recent article about staying safe with lock-picks here.
  1. No matter how good you are at picking locks, there’s always a chance you can damage the lock. For example, you may inadvertently force a pin too far into the lock body, damaging the spring during your picking attempt, or you may raise a serrated security spool inside the locks mechanism at a weird angle, causing the pin to become lodged into the core and prevent the lock from turning even with the correct key.
  1. By their very nature, Lock-picks need to be remarkably thin to fit into tight or unforgiving keyways and may snap off inside the lock, stopping the working key from even entering the lock.

The Locksport subreddit r/lockpicking, one of the largest places the Locksport community gathers (with 179K members at the time of writing), will actively delete posts asking for information about opening locks that a shown to be in use.

Where Can I Learn More About Locksport? 

There are a lot of places to learn about Lock Sport. One of the most widely recommended books on the topic for those who want to learn about how locks work is called Practical Lock Picking by Deviant Ollam. Throughout 255 pages, he explains his approach to lock picking and illustrated cut-away views of the insides of several types of locks and how to open them. For many in the Locksport community, this is considered a bible of Lock Picking

Although it’s more than 10 years old now, the techniques he shares apply to many locks still in production. It’s available on Amazon in hardcover, but you can keep an eye out on eBay for used copies, which are generally half the price.

You might also want to consider joining TOOOL (The Open Organisation of Lockpickers) 

TOOOL was founded in the Netherlands in 2002, with the first American-based chapter of TOOOL launching in 2005. They have grown to have branches in 20 states and Canada. TOOOL has monthly meet-ups of lock pickers to connect and try your hand at picking different locks. You can find out more about the meet-ups in your local area on their website at www.toool.us.

TOOOL will also be presenting at this year’s DEFCON conference and bringing the hands-on educational experience that they call “Lockpick Village”, where members of the public can learn from some of the most knowledgeable lock-pickers in the world.

Are There Any YouTube Channels About Lock Sport?

YouTube has some great Lock-picking videos that show you the basics. One of the first channels to take off was Lock-Lab, hosted by Bosnian Bill, who retired suddenly in 2021.


BosnianBill

bosnianbill recommended

His videos, which are still widely watched on the platform, are a mix of product reviews, picking demonstrations always interspersed with helpful tips and tricks. 

He got so good at the picking demonstrations that people within the community were scrambling to make “challenge locks” (taking an existing lock and modifying the pins inside in ever-increasingly sneaky ways) for him to pick on camera with the hope of making it into his “naughty bucket” of locks he failed to open. 

Bosnian Bill’s channel also inspired a 38-year Litigator to get into Locksport and start his channel, where he demonstrated different ways of picking locks and developed some unique tools to bypass the locking mechanism entirely.


LockPickingLawyer

lockpickinglawyer recommended lock

I am, of course, referring to the LockPickingLawyer, who has managed to replace his Lawyer’s salary and work full time as a YouTuber /security consultant for lock manufacturers. If you’re in the small minority who hasn’t heard of him or if you are curious about the Lockpicking Lawyer’s estimated net worth, you can read more about him here.


LockNoob

locknoob lockpicking youtuber

An honorable mention should also go to LockNoob, who recently surpassed 100K subscribers. Lock Noob started his channel to document his journey in Locksport, and his channel has grown partly because he’s based in the UK and has access to locks that aren’t very common in the rest of the world. 

He recently joined the Lockpickinglawyer level of designing a tension tool for tubular locks (the kind used in vending machines) that a major lockpick manufacturer is now making.


Lockpicking Podcast – The Lock Sportscast

the locksportscast lockpicking podcast

Finally, the Locksport community has its own weekly YouTube / Podcast news program – called The Lock Sportscast – hosted by Charles Current. He does an amazing job compiling news, reviews, and funny locksmith stories from across the world. Make sure you watch/listen to the end for the sales section to get some sweet discount codes. The Locks Sportscast recently published its 104th weekly episode (Happy 2-year Anniversary), and we send our congratulations to Charles for this achievement.


What Equipment Do I Need to Start in Locksport?

Lockpick set

If you ask 100 different lock-pickers, you’ll get 100 different answers to this question. From different kinds of tensioners (top of the key-way, bottom of the key-way) to what handles give the best feedback. The team at Lock Judge already has you covered on the best lock picks for starting out (you can check out the article here

Just a quick note: If you are ordering Lock picking tools online and your city or state is one of the less friendly ones, some sellers are happy to describe the package contents as clay sculpting tools. Happy sculpting 😉

You’ll need your picks, a way to turn the lock (tension tool), and a lock to pick open. Remember that you don’t try to pick locks you don’t own or currently use. For a very basic tutorial, you can check out Lock Noob’s Episode 225 Pick your first real lock video here, where he demonstrates some of the different techniques – raking, single pin picking, etc.

Which Locks Should I Start Picking?

Anyone serious about getting into Locksport should own at least one Acrylic Training Lock, like the one pictured above. This should be your very next purchase once you have your lock picking set in your hands. 

Training locks are available on Amazon or eBay and are inexpensive ways to start understanding how your picking tools are interacting with the pins and other components of the lock. 

Most training locks are keyed in TL1 key-way, a common keyway used in Chinese branded padlocks with names like Tri-Star or AAA, which you can find in dollar stores. So if you can pick open a training lock, you won’t have much difficulty with the Chinese-made Tri-Star locks.

At LockJudge we really like this training lock, as it also comes with a silicone sleeve that you can use to cover the see-through components as your lock picking skills develop. Although you can always just duct tape your lock if you can’t find one with a silicone sleeve. 

What Should I Pick Next?

Once you are comfortable with what’s happening inside the lock and how your picks are moving the pins, you are ready to next the step in your Locksport journey – The Master Lock Laminated Padlock. 

Master lock Laminated padlocks come in 8 different models, varying the lock body’s size and the shackle’s length. These variations are numbered from 1D to 8D, all available on their official Amazon store or at Home Depot. 

Since the model 3D has featured in so many lock picking demonstration videos across YouTube and the Lockpicking subreddit, this is the model we recommend that you start with. 

The bodies of these padlocks are made from layers of stainless steel that are riveted together (a cheaper way of manufacturing the lock, which is reflected in the price), but the inner workings are almost identical to the Acrylic training lock. There is just one small difference; the Master lock only has 4 pins to lift instead of the 5 on the training lock. 

Got it open? Congratulations, you’ve just qualified for the Lockpickers United White Belt (well, almost!). You did record yourself picking it open, right?

Locksport Equipment

Holding a padlock like the Master Lock 3D Laminated padlock in your hand while you pick it is fine. However, as you progress to different locks, like those that could be used to secure a front door or you want to film your efforts (this is required by the Lock Pickers United team for belt rankings), you’re going to need a way to secure the lock while you work on it, like a Bench Vise.

Bench Vice

Ideally, you will want to look for one with a suction cup base so that it won’t move while you are picking. You will also want a Vise that allows you to rotate the Vise head 360 degrees, as well as one that can tilt to change the angle to give a better view of what you’re working on. 

For a feature-packed Bench vice that won’t break the bank, you can’t go past the Bessey BVVB. You can check Bessey’s range here.

Pro tip: Acrylic training locks are very fragile. Inserting them into a bench vice is not recommended.

Pinning Trays

Pinning tray for locksport

Last but not least, you’ll need a pinning tray and a collection of followers. Pinning trays are a way to organize the components of a lock as you dismantle them. Most padlocks can’t be dismantled unless they come with a removable core, but the vast majority of door locks, deadbolts, and security screen door locks can be taken apart and put back together again (disassembling and re-assembling a lock is part of the requirement to earn your LPU Green belt). 

The last part can be tricky if you dump all the pins, driver pins, and springs onto your workbench. 

Pictured is the Sparrows “reload kit”. The kit (at the time of writing, the kit is just $16) comes with a pinning tray and a basic follower – followers are either metal or plastic tubes the same diameter as the lock core.

You can use a follower to keep the driver pins and springs inside the lock body while removing the core. By placing each pin from the core in a pinning tray as you take it out, from positions 1 – 6, it’s a simple matter to reverse the process after you are done inspecting / replacing the pins.

The sparrows reload kit also comes with 4 different keys for you to practice re-pinning cylinders, the keys suit a Schlage SC1 keyway, and re-pinning a cylinder is another step you can take to understand how locks work.

The pinning tray kit and other practice locks are available at www.sparrowslockpicks.com. Discount codes for Sparrows can also be found on the Locks Sportscast from time to time.  

Finally, for those with access to a 3D Printer, the Lock Pickers United website has an ever-growing library of followers in different diameters and some simple pinning trays you can print yourself a home. The STL files are available here.

What To Do When You’re Struggling To Open a Lock?

It happens to everyone, from time to time. Whether you are a seasoned picker or new to the sport, there will always be that one lock that gives us problems

It may be a lock you’ve bought online from an eBay seller or one you’ve found at a garage sale or swap meet. Here are some helpful tips when encountering these problem locks and where you can go for help.

picking locksport lock

If the lock came with a key, confirm the lock is operational. If it doesn’t open with the key, it won’t open with your lock picks. If the lock you picking doesn’t come with a key, you can use a padlock shim to confirm the lock opens.

For a DIY guide to making a padlock shim, check out our recent article here. If you have to struggle or jiggle the key to get it open, then it’s possible that there is gunk, rust, or debris inside the lock – enter the lock picker’s best friend – aerosol Water Displacement Formula Forty (WD40) is a spray lubricant that can dissolve rust and free up stuck pins inside the lock. It takes about 20min to work, just enough time to watch some of the stress-relieving videos on Lockpickinglawyers playlist “Destructive entry”.

Tip 2. Set it aside. Bosnian Bill had his naughty bucket of locks that he couldn’t open; he’d come back to them later. Trying to “pick harder” or apply more tension to turn the lock isn’t going to help there’s a more than likely chance you could damage the pins inside the lock or your picks. So put it away and try again another day.

Tip 3. Once you have tried lubricating the lock and taking a break for a while, and it still won’t open, it could be time to ask a friend. As previously mentioned, the Locksport community gathers online. You could ask for advice from those who have already opened the same lock. Here are some of our favorite places to ask online.

 clear Practice lock

r/Lockpicking SubReddit

As long as you follow the rules – not posting requests for help for locks in active service you will find the members of r/lockpicking extremely helpful. For best results, we recommend you post a photo of the lock, with any visible model numbers clearly shown, and if available in the same picture, you can include the side-on view of the key. You may find that the lock giving you trouble has a sidebar or security pin that must be overcome before you can pick the rest of the pins. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Lockpicking Discord

The discord server is still relatively new, with 5k active members. But, just like the r/lockpicking subreddit, which incentivizes assisting new pickers (purple belt requirement), the discord server requires aspiring moderators to help out its members actively. They also have channels dedicated to specific types of locks, and your problem lock might have also been a problem for someone else, so check the channels to see if someone has already posted some tips or solutions.

Locksport Facebook Group

Facebook is the OG social network, and has 50+ groups related to locksport and locksmithing. Some of these groups are industry or trade groups for locksmiths, which require vetting before being admitted. Also, note due to Facebook algorithms, some requests for help may not always be shown to people who may be able to assist you, so utilize the search function when you can.

What Can I Do Next in Locksport?

Locksport is an international hobby, and you can find a list of upcoming conferences worldwide and which competitions they might be running at www.lockwiki.com. 

You might like to test your skills in one of the following:

Lockpicking Competitions

There are many lockpicking competitions around the world. Some of them are actually quite interesting and have some weird competition types that make it much more interesting than just watching someone pick a lock.

Clusterpick

Teams of a given size are assigned a sack full of locks. They must blindly take one lock each out and attempt to pick it open. Locks cannot be traded between team members; to get a new lock, you must put it back in the sack, shake it, and get a new one. The team with the most locks open after a given time wins.

Lockpick Wizard

Competitors are blindfolded and must pick as many locks as they can without being able to see their tools or the locks they have been given. The person with the most open locks after a given time limit. Usually played in rounds, with the best scores moving on to the next round.

The Defiant Box

Competitors work in teams of two and are handcuffed together. Each team has five minutes to pick sets of locks (each partner is given a duplicate lock) before escaping from the handcuffs.

Finally, the Lock Pickers United team has set up their version of the Guinness world records for opening specific locks. You can submit the video clip of your super fast pick at www.speedlocks.org.

Summary

Locksport is a great hobby to get into, challenging yourself while learning about locks and how they work. There is a large community around the world that is very supportive and helpful. Ethics is central to locksport, as is understanding how physical security products work to protect the things you value.

Whether you want to get into locksport for fun, learn which locks you should avoid, or become the next YouTube celebrity, there is something for you. Stay safe and happy picking.

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