In action movies, a masked antagonist often sneaks up to a home by slowly creeping though the shadows. There’s the distant sound of a dog barking, and he freezes momentarily. After several seconds, he relaxes, and makes his way up to the door of a house. He pulls out two thin pieces of metal, inserts them into the high-security lock, and suddenly – click – the door opens. The thief slips inside, the camera following his movements.
However, it may be natural to wonder – is it really that simple? Is all that’s standing between your deadbolt and a burglary the skills of an experienced thief? For all your home security measures, is it really that easy for a thief to simply pick open your locks?
Misconceptions About Lock Picking
Contrary to what one might believe, lock picking isn’t reserved simply for criminals. A skilled locksmith must have an extensive knowledge of lock picking, which is often used for legal purposes. There are also some individuals who make a hobby out of picking “burglar-proof” or high security locks, which is a sport sometimes referred to as “Locksport“.
The Basic Construction of a Lock
In order to understand why lock picking can be effective to open a lock, it’s first important to have a very basic understanding of how locks work. When you insert your key to open a door, the grooves on your key push up many tiny “pins” inside the lock. When the pins are in precise alignment (from being pushed by the key), the key is able to turn, and the door opens. While single-sided keys push up one set of pins, double-sided keys push two sets of pins (above and below), and four-sided keys push four sets of pins to their correct alignments. Today, the most common type of lock for many houses are the basic one-sided pin-tumbler locks. Other types of locks (such as lever locks, paracentric locks, tubular pin-tumbler locks, etc) are less common.
Lock Picking Tools
There are several different tools that are most commonly used for lock picking:
Classic Lock Picking Tools
- Torsion Wrench (Torque Wrench)
- Half-Diamond Pick
- Slagel Pick
- Decoder Pick
- Hook Pick
- Ball Pick
- Warded Pick
- Rake Picks
- Bump Keys
Common Locksmith Tools
- Manual Pick Gun (Snap Gun)
- Electric Pick Gun
Lock Picking Methods
General Lock Picking
A simple pin-tumbler lock is fairly easy to pick, to someone with the right tools and a basic knowledge of locks. A tension wrench (or torque wrench) is applied inside the lock to provide leverage for the pick. The pick (which is often curved) is used to press upwards on the pins inside, until they are above the shear line. With the correct timing, it’s possible to click the pin into place by applying a circular force to the lock at the precise moment the pin is in the correct place. This process is repeated with the remaining pins, until the lock opens.
Warded Lock Picking
A warded lock is a special kind of lock that uses obstacles in order to prevent the lock from being picked. The obstructions inside the lock slot match grooves that are carved into the key, which is how the key is able to rotate inside the lock. Warded locks are actually a bit easier to pick than some other types of locks, since they can be bypassed with a warded pick (also called a skeleton key). Warded locks are actually one of the earliest types of locks, tracing their origins back to ancient China.
In reverse lock picking, the process is slightly different. First, all of the pins need to be set above the shear line. After this is accomplished, the torsion is gradually reduced until the lock is successfully picked. Reverse picking is most commonly used for locks that have anti-picking pins.
Disclaimer:The information provided in this article is designed only to give you a general understanding of how lock picking works. This information should never be used as a reference to participate in, instigate or otherwise attempt any illegal activities.