Lock picking

Lock picking is the act of unlocking a lock by analyzing and manipulating the components of the lock device, without the original key. Although lock picking can be associated with criminal intent, it is an essential skill for a locksmith. Lock picking is the ideal way of opening a lock without the correct key, while not damaging the lock, allowing it to be rekeyed for later use, which is especially important with antique locks that would be impossible to replace if destructive entry methods are used.

Usually it is possible to bypass a lock without picking it. Most common locks can be quickly and easily opened using a drill, bolt cutters, a bump key or a hydraulic jack. The hasp, door, or fixture they are attached to can be cut, broken, or otherwise removed. Therefore a lock that offers high resistance to picking does not necessarily make unauthorized access more difficult, but will make "" unauthorized access more difficult. Locks are often used in combination with alarms to provide layered security.

Some people enjoy picking locks recreationally, because they find it brings high satisfaction and is an enjoyable way to pass the time; it also has hack value.

Key impressioning

Contrary to what one might think upon hearing the term, key impressioning does not have anything to do with molds. Instead, one starts with a key blank.


One uses the file to polish the top of the key; that is, the part of the key that the pins come into contact with. (Before starting the impressioning, it is good to count the number of pins in the lock with a hook pick, thus helping choose the correct sized blank.) The key is put into the keyhole and gently turned, binding the key, which is then jiggled up and down. This serves to leave perpendicular scrapes of the pins on the key.

After filing a few thousandths of brass off of the key with the pippen or rat tail file, the process is repeated. Care must be taken to only file if a little dimple is seen in the key grooves. When enough material has been filed from the blank, the blank will approximate the cut of the key and the lock should open when the key is turned.

This method makes high-security drivers (if they are grooved or mushroomed) irrelevant. This method works well on car doors and other wafer locks.

Tool sets

The tools for lock picking are usually different for each type of lock and can sometimes be improvised from common items.

Lock pick kits can be purchased openly via the Internet. Many different selections are present. Nine-piece sets and a 32-piece set equipped with a Pick Gun for example differ in value and price greatly. However, many lock pickers state that for most locking devices, a basic set of five picks is enough; therefore it is unnecessary to carry around a wide variety of professional lock picks.

Tension wrench

The tension wrench (also known as a torsion or torque wrench), is used to apply torque to the lock plug to keep pins from being pushed back down by springs after they are correctly set at the shear line. It is usually anywhere from 1/16th inch to 1/8th inch wide, bent into an L, and occasionally has a quarter twist on the long side.

Torsion wrench

A torsion wrench is a tool used in picking locks. Typically shaped like a letter "L" (although the vertical part of the letter is much elongated in comparison to the horizontal part), it is used to apply torsion to the inner cylinder of a lock, in order to hold any picked pins in place, while the other pins are shifted. The torsion wrench is then used to turn the inner cylinder and open the lock.

Despite its popular name, the tool provides torsion, not tension. A "tension wrench" would be, by definition, a tool that stretches something. A "torsion wrench" would be a tool that twists.

Some torsion wrenches (called "Feather Touch" wrenches, among other names) are coiled into a spring at the bend in the "L", which helps the user apply constant torque. Some users, however, maintain that such wrenches reduce torque control and the feedback available to the user.

Hook pick

The hook pick is self explanatory, it is similar to the half diamond pick, but has a hook shaped tip rather than a half diamond shape.The hook pick is sometimes referred to as a 'feeler' and is generally used to lift the pins individually, rather than 'rake' them simultaneously.

Warded pick

A warded pick is a device for opening warded locks. It is generally made to conform to a generalized key shape relatively simpler than the actual key used to open the lock; this simpler shape allows for internal manipulations.

Legal status

United States

In the United States, laws concerning possession of lock picks vary from state to state. Generally, possession and use of lock picks is considered equivalent to the possession of a crowbar or any other tool that may or may not be used in a burglary. Illegal possession of lock picks is generally prosecuted as a felony under the category of possession of burglary tools or similar statutes. In many states, simple possession is completely legal as their statutes require proof of intent. In some states, however, possession without appropriate licensure is considered "prima facie" evidence of intent to commit a crime, rendering simple possession a crime. [cite news
publisher=Virginia General Assembly Legislative Information System
title=Code of Virginia Section 18.2-94

In California, locksmiths must be licensed by the state. [cite news
publisher=California Department of Consumer Affairs
title=Locksmith Companies and Employees
] However simple possession is legal as illegal possession must be coupled with felonious or malicious intent. [cite news
publisher=California Legislative Information
title=California Penal Codes, Sections 466–469

In Utah possession itself is not a crime; intent to commit a crime is also required. [http://le.utah.gov/~code/TITLE76/htm/76_06_020500.htm Utah Criminal Code: Title 76 - Chapter 06 - Section 205] Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and New York also require proof of intent, while mere possession is illegal in Washington, DC [ [http://spiralbound.net/2005/10/18/mit-guide-to-lock-picking-appendix-b-legal-issues/ spiralbound.net » MIT Guide to Lock Picking - Appendix B: Legal Issues ] ] .

European Union

Most countries of the European Union don't regulate the possession of lock picks. All responsibility concerning criminal or legal acts using the picks is taken by the user of the lock picks, when the owner of the lock picks may be involved in the jurisdiction or legal process as an accomplice or witness.


In the Netherlands, owning lock picks is legal, but using them on someone else's locks without permission is not. There is a lock picking championship, the Dutch Open (organised by TOOOL), which was reported on in the newspapers. ["Lock pickers hebben slot in paar seconden open", the "Leeuwarder Courant", 2002-12-02
*"Vito Tieke", "Even Vragen Aan", the "Algemeen Dagblad", 2002-12-02
*"Duitser kampioen sloten openen", the "Sp!ts", probably 2002-12-02
*"Duitser wordt in Sneek kampioen sloten openen", the "Friesch Dagblad", probably 2002-12-02
*"Duitser eerste kampioen sloten openen in Sneek", the "Dagblad van het Noorden", probably 2002-12-02
*"Sloten openen als nieuwe sport", "Dagblad de Limburger", probably 2002-12-02"Note: the dates of some articles were not available, but considering the fact that newspapers generally report promptly, it can be assumed the given dates are correct."

It was also documented on television, in the programs "Hart van Nederland" and on Omproep Friesland.]


In Poland according to the delinquency Codeep Act article 129 § 1:
1) possessing, producing or obtaining a lockpick by a person whose profession and occupation doesn't require it;
2) delivering a lockpick to a person whose profession and occupation doesn't require it;
3) […]
is punishable with arrest, freedom limitation or fine. § 3 says that a lockpick is forfeited even if it wasn't a property of the principal.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, a person who carries a lock pick set (even a home made one) can be charged with the offence of "going equipped", unless they have a good reason for carrying them. [cite web
title=Police-information.co.uk legislation index
] The penalty for this can be upward of 5 years' imprisonment. The arresting officer must have "reasonable cause".

New Zealand

In New Zealand lock picking tools are not illegal, but possession with the intent to use them for burglary carries a potential penalty of three years in prison. [cite web|url=http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1961/0043/latest/DLM330247.html?search=qs_act_burglary#DLM330247|title=New Zealand Crimes Act (1961), Section 223, subsection 1 - Being disguised or in possession of instrument for burglary|accessdate=2008-03-26]


When lockpicking is shown in movies and television shows, the torsion wrench is almost always omitted. Picking a pin and tumbler lock without torsion is impossible unless there is a major defect in the lock.

In some modern dramas (such as FOX's "24") in which realistic depiction of events is favored, the pick-and-wrench technique is fully shown (albeit often executed in a second or two, which doesn't accurately reflect the luck involved with raking an unfamiliar lock).

Although there do exist raking tools in which a single element may be used to open a lock (such as automobile "tryout" keys), these are rarely used in media depictions, and almost as rarely used in real life. The broad width of these picks allows for the necessary application of torque, just as an external source of torque is not required when using a standard key.

See also

* Hotwiring
* Lock bumping
* Physical Security
* Safe-cracking
* Security


External links

* [http://www.aloa.org/legislation/Leg_Map/ALOA_Map.htm Map detailing locksmith legislation in different states in the U.S.] - Courtesy of ALOA.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lock Picking — Lockpicking Unter Lockpicking (vom englischen: lock = Schloss + to pick = aufpicken, stochern) oder Nachschließen, umgangssprachlich: Schlösser knacken, versteht man die Aufsperrtechnik zum Öffnen von Schlössern, ohne einen dafür passenden… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lock picking — Crochetage Le crochetage (en anglais Lock picking) est une technique d ouverture de serrure dite « fine ». Cela signifie qu elle permet d ouvrir la serrure à l aide d outils spécifiques appelés crochets ou parapluies sans détruire la… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • lock picking — noun The action of using tools to unlock a lock without a key to that lock …   Wiktionary

  • Picking — can mean: * Various styles of guitar playing: **Fingerpicking **Flatpicking **Hybrid picking **Pattern picking **Alternate picking **Sweep picking **Tremolo picking * Continental knitting, a style of knitting also known as picking * Lock Picking …   Wikipedia

  • Lock bumping — is a lock picking technique for opening a pin tumbler lock using a specially crafted bump key . One bump key will work for all locks of the same type.HistoryIn the 1970s, locksmiths in Denmark shared a technique for knocking on a lock cylinder… …   Wikipedia

  • Lock (device) — A lock is a mechanical fastening device which may be used on a door, vehicle, or container, restricting access to the area or property enclosed. Commonly, it can be released by using a key or combination.History of locksSecuring one s property… …   Wikipedia

  • lock pick — /ˈlɒk pɪk/ (say lok pik) noun a device to pick a lock, usually a metal bar with a grooved head to manipulate the pins or tumblers so that the cylinder will turn. –lock picking, noun …   Australian English dictionary

  • lock — lock1 lockless, adj. /lok/, n. 1. a device for securing a door, gate, lid, drawer, or the like in position when closed, consisting of a bolt or system of bolts propelled and withdrawn by a mechanism operated by a key, dial, etc. 2. a contrivance… …   Universalium

  • Picking — Pick Pick (p[i^]k), v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Picked} (p[i^]kt); p. pr. & vb. n. {Picking}.] [OE. picken, pikken, to prick, peck; akin to Icel. pikka, Sw. picka, Dan. pikke, D. pikken, G. picken, F. piquer, W. pigo. Cf. {Peck}, v., {Pike}, {Pitch} to… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • picking locks — opening a lock with a wire etc. instead of a key …   English contemporary dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.