Lock Picking 101
Manipulating the Pins
The first and most important step in lock picking is to apply rotational tension to the cylinder. This is the most critical step in picking a lock and you never see James Bond or anyone else in the movies or on TV do this. They just stick a pick or a bobby pin in the keyway and like magic the lock is picked. I assure you it’s just a bit more difficult than that. As I said, the proper tension is critical for successful picking. If the rotational tension is too light, the pins won’t stay picked, too heavy and the pins will bind. If the rotational tension is too heavy, release the pins and start again.
Insert the tension wrench into the bottom of the keyway and apply light rotational tension. Rotate the plug with the tension wrench in the direction to unlock the cylinder. If you don’t know which direction the plug should turn to unlock the cylinder, guess! If you are wrong, drop the pins and start over or use a plug spinner to turn the plug to the opposite direction. Remember; don’t use too much rotational tension. Too much tension will bind the pins so that they are unable to move. This is the most common reason of picking failure; too much tension! Less is more, the index finger has greater sensitivity to “feel” the pins and the plug moving, but most locksmiths prefer to use their thumb. It cannot be emphasized enough how important proper tension is to picking a lock.
Manipulating the Pins by Raking Technique
Raking the pins is one technique that involves the random lifting of the pins combined with” jumping” the top pins above the shearline. The less precise the tolerances in the cylinder, the more likely raking the cylinder will be successful.
While maintaining light tension, insert a rake pick with the tip up. While lightly lifting, push the tip toward the back of the cylinder. Using a fluid motion, push the pick in and pull it out quickly. Maintain upward pressure on the pins with the tip of the pick. Lightly hit the pins with the tip of the rake. As you hit each pin, the top pin will jump up. Push the pick in and pull it out three or four times rapidly. You may want to try a figure 8 pattern as you push and pull the pick in and out of the cylinder. If all of the chambers pick, the plug will turn.
If the cylinder doesn’t pick, before dropping the pins, listen. As the picked chambers drop you will hear them “click” back into the licked position. This sound will confirm how many chambers were picked. When you release the tension, if you don’t hear any pins drop, the tension may have been too light or too heavy. Adjust your tension and try again. If any of the chambers are not picked after raking the cylinder, try lifting the pins in the remaining chambers and pick individually or by progression.