SECRETS OF LOCK PICKING
By Steven Hampton
originally published by Paladin Press (c) 1987
(don't let the date fool you. This is good stuff)
brought to you by
Well, I'm bringing you this file because I have a scanner and an OCR package and
I like to pick locks. This file is a complete transcription of the book,
Secrets of Lock Picking by Steven Hampton, minus the chapter on warded locks
(These locks are cheap. Use a hammer and a screwdriver). Before getting on to
the subject, I would just like to use this opportunity to say that you can not
just read this file and know how to pick locks. It does take practice. The good
news is that by practicing you will learn how to open locks. And fast, too. I
have heard many people say "It's not like the movies...it takes time to pick a
lock." Well, sometimes thats true, but I have picked a Sargeant six-pin, high
-security tumbler lock in three seconds. And other similar locks in the the same
time frame as well. So I know that it can be done. But don't worry.
Practicing is not boring. There is a certain thrill present when you pick a
lock for the very first time. Imagine the sensation of knowing that you can get
into almost anywhere you want. Believe me when I tell you that it is very cool.
Pin Tumbler Locks
Wafer Tumbler Locks
Double Wafer Locks
Pin and Wafer Tumbler Padlocks
Tubular Cylinder Locks
Mushroom and Spool Pin Tumbler Locks
Disk Tumbler Locks
Tips for Success
The ancient Egyptians were the first to come up with a complicated security
device. This was the pin tumbler lock. We use the same security principle today
on millions of applications.
The most commonly used lock today is the pin tumbler lock. A series of pins that
are divided at certain points must be raised to these dividing points in
relationship to the separation between the cylinder wall and the shell of the
lock by a key cut for that particular series of pin divi- sions. Thus the
cylinder can be turned, and the mechanism or lock is unlocked.
Lock picking means to open a lock by use of a flat piece of steel called a pick.
Actually, the process requires two pieces of flat steel to open cylinder locks.
It amuses me to watch spies and thieves on TV picking locks using only one tool.
But it is for the better in a sense. If everyone learned how to pick locks by
watching TV, we would all be at the mercy of anyone who wanted to steal from us,
and the cylinder lock for the most part would be outdated.
The actual definition of lock picking should be: "The manipulation and opening
of any restrictive mechanical or electronic device by usage of tools other than
the implied instrument (key or code) used solely for that device." A little
lengthy, but more accurate description. With cylinder locks, it requires a pick
and a tension wrench.
By picking the lock, you simply replace the function of a key with a pick that
raises the pins to their "break- ing point," and using a tension wrench one
rotates the cylinder to operate the cam at the rear of the lock's cylinder to
unlock the mechanism.
The tension wrench is used to apply tension to the cylinder of the lock to cause
a slight binding action on the pins as well as to turn the cylinder after the
pins have been aligned by the pick; this opens the lock. The slight binding
action on the pins caused by the tension wrench allows one to hear and feel each
pin as it "breaks" or reaches alignment with the separation of cylinder and
shell. The vibration is felt in the knuckles and joints of the fingers, and the
sound is similar to that of a cricket in an arm wrestling match-a subtle yet
Usually you need very little tension with the wrench while picking the lock. In
fact, it takes somewhat of a delicate, yet firm touch. This is the secret to
picking locks successfully-a firm and yet gentle touch on the tension wrench.
You should be able to feel the pins click into place with the right amount of
tension; experience will be your true guide.
Half of your success will be based on your ability to use or improvise various
objects to use as tools for your purpose. The other half will depend on
practice. I once picked a pin tumbler lock using a borrowed roach clip and a
hairpin. A dangerous fire was prevented and prob- ably several lives were saved.
The world is full of useful objects for the purpose, so never hesitate to
I started picking locks using a small screwdriver and a safety pin. The
screwdriver can be used as a tension wrench, and the safety pin is used like a
"hook" pick. The last half inch of the screwdriver's tip was bent at a 45 degree
angle so as to allow easy entry for the pick (bent safety pin). Do not heat the
screwdriver tip to bend it, as this will destroy its temper. Use a vise and
hammer to do the job. Bend slowly by using firm and short taps of the hammer,
otherwise you may break and weaken the shaft. The safety pin should be about one
and a half inches long and bent in the same way.
With the small screwdriver as a tension wrench, you can use more of a turning or
twisting movement than with a regular tension wrench so you will generally need
less direct force when using it. As I mentioned earlier, with practice you will
develop the feeling for the right amount of tension on a cylinder. If the safety
pin bends after a short time, use the keyway of the lock you are picking to bend
it back into shape. Even after several times of bending, it should still be
useful. Keep a few spares handy, though. File the tip of the safety pin flat in
relationship to the bottom of the pins in the lock. Smooth any sharp edges so
that you won't impale yourself. Also, if the tip is smooth, the pick will not
get hung up on the pins while picking the lock.
Granted these are not the best tools for the job, but they do work. If you learn
to use your junk box as a rich source of equipment, then with your experience
real lock picks will give you magic fingers. Also, you'll have the advantage of
being able to improvise should you be without the real things (which are illegal
to carry on your person in most parts of the country).
Lock picks are difficult to get. I received my first set when I became a
locksmith apprentice. All of my subse- quent sets I made from stainless steel
steak knives with a grinder and cut-off wheel. They are much more durable than
the commercial picks. If you do make your own, make certain that the steel is
quenched after every 3 seconds of grinding-do not allow the pick to get hot to
the point of blue discoloration.
A diamond pick is the standard pick I use on most all pin and wafer locks. A
small diamond pick is used for small pin tumbler locks such as small Master
padlocks, cabinet file locks, etc. The tubular cylinder lock pick, we will
discuss later. The double-ended, single-pronged ten- sion wrench is used with
the diamond pick. It features double usage; a small end for small cylinders and
a large end for the larger cylinders. A special tension wrench is used for
double-wafer cylinder locks with an end with two prongs on one end and tubular
cylinder locks with the single prong on the other end. We will discuss tubular
cylinder and double-wafer locks later as well. The steel should be .030 inches
to .035 inches thick for the picks and .045 inches to .050 inches thick for the
first tension wrench mentioned above. The second tension wrench should be .062
inches square (.062 inches x .062 inches) on the tubular cylinder side (one
pronged end), and .045 inches thick on the double-wafer end (two-pronged end).
You can accomplish this by starting out with .045 inches in thickness. The two
-pronged end should be bent carefully in a vise at a 30 degree angle. This
allows easy entry for the pick on double-wafer locks.
Among the more common tools used by professionals around the world is the rake
pick. The rake pick is used to "rake" the tumblers into place by sliding it in
and out across the tumblers. I seldom use the rake pick because it is not highly
effective and I consider it a sloppy excuse for a lock pick. I've seen the rake
pick work on some dif- ficult locks, but you can rake with a diamond pick and
get the same results. I prefer the diamond pick for most tumbler locks simply
because it is easier to get in and out of locks-it slides across the tumblers
with little or no trouble.
A ball pick is used for picking double-wafer cylinder locks, though I never
carry one; I use a large diamond pick and reverse it when picking these locks.
This means I have one less pick to carry and lose.
A double-ball pick is used like a rake on double-wafer locks in conjunction with
a tension wrench (two-pronged end).
A hook pick is used to open lever tumbler locks, though again, I use a diamond
pick with a hooking action when possible. There are various sizes of hooks but
they all have the same basic job-to catch the movable levers that unlock lever
There are also various sizes of tension wrenches. They are usually made from
spring steel. The standard tension wrench is used for pin and wafer locks. A
special tension wrench is called a Feather Touch, and it is used for high
- security mushroom and spool pin tumbler locks. Its delicate spring-loaded
action allows the pick to bypass the tendencies of these pins to stick. A
homemade version of the Feather Touch can be made from a medium-light duty steel
As to getting lock picks for your own use, you cannot go down to your local
hardware store and buy them. I could supply you with some sources or
wholesalers, but I do believe it is illegal for them to sell to individuals.
Your best bet would be to find a machine shop that will fabricate them for you.
It would be less expensive and arouse less suspicion if you purchase a small
grinder with a cut-off wheel and make your own. With a little prac- tice, you
can make a whole set in an afternoon. Use a copy of the illustrations in this
book as templates and carefully cut them out with an X-ACTO knife. Cut down the
middle of the lines. Acquire some stainless steel (many steak knives approach
With a glue stick, lightly coat one side of the paper template and apply it to
the cleaned stainless surface, and allow it to dry. You'll need a can of black
wrinkle finish spray paint. This kind of paint has a high carbon con- tent and
can stand high temperature of grinding. Spray the stainless (or knives) with the
patterns glued on and dry in a warm oven or direct sunlight for one hour. Set
aside for twenty-four more hours. Peel off the paper template and you are ready
to cut and grind. Please use caution when cutting and grinding. The piece should
be quenched every three seconds in cold water. Smooth up sharp edges with a
small file or burnishing wheel.
Tools made from stainless steel will outlast the pur- chased ones. The tools
purchased from most suppliers are made from spring steel and wear out after
about 100 uses. The stainless steel ones, if properly made, should last over
There are many types of locks, the most common being:
1. The pin tumbler lock. Used for house and garage doors, padlocks, mail
boxes, and Ford automobiles.
2. The wafer tumbler lock. Used for garage and trailer doors, desks,
padlocks, cabinets, most autos, window locks, and older vending
3. The double-wafer lock. Used for higher security wafer tumbler
4. The warded locks. Used for light security padlocks and old-fashioned
5. Lever locks Used for light security and older padlocks, sophisticated
safe-deposit boxes, some desks, jewelry boxes, and small cash boxes.
6. Tubular cylinder locks. Used for alarm control systems, newer vending
machines, car-wash control boxes and wherever higher security problems
These locks are the more common locks used yet there are variations and
combinations of these principal types that usually pick open in the manner that
will be discussed. Some of them just require practice of the basic types, others
luck, and most of the rest of them knowledge of how that particular lock works
and is keyed. This comes from experience.
PIN TUMBLER LOCKS
Pin tumbler locks offer the most security for their price. They have close
machine tolerances and approximately 1,000,000 different key combinations for a
five-pin lock. Considering the thousands of different companies mak- ing pin
tumblers (different shaped keyways for each com- pany or design line), the
chances of someone having a key that will work in your front door lock are one
in many billions.
Pin tumbler locks can easily be identified by peering down the keyway and
locating the first round pin.
Sometimes you can see the pin's dividing point, where it breaks with the
cylinder wall (shear point).
To successfully pick a pin tumbler lock, your sense of touch sould be honed so
that both hands feel the tools. Once the hand holding the pick has located a
slight relief in tension while picking a particular tumbler, the other hand
holding the tension wrench will feel a relief or break- ing point. Both hands
should be involved with the sense of touch, the sensing of the inner workings of
We are now ready to begin the first lesson. First open your front door and check
for a pin tumbler lock on it. It should have one on it. If there is one, leave
the door open to decrease suspicion. Do not lock yourself out of your apartment
or house by being overconfident; not only will you raise suspicion, but window
glass is not cheap.
HOW TO PICK A TUMBLER LOCK
Without using the tension wrench, slip the pick into the lock. The "hook" of the
pick should be toward the tumblers (up in most cases, depending on whether or
not the lock was mounted upside down-you can tell by look- ing down the keyway
and locating the first pin with your pick). Try to feel the last tumbler of the
lock. It should be 7/8 inches into the lock for a five-pin tumbler lock (most
common pin tumbler lock used).
Make certain that you have no tension on the wrench when inserting the pick as
this will encumber the frontal tumblers. When you feel the back tumbler, slowly
raise it with a slight prying motion of the pick. Release it, but keep the pick
in the lock on the rear tumbler.
Now insert the tension wrench, allowing room for the pick to manipulate all of
the pins. It should be placed at the bottom of the cylinder if the lock was
mounted upright, tumblers toward the top of the cylinder. Apply firm and yet
gentle clockwise pressure to the tension wrench.
Slowly raise the back tumbler with a slight prying mo- tion of the pick. A
minute click will be felt and heard when it breaks. It will lose its springiness
when this occurs, so do not go any further with it. Any further movement with
the pick will cause binding by going past the pins' shear line. Continue an even
pressure with the tension wrench.
Keeping an even tension pressure, proceed to Step Two.
The fourth tumbler should be easily felt since it is the next one in line. Raise
it until it breaks, keeping the ten- sion wrench steady. It too will give a
sound and sensa- tion when it breaks or aligns.
The third or middle tumbler is next. Again, it too will click. Maintain a
constant, even pressure on the wrench- about the same pressure that you would
use to replace a cap on a catsup bottle. You may feel the "clicks" in your
tension wrench as well as hear them.
STEPS FOUR AND FIVE
Continue on to the next tumbler out, working toward you. When it breaks, raise
the last (front) tumbler to its braking point and the cylinder should be free to
rotate and unlock the door. Sometimes you may have to play with the wrench to
open the lock because you may have raised a tumbler too high, past its breaking
point. If this is the case, very slowly and gradually release the tension wrench
pressure and the overly extended tumbler will drop into its breaking point
before the other tumblers have a chance to fall. The cylinder should pop open at
that point. I have found that this technique is responsible for over 30 percent
of my successes in opening all tumbler locks.
If the lock still refuses to open after all that treatment, release the tension
wrench pressure, allowing all of the tumblers to drop and start over. You may
have more than one tumbler too high and would be better off to repeat the
WAFER TUMBLER LOCKS
Wafer tumbler locks make up over one-fourth of the locks in use in the world.
Since they are generally easier to pick than most pin tumbler locks, you will be
75 per- cent master after fooling around with these mechanisms. That is why I
wrote about pin tumbler locks first-they are more difficult and make up over
one-half of the locks used today.
The term wafer refers to the general shape of the tumblers. The wafers are flat,
spring-loaded tumblers that are much thinner than pins and the distance between
them is less. Wafer locks are picked in the same way as pin tumbler locks, but
you must compensate for the smaller dimensions. You can identify wafer locks
simply by look- ing down the keyway and locating the first flat tumbler. The
last tumbler on most wafer locks is located about one- half inch into the lock.
Wafer locks are used on filing cabinets, lockers, most cars, garage doors,
desks, and wherever medium security is required. The only wafer tumbler lock in
common use that is difficult to pick is the side-bar wafer lock. It is the most
popular type of auto lock. This lock is of different design than most other
locks and offers much more secur- ity than a regular wafer tumbler lock, or even
a pin tumbler lock.
The side bar lock is used mostly on General Motors cars and trucks since 1935.
It is used on ignitions, door, and trunk locks. Side bar locks are hard to pick
because you cannot feel or hear the tumblers align with the cylinders breaking
point. A spring-loaded bar falls into place to allow the cylinder to turn when
all of the tumblers are aligned. There is no way to tell when that happens. One
learns to sense the bar while picking so that it seems to fall into place by
itself. But for beginners, I recommend this technique for emergency openings:
Peer down the keyway and locate the side groove of any of the tumblers using a
pick as a searching tool. Drill a small hole in the shell of the lock above the
bar which is above the grooves on the tumblers. Since side bar locks have off
-centered keyways, the usual place to drill is opposite of the keyway. Using an
L-shaped steel wire, put pressure on the sidebar and rake the tumblers using a
tension wrench for cylinder rotation and the lock will open.
Fortunately, most GMC autos have inferior window seals; with a coat hanger, one
can lasso the locking door knob to open the door. If you are going to be
successful at opening side bars, you will do it within two minutes; otherwise,
you are causing unnecessary wear on your picks not to mention wasting your time.
Ford auto locks are relatively simple to pick. They have pin tumblers and you
have to remember that the door locks turn counterclockwise. Most other auto
locks turn clockwise. If you are not sure, remember this: If the tumblers will
not catch at their breaking points, you are going in the wrong direction with
the tension wrench.
Wafer locks are a cinch to pick if you have learned how to pick pin tumblers.
Just remember that wafers are thin- ner than pins and there is less distance
Generally you need less tension-wrench pressure with these locks, yet car locks
can be quite stubborn and require a great deal of tension. Any heavily spring
-loaded cylinder needs a substantial amount of tension.
As a rule, though, wafer locks need less play with the tension wrench than with
pin tumbler locks. But if you find yourself having difficulty in opening these,
you may try a little tension-wrench play. Usually they won't pop open like pin
tumbler locks, they just slide open; you don't get the warning that a pin
tumbler gives before it opens because there is less contact area on the wafer's
edge than on a pin, so the sense of climax is reduced with these types of locks.
Still, they open quite easily.
DOUBLE WAFER LOCKS
Double-wafer locks are picked in the same way as single- wafer locks, but there
are two sides to the story. Not only do you have to align the top wafers, but
you have ones in the bottom of the cylinder to align as well.
The Chicago Lock Company was the first to come up with this type of lock. It is
a classic example of the race toward better security. Certain tension wrenches
allow uninterrupted picking using ball picks. You can also use a standard
tension wrench or small screwdriver and place it at the center of the keyway. To
eliminate unnecessary baggage, use a diamond pick, reversing it to encounter
both top and bottom wafers.
The last tumbler in this type of lock is located less than one-half of an inch
in. The picking procedure may have to be repeated more than one time-top wafers,
then bot- tom wafers, top, bottom-back and forth. Yet these locks are easier to
pick than most pin tumblers.
Locate the last wafer on the top side and move it to its breaking point. Do the
same with the other top wafers. Keep the tension wrench firm, remove the pick,
turn it upside down (if you are using a diamond or homemade pick), and reinsert
it to work the bottom wafers. You may have to repeat this process a few times,
but double-wafer locks can and will open with such treatment. Schlage has a
doorknob lock that opens this way, but the last tumbler is about one and one
-half inches in.
Double-wafer locks are easy to master if you have learned to pick pin and wafer
tumbler locks. Since double- wafer locks are more compact, you have to
compensate for the fact-slightly closer tolerances. These type of locks are used
on old pop and candy machines, gas caps, cabinets, etc.
PIN AND WAFER TUMBLER PADLOCKS
Cylinder padlocks require a technique of holding them with the same hand with
which you are using the tension wrench. This technique allows one to pick the
padlock without going into contortions over a dangling padlock. Assuming that
you are right-handed, hold the padlock in your left hand by gripping the body of
the padlock with your thumb and forefinger. Insert the tension wrench at the
bottom of the keyway and hold it in a clockwise turn with your ring and little
finger, causing a slight binding pressure on the cylinder. Now your right hand
is free to pick, and your left hand does the job of holding both the lock and
tension wrench. The overhand method works well, too, but the thumb controls the
tension wrench instead. Switch around to find which is most comfortable for you.
When tumbler padlocks pop open, it is quite a sensa- tion because the shackle is
spring-loaded and gives one quite a jolt. It's a feeling of accomplishment. You
may need a little more tension on padlocks than on door locks because the
cylinder cam has to operate a spring-loaded bolt. Overall, padlocks are the most
fun to open. Prac- tice using old or discarded padlocks that you have found.
I've worn out hundreds of them.
TUBULAR CYLINDER LOCKS
(Note: Diagrams of tubular lock were omitted due to the fact that picking them
with conventional methods is a complete waste of time. There are picks
available that are specifically designed to pick this kind of lock in a matter
We will gradually proceed to more sophisticated locks from here. I would like to
remind you that success is not based on personality. If one is arrogant about
one's lock- picking skills, one could easily be made a fool of by a lock. And no
matter how many times you bash a cylinder, you will still be locked out. The
only thing you accomplish is attracting an audience-so be cool.
If at this point you have had much difficulty under- standing the principles of
pin and wafer locks, please restudy this book from the beginning. Read it
several times so as to absorb it. The information that you now have has taken me
almost two decades to gather, so please be mindful of that.
Now you are about to learn how to open the more dif- ficult locking mechanisms
-some of the other 25 percent of the locks used today. You should feel confident
with pin, wafer and double-wafer tumbler locks before you attempt rim cylinder
Tubular cylinder locks stand out as the most generally accepted lock in all
important industries using high-quality locks for protection of property,
merchandise, and cash. They are recognized as giving the maximum amount of
security for their price range.
Tubular cylinder locks are pin tumbler locks arranged on a circular plane.
Unlike conventional pin tumbler locks, all of the pins are exposed to the eye.
The central section of the lock rotates to operate the cam when all of the seven
pins have reached their breaking points. When the pro- per key is entered into
the lock, the tumblers are pressed into position so that the central section
(plug) can be turned. This manual operation of inserting the key places the
tumblers in position so that the lock can be operated and ensures that frost,
dust, salt, or unfavorable climatic conditions will not affect the smooth
operation of the lock.
The Chicago Ace lock is a product of the Chicago Lock Company of Chicago,
Illinois. It is an effective security device and is used on vending machines,
coin boxes, and burglar alarms. A larger, more complex version of it is used on
bank doors and electronic teller machines. The key is of tubular shape with the
cuts arranged in a circle around the key.
The pick used for this lock is the tubular cylinder pick, or you may use a
straight pin or your homemade safety pin pick. The one-pronged end of the
tension wrench is a little more specialized and is used for rim cylinder locks.
It must be .062 inches square for best results. Any square steel stock is
acceptable, as long as it fits snugly into the groove of the tubular cylinder
This type of lock is a burglar's nightmare because it takes so long to pick. You
have to pick it three or four times to accomplish the unlocking radius of 120 to
180 degrees. And the cylinder locks after each time you pick it-every one
-seventh of a turn.
If you leave the lock only partly picked, the key will not be able to open it,
so you must pick it back into the locked position after opening it-another three
or four picking sessions. In all, to unlock and lock the cylinder, you have to
pick it up to eight times-quite a chore if you don't have the right tools or
These locks almost always pick in the clockwise direc- tion. Make certain that
the tension wrench fits snugly into the groove on the cylinder. Very slowly push
the first pin down until it clicks, maintaining a definite clockwise pressure on
the tension wrench. Once the tumbler has broken, do not push any further and
proceed to the next one, and so on. As you reach the last tumbler, the ten- sion
wrench will feel more slack and give way if the lock were properly picked.
There are special keyhole saws for these locks in which you drill out the
tumblers and turn the cylinder. Also there is a special tool used by locksmiths
to open rim cylinder locks.
MUSHROOM AND SPOOL PIN TUMBLER LOCKS
High-security pin tumbler locks may contain specially made pins to make picking
them more challenging. The pins are machined so as to make picking them quite
dif- ficult. When picking these locks, the pins give the impres- sion that they
have broken, when in fact they could be a long way from breaking. You can tell
whether or not you are picking a pin tumbler lock that has these pins by the
fact that the pins seem to align so easily with a louder than normal click. The
cylinder seems eager to open but to no avail.
The picking procedure relies on a well-yielding tension wrench. The tension
wrench has to be lightly spring-loaded so that the pins can bypass their false
breaking points. You also have to "rake" (seesaw in and out) the pins with your
pick. The feather-touch tension wrench is ideal for the job. Use light pressure
with it, and it will let you in.
(Note: A feather-touch tension wrench is not necessarily required. A normal
tension wrench will work fine with an extremely light tension on it. The weight
of just your index finger alone should be enough in most cases.)
The mushroom and spool pins are used in locks for high-security purposes such as
bank doors. The American Lock Company uses them in some of their padlocks.
Magnetic locks are fascinating. I almost hate to open them because I feel that I
have breached their uniqueness. In reality, you do not pick them, but "confuse"
them. They generally work on the principle that like magnetic polarities repel
each other. The key is a set of small magnets arranged in a certain order to
repel other magnets in the lock, thereby allowing the spring-loaded bolt or cam
to open the lock.
By using a pulsating electromagnetic field, you can cause the magnets in the
lock to vibrate violently at thirty vibrations per second, thereby allowing it
to be opened by intermittent tugging of the bolt or turning of the door knob.
This method may also ruin the small magnets in the lock by changing their
magnetic status or properties. So, if you have to perform an emergency break-in
with these locks, do not relock the door. The card or key will not operate the
The magnetic pick can be used on padlocks by strok- ing it across the place
where the key is placed. It is also designed to fit into the doorknob and is
used by stroking one pole in and out or by using the other pole the same way.
If you have had little or no training and experience building something like
this, please have a friend who is familiar with basic electronics do it for you.
Do not take the chance of electrocuting yourself. Make sure that the coil is
also completely covered with electrician's tape after you have wound the 34
gauge wire. Also make sure that the steel core has at least three layers of tape
over it. Do not leave the unit plugged in for more than two to three minutes at
any one time as this may cause overheating which could cause it to burn out or
start a fire. It is safe to use if constructed properly and not left plugged in
unattended. Opening magnetic locks requires only 30 to 60 seconds anyway, so
don't leave the unit plugged in for longer.
For magnetic padlocks, use a back-and-forth stroking action along the length of
the keyway. For magnetic door locks, use a stroking in-and-out action in the
slot of the knob alternating from one side (pole) of the pick to the other.
The "key" for a magnetic door lock is a metal or plastic card containing an
array of magnetic domains or regions coded in a specific order to allow entry.
The magnetic pick bypasses that.
DISK TUMBLER LOCKS
Combination or "puzzle" locks were invented to fur- ther improve security and
the protection of valuables. The older safes and lockboxes were good security
devices when they came into the market, but some people became curious and
realized that these safe locks had inherent weaknesses. One of the main problems
was that the disk tumblers were not mechanically isolated from the bolt that
unlocks the safe door. In other words, you could feel and hear the tumblers
while turning the dial by applying pressure on the handle of the bolt.
When that problem was recognized and solved, thieves started drilling through
strategic places in the lock itself to open it. Knocking off hinges was an all
time favorite tactic as well. Then came punching out the dial shaft,
blowtorching, and just plain blowing the door with ex- plosives. Greed can breed
The first problem, that of manipulating the tumblers open, was rectified by
making use of the dial to operate the bolt upon completion of the dialing of the
correct com- bination. This made it nearly impossible to feel or hear the
tumblers. Drilling was deterred by laminating the safe door with hard steel and
beryllium-copper plates. The beryllium-copper plates pull heat away from the
drill tip quickly, and the bit just spins without effect; drilling can- not take
place without the generation of heat at the bit's cutting edges. Knocking off
hinges was discouraged by using three or more bolts operated by a main linkage
net- work. Punching out the dial shaft to let the tumblers fall out of the way
of the bolt was corrected by beveling the shaft into the wall of the safe door.
Presently, safe locks are quite sophisticated. Picking them would require
supernatural power. The older safes, however, are much easier and even fun to
pick. Picking combination padlocks is a good way to start learning how to open
safes, and we will get to them shortly. But first, let us discuss some basic
prmciples of disk tumbler locks.
Disk tumbler locks work by the use of flat, round disks of metal or plastic with
a notch and a peg on each disk. The notch is called the tumbler gate. The gate
of each tumbler has to be lined up with the pawl of the bolt mechanism by usage
of the linking capabilities of the pegs.
The first tumbler of the disk tumbler lock (also the last combination number
dialed) is mechanically connected to the dial through the safe door. When the
dial is turned, the first tumbler picks up the middle tumbler when their pegs
connect. The middle tumbler in turn picks up the last tumbler for one more
complete turn and the tumblers have been "cleared"-you are ready to dial the
first com- bination number by aligning the last tumbler's gate to the pawl.
After you have reached this number or position, rotate the dial in the opposite
direction one complete turn (for three tumbler locks; two turns for four tumbler
locks) to engage the middle tumbler and drive it to the second combination
mlmber. By rotating the dial back into the opposite direction to the last
combination number, the bolt can be operated to open the lock, or as in the case
of newer safes, the dial will operate the bolt by turning it once again in the
One of the innovations that developed to deter sensual manipulation of
combination locks was the use of ser- rated front tumblers (last combination
number dialed). These were designed to foil listening and feeling of the
tumblers' gates by burglars.
When the bolt encountered any one of these shallow gates, the safecracker could
never be sure whether or not a tumbler was actually aligned with the pawl-bolt
mechanism. Some burglars solved this problem by attach- ing high-speed drills to
the dial knob to rotate and wear down the first tumbler's shallow false gates
against the bolt, thereby eliminating them altogether, or at least minimizing
their effects. Still, today the serrated tumbler is used as an effective
deterrent to manipulation in com- bination padlocks where space is a factor.
Let us move on to combination padlocks. The most common and difficult to open of
these small disk tumbler locks are the Master combination padlocks, and they are
quite popular. I have had good luck in opening these locks with a wooden mallet
or soft-faced hammer. The manip- ulation of Master combination padlocks is quite
easy-I have done it thousands of times, and you can learn it, too. The newer the
lock is, though, the more difficult it will be to open at first. If the lock has
had a lot of use, such as that on a locker-room door where the shackle gets
pulled down and encounters the tumblers while the com- bination is being dialed,
the serrated front tumblers will become smoothed down, allowing easier sensing
of the tumblers. So, until you have become good at opening these locks, practice
extensively on an old one. Let's try to open one:
OPENING A COMBINATION PADLOCK
First, clear the tumblers by engaging all of them. This is done by turning the
dial clockwise (sometimes these locks open more easily starting in the opposite
direction) three to four times. Now bring your ear close to the lock and gently
press the bottom back edge to the bony area just forward of your ear canal
opening so that vibrations can be heard and felt. Slowly turn the dial in the
opposite direction. As you turn, you will hear a very light click as each
tumbler is picked up by the previous tumbler. This is the sound of the pickup
pegs on each disk as they engage each other. Clear the tumblers again in a
clockwise man- ner and proceed to step two.
After you have cleared the tumblers, apply an upward pressure on the shackle of
the padlock. Keeping your ear on the lock, try to hear the tumblers as they rub
across the pawl; keep the dial rotating in a clockwise direction.
You will hear two types of clicks, each with a subtle difference in pitch. The
shallow, higher pitched clicks are the sound of the false gates on the first
disk tumbler. Do not let them fool you-the real gates sound hollow and empty,
When you feel a greater than normal relief in the shackle once every full turn,
this is the gate of the first tumbler (last number dialed). This tumbler is
connected directly to the dial as mentioned earlier. Ignore that sound for now.
When you have aligned the other two tumblers, the last tumbler's sound will be
drowned out by the sound of the shackle popping open.
While continuing in a clockwise direction with the dial, listen carefully for
the slight hollow sound of either one of the first two tumblers. Note on the
dial face where these sounds are by either memorizing them or writing them down.
Make certain that you do not take note of the driv- ing tumbler (last number
dialed). If you hear and feel only one hollow click (sounds like "dumpf"),
chances are that the first number could be the same as the last one.
You should have two numbers now. Let us say one of them is 12 and the other is
26. Clear the tumblers again just to be safe and stop at the number 12. Go
counterclockwise one complete turn from 12. Continue until there is another
"dumpf" sound. After the complete turn pass 12, if you feel and hear a louder
than normal sound of a tumbler rubbing on the pawl, the first tumbler is
properly aligned and the second tumbler is taking the brunt of the force from
the shackle-you are on the right track. When the second tumbler has aligned in
this case, you will feel a definite resistance with the last turn of the dial
going clockwise. The final turn will automatically open the shackle of the lock.
If none of these symptoms are evident, try starting with the number of the
combina- tion, 26, in the same way.
If the lock still does not open, don't give up. Try search- ing for a different
first number. Give it a good thirty- or forty-minute try. If you play with it
long enough, it will eventually open. The more practice you have under your
belt, the quicker you will be able to open these padlocks in the future.
Using a stethoscope to increase audibility of the clicks is not out of the
question when working on disk tumbler locks, though I never use them for
padlocks. A miniature wide-audio-range electronic stethoscope with a magnetic
base for coupling a piezoelectric-type microphone is ideal for getting to know
the tumblers better.
Filing your fingertips to increase sensitivity might not be such a good idea for
beginners since their fingertips will not be accustomed to operating dials for a
long period of time. With practice, you may develop calluses and need to file
your fingertips. But I don't recommend it at first.
After some time you may find that in some cases you can whiz right through the
combination of an unknown lock without looking at it and pop it open in seconds.
It becomes second nature. I've done this on many occa- sions-something beyond my
conscious control seems to line up the tumblers without my thinking about it.
Another type of disk tumbler padlock is the Sesame lock made by the Corbin Lock
Co. Its unique design makes it more difficult to open than Master padlocks, but
it can be opened. Let's take one of the three or four wheel mechanisms, look at
a cross section, and see how it works. The wheel has numbers from zero to nine.
Attached to the wheel is a small cam. Both the wheel and cam turn on the shaft.
Each wheel in this lock operates indepen- dently with its own cam and shaft. The
locking dog is locked to the shackle. In this position the shackle cannot be
opened. The locking dog operates with all three or four wheels. The locking dog
is riding on the round edge of the cam. The spring is pushing up on the cam. The
lock- ing dog cannot move up because it is resting on the round part of the cam.
When the wheel is turned to the proper combination number, the locking dog rests
on the flat of the cam. The spring can then raise the locking dog to release the
shackle, and this opens the lock.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
You will undoubtedly encounter a pin tumbler lock in which there will be a pin
or two that is keyed too low (the shear line of the pin is too high). In this
case the lock is difficult to open because the breaking point of a long bottom
pin doesn't allow room in the keyway for the pick to manipulate the other pins.
Your success in opening "tight" locks will depend on the skill you have
developed with your tension wrench. Sometimes it helps to play with the tension
wrench. Try bouncing it left and right slightly while picking, allowing some of
the tumblers to drop occa- sionally. You may also try picking the front tumblers
first or picking at random on these locks. You can tell if you have a lock that
is keyed like this because your pick may get jammed during the picking process.
After you have opened a cylinder and unlocked a lock, be sure to return it to
the locked position. You will hear the tumblers click into place when this
happens. Other- wise it may be difficult to unlock it with its key because the
bottom pins cannot "float" like they normally would.
To tell whether or not the cylinder should go clockwise or counterclockwise when
picking a tumbler lock, there is an easy rule to follow. If the tumblers (pin or
wafer) will not break, or stay broken, you are going in the wrong direction with
the tension wrench. There will be little or no progress with the cylinder, and
few, if any, "clicks."
Some keyways are cut at an angle (Yale, Dexter, and Schlage, for example) so you
want to be sure that you tilt your pick to follow that angle while picking or
your pick will get hung up. A slight twist of the wrist will compen- sate for
Should your fingers become tired while picking a lock, lay down your tools and
shake your hands and fingers to relieve any tension. After some time the muscles
in your hands will become accustomed to such activity. Practice and persistence
will tone your hands and senses to the point where you will be able to pop open
a cylinder in three to five seconds (that's seconds) in total darkness. The
combination of touch and sound lets you know almost a split second before you
open the lock that you have succeeded.
If the lock is a well-machined one, the cylinder will feel tight and you will
need a little firmer hand on the ten- sion wrench. While picking, if any one of
the pins at any time feels firm or difficult to move, chances are it's aligned.
If it feels springy, it is not.
Use the shaft of the pick if you have to when working the frontal pin of a pin
tumbler lock. This may save you the trouble of aligning the tip of the pick on
the front pin where there is little or no support for the pick. All of the other
pins allow the pick to be supported by the inside wall of the keyway.
Master keyed pin tumbler locks are generally easier to pick open because they
have more than one shear line or breaking point in the pins. Master keying
allows a group of locks to be controlled by a master key holder while the
individual locks in that group are controlled by individual keys. Hotels and
apartment complexes are usually master keyed.
There is a simple technique to open pin and wafer tumbler locks. Simply drill
through the shear lines of the tumblers. This point is located just above the
center of the keyway on the face of the cylinder. By doing this, though, you
obviously ruin the lock and make a lot of racket. If the lock is a Medeco or
some other high-security - lock, you risk damage of one hundred dollars or more,
so be sure you know the value of the situation before you decide to rape the
lock. Use a center punch to start a reliable hole on the cylinder face and use a
one-quarter inch drill bit with a variable speed drill. With a large
screwdriver, turn it to unlock. The cylinder will be dif- ficult to turn because
you may be shearing the tumbler springs that have fallen down past the
cylinder's shear line.
Dead bolt locks are those mounted on a door above the knob. All dead bolt locks
unlock counterclockwise with left-hand doors and clockwise with righthand doors.
If you have trouble remembering this, just remember that the bolt of the lock
has to go in the opposite direction of the doorjam.
Dead bolt locks are just as easy to pick open as knob locks are. They both have
cylinders that can be picked open. The main difference is that dead bolts cannot
be opened by sliding a plastic or metal card through to the bolt so as to work
it back. In other words, they are not spring loaded. That's why they are called
dead bolts. Most knob locks now have guards in front of the bolts to deter
opening with cards.
Kwik-sets, Weisers, and some of the less-expensive knob locks may open in either
direction. Schlage and Corbin, along with more sophisticated locks, can open
only in one direction. Auto locks will open either way. Another method of
picking pin tumbler locks is with a pick gun. As the pick snaps up, it hits the
bottom pin. This bounces the top pin out of the cylinder and into the shell. As
you apply light turning pressure with the tension wrench, the top pins are
caught in the shell, the cylinder will turn. I've never used a pick gun, but
they do work well for lock- smiths who use them. They are cumbersome and expen
sive, and show some lack of professionalism.
(Note: If you don't care about professionalism and want to open 95% of all pin
tumbler locks out there - and fast- buy this device. It is very awesome. I even
recommend it over a Cobra Electronic lockpick. Trust me, I have both, and I
feel the $60 Lockaid pick gun blows away the $350 Cobra)
If you bought this book to learn how to pick locks in order to become a more
efficient burglar, then there is not a whole lot I can say or do to stop you.
But I must say this: the locks used in prisons are nearly impossible to pick
even if you get or make the right tools. They are usually electrically
controlled from an external station.
Do not carry lock picks on your person. If you get caught with them, you could
get nailed for most any pro- fessional job in town for the last seven years. If
you must carry them, as in the case of rescue workers, etc., please consult your
local authorities about details and ask about registering with them. As a former
locksmith, I do not have that problem.
I advise that you do not teach your friends how to pick locks. The choice is
yours, of course. You paid the price of this book and the knowledge is yours-be
selfish with it. It is for your own protection as well. The fewer people who
know you have this skill, the better. Getting blamed for something you didn't do
is unfair and a hassle.
When you become proficient at picking locks, you may decide to get a job as a
locksmith. But believe me, there is more to being a locksmith than being able to
pick locks. You have to be a good carpenter as well as a fair mechanic. But you
may want to approach the owner of a lock shop and ask if you could get on as an
There isn't a locking device on earth that cannot be opened with means other
than its key or code. It's just that some are easier to open than others.
Anything with a keyhole, dial, or access port is subject to being opened with
alternate means, though some of the newer electronic and computer-controlled
security devices would be a nightmare even if you had extensive knowledge of
elec- tronics and electromagnetics. Some devices also use palm prints as a
readout to allow entry.
On the mechanical side, there are locks that have nor- mal pin tumblers, but
they are situated in various places 360 degrees around the cylinder. Some locks
use pin tumblers that not only have to be aligned vertically within the
cylinder, but also have to "twist" or turn a certain number of degrees to allow
the cylinder to open. This is because the pins' shear line is cut at an angle.
These locks are made by Medeco.
I have witnessed only one Medeco lock being picked- by a fellow locksmith. We
both spent hours trying to pick it again, but it was futile. We estimated the
chances of opening it again to be one out of 10,000. They are excellent security
devices, but their price keeps them limited to areas prone to security problems
such as isolated vending machines and for government use. The only one I have
been successful at opening (after an hour of picking) was one I drilled. By the
way, they are easy to drill because the brass that's used is soft.
LEARNING TO TOUCH AND FEEL
Most of us know how to touch. We touch objects every day, and yet we do not
truly feel them. It seems so commonplace that we forget that we are actually
feeling while we touch.
Here is an exercise that will develop a delicate touch. Gently rub and massage
your hands and fingers- preferably with hand lotion. Do this for five minutes.
Once the lotion has evaporated, shake your hands and fingers so that they flop
loosely. Gently pull each finger to relax each joint.
Now with a piece of fine sandpaper, gently draw the tips of your fingers across
it. Try to feel the texture of the grains on its surface. Relax your fingers,
hands, fore- arms, shoulders, and chest. Take your time. Do this for several
After a few weeks of practice, you will be able to feel each individual grain of
sand on the sandpaper. This allows you to feel the slightest sensation vibrate
through your bones.
Try to remember to practice touching and feeling dur- ing your everyday
experiences. Practice feeling wood, metal, and various other objects. Play with
the feel of mechanical vibrations, even your television set. Try to sense the
world around you as a source of information. This could and will open a whole
new horizon of experience.
After a while, you will be able to feel or sense the move- ment of the tumblers
of a Sargeant and Greenleaf safe. My first safe opened in three minutes because
of that technique that took me years to discover.
If you respect the security of the lock and do not become overconfident, you
will never become disappointed if you fail to open it. You also increase your
chances of opening the lock because you personally have nothing to gain or lose
by opening it. Give up trying to be an expert and just pick the lock.
With such an attitude, you may find the lock will usually pop right open. I
never received a trophy for being the best lock picker in the state. My
satisfaction is in know- ing that I am never helpless in a lockout situation.
The quality of your success is almost romantic; it involves sen- sitivity and
compassion in the face of curiosity as a means to help others.
Visualization and imagination are important to the lock picker. I've noticed
that people who have the ability to visualize the internal parts of the lock
that they are pick- ing seldom fail to open it in moments. Anyone can learn to
do this by simply remembering to do it while picking a lock. Since sight, sound,
and touch are involved with the process, visualization is very easy to do. Try
to keep all of your attention on the lock during the picking pro- cess. This
will help you to learn how to use heightened sensitivity for picking locks.
So in that respect, an unopened lock is like a new and unexplored lover. You
imagine all of the qualities of an attractive person whom you've just met and
apply that feeling to the lock that you are picking. Use visualization. It will
(Note: All this Zen stuff may sound like a load of shit, but it's not. I myself
cannot pick a lock unless I am comfortable. If I am craving a cigarette or I am
hungry or something else like that, I have a difficult time opening a lock.
Also, attitude is important. Don't show off.)
Any question or comments can be left to me at Ripco (leave mail to BLOODMONEY)