How Lock Picking Works
Can locks really get opened with basic tools or even paper clips? Here is how the most common lock – the deadbolt lock- works and how it can be picked.
The deadbolt lock is pretty simple to use; when you turn the correct key, a bolt slides into a notch in the door frame. Deadbolt locks belong to a category called cylinder locks; a key will turn a cylinder which will then turn an attached cam. When the key is turned in one direction, the cam will retract the bolt; when the key turns the other way, it will extend it. Cylinder locks usually contain a pin and tumbler design; while efficient, they are also the easiest to pick.
Cylinder locks house number of small pins which vary in length. These pins are grouped in pairs and keep the cylinder in place; of each pair, the top pin will extend into the cylinder and housing thus stopping the cylinder from moving. When the right key is used, it pushes the pin pairs up and the top ones will no longer be present in the cylinder. The cylinder can then be turned and opened.
Picking a pin-and-tumbler cylinder lock
To pick a lock, you’ll need a pick (like a dentist’s tool with an upturned end) and a torque wrench. Put the torque wrench into the lower part of the keyhole. To determine which way the lock opens, apply torque to the wrench in a clockwise direction. It should only move a few millimetres, then try a counter-clockwise direction. The direction that feels less stiff will be the direction the lock opens. Once you’ve found the right direction, apply torque and hold.
Next, insert the pick in the top part of the keyhole and try to feel the pins. Push all of the pins up; if this appears too easy or too difficult, you may need to adjust the torque. Stubborn pins will need to be pushed until they are “set”, you’ll just want to use enough pressure to overcome the downward pressure of the spring. The thing to keep in mind is that you want to push the top pin out of the cylinder; the misalignment from the torque will prevent it from falling back in. When it feels like there’s no resistance from the pin, the top one has been “set”. Continue the same procedure for the remaining pins.
Finally, when all the pins have been set, use the torque wrench to unlock the deadbolt by turning the lock. If earlier you made a mistake in determining the direction of the lock, you’ll have to repeat the entire process again.
Hair clips and paper clips can be used: a shortcut method called “scrubbing” or “raking” can work well. In this situation, insert your picking instrument into the lock without torque all the way to the back of the lock. Quickly pull out the pick with upward pressure while simultaneously applying torque. With this method, some of the pins will get set, reducing your workload somewhat, but it takes practice.