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How to Pick a Lock

While vacationing in Bridgton, Maine, Nick and I had to unlock a trunk containing all of our sheets and towels for the week.  Nick, who has picked locks before, successfully picked the padlock on the trunk after our search for the key was unsuccessful.  If by chance you ever have to pick a lock during your travels, here are Nick’s instructions that I hope will be useful:

So picking locks is not as difficult as you might imagine.  The difficulty increases with the number of ‘pins’ that the key has to align in order to open the lock.  Mostly this means that the shorter the key the easier the lock is to pick (or rake, which is the easier method of ‘picking’).

You need to first understand how the lock opens to understand how to pick or rake it open.

Image from http://tutorialninjas.net/2007/06/27/how-to-pick-a-lock/If you look at a key you will see that it has little flat places at different levels separated by little peaks.  These flat places are at the exact level that each pin needs to be in order open the lock.  The pin is actually separated in to 2 pins.  In order for the lock to turn the pins all need to line up with the edge of the cylinder (the brass part that turns and has the key hole in it) so it can turn.  When the key is inserted into the lock that it opens, the pins (which you can see the first of if you look in the key hole) will be puched into the correct possistion by the little flat places on the key so the cylinder will turn.

(Image from http://tutorialninjas.net/2007/06/27/how-to-pick-a-lock/)

Now that you understand (from my masterful explanation) how a lock works, it isn’t difficult to grasp how you are going to cheat the lock into opening.  You can ‘pick’ the lock, which means using a tiny tool to individually move each pin into place.  This is what you need to do on higher quality locks – it is more difficult than ‘raking’ which is what I used on this lock, which is a piece of crap.  Raking is using a tiny tool to move the pins around all at once, and using precise tension to catch them at the right place to get the lock to open.  This method is easier and can be done on locks with only a few pins more easily.  The lock I raked here had four pins.

The key to ‘racking’ and ‘picking’ is in the tension you use.  You need to either buy or make some tiny tools to do these jobs to perform the following:

1. I made the rake out of a fish hook, and the tensioner out of a cotter pin from an outboard boat motor.
Put your tensioner in the key hole, and turn it a little in the direction the key would turn (usually clock-wise) to pinch the pins between the cylinder and the body of the lock.
Insert the rake all the way into the lock and pull it quickly out, pushing the pins up with the rake as you pull it out.  The rake, having a variety of curves in it, moves the pins around to a variety of positions.  If you have just enough tension on the tumbler, they will catch in the right position (at the break between top and bottom pin).
After getting them all of the pins to catch in the right position by raking the lock a number of times, the lock will open.

As you work on the lock you may find that you have to release your tension and start again if the pins get stuck in the wrong position.  The correct amount of tension is the key.  To much and the pins will not move, to little and they will not get caught in the right place. If you apply some tension, rake the lock and then let the tension off, you should hear the pins pop back down from where they got stuck. This sound will let you know that you at least have enough tension on the tumbler to catch the pins, though maybe to much… it’s an art and if you keep at it – you will learn to feel how much tension is needed.

Spend some time getting your tools right… without good tools, it is hopeless to spend a bunch of time trying to get the lock open.  I ended up using this tensioner (made from opening up a lead cotter pin) with my hand and holding the rake (bent out of a fish hook) with a pair of pliers.  This method allowed me to get a good pull across the pins, holding it with my hand I couldn’t get a good grip on it.

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By the way – our trip was great!  We stayed on the lake for about a week and a half, traveling back and forth to town in a motorboat.  Canoing, kayaking, cooking, and whiskey drinking were some of our choice pastimes.

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One Comment

  1. I always knew Nick was a crafty son-of-a-gun! j/k

    Glad to know the first leg is running smoothly, I look forward to following along :o )

    1. Wayfaring Wanderer on August 28th, 2008 at 1:53 pm

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