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Training session 39: Lockpicking Simplified
Difficulty: Medium
Learn how to pick locks properly this time
Creator: m101


My previous tutorial on lockpicking was in personal opinion half assed, and not upto my usual standard. So, to compensate for this, ill attempt to teach you properly this time, how to pick your basic pin tumbler lock.

For those of you who dont know what a pin tumbler lock is, basically 90% of locks you find are one. That is to say the locking mechanism is a pin tumbler. Your front door, your padlocks, your filing cabinet, and various other locks around your house are mostly one form of a pin tumbler lock or another. The pin tumbler is called so, because of its protection, you should see why later.

A pin tumbler lock can be picked purely because of the way it is designed and machined. There is really no machical science to picking them, and it cannot really be called a science, so you dont need a college degree to do it, but it is a craft, and one that requires atleast a bit of skill to master.

First let me explain to you how the basic pin tumbler works. For this example we will demonstrate using a single pin.
   ________
  | |____| |
  | |____| | <--- Spring
  | |____| |
  |   __   |
  |  /  \  |
  | |    | |
  | |    | | <--- Upper pin
__| |    | |__
     \__/       <--- Shear line
__    __    __
  |  /  \  |
  | |    | |
  | |    | |
  | |    | | <--- Lower pin
  | |    | |
  | |    | |
  |  \__/  |

The above picture shows the lock once the lower pin is at the correct position. When the lower section is moved, or turned it looks like this:
   ________
  | |____| |
  | |____| | <--- Spring
  | |____| |
  |   __   |
  |  /  \  |
  | |    | |
  | |    | | <--- Upper pin
__| |    | |___________
     \__/                 <--- Shear line
________    __    _____
        |  /  \  |
        | |    | |
        | |    | |
        | |    | | <--- Lower pin
        | |    | |
        | |    | |
        |  \__/  |

As you can see, when the pins are correctly at the shear line, it allows the lower section to move freely. If however the pins werent at the correct position, it would look something like this:
   ________
  | |____| |
  | |____| | <--- Spring
  | |____| |
  | |____| |
  | |____| |
  | |____| |
  |   __   |
  |  /  \  | <--- Upper pin
__| |    | |__
    |    |        <--- Shear line
__  |    |  __
  |  \__/  |
  |   __   |
  |  /  \  |
  | |    | |
  | |    | |
  | |    | | <--- Lower pin
  | |    | |
  | |    | |
  |  \__/  |

Now in this situation, the lower pin hasnt been raised to the correct level, so when the lower section is moved, or turned, this is what happens:
   ________
  | |____| |
  | |____| | <--- Spring
  | |____| |
  | |____| |
  | |____| |
  | |____| |
  |    __  |
  |   /  \ | <--- Upper pin
__|  |    ||__
     |    |       <--- Shear line
____ |    |   ___
    | \__/   |
    |   __   |
    |  /  \  |
    | |    | |
    | |    | |
    | |    | | <--- Lower pin
    | |    | |
    | |    | |
    |  \__/  |

As you can see, the lower section can move, but it cannot do so freely, and is very limited to what happens, as the upper pin binds in the lock.

When picking these locks, the lower section is a cylinder. And the upper section is part of the lock housing. When the lower half rotates far enough, the lock opens. To keep things simple here is what a three pin lock looks like with the correct key:
   ________      ________      ________
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| | <--- Spring
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |  
  |   __   |    |   __   |    |   __   |  
  |  /  \  |    |  /  \  |    |  /  \  |  
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | | <--- Upper pin
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |
__| |    | |____| |    | |____| |    | |_______________________
     \__/          \__/          \__/        <--- Shear line   |
__    __    ____    __    ____    __    ____________________   |
  |  /  \  |    |  /  \  |    |  /  \  |                    |  |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | | <--- Lower pin     |  |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  |
__| |    | |____| |    | |____| |    | |______              |  |
     \__/         |    |        |    |        \             |  |
___________       |    |        |    |         \            |  |
           \      |    |        |    |          \           |  |
            \     |    |         \__/            \          |  |
             \    |    |     _________________    \         |  |
              \   |    |    /                 \    \        |  |
               \   \__/    /                   \    \       |  |
                \_________/                     |    |      |  |
                                                |    |      |  |
                                                |    |      |  |
               Correct key                      |    |      |  |
                                                |    |      |  |
                                                |    |      |  |
________________________________________________|    |      |  |
_____________________________________________________|      |  |
                                                            |  |
                          Plug                              |  |
                                                            |  |
____________________________________________________________|  |
                                                               |
_______________________________________________________________|

As you should be able to see, the key enters the keyway into the plug, where the teeth on the key manipulate the pins, and the plug is able to rotate, opening the lock. When the lock has no key in it, it would look like this:
   ________      ________      ________
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| | <--- Spring
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    |   __   |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    |  /  \  |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    | |    | |    | |____| |
  | |____| |    | |    | |    |   __   |
  | |____| |    | |    | |    |  /  \  |
  | |____| |    | |    | |    | |    | | <--- Upper pin
  |   __   |    | |    | |    | |    | |
  |  /  \  |    | |    | |    | |    | |
__| |    | |____| |    | |____| |    | |_______________________
    |    |         \__/         |    |       <--- Shear line   |
__  |    |  ____    __    ____  |    |  ____________________   |
  | |    | |    |  /  \  |    | |    | |                    |  |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    |  \__/  |                    |  |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    |   __   |                    |  |
  | |    | |    | |    | |    |  /  \  | <--- Lower pin     |  |
  |  \__/  |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  |
  |   __   |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  |
__|  /  \  |____| |    | |____| |    | |______              |  |
    |    |        |    |        |    |        \             |  |
    |    |        |    |        |    |         \            |  |
    |    |        |    |        |    |          \           |  |
    |    |        |    |        |    |           \          |  |
    |    |        |    |        |    |            \         |  |
    |    |        |    |        |    |             \        |  |
     \__/          \__/          \__/               \       |  |
                                                     |      |  |
                                                     |      |  |
                                                     |      |  |
                                                     |      |  |
                                                     |      |  |
                                                     |      |  |
                                                     |      |  |
_____________________________________________________|      |  |
                                                            |  |
                          Plug                              |  |
                                                            |  |
____________________________________________________________|  |
                                                               |
_______________________________________________________________|

As you can see, when there is no force on the pins, the spring pushes the pins down to their maximum point. When you watch movies, they quite often use single paperclips, or hair pins to open the lock, but as you can see, a single paperclip would be able to bring a pin to the sheer line, and then it would just bounce back when trying to move the second pin.

To pick this lock, you need to apply force to the plug so that the upper portion of the pins binds wherever it is in the shear line. For the purpose of this tutorial, and due to the dificulty of showing this from other angles, the diagram will show the plug moving into the lock, rather than turning. So the first thing is to use something to turn the plug, this is shown below:
   ________      ________      ________
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| | <--- Spring
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    |   __   |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    |  /  \  |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    | |    | |    | |____| |
  | |____| |    | |    | |    |    __  |
  | |____| |    | |    | |    |   /  \ |
  | |____| |    | |    | |    |  |    || <--- Upper pin
  |    __  |    | |    | |    |  |    ||
  |   /  \ |    | |    | |    |  |    ||
__|  |    ||____| |    | |____|  |    ||_______________________
     |    |        \__/          |    |       <--- Shear line   
____ |    |   ____    __    ____ |    |   ____________________   
    ||    |  |    |  /  \  |    ||    |  |                    |  
    ||    |  |    | |    | |    | \__/   |                    |  
    ||    |  |    | |    | |    |   __   |                    |  
    ||    |  |    | |    | |    |  /  \  | <--- Lower pin     |  
    | \__/   |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  
    |   __   |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  
____|  /  \  |____| |    | |____| |    | |______              |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |        \             |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |         \            |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |          \           |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |           \          |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |            \         |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |             \        |  
       \__/          \__/          \__/               \       |  
                                                       |      |  
                                                       |      |  
                                                       |      |  
                                                       |      |  
_____________________________________________________  |      |  
            Tension wrench                           | |      |  
_____________________________________________________| |      |  
_______________________________________________________|      |
                                                              |
                          Plug                                |
                                                              |
______________________________________________________________|

Now, while applying force to the plug, if we where to use a pick of some kind to push the first pin upwards a fraction, this is what would happen:
   ________      ________      ________
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| | <--- Spring
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    |   __   |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    |  /  \  |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    | |    | |    | |____| |
  |    __  |    | |    | |    |    __  |
  |   /  \ |    | |    | |    |   /  \ |
  |  |    ||    | |    | |    |  |    || <--- Upper pin
  |  |    ||    | |    | |    |  |    ||
  |  |    ||    | |    | |    |  |    ||
__|  |    ||____| |    | |____|  |    ||_______________________
     |    |        \__/          |    |       <--- Shear line   
____ |    |   ____    __    ____ |    |   ____________________   
    ||    |  |    |  /  \  |    ||    |  |                    |  
    | \__/   |    | |    | |    | \__/   |                    |  
    |   __   |    | |    | |    |   __   |                    |  
    |  /  \  |    | |    | |    |  /  \  | <--- Lower pin     |  
    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  
    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  
____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |    | |______              |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |        \             |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |         \            |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |          \           |  
       \__/         |    |        |    |           \          |  
       ____         |    |        |    |            \         |  
      /   /         |    |        |    |             \        |  
_____/   /           \__/          \__/               \       |  
 Pick   /                                              |      |  
_______/                                               |      |  
                                                       |      |  
                                                       |      |  
_____________________________________________________  |      |  
          Tension wrench                             | |      |  
_____________________________________________________| |      |  
_______________________________________________________|      |
                                                              |
                          Plug                                |
                                                              |
______________________________________________________________|

Now, when the pick releases the lower pin, the force on the plug binds the upper pin to its current position, to look like this:
   ________      ________      ________
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| | <--- Spring
  | |____| |    | |____| |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    |   __   |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    |  /  \  |    | |____| |  
  | |____| |    | |    | |    | |____| |
  |    __  |    | |    | |    |    __  |
  |   /  \ |    | |    | |    |   /  \ |
  |  |    ||    | |    | |    |  |    || <--- Upper pin
  |  |    ||    | |    | |    |  |    ||
  |  |    ||    | |    | |    |  |    ||
__|  |    ||____| |    | |____|  |    ||_______________________
     |    |        \__/          |    |       <--- Shear line   
____ |    |   ____    __    ____ |    |   ____________________   
    ||    |  |    |  /  \  |    ||    |  |                    |  
    | \__/   |    | |    | |    | \__/   |                    |  
    |        |    | |    | |    |   __   |                    |  
    |        |    | |    | |    |  /  \  | <--- Lower pin     |  
    |        |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  
    |   __   |    | |    | |    | |    | |                    |  
____|  /  \  |____| |    | |____| |    | |______              |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |        \             |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |         \            |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |          \           |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |           \          |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |            \         |  
      |    |        |    |        |    |             \        |  
       \__/          \__/          \__/               \       |  
                                                       |      |  
                                                       |      |  
                                                       |      |  
                                                       |      |  
_____________________________________________________  |      |  
          Tension wrench                             | |      |  
_____________________________________________________| |      |  
_______________________________________________________|      |
                                                              |
                          Plug                                |
                                                              |
______________________________________________________________|

There in is the basic idea of how lock picking works, although there is still a tad more to learn. When the pin reaches the shear line it firstly slips slightly, binds for a second, and then passes. If the lower pin passes the shear line, it will also bind there under the force. So it becomes possible to push a pin too far. So how do we tell when the pin is in its correct position? When the pin is pushed high enough it may show a few signs such as clicking, becoming more dificult to raise, and various other thing.

To learn to pick your first lock, here is my recommendation. Go out and buy a 3 pin padlock. A nice cheap one should be nice and weak to break. Next get two paperclips and bend them like this:
 _________
/         \
\__________________________/

 _________
/         \
\__________________
                   |
                   |
                  _|

Now use the second paper clip to apply force to the bottom of the plug. This is to get a feel of the tension wrench. Now while still applying force get your other paper clip, the pick, and push the first pin in the lock up slowly, and feel it go from the bottom, to the shear line, and after.

The next thing to do is to get an idea of how the pins are spread in the lock. Without the tension wrench, put the pick in the lock and push down the first pin. With a bit of light you should be able to see the second pin. Move pick past the first pin, still keeping it down, and now push down the second pin. You should be able to see the third pin with enough light, but dont worry if you cant, the idea is to get an idea of picking without using your eyes. Now push down the third pin, and move the pick into the back of the keyway. The surface at the end is normally quite jaggered as you should be ble to feel.

Now keep the pick at the end of the lock, but release the pins. Now apply pressure to all three pins again and slowly pull the pick out. You should be able to hear each pin click as it is passed.

The next thing to do now you have a feel for the inside of the lock is to try to pick it. Take the pin, push it in to the very end pin, then place the tension wrench in and apply force. Now slowly press up the pin. Get a feel for how much force you need to push it in. Release the pin, and move to the second pin. Do the same, and then once again do it for the first pin. Each time remember to release tension before you press the pin down to reset the lock, then apply pressure again before pushing the pins in.

Do this a few times until you can decide which pin requires the most pressure to move. Now try to push this pin to the shear line. Then test the pressure on the remaining two pins and push the strongest one to the shear line. Do the same for the last pin. If you are lucky, the first time you try, the lock will open. In this event you are extremely lucky, the first time most people try to pick a lock that even this small, it takes hours, so dont feel bad if you try for half an hour and fail. You may just need more pressure on your tension wrench, or using too much force on the pins. In this case take a small screwdriver, file the end to a point, bend it to a 70 degree angle, and use it to create more force than the paperclip. You can tell when this is required as if you apply tension to the lock, and the pins dont bind when pushed right in. There are many reasons to failure, but keep it up, after a while youll pick your first like, and then a second, and third, until you can pick whatever lock you find.

There are more types of locks than pin tumblers, and many diferent techniques to picking them, so its now upto you to do some research and find what suits you the most, and how to pick your target lock. You can buy professional lock picks, and tension wrenches, although at the price they arent exactly worth the extra cash, and besides theres many guides to making your own out there. Happy picking!
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