Lockpicking

License

This work by Z. Cliffe Schreuders at Leeds Beckett University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Contents

License

Contents

General notes about the labs

Preparation

Introduction to lockpicking

Understanding locks

Getting a feel for it

Lockpicking pin tumbler locks using lockpicks

Conclusion

General notes about the labs

Often the lab instructions are intentionally open ended, and you will have to figure some things out for yourselves. This module is designed to be challenging, as well as fun!

However, we aim to provide a well planned and fluent experience. If you notice any mistakes in the lab instructions or you feel some important information is missing, please let me (Cliffe) know and I will try to address any issues.

Preparation

This lab requires no software! Your tutor will bring the equipment to class.

This week the focus is on physical security, and specifically common door locks.

Introduction to lockpicking

There are many security mechanisms that continue to be used, despite widespread knowledge of their weaknesses.

Common pin tumbler locks are ubiquitous, yet vulnerable to the art of lockpicking. Note that depending on the situation and motive, there may be even easier ways for a criminal to break in, such as breaking a window. However, if stealthiness is the goal, a skilled criminal (or locksmith) can fairly easily (although not always as quickly as in the movies) circumvent the mechanism without the key.

Under normal use, when the correct key is inserted into a pin tumbler lock, the key pins are pushed up by the key, so that the key pins meet the driver pins at the sheer line. Using a lock pick set, it is possible to push these into place, so that the lock can be opened without the key.

The task at hand: lets pick some locks!

Understanding locks

We have a selection of locks and lock picks, including some cutaways (so you can see the pins within), and locksmith practice boards that increase in difficulty from one pin locks up to five pins (work your way from leftmost to rightmost lock).

Please consider the time limit for the lab, and alternate the equipment, so that everyone gets time using a variety of locks.

Familiarise yourself with the components of locks, and the tools used to pick them.

Our locks and lockpicking equipment

Note we have a large selection of lockpicks, although to pick a lock you really only need two things: a lifter (or hook) pick, and a tension wrench. Yes, the movies are doing it wrong: you definitely need a tension wrench.

Components of a lock, from the front

First, some terminology:

Components of a lock, from the side, correct key inserted

The above diagram shows the inner working of a pin tumbler lock. This lock is a cutaway, where the side has been removed, so you can see the springs and pins inside. Note that the spring pushes the pins (driver pin and key pin) towards the key (in this case down). The correct key will push each key pin so that it lines up with the driver pin at the shear line, where the plug turns.

Incorrect key inserted

When an incorrect key is inserted, the pins will not line up with the shear line, so the lock won’t open.

Getting a feel for it

If you like, insert a tension wrench, usually this will be at the bottom of the keyway, but don’t apply any pressure to it.

Start by inserting the lifter pick into the keyway, and slowly moving it from the back to the front. As you move the pick, listen and feel for each pin. Do this a few times to get a feel for the lock, where the pins are, and what it feels like to move the pins with the pick.

Getting a feel for the pins

Lockpicking pin tumbler locks using lockpicks

You will start with either a five lock practice board or a cutaway lock. If you start with the practice board you should try to pick each of the locks left to right (1 pin=easy, to 5 pin=hard). If you start with the cutaway you should try to pick the lock. Try while looking, and after success try without looking at the pins.

Follow these steps:

  1. Insert a torque wrench into the lock and apply a small amount of pressure.

  1. Try a few lifter picks, and find the one that works best for you and the lock.
  2. Insert the lifter pick, and starting from the back gently feel for each of the pins, and push them slightly. Many of the pins will simply bounce back into place, but one or two will be stuck between the plug and the hull. These are the “bound pins”.
  3. Push these up until you hear or feel a click, and the plug turns slightly. Don’t push too far, or the key pin may get trapped above the shear line, and you will have to start again. After setting each pin, another pin will bind. Repeat back to step 3, until the lock is open.

Lifting a pin

It is trickier than it sounds; however, practice makes perfect.

You may also want to try raking.

  1. Insert a torque wrench into the lock and apply a small amount of pressure.
  2. Insert the rake pick, and gently drag it back and forth over the pins. If you are lucky, some or all the pins can be set this way.

Examples of rake picks

Picked lock

Consider these questions:

Conclusion

At this point you have:

Well done! You may be interested in further pursuit of “locksport” as a hobby.