Lock Picking 101: How to Pick Locks

Lock Picking 101: How to Pick Locks

The big secret about lock picking is that it is simple and only requires practice to develop the feel. There are many different styles of locks, but once you have a basic understanding of how locks work, you can learn to pick almost any type of lock. 



1. Why learn lockpicking?

2. Types of Lock Picking Tools

3. How a Tumbler Lock Works

4. Picking a lock

5. Scrubbing a lock

6. Next steps


1. Why Learn Lock Picking?

Lock picking is fun, challenging, and satisfying. It's a life skill that can come in handy when you are locked out of your house or property.

This craft has become very popular and is taking the hobby world by storm. It has a minimal cost of entry and can be practiced anywhere. It's a great way to practice your concentration and puzzle-solving skills. It can help you unwind from normal stresses of life and even put you in a zen state.

Is It Legal To Pick Locks?

Many folks wonder about the legality of picking locks. Owning a lock pick set is legal in most states. We have a map showing which states have laws concerning them. The reality is that there are much quicker ways to bypass a lock than picking it.

Locksport Versus Locksmithing 

The term “locksport” has been adopted as a means of distinguishing between hobby/sport lockpicking (i.e. locksport) and what locksmiths do.

The truth is, lockpicking is a very small portion of what locksmiths do. There are much quicker ways to get past a lock, and for a locksmith, time is money.

Locksport is becoming more popular around the world as folks gather and compete against each other for speed and complexity.


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2. Types of Lock Picking Tools



You have your beginner lock pick set, and now you're wondering what the different types of lock picks are called.

Here is a quick rundown of some of the most common lock picks on the market and what they are used for.


Single Pin Picks 

A hook pick and/or a diamond pick will probably be your tool of choice when it comes to single-pin picking.

These types of picks allow you to feel and manipulate individual pins more easily than other types of lock pick tools.


Hook Picks

Distinguishable by its hook-shaped tip, a hook pick (also called "lifter") is a classic choice for single-pin picking. You can find this style of pick in a variety of lengths and shapes.

Other Single Pin Pick Types

Here are two additional picks that may be useful to you as you grow your skills. And in the wild, you'll no doubt discover even more single-pin picks.

Rake Picks

Rake picks are used to open a lock by sliding a pick across the pins in an attempt to set all of the pins, rather than picking single pins individually. 

Rake picks were originally designed with common key bitting patterns in mind.


Rake Pick Names

Rakes tend to be named after what they most resemble. The city rake mimics a city skyline, while the snake rake looks like a snake in motion.


Snake Rake: Also known as the S rake, this type of rake is a favorite in the lock-picking community.

City Rake: Also known as a long rake or L-rake, city rakes are another staple for many lock pickers.

Bogota Rakes: Looking at the hilly peaks of the bogota rake, you can understand the reason for its name. Inventor Raimundo named the design after the mountains in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia. The number of peaks is also part of the naming convention: Two hills is a two-hump bogota, three hills is a three-hump bogota, and so on.

Tension Tools

Tensions tools help you hold pins in place during single pin picking so that you can open the lock.

They also help you feel the rotation of the plug. 

Bottom-of-the-Keyway (BOK) Tension Tools 

We'll get to picking styles in our next chapter. For now, just know that some people prefer to place their tension tool at the bottom of the keyway during picking, while others prefer to place their tension tool at the top of the keyway. For bottom-of-the-keyway tension tools, there are a number of options.

Top-of-the-Keyway (TOK) Tension Tools 

Although we don't include top-of-the-keyway tools in every pick set, you may want to explore your options as you advance your skills. Here is what a typical top-of-the-keyway tool looks like.

Which Tools are Best?

The best lock pick tools for you really comes down to the size and type of lock you're opening as well as personal preference. 

More types of picks and tools exist than what we've covered in this overview. We recommend you try out as many tools as you can until you've found a preference.

You might also consider making your own tools to experiment with new shapes.


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3. How a Tumbler Lock Works

A tumbler lock is made up of a shell which holds a plug. There are holes drilled at 90 degrees to the plug. These holes hold pins and springs that prevent the plug (i.e. lock cylinder) from turning unless all the lock pins are lined up in a specific way.

When the key is inserted, it raises the varying lengths of pins so they are all in a line and the lock cylinder can rotate and activate the lock.


Terminology (Parts of a Padlock) 

Pins - Designed as a security measure to prevent the rotation of the plug. When elevated properly, the pins will allow the plug to be rotated.

Springs - Springs hold the pins in place when the lock is not being used. 

PlugThe piece of the lock that can be rotated once the pins are in place.


Opening a Lock 

If you have a transparent lock, insert the key. See how the pins and springs align themselves in response to the key bitting pattern.

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4. Picking a Lock

Lock picking exploits the fact that there are always mechanical tolerances in locks which allows them to be picked. Since the pins are not matched perfectly straight, the pins will bind differently as you try and spin the cylinder.


Here are the basic steps to picking a lock: 


Find which pin stack is loaded first

Lift each pin with a pick and feel for resistance. The pin with resistance is the one you'll set first.

Set the Driver Pin

Once the top of the key pin reaches the shear line, the plug will rotate slightly and set the driver pin.


Repeat the Pin Setting Process 

When one pin sets, another pin stack loads. Repeat this procedure for as many pin stacks as there are.


Open the Lock

Once all the pins are lined up with the shear line (i.e. all the pins are set), the lock opens.



The art of picking is in how much rotational tension to apply to the plug (to load the pin stacks) and how much force to use when pushing up the pins (to set them). The feel can only be developed with practice. 

Holding the Picks

You should be holding the picks lightly. The small motions and corrections will come from your fingers and wrists; instead of from your elbows or shoulders, since you don’t have as much feedback from the larger joints. Which fingers you use is a matter of personal choice.

Some people use two fingers as a pivot with the other fingers providing the pressure.

Another way is like holding a pencil. In this method, your wrist will provide the pressure. Your shoulder and elbow will be used to move the pick in and out of the lock but not for pressure.

Whatever method you use, just be consistent. Almost all picks will require some sanding and finishing to make them glassy smooth. This is worth your time, since it will help you get better feedback through the pick.


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5. Scrubbing a Lock

Picking Faster with Rakes


Single-pin picking can be fairly slow. There is another method of picking known as scrubbing or raking a lock.

Scrubbing can be very quick and is definitely worth mastering. There is nothing like walking up to a lock, breaking out your tools and your through in less than 30 seconds. It doesn't always work this way, but sometimes it does.

Step 1 

In this method, you tension the plug the same as with the single pin method. However, instead of individually finding each pin as it binds, you scrub or rake the pins with a rake or snake pick.

Step 2

As you rake across, all the pin stacks will successively raise to the shear line and the driver pins catch on the plug lip as the plug rotates slightly. 

Step 3 


Gradually increase torque as you begin scrubbing. Learn the feel as the pins set.

The pins have a sequence of setting depending on how the pin holes line up with the centerline of the plug – it will probably not be in sequential order. This is simply a function of the manufacturing and accuracy of the lock.

It is very easy to overset the pins when scrubbing, so a light touch is in order.


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6. Next Steps

Once you've mastered the clear locks in your beginner set, you can start exploring other locks.

There are many different types of locks and corresponding tools to pick them. You might consider a second set of picks to expand your options.

Consider joining the locksport community. Find new friends while gathering to compete with other like-minded individuals. And of course, there are many great books, instructional videos, and other resources on the web.

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