How To: Pick Basic Tumbler Locks

Pick Basic Tumbler Locks

Professionally and academically speaking, I am a computer scientist, but I also enjoy lock picking as a hobby, so I thought I would share what knowledge I have with this. Before we start doing anything, first we need to understand the fundamentals of how locks work and then acquire and familiarize ourselves with basic lock-picking tools.

How Do Locks Work?

There are a variety of different types of locks, but one of the most common ones are pin and tumblers, which is what we'll be focusing on, as the title indicates.

Typically these types of locks have a hard outer casing (green) inside a metal cylindrical object, which is usually referred to as the plug (yellow). Within the plug is a row of pins and springs. There are two main types of pins, key (red) and driver (blue). The key pins reside on the bottom and are the ones that come in contact with the key. Key pins vary in size, while driver pins are always identical and sit on top.

How to Pick Basic Tumbler Locks

As in the picture, the correct key has teeth that are complimentary to the height of each key pin, so that the driver pins are pushed up to just above the plug. We refer to this spot as the shear line. When all the pins are at the shear line, we apply torque to the key, turning the plug, and the lock will no longer hinder our access to whatever it was trying to protect.

Basic Lock Picking Tools

The main objective of lock picking is to raise all of the pins to the shear line so that we can turn the plug. We can raise the pins by using a lock pick. Here are what some basic ones look like:

How to Pick Basic Tumbler Locks

Each one requires a special technique, as each approaches lock exploitation in a different way, but we will discuss that at a later point.

If we just simply push the pins up, they will immediately go back into place due to the force on them by the springs. In order to get around this, we use what's called a tension tool. What this does is allow us to apply torque to the plug simultaneously as we push the pins up, which helps keep the pin at the shear line while we attempt to maneuver the other pins to the shear line. This is what basic tension tools look like:

How to Pick Basic Tumbler Locks

If you want to purchase some of your own tools, I would recommend Peterson, particularly the government steel gem and hook picks. While you can attempt to pick locks with paper clips and bobby pins, they're not very effective in comparison.


  • Check the laws where you live surrounding ownership and utilization of lock picking tools. In some states, you need to have a locksmith license to own such tools, while in others possession is only illegal when coupled with malicious intent.
  • As always, use this information responsibly and do not attempt to pick locks that you are not authorized to.

Basic Picking Techniques

There are two main types of techniques, raking and single-pin picking (SPP). In the above picture of picks, the ones with the waves and bumps are used for raking and the others for SPP.

I don't use a rake as much since I find it less exact, but the basic technique is to rapidly "rake" back and forth the pick inside the lock, while of course applying tension with your tension tool. The idea is that the vibration from the rake will cause the pins to jiggle into the right place.

SPP is a bit more methodical; As you apply tension, you feel each pin with the pick checking to see if it is "springy" or not. The general rule is that if it's springy, then you leave it alone. Otherwise, you carefully lift the pin up until it becomes "set" (often accompanied by a light click sound). Keep checking each pin until you have successfully set all the pins and the plug is free to move.

Hopefully, now you have a basic understanding of locks and how to pick them. This is great and all, but actually practicing is a whole other story. Master Locks are usually fairly easy to pick, so I would recommend trying to pick some of those if you're a beginner. There are tons of YouTube movies, so try browsing there, but feel free to comment below, send me a message or post in the forum and I will be happy to try and answer your question.

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Photos by Wikipedia, Milspecmonkey, Birdnestsandpaper

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Bump Key , soda can cut right for hand locks , and a card for uber easy non dead bolt....
laziness prevails!

Haha, whatever gets the job done, right? :)

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