When attacking any kind of lock, we’re always aiming to bypass the mechanism in the shortest amount of time. Do lockpick guns offer a better method of attack or are they expensive toys unfit for purpose?
Lockpick guns, also known as snap guns, became incredibly popular in the 1960s and 1970s to quickly open locks. This rise in popularity was mostly the result of them being usable with only a relatively low degree of training. Since the height of their use, they have mostly fallen out of favor as new advances in lock design have made them less reliable. While still a valid form of attack on certain locks, snap guns have mostly been left behind as more skilled attacks are used to defeat more complex locks.
How to snap guns (lockpick guns) work?
Lockpick guns are available with either an electrical or mechanical mechanism used to generate the force needed to unlock the core. Regardless of how the force is generated, a needle is used to transfer the energy into the driver pins while the core is placed under tension with a tension wrench.
As the needle of the snap gun strikes the key pins, the driver pins can jump above the shear line allowing the core to rotate and open the lock.
Of the lockpick guns available on the market today, electrical guns are slightly more effective than mechanical devices as they can repeatedly strike the pins within a much shorter time span.
Most of the skill required with this attack comes in the form of knowing how much force a lock requires and being able to correctly position the needle inside of the keyway to most efficiently strike the key pins. It takes practice to be able to open a lock reliably with this technique, however in most cases it is easier to learn than using traditional picking methods.
Do snap guns work with all locks?
For lockpick guns to work effectively, the driver pins need to be able to move up past the shear line in a single smooth motion. In older locks and cheaper models of modern locks, this is not a problem because of the lack of security ins.
In higher-end locks, binding of the driver pins becomes a much greater issue for snap guns due to the presence of security pins. These pins are cut with irregular shapes and serrations to encourage them to bind within the lock when manipulated without the correct key.
While these pins are easily manipulated with single pin picking, they make low-skilled attacks such as snap guns and raking considerably more difficult and in many cases impossible.
Why buy an electric lockpick gun?
Although lockpick guns do face many challenges now with more advanced lock designs, electric guns are still available from most lock sports stores and often go for an imposing price (usually above $200).
This price tag can be justified as electric lockpick guns are usually much more effective than mechanically driven guns. This is because the needle mechanism in electric guns can strike the key pins multiple times a second, increasing the chance of successfully raising pins above the shear line and causing an unlock.
Electric lock picks are also arguably more popular as their digital control allows for much greater control over the amount of force generated with each strike.
While electric lock picks are more effective, mechanical lockpick guns can be found on most online stores at considerably lower prices. It is likely they will work with a much smaller range of locks however for common cheap locks, they remain a very viable attack method if you are willing to put in the practice.
Limitations of lockpick guns
We’ve explored how security pins can very easily stop lockpick guns from functioning; however, several other factors affect how easily lock may be picked and how they may respond to the use of a snap gun.
One of the biggest factors affecting snap guns is the shape of the keyway. As tighter keyways make it much harder for the needle to move within the lock, they will often limit the transfer of energy and prevent the shear line from being broken.
Physical space is also a concern that can limit the effectiveness of lockpick guns. As locks are often mounted awkwardly against walls, it is not always possible to access the lock because of the physical size of the tool. Compact models are available however are still much larger than a typical pick.
Another final limitation of snap guns comes as the result of the amount of energy generated during each impact. These tools put a significant amount of energy into driver pins compared to traditional methods, which ultimately increases the risk of the lock being damaged. This damage can lead to the lock becoming completely non-functional, even with a key or more high-skilled attacks.
Limitations such as those explored here really demonstrate why tools such as snap guns should be used as part of a collection of skills instead of a single solution for all problems.
Unfortunately, if you are looking to buy a lockpick gun, options are somewhat limited as their popularity has reduced significantly over the years.
The Kronos Electric Pick is arguably the best in class for snap picks, offering a range of adjustability to fully meet the needs of your lock. The gun comes with absolutely everything you could need including tension tools and replaceable needles, and an impressive battery life so you do not need to worry about charging the device between uses.
Although the Kronos is impressive, a price tag of over $250 is difficult to justify when even the best lock pick gun will struggle against most locks containing security pins. The size of the tool can also make it unsuitable in certain applications, as with a length of 8” the tool is almost impossible to conceal easily and can even prevent access to the keyway in certain situations.
Mechanical snap guns are much more accessible than electric guns, with decent tools being available for around $50. While almost all mechanical lockpick guns function identically, the SouthOrd EZ LAT-17 cannot be beaten for quality. Again, this is not a tool that will likely see much use, although it can result in a powerful attack when used against the right lock.
Alternatives to snap guns
Although lockpick guns can work exceptionally well under the right scenarios, it can be difficult to justify such a high price for a tool that will only work against a limited number of locks.
Fortunately, an alternative to snap guns exists and can be obtained for a much lower price in the form of bump keys.
These were previously explored in an earlier article briefly, however function in a very similar way to snap guns. By hitting the rear of a bump key, the driver pins are lifted above the shear line resulting in the core unlocking.
Bump keys share almost all of the same limitations faced by lockpick guns, but they are considerably more affordable and, more importantly, can be easily concealed and hidden with a set of normal house keys.
Although extremely similar and carrying some benefits, lockpick guns have the advantage of generating a consistent amount of force between strikes. As bump keys require you to manually hit them with a hammer, the amount of force generated can vary significantly leading to unreliable results.
Lockpick guns are a valuable tool that can be impressive when used in the right scenarios and against the correct lock types, however their limitations make them an expensive investment that often cannot be relied on to pick a lock successfully.
Even with their limitations, lockpick guns remain rich in history and could prove to be a useful skill within your skillset with only a small amount of practice.