Lockpicking is an incredibly valuable skill but relying on commercial tools is not always possible and you may have to improvise. Let’s have a look at 8 ways you can start picking locks with only a little creativity and some common household objects.
Although useful, carrying a set of lockpicking tools is not always possible with certain jurisdictions considering possession of the tools themselves to be illegal. In spite of this, it is possible to quickly improvise many of the tools used for lockpicking out of range of common items. From making a simple lock pick and tension wrench from a paperclip and bobby pin to bumping open a lock with an ordinary house key, many of the normal tools found in a lockpicking set can quickly be imitated to great effect.
These tools may not hold up as well as the tools they are originally based on, but in many cases are more than sufficient to tackle a single lock, especially if you are willing to be patient and let the tool work.
What makes a good improvised lock pick tool?
Although many of the improvised tools covered in this article may not hold up as effectively as their commercial models, it is by no means to say they are a bad tool. Instead, these tools just vary in their suitability for the lock you’re attacking and for the environment you find yourself in.
Certain tools, such as paperclip lockpicks can be made in a matter of seconds and work great if you are attempting to conceal tools into a restricted environment while others such as electric lockpick guns require much more time and effort to make.
The ability to improvise these larger tools is still an extremely valuable skillset, particularly if you are operating out of an area where you may be unable to source commercial tools for whatever reason.
Regardless of why you are having to improvise tools or where you are trying to improvise them, one of the most important lessons to remember is that not every tool is suitable for each lock and it’s up to you to decide if you’re improvised tool is up to task.
Basic Improvised attacks
The first set of improvised tools covered here focus on simple attacks that can be improvised relatively quickly.
They are all low skill attacks that can be set up and attempted in only a few minutes and do not require any advanced tooling allowing them to be improvised anywhere around the world.
What is arguably most impressive about these tools is that although they may be less durable than their commercial equivalents, they will often work just as well assuming you are willing to put in the time to invest in training and practice with each technique, while also putting up with some trial and error to get the tool working.
Improvised lock picks are some of the easiest to create due to their simple shape, allowing you to make a decent set of picks in only a few minutes, but they do come with some limitations.
Most lockpicks produced today are made out of a spring steel with specific tip shape to ensure they are able to withstand the forces experienced during picking. Improvised picks lack much of the strength of traditional picks, meaning they will likely need to be reshaped between picking attempts.
Improvised picks are also limited in their functionality because of their size, as the material used is often thicker than normal lock picks. This can make some keyways impossible to access, particularly if they are narrow or weirdly shaped such as is seen in higher end locks.
In spite of their limitations, improvised lockpicks can still be relied on when needed so let’s have a look at how we can start making some lock picks.
The paperclip lockpick is a cliché in countless movies, and while they normally get lockpicking completely wrong, paperclips can be relied on to craft reasonably good lockpicks.
Paperclips bend incredibly easily yet can hold their shape well enough to function as a pick to an impressive level. All you need to do is straighten out a portion of the paperclip then create the shape of your tip.Hook picks and rake picks typically work best because of their relatively simple shape, however, these two styles are incredibly versatile that can handle most locks you will likely face.
This is normally as far as most lockpicking in movies will go to, creating only the lock pick and ignoring a means to rotate to core. Tension wrenches are also required for lockpicking and can be made from paperclips by folding the paperclip against itself and then placing a hook in the end.
While possible to make a paperclip tension wrench, they can be improvised with much more effectiveness using other common items such as pen clips or bobby pins. As these materials are thicker than the tension wrenches produced using a paperclip and offer much better control over the lock’s rotation.
A paperclip and bobby pin lockpick set will struggle against high-end locks with security pins but can be an extremely effective attack on cheaper Master Locks, and with their small size conceal in almost any kit making them a great addition.
Another great source of material you can use to make lockpicks out of can be found in almost any car wiper blade. Modern wipers use steel, contained within the rubber wiper to reinforce the blade, which can be removed with relative ease.
As most modern lockpicks already use spring steel in their construction, these homemade tools are able to hold up much more effectively than paperclips however are not a perfect solution for lockpicks on the go.
Unlike using paperclips, this method is much more involved as the steel cannot be easily bent into shape and will often need to be filed. They are however able to last much longer and withstand the forces experiences during picking so are worth the investment of crafting them.
Wiper blade lockpicks can also prove an effective technique as they can be formed easily into a tension wrench to much greater effect than paperclips providing a complete set of tools from a single wiper blade.
This method may not work well if you are attempting to make lock picks while already within a restricted location because of the preparation required to turn them into functional picks. It does however prove an extremely good option if you are looking to make your own picks cheaply or are looking to source lockpicks in a foreign country where they may otherwise not be available.
Another common attack focused on the keyway is bumping, which is arguably one of the easiest to improvise. While specialized bump keys are available, it is possible to bump a lock using an ordinary key requiring no modification at all.
The only limitation with this method is that not all keyways are shaped in the same way, however, if you are able to find a key that fits in the lock, by hitting the back of the key while applying a small amount of rotational force, you may be able to unlock the lock.
Normally, bump keys come with a specialized hammer to strike the key, although this is by no means necessary, and successful strikes can be delivered with a range of tools from metal pens and screwdrivers to flashlights.
As we’ve talked about in an earlier article, bumping is relatively easy to defend against by including a couple security pins, however is worth trying if you have a key that will fit just because of how simple and accessible this method is.
Shimming attacks move the attention away from the keyway to focus the locking mechanism directly.
Although there are a range of techniques to protect against this attack and it proves mostly impossible on home locks, it can be used with occasional success on handcuffs, padlocks and bicycle locks.
This attack works by placing a small shim of metal in between the locking bar and shackle, ultimately causing the bar to disengage and allowing the lock to open.
Soda Can Shims
For a shim to work reliably, it needs to be thin enough to bend around the locking bar but strong enough not to fold and break when inside the lock.
The aluminum of soda cans works perfectly in this application and can be sourced almost anywhere around the globe. To make these shims, all you need to do is empty the can and cut the metal into shape following the template below.
Once created, you can then simply slide the shim into the shackle and position it in between the locking bar and shackle, causing the lock to open. This is an incredibly low-skilled attack and as a result there are several ways to defend against it meaning it is only practical with a limited number of cheaper locks (including some by Master Lock).
These defense mechanisms include double locking (as seen in handcuffs) or altering the locking mechanism to prevent shims from being inserted into the shackle. The limitations of this technique do make it a rather unreliable method with more secure locks, however with cheaper models can prove very valuable.
We’ve looked at a couple very practical methods that can prove very effective, but if you’re willing to invest slightly more time into your attack there are some options out there.
Some of these attacks do require you to have access to the key for a short amount of time but are much more reliable than other improvised attacks and can offer repeated access to the lock if pulled of correctly.
In one of our recent articles, we looked in detail at the effectiveness of lockpick guns however criticized their high cost. It is possible though, with a little creativity, to make a very affordable snap gun that can work incredibly well against basic locks such as Master Lock and other low-budget padlocks.
Electric lockpick guns use a motor to vibrate the pick needle, transferring energy into the driver pins and causing them to rise above the shear line.
We can replicate this motion fairly well by attacking a lockpick tip to an electric toothbrush, and then creating a tension tool out of material as discussed earlier. Some electric toothbrushes even have a suitable wire within the head of the brush that can be shaped into a functioning lockpick.
Improvised snap guns are less effective than their commercial counterparts because you cannot control their force, however, is more than capable in a tight situation or if you’re looking to test out a snap gun before investing a lot of money in one.
The methods covered so far are great for quickly improvising the tools needed to attack and open a lock but require a significant amount of time be invested each time you try to access the lock.
Instead of attacking the lock and its pins directly, another far more reliable attack is to clone the key. This process requires a fair amount of preparation but in some case can be carried out in the field if you have access to a key for a sufficient amount of time.
One of the many benefits to this method that makes it so reliable is that the driver pins are manipulated in an identical way to how they would be lifted if the correct key was to be used. This makes security pins much easier to bypass, especially when compared to other techniques such as single pin picking.
One of the simplest ways to clone a key works extremely well in the field but requires that you have a fair amount of time with the key unsupervised. Luckily, once you have completed the initial step the cloned key comes together fairly quickly and can be paused at certain steps along the way.
The keys shape is first imaged by holding the key over a flame for a period of time, to build up a layer of carbon which can be transferred to plastic or cardstock using a piece of tape. Once transferred, all that is required to produce your cloned key is cut out the key and test it out in your lock.
These duplicates are much weaker than normal keys, so it’s normally good practice to use the clone to lift and set the driver pins and then a separate tension tool to actually rotate the core, however despite their weakness can produce some extremely accurate clones.
Burning a key to clone it is an intensive process that may not always be possible, but it is possible to create a key duplicate very easily using only the photo of a key.
From a photo of a key, it is very easy to align the image with a biting template and actually decode the key fully. From this decoded key, you can then produce an actual metal duplicate of the key if you are attempting to gain long term access to a lock. Although, it should be noted that biting templates are brand dependent and may not be available for every lock.
Decoding in this manner is extremely powerful and proves why sharing photos of your keys online can be so dangerous. If you’re interested in learning more about this technique, Deviant Ollam explains the process from start to finish and demonstrates that even with low quality images, a lock can be successfully breached.
Alternatively, if you are only looking for temporary access and the quality of your duplicate is less important, you can print out the image of your key to scale and use it as a template for creating a plastic clone.
Regardless of how you make your key, what makes this method so reliable is repeatability. Once you have gone through the initial process of decoding a key or producing a cutout, this information can be easily used to make repeated key duplicates if you require long term access to a given lock.
The Best Improvised Technique
While many of the improvised tools covered here can be extremely useful in a difficult situation, they do not make up for one of the most important techniques. Sufficient training.
In most cases, lock mechanisms are relatively simple to take apart and investigate. Through understanding how they function and how they may be attacked, it becomes much easier to not only tamper with the lock but also develop and use new attack tools. This knowledge can make all the difference between a successful lock picker and someone who can only rely on low-skilled attacks.
Almost any lock, with the exception of some padlocks, can be dismantled and used as a training aid with all you need being a screwdriver and set of tweezers, so there are very little barriers stopping you from studying your locks. However, if you want to visualize what happens internally when a lock is attacked there are some great cut-away locks available on the market from companies such as Sparrows.
Whatever the situation you find yourself in, a little creativity can go a long way in creating a very functional set of tools to bypass padlocks and open doors.
These techniques may struggle to last as long as commercial tools, but they can prove more than functional in a tight situation and perhaps more importantly, can be made for only a fraction of the cost traditional tools normally go for.
The techniques covered in this article are great for covert entry but stay tuned as we cover more overt ways to open a lock soon.