Commercial lockpicking sets often try to sell themselves as the absolute best by loading kits full of various pick shapes that in reality are unlikely to see any use.
Differences in the lockpick’s shape are useful; however, almost all locks you face can be defeated with only a handful of picks (namely the hook pick and wave pick).
Instead of focusing on pick shape, it is much better to invest in a greater range of tensioning tools and wrenches. These tools are responsible for almost all of the control you have over the lock when picking, and as a result, using the correct tension method is vital for successfully picking a lock.
While a limited set of tools will help save money, building a small kit with only a limited number of hook and wave tools will help ensure you become proficient in the fundamentals before expanding to more specialized lockpick tools.
Why hooks and wave tools?
Hooks and waves are two of the most common tools you will likely ever touch within the lockpicking sport. While they are both incredibly valuable tools, they approach lockpicking in two fundamentally different ways.
Wave picks come in a range of shapes and sizes and may be used to either rake the lock or rock the pins. In a raking attack, the pick is dragged across the pins from back to front, while rocking the pins simply holds the pick in place and rocks it back and forth, allowing pins to set when lifted above the shear line.
This attack is relatively low-skilled and imprecise however even against higher quality locks can be extremely valuable as we will see later.
Hook picks are much more precise than wave picks and are designed to allow individual pins to be lifted above the shear line and cause the lock to open.
Hooks vary in their size, as certain keyways will require a deeper hook compared to others; however, all act to achieve the same purpose. Single pin picking requires practice, but it is this practice that can make it so powerful against even the most expensive locks, such as Kryptonite.
How to use a hook and wave
Both raking a lock or single pin picking are valid ways to cause an unlock and can work effectively against both low-end and high-end locks. Used individually however, each technique can become rather time consuming as pins are set and reset until the lock eventually opens.
Although potentially slow when used individually, it is possible to borrow a technique from the world of competitive lockpicking to help even a beginner tackle normally difficult lock.
This technique first uses the rake to quickly set any pins that are already binding near the shear line and then is followed by the hook pick to set any remaining and unset pins.
To pull this off correctly, you do need a fair amount of practice to be able to identify which pins are set or unset based on their “feedback”. This refers to much resistance there is when you lift on the pins, although with time this feedback can be learned fairly easily.
What makes a good tension tool?
While it is relatively easy to describe what shapes make a good picking tool shape, a good tension tool is much harder to define. This is because of the crucial role of lock tension within lockpicking.
Although difficult, a good tension wrench can be defined as the one most suitable for the lock. It is therefore important that a lockpicking set has a range of tension wrenches of different thicknesses and shapes to deal with the wide range of locks you may face.
Access to a collection of wrench sizes is important, but different methods of tensioning are also just as important. Narrow, small, or weirdly shaped keyways improve the locks security by limiting access of tools, often meaning you may need to change how the lock is tensioned to improve your access.
Two of the most common tension wrench variants include top-of-keyway wrenches and circular tension wrenches. Top of the keyway tension helps by allowing you complete access to the pins by lifting the wrench above the keyway.
In contrast, circular wrenches interact with the lock at two points again providing greater access for the actual lock picking tools.
As you get more comfortable with lock picking, it becomes easier to know which wrench is most appropriate for each situation however having these tools available can make even the most difficult locks accessible to new pickers.
Why are the sizes of tension tools so important?
Different tension tools are valuable to improve your access to a keyway but having an appropriately sized tension tool also plays a key role in whether the lock is able to be picked or not.
This is largely because using an undersized tension tool can lead to a range of problems that can severely impede your ability to pick. This becomes especially problematic if you tend to put too much force on the tension wrench.
One way an undersized tension wrench can prevent picking is by splaying the core and causing it to bind. As almost all cores are open at the bottom face, an undersized wrench can act as a fulcrum resulting in the core separating slightly and binding with the locks body.
Using a correctly sized pick ensures the force is evenly distributed and limits how much the core is able to distort.
The other most common way an undersized wrench can affect your ability to pick is by slipping. This usually occurs if the wrench does not sit perfectly within the keyway, allowing a large amount of movement within the lock.
Slipping may cause the wrench to bite into the lock body and seize; however, can just as easily cause you to suddenly lose tension midway through picking.
A good lock pick set aims to minimize these problems by helping ensure you always have the right size and method of tensioning a lock.
What does the perfect pick set look like?
Lock pick sets are a rather personal matter and building the right one for you will likely require a large amount of experimentation.
With that said, a basic lockpick set should contain at least:
- 4 hook picks (a deep and standard hook, in both 0.02” and 0.015”)
- 2 rake picks (in 0.02” and 0.015”)
- 6 standard tension wrenches (of various sizes and thicknesses)
- 3 top-of-keyway wrenches
Using the kit above, there is a huge amount of room for customization, with space for bump keys, jigglers, specialized bypassing tools and so much more. Although you may choose to expand your kit, it is not always needed.
With 6 picks and a bit of practice, you are left with an incredibly capable pick set that can manage a range of locks from house deadbolts to padlocks.
These tools can be purchased individually for as little as $20 but let’s have a look at some options if you want a quick way to get your hands on some tools.
Recommended entry sets
While no two premade sets are alike and some will likely suit your needs more than others, if you are just looking to get started in the hobby, two brands come highly recommended.
The SouthOrd PXS-14 is a great entry budget set, and with only a few exceptions, is loaded with hook and wave variants, in addition to a range of tension tools.
While the set is budget-friendly, the tools feel premium and include a rubberized grip which makes the tools much more and comfortable to use than pure metal picks.
If you are willing to invest slightly more into your first kit, the Sparrows Tuxedo is the way to go. With only 7 picks, you are getting less in this kit however that is quickly made up in quality.
The Tuxedo is intended to blend in seamlessly with your clothing or gear, allowing for it to be carried in almost any environment while still offering you a range of functionality.
Personally, Sparrows are my brand of choice for pre-made sets and I regularly rely on the Sparrows EOD or Ranger set.