There is a mountain of information about lock picking on the internet, but most of it makes lock picking seem intimidating or difficult to learn. My experience was exactly the opposite so I was inspired to share what I learned.
Why Lock Picking is Worth Learning
Makes you more valuable Post-SHTF
There have been many posts about the value of skills that can be applied when SHTF. Lock picking is one of them. If you can pick locks, you can help people who lost their keys, teach others to pick locks (likely a desirable skill in a SHTF group), and of course open all kinds of locked doors, boxes, etc. I’m not advocating doing anything illegal, but you get the idea.
Incredibly Easy to Learn the Basics
After receiving my set of lock picks it took me about 5 minutes to pick my first lock (a padlock). I had absolutely no prior experience and to be honest didn’t even read any how-to’s before I received the picks. I just searched for “how to pick a lock” and 5 minutes later I had my first successful attempt.
The time required might vary slightly based on the person and the lock being used, but generally it shouldn’t take very long to learn this skill. After 15-30 minutes I could pick a residential door lock too!
Costs Virtually Nothing to Get Started
Lock picking sets are very inexpensive. Many sets cost less than $20 dollars. You can find links to a couple of quality beginner sets further down in this article.
Takes Little/No Space in a Bug Out Bag
Lock picks are pocket sized items that barely even register on a scale. This makes them an awesome addition to any bug out bag!
Learning to Pick Locks
Basics of Lock Picking
A typical lock is a cylinder which contains a set of pins. The basic idea of lock picking is to apply tension to the cylinder (to mimic a key turning) while manipulating the pins with a pick. When using a key to open a lock normally, the key’s grooves are what manipulates the pins.
Lock picking information on the internet might make it sound difficult to learn, but it is actually very simple, especially when using a “rake” pick which I will talk about in the next section.
- Tension Wrench – A tension wrench is inserted into the bottom of the lock (opposite side of the pins, or where the flat part of a key would go). After it is inserted into the cylinder, slight pressure is applied up or down on the half of the wrench that is sticking out of the lock. This will allow the lock to open when the pins are manipulated correctly. Tension must be applied and maintained the entire time you are picking the lock. Tension must also be applied in the correct direction because locks usually only turn in one direction.
- Pick – With tension applied, the pick is inserted into the cylinder and used to push each pin up until the lock slides open. Instead of trying to individually feel each pin with a traditional pick, a “rake” pick can be used to make the process much easier. Simply rake the pick back and forth with tension applied until the lock opens. This takes a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it you will be able to open many different locks easily.Although there are many different types of picks, the “rake” style pick has been able to open just about all of the common locks I have tried it on. More advanced locks may required different types of picks, but that is something I would not be concerned about unless you decide to take your skills to the next level.
There are some excellent and very affordable beginner sets available that include the basic types of picks (including the easy to use rake pick) and one or more tension wrenches. Here are two sets by Southord that seem to be good bargains and are widely recommended for beginners:
Southord 5 Piece Set – Very affordable. Comes with a lock picking manual.
Southord 8 Piece Set – Has a an extra style of pick, a broken key extractor, and an additional tension wrench compared to the 5 piece set.
The two sets above were recommended the most when I was searching. There are plenty of other options out there.
Lock Picking Books
Personally, I simply searched “how to pick a lock” when I started and found it fairly easy to pick up. However, if you are having difficulty or want to have a greater understanding of lock picking, here are two highly rated books that will surely help you:
Locks That Can Easily be Picked
Door Locks, Deadbolts and Padlocks
All of these locks typically use standard tumbler lock mechanisms. These locks are easy to pick once you get the hang of it. After about 15-30 minutes of practice with no prior experience I was able to pick this type of lock quite easily. With some more practice, you can open these locks quickly.
Filing cabinets, lockers, etc.
These locks use wafer lock mechanisms. Wafer locks are even easier to pick than tumbler locks, so if you learn to pick tumbler locks, you will be an ace at these types of locks also.
Lock picking is a fun, affordable, easy to learn skill that is valuable in a SHTF scenario. If you haven’t learned it yet, now is the time!
A note about using lock picks: Check your local laws regarding the use of lock picks. In the U.S. most states allow you to carry lock picks. There are a handful of states that consider carrying them “criminal intent”. You can find the laws for the each state in the U.S. here.