Picture the scene. You’re about to go to bed. There’s one last task to do – you need to take the recycling out. You collect the bag, open the front door, and head for the bin. Behind you, you hear an ominous slam. That’s right, your door has shut. It’s nearly midnight, and you’re locked out of your home.
If you’ve had my experience, or something similar, this article is for you! We’re going to take a look at seven ways to open a locked door. Whether it’s an interior, outside or even car door, we’ve got a method that will work.
So read on, and never again worry about shivering in your pyjamas in the front garden.
1. Bump it open
No, we’re not talking here about brute force (that comes later). What we mean is a handy little gadget called a bump key. A bump key will work with a tumbler lock, the kind you’ll often find on exterior doors.
To make one, you’ll need any key that will fit in the lock. It doesn’t need to turn – because if it did, you’d just be able to open the door! But as long as it will fit inside, it can be made to open the door.
To turn your standard key into a bump key, you need to file it down. File it as low as it will go without losing the cut shapes.
You’ll need to do this yourself – not surprisingly, most locksmiths won’t make something that’s so handy for criminals. Of course, in the internet age, it’s also possible to pick up bump keys online. You can even buy them in sets for different kinds of locks.
Push the bump key into the lock, right up to the last pin. What do we mean by that? Well, a tumbler lock has a round piece of metal – the tumbler – that keeps the door secure. To open the door, the tumbler needs to be moved out of the way. The things that hold it in place are a series of pins.
When you insert your key into a lock, you’ll feel a series of soft clicks. These are the pins being lifted by the teeth of the key. As the key moves further into the lock, the pin that’s been lifted by the tooth falls into the groove next to it. That keeps the pin away from the tumbler.
When your bump key reaches the final pin, stop pushing and strike the key hard with a rubber hammer. Now turn the key – fast.
The pins are in two sections, and the impact of the hammer should lift the upper parts from the tumbler. Time your key turn just right, and the tumbler will swivel and the door will open.
You might find you need a few attempts, but stick at it, and you’ll get there. Just beware – if you’re picking a cheaper lock, using a bump key can damage it.
2. Use a credit card
We’ve all seen this in the movies – but how do you actually use a credit card to pick a lock?
To begin with, we need to be realistic. This method won’t work for heavy duty or complex locks, or any door with a deadbolt. If you’re trying to unlock a modern front door, it’s unlikely to be a runner. But for older or interior locks, it can be effective.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that this method can be tough on the card that’s used. We wouldn’t recommend whipping out your everyday credit or debit card. Your door may open, but you’ll probably find your card is useless next time you go to the shops!
All you need is a card that’s laminated and has a bit of flex. An old gift card is ideal.
Slide the card into the crack between the door and frame, just above the lock. You want to use the longer side of the card for this.
Now, keeping the card at right angles to the door, slide it downwards behind the bolt. Tip it at a slight angle as you do so. Pull the card down slowly and firmly, turning the door handle as you go.
3. Apply tension
We’re talking here about using a set of tension picks. Deploying these is a skilled job, and they’re usually only available to licenced locksmiths. But if you’ve got the patience, you can make a rough set yourself.
The two main parts of a tension pick set are the wrench and the pick. The materials you’ll need to make them depend on the strength of the lock. If it’s weak, you can make do with a couple of paperclips. But for tougher models, you’ll need something that’s heavier duty.
Spring steel is a good option for the pick. The blades of hacksaws can be repurposed for the job. Just bear in mind that the width of the blade will determine the size of the lock your pick can handle. You’ll need the end to be shaped like the letter “r”.
For the wrench, an Allen key is ideal. File it down so that you have a flat, L-shaped tool. This is what you’ll use to put pressure on the bottom part of the lock.
When your tools are ready, position the wrench in the bottom of the lock. You need to apply continuous pressure as you work on the lock with your pick.
To make sure you’re turning the wrench the right way, listen carefully as you insert and remove the pick. If the wrench is being turned in the correct direction, you’ll hear the pins in the lock fall into place.
Now insert your pick again and work at the lock. You want the end of the tool to lift each of the pins in turn. Keeping the tension on the wrench will stop them from falling back into position.
Unless you’re a practised locksmith, be prepared to spend a fair bit of time on this.
4. Put a hex on an interior door
There’s no witchcraft required here. What we need is a hex wrench, also known as an Allen wrench. You can pick up a set at most hardware stores. They’re L-shaped pieces of metal with a hexagonal cross-section.
If you need to open an interior door, using a hex wrench can work well. The door does, though, need to have the right kind of lock. If the doorknob has a small, round hole in the center, you’re in luck. A hex wrench will do the business.
Now find the correct wrench for the size of the hole in the doorknob. You want it to fit snugly, but you shouldn’t have to force it in. When you’ve found the right one, push it straight into the hole then jiggle it gently from side to side.
Finally, turn the wrench and the door should open. The process is much quicker and easier than some of the other methods on our list. But it will only work on the right kind of lock.
If you need to open the door fast and don’t have a hex wrench the right size, try a screwdriver. It works in almost exactly the same way. You’ll just need to turn the doorknob as you jiggle the screwdriver about.
5. Unlock your car using a coat hanger…
So far, we’ve looked at options to unlock doors in your home. But what do you do if you’ve locked your keys in your car?
If your car locks manually or with a push-button electric lock, you can open it using a humble coat hanger. It’s a good option if you’re at home and don’t want to wait for a locksmith.
The coat hanger needs to be the wire type – don’t pinch Aunt Julie’s padded satin version for this.
Start by straightening out most of the hanger. The only bit you don’t want to be straight is the hook at the top. You’ll need to unwind the wire from around the bottom of the hook too. When you’ve finished, you should have a long, straight piece of wire with a hook at the end.
At the bottom of your car window, you’ll see a strip of rubber that’s there to keep out the rain. If you’ve got a manual lock, lift the rubber near the lock. Now push the hooked end of your hanger through the gap between the rubber and the window. The hook will now be inside the inner part of the door.
Inside the door is the metal latch that opens and closes it. Feel around for this with the hook – it’s a horizontal bar just a few inches below the window. When you’ve found it, hook it with the end of the hanger and pull towards the back of the car. As long as your car opens manually – hey presto!
If you’ve got an electronic mechanism with a push-button lock, you may still be able to use your coat hanger. It will need to be a lock where you depress the button to open the door.
If that’s what you’ve got, look for the rubber seal around the top of the car window. Pull it gently away from the glass and insert the straight end of the coat hanger. Use this to push down on the button to unlock the door.
6. … Or a piece of string
If your car has a push-button mechanism but you need to pull up the button to unlock it – don’t despair. It’s surprisingly easy to deal with this with just a piece of string.
Your string needs to be fairly long – a fair bit longer than the width of your window. Tie a slip knot roughly in the middle, creating a loop a couple of inches long. Now pull it tight so that the knot will slide, but not too easily.
Hold the string in both hands and slip it behind the corner of your car door. Slide it back and forwards, pulling both ends of the string downwards as you go. The string is now inside the car. Keep sliding it back and forth until the slip knot slides over the lock button. This is easier than it sounds – honestly!
When the knot is right at the bottom of the button, pull firmly on both ends of the string. This will tighten the slip knot over the button. When it’s as tight as it will go, pull upwards. The button will rise like a phoenix and your door will open.
7. Use brute force
If all else fails, get medieval on your door! But as with all other methods, there’s a right and wrong way of forcing a door.
Whatever you do, don’t try shoulder barging it! You’re likely to do yourself an injury – and more embarrassingly, the door will probably stay locked.
You need to focus on breaking the lock, so that’s where the force needs to go. Stand straight on to the door and lift your stronger leg in front of you, lifting from the knee. (Don’t try a fancy side kick – it’s unlikely to be as effective.)
Now kick straight at the lock, keeping your foot straight. You want the bottom part of your foot to make contact with the lock. Keep kicking until it breaks. If the door is made of wood, it may take several attempts, but it will break eventually.
If you’ve been kicking for more than a few minutes and the door is still locked, it may be reinforced. In that case, a battering ram will be needed.
You can make one yourself using a pile driver – that’s the thing you use to put fence posts in the ground. Fill the inside with concrete or cement and leave it to dry.
To use it, stand sideways on to the door. Hold it with both hands and drive it into the lock. Most doors will give up after a couple of hard strikes. You’ll need a new door though.
Ready to get back inside?
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to seven ways to open a locked door! Whether you’ve locked yourself out of your home, bedroom or car, there’s a method to get back in again. But remember, you may cause damage. And if the door isn’t your own, make sure you get permission first.
If you’ve tried any of these methods, please comment and tell us how it went. We’d love to hear from you!