4 Easy Ways to Pick a Door Lock

Picking locks might be associated with burglars and other criminals, but there are many legitimate reasons why you might need to know how. That makes it a useful skill to learn, so here’s our guide to how to pick a door lock.

1. Picking a spring bolt lock with a credit card

A spring bolt lock is one of the easiest types to pick, and all you will need to do it is a credit card. Since this is one of the easiest types to pick, it is also not particularly secure, so if you have one at home, you should think of having it replaced.

Tools for lock picking

  • Credit card (or preferably a less important card like an old rewards card etc.)

How to do it

Step 1. Find a suitable card

Find a suitable card

Since you will probably end up damaging your card, you shouldn’t use an important credit card or similar unless you have no other choice. If you can, use a plastic card that you don’t mind damaging or that can be replaced easily.

Step 2. Slide the card between the door and the frame

Slide The Card Between The Door And The Frame

Slide the card in between the door and the doorframe. You need to do this where the doorknob is because you need to try to release the latch.

Step 3. Push to card forward while moving it up and down

Push To Card Forward While Moving It Up And Down

Push the card forward where the latch is at the same time as moving it up and down. All you need to do is force the latch into the door.

Step 4. Turn the knob as you work

Turn The Knob As You Work

It may also help you to try turning the doorknob as you work. Eventually, you should be able to push the catch into the door and the door will open.

2. Picking a push-button doorknob

Some doors are locked by pushing a button in the doorknob when you leave and then opened by using a key when you return. Alternatively, they can be designed to be unlocked only from inside, for example in a bathroom.

These can also be fairly simple to pick, and here’s how you can do it.

Tools for lock picking

  • Paperclip, wire coat hanger or similar

How to do it

Step 1. Prepare your tools

Prepare your tools

This is a simple operation that can be performed with anything like a wire coat hanger, a paperclip, a hairpin or anything similarly shaped. All you need is something you can push into the keyhole on the doorknob.

Step 2. Check out the kind of doorknob you’re dealing with

Check out the kind of doorknob you’re dealing with

On the interior of buildings, you may find there is just a hole – this is the kind of thing you might have on your bathroom door since they are just designed for privacy rather than keeping burglars out.

However, other versions may open with a key – these are sometimes found in hotels.

However, if you know that you are dealing with a push-button lock, you will know what you are looking for.

Pro tip: If you are staying in a hotel with one of these locks, take extra care with your belongings since they are very easy to pick.

Step 3. Push your tool into the hole

Push Your Tool Into The Hole

Push your paperclip, wire coat hanger or other tools into the hole or keyhole. When you feel some pressure on the other end, simply give it push and it should pop the button out on the other side of the door, opening the lock.

3. How to pick a pin tumbler lock

A more difficult type of lock to pick is the pin tumbler lock – although it’s not nearly as hard to do as you might expect.

You can do this with a proper lock-picking kit or you can do it with improvised tools. Let’s look at how to do it with a lock-picking kit first.

Tools for lock picking

  • Tension wrench
  • Lock-picking tool

How to do it

Step 1. Understand how a lock works

Understand how a lock works

The first part of learning how to pick a pin tumbler lock is understanding how it works. This is because to learn how to do it, you need to be able to “feel” what is happening inside, and if you can’t visualize it, success will just be down to pure luck.

Inside a pin tumbler lock are around five spring-mounted pins. Below these are a set of other pins the move up and down when you insert the key.

Since the spring-mounted pins above and the free pins below are different lengths, if you put the wrong key in, they block the key from turning.

However, if you use the right key, the pins line up perfectly with what’s known as the shear line, and the lock can turn.

To pick a lock, all you need to do, then, is line the pins up correctly, but using tools instead of a key.

Pro tip: In many places, it’s legal to own lock-picking kits, and lots of people enjoy picking locks as a hobby. The only thing that’s illegal, depending on where you live, is picking locks that you’re not supposed to be picking – to break into somebody’s house for example!

Step 2. Apply tension with the tension wrench

Apply tension with the tension wrench

Place the tension wrench into the bottom of the keyhole and apply pressure. The most important part of the whole technique is applying the right amount of tension with the tension wrench.

The idea is to use your pick to lift up the lower pins and push the spring-mounted pins into the correct position. If you have just the right amount of tension, when the lower pin drops back down, the spring-mounted pins will stay in place.

Pro tip: This part takes some practice, and all locks are different. This is why, if you are currently locked outside of your home and reading this article trying work out how to get back in, you’ll probably find it difficult.

For this reason, if you want to learn how to pick a lock, it’s better to practice beforehand so you’ll have the necessary skills when you actually need them.

Although, of course, if you are locked out of your house as you’re reading this, don’t let that put you off at least giving it a go!

Step 3. Use the lock picker to line up the pins inside the lock

Use the lock picker to line up the pins inside the lock

If you have got the just the right amount of torque, you can now use your lock picker in the top of the keyhole to try to line up all the pins.

If you manage to do this successfully, you should be able to feel the pins line up.

Step 4. “Scrub” or “rake” back and forth until the pins line up

“Scrub” or “rake” back and forth until the pins line up

By moving the lock-picking tool back and forth in an action known as “scrubbing” or “raking”, you should be able to coax the pins into lining up correctly. This might take a while, depending on the lock, but keep at it.

When you feel the pins line up, turn the tension tool and the lock will open!

Pro tip: This might be a little difficult to visualize, in which case, check out the video below that shows you how to do it with improvised tools – the techniques are the same, but with proper tools, it will be even easier.

4. How to pick a pin tumbler lock without proper tools

You can also pick a lock with improvised tools if you don’t have a proper kit. Here’s how.

Tools for lock picking

  • Paperclips

How to do it

The technique is similar to the technique above. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1. Fashion your tools from paperclips

Fashion your tools from paperclips

The main difference here is that you need to make your tensioning tool and lock-picker from paperclips. Check out this video to see how.

Repeat steps 1-4 as above

Simply follow the same steps as the technique described above. It’s more fiddly with paperclips, so it might take a bit longer to manage – but it will still work.

Pro tip: Paperclips can break inside the lock, and if that happens, the lock will become blocked and won’t work anymore. If it’s the lock on your house, it will then need to be removed and replaced, which can be expensive.

For this reason, paperclips should only be used as a last resort.

Extra pro tips for lock picking

Here are a couple of extra pro tips you might find useful

  • Think about other ways to keep your home safe

As we have seen, not all door locks are as safe as we might imagine, so it’s important to think about other ways of keeping your home safe. As well as relying on your door lock, consider investing in an alarm system, a security camera, and so on.

  • Practice with clear locks

If you want to learn how to pick locks, the best thing you can do is practice. A good way to do this is to buy special practice locks that are clear to allow you to see the pins inside.

First, spend time practicing with these locks – they will let you get a feel for what you are doing while also letting you see what you are doing.

After this, you can move on to picking “real” locks that don’t let you see inside.

A useful and fun skill to learn

Being able to pick a lock is a useful skill to know, and it can also be fun to learn. With the techniques in our guide, you should now be able to open a range of locks – we just hope you don’t now plan to put that knowledge to more sinister uses!

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