BeginnerÃ¯Â¿Â½s Lockpicking Exercise
by digital_blue Ã¯Â¿Â½ 2005 Lockpicking101.com
The following exercise is one that I feel every new lockpicker will benefit from. I first learned about this exercise in Locks, Safes, And Security by Marc W. Tobias. The point of the exercise is to help a beginner to properly learn how to feel what is happening inside a lock, and to detect a binding pin. Many new lockpickers tend to use what IÃ¯Â¿Â½ve often referred to as the Ã¯Â¿Â½poke and prodÃ¯Â¿Â½ method, in that they spend a lot of time poking around in the lock with their pick tools, and along the way they manage to set the pins and eventually, through mostly luck, the lock opens. As exciting as this is for the beginner, if their skills do not develop past this poke and prod method, they will have increasing difficulty as they move on to harder locks.
Because lockpicking relies on lifting Ã¯Â¿Â½the binding pinÃ¯Â¿Â½ to the shear line, it stands to reason that figuring out which pin is the binding pin would be a useful skill. This exercise will help you develop this skill.
If you have not already, it is important that you study how and why lockpicking works. Read the MIT Guide To Lockpicking for more information AND/OR the LSI Guide To Lock Picking.
It is very important that you go through this exercise in a slow and methodical manner. If you rush through it, you may as well just save your time and not bother at all, as you will learn very little from it. Take each step one at a time, and do not advance until you are absolutely certain that you have learned all you can from the stage you are at.
In order to try this exercise, you will need:
1) YouÃ¯Â¿Â½ll need a 5 pin cylinder. This can be any 5 pin cylinder that you can disassemble and remove pins. A simple Kwikset cylinder would be fine, though my experience has shown that a beginner may actually benefit even more from a more difficult cylinder such as a Schlage. As youÃ¯Â¿Â½ll see, you work your way up slowly, so it doesnÃ¯Â¿Â½t matter at all if the cylinder is currently too difficult for your current level of picking skill. It is important, however, that the cylinder not have any security pins. Picking security pins is the topic for another exercise. Walk before you run. If you need help learning how to disassemble a lock cylinder you can learn more HERE.
2) YouÃ¯Â¿Â½ll need a small hook pick (or feeler pick). Ideally, this would be a purchased pick, such as one made by SouthOrd. You could use a homemade pick if you like, but please stay away from makeshift items such as paper clips or safety pins for this exercise. They will only frustrate your learning process.
3) YouÃ¯Â¿Â½ll need a tension wrench
STAGE 1 Ã¯Â¿Â½ Approx time, 20 minutes
To start, disassemble your lock removing all pin stacks but the first one (the stack closest to the front of the lock), leaving chambers 2, 3, 4, and 5 empty of all springs and pins. Reassemble the lock with just this one pin stack installed and you are ready to begin. YouÃ¯Â¿Â½ll notice, of course, that by applying tension with the wrench and lifting this one pin, the lock will open. It is exceptionally easy to pick this lock in this configuration. But for this stage, what you need to learn is the difference in feel when a pin is binding and when it is not. With the plug in the locked position, use your pick to lift the pin while applying no tension at all. You will feel the pressure from the spring pushing back on the pin lightly. Do this several times so you can comfortably recognize this feeling later.
Next, apply light tension to the plug and use the hook again to lift the pin very slowly. Do not lift so high as to hit the shear line and open the lock. As you slowly lift the pin, notice how different the feel is. You will detect the resistance of the pin dragging across the sides of the chamber. This feeling is important, as it is precisely what you will be feeling for later when trying to find the Ã¯Â¿Â½binding pinÃ¯Â¿Â½. Get to know this feeling well. Try applying more tension and notice how the feeling will change as the resistance caused by your increased tension makes the binding more pronounced.
DonÃ¯Â¿Â½t move on until you can clearly distinguish the difference between a pin that is binding and a pin that is not.
STAGE 2 Ã¯Â¿Â½ Approx time, 20 minutes
Next, take the lock apart again, and add one more pin stack, this time in position 2 (second back from the front), leaving the first pin stack as it was.
Now you a functioning lock that would, in theory, require a key. With only two pins it offers little security, but it still has all the basic properties of a fully useable lock. What is important to understand in this stage is that with two pins, only one of them will bind when tension is applied. The other will not bind. (Note: on some poorly manufactured locks, you may notice that both pins bind to some extent, though there will always be one that binds more than the other. We will refer to that pin as the Ã¯Â¿Â½binding pinÃ¯Â¿Â½).
With no tension applied, use your hook to lift one, then the other pin. Notice that they should feel about the same, with the spring pushing back down on the pins and no pins binding. Slight differences is force might be noticed as a result of different pin stack heights or different spring tensions.
Now try applying light tension to the plug. While doing so, gently and slowly lift lift the first pin, paying attention to whether it is binding or not. Do not lift it all the way to the shear line yet. Next, try the same thing with pin two. Notice which of the two feels like itÃ¯Â¿Â½s binding. Whichever pin offers the most resistance will be the binding pin.
Lift this pin gently and slowly until you feel it come to a distinct stop at the shear line. This may be accompanied by a small click, or a very slight rotation of the plug. This will be an indication that you have set this pin. To verify that the pin is set, allow the bottom pin to drop back down (of course while maintaining tension). If the bottom pin falls back down into the keyway freely, your pin is likely set. Gently lift the bottom pin and notice that this again has a completely different feel to it. Since the top pin is now trapped above the shear line, there will be no spring tension on this pin, so it will move freely with almost no resistance at all.
Once youÃ¯Â¿Â½ve set one pin, use your hook to gently lift the other pin. Notice now that the binding force that was on the pin you just set has now transferred to this pin. Lift this pin to the shear line and the lock should open.
If it happens that you lift this pin to the shear line and the lock does not open, it means that you have not set the first pin (first to bind, not necessarily first position). It could be that you have lifted the first pin close to the shear line but have not quite hit it yet. In this case, go back to your first binding pin and lift a little more.
Once youÃ¯Â¿Â½ve opened the lock like this, lock the lock again and repeat several times. Pay careful attention to which pin is binding and which is not.
Do not move on to the next stage until you are very comfortable with determining which of the two pins is binding.
STAGE 3-5 Ã¯Â¿Â½ Approx 20-30 minutes each
Repeat the above process, adding one additional pin stack in order from front to back for each new stage. Along the way you may find it useful to mix up the bottom pins as you do this. This will change the nature of the lock a little and help prevent you from just performing the exercise in a memorized and robotic manner. The important thing is that you do not move on to the next stage until you are sure that youÃ¯Â¿Â½ve learned all you can from the level you are on. This may seem tedious and even boring at times, but you are learning a valuable skill that carry over to every pin tumbler lock you pick.
I hope that you take the time to go through this exercise with diligence and patience. The more care and attention you put into it, the more you will benefit from it. I promise you that you will be a better lockpicker for having completed this exercise.
If you have completed this exercise and it has helped you, feel free to drop me a PM and let me know!
Many people have emailed or PM'd me asking what to do once they've completed this exercise. Much, much later in this thread (Page 5) I suggest an "Intermediate Lock Picking Exercise". I will quote that suggestion here, so that people don't have to hunt for it.
digital_blue wrote:I would say that a suitable "next step" is to repeat the process (this time starting at, say, 3 pins), but start to introduce security pins. Get ahold of a few spool pins and a few serrated driver pins.
If you pin up the lock with 3 pins, put the spool pin in the middle, since this is usually going to be the second pin to bind in this configuration. Since you know where the spool pin is, you will be a lot more aware of the feedback you get when you hit the spool. Get comfortable with setting the spool pin without dropping the other pins. Once you've done this, move up to 4 pins, and make the 4th a spool as well. Repeat for the 5th pin.
After completing that, do the same with serrated pins. You'll find that these "Intermediate" exercises will not take as long to go through as did the Beginner exercise. You can probably get through the spool pins in an evening or two. Same goes for serrated pins.
After you've gotten comfortable with security pins, the world is your oyster. Might I suggest it would be time to move onto some high security locks?
And do let me know how you get on with it.