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Coat Hanger picks

When it comes down to it there is nothing better than manual tools for your Lock pick Set, whether they be retail, homebrew, macgyver style. DIY'ers look here.

Moderators: Kaotik, Chucklz, SFGOON

Coat Hanger picks

Postby wolfy_9005 » Mon Sep 08, 2008 5:12 pm

So, i guess you've all been here at some stage or another, and if this is already posted, then just delete it(and im sorry :))

I made my first picks from coat hanger steel, and i was surprised at how good they worked. Unfortunately, the steel is pretty bad, and they suffer from fatigue early in their lives(or maybe it was just my complete noobness at picking back then).

The only real upside of making them from coat hangers, is that

1) Their cheap
2) Their really easy to make
3) It doesnt matter if you lose them

Major disadvantage would be having the tip break off inside the lock.

Basically, how i made them was i cut the coat hanger into the required length(varies, but mine were ~200mm, and fit my hands pretty well). Then, the "pick" end was beaten flat with a hammer(i think this is where i went wrong). A grinder would also work. Once the "pick" end is the required thickness(~1mm in my case), they were then ground to their respective pattern. Tension wrench was also made by the same method, but bent instead of ground. For a someone just starting out they are a good way to practice on old locks, because if they break you've only wasted 2-3cents, instead of potentially more. Next time i make them, i think it will be a good idea to "quench" them, to help keep them strong.

So, i guess the question is, what are the obvious flaws you see in my plan?

Anything you'd recommend?

Thanks in advance.
Strike Hard, Strike Fast and Show No Mercy.
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Postby khelben » Mon Sep 08, 2008 5:42 pm

ive seen many other items used for improvised picks such as hacksaw blades, streetsweeper bristles, etc. but i wold be leary of useing coathangers just because they do break easily.

a bit of reading throuth the forums here will give you not only a great many ideas but also some how to's.
fear profits man nothing
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Postby Engineer » Mon Sep 08, 2008 11:15 pm

Your suspicions are correct about it being the beating flat that is causing the steel to work-harden and become brittle.

Ideally you should heat the end to cherry red heat and hit it with the hammer quickly. Being very thin the wire will cool very quickly and will need frequent re-heating. Once you have got it thin enough, you can grind and file it as usual.

To make a good pick though, you might want to finsih it off, by tempering it. Heat it to cherry red again and then plunge it into OIL, not water. Water will cool it too quickly and it will be so hard, it will be brittle again.

Engine oil for a car is quite good, but at a pinch, cut the top off a bottle of cooking oil and plung them into that... Be careful of fire though, since the hot metal will burn off some oil. Fortunately with wire, it shouldn't burn too long as the wire can't hold enough heat.

Cooking oil isn't ideal, nor is car engine oil, but they are close enough really. I have read before you should heat the metal and let it cool down on it's own in the air. This is actually cooling the metal too slowly and will result in a soft, bendy pick. Tempering metal is quite difficult to get right as it is a trade-off between being flexible (soft) and hard (brittle). The only good side is that if you get it wrong, you can always heat the metal up again and try a different metod of quenching until you get the temper you want.

You should always scrape off any plastic coating or enamel on the wire first. Firstly burning plastic/enamel is likely to be giving off poisonous fumes. Once or twice isn't too bad (some fumes are carcinogenic, so while you might think you're OK, in 20-30 years you might not be...), but if you are doing this a few times, you really shouldn't be breathing those in. Secondly, it will allow you a more even heating and so temper of the metal. Thirdly, as the coating chars, it turns into carbon and increases the carbon content of the steel, tending to make it too brittle again ("case-hardening").
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Postby wolfy_9005 » Tue Sep 09, 2008 4:38 pm

Thanks :)

Know of any other less dense liquids? Ive used oil for quenching punches and stuff, but they were probably double the thickness of the coat hanger at the smallest point.

Cooling slowly will just end up with big crystals, which makes it softer, and cooling faster will form smaller crystals, hence harder yet more brittle. Would it be possible to cool it for 15-20 seconds in the air then stick it into oil/water to finish? Not sure if it'd work.....coat hanger would probably cool down too fast in air.
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Postby straightpick » Wed Sep 10, 2008 10:48 am

Another quenching solution user by the "old timers" is a saturated salt water solution. Common salt is added and stirred on cold water until no more will dissolve. Heat the tool you have made to a uniform cherry red and then quench it in the salt water solution. If you are using coat hanger wire I would try to make about 4 or 5 inches of the wire cherry red, that way the "handle" of the pick won't be soft. Now here's the part everyone forgets. After you have heated the wire and quenched it, you have hardened it, but it is now brittle. Remove the wire from the solution and reheat it VERY SLOWLY, you only want the metal to turn a bluish color-hard to see . Best accomplished is a semi-darkened room. Blue is the color springs are tempered to, about 450 degrees. After reaching the blue color, remove from the heat and let it air cool. Now the tool is tempered and not so prone to breakage.
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Postby TMIB » Wed Sep 10, 2008 1:33 pm

You're not going to get good hardening or tempering results from coat hangar steel. The carbon content is simply too low. Not only that, but coat hangars are often made from the cheapest mess of recycled steel you'll find, and you'll get incredibly inconsistent results between different hangars.
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Postby lockeymoto » Sat Sep 20, 2008 7:19 am

You could try an old couch spring, the S shaped springs.
they are usually higher carbon steel. tough stuff.
you can heat it to red, let it cool slowly.
Work it, and then heat and quench.

Ive done this once for an old warded lock,years ago,
the lock spring was broke. local locksmith did not know what a warded lock was, and would not sell me spring steel to fix it.
I used a couch spring, straightened in a bench vice, ground down and re heated. worked for me
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