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Lock Picking, where to start.

Posted by Chris Dangerfield on

Hello all.

I hope the swift transition from what was a poor excuse for a summer to what seems like instant winter hasn't been too hard on your souls. The heaters go on, the baths become more regular and that dusty tartan blanket comes off the sofa and back on your bed. Some things however never change and one of those is people writing to me thus:

"Hello, I want to learn to pick safes, can you help?"


"I work with a housing association, have you got a skeleton key for 5 lever mortice locks?"


I guess it's not too weird that someone with no or little lock picking experience would think such things exist, or that picking safes is a fair enough and practical entry level. But they do not and it is not. So I thought it worth writing a little list of the Lock Picking progression. It’s the one I took and the one most take. Sure there's exceptions (I know a man who can impression dimple locks but wouldn’t know a rake from a rounders bat) but there seems to be a standard and sensible progression which will give you fairly quick results (I mean you can be picking locks in a day, if you have the tools, the locks and the knowledge) and won't be bad for morale (like the lad that bought a curtain pick from me and then asked what locks it's for???). So here's a little timeline I think makes sense if you're looking at starting from scratch.

RAKING Pin Cylinders

I think raking is a good place to start your lock picking journey. I also believe pin cylinders are the best place to start. They're not necessarily the easiest locks, there's methods of picking, bypassing or decoding combination locks that are easier, but there's far more pin cylinders in use, and I think they'll teach you more about locks than the others at this stage. Raking is an easy technique to learn and there's plenty of videos online to help. A set of rakes like the Wave Rakes, or my favourites the Wriggler Rakes, will have even the novice picking locks in a matter of hours - if not seconds. Raking will also allow you to familiarise yourself with tension tools - lock picking is 99% tension, really.

Single Pin Picking (SPP) Pin Cylinders.

SPP is widely regarded as 'lock picking proper'. It's the technique people think about when they think lock picking and - with time, tools and practice will open the most pin cylinder locks. You will also now get to develop your understanding of tension, worth every moment in the long run.

Pick Guns

Pick Guns (including electric) just open locks. It's good to have a good understanding of tension as that's the biggest mistake with using pick guns, but there's very little skill to them, they just open locks - which is great - if that's what you're after. Not as many as SPP though!

Bumping, bypassing pin cylinders.

Although certainly easier than SPP, bumping and bypassing (such as MICA, thumb turn picks etc) will certainly prove more effective once you've learned how to SPP. This is because you will have learned how pin cylinders work, how the pins, springs and picks interact etc, and generally know your way around these locks. Without this knowledge bumping and bypassing will still contain mysteries which might frustrate and annoy.


This amazing and frequently overlooked technique is for me one of the real joys of lock picking. You start with a blank key and finish up with the lock open and a working key. Impressioning locks can be done in seconds (really!) I've seen Jos Weyers and Oli Diederichsen both impression a lock in under a minute. I'm at around 10 minutes, but it's something I feel should be in your lock picking armoury.

Auto Entry

Car locks provide a wealth of possible problems. Which of course offers a great arena for learning possible solutions. Here you'll find you're using dedicated brand tools - picks designed for particular makes of car. You'll also learn the Single Wafer Picking, and tools which can assist this, like the blind touch, or Lishi Picks. Here you will also learn about air-wedges and grabbing, poking, prodding tools. A big area that's not worth entering until you've done the rest OR it's your job, then dive in and enjoy!

Non Curtained Mortice locks.

Mortice locks with no curtain (a little gadget put into them to stop us picking them) have a wide variety of tools to pick them. They can be opened with a couple of bits of bent wire. It’s time to get a load of these locks, get some mortice identification manuals, learn about identifying, picking, and drilling them

Curtained mortice locks.

Now you're with the big boys. That little gadget 'the curtain' - which they designed to stop us picking them - didn't work. We invented picks to deal with the curtain. However, this is a real step up and anyone spending the money on Curtain lock picks should make sure they have plenty of locks to practice on, the mortice identification manuals and plenty of time and patience. It’s a difficult game, and most pro locksmiths will drill a curtain mortice lock (drilling can be done in such a way the lock can be reused) but as far as picking goes, it's an incredible skill that will give you an incredible buzz.

Safe Picking

Go for it. Expensive locks, expensive picks, a lot of secrecy and a lot of money to be made if you can do it. I can't - well, I have done, but a real novice with safes.

And there's a good place to stop. Get your locks and get picking, however you want. I've just tried to give you some pointers if you're new. If you want to chat with me, ask any questions you like, just email

Enjoy your day.

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