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Lock Picking - where should I start?

Posted by Chris Dangerfield on


Over a decade ago, when the internet was still dial-up, and a tweet was a bird noise, I was in your position. I knew nothing about lock picking apart from the fact I wanted to be able to pick locks. Although there weren't sites like UK Bump Keys, there were a few shops with a small amount of lock picking equipment, and the question was the same: 'Where do I start?' Now, things are a bit easier. With specialist shops like ours you can ask whatever you like, knowing there's a team of dedicated lock picking experts to help you in your journey. However, there's still some choices to be made, and with the huge range of picks and lock picking accessories available, making those personal decisions can still be daunting. To help you, I've put together a few pointers to help you get going. The old adage is a true as ever - 'An inch in the right direction is better than a mile in the wrong one' - so sit back and let me help you.


To get going you're going to want to learn how to pick PIN CYLINDERS. A pin cylinder is the type of lock you will probably encounter most frequently in your life. It's the type of lock that probably locks your door. This type of lock is often wrongly referred to as a 'Yale' lock, due to the popularity of the brand Yale, but is in fact called a pin cylinder. Why? Because the design is a cylinder which contains pins. With this in mind, most people will start with this lock. It's the one we're all most familiar with, and provides a great entry level lock to start learning this amazing skill.

There's many more to come, there's dimple, mortice, disc-detainer, wafer and more - but for now - pin cylinders are the place to start. It's worth getting a few pin cylinders together - whether that's a rim cylinder, padlock, or a Eurolock - the principle is the same, and having a few means you won't accidentally stumble upon a really gnarly beast of a lock that even a pro might struggle with. I would also advise a practice lock or two. These come as both clear locks or cut-away locks, where you can see the pins and springs moving, how they engage with the key, and how picking works as you learn. I can't recommend these practice locks enough, knowing what's happening inside the lock allows you to more successfully visualise later on, meaning you'll develop your skill quicker and more thoroughly than someone without such assistance.

Clear Practice Lock



To begin with, you're going to be learning two types of lock picking, those being Single Pin Picking (SPP) and Raking. Raking is easier, gets results quickly, and is very simple to learn. SPP is more difficult, requires patience, but will open far more locks than Raking. At a guess I'd say SPP - when mastered - will give you access to over 80% of the world's locks. Combining these two techniques will give you quick results and something to develop. Most people start here. Therefore when selecting your first set of lock picks, look for one with a selection of tension wrenches (this is the tool that you insert before the pick and is essential in the art) a selection of basic picks (there's no need to get huge sets with variations of hook, diamonds, balls and curves. You simply won't need them yet - if ever. Personally I'd suggest you will never need a set of picks with more than 15 standard picks. Just make sure it has a few good quality picks such as a couple of hooks, a half diamond, and some reach picks. You should also look for a few rakes. I love raking and would suggest a separate set of rakes altogether. But if you're looking to buy just one set, a couple of rakes is essential - most good sets will have all three - to recap - a selection of picks, some wrenches, some rakes. Feel free to ask if you want any more specific help. 

Dangerfield Serenity Lock Pick Set



As well as the tension tools in your lock pick set, there are lots of excellent specialist tension tools. These come as individual tension tools or in small sets. These will offer you slight variations in your method of applying tension and are well worth a look. Something like the Flat Pry-Bar wrenches which use the top of the key-way can be very useful and will offer you something different if you're having trouble maintaining tension in cramped conditions, or when the lock won;t allow another tool. Sprung tension tools are also very good - especially when raking, using pick guns, or dealing with locks that might require a more delicate - or ironically - more heavy use of tension. As with all of our tools, there are plenty of videos of people using the differen wrenches available, and I do recommend you add to your basic set with some additional wrenches.

Feather Touch Tension Tool



As I said earlier, most lock pick sets contain a couple of rakes. Raking is a very good way of getting results quickly. Most lock pickers will rake a lock accidentally when they start, simply by moving a pick around in a lock. Opening locks quickly is great for morale and morale is great for learning. Frustration is the enemy of learning so raking is definite plus in the new lock pickers armoury. The Wriggler Rakes are an incredible set of specialist rakes, with 8 double-ended and double-sided rakes - offering 32 raking edges to try on the lock. However, if your beginners budget doesn't stretch to this essentially pro set, I suggest you look at the incredible Wave Rakes, or even the classic Bogotas, or our very own Soho Rakes. You will be giving yourself good results quickly by complimenting your first pick set with an additional set of rakes.

Wriggler Rakes



There's a good variety of books available to the starter lock picker. It is possible to learn exclusively from You Tube and Google, but I think having a decent book there in front of you with all the information you need in a comprehensive order can't be beaten. You can continually refer back to examples, diagrams and detailed explanations in the luxury of your workshop, living room, or lavatory - sorry - but wait and see!

The Visual Guide to Lock Picking is a great book, now in it's third edition and available in three languages. Moreover, the Visual Guide to Lock Picking contains information on other types of lock and picking, meaning you'll be prepared to move on when you're ready. If you're on a budget or don't want to commit so much at this stage, the Easy Pickings book covers the basics in a clear, concise way. Knowledge is power, and a good book is full of knowledge - drink it up!

Visual Guide To Lock Picking



So to recap: A lock pick set is essential, some additional rakes and tension tools make sense, and a practice lock and book will help you no end. Is there anything else you need? Not really. Although if you don't have a decent vice I would suggest one. Picking locks in the palm of your hand is OK, can be done and frequently is. But having a decent vice will help you loads. It's not to learn how to correctly apply tension and pick in a manner that reflects how a lock is set in a door. Having a vice will successfully mimic a lock housed in a door, rather than an easy and simple access lock in the palm of your hand. It's a completely different skill and you will end up learning bad habits by applying pressure to the tension tool with the outstretched finger that's gripping the lock - trying to transpose these techniques to a 'real' lock in a 'real' door is almost impossible.

Our Dedicated Lock Pickers Vice grips rim cylinders and eurolocks tight and steady. Rubber-jaw vices will cause the lock to slowly wobble and eventually spit the lock out. So if you are looking to get the full kit to give you all the help - a dedicated lock pickers vice is a very helpful accessory. 

Dedicated Lock Pickers Vice



  • You can start learning with a basic set of picks and a lock.
  • Clear & Cut-Away locks are very helpful
  • Additional Rakes and Tension Tools are great for quick results
  • You can learn from the internet but a book is brilliant
  • A dedicated lock pickers Vice will help you now and your lock picking future.

I hope this has helped you feel a bit more confident in making your selection and starting your journey into the amazing world of lock picking. Also - worth mentioning, we have a variety of Starter Sets which include various combinations of the tools I've mentioned, so have a little gander, now you know what you're looking at. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me and ask away - be nice though - and best of luck. Start picking locks!




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