The hobbiest lockpicker


I've always believed that an important part of life is developing a better understanding of the world we're living in. While I work on mastery of a couple areas daily, but my other hobbies and interests provide a broadened perspective that supplement my most important focuses. When learning a new skill, researching a topic, or tinkering with a gadget/process we're absorbing the innovations of others, learning to adapt, increasing confidence through knowledge, and becoming all around more interesting.

With that said, my long overdue adventure into lockpicking has finally begun. A quick warning: it's addicting.

Before getting started

Over the years I've watched a lot of lock picking videos. Upon the arrival of my first set and lock I quickly went to work and had picked it multiple times within a couple minutes. What I soon found out though was the lock I had was incredibly beginner friendly and real locks needed a little fine tuning of skills.

I found a guide on reddit by Mike Gibson called "Lock Picking: Detail Overkill". It is a short 30 page read that he put together after a couple years of experience. This guide will lead you through everything you need to know to open your first lock and provide you with better techniques to make your attempts successful. It is a must read.

Legality of owning a lock pick

For the majority of states owning a lock picking kit is legal. There are a couple states that make it illegal to own and a few grey area states. See's lock picking law map for more details.

A word of warning

Do not practice on any lock you intend to use. The deadbolts securing your front door are extremely tempting after opening your first couple locks and my god are the deadbolts so easy to pick. BUT you're also running the risk of janking up the lock you're relying on for some level of protection. Resist the urge.

Single pin picking versus raking

Back when I was a teenager I realized that praise and receiving gratification from others never really meant much to me. When I started "doing things the hard way”, as other put it, I felt more fulfilled. Woodworking seems to be the easiest topic for people to criticize; I love hand tools. I will almost always default to a hand saw, screw driver, hand plane or brace drills. "Doing things the hard way”, requiring more skill, finesse, and understanding just feels right.

I hold the same regards in lock picking when it comes to single pin picking versus raking a lock. Raking a lock involves moving a pick (sometimes just about any random pick) back and forth in the lock at varying speeds until you get lucky and the pins align leaving the plug free to rotate. It is an incredibly effective method. So effective that you'll probably never touch lock that can't be raked.

Single pin picking (SPP), my first choice as a hobbyist, typically requires much more time to pick a lock but also surpasses the number or locks a rake can pick. With SPP you have to be in tune with the subtle feedback a lock provides and understand the inner working of a lock. The amount of tension you put on the plug to bind the pins varies lock to lock and pin to pin. The order in which you bind pins is determined by the minute feedback you receive by discovering placement and the ease of toggling drivers with your pick within a completely blind enclosure.

When you sit there, binding and toggling away for minutes, hours, and finally get that click and a turn, it's amazing. When you get those hours and minutes down to seconds, you feel like 007, so fun!

Research & suggested start kits

Through a little research I've got a couple suggestions on getting started kits

Pre-made kit with practice lock

Practice Lock Set with Transparent Cutaway Padlock, $17

Decent set, comes with way more picks than you'll need a tinkerer/hobbyist, but they are fun to play with. The best part of this kit is the transparent lock that allows you to understand what is happening with the different parts of the lock and start to understand the feedback you receive when SPPing.

Build Your Own Starter Kit, $7

To get into the hobby and attempt/understand both raking and SPP you really only need the 4 tools listed below.

Suggested starter locks

Any big box store lowes, home depot, menards, etc will have most of these popular, easy to pick locks. You can also try calling/visiting your local locksmiths to see if they have any locks they're willing to give away or part with for cheap prices.


Lockpicking is a fun hobby for adult and kids alike. Since the tools and locks are so small you can walk around with them in your pocket (suspicious?) and practice just about anywhere; just try and ignore the stares. Next steps is building a mini wallet kit so I never get locked out of my own house again!