What is Lock Picking? The Good, the Bad, and the Not So Ugly


[by The Art of Lock Picking]

For every great journey, there is an unusual beginning. A moment of
decision in which we walk the line between taking our first step forward
or turning away and venturing in a different direction. It is often at
this line that we contemplate the value of stepping forward — its worth,
its inevitable struggles, and its likely outcome.

However, what often deters us most from taking that first step are
the unknowns — the questions we have in which we can initially find
neither a solid nor direct answer to. It is because of
these uncertainties that we often miss out on some magnificent

The art of lock picking is no exception. It is a craft that seemly
everyone wishes to venture in, but at first glance are discouraged by
the fog of mystery and vagueness surrounding it.

So let’s lift the veil and look at lock picking in its truest form —unhindered by bias and mystery — so that we may take our first confident step forward in this exceptional journey that is lock picking!

But first, to break any misconceptions of what lock picking is, let us start by truly defining it.

What is Lock Picking: The Realm of Physical Bypassing

Lock picking falls within the scope of what is called physical
bypassing. A bypass is nothing more than a technical term for going
around or through something by means other than normally utilized.
However, bypassing typically takes advantage of a flaw or weakness in

For example, we normally use a key to get through a padlock. However,
if that particular model of padlock utilizes a spring-loaded bolt to
hold the shackle, we may be able to very simply and quickly bypass it by
sliding a thin sheet of metal between the bolt and shackle — thus
releasing the shackle and unlocking the lock. This method of “shimming”
is very commonly practiced among bypassers and can even be accomplished by cutting up a soda can.

Another example would be taking a more violent approach and melting the padlock to a frothy liquid with a blowtorch.

Regardless of the method, the goal is the same — to get through the lock without using the key.

When it comes to physical bypassing, the sky is the limit. Your only restrictions are your imagination and innovation. Any and every lock can be bypassed, it is only a matter of how and when — there is no such thing as the perfect lock.

However, in the vast multitude of bypasses possible, lock picking is
the apple that falls furthest from the tree. Unlike any other known
method, lock picking has an extreme elegance about it — being both
highly subtle and strikingly artful.

The Art of Lock Picking

Lock picking has a very subtle nature about it. Not only is it a very
soft and silent technique, but it also leaves behind little to no trace
of ever being performed. Utilizing minimal equipment — typically two
small pieces of metal — lock picking can often be performed anywhere
without drawing attention.

But even with this subtle nature, lock picking’s elegance is granted primarily through its artfulness.

It is artful in the sense that no other method utilizes upon the
attention to detail that lock picking does. While anyone can pick a
lock, those who have mastered this skill have mastered their senses.

The practiced master of lock picking — using nothing but their pick,
tension wrench, and sense of feel— can visualize what is occurring
within the lock and, in essence,  can paint the key within the lock
using his pick as a brush.

Just as there are many styles of painting, there are a variety of unique techniques available to the lock picker.

Some, like an artist throwing paint at a canvas, are erratic and volatile — much like that of zipping or raking a lock.

On the other hand, some methods are pencil precise, requiring more skill and finesse over that of madness — like that of single pin picking.

This is what we refer to as the Art of Lock Picking and leads us —
finally — to our definition and understanding of what lock picking truly

picking is the act of mimicking the key through artful manipulation of
the lock’s internal componentry to the same state they would be in if
the correct key were inserted.

In other words, we are tricking the lock into believing we are the key.

There is one additional definition that we believe lock picking to maintain:


To learn lock picking is to learn just how poorly designed and
manufactured most security devices are. When you delve into lock picking
you are not just picking locks, you are developing an awareness of what
security sincerely is. For the only way to truly security ourselves is
to learn the flaws in that security. Lock picking is a means of

The Truth About Lock Picking

There is one irritating reality to learning the craft of lock picking
— the degree of misinformation, bias, and vagueness surrounding it.

This aggravating combination of traits is typically enough to deter
most people from ever pursuing this craft — mainly due to the
frustration of finding straight forward answers to very simple

This is extremely disheartening that so many abandon this extremely fun and valuable skill before even starting.

So to help avoid this frustration, here are some straight and simple
answers to the most commonly asked questions about learning lock

1. Is it Hard to Learn Lock Picking?

This question is often met with conflicting answers. However, this is
not to say people are being deceptive nor have any true knowledge of
the craft.

People’s answers are relative to how they understand the question and
this is completely dependent on what their philosophy of learning lock
picking is.

The learning of lock picking can either be:

1. Easy: Acquiring the basics, thus having “learned” to pick locks.

2. Hard: The continual process of learning till mastery, and beyond.

Let’s quickly cover each.

The Easy: Learning the Basics

Picking up the basics of lock picking is a very quick and
uncomplicated task. Locks are very simple and stupid creatures based on
ancient technology so old, we haven’t an inkling of whom first invented
them and when.

After understanding the fundamental principles behind locks — again very simple and stupid creatures —, acquiring the appropriate tools, and with a little proper guidance in technique, most can expect to pick their first basic lock very, VERY, quickly.

From my own personal experience, I picked my very first lock — a Master Lock #3
— in under 3 minutes using an 8-page pamphlet that came with my lock
picks. Within an hour of practice, I was able to pick this same lock
within seconds.

To center our expectations, it is important to understand that lock
picking — like any skill — will only get you as far as you practice.

While basic locks — which are the majority of locks — will fall
quickly to your mighty picks, anything containing additional security
features will require some proficiency and a more sophisticated
understanding that only practice will deliver, thus placing us on the
“harder” road to mastery.

The Hard: Mastery and Beyond

The mastery of lock picking is a long, but wondrous, road and — like
any skill — requires a certain degree of dedication, persistence, and

the difficulties of this road are not due to the act nor craft of lock
picking. These difficulties instead live in the strife and struggle of
discipline required and the consistent, but necessary, failure that will

The basics of lock picking are easy because they require very little
investment and very little failure. But mastery craves investment and it
demands for failure — hours and hours of failure.

Getting stuck on a lock for hours — even days — is the type of
failure you will encounter. But this is the price of proficiency and the
price of mastery. Every attempt you make and every failure you
encounter, you will add something new to your toolbox and come back
better as a result.

So to those looking to master this skill, never be discouraged by
your inability to open a lock. Each failure is a lesson and each lesson
will bring you closer to picking that lock and every lock that follows!

The cost of success is failure and every individual that travels the road to mastery must pay their toll.

2. Is Lock Picking Illegal?

The most deterring aspect of lock picking is its fundamental nature.
Its very purpose is to bypass means of security and, as such, it’s
completely understandable why it would be thought of as an illegal or
unethical craft.

However, just because something can be used maliciously doesn’t mean
it will nor does it mean it is unlawful or wrong in any way to learn or

In comparison, martial arts also has the same underlying nature and
capacity to be used in a harmful manner. However, few learn it with the
ambition to use it maliciously. It is instead a means of discipline,
self-mastery, and self-awareness. Lock picking also develops and demands
of these traits.

The act of lock picking is not illegal, so long as you are picking
your own locks or have permission from the owner of that lock, which you
absolutely better — Serious!

However, there are locations, including the US, that have
restrictions on owning locksmithing equipment — such as lock picks and
bump keys.

For instance, there are 5 states in the United States with
regulations towards owning lock picking tools — Mississippi, Nevada,
Ohio, Virginia, and Tennessee.

Of these 5, only Tennessee strictly prohibits owning lock picks. The rest fall under what is called prima facie evidence, which basically means intent to commit a crime — or guilty until proven innocent.

The legality of lock picking is a subject all of its own and is
better suited for its own extended discussion. If you wish to learn
more, take a gander at United Locksmiths article: Lock Pick Laws, Rules, And Regulations: Is Your Hobby A Crime In Your State?

But the bottom line is lock picking isn’t unethical and while there
are a very small amount of governing regulations to consider, so long as
you are aware of them, you are in the clear.

3. Is Lock Picking Expensive?

There are two things you need to begin picking locks — a set of locks picks and a lock.

For the beginner, this is not a terribly expensive venture. A quality
starter set of lock picks and a couple locks to learn and practice with
will cost you less than $50.

Not too bad.

For example, this is an ideal combination for the beginner to start with.

SouthOrd’s 8 Piece Lock Pick Set: This set includes a standard hook, a snake rake, and a small half-diamond. These 3 picks are really all you need.

Master Lock No. 3: These are the perfect beginner locks and
only include four standard pins. They provide a very strong feedback
while picking, which will really help newcomers develop that sense of

Let us compare it to learning math… Yeah, I know, yuck! However, if
you practice the same problem over and over again, you will eventually
just memorize that problem and won’t truly learn anything. But by
continuing to solve different problems, patterns emerge and you begin to
learn.Every skill gets progressively more expensive as you progress —
lock picking is no exception. Every lock is unique and each must be
picked in its own particular way. However, once you learn the
sequence in which that lock can be picked, it ceases to be a challenge —
and the challenge is what most hones our skills.

So to progress in the craft of lock picking, we must pick everything
we can get our hands on and never spend too much time picking the same
lock over and over again. Once you have picked a particular lock a
few times, it’s time to move on.

This is where lock picking can meet the less desired side of our
wallets. However, there are a few known ways of getting around buying a
ton of new locks such as:

  1. Buying a lock with a re-keyable core. This allows you to re-pin the
    lock and make it a brand new challenge. But the best part about these
    locks is that you can remove or add pins to match your skill. This is
    also a fantastic way to learn how to pick security pins.
  2. Buying wholesale online. Quite often you can find auctions online in
    places such as Ebay that are selling off a huge number of lock cores
    for the price you would pay for one decent padlock.
  3. Visit a local locksmith. Locksmiths have TONS of old and out of use
    locks sitting around in which they will more than likely part with

With a little innovation, you can always stretch your dollar far.

An important note on buying lock picks:

First and foremost: Do NOT buy a cheap lock picking set from Amazon or similar sites! These sets are made of cheap malleable metal that you will end up throwing away very quickly. A quality set will cost you around the same amount and will serve you much better in regards to developing your skills.

You also don’t need a fancy nor huge set of lock picks to begin, or even master, this craft. Truly, you only need two picks
a hook pick and rake pick. About every starter kit includes at least
one of each of these two styles of picks. So save your wallet and start
small; invest in locks.

To Conclude

So as we can see, lock picking truly isn’t as ugly as most think and
those little tiny unknowns that deter so many people are nothing to be

Lock picking is exceptionally easy, inexpensive, and — which the
exception of a couple governing regulations in a few locations — totally
legal and ethical to learn.

There’s no other thrill similar to that of the subtle click that
occurs when you successfully pick a lock. This unique thrill — this
burst of excitement — is something you will never go numb to. Every
success is just like the first.

So check out the guides in our Academy and take that first step on your journey today!

Happy Picking!