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Picks can also be expensive, and difficult to acquire for some. Previously we demonstrated how to make your own pick out of a paperclip. Today, I’ll discuss how to craft your own pick set.
Tools & Materials
The pick set itself will be made out of metal. For this tutorial, spring steel from an aircraft wiper blade was used. Hacksaw blades or spring steel from automotive windshield wiper blades may also be used. Keep in mind that a thin set can help when picking certain locks.
In addition to the required materials, a few commonly available tools are needed for the project.
- Grinder or Dremel tool – You can make your picks by using files, but it will take more time
- Sandpaper – You will want to use (at least) 220 grit all the way up to 600. This is to smooth and polish the metal after grinding, allowing it to slide over the pins with ease
- Propane torch
- Cup of water
- Safety Glasses
During this process, please remember to utilize protective equipment and be wary of where any sparks go. It’s hard to use a pick set when you’re blinded by a hot shard of metal!
After you have your material cut to size, it’s time to set up your work area. Take a cup of water and set it in a way that you can dip your pick in as you grind away. You don’t want to heat the metal up too much. Doing so will cause the pick to be very brittle. If you do overheat the metal, you will have to heat treat the steel, which we will discuss later. Do try and avoid this issue though.
Start grinding away at the blade. Take your time and dip it in the water to keep it cool. What you want to end up with is called a pick blank, which can then be further ground into the desired pattern.
From here you need to figure out which pick you want to make. Patterns can be found everywhere on the internet, or you may use the pattern of another pick in your collection. Once you’ve found the desired pattern, use it to grind your blank into a pick. Remember to constantly dip the metal into the water to keep it cool. (Previously, I tried marking the blade with a pattern but found that as I ground away the markings disappeared.)
Once satisfied with the pick, use sandpaper to knock off the rough edges. Work your way to a fine grit to polish it up. This is an important step; the pick must be smooth enough to glide over the pins of the target lock.
The Tension Wrench
A pick is great, but useless without a tension wrench. This is where you need to get your propane torch out. I recommend making the wrench with some spring steel from a wiper blade. You can shape the steel either before the bending or after. It’s a matter of preference, I find it easier to shape the metal if I bend it first.
Light your propane torch and grip the spring steel with a pair of pliers. Heat the section you want to bend until it is cherry red. This section should be close to the end of the steel. While keeping it in the flame, take another pair of pliers and bend it 90 degrees. Then immediately dunk it into the cup of water. If you have not yet done so, you may shape the tension wrench now.
Shaping the Handle
The tension wrench can be made easier to handle by giving it a twist in the handle area. The process is similar to before: heat the metal up until it is cherry red and, with your two pliers, twist the metal while it is in the flame. Then immediately dunk it into the water. Your result should be something like the wrench in the accompanying photo. The bow isn’t much of a concern, as it will not interfere with the operation of the wrench.
Treating the Steel
If you were hard on the grinder and overheated the pick you will need to heat treat the steel. The process sounds difficult, but is actually quite easy. Just light your torch and with a pair of pliers heat the pick at the cool part of the flame (not the blue cone). Wait for the metal to turn colors, but not cherry red. Once it changes color, work your way down the pick, then set it to the side and let it cool naturally. Your pick has now been heat treated.
After you’ve made your set, you will probably want to put a little oil over the tools to keep them from rusting. When practicing, I will thin out the tension wrench as I try it out in a lock.
With patience you can build a decent set to start learning the skill with. Combine this with a DIY Lock Pick ractice set and you will be well on way your way to mastering the skill of picking locks. So get to the workshop and start picking!
We encourage everyone reading this article to get involved with lock picking as a skill set through various lock sport groups such as Toool and Lock Sport International. There’s a large community out there of people who understand the value of this skill-set and also like to have fun picking locks. Also check out our Bogota Entry Toolsets for a great pre-made set of lock picks in Stainless or Titanium!
Remember, when practicing your set you should always follow the Lock Sport code of ethics.
You may only pick locks you own or those you have been given explicit permission to pick.
Lock sport is an honest, ethical, and legitimate hobby. Unfortunately, the whole world hasn’t figured that out yet (though we’re working on it!). Because the lay person has a tendency to perceive what we do as somehow nefarious, it is extra important that we commit to following a strict code of ethics. For this reason, the above credo is non-negotiable in the lock sport community. Lockpicking should never, ever be used for illegal or even questionable purposes. Please do not misuse this information. We assume no responsibility for your actions, and in no way condone immoral activity. Help keep locksport fun for all by following strictly the one rule.
Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Please join ITS Tactical in welcoming Chris Rea as a contributor to ITS Tactical. Chris is a former Coast Guard boarding team member and currently working with the Maryland State Police as an Aircraft Mechanic. He also shares our passion for learning all he can and giving back to our community!
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I am kinda new to all this so this might be just me but it would be extremely helpful if you had a video to go along with this. This type of skill set would be EXTREMELY helpful since I work at a self storage place. I couldn't even begin to put a number on how many people lock themselves out of their units.
To get cold gun blue to work, you've got to oil it. I've used Brownell's Oxpho Blue, but it should be noted that it is essentially a "salt", the oil helps the salt to pentrate and deepens the color. Google directions for it, it's pretty easy to use and will ultimately protect better than unfinished metal
Instead of oil, I would think that you could use some gun blue to treat the tools. Also be mindful in some states, as it is illegal to posses lock smithing equipment without being a lock smith. Something like, intent to commit burglary.
Instead of oil, I would think that you could use some gun blue to treat the tools. Also be mindful in some states, as it is illegal to posses lock smithing equipment without being a lock smith. Something like, intent to commit burglary. Good Read! Cheers
No forgivness needed. This information was what I have read on and been told by some others. You being an expert in the field is more creditable and welcomed. I will have to try this kind of treatment. What would be better dunking in water or oil?
Great article, but as a knife/jewelry maker and general geek myself, I noticed one thing. The process of heat treatment described is the process of annealing. While a type of heat treatment, this slow cooling of metal provides for an increased ductility for ease of cold working said materials. A heat treatment to provide for beneficial properties in lock tools (hardness and flexibility, but tool the tool will revert to its original shape after flexing) would be more likely along the lines of a quench. Same heating process, just dunk in water for rapid cooling. Forgive me if you have other experience with the process mentioned in the article; just my two cents...
Awesome article, this is funny because I have made picks out of wiper blades and hack saw blades and was going to post pictures and info in the forum section a couple of days ago. No need anymore! The wiper material works great, I even made a flat set of tension wrench/picks for my wallet. ITS Tactical sparked my interest in lock picking with the article on paperclip lock picks, ever since then I have been messing around with lockpicking. I thoroughly enjoy ITS Tactical!
I've used the hack saw blade and it works well. Didn't think of the wiper blade. I've also ground a flat bill on the small side if an Allen wrench for the tortion key. That woes really well. Keep up the good work ITS crew. Cali medic Nate
I work on the helicopters that provide free emergency medical transportation. Its a great job and the officers are actually supportive of things like this as long as they are used for the right purposes.
First, I couldn't call myself an expert until I am able to give up my day job; just glad to share some experience and processes I'm familiar with. A good one, especially in working with a pre-treated metal, such as from a windshield wiper, is to anneal the metal first before otherwise shaping or cutting the pick blanks. It eases the working process and eliminates the risk of stressing metal that has already been tempered. After the picks are in their final form, just heat and quench. Try heating various picks to different temperatures before quenching to match the properties of your preferred commercial picks. As to oil vs. water, in this application considering the mass of metal being heated, there should be no profound difference using either quenching method. I prefer water, as it's one less potential flare up in the home workshop.
@Aaron an increase in hardness comes with a decrease in flexibility, since harder metals are more brittle. increased ductility increases flexibility. So quenching (water dunk, fast cool) will produce a harder pick more prone to breaking, while annealing (gradual cool to room temp) will provide a provide a more flexible pick without risk of breaking. It seems to me that greater flexibility would nearly always be preferred for a lockpick, since the strength of the metal in either case is adequate for the purpose (you don't make a lockpick with its load bearing specs in mind).
That's my fault Jimbo, I left out an important part in Chris' bio introducing him! He works with LE but is not an officer.