Lock Picking as a Skill-Set and its Practical Applications - ITS Tactical

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Lock Picking as a Skill-Set and its Practical Applications

By Bryan Black


My good friend Jack over at The Survival Podcast called me up the other day and asked if I’d come over and pick a lock for him. Definitely not the kind of request you get everyday from a friend!

Jack had misplaced the keys to a very sturdy trailer hitch lock and needed to remove it to hook up a trailer. Rather than spend the money and time to call a Locksmith, I was more than happy to accept his cup of coffee bribe and help him out.

Practical Applications

As we’ve mentioned before on ITS Tactical, our intention in going into detail on Lock Picking as a skill-set is not to advocate illegal methods of entry. Primarily it’s to illustrate the “illusion of security” and help you realize how unsafe all those locks are that you use in your daily life.

Secondary to the illusion of security is the practical application of the skill-set, demonstrated here in the video that Jack filmed while I was helping him out with his lock.



While it did take me around ten minutes to pick the hitch lock, it was a difficult lock to pick with the Bogota Entry Toolset that I EDC (Every Day Carry). I’m not here to make excuses, but to give you a perfect example of what you may run into out there when helping out your friends and family.

The keyway on this particular lock is very small and oddly shaped. I say “odd” due to the fact that there’s no lip to wedge a tension wrench into that you’ll commonly see on locks. Because of the small overall height of the keyway, my only option with the tension wrench I had was to wedge it in sideways to provide tension. While this worked, it also took up almost the entire keyway, eliminating the space needed to insert the rake of the Bogota Entry Toolset.

What took me the better part of the 10 minutes was having to improvise and use the single feeler pick to wedge/twist into the keyway to provide the tension needed, while gaining the room to rake the lock. (as seen in the photo to the upper right) While it wasn’t graceful single-motion lock picking like you see in the movies, this is definitely real-world. You’re not always going to go right up to a lock and open it with ease.

I certainly don’t consider myself a pro and have seen quite a few people I do consider pros get stumped now and again with locks that they’re not familiar with. Just more reason to practice on as many different kinds of locks as possible. I have a large bag of different locks that I practice with when I have downtime and Jack gave me this lock to add to my growing collection.

I definitely need more practice with smaller keyway locks! What kind of locks have stumped you before?

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.

You may only pick locks you own or those you have been given explicit permission to pick.”

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  • Awesome video! I imagine the location of the lock didn’t help either. You really have to always be practicing but now and then you should practice on an actual lock (that you own or have permission to) that’s not in your hands. The key (pun intended) is patience and most people would probably give up after 5 minutes!

    • Couldn’t agree more Mike! Patience is an often overlooked aspect of Lock Picking. Most think it’s like you see in the movies, you walk up to a door, put in a pick (most movies don’t even show a tension wrench) and bam! it’s open!! Real life is nothing like that 🙂

  • Hell man you earned your coffee and I have some more of my rare beers with your name on them too when you get to come back around. Thanks so much for your help on this dude. Guess I have a new skill set I should take the time to learn.

    • Oooo rare beers are an added bonus! I’ll have to take you up on that soon; feel free to take me up on getting some pointers on Lock Picking, it’s definitely a worthwhile skill-set to acquire 🙂

  • You almost had another video to make with that Yakima rack! I’m still looking for the other two keys.
    ~Eric S.

    • Hah! Perhaps you need to invest in some spares you keep locked away that are labeled. My wife gives me crap for being anal retentive in that regard, I have dupes of all our keys labeled in the safe. It’s paid off on more than a few occasions!

  • InalienablyFree

    I just began learning the art, so I don’t have any cool stories to tell about the difficult locks that have stumped me. However, my home has two locks on the doors and the deadbolt seems to stump me consistently. I’ve managed to get it a couple of times but it takes me longer than it took you to do that one! The other door lock is pretty easy, so I will often go and redo that one to rebuild my confidence. 🙂

    Practice, practice, practice. I think I’ll go try again right now!

    • Instead of practicing on the easy one at your house you should replace that lock (or both) with something that has security pins (like mushroom pins) at the very least. In fact that might be why one gives you more trouble to pick, it may be a security lock. If you replace that lock, keep it to use for practice 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

  • I just started lock picking last week. So I’m far from proficient. But I am astonished at how easy some locks are to pick.

    As I practice on more locks, the ones that give me the most trouble are the ones with small key ways and the ones where the core is a little loose in the hull. Small keyways give you very little room to work the pick and make it very difficult to fluidly bounce the pick on pins to try to set them. The ones with the loose cores tend to result in a different experience everytime I practice with them and often lead to false sets.

    • Couldn’t agree more Evan! You’ll start to notice more and more of those characteristics on the different kinds of locks you practice with. That’s one of the things that makes you more proficient; learning and knowing those characteristics by just looking at a lock.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Brian

    So I take it padlock shims dont work on all padlocks?

    • Brian, if you mean for this particular hitch lock, I have no clue. I haven’t had time to mess around with it to see if a shim would work. I’ll definitely give it a shot though, thanks for the comment!

  • Aaron McDoomsday

    I can shim padlocks fairly well now, but I still can’t for the life of me get into my own damn home. The locks are crap; loose cores, worn out keyways, and I have a feeling that at least one of the pins is either bent or just hashed. What’s worse is I can’t get the apartment management company to replace the damn things.

    Practice, practice, practice.

  • Martin

    To steady the lock for that situation, would Ducktape or 550 cord be a good idea?

    • Yes, anything reasonable you can do to hold the lock in a comfortable to pick position is a good idea.

  • Nick

    I occasionally get called by my dad (a landlord) to open doors that tenants don’t return keys to or he can’t find keys to. I can attest to the amount of frustration that even a worn out standard entry lock can can create… I am not too ashamed to admit that while I can generally open a medium security padlock or similar in a few seconds, on my worst day I have taken nearly 30 minutes to open a low security door lock. It happens to the best of us. practice, finesse, and lots of patience are the main requirements.

  • Irishmanlost

    I see lockpicking more as a skill-set more then anything else, I always keep a few coke can shims in my school bag. It’s certainly helped me a few times and won me a few “awards” from helping out certain friends ;). Great vid too Bryan.

  • Agent000

    Nice flick Bryan!

    10 minutes isn’t bad for as awkward as an angle can get! There are a few things that I have found are good practice when picking:

    The first is let the lock owner know that not every lock is pick-able (even the cheap ones you’ve picked before). After all if a lock doesn’t open when attacked, then it has done it’s job.

    Second is be aware of the hype. The hype that i’m talking about is the aura that non-pickers place on us. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been called to open a lock and when I arrive there are a dozen people ready to see the show. Talk about pressure, specially when the person that called you says this guy can pick anything! But I also have realized that I’m to blame for this because I have a lock addiction and constantly pick locks, so everyone I know sees this and there you have it. The best thing to do is to find a nice way to get people to leave and then get to work.

    Third is practice in different angles like Bryan did, I guarantee he’s going to be an expert at that lock because now he’s seen it as his foe!

    As always thanks for the great posts and good luck!

  • Sandwalk3r

    I got stuck in a stairwell between two duplexes, which runs between their main floors and their basement levels. All four points of entry/exit were locked, and I didn’t have a key. Light was off and only switches were inside the building’s residential rooms.

    I made the mistake the day before of deciding I didn’t need my lock picking kit in my briefcase any more. Fail.

    I did have my Surefire Kroma Mil-Spec flashlight (EDC for me), a paperclip that I fashioned into a pick, and a TAD “Skeleton Key” tool that I tried to use as a torsion wrench.

    I got 3 of 5 pins in the tumbler to set, but I couldn’t manage to get the other two. So I had to resort to the iPhone lockpick kit – call the friend I was staying with to let me out of this dark, windowless trap!

  • Aaron McDoomsday

    As an addendum to my earlier reply: I thoroughly pissed myself of at my own inability to open my own front door with my spiffy SERE Pick Bogotá Ti set, so I spent an hour (when I should have been studying linear algebra for finals) picking said locks. I can now get into my house, sans keys in 30-45 seconds. !!w00t!!

    Thanks Bryan and all the ITS members for thoughtful insight and demonstrations!

  • Austin

    I picked up a 25$ lockpick set with rubber grips today. The grips really help when it’s cold out. I ended up picking my backdoor lock in under 2 minutes. And I had no previous training or experience! Now I know why deadbolts are worthless and the only thing that will protect your house is 00 Buck! Thanks for the post!

  • Pingback: Episode-627- Listener Calls 3-18-11 | The Survival Podcast()

  • Nick

    I would say the lock that gives me the most trouble n still can not pick without breaking is the kwickset smart lock. I would love to see some ideas about this. Great articles guys keep it up

    • Ken

      Lighten up on your tension Nick and you’ll be able to pick any Kwikset lock with a toothpick. In fact, I’d recommend any brand OTHER than Kwikset if you’re concerned about home security.

  • Ken

    Just thought I’d throw my two cents about the practicality of learning to pick basic locks. As mentioned already, practice is the most important thing when learning to open locks. With that said, with the right skill level there aren’t many pin tumbler locks one can’t open with the a set of Bogota’s. Just remember that Serepick.com sells quite a few variations of the Bogota (just not all are made from titanium). Finding the best pair that works for you is the key. Also, remember that proper tension is as (if not more) important than the motion used to rake or spp the pins.

  • Tango7

    Had a chance to break out my set a few weeks ago after the power outage that hit our area. I hadn’t gotten around to getting keys for our detached garage and with no power remotes don’t work like they should. While the key situation was remedied quickly after that, it was good to know that I hadn’t lost my touch.

    Good tools to have on hand, but like anything else practice makes perfect – or in this field faster.

  • Sam

    I’ve picked up a lot of tips from your website and ended up buying some picks from you this summer. I had hardly used them at all when I moved into my new apartment this fall and guess what….it takes about five seconds to open my door with them. Since changing the lock isn’t an option, is there anything you recommend to make my apartment a little (preferably a lot) more secure?

  • As a professional locksmith for the last 20 years, I must admit this was a great post. Props!

  • Martin

    If you had to pick a lock that small you probably lost your key and the lock would be useless. What we used to do in the army was to put an SOG against the brass body and hammer it with a helmet. Most locks took 1 knock to break. Naturally the locks were kaput after that

  • Brian Roberts

    Just spent about 3 and a half to 4 hours throughout the course of the day working on a Brinks door lock and I finally defeated it! I am pretty new to this skill set but have been trying to practice a little bit every day. This was by far the hardest lock I have tried to pick, and it was definitely a pin by pin process. But alas, I prevailed! I had to share with someone, so I figured my fine friends over at ITS Tac might appreciate this. Thanks for the great set of picks and the lock sport advice, I am enjoying this tremendously.

  • freeflydallas

    Nice set of gators you got on there 😉 I’m now interested in lock sport and will probably start practice soon. Thanks for the video.

  • Thomas M

    I have been a fan of ITS for a few months now and you guys have inspired me to start improving my skill set. I recently started practicing lock picking again and bought these tools to help. One of my coworkers accidentally locked one of our cabinets and no one had a key. I offered to try and open it and boom 10 minutes later I had it open. Now I have people all over the building asking if I could help them with the same problem. It really shows how important it is to gain new skills to not only to be prepared for anything you could encounter but also to help others.

    Thanks guys keep up the great work…

  • harpo

    Great info, Bryan. I worked in a major industrial setting for thirty+ years as a toolmaker. Most of my colleagues could pick locks with more or less ability. The best we had, as far as we knew, could do most of the, usually schlage, locks in ten minutes or less. I was not near as good , although I could open simpler locks pretty well. I have two additions to your excellent article:
    1. Allen wrenches make great lockpicking tools, especially tension bars. Their temper is ideal for the purpose as long as you dont let them get red hot while you grind them to shape, and
    2. In terms of opsec it is not good to be known as a lockpicker. our best guy, although often guilty, was ALWAYS a suspect anytime anything went missing! Dont boast on or advertise these abilities, unless your a pro, or youll be in the same boat.

  • FiberOpticRabbit

    Lurker here. I read a lot on here and don’t post much, but thank you for ITS in general. Just shouting out that I got into lockpicking due to this site and have used it on numerous occasions to help friends out in some shitty situations. Really comes in handy and people look at you like you are a wizard.

    Thanks for everything and keep it up.

    • FiberOpticRabbit Thanks for the kind words, your support means a lot and I’m glad that we were able to help get you interested in Lock Picking!

  • Jo11yGr33n

    Which one of your sets would you recommend for starting out?


      @Jo11yGr33n you used to have to be a certifed mechanic or locksmith to be able to purchase lock picks but i got mine from the tool trucks(snap on,mac and,matco make some nice kits)but aparently you can buy them here at ITS


    thanks ITS ….new here watched the video of picking the hitch lock ive acquired a few various lock picks over the years but never successfully used them so today a went out to the back lot and robbed a spine from a wiper blade and made a tension tool grabbed a cheap lock and had it open in two minutes thanks again for the inspiration and guidance Brian Beach


    @Jo11yGr33n you used to have to be a certifed mechanic or locksmith to be able to purchase lock picks but i got mine from the tool trucks(snap on,mac and,matco make some nice kits)but aparently you can buy them here at ITS

  • Thanks a lot ITS. That was really helpful.
    Here is some related post from my website:
    You are welcome to my posts.

  • guest

    New fan , 1st post. Ive seen half a dozen of your videos a couple articles: im grateful to have a forum to discuss this new skillset Ive taken on, without being a professional in the industry. Ive never been interested in picking, evem when i was repoing cars right out of the Army. If the dealership didnt have the means of a spare key, i had the mark towed or declined the job.
    After a reading a xouple articles, Inwent to my trunk, pulled out those old wiper blades, got to work with a propane torch, pliers and files. Made a tensioner, two picks and a rake.
    Without exaggeration and bravado, i picked the lock on my pwn front door in under 5 minutes! That scared the hell out of me! If i could, jyst think what somebody who does this every Day could do?
    That was the end of March. Since then, ive picked my way in to my room, into my file cabinet, ky fire proof safe and my gun locks. All of them. The locks on my ammo cans.. All of them. Even the tubular lock on my alarm system. Thank you for the wake up call on how UNsecure we really are,AND thank you for my new sport. It is so much more a mental challenge then brute force.

  • zheinen

    Solid video, but next time tell the guy holding the camera he doesn’t need to hold it next to his mouth, listening to his heavy breathing was unbearable

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