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The Picked Lock - Break Into Your Own Home So They Can't

Michael Shannon O’KeefeMay 23, 2017

Anyone who has played a modern role-playing video game has toyed with the idea of buying a lock pick set. I mean, who DOESN’T want to be a member of a real life Thieves Guild and make every door a new adventure? The world would be your oyster!

Turns out lock picking, while initially frustrating, isn’t as hard as you would think. It’s also insanely cool! You’ll be surprised to discover how quickly this new life tool skews your worldview while unfortunately also fueling a newfound distrust in your fellow man.

I’m a hands on learner. Although there are many ‘how to’ videos on the internet, there’s no substitution for the real thing. I purchased my lock pick set from Sparrow Lock Picks ($24.99) as they seemed to have the most traction from lock picking enthusiasts. As there were a good deal of picks that I never ended up using, I suggest visiting Survival Mastery as they have a great section on picks to avoid.

In retrospect, I also should have bought a clear practice lock (around $10) instead of the the two deadbolts I purchased from Home Depot ($20 each). The deadbolts offered more genuine life experience, but it would have been nice to see what was happening within the lock. The first thing you learn when picking a lock; all you’re trying to do is blindly mimic a key using a tension wrench and a pick. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert, but the people at The Art of Lock Picking seem to be and have done the hard work for me in providing helpful animations.

The internet diagrams are useful, but seeing the pins work within a lock as you hold it in your hand is much more educational. Newly purchased deadbolts come somewhat disassembled, allowing you to choose your experience level and view some of the inner workings of the mechanism. I started using two pins on my deadbolt, making it slightly difficult but still guaranteeing success.

BOOM! Done in two minutes! I’m an expert lock picker and have found my new calling in life! It’s time to go buy a black turtleneck and wait for a call from Sterling Archer, right?

Nooooope.

Going from two pins to five is a game changer. Not only is there more delicacy needed, but now I’ve lost my visual. My first fully assembled picked lock was not an enjoyable experience. I completed it in 2 1/2 hours, scaring my neighbors with the sheer volume and longevity of my curses. Hoarse voice and sweaty palms aside, it felt good. I mean really good.

I stood above my picked lock like Batman having finally vanquished The Joker. You can’t help but strut down the street looking at every single lock and thinking, “I could pick that.”

The scary thing is you can. If I gained this knowledge anyone could.

This new shift in my mentality was almost frightening. Although I would surely only use my powers for good, what will the proverbial “they” use their powers for?

This is where lock picking- and my addiction to it- gets a little creepy. With my newfound superhero ability, I began sneaking through the city with my lock pick set. I started first by picking the old and unused locks around my neighborhood. Then I bumped up to, with their permission, my friends’ and families’ locks. Next I learned how to use bobby pins, paper clips, and soda bottles for my craft. Practice does make perfect.

I began exploring my wide-open city unencumbered, using only the tools I discovered along the way. I can’t go into too much detail, but needless to say — I was giving MacGyver a run for his money on the old and unused locks in my city.

Aaaaaand, the story ends here. I know! It was just about to get really juicy! Let’s just say that I got unbelievably lucky and that I’ve gained a new appreciation for the feeling of sunshine on my face. While my enjoyment in newfound knowledge previously seemed paramount, my desire to not be a criminal eventually won out.


The Ethics of Lockpicking

Rule 1: Never pick a lock that you don’t own or do not have permission to pick.

Rule 2: Do not pick locks that you rely on or that are in use.


Locksport enthusiasts are rarely criminals. These are individuals who recognize the hobby as a true art form rather than a means to obtain illegal goods. In fact, individuals that compete in the locksport olympics held at LockCon (the international lock conference), are there for the exact opposite reasons you might assume. 

This is best explained on the TOOOL website: "If there are techniques that pose a great risk to society, or if a lock manufacturer fails to inform its customers about a particular vulnerability in its products, then we blow the whistle."

I've always considered myself to have strong moral values, but now I was wandering in an ethical gray area. I’m no saint, but the “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours” mentality is how I’ve always approached the world. Obviously, not everyone has this same attitude. If I can get into almost any door in my neighborhood for the sheer thrill of it, what’s to stop an ill-intentioned person from waltzing into my house?

Absolutely nothing.

"Rogues knew a good deal about lock-picking long before locksmiths discussed it… If a lock is not so inviolable as it has hitherto been deemed to be, surely it is to the interest of honest persons to know this fact, because the dishonest are… certain to apply the knowledge practically… the spread of the knowledge is necessary to give fair play to those who might suffer by ignorance."

 ~ A.C. Hobbs, Locks and Safes: The Construction of Locks. London, 1853.

While locks are a strong deterrent for the layman, they are simply a puzzle to solve for the lock picker. For this reason I have begun intensely researching home security measures to protect my home, previously thinking a lock would do the trick. I even spent an afternoon altering my locks to make it more difficult. Let’s hope it deters unwanted guests. Unfortunately, modern thieves will most likely break a window than perform in the artistry that is lock picking.

In my short and innocent career as an daydreaming crook, I learned the basics in targeting an easy mark. Kevin Raposo has a great article, “Burglar Reveals 15 Trade Secrets…,” where he showcases tell-tale signs thieves seek out when casing a house. It’s almost comical how some people make it truly easy to break into their home. An open window on the street side of a house? Unlit patio entry with locks barely suitable for a bathroom? A lamplight turning on at the exact same time every night? Think these things through, people. If your burglar deterrence was shown in the movie "Home Alone," it's probably not the best choice. 

The awful truth: if someone wants to get into your home badly enough, they most likely will. The trick is to provide as many deterrents as possible so it’s simply not worth it for the crook and they’ll move on to your unfortunate neighbors.

Lock picking has become an enjoyable life tool. Many of my friends and family have benefitted greatly from my new obsession. I’ve removed my trusty Sparrow lock pick set from my Batman-utility belt, and now only use it when necessary.

When emptying my pockets, however, I seem to always acquire either a single bobby pin or some paper clips throughout the day. I blame this innocent little habit on my boy scout days — always be prepared.

Now I approach lock picking the same way I do juggling: I’m glad I learned it, but did 'That Guy' have to learn it too and ruin it for the rest of us?