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Your Guide On How to Pick a Lock

Picking a Lock on a Door

The moment you realize you are locked out of your home, business, or car is the moment panic might set in. That is a reasonable response to what could be a trying situation. However, it might not be that big of a deal if you know something about lock picking.

Learning how to pick locks is not really that difficult. It will take time and a little bit of patience but in the end, it’s a skill set that is worth having. To help you with this endeavor, the following information has been designed to serve as a step-by-step guide on how to pick a lock.

Note: While there are many different types of locks, tumbler locks are by far the most common type. It’s likely the type of locks you are using on all of your doors. That is where the focus of the following information shall fall.

The Inner-Working of a Tumbler Lock

How Tumbler Lock Works

As part of the lock picking education process, it would seem prudent to make sure you have a basic understanding of that with which you will be dealing. With that in mind, here is some info on the inner workings of a tumbler lock.

Inside the lock outer casing, there are a number of pins, usually four to five pins with springs attached. The pins reside in the locking mechanism casing, which is called the plug or cylinder. Inside the plug, there is a “shear line” into which each pin fits.

When the key is inserted into the plug and rotated (left or right as prescribed), it puts different amounts of pressure on each pin. The amount of pressure put on each pin is determined by the cut of the key. As the pins are pressed into the shear line, they will hit an optimum alignment. When that optimum alignment is achieved, the actual locking mechanism will release the doorknob, which can then be turned and opened.

Based on this information, you should be able to understand why each lock requires a unique key. It’s the unique cut of a key that accounts for the correct pressure being put on each pin for unlocking.

The Lock Picking Tools You Will Need

Lock Picking Tools

Professional locksmiths carry various types of lock picking tools. Each tool performs a certain function related to how to pick a lock on a door or maybe a window. Assuming you are a layperson who is merely seeking this lockpick skill as a precautionary measure, there is no need to make things complicated. Therefore, the focus will stay on the most basic tools. That will include

  • Hooks
  • Rakes
  • The tension wrench


Some locks need to be picked one pin at a time. In such cases, the hook would be the preferred tool. A hook is a precision tool that looks like a thick long toothpick with a handle (grip) on one end and a hook on the other end. They do come in varying sizes and lengths but a standard short hook will usually suffice.


When it’s possible to manipulate multiple pins at the same time, one should take advantage of that opportunity by using a rake. A rake is very similar to a hook as far as length and thickness. Where a rake differs is it will have several bumps at the end where a hook would be. When inserted into the plug, each of those bumps can effectively manipulate multiple pins at the same time.

Time savings is the key benefit of a rake. While a hook requires one action for each pin, a rake can usually produce the same results with two or so actions.

The Tension Wrench

You can’t pick a lock simply by putting a hook or rake inside the plug. You need one more tool to create enough torque inside the plug to move the hook or rake so as to move the pins where they need to be. That tool is the tension wrench. Honestly, a tension wrench looks very similar to an allen wrench with a short end and a longer end.

The Proper Lock-Picking Technique

You have the tools in hand, it’s time to give it a go. It’s important to understand that you will end up wasting a lot of time if you don’t use the proper technique when picking the lock. You also have the potential to damage the inner workings to the point you nor anyone else will be able to pick the lock.

You begin by inserting the tension wrench in the bottom of the keyhole. Position it so you can apply pressure with your index finger in the direction that the key would be rotated. If you are not sure which direction you need to go, you can put light pressure on the tension wrench to the left and then right. You should be able to feel which direction offers less resistance. That’s the right direction.

PLEASE use light pressure. Too much pressure could damage a pin or the shear line.

Next, you are going to insert your pick in the top of the keyhole. At this point, the process will differ based on the pick you are using.

When using a hook pick

As indicated above, you would use a hook when you need to manipulate one pin at a time.

You start by pushing the hook to the back of the plug until you find the last pin. You will use the hook portion to press each pin upward as you move forward until you hit the pin that offers no resistance. The pressure or torque you need to push a pin up is provided by you gently pressing the tension wrench. As you push that first pin up, it will lock into position. You can then proceed to repeat this process until each pin has locked into place.

When the last pin is locked, you will notice the plug can be fully rotated until the lock is released. Congrats, you have picked the lock.

When using a rake pick

As indicated above, you would use a rake when you want to manipulate several pins at a time. While you will always have the option of using a hook, sometimes, a rake is the better choice.

You start by pushing the rake to the back of the plug until you find the last pin. Using gentle tension on the tension wrench, you can simultaneously start gently “scrubbing” the rake back and forth over as many pins as possible. As you are pushing multiple pins up, they should start locking in place in the proper order. You can repeat this another time or two until all pins have been locked in place.

Again, when the last pin is locked in place, you will notice the plug can be fully rotated until the lock is released. Congrats, you have picked the lock.

Note: Each attempt with the rake should take no more than say 10 seconds. If it takes longer, pull the pick out and start over.

Know the Law

At some point during this discussion, it might have occurred to you that picking locks is illegal. Given all the negativity surrounding the concept of picking locks, questioning the legality of doing so makes sense.

The reality is the laws related to lockpick activities will vary from one state to another. Here in the Littleton Colorado area, such activities are legal under two circumstances with the right intent.

First, you can pick a lock if you are the owner of the asset to which the lock is attached. Second, locks can be picked by licensed locksmiths with the asset owner’s permission. Under no circumstances can it be done if it would violate another law or court order.

Denver Locksmiths – Your Go-To Locksmith Company

It’s quite possible you’ll find that even though you know how to pick locks, you find the concept a bit intimidating. That’s okay and understandable. It’s also not a problem when you know Denver Locksmiths is standing by ready to help.

If you call us in a lockout situation, our technician can use their judgment to determine the best option to get that lock unlocked. If they think picking the lock is the best option, so be it. They do have the expertise to do just that.

Note: While Denver Locksmiths is located in Littleton Colorado, we have mobile locksmith units that allow us to service some of the outlying areas. If you need our help, we’ll be there to answer your call.