Best Lock Picks for the Budgeted Picker

Budget Lock Pick Sets

Many of us entering the world of lock picking are looking to buy their first set of lock picks, however, the mass number of products flooding the market can sometimes seem daunting. On top of that do we really need all these picks? Do we really need to throw down $100 on a “quality” set of picks or can we obtain a functional lock pick set cheap? If you have read my last post “What Are All These Picks For,” you will know to successfully pick most locks, we only need a few primary picks. So what is the ideal budget lock pick set? Let’s take a look!

Let’s Talk Locks

A lock pick set should be designed around the type of lock you want to compromise. There is a total of 11 different types of locks you could possibly encounter in North American. They are:

  1. Combination Locks
  2. Disc Detainer Locks
  3. Electromagnetic Locks
  4. Electronic Locks
  5. Lever Locks
  6. Magnetic Locks
  7. Pin Tumbler Locks (Pin Tumbler Locks Have Many Sub-Categories)
  8. Side-Bar Locks
  9. Wafer Locks
  10. Warded Locks
  11. Car Locks (Car Locks Have Many Sub-Categories)

Note: Paracentric locks are not on this list because there is no such thing. There are only paracentric keyways. A pin tumbler can have a paracentric keyway and still be a pin tumbler lock.

However, the fact is 90% of all North American residential and commercial locks are pin tumbler locks. So when you are being offered a $150 pick set with 50 different lock picks inside it, chances are it’s just 50 lock picks designed to open one type of lock… the pin tumbler lock. So that’s potentially 48 lock picks that are not needed and are just added fluff to your set!

There are very few pick sets that actually offer tools that open multiple styles of locks, and the ones that do cost in excess of $200-$500, and rightfully so as they implement special tools for certain high-security features. But even taking a closer look, those sets just include tools used for bypassing or for destructive entry only. They rarely include any tools for actual surreptitious entry or anything that can manipulate the key pins covertly beyond what the basic pin tumbler lock pick can do.

Before I can go further, we must establish what a high-security lock is and isn’t. A lock with special pins, such as spool pins or mushroom pins, is not a high-security lock. It is just a lock with added security pins. The lock is no different by design or function. An actual high-security lock will have added security features such as a slider or finger pins, a sidebar, rotating pins, and so on. These are actual physical changes in the design and function of a traditional pin tumbler lock, thus qualifying it as high security and even giving it a UL rating in some cases. Some of these locks do require special tools to manipulate those features, but those tools are not lock picks. They are usually special tension wrenches, probes, small “jack knives,” or special dimple picks called “Flags”. These tools do not look like a lock pick, nor function as one. So once again, 90% of all residential and commercial locks do not need these special tools to be compromised. However, then again 10% do.

With that being said, there are only 2 methods of attack when utilizing lock picks on non-high security pin tumbler locks; single pin picking and raking.

Therefore, there is no need for 50 lock picks. There is only a need for a pick and a rake. However not all pin tumblers have the same size keyway or the same shape of keyway. Some are downright nasty looking and can require thinner tools for the job. But those thinner tools require a thinner touch. When you’ve found the two picks you like the best and have used them for a period of three months, consider investing in another 2 picks with a thinner gauge metal than your previous pair. This will help with those pesky devil locks.

The average North American Pin Tumbler Lock Pick will be 0.025 thick. However steel manufacturers have up to 0.002 tolerances, so you could get picks that are considered “standard” sized at 0.023-0.027 thick. That is fine. North American key ways are HUGE by comparison with European or Japanese locks. So your first set should be in that range. Your second set should be in the 0.015 to 0.020 size range. Common ‘Slim’ or ‘Slender’ lock picks are sold in 0.015 and 0.018 sizes. There was once a 0.014 thick line of picks offered by Peterson, but everyone complained so they didn’t last a full year to my knowledge.

Now onto to our choices for a budget lock pick set.

Budget Lock Pick Set

First I will just come out and just say what I think you should get as a beginner on a budget.

Buy these 3 items, and you’re pretty much set for life!

  1. Short Hook Pick with Metal Handle
  2. Bogota Style Rake Pick with Metal Handle
  3. Tension Wrench with Short Twist

Where to Buy?

Both SouthOrd and HPC are the primary lock pick manufacturers trusted and used by locksmiths in North America. I stand by that statement.

Note: Locksmiths today still use a rake pick style that is more than 50 years old. However, this Bogota Style aka “Pagoda” was developed 10 years ago and is now the favorite among locksport enthusiasts and locksmiths alike.

Buy all three of these tools, and you will spend a grand total of $11.13 before shipping! Shipping to Texas is $4.95 for a grand total of $16.18! All the best lock pickers come from Texas, not even kidding, the North American Lock Picking Champion lives in Austin!I have 100% confidence that those 3 tools will allow you to compromise 90% of all locks in North America (provided you practice of course).

That’s it. No frills, no fluff, not even a damn carrying case.. speaking of which.

The Lock Pick Case

Who am I to tell you how to accessorize? Let this choice be yours alone, but I will of course gladly point you in a few directions.

You can buy a SouthOrd leather case but they are pretty crappy.

Sparrow’s cases, however, are really great quality and at a good price. But some of their cases do not seem to hold the lock picks very tightly. However, those particular cases do have a zipper so you won’t lose anything regardless.

I personally favor Peterson pick cases. Their nylon cases are padded, so you won’t bend or damage your lock picks while they are tucked away in your pocket, and they won’t stab you in the ass if you sit on them. However, they are pricey. Peterson does make a nicer line of pick cases that are made of Cow Hide or Lamb Skin. I prefer Lamb Skin as they are a snug fit around your lock picks. But they are pretty expensive, definitely not needed for a budget lock pick set.

Complete Budget Sets

So if you don’t want to take my advice and you want a small complete kit to get you started. No problem, let’s take a look at the absolute cheapest lock pick sets you can buy from quality lock pick manufacturers.

*For a list of quality lock pick manufacturers, check out my article Which Brand of Lock Picks is right for you?

SouthOrd

PXS-14-Beginners Lock Pick Set (priced $26.95). This is a very nice lock pick set! However their rubber handles have been known to “dampen” feedback, thus making it harder to identify locks with security pins, and even harder to manipulate them. It includes very good tension wrenches and a decent zip up case, however, that case does not have any slots for your picks, you have to just toss them into the case!

MPXS-11 Piece Lock Pick Set – With Metal Handles (priced $31.95). This is not too bad, but it is still a mixture of decent picks with crappy ones.

BPXS-12 Pagoda Lock Pick Set – With Metal Handles (priced $38.95). This is a very cool looking set! But it has a ton of fluff. Your lock does not know the difference between 2 ridges or 3, or the interval of ridges in between. I suspect the people that buy this set are either really curious, or they dress their miniature dogs to match the weather. I can see me buying this set, as I too am curious… and own a miniature dog… no I don’t dress her… yet.

MPXS-14 Piece Lock Pick Set – Metal Handles (priced $37.95). This is not a bad pick set at all! Great set, some fluff but not too much.

Sparrows Lock Picks

Expansion Set (priced $19.95). This set is not for me. Lock picks without handles are very uncomfortable, and this does not have a good selection of tension wrenches, and no case.

Kick Start (priced $24.95). This has better tension wrenches and includes a case, but it’s still very uncomfortable to use non-handle lock picks.

The Grad 2.0 (priced $29.95). We just went from better… back to worse with this set. It has a horrible selection of tension wrenches, very uncomfortable non-handle lock picks, there is no case, but includes pinning tweezers? A lot of good tweezers will do you without a set of plug followers!

Ok, screw this, I’m just going to skip right to their lock pick sets that have handles on them. If you personally enjoy picking locks for hours on end without a handle on them, maybe you’re on the wrong site, the BDSM page is on another site!

Apparently, the “budget” sets with handles on the Sparrow’s website are in the advanced portion of the site. But I’ll stick with the tempo here and list the budget sets below that have handles.

Sparrows Night School (priced $95.00). This is a very awesome set! Very cool! Very expensive! Definitely not a budget set but if you have a job, then why not right? However, keep in mind it is EXTREMELY hard to hold onto any “Key In Knob” cylinders without a table vice to clamp it in. Great kit though, even for its price.

Peterson Locksmith Tools

The City Set (priced $52.00). This set has a decent tension wrench, a decent case, but a pretty good selection of lock picks.

Talon Pick Set (priced $64.00). This set has better tension wrenches, a great case, and a decent pick selection.

Ghost Pick Set (priced $68.00). This set has great tension wrenches, a great case, and a decent pick selection.

GSP Ghost Pick Set (priced $74.00). This set has an excellent tension wrench selection, an excellent case, and a very excellent pick selection! This is the best budget set Peterson has!

HPC

The problem with HPC is not quality or even price, but availability. When they are available for sale, it is usually only as a set, and at outrageous prices. When sold individually, they sell for as low as $1.50 for a spring steel lock pick and $4.00 for a stainless steel pick (similar prices compared to SouthOrd). But they seem to be only available individually to locksmiths. That means their distribution is locked down real tight to only legitimate security hardware distributors. Good luck finding them individually!

Novice Lock Pick Set (priced $24.95).This is a 13 piece set, with only 3 of the picks having handles attached to them. The actual value of this set is probably around $5 total. So you are paying $20 for the case and added fluff tools.

Tyro Lock Pick Set (priced $24.95). This is a 15 piece set for the same price as the Novice pick set, and still only includes 3 lock picks with attached handles on them. You are still just paying for the case and added fluff tools that you will never need or use.

HPC Delux Pick Set ($38.50). This is a 16 piece kit, that is pretty much the same as the Tyro pick set, just one extra handled pick and a more expensive case! The actual value of the tools is around $6 total. So you are paying now paying $32 for the case!

Superior Lock Pick Set (priced $56.75). There is nothing superior about this set, other than it offers 8 lock picks with handles, for a total value of $12! But don’t forget to add that crappy case for $44. Wait a minute… didn’t we just see that case for $32 in the previous set??? WTF is going on here!

Now there is a 35 Piece Lock Pick Set being offered for around $63 online. It is a colored set, with all the picks having colored aluminum handles, and it comes with the same case as the Superior Lock Pick set, but for 1/3rd of the cost! However it is restricted to security professionals only, or con-artists that know how to talk to the distributor. It really is a decent set! And at $1.50 for each of the 35 lock picks, you’re paying $52.50 for all the picks, and only $10.50 for the same case that cost $44 in the previous set. That will lead us to believe that if you want HPC, you really need access to a legit distributor. But at the end of the day, 35 lock picks is way too much fluff, and $63 is NOT a budget lock pick set. However, this is a very common lock pick set used by locksmiths.

Build It Yourself

Do you like Sparrows or Petersons but don’t want to buy a complete kit? Then build one yourself based off of either my suggestions of picks to buy, or your own.

For Sparrows, you will be looking at a $35-$50 for a basic kit with 2-3 picks, some tension wrenches, and a case. However, their tension wrench selection is sub-par as they would prefer you buy them in bulk from their site and not individually like most others.

For Petersons, you will be looking at a $40-$70 for a basic kit with 2-3 Nickle Plated Picks at $3.00 each, their Government Steel with Plastic Handles are priced at $8.00 each, and their Government Steel with Rubber Handles are priced at $15.00 each. A tension wrench will run you $10, and a case is nylon case is $22. So depending on which type of pick you prefer, rubber handled or plastic, nickel finish or stainless steel, will all change the cost.

To Conclude

Those are my suggestions and criticisms. If you can grasp the concept that you don’t need 50 picks to open one lock, then you can appreciate this lengthy article. But if you’re a tool collector like me, you won’t listen to any of the 2,600+ words I’ve typed here and you’ll buy every pick you can afford till the wife catches you sneaking off to the mailbox before she gets home from work!