Chris Ahrens: Picking the Kwikset SmartKey Gen 3

Lock Sport Interview

Today we are looking at the very first exploit of the Kwikset SmartKey Generation 3. Chris Ahrens has been making huge waves in the Locksport community this past year, boasting over 100 picking videos on his new YouTube Channel, and is now the very first lock picker in the world to exploit this challenging lock. Read further and find out just exactly how he managed to accomplish this amazing feat!

Q: Let’s start this interview off by telling us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living, and how are you involved with the Locksport community?

“I am a 38 year old devout Christian, have been married for 14 years, have two daughters, 9 and 7, and am currently employed with a local paper mill. The first thing most people notice is not how I pick locks, but my accent. I am from Arkansas so I don’t really notice it. My hobby includes lock picking, which I try to be as involved in as possible with the Locksport community through my YouTube channel. Also, I try supporting other pickers that I have become close friends with through messaging, trading locks, questions, and supporting other channels by likes, subscribing, and comments. I am also involved with lock picking on Reddit.com, Discord, Keypicking.com, Lockpicking101, as well as several Facebook groups such as Lock Picking, Locksport (lock picking and smithing), Lockpicking & Locksport and others.”

Q: What got you into lock picking?

“How did I get into lock picking? I honestly don’t know. It’s something that just kinda happened. I started out trying to decode master lock combination padlocks. I managed to open a few, but never really got the hang of it. Searching through YouTube, I found Texas Jim and I was blown away at his skill. He was my first inspiration. I got a few locks and in February of 2016 and did my first YouTube video. Later I did a trade with Texas Jim and went from there. I then got close to ZombieLock  and Steel Pinnings. Both helped me get things started with advice, locks and tools. However, I was still off to a slow start with my mother being sick. After she passed away in September 2016, I got even more involved with the community. I made a lot more friends like Supallama and Tumbl3r. I don’t want to leave anyone out because every subscriber and person in the community I’m involved with plays a part in my inspiration. But those 5 YouTubers played the biggest role in my picking.”

Q: Recently you made a video of you picking the Kwikset Generation 3 SmartKey. At this time, you are the ONLY lock picker on the entire internet to have accomplished that, and quite possibly the first in the entire world. How does that feel to know your one of the top lock pickers in the game, and what inspired you to accomplish such a feat?

“Thank you, I’m honored to be the first to pick the Kwikset SmartKey Generation 3. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to pick a lock no one else has picked yet. It was a fun lock to pick and to figure out how to defeat it. My hat is off to Kwikset for these changes and attempts to keep pickers out. They did an amazing job and it’s a wonderful design. To think of myself as a top lock picker in the game that is so surreal. I just want to remain humble and keep picking. The inspiration comes to a lock picker just by hearing that a lock has never been picked. My personal inspiration comes from Tumbl3r, without his design changes to the Kwikset, I would have never pursued the lock nor thought about picking it.”

Q: Can you go over in detail exactly how you compromised the Kwikset Generation 3 cylinder?

“Wow, I guess I need to start by explaining the difference in the Generation 1 and Generation 3 to the best of my understanding. I do not have experience with the Generation 2, but as I understand the gen 2 and gen 3 are similar in this description. Generation 2 is the KEVO, where Generation 3 locks are the “Uptown” and “Downtown”. First off, Tumbl3r has a wonderful video of the design changes to the smartkey that I urge you to watch.

Without his video, this would not have been possible. The main difference that we will focus on is the sidebar. The SmartKey Generation 1 has a “V” shaped side bar with matching groove.

SmartKey Generation 1 Sidebar

So just like most other sidebar locks, when you apply tension from the front of the lock, the pressure on the sidebar drives it down. Where as in the SmartKey Generation 3, the sidebar is a “[]” (square) shape with a matching groove.

SmartKey Generation 3 Sidebar

The sidebar also does not retract with pressure from the core turning. It retracts by springs which push the side bar in when the pins are at the proper height. If there is any pressure on the side bar it will bind, keeping it from retracting. This is why the Generation 3 cannot be tensioned with traditional methods such as a tension wrench in the keyway of the lock. Therefore, the only way the lock can be tensioned is by direct downward force on the side bar which will bind the pins.

With this understanding, the trial and errors began! First, I took the core and worked it with the key taking note of every movement of the pins and sidebar. More specifically that all the pins must be in their proper positions before the sidebar retracts. Also noting the pins locations when at proper heights, which I will describe later in detail as to why this is important. Next was to try different tensioning methods on the side bar. First I made a shim, which was a windshield wiper insert filed to a thickness of 0.010, and the bend was just a trial to get the right angle. Once I had that, the best method I found was to take the shim and slide it between the housing and the core and apply direct downward force on the sidebar.

Chirs Windshield Tension Wrench

I found that I needed to vary the pressure to keep the pins binding. As far as setting the pins they are similar to the Generation 1, except for one thing. When the pins set, there is slack in the movement of the pins.

Slack in sidebar pins

The pin will be set, but the true gate is large enough that the pins still fall slightly enough that the side bar will not retract. So as I noted before, you can now see the heights of the set pins with the key inserted below.

Heights of the pins when set

I noticed that when the pins were set and the key not inserted, the pins were still lower!

Heights of the pins with key

That’s when I took the lock pick, and as the pins were set, I jiggled all the pins up, down in a rocking motion. At the same time, I would try to turn the core with a tension wrench inserted in the keyway, while keeping pressure on the side bar the entire time. If the core did not turn then would recenter the core, jiggle the pins, and try to turn the core again. I kept repeating that until the lock opened.”

Q: That’s just amazing. Tells us, what are some other locks you have picked on your YouTube Channel that our readers might want to check out?

“Other locks on my channel? Well, I’m personally proud of every challenge lock I pick. I dedicate a full video to each individual challenge lock to show everyone. There are some really good challenge lock makers. A lot of time, thought, planning and hard work go into these locks and I admire each and every one of them and send a huge thank you to all those that make and send them to me. But I think Supallama is the only person taking high-security locks and making challenge locks out of them, which include the ASSA Twin 6000 and Medico Biaxial. To single out the stock locks that I’m most proud of, it has to include the Kwikset SmartKey Generation 3, the ASSA Twin 6000, and the ASSA Twin V-10. Also, the video of the Medeco key cutting by hand, I get a lot of questions on that video I think people really enjoy it.”

Q: Some of our readers are curious as to what tools you have in your “go-to” pick set. Can you tell us in detail about what you carry in your kit? 

My pick set is always growing. Every time I pick a different lock it seems like I need a different pick. I try to just adjust the picks that I have if need be. I’m not really into making homebrew picks. I have a couple of homemade picks that I like from Trekmaster30 but mostly my kit includes the slim line picks form SouthOrd and Sparrows. I have only recently started dimple picking so I have a set of dimple picks from Banggood.”

My kit includes the following:

Deforest diamond 0.022 SLS-11 Short hook 0.015 Kaba red handle dimple pick set
Half diamond 0.022 SLS-05 steep hook 0.015
Steep hook 0.022 SLS-06 snake rake
Standard hook 0.022 SLS-07 twin peak rake
High hook 0.022 SLS-08 triple peak rake
Short hook 0.022 SLS-09 worm rake

Q: That’s a nice setup! What are some locks you are working on at the moment? Are there any locks that you just absolutely cannot open?

“At the moment, I have been trying to expand my knowledge and skills with dimple locks. Yet I’m always on the lookout for all kinds of high-security locks, but ASSA will always be my favorite to pick. There are a lot of locks that I can’t pick. I try not to just focus on those because they will come as my skills improve. There will always be locks to try to pick as companies improve. Which the Locksport community helps to show those flaws and help companies improve with every security feature that is beaten.”

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring lock pickers and future YouTube celebrities such as yourself?

“The best advice is the same as anything — practice, practice, practice! Find locks that are a challenge, that help push your level of experience. I see some pickers that jump way to hard of locks and get discouraged or some get stuck on the same level and never advance. Support other pickers and if you see a lock picked that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and study those locks. There are a lot of great pickers that don’t get the recognition they deserve because they are picking locks that are not understood.”

Q: Finally, what is your favorite beer to drink while picking locks?

“I don’t drink alcohol, but I love a big ole glass of iced sweet tea or a Mountain Dew!”

BE LEGAL AND GOD BLESS! –Chris Ahrens!