There is a strange satisfaction that comes with using everyday items such as bobby pins to pick locks. A satisfaction that brings with it a level of confidence that screams to the heavens, “I am the master of my destiny, let no door, padlock, nor any such annoyance stand in my way for I am a lock picker, master of pins and destroyer of security!”
If you too would like to scream these words into the night and learn how to pick a lock with a bobby pin then keep reading as this guide is for you.
NOTE: Picking locks with bobby pins is a fun challenge, but if you are looking to slay and conquer locks, you will eventually need a real set of lock picks — contrary to popular belief owning lock picks is legal in most locations!
There are a billion cheap “beginner sets” lurking in the depths of the internet, but of these billions there are really only a few companies worth buying from. For beginners we believe in the Peterson Ghost Lock Pick Set This is a very basic set, however, it has every tool you will ever need to not only pick almost any pin tumbler lock but also master this amazing craft of lock picking!
The most important part of successfully picking any lock is using the proper tools. While low-end locks can be picked with improvised tools such as bobby pins, they won’t always work and will do nothing to help develop your skills.
However, if you do wish to proceed MacGyver style, continue reading.
For the purpose of simplicity, this guide will be broken into three short sections:
1. Crafting Our Bobby Pin Lock Picks
Our first order of business is crafting our tools. Accomplishing the goal of picking a lock will require two things: a pick and a tension wrench. The purpose of the pick, as we will see later, is to push a series of pins up and out-of-the-way so that they no longer block the lock’s plug from rotating.
The tension wrench, on the other hand, is used to apply rotational torque to the lock, just as a key would. The purpose of each tool will make more sense once we understand how exactly a lock works, so until then let’s get to bending some bobby pins.
Bobby Pin Lock Pick
Forming our bobby pin lock pick is a very short and simple task. The first thing we have to do is remove the rounded tip from the straight side of the bobby pin. This can be accomplished easily by using fingernails, pliers, or even your teeth. Once the rubber end is off we can begin making our bends. Start by pulling the bobby pin apart and roughly straightening it as such.
Next, stick the straight end of the bobby pin about one centimeter, or about 1/3 of an inch, into the keyhole of your lock and apply enough pressure to bend the end of the pin into a hook. The result should look something similar to this.
Now that we have our completed lock pick, let’s move on to forging our tension wrench.
Bobby Pin Tension Wrench
The tension wrench has the very uncomplicated shape of an “L” and this makes forming it as simple as a single bend. Start by placing the closed end of the bobby pin about an inch into your lock’s keyhole and firmly apply pressure downward until you bend the pin 90 degrees. That’s all there is to it.
We now have a usable set of lock picking tools, but before we can attempt to pick any locks it is important to first understand how exactly a pin and tumbler locking mechanism works.
Now that we have our picks and tension wrench we can get down and dirty!
2. How a Lock Works
For the purpose of this guide, we will subtly cover the basic concepts of pin and tumbler lock picking. These types of locks are the most common utilized lock today.
A basic pin and tumbler lock is composed of five main components: the plug, driver pins, key pins, springs, and a housing to hold everything together. While all of this has its importance, our main concern is that of the “shear line.” This line is the physical gap that separates the plug from the housing and, by means of the pins, is the reason why a lock won’t turn without the appropriate key.
When the correct key is placed into the lock, it pushes the key pins flush with the shear line and as a result, the driver pins are forced out of the plug. When the difference between the key pins and driver pins is exactly the same as the shear line, we can then rotate the plug and disengage the lock. This can be better understood by the animation below.
So as we can see, the objective of lock picking is to mimic the key by means of pushing the pins flush with the shear line, thus allowing us to rotate and disengage the lock. But a question remains: How do we keep the pins from falling back into the plug when we remove the pressure of the pick? The answer: torque. When we apply rotational tension to the plug, by means of the tension wrench, we force the pins to bind between the housing and the plug. To fully understand why this is important we need to first take a step back and look at the plug itself.
The Plug: Manufacturing Flaws
A simple reality is nothing is ever produced without its flaws. There is always going to be some error involved, some tolerance to flaws given. It is this tolerance in production flaws that allows us to manipulate locks and can determine the quality of the lock. Let’s take a look.
During the production of the plug, holes are drilled to hold the pins. In a perfect plug, these holes would all run down the true center-line of the with perfect alignment. But because nothing can ever be produced to perfection, there will always be some variation to where these holes are actually drilled. This variation can be as slight as a thousandth of an inch and it’s because of this tiny distortion that we gain our ability to pick locks.
- Perfectly Drilled Lock Plug: All pin holes run down the plug’s true center-line
- Exaggerated example of a real plug: All pin holes vary in distance from the plug’s true center-line
So why is this important? Well as we can see every pin holds a different distance from the true center-line of the plug. This means when we apply rotational tension to the plug, one pin will bind between the housing and the plug before any other pins. This pin is what lock pickers refer to as the “binding pin” and is defined as the pin furthest from the plug’s true center-line.
By now we should understand two important concepts. First, to disengage a lock we must first lift all the pins to the shear line. Secondly, because of manufacturing flaws, pins will bind in a specific order starting with the pin furthest from the plug’s true center-line.
Now that we understand these two basic concepts, it’s finally time to utilize our freshly crafted tools and pick some locks.
3. How to Pick a Lock with a Bobby Pin
Before we get to play with our new toys, we first need to learn how to properly use our bobby pin tension wrench. As was briefly mentioned earlier, this little tool is used to accomplish two things. First, it gives us the leverage we need to apply rotational tension to the plug, similar to that of a key. Secondly, it is this little-bent piece of metal that helps us keep the pins at the shear line as we pick them. But how? Well, let’s take a gander.
Keeping in mind the concept of the binding pin, as we apply rotational tension on the plug, the binding pin will… well bind, and stop the plug from rotating. While the pin is bound we push the pin to the shear line using our pick. It is here that everything comes together. As the first binding pin reaches the shear line, the plug will turn ever so slightly as it finds the next furthest pin from the true center-line to bind on. But something else extraordinary happens. Because the plug slightly rotates, the pin we forced up will settle on top of the plug and so long as you maintain the correct amount of tension, it will stay there. This is what we call “setting a pin,” as illustrated below.
Using the Tension Wrench
It’s time! Now that we know exactly what our goal is inside the lock we can finally get started on picking those pesky pins. First take our bobby pin tension wrench and insert the shorter, closed end, into the lower part of the keyhole and begin to apply slight tension in the direction the key would turn. The amount of tension we apply is key (no pun intended) to whether or not we are successful at picking a lock. If we apply too much pressure we stand a chance of binding more than the first binding pin, making it difficult to determine the binding order and set the remaining pins. However, if we apply too little force, the pin will not set and will fall back into the plug. A general rule of thumb for using the tension wrench is to start light, increasing tension as necessary. Developing a feel for using the tension wrench is the major factor separating the novice from the master.
Now that we have a slight amount of tension on the plug our next step is to locate our first binding pin and set it with our freshly made bobby pin lock pick.
Picking the Lock
Now for the moment that we have all been waiting for….let’s start picking some pins. While there are many different methods of lock picking and types of lock picks we will be focusing on what is called “single pin picking” using our “hook-type” bobby pin lock pick.
Once again insert our bobby pin tension wrench into the lock and give it the necessary pressure to bind the first binding pin. Note that throughout the entire process of picking and setting pins we must continuously hold tension on the plug. Once the plug binds, we can insert our bobby pin lock pick into the lock with the small hook facing into the pins. Starting from the back, probe each pin by lifting it up slightly gauging how difficult it is to lift. Most pins should be relatively easy to lift with the exception of the binding pin, which will feel stiffer and harder to move.
Once we have probed around and found our first binding pin, it is time to get it out of the way. Using our pick, apply an upward pressure to pin and once it reaches the shear line there will be a very slight rotation of the plug as the pin sets. It is also common to feel a faint vibration through the tension wrench, but as we are using bobby pins, it is unlikely we will feel such a wonder. Also keep in mind that we only pushed the driver pin out of the plug so don’t be alarmed if you feel the key pin wobbling around inside the plug. All is well.
Now that we have set our first pin we need to locate and set the next binding pin. Just as before we need to begin probing the remaining pins until we yet again find the stiff one. Once found we can give it a little nudge to the shear line thus setting our second pin.
The entire process of picking a lock is repeating these two steps of locating the binding pin and setting it. Once all the pins are set, the plug will fully rotate as if we had a key and the lock will disengage. If this happens, Congratulations! You have picked your first lock!
Note that if you run into difficulties setting pins – meaning they either don’t set or keep falling – you likely need to readjust the amount of force you are applying to the tension wrench. Remember the key to picking any lock lies in the temperance of the tension wrench.
To conclude this guide on bobby pin lock picking, I want to speak in regards to two things. The first being that you should never use these skills maliciously and only on your own locks or with permission of the lock owner. Secondly, speaking of your locks. It’s highly advised that you don’t practice on locks that you need to function, for example, your front door’s deadbolt. Doing so could permanently damage them. For the purpose of practice, it’s recommended you buy or salvage practice locks.
Additionally, if you find yourself enjoying this craft that is lock picking, you may consider picking up a real set of lock picks as they are an extremely cheap investment and while you can get away using a bobby pin, having the correct tools will exponentially increase your success in both picking locks and developing you skills. Fantastic starter sets can be found in our store and if you wish to take lock picking to the next level, a great place to start is our lock picking academy.
If you enjoyed this little guide, have any questions, or want to share your success/failure, drop us a comment below. We would love to hear from you!
Derivation of Deviant Ollam’s Lock Diagrams, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.