When it comes to developing any skill, the single most effective way of getting better is continuing to challenge yourself. To move past the known and travel into the unknown.
With lock picking this can be as simple as challenging yourself with a new lock.
You should never continue to pick a lock that you have already beaten several times. If you pick the same lock enough times in the same way, you’ll eventually memorize the process of picking that particular lock. From then on, picking that lock becomes more about recalling a series of vague events rather than relying on your skill.
As a matter in fact, continuing to pick the same lock over and over can actually put you a few steps back in progressing your skill. As they say — if you don’t use it, you lose it.
So continuing to challenge yourself is crucial for improving but the problem is, this can sometimes get expensive. How can we expect to buy a new practice lock every time we conquer one? Beating a lock should be a time for excitement and joy, not a time to feel sorrow for our wallets.
But what if there where some ways in which we could take a lock that we finally picked and immediately turn it into a new challenge? Well I have 5 quick suggestions that can do just that!
1. Pick in the Opposite Order
The first thing you can do is practice picking that lock in the opposite order. If you pick from the back pin to the front pin, try reversing your process and picking from front to back. Depending on your tension and the lock this also has to potential of swapping up the binding order.
2. Reverse the Tension Direction
Some locks can be tensioned and picked in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. By switching the direction in which you apply tension you will essentially have a new binding order which you can consider as a “new lock.“
Note that when you pick a lock in the wrong direction you likely won’t be able to fully rotate the plug to disengage the lock. However you will be able to rotate it enough to know that you successfully set all the pins.
Remember that not all locks can be picked in both directions so you first need to determine if a particular lock can be picked in the opposite direction. To do this you’ll need to first test if the pins will bind in that direction. To do so apply opposite tension to the plug, rake or zip some pins, and then release the tension. If you can hear or feel pins drop then that lock can very likely be picked in both directions. If you can’t bind or set any pins while tensioning in the opposite direction then that particular lock can only be picked in one direction.
Picking in the wrong direction is also good practice for using a plug spinner — such as the Peterson Plug Spinner. These tools are spring loaded and will quickly snap the plug in the opposite direction fast enough so that the pins don’t drop.
Note: While most locks can only be opened in one direction and picked in both directions, there are some exceptions like most laminated locks — Master Lock #3 — which can be picked and opened in both directions.
3. Switch Up the Grip
Practice picking each lock both in your hand and in a vise. Both will have a different feel, a different technique, and will improve your skill in both scenarios. If you don’t yet have a vise consider looking at the Bessey BVVB Vacuum Base Vise. It’s super cheap and I’ve found it to accommodate all my needs!
4. Time to Renovate
If the lock you are picking is repinnable this opens up a world of opportunities to do a little custom work and make that lock fresh! This can be as easy as gutting the lock and simply rearranging the pins.
By just doing this you will not only have a new bitting to deal with, but will also very likely change the binding order — especially if that lock has security pins!
Remember that the pins are also prone to manufacturing tolerances. This means that some pins will naturally be made thicker while others thinner. Also, older pins tend to have thinner points from everyday wear and tear.
Thus when you swap around the pins you have a very good chance of changing up the binding order!
Note: If you swap around the pins, the original key will no longer work!
5. Figure Out the Binding Order
Wait.. isn’t this the opposite of what we want to do? Isn’t memorizing the process of picking a particular lock bad?
Not at all! The problem with picking a lock over and over again is honestly not so much about just memorizing the procedure — like the binding order — but more specifically about subconsciously memorizing and recalling vague feelings while picking. An example of this would be if you felt a click near the front of the lock and experience with that lock reminded you that you now need to probe near the back of the lock next. It’s not defined and focused memorization, but instead a hazy recollection of how that lock is picked.
Instead the type of memorization that we should strive for here is to know exactly — with pin point accuracy — what pins to set in exactly what order. To put this into perspective, let’s say we are picking a five pin lock with all standard pins. The goal here should be to figure out exactly in what order each pin binds so that we can continually pick the lock by only touching each pin once.
This exercise ensures that everything you are doing in the lock is intentional and focused. Intentional memorization is using and refining your skill; unintentional memorization is not.
If you are to take only one thing away from this please let it be to never stop challenging yourself. Keep pushing that threshold and I promise you that your lock picking skills will explode!
What other ways can you think of turning your average beat down lock into a new challenge? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!