What is Lock Picking? The Good, the Bad, and the Not So Ugly

What is Lock Picking

For every great journey, there is an unusual beginning. A moment of decision in which we walk the line between taking our first step forward or turning away and venturing in a different direction. It is often at this line that we contemplate the value of stepping forward — its worth, its inevitable struggles, and its likely outcome.

However, what often deters us most from taking that first step are the unknowns — the questions we have in which we can initially find neither a solid nor direct answer to. It is because of these uncertainties that we often miss out on some magnificent opportunities.

The art of lock picking is no exception. It is a craft that seemly everyone wishes to venture in, but at first glance are discouraged by the fog of mystery and vagueness surrounding it.

So let’s lift the veil and look at lock picking in its truest form —unhindered by bias and mystery — so that we may take our first confident step forward in this exceptional journey that is lock picking!

But first, to break any misconceptions of what lock picking is, let us start by truly defining it.

Quick Navigation:

What is Lock Picking: The Relm of Physical Bypassing

Lock picking falls within the scope of what is called physical bypassing. A bypass is nothing more than a technical term for going around or through something by means other than normally utilized. However, bypassing typically takes advantage of a flaw or weakness in design.

For example, we normally use a key to get through a padlock. However, if that particular model of padlock utilizes a spring-loaded bolt to hold the shackle, we may be able to very simply and quickly bypass it by sliding a thin sheet of metal between the bolt and shackle — thus releasing the shackle and unlocking the lock. This method of “shimming” is very commonly practiced among bypassers and can even be accomplished by cutting up a soda can.

Another example would be taking a more violent approach and melting the padlock to a frothy liquid with a blowtorch.

Regardless of the method, the goal is the same — to get through the lock without using the key.

When it comes to physical bypassing, the sky is the limit. Your only restrictions are your imagination and innovation. Any and every lock can be bypassed, it is only a matter of how and when — there is no such thing as the perfect lock.

However, in the vast multitude of bypasses possible, lock picking is the apple that falls furthest from the tree. Unlike any other known method, lock picking has an extreme elegance about it — being both highly subtle and strikingly artful.

The Art of Lock Picking

Lock picking has a very subtle nature about it. Not only is it a very soft and silent technique, but it also leaves behind little to no trace of ever being performed. Utilizing minimal equipment — typically two small pieces of metal — lock picking can often be performed anywhere without drawing attention.

But even with this subtle nature, lock picking’s elegance is granted primarily through its artfulness.

It is artful in the sense that no other method utilizes upon the attention to detail that lock picking does. While anyone can pick a lock, those who have mastered this skill have mastered their senses.

The practiced master of lock picking — using nothing but their pick, tension wrench, and sense of feel— can visualize what is occurring within the lock and, in essence,  can paint the key within the lock using his pick as a brush.

Just as there are many styles of painting, there are a variety of unique techniques available to the lock picker.

Some, like an artist throwing paint at a canvas, are erratic and volatile — much like that of zipping or raking a lock.

How to Pick a Lock with Raking

On the other hand, some methods are pencil precise, requiring more skill and finesse over that of madness — like that of single pin picking.

How to Pick a Lock with Single Pin Picking

This is what we refer to as the Art of Lock Picking and leads us — finally — to our definition and understanding of what lock picking truly is.

Lock picking is the act of mimicking the key through artful manipulation of the lock’s internal componentry to the same state they would be in if the correct key were inserted.Click To Tweet

In other words, we are tricking the lock into believing we are the key.

There is one additional definition that we believe lock picking to maintain:


To learn lock picking is to learn just how poorly designed and manufactured most security devices are. When you delve into lock picking you are not just picking locks, you are developing an awareness of what security sincerely is. For the only way to truly security ourselves is to learn the flaws in that security. Lock picking is a means of self-defense.

The Truth About Lock Picking

There is one irritating reality to learning the craft of lock picking — the degree of misinformation, bias, and vagueness surrounding it.

This aggravating combination of traits is typically enough to deter most people from ever pursuing this craft — mainly due to the frustration of finding straight forward answers to very simple questions.

This is extremely disheartening that so many abandon this extremely fun and valuable skill before even starting.

So to help avoid this frustration, here are some straight and simple answers to the most commonly asked questions about learning lock picking.

1. Is it Hard to Learn Lock Picking

This question is often met with conflicting answers. However, this is not to say people are being deceptive nor have any true knowledge of the craft.

People’s answers are relative to how they understand the question and this is completely dependent on what their philosophy of learning lock picking is.

The learning of lock picking can either be:

1.  Easy: Acquiring the basics, thus having “learned” to pick locks.

2. Hard: The continual process of learning till mastery, and beyond.

Let’s quickly cover each.

The Easy: Learning the Basics

Picking up the basics of lock picking is a very quick and uncomplicated task. Locks are very simple and stupid creatures based on ancient technology so old, we haven’t an inkling of whom first invented them and when.

After understanding the fundamental principles behind locks — again very simple and stupid creatures —, acquiring the appropriate tools, and with a little proper guidance in technique, most can expect to pick their first basic lock very, VERY, quickly.

From my own personal experience, I picked my very first lock — a Master Lock #3 — in under 3 minutes using an 8-page pamphlet that came with my lock picks. Within an hour of practice, I was able to pick this same lock within seconds.

To center our expectations, it is important to understand that lock picking — like any skill — will only get you as far as you practice.

While basic locks — which are the majority of locks — will fall quickly to your mighty picks, anything containing additional security features will require some proficiency and a more sophisticated understanding that only practice will deliver, thus placing us on the “harder” road to mastery.

The Hard: Mastery and Beyond

The mastery of lock picking is a long, but wondrous, road and — like any skill — requires a certain degree of dedication, persistence, and passion.

Mad Man Jesse with Lock PicksBut the difficulties of this road are not due to the act nor craft of lock picking. These difficulties instead live in the strife and struggle of discipline required and the consistent, but necessary, failure that will occur.

The basics of lock picking are easy because they require very little investment and very little failure. But mastery craves investment and it demands for failure — hours and hours of failure.

Getting stuck on a lock for hours — even days — is the type of failure you will encounter. But this is the price of proficiency and the price of mastery. Every attempt you make and every failure you encounter, you will add something new to your toolbox and come back better as a result.

So to those looking to master this skill, never be discouraged by your inability to open a lock. Each failure is a lesson and each lesson will bring you closer to picking that lock and every lock that follows!

The cost of success is failure and every individual that travels the road to mastery must pay their toll.

2. Is Lock Picking Illegal?

The most deterring aspect of lock picking is its fundamental nature. Its very purpose is to bypass means of security and, as such, it’s completely understandable why it would be thought of as an illegal or unethical craft.

However, just because something can be used maliciously doesn’t mean it will nor does it mean it is unlawful or wrong in any way to learn or utilize.

In comparison, martial arts also has the same underlying nature and capacity to be used in a harmful manner. However, few learn it with the ambition to use it maliciously. It is instead a means of discipline, self-mastery, and self-awareness. Lock picking also develops and demands of these traits.

The act of lock picking is not illegal, so long as you are picking your own locks or have permission from the owner of that lock, which you absolutely better — Serious!

However, there are locations, including the US, that have restrictions on owning locksmithing equipment — such as lock picks and bump keys.

For instance, there are 5 states in the United States with regulations towards owning lock picking tools — Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Tennessee.

Of these 5, only Tennessee strictly prohibits owning lock picks. The rest fall under what is called prima facie evidence, which basically means intent to commit a crime — or guilty until proven innocent.

United States Lock Picking Laws

The legality of lock picking is a subject all of its own and is better suited for its own extended discussion. If you wish to learn more, take a gander at United Locksmiths article: Lock Pick Laws, Rules, And Regulations: Is Your Hobby A Crime In Your State?

But the bottom line is lock picking isn’t unethical and while there are a very small amount of governing regulations to consider, so long as you are aware of them, you are in the clear.

3. Is Lock Picking Expensive?

There are two things you need to begin picking locks — a set of locks picks and a lock.

For the beginner, this is not a terribly expensive venture. A quality starter set of lock picks and a couple locks to learn and practice with will cost you less than $50.

Not too bad.

For example, this is an ideal combination for the beginner to start with.

SouthOrd’s 8 Piece Lock Pick Set

SouthOrd 8 Piece Lock Pick SetThis set includes a standard hook, a snake rake, and a small half-diamond. These 3 picks are really all you need.

Master Lock No. 3

These are the perfect beginner locks and only include four standard pins. They provide a very strong feedback while picking, which will really help newcomers develop that sense of feel.

Let us compare it to learning math… Yeah, I know, yuck! However, if you practice the same problem over and over again, you will eventually just memorize that problem and won’t truly learn anything. But by continuing to solve different problems, patterns emerge and you begin to learn.Every skill gets progressively more expensive as you progress — lock picking is no exception. Every lock is unique and each must be picked in its own particular way. However, once you learn the sequence in which that lock can be picked, it ceases to be a challenge — and the challenge is what most hones our skills.

So to progress in the craft of lock picking, we must pick everything we can get our hands on and never spend too much time picking the same lock over and over again. Once you have picked a particular lock a few times, it’s time to move on.

This is where lock picking can meet the less desired side of our wallets. However, there are a few known ways of getting around buying a ton of new locks such as:

  1. Buying a lock with a re-keyable core. This allows you to re-pin the lock and make it a brand new challenge. But the best part about these locks is that you can remove or add pins to match your skill. This is also a fantastic way to learn how to pick security pins
  2. Buying wholesale online. Quite often you can find auctions online in places such as Ebay that are selling off a huge number of lock cores for the price you would pay for one decent padlock.
  3. Visit a local locksmith. Locksmiths have TONS of old and out of use locks sitting around in which they will more than likely part with willingly.

With a little innovation, you can always stretch your dollar far.

An important not on buying lock picks:

First and foremost: Do NOT buy a cheap lock picking set from Amazon or similar sites! These sets are made of cheap malleable metal that you will end up throwing away very quickly. A quality set will cost you around the same amount and will serve you much better in regards to developing your skills.

You also don’t need a fancy nor huge set of lock picks to begin, or even master, this craft. Truly, you only need two picks — a hook pick and rake pick. About every starter kit includes at least one of each of these two styles of picks. So save your wallet and start small; invest in locks.

To Conclude

So as we can see, lock picking truly isn’t as ugly as most think and those little tiny unknowns that deter so many people are nothing to be feared.

Lock picking is exceptionally easy, inexpensive, and — which the exception of a couple governing regulations in a few locations — totally legal and ethical to learn.

There’s no other thrill similar to that of the subtle click that occurs when you successfully pick a lock. This unique thrill — this burst of excitement — is something you will never go numb to. Every success is just like the first.

So check out the guides in our Academy and take that first step on your journey today!

Also be sure to throw us comment bellow! We love to hear what you guys think and any other questions you might have!

Happy Picking!