education, entry, lockpicking, locks -

Rift Recon Beginner Series Presents: Picking Locks 101 with Aaron Autrand


Get ready to start yelling at your television.

I’m going to make a guess here. Heist flicks, caper films, con-man stories…you eat them up. Even the bad ones. You’ve fancied yourself a master thief, you just lack some of the required skills (and would like to avoid the inside of a jail cell).

So maybe you aren’t cut out for a life of crime, but that doesn’t mean you won’t eagerly lap up a rerun of Ocean’s 11, or an episode of Leverage, or something else along those lines.

I’m the same way, but this weekend I found myself shaking my head in disgust during a particular scene of a break-in. The scene where they had to pick a lock.

Why was I shaking my head? Because I know how to pick locks, and they were doing it wrong.

I’m just beginning, and I’ve never had to pick a lock in a high-pressure situation, but I know enough to know when a character isn’t using the right tools. Soon, you will too.

Not everyone is a security expert, and everyone started from somewhere. Me, I’m starting from scratch, and I’m inviting you, the reader, along for the ride. You’ll learn as I learn. I’ll point you in the directions of resources, how-to vids, and equipment that you can buy, repurpose, or make yourself. We can share in the triumphs and the frustrations, and hopefully this can serve as your jumping-off place for a brand-new set of skills. So let’s get started.

To start, let’s get our supplies together. I’m using a set of HPC PIP13 Lockpicks from Rift Recon. As for locks, I’ve just got a handful of door locks and padlocks from the bottom of a drawer. If you don’t have any of those, just look for “lock set” on eBay or Craigslist, and pick up a dozen or so. Every lock picks differently, so having more than one set is a definite plus. Pickers who want to see exactly what they are doing can try picking up a clear plastic lock, which allows you to see inside the lock mechanism.


Before you dive in, it’s worth knowing a little bit more about how locks work. For that, I suggest going the same route I did, and looking at a few different resources:

The first is a series of YouTube videos by lockpicker Schuyler Towne. I suggest watching all of them, but if you are really itching to get started, take a look at episode #4. This will explain exactly how locks work.

The second is the LSI Guide to Lock Picking (LSI stands for Locksport International). It’s laid out like a comic book, with informative illustrations and a conversational style. When you navigate to page 9, you’ll see why lockpicking works (tension and mechanical tolerances).

Confused? That’s okay. Now that we have a little bit of information under our belts, it’s time to pick up your tools.

Before we get started with picking the lock, let’s figure out how many pins are in it. It’s ridiculously simple…just grab any flat tool (I usually use the diamond pick) and insert it into the keyway. Push up, all the way to the top, and then hold the lock up to your ear. Making sure the pick stays flat, slowly slide it out of the lock. 

Hear that click? That’s a pin dropping into place. Count the clicks, and you’ve counted the pins. Three clicks? Three pins. Five clicks? Five pins. One click? You get the picture. 

Test out all your locks. Find the lock with the least number of pins, and let’s get started!

The first tool you’ll need is a tension tool, which looks like this:


This tool puts tension on the lock, simulating the turn of the key. I like to put my tension tool at the base of the keyhole, and then, while holding the lock in the webbing between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand (I’m right-handed), I put a little bit of pressure on the shaft of the tension tool with my finger tip. The pressure on the tension tool will cause one of the pins in the lock to bind. This is great.

Now, grab your pick. To begin with, I prefer the diamond-tipped pick, because I feel like it offers a little bit more control. Insert it in the keyhole just above the tension tool, and gently tap up. You should feel the pins bounce a little bit (they are spring-loaded, after all). As you test the pins, you should feel one that doesn’t bounce quite as easily as the rest. That’s your binding pin. Tap up on it gently, and as it pushes the driver pin above the shear line, you’ll feel the lock spin just a hair.

One pin down, just a few more to go!

Once you’ve gotten one pin in place, feel around for the next binding pin. Repeat the process from the previous paragraph, and one-by-one you’ll slowly move all the driver pins up above the shear line. When the last one clicks into place, the lock will spin a significant amount, and voilà! You’ve just picked your first lock!

At the beginning, it will be a lot harder and more frustrating than it looks / sounds. But keep at it, and soon you’ll be ready to move on to some more advanced techniques. We’ll talk about those next time!

- Aaron Autrand is a trainee at Rift Recon. He is a novice lockpicker who is just trying to stay one step ahead.