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Lock Picking
  Locksmithing FAQ
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This FAQ does not attempt to teach you locksmithing, just to answer simple questions, give you some hints on getting started, and point you to sources of information. Also included is a glossary of common terms. The Appendix covers many supply places, books and tapes.

1.  Where can I get a lock pick set?

Try a locksmith supply house.  Look under "Locksmiths' Equipment & Supplies" in the Yellow Pages.  Your State or the company may have requirements, such as having to prove you are a locksmith or showing a drivers license; call and find out.  Also look for mail order houses in the Appendix.

2.  How can I make my own picks and tension wrenches?

You can file or grind picks out of spring steel.  It is best to use spring steel - sources include hacksaw blades, piano (music) wire, clock springs, streetsweeper bristles (which can be found along the street after the sweeper has passed), etc.  In a pinch safety pin steel, or even a bobby pin (much worse) can be used.  When grinding, keep the steel from getting so hot as to anneal (soften) it.  You may have to re-harden/re-temper it.  (See a book on knife making, gunsmithing, or machine shop practice for a discussion on heat treating steel.)  Some people prefer a rigid tension wrench and just bend a small screwdriver for this, but many prefer a slightly flexible wrench and use spring steel. There are many places you can buy picks and tension wrenches.  See the appendix.

3.  Is it legal to carry lock picks?

This depends on where you are.  In the U.S. the common case seems to be that it is legal to carry potential "burglar tools" such as keys, picks, crowbars, jacks, bricks, etc., but use of such tools to commit a crime is a crime in itself.  Call your local library, district attorney, or police department to be sure.

4.  Where can I get the "MIT Guide to Picking Locks"?

You can't.  The guide must exist in an online form, but no one seems to have it.  Rumor has it that (one of) the author(s) is aware of this group and is unwilling to post the guide. The guide is copyrighted, so scanning it in and posting would, in addition to violating the author's wishes, be illegal.

5. What books can I get on locksmithing?

An excellent encyclopedic reference (based on reading the 1st edition - but people have said that the 2nd and 3rd editions carry on the coverage) The Complete Book of Locks & Locksmithing, 3rd Ed. C.A. Roper and Bill Phillips   TAB Books ISBN 0-8306-3522-X (Paper) 0-8306-?522-1 (Hard) also many people think highly of: Eddie The Wire: How to Make Your Own Professional Lock Tools "Eddie The Wire"      Loompanics Unlimited ISBN 0-685-39143-4 4 Volumes Your local book store should be able to order these for you.  You can find other titles under "Locksmithing" in the Books In Print Subject Index, which any decent bookstore should have. 

6. What are "pick guns" or "automatic pickers" and do they work?

A "pick gun" is a manual or powered device that uses a vibrating pin to try to bounce the pin tumblers so there are spaces at the shear line so the the plug can rotate.  They are not a panacea, aren't always effective, and the net seems to feel that these are no substitute for a little skill with a pick and learning how locks work.

7. How do I open a Kryptonite lock?

Easiest: If you registered your lock, call or write Kryptonite   for a new key.  Or call a local locksmith, they should be able to pick and re-key the lock for you.

Easy:  Get a car jack and jack it apart.  Careful, otherwise it is     very possible that you'll damage the bike. Easy:  Use a cut-off wheel in a Dremel tool to cut the lock at the hole in the shackle (where there is the least to cut.)

Harder: If it doesn't have the newer brass jacket, peel back     the plastic coating on the key end, drill out the pin that holds in the cylinder, remove the cylinder, open.

Hardest: Chill the metal of the "U" with liquid Nitrogen or     Freon, smash with hammer.  While this is a "well known" method, it may be an urban legend.

8.  How can I get keys stamped "DO NOT DUPLICATE" duplicated?

Some locksmiths will take the Nike approach and "Just Do It". Some will even stamp "DO NOT DUPLICATE" on the copy for you. If that doesn't work, label the key by sticking some tape on the "DO NOT DUPLICATE" stamp and try again.

9.  Do Skeleton Keys Exists?

"Skeleton Keys" are keys ground to avoid the wards in warded locks. There is no analog with modern pin tumbler locks.  Master keys may open a large set of locks, but this is designed in when the locks are installed. 

10. Should I bother with high security ("pick proof") locks for my home?

Why not?  If you are installing locks, the better quality ones are not much more expensive, and are physically more secure (e.g., have hardened inserts to protect against drilling.)  However, note that protection against picking doesn't add a large amount to your security since burglars almost always go the brute force route.  Regardless, you should have a deadbolt, and check your window security.

11. What should I do after I read a book?

After some reading, then the next thing is some experience.  Buy a deadbolt lock, and take the entire thing apart (you'll need tools like screwdrivers, and perhaps a pair of pliers) to see how a pin tumbler lock works.  K-Mart carries a clone of the Kwikset which is made to be very easy to take apart. (Key-in-knob locksets are both more expensive and harder to take apart.) You then can practice picking this lock by leaving out all but one stack of pins.  This will be exceedingly easy to pick, and will mostly provide experience in manipulating the pick and tension wrench.  Then put in one more pin stack and try again - feeling when one stack is picked and then the second one will let the cylinder move.  Keep on adding stacks.  Try picking with the curved finger, and also raking.

12. How do I continue learning about locksmithing?

Ther are several things you can do to continue learning more about locks and locksmithing.  One, of course, is to subscribe to a locksmithing magazine.  Some years ago I compared the National Locksmith to the Locksmith Ledger and felt that the latter was a bit better on technical info.  Call yourself a Student Locksmith, or perhaps a Security Consultant (surely you have given some advice to *somebody*!).  But all this reading won't help all that much, so you have to continue buying various types of locks, taking them apart, figuring out everything about them, and installing, removing, modifying them.  Buy some key blanks, make up a master key scheme, and file the keys to fit (assuming you don't have a key machine) - filing may take a few minutes, but it does work.  Maybe buy a re-keying kit (kit of different size pins, with a follower) and do some re-keying for your family or friends (the same size pins fit, I think, the familiar Kwikset and Schlage pin tumbler locks) so that their deadbolts can be opened with their normal front door key.  Or buy a deadbolt installation kit (hole saw plus template - I think that Black and Decker makes a good one, available at better building supply places) and put in a few deadbolts for your family and friends - charging them only for the material plus a couple of bucks towards the installation kit - and re-key the deadbolt for them, too.  Buy a pick set, and use your practice locks to practice picking.  Do you have a good locksmith supply catalog?  If not, give a call to a local supplier. Help people at work who have been locked out of their desks or filing cabinets.  Desks usually have wafer tumbler locks which are *much* easier to pick than pin tumbler locks.  Filing cabinets are not as easy to pick, but are pickable (actually some are very easy to pick - they vary greatly) and also can be opened by pushing a flexible plastic ruler past the sliding drawer - carefully inspect some working cabinets to see what I'm talking about.

13. How do Simplex pushbutton locks work?

They are complicated, and it takes a rather long discussion to cover their operation and how to manipulate them. 

14. What is the "shear line"?

Visualize a door lock - there is a fixed block (the lock body) of metal with a cylindrical hole in it - the axis of this hole is horizontal.  It is filled with a "cylinder", which is the part which turns with your key - and something attached to the rear of the cylinder actuates the latch/bolt when you turn the cylinder. There are some small vertical holes drilled in both the cylinder and the fixed block so they match up - and they are in a straight line which is the same line as the key.  Each hole (pin chamber) is filled with (at least) two pins (small cylindrical pieces of metal) but the pins are of varying length, and there is a spring at the top of the chamber so that the pins are pushed away by the spring.  The bottom pin is short enough so that it will be pushed completely down within the cylinder and the top pin (imagining right now there are just two pins - extra one are only used for master keying) goes from inside the cylinder to inside the fixed block.  Now the cylinder can't turn, because in each pin chamber there will be a pin blocking the "shear" line - the line where the pin chamber would "shear" apart when the cylinder turned. You put your key in - and the different heights on the key are made to "complement" the different lengths of the bottom pin so that all of the bottom pins are raised up just to the "shear line" between the cylinder and the fixed block part of the lock.  Then the key can turn the cylinder around its axis and actuate whatever internal mechanisms are inside.

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