Lock Picks

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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To most people, lock picks aren't formal tools; they're paper clips, coat hangers, bobby pins, and a smattering of other household items. That's because most people's concept of lock picking has been shaped by countless movies and TV shows depicting detectives and burglars defeating locks with ease. While it's true that lock picking is easy for a skilled pro, it's unlikely that thieves and other criminals would rely on any entry technique more elaborate than brute force.

So who exactly uses lock picks? Well, professional locksmiths, obviously. But safecrackers, private eyes, law enforcement officers, security workers, and property managers all have legitimate reasons to pick locks as well. And anyone who's ever been locked out of his or her own house, office, or car also has sufficient reason to undertake the art, which is exactly what lock picking is.

The Art of Lock Picking

The artistry in lock picking involves the "feel" of a given lock and the tools used to defeat it. A successful lock picker must be able to identify the type of lock in question, choose the most suitable pick and tension wrench, work in the cramped space of a keyway, and detect subtle changes in spring pressure and pin resistance. What's more, he or she must listen for virtually inaudible sounds such as pin clicks, even when surrounded by ambient noise.

Why then would anyone choose a career in lock picking? Well, for one, it can be a lucrative career. Hacks notwithstanding, most locksmiths are highly skilled technicians and, in some respects, scholars. Staying in business requires locksmiths to stay abreast of new security technology, picking techniques, as well as the business climate. Not only must you know how to pick locks quickly and cleanly, you must keep an eye on your competitors' services and rates so you're not driven from the market.

How Lock Picks Work

As you might suspect, the world of lock picks is an extensive one. There are dozens of different locks to contend with, including tubular locks, pin-tumbler locks, padlocks, combination locks, and wafer-tumbler locks. Fittingly, then, there are also dozens of lock picks to master, such as rakes, half diamonds, half rounds, and snakes. Before you can set up shop as a professional locksmith, you should understand the differences between each of these mechanisms and tools. To do so, however, requires starting with the basics.

At the most rudimentary level, all locks are devices that somehow bind a dynamic surface to a static one. Doing so prevents those without the right keys from pushing the binding element--usually some kind of pin system--into alignment. Those who do possess the proper key can engage this system by raising, dropping, or turning the lock's internal pins or teeth until they're all flush. The reward is entry without jamming, scratching, or breaking the lock.

Learning More about Lock Picks

If you're interested in learning more about locks, lock picks, and other lock picking tools, there are endless sources of information. The famous M.I.T. Manual is one of the first places amateur locksmiths turn for the basics, but there are numerous other resources. Plenty of info exists online either through private companies' web pages or on newsgroups and listservs such as alt.lockpicking. There you'll find tips for novices, intermediate strategies, and even a few advanced techniques (not to mention places to buy lock picks).

Naturally, any discussion of lock picking techniques touches on moral, ethical, and legal issues. If you're searching for information for "unsavory" purposes, know that most lock pickers--professionals anyway--will not willfully assist you. A code does exist among lock pickers, who realize that, like many things, their skills can be used to criminal ends. But lock picking is hardly illegal, nor is carrying lock picking equipment. So if you're looking for additional info for legally sanctioned reasons (such as business) or just for the thrill of puzzle-solving, you'll find plenty of folks willing to share their knowledge.


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