An Introduction to Lock Picking: How to Pick Pin Tumbler Locks

Back in October I had the pleasure of attending the ITS Tactical Muster, during which I learned several awesome manly skills. My favorite tutorial was on lock picking.

Going into the lock picking session at the Muster, I assumed that it would be really hard to do and would take hours of practice to figure out. Yet within two minutes of getting a set of picks in my hand, I had successfully picked my first lock.

Since coming home from the Muster, I’ve been regularly practicing my lock picking skills, and from time to time I’ll be offering a primer on how to pick various locks. We’ll start by taking a look at the most common lock used on front doors across the world: the pin tumbler lock. But let’s begin by discussing why you might want to learn the art of lock picking in the first place, as well as the legal issues involved with this great hobby.

Why You Should Learn How to Pick Locks (Even If You’re Not a Criminal)

Some of you might be thinking, “Brett, why should I learn how to pick a lock if I don’t plan on breaking into people’s homes?”

Great question.

There are a few good reasons why law-abiding citizens should learn how to pick a lock:

Lock picking opens your eyes to the “illusion of security.” We all lock our doors to keep our loved ones safe at night and to secure our possessions during the day. After I picked my first lock within two minutes of learning how to do it, I realized that locks don’t really do much except provide the illusion of security. Locks make us feel safe, but if someone really wanted to get in your house,they could easily pick the lock on your front door. If they didn’t know how to do that, they could find another way in. You can’t just rely on a lock to keep you and your family safe. You need to utilize other tools and tactics and create multiple layers of security.

Realizing how little locks actually keep you and your stuff safe was both terrifying and surprisingly heartwarming. Terrifying because I saw that someone could easily enter my house and walk off with a crap-load of stuff without having to break a window; heartwarming because seeing how easy it is to pick a lock and yet how rarely people get burgled, made me realize that most people don’t break into homes because, well, most people are good people.

It makes you handy. If you’ve ever been locked out of your house or car, you know how annoying it is to be standing there like a chump, waiting for someone to show up with a key or a professional locksmith to arrive. Wouldn’t you love to be able to jimmy your way in yourself? Not only can this skill save you a lot of time and money, being able to solve a problem like that on your own is pretty dang satisfying. Plus, you can help out all your friends when they get locked out too.

Knowing how to pick a lock may even help you save a life one day. ITS Tactical has highlighted a few instances in which someone picked their way into an older parent’s home because they weren’t answering the phone, only to find their parent collapsed on the floor. Could they have kicked the door down or broken a window? Sure. But picking a lock just takes a few seconds and doesn’t leave any damage. So why wouldn’t you do that if you could?

It’s cool and fun! There’s simply a “cool” factor of knowing how to pick a lock. Of all the Jason Bourne-esque skills every man wishes he had, it’s one of the most attainable. The idea that I can surreptitiously enter most doors without a key makes me feel all-powerful, like some sort of super ninja-spy.

It’s also a fun little hobby and something I like to do when I’m taking breaks from work or hanging out with the kids while they do their kid thing on the carpet. If you get really into lock picking, you can actually go to events and contests to test your skills against other lock pickers.

The Legality of Lock Picking

There’s a common misconception that the only people who can legally own lock picking tools are first responders or licensed locksmiths. The reality is that in most states, as long as you’re not trying to illegally enter someone’s home with your lock pick set, you can legally own, carry, and use lock picking tools.

There are, however, some states that have laws that make owning lock picking tools prima facie evidence of criminal intent. If you’re caught with picks in these states and you want to avoid criminal charges, you have to prove that you didn’t plan on committing a crime.

Long story short: owning lock picking tools and learning how to pick locks is perfectly legal and ethical as long as you do so without nefarious intent. Just be a decent human being. For a summary of lock picking laws across the country, see here.

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