Get your scoundrel glands pumping, your Rogue Advisor is here to put you back on the crooked and dodgy.
You’ve done it a million times in RPGs: The adventuring party’s rogue has hidden in shadows and moved silently past the guards, somehow managed to evade and / or disarm any traps on route, approaches a door and gives a cursory look around before deftly picking the lock. A skill that only works in pure fantasy.
Or is it?
That’s correct, beloved reader, today your Rogue Advisor will teach you the basics of the fine art of lock picking. Yay. Before we go any further, I must mention the legalities: It’s naughty. Look out for the law. This article is for knowledge only, or if you find yourself locked out of your own house.
How do locks work?
First we focus on our target. As 5 – 6 pin tumbler locks are the most common, we’ll cover them, giving you free entry to all but the most stubborn places. The big secret of lock picking is that it’s easy, you’re simply exploiting the mechanical defects inherent in any manufactured product.
The pin tumbler lock consists of a cylinder that can rotate within its housing. When locked, the cylinder is kept in place by several pairs of pins. The top pin of each pair protrudes into both the cylinder and the housing, thus preventing the cylinder from turning. When a key with the correct shaped ‘teeth’ is inserted, it pushes the pairs of pins up so that the top pins no longer enter the cylinder. When this happens, the cylinder can be turned and the lock will open. Simple.
Tools of the nefarious trade
That is what a professional basic set of lock picks look like. They are surprisingly easy to purchase. But your ever considerate Rogue Advisor would never expect you to go and spend your hard-earned money in such a manner.
So here’s how to pick locks Hollywood spy thriller style
You’ll need 3 large paperclips and pliers.
Get to work on 2 of the paperclips with the pliers and bend them thus:
Getting down to business
1. Place the turning ‘wrench’ in the bottom of the key way, and apply pressure in a clockwise direction.
2. On most locks you’ll be able to cheat a bit here: Stick the ‘rake’ in the lock up the top of the key way and thrust it rapidly back and forth against the pins. This will make the pins ‘jump’, most if not all of them will eventually go up into their housings and out of the cylinder’s way allowing it to turn. Remember to keep the pressure going clockwise on that turning ‘wrench’. Unfortunately, cheating like this is noisy. If you want to be true to the ways of espionage then you’ll want to skip to step 3.
3. Moving the pins one by one: If locks were perfect, we wouldn’t be able to pick them. We would apply pressure with our turning ‘wrench’ and every pin would bind at once. When we lift up on one of them, all of the other pins would hold the cylinder in place, and the pin we lifted would fall right back down again. In reality, locks are riddled with tiny manufacturing defects, usually minor enough that we wouldn’t notice them with the naked eye, but each difference injects vulnerability into the lock. Perhaps the pin chambers aren’t drilled in a perfectly straight line, or some of them are slightly larger or smaller than the others. Maybe the pins aren’t perfectly de-burred or have simply worn unevenly from regular use.
This isn’t like what you see in the movies. You can’t just jiggle the lock pick around for a couple of seconds and it pops open. This step requires a little patience and a bit of DEX.
When we take those aberrations into account, and apply our turning pressure again, we’ll find that one pin binds before all of the others.
Your job is to find that first, most defective pin.
With tension applied, insert your pick into the lock and lift up a pin. If you feel it springing right back down at you, that is not your binding pin. Move on to the next pin. When you feel a pin resist you, carefully lever it up until you feel it stop. Once that pin has reached the shear line — and I cannot overstate this — the cylinder will rotate, just a little bit, nearly imperceptibly. When the cylinder turns, the next defective pin will bind, and the driver pin you’ve just set above the shear line will sit on the shoulder of the cylinder that has turned beneath it. Simply repeat for each pin until you feel the cylinder give up all resistance and turn. Remember to keep pressure on the turning ‘wrench’ the whole time.
Until next time. Stay informed.