Lock Picking Resources for Investigators


What is Lock Picking?

Lock picking is an art. Some locks are easy to pick, while others need a lot of skill, special tools, and techniques. If you intend to become an expert locksmith, it is crucial to know different kinds of equipment and be able to work with them. You must know the companies that make the most commonly used locks and see how they design them. Only then will you be able to have the right tools and be in a position to pick locks on the go.

Lock Types and Mechanisms

Lock-picking proficiency begins with a fundamental understanding of the various lock types and their mechanisms. For private investigators, this knowledge is crucial for evaluating the complexity and vulnerabilities of locks encountered during investigations.

Pin Tumbler

The pin tumbler lock is the most common type of lock. These locks consist of pins that must align at the shear line to allow the lock to turn. Private investigators should familiarize themselves with the components of pin tumbler locks, including driver pins, key pins, and the plug. Understanding how these elements interact during lock picking is essential for successful entry.

Wafer Lock

Another common lock type is the wafer lock, often found in simple file cabinets and automobile doors. Unlike pin tumbler locks, wafer locks use flat wafers that must align at the shear line for the lock to open. Investigators must know the differences in picking techniques between pin tumblers and wafer locks to adapt to various scenarios effectively.

Tubular Lock

Tubular locks, also known as radial locks, are cylindrical in shape and feature pins arranged in a circular pattern. These locks are often found in vending machines, bike locks, and electronic devices. Learning the unique techniques required to pick tubular locks is essential for investigators who may come across them during work.

Beyond the basic lock types, private investigators may encounter advanced security systems such as disc-detainer locks, dimple locks, and magnetic locks. Disc-detainer locks use rotating discs instead of traditional pins, while dimple locks feature angled keyways with dimple-like indentations. Magnetic locks, conversely, rely on an electromagnetic force to secure the lock. Familiarizing oneself with these advanced lock types and their specific mechanisms allows investigators to accurately assess their complexity and potential weaknesses.

Understanding the different lock types and their mechanisms is the foundation for any private investigator’s lock-picking skills. Each lock presents unique challenges, and knowledge of their workings is essential for efficient and ethical lock picking during investigations. By gaining proficiency in identifying and comprehending various lock types, private investigators can better assess security vulnerabilities and make informed decisions about the most appropriate methods to access information or evidence while respecting legal and ethical considerations.

Commonly used lock-picking techniques

Different kinds of locks will need various tools and techniques to unlock them. Here are some of the most common methods locksmiths use to open doors, rooms, safes, and storage containers.

  • Raking or scrubbing is usually used to get started with picking a lock. In this technique, you use a torque wrench to apply torque to the cylinder and push individual pins upwards using a lock pick. The tool should ideally be wide-tipped so that you can push all the pins up in one go.
  • A vibration pick or gun is used mainly by law enforcers for quick picking of locks. When struck along with light use of force on the cylinder, it pushes all the pins up to the top of the well. If you get your timing right, this creates a temporary space to pry the lock.
  • Bumping makes use of specially designed bump keys. These keys are designed slightly differently from the manufacturer’s, with the cuts marginally lower and the piece of metal removed from the shoulder of the key. Striking the bump key hard creates an impact similar to using a vibrator pick, which separates the pins temporarily, creating a space to unlock.

Tubular and combination locks may require other specialized techniques, depending on how well they are built. If poorly built, they can be picked using a padlock shim. Specialized locks will require you to improvise on the spot, which is only possible if you are good at what you do.

Commonly Use Tools and Equipment

You will need different tools to pick different kinds of locks. However, some fundamental tools are necessary to start the process of picking. Here is a list of some of the most common tools required for opening the most common locks-

  • Lock picks for the single ball, double ball, small and large diamond, long and short hook, and C and S rake.
  • Torque wrench or tension wrench
  • Padlock shims for the single latch and spring-operated latch padlocks
  • Broken key extractor
  • Slim Jim for car door locks

Lock picking is a skill that improves only with practice, no matter how much you may read or know about picking locks. So get some common locks of different kinds and start practicing your skills on them so you can become an expert locksmith.

Lock Picking Books

Have you ever wondered how to pick a lock?  It looks so simple on TV and in the movies.  Someone walks up to a door, slips in a unique tool (sometimes even a simple credit card), and the door miraculously opens.  It may not be as easy as it looks, but you, too, can learn the tricks for bypassing secure doors with these helpful books and reference guides. These “how-to” lock-picking reference books will explain the following:

  • How different types of mechanisms and keys are designed, and how to understand the type you are dealing with
  • The tools that private investigators and police use to gain access to a secured door
  • How to pick a door like a pro using essential tools
  • How to pick a combination
  • How to pick a tubular device
  • Learn techniques such as shimming, bumping, and bypassing
  • Where to buy the equipment that is necessary to perform the job

Although it is unlawful to do so in most circumstances, private detectives may find themselves in situations where breaking into a particular location may be necessary. While picking up all necessary skills simply from reading is difficult, books will help you understand the basics.

Following is a list of best-selling books and reference manuals on the subject, available from Amazon.com:

Visual Guide to Lock Picking (Third Edition) by Mark McCloud, Gonzalez de Santos (2007) Perfect Paperback
The definitive guide for learning the art of lock breaking includes graphical illustrations of how it is done. This guide explains the many types of latches and gives step-by-step instructions to circumvent their protective features. Having visual images makes understanding the process much easier. This book is great for private investigators, security personnel, and locksmiths.
Practical Lock Picking: A Physical Penetration Tester’s Training Guide
An instruction manual geared toward penetration testers and information security professionals who test the ease or difficulty of breaking latches or bolts. The book includes detailed diagrams and easy-to-follow instructions. It discusses techniques used by professionals, such as shimming, bumping, and bypassing. Includes a helpful DVD with videos and color images. In addition, the appendix explains the tools that are available to support your needs.
Lock Picking for Complete Beginners & Intermediates: Complete Visual Guide to Lock Picking for Beginners and Intermediates For 2020 and Beyond
  • Prince, Charles (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 93 Pages – 11/02/2020 (Publication Date) – Independently published (Publisher)

Additional Resources

The following are the recommended tools and resources for picking locks.

  • How Lock Picking Works – An explanation of how lock-picking works from HowStuffWorks.com
  • Guide to Lock Picking
  • Lock Picking 101
  • Secrets of Lock Picking – This book reveals the tricks and tools for bypassing key and combination locks with pin tumblers, mushroom and spin, warded, tubular cylinders, magnetic padlocks, and car doors.

View other reference books for private investigators.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including eInvestigator.com. Michael created eInvestigator.com more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at Amazon.com.


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