Every new picker wants the biggest, baddest kit available. One company even sells kits with sixty-five different picks! WOW! I wouldn’t know what to do with that many picks and you probably wouldn’t either. It’s a scam, plain and simple. You don’t need to put a second mortgage on your house to get a high quality pick set that’ll get you through the lock picking course and well on your way to becoming an advanced picker. Let’s take a few minutes to go over what you DO need and discuss what the picks are for.
The first consideration is where you live. If you live in Europe, you’ll need picks that are no more than 0.020” (0.50mm) thick. This is because the locks in Europe have thinner keyways and are more paracentric, or curvy. If you choose a pick thicker than that you’ll have trouble fitting it into the keyways and navigating around the tighter warding found in European locks. This will limit your choices of kits considerably. For some reason, most pick kits aren’t offered in this thickness so you’ll have to look around a bit.
If you live in North America you can get away with thicker picks, up to 0.030” (0.76mm). Most picks are offered in 0.025” (0.64mm), so you’ll have no problem finding a good pick set.
I know everyone likes a bargain and wants to save money, myself included, but PLEASE don’t buy your first set of picks from Amazon! They are cheap for a reason, believe me. Those cheap pick sets are poorly manufactured from low quality steel, oversized, and are not durable. If you buy one of those sets you’ll be buying another set soon, because they will bend and break quickly. I urge you to read through the section on Tool Quality before going shopping. Start off your new hobby right and spend a few dollars more to get yourself some quality tools that will perform well and last a long time.
So, do you need 65 picks? No. You’ll need no more than 6-7 to get you to the advanced level. Beyond the advanced level you’ll need some specialized picks, but to pick most common locks 6-7 will be enough.
Short Hook: You’ll need a “short hook”, sometimes called a “standard hook”. When you start picking locks you’ll become infatuated with raking everything open because it is fun and easy. After a while though, you’ll find that raking doesn’t always work because some locks either have wide variations in their bitting (the cuts on the key are shallow, deep, shallow) or the lock contains security pins. Locks with these features are very difficult to rake open, so you’ll need another technique called Single Pin Picking (SPP). With SPP you’ll pick one pin at a time using your short hook. It will require some practice to master, but once you develop a feel for using it you’ll find the short hook is your new best friend because he can get you into ANY kind of lock, regardless of bitting or security pins. In fact, the hook is the only pick that can overcome wild bitting and security pins, which are the basis for almost all high security locks. Fortunately, the short hook is part of every lock pick kit that I know of.
Medium Hook: A medium hook has a slightly longer tip than the short hook, allowing it to reach a bit higher into the keyway without touching other pins. A lock that has a short pin behind a very low pin (or two or three) may be difficult to reach with your short hook without touching (and over-setting) the low pins. Many people call these low cut pins “guards”, because they sort of protect that high cut one, blocking your access to it. In order to pick that short pin you’ll need a hook with a slightly deeper curve that can reach that high pin without over setting the “guards”. That is where your medium hook comes into play.
Rakes: When assembling your kit be sure to include some rakes because they are absolutely the fastest possible way to get into many locks. Rakes usually have a curved portion that you’ll slide along the pins to “help” them reach their shear line. There are many theories about rakes and most people have strong preferences, swearing that one works better than all the others, but I’m not of that school. My feeling is that the pins could care less about the rake’s popularity or how many humps or undulations it has on it. All the pins know is that they are being raised while the right amount of tension is on the core, allowing them to reach the shear line one at a time until the lock opens. Still, I think it’s a good idea to have a few different rakes with different slopes and attack angles. I am partial to the Bogota, the Sparrows Worm, and an S-Rake, commonly called the “Snake” Rake.
“Rocker” Rake: While not a true rake this tool works a bit differently than your other rakes. The most common is the L-Rake, or “City Rake”, called that because the profile looks like the outline of a city from a distance. Instead of sliding the L-Rake in and out of the keyway to set the pins you insert the pick all the way to the back of the keyway, then apply light tension on the core while gently rocking the pick up and down in a seesaw-like motion. This will work the pins to the shear line and is especially useful when the lock has high cut pins in the front and back of the pins, with a “guard”, or low cut pin in the center. Rocking can be very fast against locks bitted like that, usually working within a few seconds.
“Zipping” Rake: The W-Rake is another tool that is inappropriately referred to as a rake, probably because it is similar in appearance to other rakes but with slopes at a much sharper angle. The W-Rake is used to kinetically attack a lock and is based on instant transfer of energy from the pick to the pin. That energy is enough to overcome the spring tension on the pin and raise it to the shear line in one or two strokes with the pick. To use the W-Rake insert it to the back of the keyway, apply very light tension to the core, and jerk the W-Rake out very quickly. It will make a zipping sound as it bounces the pins to the shear line. If the lock doesn’t open on the first try, hold on to the tension so none of the set pins fall down, and zip it again and again. The W-Rake is VERY effective at opening locks containing standard pins.
Half Diamond: The half diamond is one of those multi-purpose tools the people either love or hate, so I include it so you can make up your own mind. The half diamond can be used as a substitute for the short hook, as a rake, a kinetic attack tool, or to pick simple dimple locks. One of the best lock pickers in the world, Schuyler Towne, is rumored to use the diamond almost exclusively to pick high security locks – using it to rake a lock into a false set, then using it to SPP the remaining pins. No wasted time to change out picks from a rake to a hook! Anyway, try the half diamond and make your own decision. If you ultimately decide you don’t care for it, dump it from your kit.
The six or seven picks that you’ll need to progress from noob to the advanced level. This also holds true for those of you that like to pick high security locks or very paracentric keyways. If you are looking for an all-encompassing kit that includes everything to start, take a look at the Sparrows Tuxedo set – all in a really tough set that I have carried for years. For less than $40, it is the bargain of the decade and if you jump to 3:20 in my video 776 you can get see my full review.
An important note though: if you live in Europe please make sure your picks thickness (or gage) is 0.015″-0.018″. If you find yourself in that situation, take a look at the Sparrows Tuxedo Royal or Dangerfeild Praxis .
You’ll also need some Bottom Of the Keyway (BOK) tension wrenches but these are easy because there isn’t a lot of innovation involved. There are three thicknesses of tension wrenches (0.10”, 0.14”, and 0.20”) to fit into different keyways. Some guys just have one tension wrench in the 0.20” and taper the end so it will fit into all the different keyways. I’m not a fan of that because the pick ends up not fitting any of the keyways very well and you’ll lose tension at the worst possible moment. You can get the L-shaped tensioners in various lengths (it really doesn’t matter performance-wise, just make sure it fits your hand). Some have a twist so the flat part is comfortable against your finger, while others do not. The performance is identical and it’s simply a matter of personal preference – try them both, they only cost about $1 each. You could also make them from windshield wiper inserts for free. The second type of tensioner is the Top Of the Keyway or Flat bars(TOK) type. Some beginner kits come with these but I don’t consider them to be a good tensioner for beginners for two reasons; they are awkward for new pickers to coordinate, and the locks you’ll be using to learn on don’t require them. Remove a variable from your learning and focus on using the basic BOK set until you get a little experience under your belt – say a month or two, then you’ll be ready to try out TOK.
The last thing I’d like you to consider may seem like aesthetics, but it actually purely functional. Your picks were mass produced and have manufacturing artifacts such as sharp angles, jagged edges caused by the laser cutter, sheared edges, slag, misshapen tips, and rough finish. All of these will give you feedback as you slide the pick up and down the keyway, disguising actual feedback from the pins and muffling true feedback. It’s like trying to listen to music with a lot of loud machinery operating nearby – possible but not optimal. By taking a few minutes to clean up each pick you’ll improve the quality and quantity of feedback that you get, as well as accelerate your rate of learning. Here’s a video on how to clean up your picks:
OK, you’re well on your way and you’ve only been at it for a short while. You know more now than I did after my first year of foundering around learning everything by trial and error. The next step is the Lock Picking Course!