As you begin learning to pick you’ll invariably depend on one technique over another. Some prefer raking everything, and that’s OK. Others become Single Pin Picking (SPP) purists, and that’s OK too. However, the best lock pickers use a variety of different techniques that varies based on their knowledge of the lock, the feedback they receive, and how the lock is reacting to their attack. Successful pickers often combine several attacks against a new lock. For example, world’s best pickers compete annually at the Toool convention to win the title of the world’s fastest picker. In almost every case, they have a repertoire that goes something like this: Find the best place to tension the lock, rake it – hopefully to a false set and finish it off by SPPing. There are as many techniques as there are competitors and its worth exploring. For example, how do they know what kind of tensioner to use? Which rake, and how do they use it (fast, slow, up and down, a combination)? What kind of SPP tool and how to they apply it (feel, random, sliding in and out)? Those are the refined techniques learned through experience and trial and error, but it helps to know what they are before you see it for the first time. Over time you’ll develop your own preferences on what feels and works best for you and begin bombarding locks with your own techniques, or you can use ALL of them in sequential attacks as in this example video: .
Tensioning is arguably one of the most important choices you can make. You basically have two choices; Bottom-of-the-Keyway (BOK) and Top-of-the-Keyway (TOK), and you can see all of them on the “Tensioners” page. There’s no right answer and neither position works in all locks 100% of the time. Your choice will depend on what the keyway looks like and where you’ll be working from within it. Keyways that are open and with very little warding are rare, so analyzing the keyway dictates where your tension wrench should go. Most of us begin with BOK, because beginner locks have big, fat keyways with no warding. We could drive a car in there and still have plenty of room to work with our picks. Most keyways are slim or paracentric or have warding designed to block our picks. Jamming a tension wrench into our restricted working space limits our options. We either have no room to work, or the keyway is too “short” to allow entry of a medium or deep hook, which is inevitably needed.
BOK is the most common type of tension wrenches that come with beginner pick sets. These are traditionally made from the stainless steel inserts found in almost all automobile windshield wipers and come in three different widths. Your width choice depends solely on finding the one that does not bind the core against the body of the lock. BOK works nicely on keyways that have warding in the middle, effectively compartmenting the tensioner at the bottom and the picking tool on top. Kwikset and Schlage are excellent candidates for BOK tensioning. Another nice thing about BOK is the fulcrum effect. BOK tensioners are generally longer than TOK tools and the added length makes it easier to feel and see any feedback from the core, particularly counter-rotation experienced with spools.
TOK tensioners are a bit more difficult to use and get accustomed to, but are often the best way to tension locks with tight keyways. They are ideal for most high security locks that contain extreme bitting because they allow you to use the entire height of the keyway. With no tensioner obstructing the bottom of the keyway you have more room to fit the tallest hook possible. These tensioners take a variety of shapes, from the traditional Peterson Pry Bar to modified BOK wrenches. The pry bars come in thicknesses ranging from 0.018” up to 0.050” and are available in serrated and non-serrated versions. While awkward to learn to use, TOK will quickly become your default tensioning style because of its flexibility.
For more information about tensioners, see: .
Specialized and Custom Tensioners
There are many other types of tensioners, ranging from the spring-loaded “feather touch” to odd circular tensioners. These are too specialized to discuss here and are hardly worth our time since they are mostly gimmicks and crap.
Raking is the single most powerful technique in your arsenal. About 70% of the locks you attack will open after 15-20 seconds of raking. Those that don’t usually give up a false set that tells you the lock contains spools, allowing you to directly attack them with a hook. The most successful rakers use one of two techniques: The first type applies very light tension on the core and gently moves the rake in and out along the pins, hoping to set the pins. The second is appears a bit more frantic, applying medium tension and wildly jabs the rake into the pins at rapidly changing angles and speeds. This technique was made famous by Raimundo, the inventor of the famous Bogota pick set. .
Rocking is another very effective technique on locks that don’t contain security pins. You can use a standard hook held upside down, or the L-rake, commonly called the City rake. Insert the rake and position it under the pins. Apply light tension and rock the pick handle vertically, causing the pick to act like a rocking chair on the pins. With proper tension you can rock open a lock in seconds. .
Fast zipping is a kinetic attack using a medium hook or W-Rake. The fast zip works well on locks with standard pins and weak springs. To execute: Insert the tool into the back of the keyway, apply very light tension to the core, and rapidly jerk the pick out of the lock, allowing it to strike the pins on the way out. It’ll make a zipping sound (which is why I started calling it that). The kinetic energy transferred to the pins causes them to bounce up against the spring tension and, hopefully, stop at the shear line. After jerking the pick out, hold your tension on the core while re-inserting the tool to do it again and again. This technique rarely works on the first jerk but normally takes 2-3 “zips” to open the lock. .
Slow zipping is the follow-on attack if the fast zip doesn’t work. It works exactly like the fast zip but can also defeat locks containing stronger springs. You can use either the W-Rake or medium hook, but I found the hook works best. To slow zip insert the tool to the back of the keyway, apply medium tension, gently press against the pins with the tool and slowly extract it. It’ll make a slow zipping sound and, like the fast zip, take 2-3 zips to open the lock. If you apply too much tension or get too aggressive with the upward pressure on the pick, you’ll over set the pins.
Bitch picking is a name I came up with because its abusive to the lock, has absolutely no respect for the pins, and roughly manhandles the core. It’s an ugly, disrespectful way to treat a lock. But…it works REALLY well on Best Brand locks. I try to use a 0.025” thick medium hook and BOK tension because the attack is quite violent and TOK would get knocked out. Insert the pick into the back of the keyway, apply very heavy tension, then randomly slam the pick into the pins while moving up and down the row of pins. There’s a balance between tension and picking, but you’ll quickly get the feel for it. .
Oversetting & Release
Oversetting and release is a counter-intuitive technique using the back of a pick to push all the pins up as high as they will go, then apply medium to heavy tension to hold them all in place. While holding them up there, slide in a standard hook and perform the slow zip along either the right or left side of the keyway while releasing the tension on the core incrementally between zips. Your goal is to slightly rotate the pins to find their worn part, where the pin will fall to the shear line and stop. This works well on older locks, particularly Yale padlocks that contain no security pins. As you slow zip the pins they’ll often self-pick and suddenly the core springs open..
Single Pin Picking (SPP)
SPP is the skill requiring the most practice. It’s also the only technique that lets you beat security pins reliably. Learning SPPing can be intimidating, but once you master it you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. SPP is usually accomplished with one of the hooks, or a half diamond pick. Placement on the pins must be very precise, as picking two pins at once gives you false feedback and usually results in something getting over-set. If you want to consistently defeat high security locks containing anti-picking pins, you’ll have to learn how to SPP. .