How to Pick a Pin and Tumbler Lock

Lock picking is not recommended as it can cause damage to your locks, and requires a great deal of patience and skill. A professional locksmith will have a range of specialized tools to allow them to gain entry in a short space of time, and with the minimum amount of damage to your hardware. Before you attempt to pick a lock, it is sensible to weigh up the cost of replacing the hardware as opposed to the cost of the call out fee.

The method described below can be used for opening basic pin and tumbler locks in common use at residential properties. However, it is not advisable to attempt to pick more complicated door locks, which usually require the assistance of a specialist.

What is a pin and tumbler lock?

Before you attempt to pick the lock, it’s important to understand the basic principles of how the lock works.
Common pin and tumbler locks contain a cylinder that rotates within its housing. When the door is locked, the cylinder is unable to rotate as it is held in place by several pairs of pins (there are usually six pairs, consisting of a top and bottom pin.)
The top pin of each pair extends into both the cylinder and the housing, preventing it from moving and keeping the door locked. When the correct key is inserted, it pushes the pins upwards, so that the top pin is no longer in the cylinder, allowing the lock to turn and the door to open. Springs provide resistance to hold the top pins in place.

Picking the lock:

To pick a pin and tumbler lock you will need some basic lock picking tools. Lock picking kits can be bought quite cheaply online. Amateur kits for hobbyists usually consist of five basic picks and a tension wrench.

  • Place the tension wrench into the lower portion of the keyhole, and determine which way the lock will turn. When you turn the cylinder the right way, there should be a little give.
  • Using a gentle twisting motion, use the tension wrench to hold the cylinder in place while you feel for the pins.
  • Insert the pick into the upper part of the keyhole and press upwards to feel for the individual pins. Identify the most difficult pin to push up, and attempt to dislodge this one first.
  • Press the stubborn pin with just enough pressure to overcome the downward pressure of the spring. Continue to push on the upper pin until it is completely out of the cylinder. You will know when this happens as the lower pin will drop out, and you should hear a clicking sound. By applying the right amount of torque, the upper pin should rest on top of the cylinder and not fall back down. This part requires some skill.