So you guys want to learn how to pick a lock. Well, look no further! This guide brought to you by will cover all the basics of simple pin tumbler lock picking.

What is Lock Picking

For the purpose of this being a beginners guide, we will simply define lock picking as the art of tricking a lock into believing that we are using the appropriate key. We can do this by means of a variety of methods, including the most common methods of lock picks and bump keys.

So basically to trick the lock we must become the key and in order to become the key, we must understand the key.

How a Key Works

Pin tumbler locks are very simple creatures and are essentially made up of six main components.


The Housing: The housing of the lock is basically the outer portion that contains and holds together the functional parts of the lock. The plug is often what is fitted into padlocks or doors.

The Plug: The plug is where we insert the key and is a cylinder that freely rotates inside the shell when not obstructed by the pins. It is typically attached to a cam that engages and disengages the lock when turned.

The Shear Line: The shear line is the physical gap between the outside of the plug and the shell. It is this line that plays one of the greatest roles in lock picking.

Driver Pins: The driver pins are the uppermost set of pins and are the primary reason that a lock remains locked. These pins sit roughly halfway between the plug and the shell. Because of this, the plug will bind on the pins if any rotational force is applied.

Key Pins: The key pins are the bottom set of pins that make contact with the key when it is inserted. The point of these pins are to "read" the bitting of the key and push the driver pins out of the plug.

Springs: The springs force the pins into the plug. Additionally, the springs help the pins "read" the key pushing them agasint it as it enters the plug.

Each key pin is a different length that correlates with the bitting of the correct key. So when this correct key is inserted into the plug, each key pin is pushed up just enough to where the gap between the key pin and driver pin is equal to the shear line. As a result, there is no longer anything restricting the plug from rotating and the lock from unlocking.


This is the premise and goal behind lock picking. To mimic the key by pushing each pin to the shear line so that they no longer restrict the plug from rotating. But say we push these pins to the shear line. What is to keep them from simply falling back into the plug.

This is where we will introduce the first of our two tools, the tension wrench (also known as the torque wrench). The point of this little guy is to do two things. Firstly, it acts as a lever that gives us leverage to place rotational pressure on the lock's plug, just as a key does when we turn it. Secondly, because of manufacturing flaws, this tension allows us to bind the pins and set the pins above the shear line. Let's take a closer look into this second point.

Binding Effect

By design, a lock is flawless and thus unpickable. However, once produced and brought into the realm of reality and physicality, a lock is very flawed.

This is because every lock that is produced has some variation from its original design, a tolerance that we lock pickers exploit. In terms of the pin tumbler lock, we have only to look at the plug.

During manufacturing, holes are drilled into the plug to allow passage of the pins. By design, these holes would be drilled perfectly down the centerline of the plug.


However, because nothing can be absolutely perfect, each hole will have some degree of variation from the centerline of the plug.


Because of this, when we rotation the plug while the pins are still in place, one pin will bind against the plug and shell before the others do. This pin will be whichever hole is drilled furthest from the centerline. We call this pin the "binding pin" and is the single most important thing to understand when lock picking.

If this "binding pin" is pushed flush with the shear line, the plug will slightly turn and bind on the next farthest pin from the centerline. This is called a locks binding order; the order in which pins bind as you push them to the shear line. Every lock has a different binding order that is unique to that lock and will typically always bind in that same order every time. Which means if you learn the binding order of a particular lock, picking it a second time is just a matter of repetition.

Setting Pins

Something else awesome happens once we push our first binding pin the shear line. When the plug slightly rotates, a lip is created that allows the driver pin to sit on while the key pin falls back into the plug. This is called setting a pin.


As you can maybe tell by now, lock picking is simply the art of locating each binding pin and pushing it to the shear line, thus setting it and creating a new binding pin. Once every pin has been set, there is no longer anything blocking the plug from rotating and as a result, the lock will unlock.

Before we move on to an actual picking technique, let's recap the important points.
  1. We pick a lock my mimicking the effects of the key in the lock.
  2. We mimic the key by pushing each pin to the shear line.
  3. We keep each pin at the shear line by applying a torque force to the plug.
  4. When we apply this torque force to the plug, the pins bind.
  5. However, one pin, called the binding pin, will always bind before the others.
  6. We push this binding pin to the shear line, setting the pin and allowing the plug to slightly rotate.
  7. A new binding pin is created and just like the last, must be pushed to the shear line.
  8. Repeat this process until ever driver pin is set and the plug is free to rotate.

Picking the Lock

We covered the purpose of the tension wrench, now let's cover how to use it. How well you use the tension wrench is the single most contributing factor to your success at picking any lock. If too much pressure is applied to the plug, more than one pin will bind and you will have difficulty finding the correct "first" binding pin. However, if you apply too little pressure, the driver pin will not have enough of a lip to sit on and will simply fall back into the plug. How one uses the tension wrench is what separates the novice from the master. With practice, you will develop a feel for the feedback that the tension wrench provides.

So let's beginning our picking. In this guide, we will be covering single pin picking (also known as SPP), which is, as described throughout this guide, the process of pushing each pin to the shear line one at a time. To single pin pick, you will need a tension wrench and a hook pick. These are included in just about any basic lock pick set, which great beginner sets can be found at


STEP 1: Insert the shorter end of your tension wrench into the bottom of the keyway. Apply light, and by light I mean very light, tension to the plug in the direction that it would turn. This is typically clockwise.

STEP 2: Insert your hook pick into the keyway and push it all the way to the back of the lock. Starting from the back and moving forward, probe each pin by pushing it straight up. Gauge the amount of resistance each pin gives as you push it. Remember that you are looking for the first binding pin. This pin will feel stiffer than the rest.

STEP 3: Once you have located the first binding pin, push it up until you feel it click or the plug slightly give. This is a great indication that you have set the first binding pin.

STEP 4: Once again probe the pins and search for the next stiff binding pin. Just like the first pin, push it to the shear line and set it. You should once again feel a click and give in the plug.

STEP 5: Repeat this process of locating each new binding pin and setting it. Once you have set every pin the plug will fully give and you can rotate the tension wrench just as you would a key to unlock the lock.


Congratulations! You have picked your first lock!

A note on legality: You should never pick a lock that is not yours and before buying lock picks you should always check your local laws for restrictions. For US pickers a simple guide to legality can be found here:

Stay tuned for more lock picking guides brought to you by Art of Lock Picking!