How to Escape Captivity: Picking Locks

Preppers, especially those residing in urban environments, have grown increasingly interested in lock picking as a survival skill. Not only can picking locks give you access to valuable resources when SHTF, but may create new opportunities for shelters, and potentially free you if you find yourself trapped.

Lock picking is a worthy skill to pursue, although it takes practice and the right tools. You’ll also need a basic understanding of the different types of locks and how they work. You can purchase lock picking tool kits and clear or broken down locks that allow you to view the inner workings of locks.

There are a variety of locking mechanisms in use today, but the top 5 that you are likely to encounter are:

  • Pin Cylinder Locks
  • Lever Locks
  • Wafer Locks
  • Warded Locks
  • Disc Detainer Locks

There is quite a bit of nuance to each lock and the techniques required to pick them, but this will serve as a basic introduction to these common mechanisms.

Pin Cylinder Locks

Pin cylinder locks are possibly the oldest locks, and are currently the most widely used locks. These are the locks that we have on our front doors and use everyday.

Pin Cylinder locks have a central core or ‘plug’ that needs to rotate to open the lock. The plug is prevented from turning by a series of pins, which obstruct the plug. The series of pins are in pairs: the top, or ‘driver pin’, and the bottom, or ‘key pin’.

When the correct key is inserted, the split between the pairs of driver pins and key pins lines up along the edge of the plug where it meets the housing of the lock. This is called the ‘shear line’. Once this has happened, it allows the plug to turn and the lock is open.

For lock pickers, we need to get the split in the pin pairs, or ‘stacks’ to line up along the shear line, get the plug to turn or rotate, and open the lock.

In order to pick a Pin Cylinder lock, you can choose from 2 techniques:

  • Single Pin Picking (also known as Proper Lock Picking)
  • Raking

Single Pin Picking picks each pin individually.

Raking is a method in which you work all the pins simultaneously.

To successfully pick a Pin Cylinder lock, you’ll want a full lock picking kit with a range of picks, hooks, and rakes, as well as a selection of tension wrenches.

Lever Locks

Lever locks are the next most common locking mechanism in use today, often used on front doors and in padlocks.

Lever locks have a series of levers with cut-aways or ‘gates’ which need to be lifted to different heights to allow the bolt stump to move, unlocking the door. When you insert the key and turn it, the different height cuts on the key will lift all the levers to the correct height, which aligns perfectly to provide a gap through which the bolt stump can move.

The last cut on the key is the bolt thrower, and as the key is turned, and the levers are raised, the bolt thrower simultaneously moves the bolt, and since the gates are correctly aligned, the bolt and stump can freely move, retracting into the housing and opening the lock.

If you want to pick lever locks, hope to get lucky with a simple mechanism and some bent wires and an improvised tension wrench. You’ll want to be careful when you use objects at home, like a knife, bobby pin, or card credit as a pick or wrench because you may damage the object or the lock itself. It is recommended to have the right tools on-hand to pick lever locks, which include curtain picks and a 2-in-1 pick.

Wafer Locks

Wafer locks are significantly less common, but you’ll still find them in use on cars, drawers, lockers, and some padlocks.

Wafer locks are similar to pin cylinders, with springs that are used to push obstructions into the housing of the lock, which stops the plug from rotating. But instead of having pins, wafer locks use a series of flat single pieces of metal called wafers.

You can pick a Wafer lock with the same picking sets as a Pin Cylinder lock, or you can use Lock Jigglers and Wafer Rakes. For more complex Wafer locks in cars, Lishi Car Lock Picks and Inner Groove Picks.

Warded Locks

Warded locks provide almost no real security; their only use today is to preserve a historical aesthetic. They use a very simple turning mechanism. You can successfully pick most Warded locks with bent wire.

Disc Detainer Locks

Disc Detainer locks do not use springs, and so can withstand harsh conditions outdoors without sustaining damage to the inner workings of the locks. They provide a higher security than most other locks. Authentic Disc Detainer locks require sturdier picks than cheap copies, for which you can use a standard lock picking set. A high quality Disc Detainer Pick is required for most Disc Detainer locks.

Although lock picking is frowned upon by some, there’s no denying the potential value in a SHTF or captivity situation. If you live in an urban environment or have reason to believe you may be held against your will one day, it is wise to familiarize yourself with lock picking.