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Lock picking
Surreptitious entry tools

Lock-picking is the craft of opening a lock without the original key, commonly performed by analyzing and manipulating the components of the lock, in such a way that the lock is not damaged and can be used again. Although lock picking can be associated with criminal intent, it is generally accepted as an essential skill of a legal locksmith as well as that of hobbyists. In clandestine warfare, lock picking is sometimes used to surreptitiously enter a room or a building.

A lock pick set generally consists of several torsion wrenches and a variety of pick tools, each with its own specific shape. Depending on the type of lock, the lock picker chooses the desired tool(s) and manipulates the pins inside the lock, using the torsion wrench to apply a controlled rotational force to the cylinder. 1

The image on the right shows a typical set of lock pick tools in a convenient leather wallet, as used by hobbyists, locksmiths and spies. Please note that the posession of these tools is illegal in some countries. Always check you local laws.
A set of lock pick tools in a leather wallet

Contrary to popular believe, picking a lock is not simple and requires many hours of practice and in-depth knowledge of the inner secrets of a lock. Unlike in movies, picking a lock can take anything from a few seconds to several hours. This basically makes lock picking unsuitable for burglary, as it would simply take too much time. Using a crowbar would be far more efficient. Please note that Crypto Museum only advocates legal use of these tools. Stay within the law.

  1. This example assumes the lock being a so-called pin/tumbler lock.

A set of lock pick tools in a leather wallet
Lock pick set
A collection of lock pick tools
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A set of lock pick tools in a leather wallet
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Lock pick set
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A collection of lock pick tools

  • Torsion wrench
  • Half-diamond pick
  • Hook pick
  • Ball pick
  • Rake pick
  • Slagel pick
  • Decoder pick
  • Cross pick
  • Bump keys
  • Warded pick
  • Pick gun
  • Snap gun
Below are some examples of lock picking that have been applied to equipment in our collection. In most cases it involves opening or activating a machine without damaging it. Without lock picking, the equipment would have to be damaged, in which case it would have lost its original historical value. This demonstrates the usefulness of lock picking as a profession or as a hobby.

Cross pick
A cross lock is a special type of cylinder lock, that may have pins at two or even all four sides. Generally speaking, a cross lock can be opened relatively easy by an experienced lock picker by means of a so-called cross pick, except when mushroom pins are used inside the lock, in which case opening it can take several hours.

The image on the right shows Dutch lock picker Walter Belgers opening an Hagelin C-446 cipher machine of which the keys are missing. He managed to open it in just a couple of minutes without damaging the machine or the lock.
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A special craft within the lock picking trade, is that of opening a lock without manipulating it, by creating a new key from a so-called blank. In this case, a polished blank key is inserted into the lock and some torque is applied. The key is then examined for miniscule scratch marks, after which a hand file is used to modify the key.

The image on the right shows a KESO key that was created from a blank by lock picker Barry Wels [5] in 2010 for our Hagelin HC-570 cipher machine of which the original key was missing.
Close-up of the impressioned KESO key

Enigmatic key
Perhaps the most valuable key in our collection is that of the Enigma M4, the 4-wheel Enigma that was used during WWII inside German U-boats. The original key of the machine was missing, but fortunately it was unlocked.

However, after trying someone else's key, the lock closed and could no longer be reopened. Luckily, in 2008, lock picker Barry Wels managed to create a new key from a blank, again by using impressioning. In this case, ink was used to register the scratch marks. Barry Wels is now a professional lock expert [5].

A new key for the Enigma M4. Click for further details.

Lock picking as a hobby
Some people enjoy defeating locks recreationally, in which case it is referred to as locksport [3]. Its enthusiasts can learn a variety of skills including lock picking, lock bumping, impressioning and various other techniques and skills that are tradionally only known to locksmiths.

Many basic and advanced lock pick sets can be bought readily on the internet from a variety of sources, with a varying degree of quality. Especially prepaired demo locks and practice locks are also available from various sources, but it would be wise the join and consult existing enthusiasts and locksport organisations first. In any case, you should check the legal status of the posession of lock pick tools in your country first. Although the possession of these tools is legal in most countries (or unregulated), there are some exceptions [4]. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

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Locksport followers often gather in sport groups to share knowledge, exchange ideas and participate in a variety of (international) recreational activities and contests. Examples of such contests are the annual Defcon (North America) and LockCon (Netherlands), both attracting hobbyists and travelers from around the world. If you are interested in recreational lockpicking, a good starting point might be the website of The Open Organisation of Lockpickers (TOOOL), or the Beginner's Guide at Art of Lock Picking. But please do not forget to check your local laws first.

  1. Wikipedia, Lock picking
    Retrieved August 2015.

  2. Lockwiki, Impressioning
    Retrieved August 2015.

  3. Wikipedia, Locksport
    Retrieved August 2015.

  4. Wikipedia, Lock picking - Legal status
    Retrieved August 2015.

  5. Wels Security Solutions (WSS), Website
    Retrieved August 2015.
Further information
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Crypto Museum. Created: Friday 24 October 2014. Last changed: Friday, 03 July 2020 - 10:06 CET.
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