Last Man Standing is a series of articles intended to help the average guy prepare for some of life’s oddest events. It’s just advice. It’s better than being clueless.

Are you a fan of detective movies and crime dramas? Have you always wanted some of the mad skills that super sleuths and master thieves have? Well, read on, and learn how to pick a lock. Of course, we’re assuming you’ll only make use of these new skills when you lock yourself out of the house.

The Lock

This how-to-guide is geared toward picking a basic pin-and-tumbler lock. A pin-and-tumbler lock is made of springs, driver pins and key pins. The key pins come in varying heights that match the heights of the teeth in the key. When you insert a key, the cuts in the key move the key pins up, which set the driver pins, so the plug of the lock can turn. Once the pins are set, you can open the door, or whatever else it is that you’re trying to open

The Tools

To pick a pin-and-tumbler lock, you’ll need a tension wrench and a hook pick. If you don’t happen to have these tools at your immediate disposal, you can fashion a hook pick out of a paperclip by straightening it, and then bending the tip up to a 90-degree angle. Allen wrenches, straight pins and small screwdrivers can also be used in place of a tension wrench, or a proper pick.

The Tension Wrench

To start picking a lock, insert your tension wrench (or substitution tool) into the bottom part of the keyhole. Make sure you leave room for the pick above the tension wrench by keeping the wrench handle pointed downward. If you apply a little torque both clockwise and counterclockwise, you’ll be able to figure out which direction the cylinder needs to turn for the door to open. There should be a little more give (not so rigid) in the direction you want to turn the cylinder.

Applying Torque

While applying pressure and torque with the tension wrench (in the direction you want to turn the cylinder), insert the pick. You might have to play around with this a little bit in order to find just the right pressure. Every lock is different, with its own unique characteristics.

Raking The Pins

It’s a good idea to ‘rake’ the pins before you actually start picking. Push the pick all the way inside the keyhole, and then pull it out fairly quickly, and rake the hook against the key pins. You might be able to set a few pins in the lock before picking them individually.

Picking The Lock

You will have to test all, or most of the key pins with your pick. You’re looking for the ‘odd man out’ pin that doesn’t spring back as easily as the other pins when you press against it. Once you locate this pin, while still maintaining torque with the tension wrench, push it up. You want the key pin to move the driver pin up to point where the driver pin is no longer blocking the rotation of the cylinder.

When the key pin falls back down (after you let it), the torque from the tension wrench should misalign the driver pin with its cylinder hole just enough to keep it from falling back down again.

Keep On Picking

Pick each pin in the lock and maintain torque so the pins you’ve already picked don’t drop back down. Once all of the driver pins have been set, use the tension wrench as a key to turn and open the lock.

Lock picking is as much art as it is science. You have to know how a lock works, and then feel your way around with the pick, while adjusting pressure with the tension wrench. With a bit of practice, you should be opening doors like a pro.

Now, forgetting your keys isn't so bad after all.

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