Hack Some Picks


You know you can make your own lock picks out of cheapo carbon steel hacksaw blades, right? So what if you’ve tripped over this hack on every website that also tells you to read and worship the MIT Guide to Lock Picking; ’tis the season to pick up a new hobby now that many of us have some extra holiday free time. Unlike the authentic hand-crafted macrame indoor hanging vertical tomato garden you bought for that girl you’re trying to impress, hacksaw blades won’t cut into your purchasing power. Also, believe it or not, although we have thirteen picking hacks that are sitting in the “lockpicking” category, this isn’t one of them.

Though the guide chose to use existing picks as a template, there are plenty you can find online. After tracing the pick, the next step is to secure the hacksaw blade and carve out the excess with a rotary tool, then grind down the edges to remove any sharp bits. We recommend that you’re careful not to get the blade too hot here or you’ll alter its crystalline structure: perhaps one of our blacksmith-savvy readers can better explain what you should aim for and avoid when working with carbon steel. As usual, wear the necessary safety headgear: your eyes are valuable and you’ll need them to watch the video after the break.

What do you think? Should we make an effort at reviving the Lock Picking category? We know a lot of hackerspaces have lock picking events if you want to get into the dark art. Help us get things rolling by sending in tips recapping those events, as well as anything else that fits this theme.


33 thoughts on “Hack Some Picks

    1. No. If it turns ANY colors you’ve already changed the temper(crystalline structure). Not all of these changes will make the metal soft and pliable but it won’t be saw-blade temper anymore.
      Dull red will absolutely destroy any heat treatment applied to the blade. This will leave you with soft pliable metal that you will find yourself bending back into shape after stubborn pins or novice picking. Not quenching red hot metal in water is sound advice as this can be dangerous if the metal is not an oil hardening alloy.

      In closing if the blade gets hotter than you can hold bare-handed, you’ve gotten it too hot. Just keep a cup of water near the grindstone and cool it every few seconds.

  1. You might also consider using steel strapping or banding. It’s available in numerous widths and thicknesses and can usually be had for free. If you choose to buy, It’s available from shipping supply companies. 1/2″ runs about $90 per 1000′.

    1. Another good, free source… Old windshield wiper blades have a nice spring steel strip that makes an excellent material for picks. Go by your local auto parts store and there are usually old wiper blades in the trash out front. Really nice spring steel about 2mm wide.

  2. Made me a set years ago and keep in wallet, have served me well.
    Vaguely remember drunk nights of swapping peoples padlocks..
    a good case is a stack of 3 credit cards glued together, with the middle one with strips cut out so the picks slide in there.

  3. I have used just about everything you can imagine to make picks. The best stock material by far is feeler gauge.

    Pre hardened
    Can come in whatever thickness you like <–more important than it looks
    Is cheap enough, 1095 can be had for as little as a dollar a foot
    Has several alloys to choose from

    Only downsides are it is always 1/2 inch wide, too wide for comfort without hogging out material, and you have to be careful of the hard/half-temper will ruin tools fast.

    As for patterns, don't worry about it. Only people that are very new to the hobby or very old to it actually bother with many pick types. Once people get skill they only need or use one: a thin necked short hook with a mirror polish. I could type 10,000 words in a sitting on this topic, so I'll cut myself off before it's too late.

    1. Please share your point of view. As I know there are 2 types of tumbler lockpicking: SPP and raking. So you better have at least 2 lockpicks and maybe a couple of tension wrenches for various width and placement (bottom, top).

      1. As far as picking is concerned, I agree with AC, that you really just need a good short hook that has a really good polish to it. Personally, I always keep my short hook and my gem hook with me at all times. The real diversity should come from the tension wrenches, which you will learn is the unspoken hero of lock picking.

        For material, I always recommend flat sewer rod (1/4″ x 1/32″ x 25′) which can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/LDR-512-2125-32-Inch-25-Feet/dp/B000KE7XQK/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1387727892&sr=8-11

        I can easily make 40-50 picks from one roll and they are some of the finest picks ive ever used. Combine those with a variety of sandpaper (800-2500 grit) from an auto parts store (auto zone, advanced auto, etc.) and you can easily get a mirror polish in 10-20 minutes.

        From that point, I would form a handle out of a good piece of wood, cut a slot in it for the pick’s tang and secure it in place with jb-weld. Once that sets, that pick is going to be as secure as possible.

    1. That is a silly statement.

      1. Lockpicking is so rare of a crime most countries don’t even bother recording statistics.

      2. If you bother to take the time and effort to learn then you suddenly have a decent career available to you and the incentive to steal is gone.

      3. A hammer is faster.

  4. A friend of mine with a very late model car locked him self out at my house so we both had a crack at it with coat hangers. I have no experience with lock picking but opened it quite quickly. I stress that this was a old car and a coat hanger will probably not work for most applications.

  5. Interesting.

    Does anyone know if there is a similar method for combis because my e-bike (locked with quality 4 combi plastic lock) got pinched.
    No sign of hacksawing so pretty sure they either saw my previous codes and homed in on the combination by the Monte-carlo method or found another method.

    Needless to say the insurance flat out refused to pay, saying “unapproved lock” … Um, so how does one get a lock approved then?

    1. Very often with combination bike locks you can try and pull it open while spinning the dials until they catch one by one. It’s the same principle as lockpicking – only one dial/pin is actually catching at any one time.

    2. I would never trust a combination lock with an expensive bike. By rotating the dials while applying pressure to the lock you can feel the combination. With a bit of practice I imagine the thief can make it look like they are just opening the lock normally. I once unlocked a combination lock that someone had locked around my bike by accident and I was surprised how easy it was.

      Bike locks are usually rated with a sold secure bronze, silver or gold and your insurance will specify what they require. You will aso need to prove that you owned the lock with some proof of purchace.

  6. My grandfather was blacksmith, we built a series of lock picking tools when I was a child from a handsaw. The trick is to use heat treatments. First you anneal the steel to make it soft and easy (or just feasible) to cut, once it is done you cut the piece in the shape you like and then you do a quenching to make it rock hard.

    Annealing requires heating it up until it is red/white and let it cool down slowly, quenching is about heating it up to the same point and then cooling it down quickly.

  7. I’ve used hacksaw blades, too much material to remove
    . I’ve also used street sweeper blades and the metal spines in windshield wiper blades. But then I found the Peterson tools is a 20 min drive away and now I have nice comfy tools. A lot if folks like the Bogota picks but I haven’t tries them yet.

    1. Cheap hacksaw blades can be had in sets of 3 for about 2 bucks. Factor in 10 minutes on a bench grinder or with a rotary tool and unless your time is worth 30/hr you still come out ahead.

  8. A decent set can be purchased for the cost of a good hacksaw blade.
    For the less skilled a bump key, although a little noisy usually works fine.
    If its a car when all else fails call OnStar.

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