Lock Pick Recommendations

These recommendations are aimed at helping consumers get better tools and helping manufacturers provide better tools. Basic sets are big sellers, yet are fraught with problems. Consumers must make significant compromises, and/or buy tools piecemeal from multiple manufacturers to get an optimum set, and even then, some practical tools are simply not commercially available in an ideal form. Manufacturers are more concerned with sales than tool quality, but it only takes one manufacturer to make a truly outstanding set and corner the market.

Turners

Whether tension/torsion/torque/turning tool/wrench, or turner for short, it is important to have a good selection of widths and thicknesses to fit keyways of different widths in both bottom and top of keyway placement. A thick turner will not fit in a narrow keyway, but a thin turner will flop around in a wide keyway, resulting in poor coupling. Good coupling is necessary for good plug control. Good plug control is necessary for picking security pins. Serrated turner blades chew up keyways, and should not be used if lock damage is unacceptable.

BoK and ToK

Lock cylinder orientation in America, where the pin tumbler mechanism was invented, positions the pin stacks above the plug. This is the most practical orientation, as it keeps dust and detritus out of the pin stacks. European profile cylinders are upside down to appear more familiar to Europeans accustomed to the shape and orientation of warded and lever tumbler locks. BoK (bottom of keyway) is the shell wall side, ToK (top of keyway) is the pin stack side.

Flat Wire Turners

Flat wire turners are made by cutting and bending flat wire stock. Flat wire stock is also called strip stock, and is produced by flattening round wire or slitting sheet stock. The turner handle is perpendicular to the keyway when inserted. Southern Specialties turners are typically bowed and warped because they do not use a good flat wire straightener prior to manufacturing, but they also have the most complete selection of flat wire turners on the market, with regards to useful blade width and thickness. Flat wire turners are cheaper than flat turners. Twisted turner handles reduce stiffness, and are not recommended. Six different blades with the same handle style are far more useful than six different handle length and twist styles with the same turner blade.

Flat Wire Stock and Tools

Strips of flat wire stock should be sold for making custom turners, in .030", .040", and .050" thicknesses × .090" and .120" widths, with .105" widths optional. HK Porter 0690TN wire/cable cutters are the essential tool for cutting turner flat wire stock square and clean, and come with 1/4" wide jaws, which cut ToK turners to the standard length without measuring. Maun parallel smooth jaw pliers are the essential tool for bending turners without slipping or marring the finish, and come in various sizes, with or without spring loaded jaws. The version with 1/4" wide jaws is very convenient for self-measuring 1/4" blade bends. A ruler and digital calipers are essential for accurate measurements.

Turner Dimensions

BoK blades should be 3/8-1/2" long, and may have semicircular ends for ease of insertion. BoK wide width is .120-.125". Even one thousandth more than .125" (1/8") will result in the blade not fitting into some smaller locks, so it is best to play it safe and make these .120" to guarantee usability. This is a problem with some recent Southern Specialties turners. BoK medium width is .105-.110". ToK blades should be 1/4" long to span recessed plugs of Master and American padlocks, and must have rectangular tips to engage the keyway. There are a few locks with a deeper recess that require 3/8" blades, and many locks with a flush keyway that can use a 1/8" blade, although the 1/4" blade is usually adequate for flush keyways. ToK narrow width is .090-.095".

Each turner should come in 3 thicknesses: .030-.031", .040-.042", .050-.053". Europeans should use .8mm, 1mm, and 1.3mm, not 1.2mm, which is not quite thick enough for many keyways. Each turner should be 3-4" long. 3" is standard. 2" is the minimum usable length for wallet sized sets.

Edge and Bend Radius

A small radius of .004-.005" is fine for ToK turner edges, but a large radius of .015-.025" such as on flat wire made by flattening round wire will cause ToK turners to slip out of placement. This is a chronic problem with the .040" and .050" Southern Specialties ToK turners. A large radius on BoK turners reduces binding against the inside of the shell wall, and is thus beneficial. However, if BoK flat stock is also used to make double ended turners with narrow or dual width blades, an edge radius larger than .015" will not leave enough straight flat metal to form a .090" wide blade after the sides are ground narrower. The inside bend radius should be as small as possible to allow flush placement against the lock face, preferably in the range of .060-.030" or smaller.

Flat Turners

Flat turners are cut from sheet metal stock. The turner handle is parallel to the keyway when inserted. No one makes ideal flat turners. Unfortunately, the Peterson pry bar and all of its clones, including those from Technical Entry, Sparrows, Mad Bob, and DCAPower, suffer from the same design flaws. The short end is too short to span recessed plugs. The long end is too long for stable placement in recessed plugs. The inside radius of the long end is so large that it prevents flush placement. The width of the blades is slightly too large for them to also be used in BoK placement. The blades are serrated and will chew up keyways. The pry bar is double ended, which provides two tools in one, but results in a tool that does not easily fit into pick cases. Far better to have single ended pry bars that slide in and out of the case easily. Make double ended pry bars an optional product for those who really love double ended tools. The same principle applies to double ended turners made from flat wire stock. A 1/8" handle width minimizes the mass, while a wider handle on the classic pry bar makes the handle stiffer, but increases stress concentration at the blade-handle junction. A variety of blade styles provide stable ToK placement for flush and recessed plugs. These example flat turners are flush ToK, 1/4" recessed plug ToK, 3/8" recessed plug ToK, and dual width BoK in Inkscape SVG.

Turner Variations

Modify a ToK flat wire turner by twisting the blade 90° clockwise with parallel jaw pliers. Since most padlocks open clockwise, this will tend to minimize untwisting forces. For the ultimate in flexibility, modify two ToK flat wire turners by twisting the blades 45° clockwise and counterclockwise, or modify two flat turners by bending the handle 45° clockwise and counterclockwise, for two more angles of placement. File or grind a set of BoK turner blades from .120" width to .105" width, since that width is not commonly available. File or grind BoK blade tips with semicircular ends for easier insertion. Cut a flat wire BoK turner blade down to 1/4" long, and file or grind a .090"×1/8" step for a ToK turner with increased resistance to rolling out of placement. Cutting the step around the bend as exemplified by the Southern Specialties Longhorn double ended turners makes for more durable turners less likely to be kinked at the end of the step, but also makes for less stable placement, which hurts performance. Thus both long and short step versions have their pros and cons. Existing tulip knob turners have an absurdly complex design, a 60° blade angle is all that is needed to clear the edge of the knob, and can be used in other cramped situations. Tapered blade turners can be wedged into BoK placement for perfect plug coupling, but no one makes them.

Turners for Basic Sets

Turners for Advanced Sets

Tapered Turner

Picks

There is no ideal pick set. Most manufacturers sell many poor profiles along with a few good ones. These example pick profiles include straight probe, spoon curve, simple curve, thin hook, short round hook, medium round hook, tall round hook, short flat hook, medium flat hook, tall flat hook, half diamond, DeForrest offset half diamond, large quad cycloid wave rake, small quint cycloid wave rake, large double cycloid wave rake, and small double cycloid wave rake. Variations not shown include sinusoid wave rakes with less aggressive peaks, and cycloid wave rakes with more aggressive peaks, which are not recommended due to their tendency to damage key pins by sawing into them.

Thickness

It is worth having pick profiles in multiple thicknesses, using the thickest pick possible for a given lock to minimize wear of thin picks, which are less durable than thick picks. Each thickness requires a different profile with a corresponding shaft taper for consistent strength.

Useful Pick Profiles

The curve is the most basic and easy to control pick profile. It does not have as much vertical reach as a hook, but is far more maneuverable inside the keyway, and can get into keyways with less clearance. The spoon curve is designed for center aligned pick shafts. The simple curve is designed for side aligned pick shafts. Use hooks of increasing height as needed to lift high pins behind low pins. Taller hooks are less maneuverable. Hook tip style, round or flat, is a matter of preference. The diamond can slide set pins in low clearance situations. The large and small cycloid wave rakes cover all raking activities in large and small locks, respectively, except for precision raking of the rear pins.

The straight probe is useful for poking, probing, popping off chamber caps, and picking tiny locks. The DeForrest offset half diamond is even more popular than the original half diamond, although a curve should be able to do anything the DeForrest can do. The large and small double cycloid wave rakes are for precision raking of rear pins not covered by the full length cycloid wave rakes.

The single ball is moderately useful for wafer tumbler locks, although most locks of this type can be picked with a paper clip. The large and small sinusoid wave rakes have a gentler action than the cycloid wave rakes, making them better at raking security pins and SFIC locks, or for anyone who wants gentler rakes. It is hard to justify other rake designs, as the wave rakes will outperform them, or they are of an arcane profile designed to match potential bitting, such as the king, queen, prince, princess, stretched snake, and city rake, which makes them lifters, rather than rakes. Trying a long list of lifters is not really raking, that is using tryout keys.

Useless Pick Profiles

The Falle hill, valley, and slope rakes are useless because they are way too small for normal locks. The tilted snake is even less useful than the tiny original snake rake, which is also too small. The wedge rake is too steep and too big to fit in most locks. The batarang is too small, and suffers from a stress concentration right behind the rake which causes it to break at that spot. The double ball or snowman, half ball, half ball half diamond, and double half ball are for wafer tumbler locks, but it is hard to justify anything beyond a single ball. The large half diamond and postal hook are typically too big to be functional, although a postal hook can be hand filed down to a useful size. The Sparrows Kraken/Octo, Warlock, and Sandman suffer from Klingon Bat'leth syndrome: a Star Trek weapon famous for looking cool at the expense of being impractical. Include any other bizarre profiles with no science to back them up.

Pick Shafts

Pick shafts with excess taper are unnecessarily bulky and less maneuverable. Pick shafts with ideal taper balance strength and maneuverability. Pick shafts with no taper will bend and break at the shaft-handle junction. Pick shafts with inconsistent taper, such as the half shaft buttress taper used by LAB and Sparrows, have a stress concentration at the taper end point that causes the shafts to kink and break at that spot. Shafts that taper to the beginning of the pick profile instead of tapering though the pick profile to the pick tip have a stress concentration at the beginning of the pick profile that causes the shafts to kink and break at that spot. In this finite element analysis, 2 pounds of force is applied to each pick shaft tip:

Metals

Carbon spring steel is strong, but rusts. 301 high yield stainless steel and 420 hardened stainless steel are the strongest stainless steel alloys commonly used for picks, with a Rockwell C hardness of about 51. 301 and 302 full hard are softer, cheaper stainless steel alloys intended for stamping, with a Rockwell C hardness of about 41. Titanium Grade 5 (Ti-6-4) is about as strong as 301 full hard, but half as stiff. Picks benefit from using the strongest alloys, turners are good with 301 full hard stainless steel. For more details, see Lock Pick Metallurgy.

Lock Pick Design

free download → pick profiles 2019.zip ← Inventor parts

These files are free for anyone to use. If you modify them in ways other than altering the shaft length parameter, avoid creating a stress concentration that will catastrophically weaken the picks. Until such time that a paper on lock pick design is written, studying these Inventor part files is the best way to learn about lock pick design.

Autodesk Inventor was chosen for support for equation curves and G2 smoothness bridge curves, which are totally lacking in Fusion 360. Perhaps someday the profiles will be recreated in SolidWorks. In the mean time, here are 20 different fully constrained pick profiles, each in 3 different thicknesses, with corresponding shaft tapers to compensate for the difference in thickness, in accordance with Euler-Bernoulli beam theory, tested with finite element analysis, along with two Mathematica files that calculate appropriate wave rake undercut equation curves for maximum strength.

Modifying parameters changes pick profiles in a controlled manner. Profiles taper as evenly as possible from shaft to tip. There are no sharp corners or tips to cause finger cuts or key pin damage. There are uniform increases in height and angle for the short, medium, and tall hooks. Picks from approximately twenty manufacturers were examined, compared, and tested in the course of designing these profiles.