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.

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 lever tumbler and warded locks. BoK (bottom of keyway) is the shell wall side, ToK (top of keyway) is the pin stack side.

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. BoK medium width is .105-.110". ToK narrow width is .090-.095". 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.

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 edge radius of .004-.005" is fine for ToK turner edges, but a large edge radius of .015-.025" such as on flat wire made by squashing round wire will cause ToK turners to slip out of placement. A large edge 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 double ended turner below has the appropriate .015" edge radius.

The inside bend radius should be as small as possible to allow flush placement against the plug face, preferably close to the thickness of the flat wire stock, or about 1/32".

Double Ended Turners

Double ended turners are economical, as they provide two tools for the price of one, but they do not slide in and out of case pockets easily, and they snag and yank out the other tools stored in the same pocket, which is a major nuisance. There are many possible permutations of double ended turner, not all of which are useful. Single ended turners slide in and out of case pockets easily without snagging other tools. Make single ended turners the default tools, and double ended turners optional tools.

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 made by squashing round wire or slitting sheet stock. The turner handle is perpendicular to the keyway when inserted. A flat wire straightener should be used on the flat wire stock prior to manufacturing to prevent bowing and warping of the turners. Flat wire turners are cheaper to make 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.

Custom 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 medium width is not commonly available. File or grind BoK blade tips and all turner handle ends with semicircular ends for easier insertion in both locks and tool bags.

Cut a flat wire BoK turner blade down to 1/4" long, and file or grind a .090"×.110" 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. Make a BoK turner from a .150×.050" wiper blade insert for extremely wide keyways. Tapered blade turners can be wedged into BoK placement for perfect plug coupling.

Keyway
Placement
Handle
Length
Blade
Length
Blade
Width
Blade
Thickness
Notes
Turners for Basic Sets
BoK3-4"1/2".120".030", .040", .050"basic use
ToK3-4"1/4".090".030", .040", .050"basic use
Turners for Advanced Sets
BoK3-4"1/2".105".030", .040", .050"more keyway space
ToK3-4"1/8".090".030", .040", .050"flush plugs
ToK3-4"1/2".090".030", .040", .050"deep recessed plugs
BoK3-4"1/2".120".030", .040", .050"60° blade angle → tulip knobs
ToK3-4"1/4".090".030", .040", .050"90° ↻ blade twist → parallel handle
ToK3-4"1/4".090".030", .040", .050"45° ↻ blade twist → +45° handle
ToK3-4"1/4".090".030", .040", .050"45° ↺ blade twist → -45° handle
BoK3-4"1/2".150".050"extremely wide keyways
Tapered Turner
BoK3-4"3/4".120".030"↔.060" taperperfect plug coupling

Flat Turners

Flat turners are cut from sheet metal stock. The turner handle is parallel to the keyway when inserted. Unfortunately, the Peterson pry bar and all of its clones suffer from several design flaws:

A variety of blade styles provide stable ToK placement for flush, shallow, and deep recessed plugs. These flat turners have 1/2" ToK blades for deep recessed placement, 1/4" ToK blades for standard recessed placement, and blade tips for flush placement. The flush placement version is optional, but provides more stablity than a 1/4" blade in flush placement. These profiles should be offered in a range of thicknesses similar to the flat wire turners for good plug coupling.

Picks

Most single pin picking can be accomplished with a short hook or curve, and a medium hook for more difficult bitting. Most raking can be accomplished with a large and small wave rake. Everything else is more specialized, redundant, suboptimal, or useless. However, variety is the spice of life, and there is a lot of room for preference.

Useful Pick Profiles

The straight probe is useful for poking, probing, popping off chamber caps, and picking tiny locks. The curve is the most basic and easy to control curved 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. Use hooks of increasing height as needed to lift high pins behind low pins. Taller hooks are less maneuverable. Hook tip style, thin, round, or flat, is a matter of preference, but in general, going from thin to round to flat, stability increases, and maneuverability decreases. The half diamond can slide set pins in low clearance situations, and is considered a hybrid pick that can rake or single pin pick, although it is not as good as hooks and rakes at either task. The DeForrest offset half diamond is popular for reaching around pins, although the curve should be able to do anything the DeForrest can do. The large and small long cycloid wave rakes are for raking the entire pin stack of large and small locks, respectively. The large and small short cycloid wave rakes are for selective raking of a subset of the pin stack.

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. The large and small aggressive cycloid wave rakes tend to be too grabby, and can saw into the key pins, damaging them. 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, merely 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, like the Klingon Bat'leth Star Trek weapon, are famous for looking cool at the expense of being impractical.

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.

.030"classic Bogota pick/turner
.025"durable picks for wide keyways
.020"delicate picks for narrow keyways
.015"disposable picks for paracentric keyways
.010"knife tool for decoding combination locks

Pick Shaft Taper

Pick shafts with an excessively large taper are unnecessarily bulky and less maneuverable. Pick shafts with an ideal taper balance strength and maneuverability. Pick shafts with no taper will bend and break at the shaft-handle junction. Pick shafts with an 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.

Undercuts

Undercuts reduce stress concentration by making the pick profile more uniform, thus allowing it to flex evenly. In this example, removing metal from the underside of the wave rake actually makes it stronger. Both profiles are identical aside from the undercut and have 2 pounds of force applied to the tip. Notice the stress concentration behind the wave closest to the shaft, and the increased stress along the length of the shaft. Stress concentrations cause picks to break. This is why it is vital for pick profiles to taper evenly from shaft to tip, why it is worth using arcane mathematics to calculate undercuts, and why finite element analysis is important to lock pick design.

Handles

Handles should be bilaterally symmetric, with center aligned shafts, so that reversing the pick does not alter the grip or alignment. Asymmetric handles and side aligned shafts may look stylish, but prioritize form over function. Handles should not be too thick or too long, or they will not fit in standard pick bags. Laminated stainless steel handles used by SouthOrd and Southern Specialties and injection molded fiberglass reinforced nylon handles used by Peterson are practical examples of good handle design. Fiberglass reinforced nylon is a strong engineering plastic. The pick blade does not have to extend far into the handle for rigid coupling and good feedback.

Bogotas

A bogota is a pick-turner hybrid tool created by Ray "Raimundo" Connors in Bogota, Colombia in the spring of 1980. Originally made from spring steel street sweeper bristles with a polished finish for smooth operation and a uniform profile for reduced stress concentration, it is the most effective rake of its time. It was popularized on LockPicking101 in the summer of 2005.

The classic bogota set is a nested pair of tools with triple and single wave rakes in .030" thickness, which makes them too thick for locks with narrow or paracentric keyways. The ideal use case is as an EDC tool set for locks with wide keyways. Since quad waves outperform triple waves, and few people SPP with bogotas, replace the triple and single waves with large quad and small quint cycloid waves for maximum raking performance and flexibility. These are 1/4" longer than classic bogotas.