Lock Picking

Check out these antique locks.

These beautiful antiques were found on a recent trip to southern Italy at the Tenuta Vanuollo, an organic bufala farm.

Next to intricacy, age is what will make picking or bypassing a lock more difficult. Years of rust, neglect, dirt and grime. Left outside to weather in changing conditions. The metal swells and shrinks. Soon you’d be lucky if you could even get the key itself in there.

The movies never show you that part. They make it look easy.

Hollywood loves to show someone picking a lock because its sexy.

From Michael Westen of Burn Notice to Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell, lock picking is one of the more intriguing elements in spy culture. This is in part because of the mystery. Stick something that is not a key into a lock, wiggle it a bit, and *BOOM* you’re in! Sometimes it is that simple, but often times, it’s not.

But every good spy needs to know how to pick a lock, right?


In real life, a spy’s ability to maintain their cover gets exponentially more difficult once they produce a pair of lock picks.

Even for non-spies, having lock picks on you sends a very specific message to law enforcement, TSA, or whomever you may need to show them to.

If you’re a professional with a need to have them – great. Otherwise, defer to your local laws.

Nevertheless, lock picking has become a fast-growing hobby in recent years and it is by far one of my favorite pastimes.

Groups like The Open Organization Of Lockpickers (TOOOL) have local chapters all around the world that introduce the concept to people and let you learn and practice on real locks.

At DefCON, the world-famous hacker conference, there is an entire section called the LockPicking Village where they teach picking and bypass and have contests for various prizes.

In 2013, I thought it would be an amazing hobby to pick up both for practical reasons and professional aspirations.

I dropped by my local TOOOL chapter and fumbled my way through a few training locks. Every time I opened one, I had this “aha” moment. It was like an electric spark in my brain – an “I did it” that I hadn’t felt before.

I quickly found that each lock is a unique puzzle with potentially several solutions. Some can be picked, some can be jiggled, and some can simply be bypassed. It became the ultimate game.

The most common locks are pin and tumbler (like your standard door lock), wafer locks (like older cars, mailboxes or padlocks) and dimple locks (technically still a pin and tumbler) that use the flat side of the key as the biting area.

In short, there is a whole lot of science and engineering that goes into locks and its absolutely fascinating. I could nerd out on it for days. But I digress.

Now, I mostly use this skill to help friends and neighbors get into their house/car/safe when they’ve lost the keys.

For me, lock-picking has become another form of meditation.

It has proven to be a great mindfulness exercise. A way to help me de-stress and get a little more creative and less rigid. Because even with all the math and measurements and tolerances, lock picking is so much about feel rather than force.

You can’t grind your way to ‘open’. It takes listening. It takes feeling. It takes finesse.

What hobbies do you use for de-stressing? Let me know in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading!