Lock picking
April 2, 2006 11:48 PM   Subscribe

How do I pick a deadbolt designed for a skeleton key?

I have one door that uses what appears to be a skeleton key. Unfortunately, the one skeleton key I have is too wide to fit into the lock. I'd like to open this door. How can I quickly and cheaply pick the lock?
posted by Apoch to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Many antique malls and junk shops have lots of old skeleton keys for sale, and they're usually not that expensive. Have you tried looking around town?
posted by interrobang at 12:05 AM on April 3, 2006

Have you tried looking here? An online forum for people who enjoy the technical challenges of picking locks mm-hm. I believe them...

This blog has an audio walkthrough and stages of how to do it, though it would require you to either have certain tools or rough analogues of these items.

Also recommended is the MIT lockpicking guide here.

Sorry that it's not more keyed oh god that was bad to your exact situation. Hopefully this will still be of some use.
posted by longbaugh at 3:36 AM on April 3, 2006

Interrobang suffers from the common misconception that skeleton-key type locks can be unlocked by any skeleton-key in the lock. Chances are pretty good that you're going to need to buy a lockpicking kit to do it... I know that here in Ireland, these types of deadbolts are fairly common and the Irish folk call them "Chubb locks". Now, whether or not they are actually made by Chubb, I think it's along the same lines as people calling tissues Kleenex, or vacuums hoovers. I think they are typically called lever tumbler locks, if that's any help. (Note: IANALS)
posted by antifuse at 4:33 AM on April 3, 2006

Oh, and longbaugh... some people DO just find lockpicking to be fascinating. I know that I sure do, though not to as high an extent as those who would buy lockpick sets, etc. :)
posted by antifuse at 4:34 AM on April 3, 2006

Your lock may either be a warded lock or a lever lock. Warded locks can be picked with a skeleton key.

Due to their now relative obscurity, there aren't a lot of online resources describing how to pick a warded and lever locks. The MIT guide doesn't cover it.

I found one online resource here.
posted by justkevin at 6:21 AM on April 3, 2006

If you have access to both sides of the door you can drive the hinge pins out. Then, with any kind of luck, you should be able to remove the door and change the lock-set. A standard (non-deadbolt) lock-set is fairly easy to install.
posted by Huplescat at 7:13 AM on April 3, 2006

I have picked old-style door locks using a big hairpin (the kind that's wider than its thickness, not the wiry ones). The locks are pretty simple.

When I was a kid, Woolworth's sold sets of two skeleton keys, and they'd open most of those door locks. interrobang's idea is really not so far-fetched.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:22 AM on April 3, 2006

i think there's some confusion over what "skeleton key" means - see the wiki discussion. in particular, multiple lever locks are common in the uk, and i think that's what antifuse is referring to. those aren't skeleton keys. skeleton keys are for warded locks (where the key has to "fit" past an irregular obstruction - there can be a variety of obstructions that all share a common hole, and the skeleton key fits through the common hole). lever locks are quite different, even though the keys may look similar, and lever locks don't have skeleton keys.

i'm still generalising, but you get the idea.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:11 AM on April 3, 2006

oh, and tumbler locks are not lever locks. tumbler locks are the locks where the key is long and thin with a series of v cuts, and it inserts into a "keyhole" that has exactly the same profile as the key and that rotates with the key. lever locks typically have a fixed "traditonal shaped" keyhole.

obviously the real difference is internal, but that's how you can tell by looking at them. a tumbler key has a series of pins that are cut at certain positions and which stop the internal tumbler (the keyhole cylinder) from rotating unless the cuts align with the cylinder edge. lever locks have levers that must be lifted by the key's tooth (different levers lift different amounts, hence the jagged edge of the tooth). when the levers are at the correct height a tooth on the bolt can pass through a gap inside the lever, and the bolt is pushed in or out.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:21 AM on April 3, 2006

I assumed the OC was referring to a warded lock. They are very common in older houses in the U.S.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:39 AM on April 3, 2006

Interrobang suffers from the common misconception that skeleton-key type locks can be unlocked by any skeleton-key in the lock.

No, I'm not suffering from that misconception; I was suggesting that the poster find a pile of skeleton keys and try a lot of them. In my experience, a lot of old skeleton key locks are not that complicated or different.
posted by interrobang at 10:48 AM on April 3, 2006

And my experience is the same.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:28 PM on April 3, 2006

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