Build a lockpick from common office items?
January 12, 2007 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Locked-out of my house, help me build some lock-picking tools from common office items.

I grabbed the wrong set of car keys this morning (the spare set without my house key on it), and realized my mistake moments after closing the locked door behind me.

Luckily I could still drive to work, where I now have 8 hours to figure out how to get back into my house. I have picked locks before, and even made a set of lock-picking tools. However, I had access to grinders and other machinery that made the process easier.

Here is the challenge: Using items commonly found in a cube-farm-like office, can you think of a way to build some simple lock-picks, or other device, that will get me back inside my house?

lock details: common house lock. key inserts into the door knob. not a deadbolt.
posted by jsonic to Home & Garden (37 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Never had much luck with paper clip picks on residential entry locks, but the metal clip from a certain style of pen makes a great tension wrench. The paper clip may work like this: _______/ but your locks had better be very smooth moving and your pull on the wrench very light. At the lockpicking 101 forums a guy used a brass tab and a zip tie in a video, but these were on those cheap cubicle locks.
posted by IronLizard at 7:10 AM on January 12, 2007


Hell, ask one of the girls in the office if they have a hair pin. They can actually work if bent properly.
posted by IronLizard at 7:12 AM on January 12, 2007


I've picked my own lock before using this guide. This section shows you some of the tools used (or "picks"). In my case it took about 30 minutes but all I used were a couple of heavy duty paper clips. I probably couldn't do it again if you held a gun to my head.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:12 AM on January 12, 2007


This might sound silly, but are you sure you can't use a credit card or license? Or is this more about MacGuyver-ing your way into the house using a sticky note, rubber band, and thumbtack than actually getting into the house? In that case I can only think of the cliché paper clip idea. Good luck.
posted by sephira at 7:15 AM on January 12, 2007


If it's just the knob lock, you can probably just wedge it open with a screwdriver or butter knife. You might have to remove one piece of moulding, the door stop, to get easier access to the latch.
posted by lee at 7:15 AM on January 12, 2007


This page has animated cutaway diagrams for cylinder lock-picking.
posted by zennie at 7:16 AM on January 12, 2007


I've been in this situation, and have been forced to think "outside of the box" (so many puns intended) in order to reenter the house.

Think of all the points of entry for your home: Are they all locked? On my first house, I used to purposefully leave a specific window unlocked because it was really hard to get to from the street, and I usually had a handy-dandy-4 year old son with me that I could lift into the house and go unlock the front door.

Even if the window isn't unlocked, you could potentially unlock it by using the credit card method and moving the latch out of the lock. That's completely dependant on how your windows are figured.

Other avenues of ingress include: Automatic garage doors (some can be pulled up manually without too much effort, but that depends on the age of the door and the mechanism), back door vs. front door (sometimes you have a less difficult lock on the back door), the Realtor that originally sold you your house (they're supposed to destroy the extra keys, but sometimes you can get lucky).
posted by thanotopsis at 7:30 AM on January 12, 2007


It is sometimes easier to gain access via a window, if you have access to one that isn't too far above the ground. I've found a chopstick is very effective on some windows, and a coat hanger will work on others.

If you have to enter through the door, the hairpin and metal clip from a pen as mentioned above are your best bet.

If you need some other cheap tools, try a dollar store for a low priced set of small screwdrivers which can be bent as needed.
posted by bh at 7:34 AM on January 12, 2007


I once successfully made a lock pick out of an old credit card. It should be possible to cut out whatever shape you like using only common office items.
posted by sfenders at 7:37 AM on January 12, 2007


Using items commonly found in a cube-farm-like office, can you think of a way to build some simple lock-picks, or other device, that will get me back inside my house?

Other device: use a big stapler or some other heavy item (be careful) to break a small window. If it's a small, cheap window, it'll be easier to get by than picking a lock, and it'll be cheaper and easier to repair than a damaged lock or door frame.
posted by pracowity at 7:41 AM on January 12, 2007


I nth the "other points of entry" suggestion. As a teenager, I regularly locked myself out of the house, climbed up to the second-story deck, and let myself in through the sliding glass doors. Even locked sliding doors are fairly easy to jimmy loose.

In retrospect, why we were never burgled that way, I will never know.
posted by timepiece at 7:46 AM on January 12, 2007


Call a locksmith.
posted by Merdryn at 7:49 AM on January 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


Think of all the points of entry for your home: Are they all locked? ... it is sometimes easier to gain access via a window

The only other access point is a window near the door. It has a screen covering it, so I would have to punch some small holes in the screen to access the pins holding it in. It's also 3 stories off the ground.

Or is this more about MacGuyver-ing your way into the house

Any non-destructive method will do. I'll try a credit card, but it will have to navigate a 90 degree angle to get to the lock mechanism.

I once successfully made a lock pick out of an old credit card. It should be possible to cut out whatever shape you like using only common office items.

That's a good idea. Maybe something more metallic for the torque wrench, but a pick cut from a credit card sounds effective.
posted by jsonic at 7:52 AM on January 12, 2007


Unless your doorknob is poorly installed you're not going to be able to credit-card it open. Such a method works by pushing the latch back in similarly to how it pushes in when you close the door. However everything but the dead cheapest inside closet door mechanism will have a latch pin component that, when depressed, prevents this mechanism from working.

A properly installed door will shut so that the latch piece is extended but this small little nubbin is depressed. Unless you can shove the door inward enough to get that nubbin to extend as well you're not going to be able to card it open.
posted by phearlez at 8:06 AM on January 12, 2007


If you can manage to do this (more than once), you need to buy new locks for your house.

Then keep a spare house key taped to the bottom of your office desk, or get a key friend.
posted by Ookseer at 8:11 AM on January 12, 2007


Have you thought about calling a locksmith? For a small fee, they open doors.

Or does any close friend or relative have a spare key to your house that you can meet up with after work?
posted by Attackpanda at 8:17 AM on January 12, 2007


Dude, just call a locksmith ... Have you thought about calling a locksmith? For a small fee, they open doors.

That's obviously the way to go if I'm unsuccessful. However, having picked house locks before, you'd be surprised how easy it is to defeat a common house lock if you have the right tools. I just don't have those tools at the moment.
posted by jsonic at 8:23 AM on January 12, 2007


For a small fee, they open doors.

It's been my experience that there's nothing small about locksmith fees, especially if you have to call them after work hours. Nth busting a small side window -- you can easily replace that yourself.
posted by sonofslim at 9:04 AM on January 12, 2007


I have used grocery store discount cards with great success. They easily make the bend even on rather tight doorframes and you won't feel bad about damaging the card or really wrenching it in there. I usually slide the card between the door and frame below the latch and slide the card up at a 45° angle and give it a hearty wiggle until I'm in.
posted by roboto at 9:27 AM on January 12, 2007


Just ordered a set of picks from lockpicks.com, oddly enough. Hope you got it.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:03 AM on January 12, 2007


Remember that in most US localities, carrying lockpicks (even improvised ones) on your person can be considered evidence that you are planning to use them for nefarious purposes, and can get you detained by your local authorities.
It looks particularly suspicious if you are trying to get into a locked door and a police car drives by. Your chances of getting caught go up because you will be spending a while doing it.

I think your best chances come from trying to push the door latch back instead of picking the lock. Look for materials that are strong but flexible, or plan to pry off the piece of moulding in front of the latch. I've had luck with grocery store discount cards, a video store rental card, cut up pieces of plastic milk carton or soda bottle, a butter knife, bits of wire (try to get a loop around the latch and pull it out), and a cut up aluminum soda can.

If none of the unlatching methods work, you could try a bump key. You would need to find a hardware store willing to sell you a key blank that fits your lock, then cut it down to the appropriate shape. Then you just need a blunt object to hit it with.

Failing that, looking around my desk I see some T-pins that might work for picks if bent properly, a pocket screwdriver that would work for a tensioner, the metal straight edge on an old wooden ruler, the metal slot blanks on the back of a PC that could be ground/filed down to shape, and a small desk fan with a metal cage that could be easily disassembled. If you have a pair of pliers, I would suggest taking apart binder clips and using the unbent handles instead of paper clips- they seem much stiffer.
posted by leapfrog at 10:05 AM on January 12, 2007


Can't you stop by the store and buy some hairpins? They really do work.
posted by Four Flavors at 10:05 AM on January 12, 2007


This site describes how to make a vibrational lockpick from materials that might be loitering around your workplace, or your workplace's IT graveyard.
posted by Orb2069 at 10:14 AM on January 12, 2007


I've been experimenting with a couple approaches on the locks in my cube. These locks actually aren't too simple, they have 7 pins.

Approach 1:
Cut classic lock picking tools out of an old credit card. This one sounded promising, but I quickly ran into its Achilles Heal. The end of the pick is brittle, and can easily break off in the lock. That's a pain, so scratch this idea.

Approach 2:
Bend a common paper-clip into a basic rake (essentially a bump at the end of a straightened paperclip). Using this and a bent metal pen clip as a torque wrench, I was successfully locking and unlocking my cube locks in a few minutes.

Here's hoping my house lock is as straight-forward.
posted by jsonic at 10:19 AM on January 12, 2007


I don't know what kind of windows you have, but if you have the type of windows that are the old-fashioned kind like this, then you just need to follow the steps for replacing the pane without having to start with a broken pane. Open the window/door, and then replace the pane following the instructions. Do yourself a favor and stop by a hardware store.

If you have modern windows and doors (insulated glass), you're going to be pretty much SOL, and I wouldn't break them except in an emergency.

If you have double hung windows, you might be able to convince the latch to open with a thin putty knife by sliding it up between the panes, but again, in modern windows this is pretty much impossible and you'll end up damaging the weather stripping, so your nice energy efficient windows have drafts. This will quickly cost you more to fix/pay in extra heat than a locksmith.
posted by plinth at 10:29 AM on January 12, 2007


Get a key blank and cut yourself a bump key.
posted by whatisish at 11:07 AM on January 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


To clarify - starting with a key blank isn't really the easiest since there is no reference on a blank to show where the pins will be. Instead of a key blank, get the same key already cut for somebody elses lock and make a bump key from that. Lots of places that cut keys have a box of cut keys (mistakes) that you could get something to work from - perhaps for free. If you dont want to go through the hassle of cutting your own (doesn't help you now, I know), get a set of common lock depth keys from eBay. 'Depth keys' are essentially 'bump keys' without the tip and shoulder filed down a bit.
posted by whatisish at 12:13 PM on January 12, 2007


Last year I locked myself out when I was taking out the garbage. I was wearing pyjama pants and slippers. Okay, that sucked.

My door has a mail slot. What I did was remove the metal handle from a plastic tub of kitty litter (the Purina Max kind that comes in a blue and white tub.) I jammed my arm as far as I could into the mail slot and started aiming for the doorknob lock, to flip the vertical tab toward the horizontal. I had to do it for a while and my arm got a bit chewed up but I tell you, the sound of the "click" when it unlocked was the sweetest noise ever heard.

I now leave the handle, which is essentially just a thick wire, outside just in case. But I'm also now super-paranoid about the knob so hopefully it won't happen again.

Of course, I also rent, so I could've called my landlord, but it was midnight and I couldn't bear to knock on a neighbour's door asking to use the phone in my pyjamas.
posted by loiseau at 12:55 PM on January 12, 2007


I drove home and tried to pick the lock for a half-hour with the paperclip and torque wrench, but no luck. I can't even remember which way to turn the lock to unlock it (I think it's counter-clockwise).
posted by jsonic at 1:21 PM on January 12, 2007


No deadbolt? I'd kick the door in and replace the frame. Almost certainly cheaper than calling a locksmith.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:41 PM on January 12, 2007


Any non-destructive method will do. I'll try a credit card, but it will have to navigate a 90 degree angle to get to the lock mechanism.


A bent coathanger can do for the "credit card method" if the wire is narrow enough and the lock happens to be susceptible to that kind of thing.
posted by juv3nal at 2:14 PM on January 12, 2007


A bent coathanger can do for the "credit card method" if the wire is narrow enough and the lock happens to be susceptible to that kind of thing.

I've seen that done to the door of a flat I was living in. It was ... slightly worrying. And also worrying that my neighbour's boyfriend knew how to do it, come to that (the neighbour was locked out, came calling on us to borrow the coathanger, a demonstration was provided when we asked what use a coathanger would be). And I've never lived anywhere with that kind of lock since, thankfully.
posted by Lebannen at 2:42 PM on January 12, 2007


I know around here Police will open car doors for you if you lock yourself out. Won't they do the same for your house?
posted by TrueVox at 3:00 PM on January 12, 2007


UPDATE: I'm Inside!!

Here is how I picked the lock:

1 straightened paperclip, bent with rounded bump on the end (the pick)
1 bent metal clip from a pen (torque wrench)
1 pair of needle nose pliers (helps make small bends)
1 office trash can (bench)

It took me about 30 minutes of playing with the lock to figure out how to open it.

Method:
- Slight, but constant pressure on the wrench
- Rake the pick in and out
- Vibrate/Shake the pick a little while raking
- Have something comfortable to sit on, you might be at it for awhile
- Ecstatic joy as the cylinder finally turns!

That's it. Saved me $124 that a locksmith quoted me. I would love to know how much easier it would be with proper tools.
posted by jsonic at 3:56 PM on January 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


In the spirit of science, I tried to pick my own house lock with a paperclip. Darn thing was too pliable.

With a good small screwdriver to use a tension wrench, I bet you'd be in business with a paperclip to use as a rake. (Snap it in half so you have a hook at the end you insert into the lock.)

I just keep my modest pick set out in the car... it's handy to have if situations ever arise. It's actually kinda scary how easy it is to pick a lock with the right equipment.
posted by ph00dz at 4:19 PM on January 12, 2007


Sweet! Nice work, jsonic. The bent piece from the pen was a clever idea.

The answer to your question is that it'd be way easier. Ridiculously easy. Like less than a minute with a little practice on an ordinary lock.
posted by ph00dz at 4:23 PM on January 12, 2007


In the spirit of science, I tried to pick my own house lock with a paperclip. Darn thing was too pliable.

There were different size paperclips at the office. I ended up using the "jumbo" paperclips. Even these bend easily, so I had to straighten the pick every once in awhile.

Paperclips will probably not work very well as the torque wrench.
posted by jsonic at 4:33 PM on January 12, 2007


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