How could I be my own locksmith next time?
June 19, 2004 4:31 AM   Subscribe

So I locked myself out... [more inside, now I'm finally here]

Called a locksmith who came and was in after about thirty seconds. He used a piece of very thin, very flexible, and seemingly very unbreakable plastic to slide between door and frame and jimmy the lock open. 'Where can I get some?', I asked. 'Oh, this is a specialist security product. You can't just buy this in the hardware store.' So, this being the interwebbynet thing where I can buy just about anything, anyone know what this stuff was and where I can get some? Bonus points for UK-based locations!
posted by humuhumu to Grab Bag (12 answers total)
Can't you do that with a credit card? I'm assuming you didn't have a deadbolt.
posted by pieoverdone at 5:21 AM on June 19, 2004

Response by poster: No, the door fits inside the frame. It makes an L-shape, with the edge of the door fitting inside the corner of the L with half an inch or so along the bottom of the L. So the piece of plastic had to go along the bottom of the L then bend around to go up the side. A credit card wouldn't have been able to flex and bend enough to get round. But yes, no deadbolt.
posted by humuhumu at 5:40 AM on June 19, 2004

I used to do this all the time to get into my dorm room. Metrocards, the cheap disposable fare cards used by the New York subways, are made of the perfect material to slip into the door frame and trip the lock. I had the same door configuration you were describing, and my Metrocard never failed to get me into my room, so long as the deadbolt was not set.

You can do the same thing with a credit card, even with a door fitted into the frame, but you run a very serious risk of snapping the card. I'd recommend trying with a health insurance card or something in that genre; they're usually made of lighter, more flexible plastic.
posted by mmcg at 6:03 AM on June 19, 2004

you may also be able to use the webbing used to hold construction supplies together - that cm-wide plastic ribbon - possibly folded double (which can also be used to open car locks, partiuclarly on older models, by slipping through the joint between door + pillar and then grabbing the appropriate switch).

incidentally, i locked myself out too, recently, and was surprised to see that the locksmith really did pick the lock (and did so in just a minute or so) without even trying to use the plastic thing.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:25 AM on June 19, 2004

Response by poster: okay: I was wrong about the door size. This is a big, solid, two-inch thick heavy wooden door. And it's more like an inch along the bottom of the 'L'. So no go on the cedit card / health insurance card idea, unfortinately...
posted by humuhumu at 6:42 AM on June 19, 2004

i doubt the plastic is anything special, by the way. you can find lock picking kits on the net (just use google) and the same sites don't seem to mention a special piece of plastic. if it existed (as a dedicated product) i'm sure they'd sell it. more likely it's a piece of scrap from something (i've used sections cut from liquid detergent bottles in the past, but they're not very rigid).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:02 AM on June 19, 2004

A not of warning, there are many doors where this won't work, as they have a "card guard". It's generally either a triangle that's above the latch, or something right behind the flat part. If you have one on your door, try pushing it in, then try pushing the latch in. While the guard is pushed in, the latch is locked, preventing it from being pushed in (except by using the knob). When the door is closed, the latch fits into the door frame, but the card guard is pushed in, preventing anyone from outside from carding the door.

Regarding card material, I've found Metrocards and the like to be too flimsy, but old phone cards tend to work well. I have these random blue plastic cards (I'm not sure where from, but I think they're the hospital id card stock that they use to print on) that work great for this purpose, as they've got the right combination of strength and flexibility.

As for locksmiths picking locks, it's probably the easiest approach if the door is going to be difficult to card (and sometimes even if it isn't). Most household locks are of minimal security, with few pins and poor tolerances.
posted by PaperDragon at 7:04 AM on June 19, 2004

The ideal material is the weird layered polymer stuff used for New York State drivers' licenses. Did this for over a year when I lost the keys to my apartment.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:16 AM on June 19, 2004

I think what you're looking for is this by-pass tool. It won't work on deadbolts, but pretty easy to use.
posted by revgeorge at 8:44 AM on June 19, 2004

curious. from the wiggly shape at the end, it looks like it was intended to be a slim jim (not that that makes me any less wrong about my claim that these didn't exist...)
posted by andrew cooke at 9:02 AM on June 19, 2004

Once when I was locked out of my New York apartment, my super opened the door with a curved piece of a plastic Pepsi bottle that he'd carved off with a knife. It probably works with the same principle as the more expensive plastic.

(I didn't have my deadlock locked at the time; it was just the basic lock. I'd been locked out after my steam radiator had malfunctioned at 4:30 a.m. and turned my apartment into a steamy hot cloud, and I had freaked out and stepped outside into the hallway for a minute, holding my unhappy cat, unaware that the steam would slam the door behind me. Then had to pound on my various neighbors' doors until one apartment full of hipster boys woke up and called the super. While waiting for the super, I used the neighbors' knife to try to jimmy the door, slicing my finger open in the process, while my cat hid under the neighbors' futon. They had a guest who was having his first night in New York.)
posted by lisa g at 11:04 AM on June 19, 2004

I would just wander the aisles at home depot and look for any kind of ducting, bucket, wrapping, siding, whatever that you can cut a suitable piece out of.

I, too, have had to call a locksmith to get me back in, and I was really disappointed when he didn't do anything really fancy, just opened the gate with a coat hanger and then credit-carded the door. Damn! I can make $50 in 5 minutes doing that?
posted by scarabic at 3:17 PM on June 19, 2004

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