In the movies, picking a lock looks like a matter of sticking a bobby pin through a keyhole and twisting it around a little. In reality, it’s a complicated process that involves assessing the interior structure of the lock and trying out various different tactics until you get it right.
In the video below, YouTuber the HelpfulLockPicker uses a clear acrylic lock to demonstrate basic lock structure and how to manipulate the interior of a lock until it springs open. (Please note that Mental Floss does not endorse breaking into property that doesn’t belong to you.)
Within the clear lock, you can see six metal driver pins, each held down by a coiled spring. The springs push the pins down into the metal tube, physically obstructing the lock from turning. Below those pins are key pins, which are different lengths. When you stick your key into the lock, the combination of the teeth of the key and those key pins push up on the driver pins, pushing them out of the metal plug and allowing you to turn the key and open the lock.
The video then shows how you can rotate that metal tube surrounding the keyhole using a tension wrench, making it easier to open the lock using just a hook. He tests out how springy each driver pin is, clicking open the one with the most tension and springing the lock open.
HelpfulLockPicker also shows a few techniques that seem a little less intensive. He demonstrates “zipping,” a maneuver that works kind of like ripping off a Band-Aid. You turn the lock with the tension wrench, stick the hook all the way in, and pull it out quickly while pushing up, knocking out all the driver pins in the process. Then there’s “rocking,” which involves an “L Rake” pick that kind of looks like a key in itself. If you rock the pick back and forth while the wrench keeps the lock turned, eventually it should pop open. Or you could use a Bogota rake, another tool, and just pull it back and forth through the plug until it releases.
Lockpicking may not be quite as easy as he makes it look, especially on locks more complicated than this, but the video definitely makes it seem like an accessible skill to acquire in an afternoon, as long as you can get your hands on some tools.
Watch the full video for more lockpicking tips.