Inside the Hairpin Technique: How Easy is it to Pick a Lock?

November 15, 2017

Heist movies make it look easy: insert bobby pin into lock, door swings open without a hitch, and then the action starts.

Well, in real life, you might be dismayed to learn that it’s pretty much as simple as the movies make it seem — except there’s (usually!) no booby trap lying in wait for would-be burglars once they gain entry. Here’s why your front door is vulnerable to anyone with a little lockpicking know-how — and how to truly secure your home against break-ins.

The Anatomy of a Pin Tumbler Lock

Let’s start off by taking a look at the most common front door security measure: the basic pin tumbler lock. A pin tumbler consists of an outer cylindrical casing, a plug, a shear line, driver pins, and key pins. The plug is where you insert your key, and once the correct key is inserted, the plug rotates to unlock the door. The shear line is located between the outer casing and the plug, while the key pins are drilled into holes above the plug. Above each key pin are the spring-loaded driver pins.

If you insert the wrong key into a lock, the driver pins will cross the shear line, and the plug won’t rotate. When the right key is inserted, the gap between the key and driver pins will reach the shear line, and the plug will rotate.

To pick a pin tumbler lock, all you need is a tool that acts as a proxy for the key by lining up the gap between the key and driver pins with the shear line. Lock-picking kits are cheap and ubiquitous, and pretty much all of them can be used to open a pin tumbler lock with very little effort. Even a bobby pin can do the trick.

In other words, pin tumbler locks aren’t deterring anyone who really wants to get in — they’re more an illusion of safety than an actual barrier to entry.

Why You Should Opt for a Deadbolt

As you can see, picking locks isn’t just for criminal masterminds. Anyone with Internet access and a couple of bobby pins can break into your home if a pin tumbler lock is the only thing standing in their way. That’s why deadbolts are so important — they’re infinitely harder to pick and serve as a deterrent to any would-be intruders.

A deadbolt is a lock with a steel bolt that physically goes into the door jamb and door frame. There are two types — single-cylinder and double-cylinder. A single-cylinder features a twist knob on the inside of the door and can be unlocked by a key. A double-cylinder requires a key for both entry and exit, offering more security than the simple twist knob.

Installing a deadbolt on your front door prevents lockpickers from gaining easy access — and they’re generally pretty affordable, too! We strongly recommend installing one yourself or calling up your friendly neighborhood locksmith to help you out.

— The Lockbusters Team

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