Home LockLab University LP101: Basic Raking and Tensioning

LP101: Basic Raking and Tensioning

For lock pick sport supplies in Australia and New Zealand

For this module you’ll need a lock that contains four non-security pins.  For new pickers that might seem a little difficult, since you don’t yet know anything about security pins, or any other pins for that matter.  No problem, that’s what this course is all about.  If you don’t already have some of these locks in your garage, you can probably find all the locks you’ll need for this course at your local hardware store or, failing that, on eBay.   The ideal lock to begin learning on is the Master Lock #3, and it’s the cheapest training lock that you can find in North America, and is very common almost everywhere.  There are a number of other Master Lock models (and clones) that’ll work as well since the innards (lock core) are all the same.  In the picture above from left to right: Master #3, #5, #1, Brinks 40mm, Generic 40mm, and two Chinese 40mm laminated locks.   If you live in Europe you can use the cheapest laminated body Abus padlock or any of the 40-50mm Chinese-made versions.  They all contain only four pins, all of them standard, but how can you verify that?  Easy, just look at the key and you’ll see “cuts” or “Vs” that are equally spaced along the key.  Simply count the number of “V” cuts in the key and that will tell you how many pins the lock has.

Warning: Raking open locks is more addictive than cocaine and probably the most fun you can have while wearing pants.

You do NOT want a lock with security pins!  If the lock packaging says “security pins” or “anti-picking” pins, put it back.  The easiest way to find a simple lock without security pins is price.  In general, any lock costing around $5 US or 7 Euros will not contain security pins and is exactly what you need.  Their tolerances are sloppy so they’re forgiving if your tension isn’t perfect. These locks have no anti-picking features so you can focus on developing basic techniques.  Since picking is about having fun as well as developing your skills, let’s begin by learning how to quickly rake a lock open.  You can use any of your rakes, your choice.

If you have a beginner kit, you’ll probably have a Bogota or S-Rake.  While playing with the tools you’ll learn how to hold your rake while using bottom of the keyway (BOK) tension.  Your goal in this module is to rake open the lock without stabbing yourself in the hand or breaking your pick.

 Raking open locks is more addictive than cocaine and probably the most fun you can have while wearing pants.

Seriously, holding the padlock in your hand, insert your tension tool into the bottom of the keyway and rest your finger on the tension tool with just enough pressure to keep it from falling out.  The tension tool will keep rotational pressure on the core, just like a turning key would.  When the pins are aligned with the shear line, the tension your are putting on the core will turn it, exactly like the key.  Now, here’s one of the objectives of this lesson: don’t put too much tension on the tension wrench.  Just apply enough to hold it in place and keep it from falling out.  If you apply too much tension you’ll inadvertently pinch the pins in the shear line.  This is called “binding” the pins.  When the pins are bound up by applying too much pressure on the tension wrench, they can’t move when you touch them with your pick, so light tension is your friend.

OK, now that you’ve mastered the tension tool, choose one of your rakes and insert it into the keyway with the “teeth” pointing towards the pins.  It is normal for this to feel weird, after all you’re learning a new skill that requires dexterity and coordination with strange, new tools.  Don’t worry though, before long it’ll feel completely natural and you won’t even think about it.

While maintaining light pressure on the tension wrench, move your rake slowly in and out “raking” the pick against the lock’s pins.  Move it slowly and you can hear the pins clicking up and down against their spring pressure.  Whenever you rake a lock’s pins you are really playing a game of chance.  None of us paid attention in school during that boring statistics class, but what you’re doing is statistics in action.  Every time you rake the pins you’re giving them a chance to set themselves at the shear line.  In some locks, like the one you are using, the chances are very good that the pins can find the shear line and allow the lock to open.  There are many reasons for this: loose tolerances, imprecisely shaped pins, rounded edges on the pins and core, pins of near-equal length, and worn out holes in the lock body.  Sometimes it seems these cheap locks actually WANT to open!

Before long you’ll find that you can predict when the lock will open right before it actually pops open.

After you’ve raked the pins for a few moments you’ll probably be surprised when the core turns and the lock pops open!  Congratulations!  You’ve just picked your first lock!  If your lock resists your efforts, don’t give up yet.  There is a chance that the pins differ in length by a wide margin, which is called “bitting”.  If you look at your key and it looks like a wood saw blade with deep cuts zig zagging the length of the key, that is called a “radically bitted” key.  It means your pins are also radically zigzagged inside the lock.  This is actually the sign of a good lock, because radical bitting is one of the things we want on our locks to prevent people like us from raking them open easily.  Still, there are no security pins in these locks so with a little extra effort and patience you’ll eventually get it open.

If you find yourself with a radically bitted lock there are some “tricks” you can use to open it quickly.  First, you have more than one rake so give each of them a try.  Chances are that one of them will rake the lock open easier than the others.  If that doesn’t work, remember that your picks have TWO sides.  The lock doesn’t know or care that the pick is upside down, so give that a try.  With these simple 4-pin locks, one of these techniques are guaranteed to work in a pretty short time.

Keep raking open the lock over and over until it feels natural to hold the tension wrench in place and you begin to “feel” the rake against the pins. Before long you’ll find that you can predict when the lock will open right before it actually pops open.  Without realizing it you are starting to develop “feel” for both the pins and the right amount of tension necessary to open this lock.  If you have other practice locks the chances are that their “feel” is quite different – they might need more or less tension, or maybe their pins are stickier or the springs stronger or weaker.  These are all things that can change how a lock behaves in your hand and how it will react to your picks.

Raking open locks is a lot of fun!  Surprisingly, about 60-70% of all padlocks can be raked open, so by mastering this skill you’re well on your way to conquering the lock universe.  I urge you to spend a little time learning how to rake and tension correctly, because everything you learn in these early stages will pay huge dividends later.  Pick in the dark, or outside when it’s cold to expand your raking skills.  When I was learning I watched TV while raking locks, just to develop my “feel”.  This “feel” is something that you can’t verbalize or describe.  It is a skill that you NEED, but there’s no way to learn it by reading or watching videos.  You have to DO it.  You can only develop your “feel” with a lock and pick in your hand.  You’ll also need to pay attention to the lock so you can “hear” what it is telling you.  At first your senses will be bombarded by clicking, grinding, weird tensions, and a variety of other types of “feedback”.  That feedback is the language of the lock.  It’s telling you what is going on inside, when there is too much or too little tension, and when it about to open.  Of course you’ll hear the lock talking through your fingertips and hand, and that’s the “feel” I’m referring to.  If you stop raking after popping open your first lock and move on to the next module, you’ll be cheating yourself out of a lot of what you need to know to pick locks.  It isn’t a race.  Take your time, listen to your locks, and develop your feel before moving to the next module.  Please.

 Many people learn how to rake and are perfectly happy stopping their training there.  That’s OK if you’ll only ever have to attack simple locks with no security pins.  It’s a great party trick to rake open a master lock, and that’s all many people are interested in.  However, if you want to become REALLY good and have the skills to open almost ANY kind of lock, I invite you to move on to LP102.

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