Home LockLab University LP103: Single Pin Picking

LP103: Single Pin Picking

By now you’ve mastered raking locks open and it’s time to learn how to single pin pick (SPP).  If you’ve skipped LP101 and LP102, you will quickly discover how important coordination, tensioner control, and feel are.  If you’ve invested the time in those two modules, this will be a breeze because 100% of your focus can be on learning how to deal with individual pins, instead of worrying about balancing a tension wrench.  Don’t think you’re done with tensioning though, we’ll build on your foundation of knowledge and further refine the type of tensions you can use.

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The binder is the first pin that “seizes” when you apply tension to the core.

Still using your familiar Master #3 (you’re definitely getting your money’s worth out of it!), you will use your short hook to practice single pin picking (SPP). Your objective of this lesson is to refine your “feel”  to know which pin you are on and what it’s doing. By the time you get done with this module you’ll be able to find the binding pin, determine by feel whether it is set or not, and begin to learn “mental mapping” of your lock – a useful skill that we’ll discuss later.

When practicing SPPing you’ll learn faster while relaxed, sitting in a comfortable chair in a quiet room (no music, TV, streaming videos, Facebook, Tweets, etc.)  Totally quiet, because many of the signals the lock will send you are subtle, and get lost if you’re focused on the everyday noises of life. Mute your phone for a few minutes, close your eyes, and do your best to feel what’s happening in the lock.  While SPPing, try to position your pick on the key pins as precisely as you can, paying attention to where you are in the lock.  Before long you’ll be able to jump from pin-to-pin, checking for the binding pin and easing it into place.

Binding Pin?

If you apply too much tension, all of the pins will bind up and you won’t have any idea which pin to start with.

Oh, what’s the “binding pin”?  The binder is the first pin that “seizes” when you apply tension to the core.  It binds because the pins are not perfectly aligned or not identically sized.  It’s like four guys trying to fit through a tight doorway.  The skinny ones slide through easily (and don’t bind in the doorway), but the fattest guy scrapes BOTH sides of the door.  If you apply tension to the core, you can narrow the doorway and cause that fat guy (the pin) to get stuck (bind) in the doorway (shear line).  Once the fattest pin reaches the shear line by you pushing it there with your pick you’ll probably feel and hear a distinctive “click” through your tension wrench and you may even feel the core turn slightly.  You just SPP’d your first pin, congratulations!  Repeat the process to find the second fattest pin, then the third, and keep going until you push the last pin to the shear line and then, magically, the lock opens. Congrats on your first SPP opening!

Tension Control?

You’ll soon discover that maintaining a steady tension on the core can be a challenge.  If you apply too much tension, all of the pins will bind up and you won’t have any idea which pin to start with.  Too little tension and none of the pins will bind up, leaving you with the same problem.  SPPing teaches you to maintain the right tension – just enough to bind just one pin – and not so little that the pin you just picked falls back down.  Yes, that’s the penalty for releasing too much tension: everything you picked will fall down and you’ll have to start over.

Luckily, Master Locks tolerate a wide range in tensioning pressure because their manufacturing tolerances are so…generous.  A good way to start is to apply heavy tension and feel around for a binding pin.

Heavy tension?

So what’s heavy tension?  Heavy tension is when you apply enough tension to cause your tension tool to mildly flex and begin to make a dent in your fingertip.  It should not hurt or cause you to bleed.  The tension wrench should never bend in half.  Try to imagine that your finger is resting on the point of a not-so-sharp thumb tack.  You’ll tension enough to know that it’s there, but not enough to hurt or draw blood.  Don’t rule out heavy tension however, it DOES have uses:

Medium tension?

Now we’re really getting down to the details of tensioning.  Medium tension is difficult to define, but try to imagine there’s a very sharp needle on the tension wrench instead of that dull thumb tack.  As you apply pressure on the tension wrench you can feel the point of the needle pressing into your finger but not quite penetrating your skin.  That’s the best definition of medium tension I can come up with.

Light Tension?

Sticking with the needle analogy, to get light tension you are only applying enough tension to hold the needle in place.  In real life, you’ll put just enough pressure on the tension wrench to keep it from falling out.  When using light tension it’s very common to drop the tension wrench because you are barely holding it in position, so don’t be disappointed when that happens, it means you are doing it right.

Keep practicing your SPP skills until you can feel the pins setting and predict exactly which pin it’ll open on.  Begin mentally mapping what is happening inside the lock and pay attention to the binding order of the pins.  If you have more than one #3, you’ll probably discover that the binding order and “feel” of the pins is quite different.

Mental Mapping?  Oversetting?

As you pick your way through the pin stack, mental mapping means paying attention to which pins you’ve picked.  This is a useful skill to have because once a pin is picked and you later come back to it, it’ll feel as though it’s binding, when in fact the key pin is wedged against the misaligned core and housing.  If you didn’t mentally map that pin as already picked, you CAN force it, but that’ll result in an overset pin and you will need to start over.  You only have to pick them once, and keeping track of which ones are done will save you a lot of oversetting.  Oversetting is when you push the pins too far up into the chamber, past the shear line.  When that happens the key pin is stuck in the shear line and there’s no way to recover from that mistake – you’ll just have to release tension and begin over.  Keeping track of which pins you have picked, and mentally mapping where you are in the process will help you avoid over-setting pins.

By the time you finish this step you’ll be quite skilled at SPPing your Master #3.  It’s time to raise the difficulty and grow your skills by taking on something a bit more challenging.  Let’s move to a 5-pin lock like the Master #17 or a Wilson Bohannon, which contain five standard pins.  It doesn’t sound like a great leap in complexity, but that extra pin will drive you crazy for a while.  The Master #17 is made to the same sad standards as your #3, but the Wilson Bohannon is a much more precisely made lock with better quality parts and better tolerances.  It is a much better quality lock and requires a bit more skill to open than the #17, so be prepared for it.  Get yourself a 5-pin lock and let’s jump to LP201!



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