Nothing in this hobby will give you greater pleasure than hand fabricating your own tools. Many of us do it as a cost-saving measure, while others need custom tools to conquer a specific lock. I once had a nasty Evva pin tumbler living in my naughty bucket. He’d been living in there for several years because none of my picks were thin enough squeeze into the keyway. One day I found some 0.012” feeler gage and ground out an abomination that kind of resembled a Deforest diamond. I wrapped the handle with electrical tape and went to work, successfully opening “Evil Evva” a few minutes later. Since that day I’ve made a variety of picks, tensioners, and tools to attack specific locks.
There are a lot of theories out there. On the forums you’ll read about how good hacksaw blades (or gutters, or pea cans) are for making picks out of. My experiences were quite different. There are a million ideas about handles, finishing, tools, etc. Again, some were good ideas but most were a bit….uninformed.
Over the years I’ve ground or sanded off a lot of skin and a few finger tips coming up with my “process”. It capitalizes on what little “truth” I found on the Internet, filtered out the useless rumors, and condensed pick making down into five basic steps. Through trial and error, and a lot of experimentation, I developed a list of acceptable pick and tool materials that almost guarantee good performance and durability. None of the steps are particularly difficult, but I quickly found there was a wide range of mechanical aptitude out there, from machinists to people that hurt themselves using sand paper. Hopefully most of us are somewhere in between.
A couple years ago I decided to make a series of five comprehensive videos to help people produce quality picks. I am an engineer, not an artist. I’m interested in function, not appearance so my picks work perfectly but they are not pretty. There are guys out there are true artists that produce masterpiece picks. When subscribers occasionally send one of those to me I am always in awe of their abilities. The joy that I feel when holding one of their beautiful picks is only overshadowed by the thrill when it actually opens a lock. I’m sure you’ll get the same satisfaction in making yours.
Material Selection: (114) Pick Making Part 1: Material Selection
Forget hacksaw blades. They work, but quickly break and leave you crying over the loss of a nice looking pick. My advice is to stick with some form of stainless steel. Take a look at the video on material selection and you’ll find a wide variety of different things, from hose clamps to feeler gage.
Design and Layout: (115) Pick Making Part 2: Design and Layout
How your picks turn out depend on your planning and layout. If you just start grinding steel then your results will be different every time. Laying out your plan logically will improve your odds of ending up with what you really want.
Rough Shaping: (116) Pick Making Part 3: Rough Shaping
This module talks about how to rough-in your pick tips and handles. Many guys try to grind too fast and overheat the metal, leaving it soft. Here we’ll discuss cooling, as well as how tight to grind to the lines.
Fine Shaping: (117) Pick Making Part 4: Fine Shaping
I’ve ruined more picks and tools during this step than all others combined. As long as you don’t get into too much of a hurry (or use an 8” grinding wheel to fine shape), you are near completion.
Finishing and Polishing: (118) Pick Making Part 5: Final Finishing
The most valuable tip in finishing and polishing comes from Kokomolock, a famous YouTuber. If you have a copy of War and Peace sitting on the shelf, get it down because we’ll finally put it to use!