April 13, 2024

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What is a lock pick? Can you picture in your mind’s eye what a lock pick set looks like? What about a bump key, a shove knife, or a shim? Obviously we all understand the basic function of a lock pick without needing to be able to draw one from memory, but an understanding of the wide variety of available lock picks and how they work is an important first step to being more prepared for whatever life might throw your way.


The easiest way to categorize lock picks is by the locks they are intended to open. A simple breakdown is:

  • Lock picks for car locks (auto jigglers)
  • Lock picks for standard pin tumbler locks (like those you find in the front door to your home)
  • Bypass tools (shims, slim jims, shove knives)
  • Tubular lock picks


The most common lock pick used for car doors is known as an auto jiggler. If you’ve ever had to call a locksmith because you locked your keys in your car, you may have seen them produce a large keyring of what look at a glance like regular car keys. Jigglers are also sometimes called “try out keys”, the purpose of which is simply to keep trying one in the lock until it opens. This requires less skill and practice than actually “picking” a lock with a lock pick set.

wafer lock try out keys

Wafer Lock Try-Out Keys” by Willh26 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0


…you lock yourself out of your car a lot. Or you are the single owner of your car and don’t share a set of keys with someone else. Or you don’t have the extra cash laying around to pay a locksmith to get you out of a tight spot. Some people choose to keep auto jigglers around so that if they ever come across a dog or a baby trapped in a hot car, they can take quick action and possibly save a life.


Pin tumbler lock picks are probably the most common type of lock picking tools available, due to the popularity of the cylindrical pin tumbler lock. Most standard door locks use the pin tumbler design. Picking a pin tumbler lock requires two separate tools- a tension wrench, which is used to maintain tension on the lock and keep the lock pins from moving once they’ve been set in the correct position, and lock pick for moving and setting the pins. Some basic lock pick shapes include the rake, hook, ball, and diamond. Each of these types comes in many different sizes and variants, and will be effective on different types of locks.

pin tumbler lock picks

Rake lock picks are a little different in function from hook, ball, and diamond picks. The purpose of a rake is to literally “rake” the pick along the pins, with the intention of bumping several pins up to the shear line at once. This is a quicker, if less precise and inelegant, method. It doesn’t always work.

rake lock picks


… you breathe air! A lock pick set and some basic knowledge is an incredibly valuable skill to have, not just for survival situations but for day-to-day matters. We’ve all locked ourselves out of the house at least once. Have you ever resorted to breaking your own window to get back in? Or what about that old locked briefcase that’s been in your garage for years without a key, or the mom down the street who’s frantic because her toddler just locked her out? Lock picks are not just for preppers and locksmiths.


A bypass tool is a tool that allows you to literally bypass a lock without picking it. The most well known bypass tools are probably shims and the humble credit card trick, made famous thanks to Hollywood (but be advised that attempting to get into a locked door with a credit card is likely to render your card bent out of shape and unusable). Any tool that allows you to get past a locked door without actively picking the lock would be considered a bypass tool. Depending on the tool and your expertise with it, you may or may not cause damage to the lock or door that could prevent it from being usable once you’ve gained access. A coat hanger or slim jim that is used to unlock a car door, for example, could potentially damage the lock inside the door not to mention delicate electronics, airbags, the window mechanism, etc.

shove knife

This is why practice is so important: a working knowledge of the inside of the locking mechanism will allow you to understand what is happening whether you pick or bypass a lock, and reduce your chances of destroying the lock altogether.


…you are a first responder of any kind. Bypass tools are quicker than lock picks for gaining entry when every second counts. They’re also useful for individuals in the repossession business. Aside from specialized careers, anyone would benefit from keeping a shim amongst their everyday carry, because you truly never know when one might come in handy.


Tubular lock picks are special picks intended for, surprise, tubular locks.They are intended to be more resistant to picking than pin tumbler locks  (they still contain pins, but they are arranged in a circle rather than in a line), although some people find them easier to pick with the help of a specialized tubular lock pick.


…you own anything that contains a tubular lock. Tubular locks can be found on computers, gun safes, and vending machines, among other things.


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