OFFGRID|Issue 36
An Introduction to Bypassing Locks in Situations Where Your Life Could Depend on It
Chad McBroom

A basic understanding of lockpicking is one of the most valuable urban survival skills one can have in their arsenal. For many, the idea of lockpicking may be relegated to the realm of criminals and hackers, but there are many legitimate legal uses for these skills.

A locksmith can be an expensive solution to regaining entry into your own home, automobile, or safe when your keys are locked inside. Under such circumstances, a basic knowledge of lockpicking might save you a good chunk of cash. If ever the day should come that you’re the victim of an unlawful custody situation, a solid foundation of lockpicking skills and an understanding of the inner workings of the most popular lock designs could likely aid in your escape. And in a worst-case, end-of-the-world scenario, lockpicking could enable you to scavenge medications or other necessary items from places that may have been passed over by opportunistic looters.

In this article, we examine the anatomy of a lock, how lockpicking works, basic lockpicking tools, and the most popular lockpicking techniques.


The pin tumbler lock is one of the most basic and commonly used lock designs. This type of lock can be found on virtually every doorknob, deadbolt, and padlock. Even many high-security doors have a pin tumbler lock as a backup.

The mechanics of these locks are very simple and easy to understand. Once you have a firm grasp on how these locks work, they’re relatively easy to pick. Even some of the highest-security locks on the market are just creative alterations of the pin tumbler design.

Housing: The housing is the outer shell that holds all the internal lock components together.

Cylinder: The cylinder sits inside the housing and rotates freely when the proper key is inserted. It’s kept in place by a series of pins and springs that protrude into the cylinder and housing. These pins prevent the cylinder from turning until the key is inserted.

Shear Line: The shear line is the space between the cylinder and housing. When the key is inserted and all components are aligned properly, the gap between the driver pins and the key pins align perfectly with the shear line.

Driver Pins: The driver pins are essentially the locking pins, which sit between the cylinder and housing to prevent the cylinder from turning. When the correct key is inserted into the lock, these pins are pushed above the shear line to release the cylinder, which can then rotate freely within the housing. Driver pins are located on top of the key pins.

Key Pins: The key pins sit below the driver pins. Key pins are called such because these provide the coding system for the lock. They vary in length to match the cut on the appropriate key. These pins contact the key and press against the driver pins to push them above the shear line.

Springs: Each set of pins has a tension spring located at the top, which forces the pins downward into the cylinder.


When a key is inserted into a pin and tumbler lock, the cuts on the key contact the key pins and lift the pins upward to the correct height. This positions the driver pins above the shear line and the key pins below the shear line, allowing the cylinder to rotate.

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