The Lock-Picker’s Tale

Tales from End to End
The Lock-Picker’s Tale

by John Wakenshaw

It was 8.05 on Tuesday morning and I heard a call from over the garden wall:

‘Hello, anyone there?’

‘Aye,’ I replied.

‘We’re in trouble – we’ve locked ourselves out of the house and we don’t know where the spare key is kept! And we haven’t even got the owner’s phone number or address with us – they’re locked inside as well!’

So I went round and suggested that I might be able to help. I think John was a little doubtful but Nancy seemed reasonably confident that, perhaps, I could do something.

My job is doing home maintenance and repairs and I’ve sometimes had customers come to me and say that they have lost their house keys and they wondered if I could help them. Until recently I had to say ”Sorry, I can’t’. So I decided that perhaps I should see if I could learn something about the noble art of lock-picking in order to help people who found themselves locked out of their homes.

Jennifer, my ex-sister-in-law, is a former Mayor of Berwick. She is also the manageress of a shop in Berwick that sells keys so it seemed sensible to consult her for advice. We agreed that I should go on the web to see if I could learn anything about lock-picking. In fact, I discovered that if you Google ‘Lock Pick Tools’ you can access scores of sites that give you all the advice that I needed. I was away! There are firms offering catalogues with details for all the gear you can use for lock-picking as well as for all the different sorts of locks: padlocks, safe locks, door locks. There is even a tool for getting inside letter boxes – you push the implement through the box and then twist it round to reach the key and then – hey presto – you just open the door! Anyone can learn the basic rules of lock-picking by just going on the internet.

With encouragement from Jennifer and with reference to the web information, I have ‘manufactured’ my own set of lock-picking tools. This consists of a flattened allen key and two picks made from the metal part of an old car windscreen wiper blade. It sounds like Heath Robinson but that’s all you need.

The principle of picking a Yale type of lock, which is the kind that was giving Nancy and John their problem, is fairly basic. The cylinder of the lock contains five or six holes with five of six small pins (or plungers) of different lengths that fit into the holes. To open the lock, I had to put the lock pick into the cylinder and, one by one, push up the different pins. The allen key is required to put ‘tension’ on the lock by holding the pins out of the way once they have been pushed up. It’s important to apply just the correct amount of pressure and getting this right takes a bit of practice.

I’ve actually managed to open a Yale-type lock, using this method, in only 45 seconds. However, Nancy and John’s lock was a bit more tricky; the first five pins moved easily but the last one was more awkward. I was reasonable confident that I could do it but it demanded some patience. Eventually the pick did its work, the lock was released and the door opened.

John Wakenshaw
John Wakenshaw

What I had not said to Nancy and John before I started work on their lock was that I had only begun learning the techniques of lock-picking about two months ago. Although I had done a good bit of practice on dummy locks, I had not, so far, done a lock-picking job for real. So when I heard the cry from over the garden wall, I thought ‘Ah! Here’s the chance to put my skills to the test!’ I suspect that Nancy thought I was an accomplished emergency expert but their lock was the very first one I’ve freed in a real situation.

I’ve still got a lot to learn. One ambition I have is to be able to cut new keys for people who have old locks but have lost the original keys. However, I’ll not be learning how to use the ‘bumper keys’ that some official authorities fire from a kind of gun when they want to break through a lock and enter a building quickly in an emergency. And I don’t intend to copy some Americans who do lock-picking as a hobby (on dark winter nights, perhaps?) to see who can crack the hardest lock in the shortest record time.

Oh, I nearly forgot. Once I’d set Nancy and John on their way for their day’s walk, I went home for my breakfast and then went out to do my proper job – house repairs and maintenance.