Posts Tagged ‘lock picking’

My First Lock Picking Set

on November 6, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on My First Lock Picking Set


Today I finally got my first lock picking set. I ordered it online over the weekend and it just now arrived courtesy of UPS. I should’ve bought it before now, but as usual everyday life (a sick cat, deadlines at my job, exhaustion from work, running errands, chores) got in the way. I now have the type of basic tools Chris recommended plus a cutaway lock which shows the pins moving as I pick them, the better to see the process. My plan is to get really good with basic locks and picks before moving on to combination locks and other tough challenges.

What I’d love is to be a natural at the art to the degree that Layla is, though God knows why. It’s not like I have a profession that calls for getting into old libraries and monasteries and archives, or past an inconvenient door or a locked cabinet housing rare ancient books and papers. (Damn, that would be fun!) Still, there’s something alluring, even deeply gratifying about developing a forbidden skill. The very idea that I could get past a barrier that’s designed to keep me out, should I so desire it, gives me the very sweet feeling of forbidden power.

No wonder crazy young guys love lock picking. It’s not just the skills and thrills but the resulting emotions that can be so addictive.

Lock Picking Part Deux

on August 17, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Lock Picking Part Deux

It’s a good thing Layla never needs to pick a car’s lock.

“Car locks are really hard to pick,” Chris confessed.  Rather than pick a car lock, a thief would be better off just breaking the window.  On the other hand, to break into a Bentley you just have to take off a headlight and throw a screwdriver into the opening behind it.  That’ll short out the electrical system and the doors will open.  “But at that point you might as well break the window,” Chris said logically.

Obviously, Chris and I were now getting down to the nitty-gritty of Layla’s needs.

“Where does your character work?” he asked.  When I told him she was mostly in Europe (and forgot to add the Middle East), he stated she would need flatter tools.  It seems that locks in Europe are more finely tuned than American ones, therefore the tools must also be finer.  When he asked me what kind of places she’d be getting into, I told him mostly older buildings like archives, libraries and churches.

“Then she should carry WD40 and graphite powder with her,” he instructed.

That’s because older locks can have rust in them, which makes their pins and other parts stiff.  Layla could pour a little WD40 oil into a lock, but after picking her way past the pins the lock would need to be replaced because oil can ruin it.  Graphite powder would be better:  after blowing some into the lock, the parts wouldn’t be damaged and the powder would still facilitate picking.

Precisely because Layla wouldn’t leave damaged locks behind, both to protect herself and out of personal ethics, Chris and I decided that Layla wouldn’t bump locks.  Yes, bumping is easy and it works, but bump a lock repeatedly and it has to be replaced.  Picking is kinder and gentler.


Happily I don’t have Layla breaking into state-of-the-art safes.  Even Chris believes the best of them are nearly impossible to get into.  That means the scene in The Italian Job when Charlize Theron is practicing breaking into a safe by listening to its tumbler isn’t realistic, he thinks.  Opening your standard basic combination lock by listening to it is one thing.  Listening to a very expensive safe with an advanced system would take a lot more than Charlize’s skills and tools.

Layla would also occasionally encounter the really old-fashioned lock — the kind with the classic keyhole accessed with big old keys.  When I was a kid a few doors on our family’s 1920’s house had such locks, and a standard skeleton key bought at the hardware store could open all of them.  “You can open those locks with a hairpin!” Chris said with a laugh.

I’m glad he said this, because in The Compass Master Layla picks a desk lock with a hairpin.  The scene is one of several concerning her teenage years in an Irish boarding school; it’s her first time at lock picking and getting into something that’s forbidden to her, and she finds the thrill addictive.  When writing the scene I figured this was plausible because as a kid I often misplaced the key to an old trunk I’d been given and so had to teach myself how to use a twisted-up hairpin to pick the lock.

Other everyday objects can also be altered into handy-dandy picking tools, Chris said.  To prove his point he pulled out a file and a long thin wire he’d been working on.  The wire was a bristle from a street-cleaner, the kind that can be found on streets or in gutters just about anywhere.  Then there’s the metal edge to a ruler, the wire inside a windshield wiper, even — and I am not making this up — the stiff edge of a banana’s top.  “You can turn just about anything into a pick!” Chris declared.  Apparently resourcefulness and ingenuity are points of pride among Crazy Young Guy lock pickers.

Home-made picks can also be convenient because buying real lock picking tools might get tricky.  Chris wouldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to get my hands on a set like his, never mind that they seem to be sold on plenty of internet sites.  In most states only professional locksmiths and law enforcement agencies can legally purchase lock picking kits.

Well, I still need a lock picking set with at least the four tools Chris recommended, and like him I need to buy a deadbolt lock and a couple padlocks and practice on them.  In the coming weeks I’ll find out just how tough or easy it’ll be to buy those tools.

My First Lock Picking Teacher

on August 15, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on My First Lock Picking Teacher

Great news!  After parkour class today I met a top-of-the-line lock picker, someone who knows the art as well as Layla.

But first let me summarize the class:

We really, really worked on jumping the vault boxes.  And I really, really still suck at jumping the vault boxes.

Anyway, after class I mentioned to one of the instructors that I’d overheard him saying something about lock pickers.  Of course he knew a few, it turned out.  (The rule seems to be that in any large group of Crazy Young Guys, one can find at least a couple excellent lock pickers.)  In fact, one of the best was hanging out in the gym’s lounge.

Chris was lying on the floor of the lounge with ice packs bracketing the calves of one leg while his right arm was taped up and nearly immobile.   Apparently during the National Parkour Jam a week earlier he’d dislocated his elbow and banged up his leg.  But he was still bright-eyed, very friendly, and happy to give me the basics.

He started by pulling out his own lock picking kit.  It was a small leather case with only a few tools in it, and the ones he recommended to me the most were the rake, the half diamond, the hook, and the torque.  He also pulled out a laptop and brought up two websites he highly recommended:    lockpicking101 and the MIT Guide to Lock Picking.  “Like, the MIT Guide is great,” he said; everything I need to know should be in there.

For half an hour, Chris showed me how he used the tools on padlocks and described the pins that were in the locks and in deadbolts; he talked about how to line up the pins and what I had to feel.  You have to develop serious sensitivity in your fingers, he advised.  Some people can do this in only days, but it took him a year to get really good at feeling those pins move.  In fact he was now so good he used to teach lock picking, and for the last six months he hadn’t bothered to carry a house key.  In one recent incident when he was locked out of a place, he picked his way past three deadbolt locks in ten minutes.

“And like these new hospital locks that are supposed to be unpickable?” He almost laughed.  “Totally pickable!”

Maybe I should now emphasize that Chris strictly avoids doing anything illegal.  As with many of his Crazy Young Guy colleagues, he only picks locks at home for the fun and challenge of it or when he’s locked out of his place.  It sounds funny, but there seems to be a code of ethics among guys like Chris that goes:  Dude! Like, picking a lock illegally is totally uncool.

Another word about Chris:  he’s a college student who in a couple days will be flying overseas for a year of studying abroad where he plans to become fluent in the local language.  He’s definitely no slacker.

But enough about lock picking for now.  In my next blog I’ll list more of Chris’s handy-dandy pointers and his advice regarding Layla’s own personal kit.

What I Gotta Do

on July 9, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on What I Gotta Do

First, the facts of my life.

I work the usual 40 hours in an office.

I go to epee fencing two evenings a week (a cool sport that in my back-story of Layla she doesn’t do, hence I’m one up on her).  Then after fun with friends and the usual grind of errands and chores, I don’t have much free time.

I will need to explain to friends and family (at least I have no children to embarrass and right now I’m single) why I, a grown woman who appears to be of sound mental health, intends to skirt along the borders of La-La Land by acting like a fictional character and living out some of her adventures.

As for my free time, it will now be filled with the skills I need to learn.  Here are a few of them in no particular order:

  1. Pick locks (Layla is an expert)
  2. Get in and out of places I don’t belong without being caught
  3. Climb around structures like they’re jungle gyms
  4. Climb up buildings and rappel down them
  5. Skydive
  6. Paraglide
  7. Archery (did it as a kid, but I need to learn how to shoot a trident that’s attached to a rope)
  8. Parkour (the sport used in the opening sequence of “Casino Royale” when the bad guy is evading Bond by leaping, sliding and bounding over barriers as if they’re tools of escape)
  9. Scuba (did it once off the coast of Cambodia, but I wasn’t yet certified; now I have to get good at it)
  10. Aerial dancing (okay, that’s more like Lara Croft in “Tomb Raider” when she soars on a cool bungee contraption in her castle, but I still wanna do it)
  11. Lots of other cool stuff like surveillance and evasion techniques
  12. Brush up on French and get serious about learning at least basic Arabic (Layla doesn’t speak it, but with my own passion for archeology in the Middle East that’s what I’m going with)

First up: parkour

I didn’t plan on pursuing the toughest skill first.  The trouble is, one of the best places in the country to learn parkour (which is related to freerunning) is only minutes from where I live, and a ten-week course begins this Saturday.  That means I either take the classes now or wait a few months.

So parkour it is.

According to Wikipedia, parkour is a discipline focusing on moving from one point to another as smoothly, efficiently and quickly as possible using only the abilities of the human body.  It is built on the premise that any physical or mental obstacle can be surpassed.

Also in Wikipedia:  After the attention that parkour received following the film Casino Royale, the British Royal Marines hired parkour athletes to train their members.  Colorado Parkour began a project to introduce the discipline into the U.S. military and it is slowly being introduced into the USMC.

So in essence, parkour does not use acrobatics like flips, while freerunning does.  Yet here in Denver the two terms sometimes seem to be  used interchangeably.

Since what Layla would need to do is parkour (both in my novel The Compass Master and in her back story), then that’s what I’ll be doing.  Hence no flips.

For a peek at the kind of are-you-insane stuff I’m supposed to learn, here’s a YouTube video filmed at the gym where I’ll be taking the classes.