Best Bobby Pins – Ultimate Guide to Picking Locks (Step by Step)
It’s hard not to agree with us when we say that there is nothing more annoying than being locked out of your house.
While you can choose to hire a locksmith to break into your lock, their services can often be time-consuming and expensive. Not to mention, a locksmith might not be available if you come home late at night to find that you don’t have your key on you.
Thus, we’re bringing you this post detailing the power that a small household object holds over standard locks. It may even be in your hair right now. Yes, we’re talking about bobby pins.
What are Bobby Pins?
A bobby pin is a very small type of hair-pin that is used to hold hair firmly in place. It’s usually made of either metal or plastic and its appearance can be described as a taut two-pronged pin. In standard practice, you open it up and slide it into your hair. When you let go, it becomes taut again, thus, holding your hair securely in place.
They’ve been around since after World War I when a San Francisco-based cosmetics manufacturer named Luis Marcus invented them. He thought of naming them after himself but ultimately chose to call them bobby pins after the bobbed hairstyle.
Bobby pins are generally bumpy or ridged on one side as compared to regular hairpins. The latter are usually shaped like one big, elongated "V". This is the general difference between regular hairpins and bobby pins, although there do exist bobby pins that are flat on both sides too.
How does a Standard Lock work?
Most standard locks are known as pin-and-tumbler locks. These types of locks constitute about 90% of all the locks currently being used in the world. It's true that they do seem secure and sturdy on the outside. However, the truth is that most of them offer very little security against people that actually understand how they work.
Thus, before we even begin to understand the basics of lock-picking, we need to understand how a basic lock operates. For this post, we will be focusing solely on pin-and-tumbler locks as they are primarily the type of locks that are used in most scenarios. Also, if you can understand and master how to pick pin-and-tumbler locks, there’s a fair chance you’ll be able to figure out how to pick other types of locks as well.
A standard pin-and-tumbler lock consists of six main components. These are the plug, driver pins, key pins, springs, the shear line, and housing that holds the lock together.
The shear line can be defined as the physical gap between the plug and the housing. Due to the pins, this is the reason why the lock won’t turn unless you turn it with the correct key. This is because different key pins are of different lengths and only the correct key will be able to lift them up to the correct height. Only in this way will they be able to coincide with the shear line. When you insert the correct key into the lock, it lifts the key pins up to the exact height that is needed. Thus, the difference between the key pins and driver pins is exactly the same as the shear line. You can then rotate the key to unlock the lock.
How can Bobby Pins be used to Pick Locks?
Now that you know how a basic lock works, let’s try and understand how bobby pins can mimic the correct key.
When you are lock-picking with bobby pins, you’re trying to lift the key pins up to their respective correct heights so they coincide with the shear line. This raises an important question: how do we prevent the key pins from falling back into the plug once we’ve lifted them using a bobby pin? This is where we have to exploit every lock’s very common manufacturing flaw.
When a lock is made, holes are drilled into it to hold the pins. In theory, all of these holes should be drilled in a straight line which coincides with the center-line (not the same thing as the shear line). However, this is often not the case. Every hole may be slightly misaligned. The error could be as small as one-thousandth of an inch but it’s definitely still there. This is what allows us to be able to pick locks using bobby pins.
This is important because due to this error, every single pin has a hole that is at a slightly different distance from the true center-line of the plug. When we apply rotational tension to the plug using a bobby pin, one pin will bind between the housing and the plug before any of the other pins. This pin is always the pin that has a hole that is furthest from the center-line of the plug, i.e., the pin with the hole that has the highest error. Once you find this pin and bind it between the plug and the housing, you can then start looking for the pin that is second-farthest from the center-line. You will repeat this for every pin until all of them coincide with the shear line.
Thus, there is a specific order in which the pins can bind between the housing and the plug due to this manufacturing flaw. Understanding how a basic lock works and knowledge of this manufacturing flaw is essential. It is present in just about every pin-and-tumbler lock.
Can Bobby Pins pick any kind of lock?
As we mentioned earlier, about 90% of all commonly-found locks in the world are pin-and-tumbler locks. These locks can definitely be picked by bobby pins given enough time. Some pin-and-tumbler locks are easier to pick with bobby pins than others. This depends on how many pins the lock has. The lower the number of pins inside the cylinder, the easier it is to pick.
It’s true that mastering picking pin-and-tumbler locks can allow you to tackle other types of locks as well. However, there do exist some locks that are definitely impossible to pick with bobby pins. For example, there exist locks that don’t even have keyways where you could insert the bobby pin into. Obviously, it would be impossible for you to pick such a lock using bobby pins.
Why should I learn how to pick a lock? I have no need for it.
This is an understandable point of view. Most of us don’t really run into a lot of situations where picking a lock is an essential skill. However, just because you haven’t needed it so far in your life does not mean you won’t need it in the future.
Let us describe a very simple scenario for you. You’ve come home late at night because of a long day at the office, you reach for your keys and notice they’re not there. You call your local locksmith and he says he won’t be able to make it till the morning. Is this not a very plausible scenario that could happen to any of us? Many posts regarding lock-picking online give examples of being kidnapped as their examples. We agree that those are also things that could definitely happen. However, we often find it strange how no one mentions something as mundane as losing the keys to your house.
Thus, lock-picking is definitely a skill you should work on as it’s something that could come in handy in many different situations. Many people dismiss lock-picking as they associate it only with malicious intent. We urge you to look past that and notice how much of a useful and positive purpose it can also have. The skill itself isn’t evil, it’s how you use it.
So far, we’ve been discussing practical uses for lock-picking skills that you can acquire. We’d now like to turn your attention to the fact that lock-picking is just fun. Practicing lock-picking often works very well as a pastime. Not to mention that it’s extremely rewarding when you finally break into a lock that you’d been working on for a while. Furthermore, it’s a great party trick too. You can definitely utilize your newly-learned lock-picking skills to impress a group of friends.
Is Lock-Picking Illegal?
This is a common misconception among a lot of people. They believe the only people allowed to have lock-picking tools are locksmiths or first-responders. Some people even think that it’s illegal for you to have bobby pins that have been fashioned into lock-picking tools.
The truth of the matter is that in most states, it’s perfectly legal for you to have them. As long as you’re not illegally trying to enter someone’s home or trying to steal someone’s possessions using your lock-picking tools.
That being said, please do keep in mind that there are some states that consider owning lock-picking tools evidence of criminal intent. This includes makeshift-tools such as bobby pins. If you’re caught with lock-picking tools in these states, you have to prove conclusively that you did not plan on committing a crime using them. These states are Nevada, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia and Ohio.
Step-by-Step Guide to Lock Picking Using Bobby Pins
We’ve discussed in detail about the inner structure of a pin-and-tumbler lock and how it operates. All this information may seem overkill to you right now but as we move into the step-by-step guide to lock-picking, you’ll begin to see why it was necessary.
In this step-by-step guide below, we’ll give you all the knowledge you need to start picking standard pin-and-tumbler locks. Just by using just two bobby pins.
We’ll start by discussing how you can form your lock-picking tools using these two bobby pins. Then, we'll talk about how you’ll maneuver these tools inside the lock in order to disengage it.
Step 1: Creating the Lever
The lever is also known as the “tension tool” or “tension wrench” by some lock-pickers.
If you’ve ever seen someone pick a lock in a movie, you’ll notice that they often have two things sticking into the lock. They insert one piece into the lock and they jiggle the other piece after inserting it into the lock and voila! The lock is unlocked.
One of these pieces is the lever. This tool is used to apply the rotational energy that you’ll need in order to turn the lock, the same way a key would.
In order to create it, you’ll need to take a bobby pin and bend it completely into the shape of a right angle. You can do this with a set of pliers but it can also be done easily with your fingers with enough pressure. You could argue that this is the most important tool in the lock-picking process so it’s important you bend it properly before it’s inserted into the lock.
It’s important that the bobby pin you use for this purpose is sturdy as you’re going to be applying a lot of pressure onto it. This tool will be inserted into the bottom part of the keyway.
Step 2: Creating the Picking Tool
Next, it’s time to create the picking tool that you’ll use to detect and push up the pins inside the lock.
Start by taking another bobby pin and pulling it apart so that it becomes a long and flat metal piece. After that, strip off the rubber knobs at either end of the bobby pin. If you don't, they will only get in your way during lock-picking; You can do this either with your teeth or with a pair of wire-cutters.
Then, insert this pin about one centimeter into the lock with the flat side facing upwards and push the rest of the pin about 2 - 3 inches to the left. This will bend the part of the pin that’s inside the lock, thus, creating an effective pick that will make it easy for you to push the pins up during lock-picking.
Finally, you need to turn the other end of the pin into a handle so you can have a firm grip on it during lock-picking. You can achieve this by taking your pin and turning that end back on itself to create a little loop. During lock-picking, you can put your finger into this loop in order to get a better grip of the picking tool so you can maneuver it properly.
Your picking tool and lever (tension tool) are now ready.
Step 3: Insert your Lever into the Bottom-half of the Lock
Start by inserting the bent end of your lever into the bottom half of the lock. Keep the lever as low as possible and insert it as far as it will go into the keyway of the lock.
Step 4: Turn the Lock in the Direction in which it would Open
Use the lever you’ve inserted into the keyway to turn the lock slightly in the direction which you would normally turn it in order to open it. Be sure to apply a fair amount of pressure but not to the point where you’re straining against the lock. The lock won’t move very far when you turn it with the lever but be sure to turn it as far as it goes. Note that you’ll have to hold the lock with the lever in this position throughout the rest of the picking process. Thus, be sure you’re not straining yourself too much. Keep in mind that you still need the pins trapped inside the barrel. That’s the only way they’ll be loose enough to move up and down when you probe them with your picking tool.
If you don’t know which direction the lock needs to turn in order to be opened then you can try both directions with the lever. The wrong direction will make odd clicking sounds and you may feel it grinding slightly.
Step 5: Insert your Picking Tool into the Top-half of the Lock
With pressure exerted in the appropriate direction with your lever, insert the picking tool into the top-half of the lock. Be sure to insert it with the bent side facing upwards as this is what you will use to feel for the pins and push them upwards.
Push the picking tool inside and start feeling for the pins. The first thing you should do once you’ve inserted the picking tool is that you should count the number of pins inside the lock. Obviously, the fewer pins there are, the easier it will be to pick. Just keep a mental count of them in your head and get a feel for what the inner structure of the lock is like. Some pins may be looser than others and some may not want to move at all. We’ll get to that later. You’re going to have to jiggle your picking tool up and down as you move through the keys as it may get stuck from time to time.
If you feel that all the pins are stuck and are refusing to move, this may mean that you’re holding your lever (tension tool) too tightly. In this case, adjust the pressure you’re exerting on the bottom half of the lock with your lever and then try again.
Step 6: Start Feeling for the Pins Inside the Lock
Move your picking tool through the entire keyway and test each pin to see how much it gives. Start from the furthest one and move from there to the closest one. If you feel that your picking tool can’t reach the furthest pin then this means you have a pin that’s too small. You can rectify this by either molding the same pin in a way where the handle is smaller. That way, more of it can enter the lock or you can choose to work with a different bobby pin.
Step 7: Find the Seized Pin and Push Up until it Clicks
Keep testing all of the pins until you find one that does not want to move easily. This is your first “seized” pin. It’s the pin that is furthest from the center-line due to the manufacturing flaw of these types of locks. This has been discussed in the “How can Bobby Pins be used to Pick Locks?” section. Using your picking tool, apply gentle and consistent pressure onto this pin and start pushing it upwards. Be sure to do this slowly without any jerky or sudden movements. Keep pushing it upwards until you hear an audible click. This click means that you’ve successfully lined the key pin up with the shear line and thus, this pin is now out of your way.
Another indication that you’ve done this successfully is that your lever might turn a little bit more in the direction in which the lock opens. This is because it has one less pin resisting against it now. You may have to adjust your pressure that you’re exerting on the lever once this happens in order to keep the rest of the pins nice and loose.
Step 8: Repeat with the Rest of the Seized Pins Inside the Lock
Now, you’ll repeat step 7 with the rest of the pins. You may find that once you successfully free one pin, the rest of the pins may seize up even more. This is actually a good thing as you’re able to more easily detect which pin to free next. Do this with every single pin until all of them are aligned properly with the shear line.
Once they’re all aligned with the shear line, you can use the lever (tension tool) like a regular key and turn it completely in order to disengage the lock.
Additional Tips and Tricks for Lockpicking Using Bobby Pins
The amount of pressure you need to exert with your lever (tension tool) is by far the most common thing that all beginners have trouble with. It’s because this is something that you develop a feel for and it’s not something that can be taught just through theory. It will come to you with practice as you’ll develop a feel for how much pressure you need to exert. It’s also an extremely important aspect of lock-picking because if you apply too much pressure, all of the pins will seize up and be impossible to push up. If you apply too little pressure then all of the pins will drop back down and you’ll have to start all over again. A great way to identify the amount of pressure you need to exert is to first start by applying a little too much pressure. After that, start decreasing gradually as you test the pins with your picking tool. Keep testing the pins with your picking tool and decreasing the pressure on your lever gradually until you find that sweet spot.
Skeptics may dismiss the art of lockpicking through bobby pins and to be honest, we don’t blame them. It’s hard to believe that a lock with steel construction and top-notch build quality could be defeated by something as trivial as two bobby pins. However, we urge you to try it for yourself. Even if it’s your first time, we guarantee it won’t take you longer than 1 - 2 minutes for you to crack open a simple pin-and-tumbler lock.
One thing you should definitely keep in mind is that if you intend on practicing your lock-picking skills, please do so on a spare practice lock. This can be either an old lock that you don’t use anymore or a new lock that you specifically buy for the sole purpose of practicing lock-picking. This is because lock-picking can oftentimes damage the inner workings of a lock. So, you don’t want to practice it on an expensive lock that is still in use in your house.
If you find yourself enjoying the activity of picking locks and want to move further up from bobby pins, then we suggest you invest in a lock-picking kit. They are a fairly cheap investment and offer great value for your hard-earned money. Not only will they increase your effectiveness when it comes to picking locks but they will also help you hone your skills even further.
What should I do if a bobby pin breaks inside my lock?
It can be a great source of annoyance when you’re practicing lock-picking and your lever or picking tool happens to break apart. This will inevitably get them stuck inside your lock. It happens to the best of us, including seasoned lock-pickers. It could have been due to wrong technique but oftentimes, it’s due to poor-quality bobby pins.
More often than not, you can grip the broken end of the pin using your bare fingers and pull it out of your lock. If this is not possible, then you can employ the use of a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Simply insert them into your lock, grab hold firmly of the broken pin and pull it out.
If you’re having trouble pulling the pin out even with your needle-nosed pliers, then a good idea is to spray a little bit of lock lubricant into the lock. This will loosen it up and allow you to easily pull the pin out using the pliers.
Best Bobby Pins Reviews
We’ve established how powerful a tool bobby pins can be when it comes to picking locks. That being said, you should also note that certain bobby pins are much more effective at it than others.
This is why we’ve reviewed three of the best bobby pins in terms of lockpicking and ranked them below.
Many reviews online for these bobby pins hail them as the “holy grail of bobby pins”. These reviews review these bobby pins in terms of their intended use. However, this title is apt for this product when it comes to its lock-picking applications as well.
They have perfect construction that you would want from a bobby pin when you’re lockpicking. You don’t need a lot of pressure to form them into whatever shape you want and they also don’t easily break apart if you bend them too much.
Not to mention, they also have a firm grip which is essential when you’re trying to pick locks with accuracy using a bobby pin.
Features of MetaGrip Black Premium Bobby Pins
Available in a pack of 1 or a pack of 2
About 2 inches in length
One pack has 300 pins
These pins are thick and U-shaped. All you have to do is not lose them and we guarantee that these pins will provide you with value for many months, if not years.
They’re incredibly durable and also wear-resistant. You can form them into any shape you want and they’ll hold that shape extremely well. Their native U-shape also means that you don’t have to bend them too much to get them ready for lock-picking.
Furthermore, they are available in four different lengths namely, 1.5 inches, 2 inches, 2.5 inches and 3 inches. Thus, you can choose whichever length would be most suitable for you.
Features of Marilyn Faye's U-Shaped Crinkled Hair Pins
One pack contains 12 bobby pins
Available in four different lengths
Made of Stainless Steel
Smooth finish with rounded tips
Unlike the other two entries above, this product consists of bobby pins that have a completely flat texture rather than a ridged texture. This is all about preference but this product is a great choice for locksmith and lock-pickers that prefer a flat tool rather than a ridged one.
Additionally, these bobby pins are the longest ones out of all the ones we’ve reviewed. This makes them perfect for unlocking locks that may have a higher than normal amount of pins inside their cylinder.
Features of Yishenyishi Pack of 10 Curved Jumbo Bobby Pins
One pack contains 10 bobby pins
Length: 3.4 inches
Sturdy, metal construction
In conclusion, we have to say that at the core of it, practice is what will ultimately make you better at picking locks. Not only will you be able to pick locks with more confidence and accuracy but you’ll also be able to pick them much more quickly over time. That being said, we do feel that having high-quality bobby pins can greatly aid in reducing the amount of time it takes to pick a lock.
After months of testing with different locks and bobby pins, we’ve chosen the MetaGrip Black Premium Bobby Pins as our winner. You get a whopping 300 of them in one pack, they’re very easy to grip and are easily malleable as well.
This brings us to the end of our post for the best bobby pins and lockpicking guide.
Give us comments and let us know what bobby pins you’ve been using to pick locks and what your lockpicking journey has been like.