Picking basic locks with the Open Organization of Lockpickers

Everyone, at some point in their life, wishes they were a master thief. Not because they want to steal other people’s things, but because they’d like to have the skills of a thief, and the freedom thereof. The knowledge that if you needed to get in or out of something, no lock could bar you.

The Chicago branch of The Open Organization of Lockpickers (T.O.O.O.L.) runs an event that help people realize that dream, a workshop held the first wednesday of every month 8pm sharp at Pumping Station One, a hackerspace located on 3519 Elston Ave.

There, Patrick Thomas, along with other experienced lockpickers, explains the basic principles of lockpicking to attendees, and invites the curious to step up and pick a practice lock with their own hands.

To the shy or skeptical, each instructor declares: “I guarantee that you will pick a lock tonight.”

It turns out that they have a reason for being so confident. The first practice lock they hand to visitors (along with a small pick and tension wrench), is a ‘Basic 1’, named for the single locking pin it possesses. All it takes is a gentle push on the lock with a tension wrench, and a soft lifting of the pin tumbler with the flat end of the pick, and the lock opens smoothly in people’s hands.

For people who’ve heard how difficult lockpicking is, the moment where they ‘solve’ their first lock is very astonishing. And in that moment of amazement, the instructors tell you to toast your success by slamming the lock down on the table, and shouting ‘Open!’

Then they slide a ‘Basic 2’ across the table to you, and challenge you to open it with two pins.

The more pins are in a lock, the more challenging it is: this is where Lockpicking becomes an art. You have to judge which pins to lift first, how to set pins right on the ‘Shear line’ between the key cylinder and the upper part of the lock, learn to apply, as Patrick put it, ‘gentle continous rotational force’ on the lock, etc.

But by setting up an space where people can experiment with locks of different difficulty, Patrick Thomas and the other instructors shattered lockpicking’s mystique of inaccessibility, and made it a fun puzzle that can be explored, and mastered with a little patience.

And the people of TOOOL were as good as their word: everyone who tried managed to pick at least one lock.