EDC Lock Picking and Bypass Kits

As regular readers will know, the lock picking contingent of my EDC is rather small:
— A pair of Bogotas.
— A small snake rake.
— A double-ended turning tool.
Bogota Lock Picks
Other items, such as the three-inch pocket prybar, may have applications in bypassing locks. When the barrel of my doorlock came out with my key, it was the long file on my Swiss Army Knife that was needed to open the door.
Today I will bring you two interesting videos on lock picking and bypass tools for EDC. Credit to Dean for directing me to the first one.
While I have done a bit of lock picking, I don’t have as much experience with bypass techniques as I might wish. When the zombies come, I will be grabbing my kukri, crowbar and brick hammer. Those will bypass a few obstacles!
Some thoughts on the suggestions:
— The plastic shim seems like a very prudent choice.
— I have never used them, but padlock shims might be worth having. I seem to recall padlock shims can be cut from soda or beer can material. The edges of these will probably be surprisingly sharp, so take care.
— I have a number of bobby pins in my general EDC pouch. These are in a bag with some paper clips and about a dozen safety pins. A few weeks back some of these safety pins were used to repair my girlfriend’s jeans.
— I have some comb-picks, but have not been able to open any locks with them. The same can be said of my set of jiggler keys, although I suspect the latter are intended for car doors since they are too large for all my locks. Most keyways I encounter have kinks in them, so the straight combs and jigglers would be difficult to insert or move within them. I think my Bogottas and snake are a more effective and versatile option.
— Similarly, my set of skeleton keys stays at home since large warded locks seem to be relatively uncommon. If long enough, a bypass knife may serve instead. The small warded locks often used on luggage can be popped by a variety of implements, including sturdy picks like the Bogotas.
Bunch of Skeleton Keys and Decoder
— My bunch of skeleton keys includes a decoder I made from a cut-out shape of soda can (top). I do not think I have tried it out, since I seldom encounter combination locks. There are ways to crack combination padlocks without a decoder tool, and I have used these at least once.
— A bypass knife seems worth having. My Serenity Plus kit includes one that came with a set of my Chinese picks. I cannot recall if I have ever opened anything with it. Most of my padlocks are not vulnerable to this technique. I plan to try making a bypass knife that will fit in my EDC.
Mini-Slim-Jim Dimensions
— The mini-slim-jim is interesting. Obviously this is too short to be used to open car doors. That is probably not a drawback given the number of vehicle vulnerable to slim-jims is probably decreasing every year. The mini-slim-jim is actually intended to bypass the latches of doors. The large notch on the tool is probably a legacy of its ancestry. Sparrows makes several sizes of slim-jim. They also make the “Hall Pass”, which is a credit-card-shaped tool in either metal or plastic. Southern Specialities offers their own design of tool for latches, the “Multipass”.
Sparrow's Hall Pass Southern Specialities Multipass Sparrow's Orion Hall Pass
I have tried making something similar out of an old plastic card. I didn’t have any success opening a door, but at the time I had yet to locate the correct dimensions. I am also now more familiar with the manual technique needed, so it might work better in future.
I have, however, managed to pop a latch using a TOK turning tool. This experiment seemed to indicate that a traveller hook hook may be a better way to attack a latch than a slim-jim. Being able to rotate the tool would have advantages. This is what the bent piece of music wire in the first video is intended for.
Sparrow's Traveller Hooks
I may try to fabricate a traveller hook hook that can fit in my EDC. Sparrows sell two sizes of traveller hook (also called traveller’s, travellers, shrum tool or travelling hooks). Auto-stores sell something similar as “O-ring pullers”. Skewers, ejector pins and music/piano wire can be used to fabricate traveller hook hooks. For reference, the Sparrow hooks use shanks 2.6mm (0.1 inch) thick.
Latches can sometimes be opened by threading a cord or wire behind them.

Tension Tools

Version 1.2
Some time ago there was a knock on my door. A female student accompanied by a member of staff. The young lady had locked her keys in her locker. Could I do something? Ironically I had been having a sneaky read of some lock picking ebooks when I was disturbed. I have access to three sets of bolt cutters in that building but the issue was not could I do something, but should I? I pointed out that I could not open a locker unless I had proof it was her locker. Who had allocated her the locker? The answer was the person who would have been my first port of call for the bolt-cutters. I pointed out that he may not be in his room, selfishly enjoying his well-earned lunch break.
Dully, the student muttered something about could I give her a clip to open the lock with.
“Do you mean a paper clip?”
Bovine grunt to the affirmative. Ironically I have just about everything in that room except decent springy paperclips!
“You can’t pick a lock with a clip. You need a tension tool too” I told her.
One might think, given that this is supposedly a future scientist, that “What is a tension tool?” might have been a likely response, with possibly, “Do you have a tension tool?” or “How do I get a tension tool?”
A further grunt about clips and she wandered off with the member of staff to find a paperclip. I have no idea how much time she wasted trying to pick the lock without a tensioner.
Picking is all about the correct application of tension. It doesn’t matter if you are single-pin picking, raking, using a pick gun or an electric pick; you still need a tension tool. One of the most common mistakes about picking that you see in the movies is a character using a pick or pick gun and no tension tool. This is like a horse-riding scene without the horse.
Admittedly, tension tools are the less glamorous half of the double act. In many kits you get dozens of varied pick designs but just a couple of tension tools, almost like they are thrown in as an afterthought. Picks show considerable variety, while tension tools often seem to be bent bits of metal, often home-made.
As you become more experienced you begin to appreciate that the tensioner and how you apply it is critical in whether a lock opens easily or not at all. The proportion of tensioners to picks in your kit will begin to shift, particularly when you realise you only use a small proportion of your available picks for most tasks.
Tension tools are commonly called “tension wrenches”, although some pickers object to the term “wrench”. It can also be argued that what pickers call “tension” is more strictly “torque”, so the term “turning tool” is used as well. That said, web-searching “tension wrench” will give you more hits relevant to lock picking than “torque wrench”.
Trying to acquire more tension tools can be frustrating! Some companies will only sell you turning tools as part of a larger set or with a pick kit. When you can buy individual items many companies do not bother to list the width and thickness of the tools. Also crossing the Atlantic tends to at least double the price! Not surprisingly, many pickers tend to “roll their own”. Turning tools are easy to make or modify. Tolerances are broad and tools are not subjected to strong forces.
If you do make your own, the dimensions given for the Southern Specialities 2500 set (below) may prove useful. BosnianBill’s article on tension tools provides some useful photos of tools alongside steel rules. Another useful page for dimensions and design features may be found on this page.
Red: .030" thick .50" leg, .125" wide and 3" long; .25" leg, .094" wide and 3" long.
White: .040" thick .50" leg, .125" wide and 3" long; .25" leg, .094" wide and 3" long.
Blue: .050" thick .50" leg, .125" wide and 3" long; .25" leg, .094" wide and 3" long.
Finding materials to make your own tools can be problematic. The “steel wiper blade inserts” usually recommended are not as easy to find in some areas as others. You take pot luck at what you can find, and as was seen in my account here, thicknesses of material can be significant. It would be nice if more retailers sold raw materials for making tools. There are other options. Some pickers make tension tools by bending the tips of screwdrivers.
You will encounter the terminology TOK and BOK. American locks are usually mounted pins upwards so turning tools that are applied to the pin side of a keyway have become known as “top of keyway” (TOK) tools and the alternative “bottom of keyway” (BOK). In Europe, it is common for locks to be mounted either way up, so these terms can be a little confusing. TOK is often used as a term for prybar-type turning tools and BOK for other tools. In reality some prybars may be applied to the bottom/outside of a keyway and a narrow headed BOK tool might be used on the top/inner side of a keyway. TOK tools tend to be used at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions, BOK at more oblique angles. Alternate terminology is “centre of plug” and “edge of plug”.
Typical “L-shaped” “BOK” turning tools. These are both 3mm/0.12" wide, which could be considered to be the standard width. The longer one has a twist handle and is from a set of five tools that is widely available on ebay. They take ages to come but cost very little and were surprisingly nicely finished. Their price makes them a good source of materials for customization or creating your own tools. The shorter tool is from my Serenity kit and is probably the tensioner that I use the most. I plan to bend the end into another, narrower head.
Generally turning tools are used with very light pressure, so do not need to be very long. A tool such as the longer one above could easily be cut and made into an additional tool. I will keep this tool as it is just in case I ever need a long tool. It could easily be bent into a shape that can be used on a tulip lock, for example. Keyways are very useful for bending and improvising tools. Second from the right is one of the tools supplied with my larger Chinese pick set. It is narrower and noticeably thinner than the two to the left but still useful. It could also be cut to make a second tool or bent to make a Z-tool. Rightmost tool is made from a pen clip. Unusual in that it required some unbending rather than bending. The shoulders and head could be filed down if desired, and the other end could also be made into a head for a Z-tool. This nicely illustrates that a turning tool need not be that long. Update: I have since seen it suggested that longer turning tools provide greater feedback, which is logical.

Tulip turning tools are used for locks recessed into doorknobs. This is obviously an application where length has advantages. This article notes that the same effect can be more simply be achieved by creating a tool with a sixty-degree bend.
Two home-made Z-tools. The one on the left is made from a laboratory spatula. This was intended as a wide turning tool so was left at its original 4 mm width. It could easily be filed down to standard or narrow width. The keyway of a padlock was used to bend the ends. The next tool was made from a windscreen wiper insert and was seen in my article here. The short end has been filed down to 2.5 mm and the shank and shoulders suitably filed and tapered (shown below). The end of the shorter nose will be filed square for more effective use TOK. The shorter end is used in small locks but can also be used TOK. The result is a versatile tool that can be constructed in just a few minutes. Ideally I would have a set of these in different thicknesses, complimented by the larger tool. 
The middle tool is the standard-width tool from my larger Chinese kit. Next to it is another tool made from a pen clip, but not yet filed to final dimensions. The leftmost tool is the same design as that which comes in the Goso hook kit, and one of the most useful parts of that kit. This tool also comes with the five-part tension tool kit mentioned earlier.

Flat Z-tools. These came with the five-part tension tool kit. Unlike many Chinese-made picks the turning tools are competently finished and seem serviceable. One is thicker than the other two. I don’t use these a lot but they work well enough and I have even had some TOK successes with them! It is a shape worth bearing in mind if you are improvising turning tools. Such turning tools are often associated with picking dimple locks.
On the far right is the prybar tool from my Serenity kit. Prybar and TOK tensioners are favoured by many pickers who are far more experienced than myself. I find I have trouble with them popping out of locks. Prybars are often used for picking with TOK, which I often cannot get to work, perhaps because I usually rake locks. Part of the problem may be the Serenity prybar appears to be under 1 mm thick, probably 0.8 mm, so not suited to some of the wider keyways I have on some locks. It works with my narrow SKS lock. Ideally you also want prybars made from 1mm/0.04" or 1.2mm/0.05" thick material. Many retailers do not bother to list the thickness of prybars, so you may encounter thinner examples.
Y-shaped turning tools are used for certain styles of car lockway. Many of these have shutters and wafers on either side. Sometimes called “wishbone” tools. 
Lock picking is generally about “less force, more finesse”. If it is not working the solution is usually a gentler touch on the pick, rake or tensioner. Spring tensioners reduce the tendency to apply too much torque. By the time I tried using a spring tool I had already developed the habit of a light touch and had to use more pressure on it than I was accustomed to! Springs seem to work but you should learn to use more conventional tensioners if you are to be proficient with improvised devices.
My experience with turning tools made from hairpins has been mixed. The best results have been with tools constructed to be at a vertical angle to the lock, like a prybar. Bend the end over so it acts as a wider, flatter beak that cannot turn. Wider keyways will need additional modification. You will probably find hairpins too wide to be used as picks on some locks. The challenge is bending them in the right direction.

Bogota Lock Pick and Rake Review

I suspect that the readers of my posts on lock-picking fall into two broad camps. The first are those interested in lock sport, and that, like me, are relatively new to the field. The second are those who are not particularly interested in lock sport as a hobby but wish to add a new capability to their repertoire of survival, self-reliance and preparedness skills.
To both groups I give the same initial advice: If you only ever buy or carry one set of lock picks, it should be the Bogotas!

As I have mentioned elsewhere, the Bogotas are the invention of a lock sportsman called “Raimondo”. You may see similar picks under other names, which is often an indication that the maker is trying to avoid copyright and IP.
There are number of options when it comes to Bogotas. In addition to stainless steel, they can also be found in non-magnetic titanium. Interestingly, some of my steel Bogatas are strongly magnetic, others much less so. More of that later. “Mini-Bogatas” have a shorter handle. The actual pick part is the same, don’t think these are better suited for smaller locks. Mini-Bogatas can be found in either stainless steel or titanium. Two-hump and four-hump versions of Bogotas can also be found. I have no personal experience of these, so this article will be about the more commonly found triple and single hump set.
Another option you will encounter is “standard” or “euro-twist”. This reflects that in the US cylinder locks are usually mounted with the pins uppermost, while in Europe they can be encountered with the pins down. A “euro-twist” Bogata has the humps pointing in the same direction as the handle curves. Even if you are in the USA, I suggest you buy “euro-twist” if you can get them. If you are using the other pick as a turning tool this lets them curve away from each other, giving you a bit more room. There are also flat “no-twist” Bogotas.
Most paired sets of Bogota picks have handles designed to act as a turning tool for the other. And they work very well for this too! I often reach for them before other tools when using other picks. It is possible these handles might serve as shims. Regrettably I do not have any handcuffs to experiment with.
The single hump version can serve as a half-diamond or probably as a hook too. This form is sometimes called a “knuckle” or “p-nuckle”. I’ve not made much use of the single-hump as a hook but have SPP picked locks using it as a half-diamond. The single hump is also good as a skeleton key for small warded locks and can be used to pick dimple locks. 
I have seldom actually needed to use the single hump for SPP since the triple hump rake is the most consistently performing pick I have used. With the right action some locks pop in seconds. I have some rakes that open certain locks faster than the Bogotas, but if these do not work the Bogotas usually do the job. I use my Bogota rake more than any other pick I have. My other rakes are mainly for locks that are too small for the Bogota or that I know open faster with another design.
The inventor of the Bogota recommends that the rake be used with a jittery action, “like you have had too much coffee”. The Bogota rake actually lends itself to a variety. I generally start with a see-saw rocking action that becomes a scrubbing action if the lock does not yield. I guess that might qualify as a jiggling or jittery action. You can also use the Bogota with a zipping action. I have even opened some locks with the rake inverted so that the bumps rather than the peaks contact the pins.
I now have a couple of variants of Bogotas. In addition to my original Dangerfield pair, I have a more conventionally handled version from the Dangerfield Serenity set. I also have some pairs from Mad Bob. The Dangerfields have taken up residence in my lock sport kit, while the Mad Bobs I intend to place in an emergency kit.
The Dangerfield pair are not as flexible as some picks out there, which is a good thing since when you are starting out you may get some locks to open with a lateral jiggle. These Bogatas seem unlikely to bend or break with such applications, although as your finesse develops you tend to drop this technique.
The Bogota from the Serenity kit seems more flexible than the other Dangerfields. According to UK Bump Keys all three are 0.022" (0.558mm). Initially I found the Serenity Bogata easier to use in the narrow twisty keyway of an SKS lock. This has been cured with practice and I now have no trouble using the stiffer Dangerfields in this lock. I actually prefer these Bogotas over the others I currently have.
The Mad Bob Bogotas are offered in both “standard” and “euro-twist” configurations and in both 0.6mm and 0.8mm thicknesss. Mine are 0.6mm euro-twist. They seem a little more flexible than the paired Dangerfield. That is not a bad thing for narrow keyways once you have learnt to be gentle with your picks. Interestingly, the steel used on the Mad Bobs does not seem to be magnetic, while that on the Dangerfields is. I’d not try taking them through a metal detector, but this might be significant if you plan to magnetize your picks to make an emergency compass.
I have seen it said that Mad Bob picks need additional sanding. The picks I have have no detectable rough spots and the finish seems adequate.
The Mad Bobs are somewhat cheaper than the Dangefields, although this is somewhat offset by the shipping and handling charge the former has. Mad Bob also failed to notify me when the picks were back in stock.
I discovered something interesting while trying out my newly arrived Mad Bobs. My stubborn little Abus padlock refused to open. Usually it opens with a Bogota, although the Octo rake is quicker. The problem seemed to be with which turning tool I used. Using another Mad Bob Bogata pick as a turner seemed to leave insufficient room inside the small keyway for the rake to rock. When using the Dangerfield and Serenity Bogotas stored in my lock sport kit I must have used the “L” tool in the kit.
My attempted solution was to cut the handle down to about half an inch (12-13mm). I achieved this by cutting a grove with the cut-off disc of a Dremel then bending it until it sheared. Use something like the stone of a Dremel to re-shape the end then finish with a needle file and abrasive paper. This increases the pick’s capability as a turning tool but makes it more compact, intermediate between the unmodified pick and the often much more expensive 2" mini-Bogota. Bending the handle to a right angle decreases the overall length further and may make them easier to carry in certain locations.
Despite these efforts, the Abus won’t open unless certain turing tools are used on it. Specifically the Dangerfield Bogotas and Sohos or the Serenity L-tool. The Mad Bobs are either thinner or more flexible. They work fine on other locks I have tried, but the Abus remains a baffling exception. I later hit upon a simple solution.
This image shows some “batarang” rakes that at first glance may appear to be Bogotas. These are from one of my Chinese pick kits, which seem to have been “inspired” by an American brand called “Majestic”. Note that some of them lack the undercutting of some peaks -a feature that strengthens the Bogotas. Also note that the “wavelength” of the peaks is less. They do work, I have opened locks with them, but they are not as good as Bogotas. Incidently, these have a number of burrs that could be sanded off, but this is likely to remove the nasty black finish that shows up the brass. I have not experience of genuine Majestic picks but expect they are better finished.
The mirror finish of other picks helps them move around inside a lock and does not show up brass marks like some other pick finishes.

An honourable mention goes to this rake, which is effectively a Bogota without the innovation of the undercuts. The original Bogotas were made from the steel blades from a streetsweeper, illustrating that these are a relatively simple construction project for those with hand tools, material and patience.

A pair of Bogotas constitutes a compact but very capable lock-picking capability. In other posts I have shown how a pair can be carried using the spring from a cheap pen. The safety pin lets the pair be carried where they are concealed or most convenient. An alternate method uses a few inches of gutted paracord. A safety pin may be added with a needle and thread.
If you are new to lock-picking the Bogotas are great for building your confidence and teaching finesse.
Given their performance, quality and versatility a pair of Bogotas are great value for money and worth adding to you tool kit, survival kit etc. Newbie or veteran, you should give them a try!