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Phillosoph

Lock Picks: Snakes and Sparrows

It has been some time since I wrote about lock picking. Today I will share some thoughts on some lock picks that have appeared in previous posts but have not been discussed in depth.

Snake Rake

The snake rake is also sometimes called an “S-rake”.
While the snake is dismissed by some lock pickers, I am rather fond of it. Often the snake has managed to open locks that resisted other rakes.
Most of my lock pick sets contain a snake. Those that did not originally contain one have had one added. My first addition to the Polaris rake set was a Dangerfield Praxis 0.015 snake. My EDC kit has a pair of Bogotas and a short-handled snake from a “James Bond Card”.
The snake is a good tool for working on keyways that are not easily accessed by tools such as the Bogotas.
In longer locks, the snake is often used for a technique I call “selective raking”: working on just one or two pins at a time. Sometimes a rake will set some pins but not others. Working on these pins individually may pick the lock. Selective raking should probably be thought of as intermediate between raking and single pin picking (SPP).
I find a levering motion often works with a snake.
If a lock will not respond to your usual rakes, gently probing the pins with a snake will often yield results.
Perhaps, like a half-diamond, the snake should be classed as a hybrid pick.
Snake and Sparrow lock picks
In the photo above, the snakes are in the middle, with the unadorned, unperforated handles. From top to bottom, a large snake, an angled snake and a standard/small snake. These particular examples all from SouthOrd. The items above are rakes from my Serenity kit.
I have not often used the large or angled variants. I can open locks with them, but the standard snake generally seems to perform better.

Sparrows

The next four lockpicks are all exclusive to Sparrows. They are available from retailers such as UKBumpkeys.

Sandman

The Sandman was the first of the Sparrows lock picks that I purchased. It is the one with the dragon decoration on the handle in the photo above.
I have seen the Sandman described as a “big, fat snake”. According to some websites, the Sandman is designed to work on locks that have both tricky high/low pinning without losing the ability to deal with close pinning.
On the plus side, the Sandman often pops open my practice padlock on the initial insertion. On the down side, I have not personally found that many other locks I can use it on.
This may possibly be due to its American heritage. UK/European locks tend to be narrower and longer than US, and this can be a problem when using picks intended for the US market. The Sandman is a big pick and seems to be too large for many UK/European locks or the small padlocks I often encounter. It may be too tall to enter keyways with kinks, curves or obstructions. Of course, you may encounter padlocks and other locks where this size is not a problem. It fitted easily into my filing cabinet lock, but did not do much. If I want to open that lock, the Bogota remains the pick of choice.
In locks that will take it, the Sandman seems to work well.
Although the Sandman is relatively thick (0.025", I think) a number of reviewers mention snapping it. Notably these seem to be from people relatively new to lock raking.
The golden rule of lock picking is “less is more” and the Sandman is a good case in point. If scrubbing or rocking with the Sandman a slow movement seems to work best. For raking in general, if you are scrubbing like you are brushing your teeth, you may be too fast. Slow down and use less force. Pins will sometimes set as you remove pressure, such as beginning to remove a pick from the keyway.
I have heard the Sandman works well in wafer locks. I have not been able to verify this personally.

Octo-Rake

The Octo-Rake may look like a snake but it is more of a rocker and scrubber than a ripper-zipper. As one reviewer puts it, “only take it out the lock if you are flipping it over”. In the photo, the pick with an octopus decoration.
Personally, I find the Octo-rake more useful than the Sandman, since this can be persuaded to enter relatively small locks. You may have to insert the rake before positioning the turning tool.
I have a tenacious little padlock that previously only raked open with a Bogota, Princess or Prince. Not only does the Octo-rake open this lock, it does so faster than the Bogota! I doubt I could open it quicker if I had the key!

Warlock

When it works, the Warlock is very fast.
A video online comments that it is easy to overset some locks with the Warlock, and this seems fair comment.
If a lock is going to succumb to the Warlock’s spell it may need just a light tickle.
Practising on a see-through lock I discovered that attempting to apply a bit of torque as the Warlock inserts was worth trying.
The Warlock seems to prefer to be used with the decal on the port side, a contrast to the Octo-rake which favours one side for some locks and the other for others.
Despite its size, the Warlock handled some of my narrower lock ways surprisingly well.
The Warlock is a nice compliment to the Octo-rake. It opens some of my locks much more easily than the Octo. On the other hand, the Octo is the quickest rake I have for a lock that ignores the Warlock.

Worm

The Sparrows Worm rake is also known as the Serpentine Worm. It is bottom-most in the photo.
The Worm is a much more gracile beast than the Sparrows picks already mentioned. The Worm is similar (but not identical to) the smaller, five-hump sinusoid rake (no.7) in the Polaris set. Some of my locks open more readily with the Polaris no.7, others are more vulnerable to the Worm. Like the small sinusoid, the Worm is useful for keyways that are too small for easy use of the Bogotas or other larger rakes.
In other words, the Worm is a very useful partner to the Octo-rake or other large rakes.
My only criticism of the Worm is at the blade of mine seemed to pick up brass marks and has discoloured.

Conclusion

If I was asked to prioritize which of these picks someone should acquire, the standard snake would be at the top of my list. I would not bother with the large snake or the angled variant.
The Worm would be a close second. It is very useful to have a rake that can be used keyways that are a problem for the more commonly used rakes. If the Worm does not work, the snake may still save the day!
Third place goes to the Octo-rake. Despite its apparent size, I have found this useful for a wide range of locks.
The Warlock takes fourth place. While this is a useful rake, I do not feel it is quite as versatile or useful as the Octo-rake. Others may feel differently.
I have placed the Sandman last. While it can be effective, its application is mainly for larger or straighter keyways. If you encounter a lot of such locks, then I would not discourage you from buying a Sandman. There are no bad picks in this review. All of them are worth considering as an addition to your collection.
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Phillosoph

SERE Pin and EDC Bypass Knife

I have been promising to write about the SERE pin for some time.
SERE Pin and EDC Bypass Knife

SERE Pin

The SERE Pin is an implement for escape and evasion applications. It is very easily concealed. You can push the shaft down the seam of a garment, for example.
The SERE Pin has four applications:
• It acts like a key to lift the pawl of handcuffs.
• It can disengage the double lock mechanism of handcuffs.
• It can serve as a shank to separate the teeth of a ratchet mechanism of handcuffs.
• It can be used to shim or lift the pawl of a zip/cable tie.Handcuff Internal Mechanism

For an explanation of these terms I will direct you to my older posts on double-locking and shimming.
To disengage the double-lock or handcuffs, use the long, curved end of the tool. In the illustration, one would introduce it at around the 4:30 position on the keyhole and use it to push the double-locking mechanism (the red part in the image) upward.
Once the double lock is disengaged, the pawl can be shimmed or lifted.
To lift the pawl, insert the short hooked end of the SERE pin at around the 11 o'clock position and use it to lift the lock bar (green component) inward.
To shim, insert the long part of the tool between the teeth. You may need to tighten the bracelet a little to achieve this. If the shim becomes caught you may have to straighten it a little.
SERE pins are easily fabricated from bobby pins. Do not make the short hook too long. I recommend rounding off the corners and bevelling the tips.

EDC Bypass Knife

The second item on today’s “show and tell” is a work in progress.
After I wrote yesterday’s blog, I set about creating a bypass knife that was compatible with my EDC kit.
Basic design requirement is that it should fit within the pouch that carries part of my EDC. Whether this is where I will carry it, I have yet to decide.
EDC Pouch Contents
As a lock picker, I acquire any windscreen-wiper inserts whenever I come across them. For this project I selected a narrow one that already ended in a partial point at one end. Width is about 3 mm.
The point was tapered further with a hand-file and a Dremel tool. One side was left reasonably straight, the other tapered more so the point is offset.
Once the point was formed, the end of the insert was cut 10 cm from its end. The butt end was rounded and smoothed.
The point was smoothed and polished with several grades of glass-paper.
It is possible that the point needs to be made more acute. The only bypass knife I have is a cheap Chinese one. My tool is already better finished than that! Also, I lack any bypass-knife-vulnerable locks to try it out on.
How often will I encounter a vulnerable lock I might need to use the tool on? I don’t know. This did get me thinking about other functions it may have. (Using it as a nail-cleaner probably shouldn’t count!)
The butt end may serve as a skeleton key. The width is virtually the same as the shanks of my bunch of skeleton keys. It has already opened a small warded luggage lock I have.
The pointed end could be used on the pawl of a zip-tie.
I can also confirm that the tool makes an effective handcuff shim. Worked better than I expected, if I am honest. It might be prudent to polish and smooth the rest of the shaft for such applications.
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Phillosoph

Polaris Lock Rakes

I will admit, I have been looking forward to these ever since I heard about them several months back. Last night a review copy of the Polaris lock rake kit arrived. Here are some initial impressions:
The Polaris is the baby of Chris Dangerfield of UKBumpkeys. It is available from UKBumpkeys or their North American outlet, LockPickWorld.com. Polaris went on sale a couple of days ago and apparently are selling fast! Currently available at an introductory price with a 5,000 word ebook on raking techniques.
I was expecting the usual sort of pouch that lock picks come in. Instead, the envelope contained a rather elegant-looking black wallet. As I opened the flap it was obvious that it had magnetic fastening.
Polaris Lock Pick Set
Once opened, you are confronted by a suede-type interior and a neat row of polished rakes, each in its own pocket. A flap to cover the points is thoughtfully provided, which is a nice attention to detail. On the far left, an eleventh pocket holds a pair of turning tools, one TOK and one BOK.
Each rake is nicely polished and proudly marked “DANGERFIELD – POLARIS”. Each rake is also numbered, which is a feature I approve of. It can be useful to know you have already tried “no.4” or that “no.3” worked best on a similar lock in the past.
Polaris gives you ten rakes, and a very nice selection they are too! All rakes are 0.025"/0.635 mm thickness.
Regular readers will know that I have wanted to try a double hump Bogota. Rake no.1 is a double-hump Bogota! No.2 is the more common but very useful three-hump and no.3 is a four-hump. These all made quick work of most of my test locks.
Recently I have worked on several locks that seem to respond best to a technique that is intermediate between single pin picking (SPP) and raking. I use a rake but need to concentrate on a particular group of pins. The two-hump proved useful on these locks, having a bit more room to move about. On the other hand, the three-hump seemed a fraction faster on locks susceptible to conventional scrubbing and rocking.
Rake no.4 looked very similar to the four-hump Bogota but the peaks are more rounded. This is a cycloid rake. It resembles a Bogota but with slightly lower and more rounded peaks. No.5 is more symmetrical and you might think of it as a form of snake, worm or serpentine rake. It is actually a four-hump sinusoid. These are both useful for locks where the Bogotas are too tall.
No.6 and 7 are five-wave cycloid and sinusoid and appear to have a slightly lower wave-height, making them useful in locks that 4 and 5 are too high for.
So far, a nice, intelligent selection of rakes that nicely complement each other.
Polaris Lock Rakes
No.8 is a bit of a change of style since it is a ripple or jag, also known as an “L” or “city” rake. I think of this one as a “classic city”. I have at least two other kits with rakes of exactly the same profile. When I first started lock picking I was not particularly keen on jags. I did not then appreciate that they were not for techniques such as zipping or scrubbing. The correct way to use a jag is rocking. The no.8 is a fraction taller than some of the other city rakes I have. This is easily addressed with a little filing, but I doubt this is significant since jags tend to only be useful in taller, straighter keyways. When a jag does work, however, it tends to work very fast indeed! No.8 is no exception!
No.8 is the only straight-backed rake in the set, making it useful if you want to count the pins in a lock. Interestingly, I was able to use the straight back to rock open a mushroom-pinned practice lock.
You may have noticed that most lock pick sets seem to share the same assortment of picks? I have never seen another kit with rakes like no.9 and 10. When I first saw them I thought of them as double-sided jags. Chris Dangerfield likens them to jiggler keys.
Like more conventional jags, these can quickly open some locks by rocking. I have also had successes using them for gentle scrubbing. No.9 and 10 are fairly wide in places but I have opened some narrower, twisty locks by using the curves of the rake to probe around. Novel, but useful designs. Note that most of the rakes in this kit can be treated as double-sided. If they do not work one way up they may work inverted. Always worth trying.
I like the turning tools in this kit. Raking can be difficult with a TOK tool when used in the top of the keyway so try using it at the bottom. This suits some lock ways better than the other tool. When I first opened the wallet I was a little disappointed there was not more room for additional turning tools. Part of the reason for this is the turning tool pocket is on the wallet flap, so space is a little limited. You can probably fit a few more BOK tools in the pocket, and it would be useful to have a selection of different widths and thicknesses. Perhaps Dangerfield will release an add-on set?
I like the magnet feature of the wallet. It adds a certain “majesty” to opening it. It may have practical applications too. Turning tools and rakes can be “stuck” to either of the outer panels, useful when you need a hand free but cannot return the tool to its pocket. Will the wallet stick to a metal panel such as a locker door? Yes it does! It sticks to my fridge too!
The kit comes with a 5,000 word ebook on raking techniques. I don’t know if that is a permanent component or just for the introductory offer. Since my set is a review sample I did not get the ebook. Knowing Chris’ experience and enthusiasm for raking I expect it to be well worth a read.
In conclusion, this is a really, really nice rake set. Classy to look at but also with a really useful selection of rakes. It has all of the rakes you might wish for and also some effective novel designs. It is, as advertised, just a rake set. If you want to learn SPP you will need some hooks and half-diamonds. A Serenity and a Polaris kit would be an awesome combination! I plan to add a snake-rake to my Polaris set.
I would say, “add these to your Christmas list”, but I understand these are moving fast so the introductory offer may not last that long!
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Phillosoph

Serenity Lock Picks Review

Regular readers will have noticed that I do not usually write unboxing articles. Firstly, this is because funds are very limited (buy some books please!) and this is not a blog that gets sent free stuff. Secondly, I would rather write a post after I have had some time to try the items out.
Currently most my time is committed to another project but I would like to record some impressions on the Dangerfield Serenity lock pick set I have just received.
It has been a tough couple of months so I decided to treat myself. In my previous post I told you about the Bogota picks I brought and the cheap Chinese set of picks I had been playing with. The pair of Bogota picks was very reasonably priced but cost at least twice what you can pick the cheap picks up for. The two Bogotas, however, are much more useful than the dozen or so tools in the Chinese kit. Conclusion is, if money is tight or you only want one set of lock picks, buy a pair of Bogotas. Have a pair for practice and at least a set with your emergency kit(s).
I’ve been getting more into the leisure side of picking and wanted to improve my single pin picking (SPP) skills, hence decided to treat myself to a better quality set of tools. I opted for the Dangerfield Serenity ten-piece set. Firstly, because it has a nice selection of hooks and lifters for SPP. It also contains a Bogota-style pick. It was also currently on discount and UK Bump keys had been nice enough to send me a 10% off voucher. Kit arrived yesterday but I only had time to unpack it this morning. Initial impressions:
Dangerfield Zip Pouch
The kit is supposed to come in a webbing/ vinyl(?) pouch with a snap-button. Instead UK Bump keys upgraded this to the Dangerfield leather zip pouch. If, like me, you grew up watching cop shows where lock picks are always in a little black zip pouch, this will give you a buzz. The zip is in a nice brass rather than the black of the cop shows, but nice enough. I had noted that UK Bump keys was running an offer where if you brought this pouch you got a free pair of Dangerfield Soho lock picks, which are similar to Bogotas. That is a pretty nice deal in itself if you want a pouch. Thoughtfully, not only did UK Bump keys upgrade the pouch with the Serentiy kit, they threw in the pair of Sohos too! Like the Bogota set, the Sohos are designed to also act as tension tools. My ten-piece kit is actually twelve piece now, and effectively has four tension tools rather than two. I quite like this type of tension tool and often use the Bogotas as tension tools in preference to other tools to hand.
Soho Lock Picks
I’ll stress there is no guarantee that you will get these upgrades if you order a Serenity, but it tells you a lot about UK Bump keys’ approach to customer care that they made these additions.
Serenity Lock Pick Kit
The actual Serenity itself has the following contents:
Classic Slimline Wrench
Pry-Bar Wrench
Half-diamond Pick
Angled Reach Ball Pick
Curved Reach Ball Pick
High Hook Pick
Bogota Rake
Swerve Rake
Prince Rake
Princess Rake
The “pry-bar wrench” is what Americans called a “top of the keyway” (TOK) tension tool. American locks tend to be mounted pins upward while in the UK and Europe they are often pins down, which confuses terminology. Note that the Bogota rake has the same handle as the other rakes and picks, not the tension tool handle of the “stand-alone” set. The Swerve rake resembles an elongated snake-rake and the tip can be used for SPP. The Half-diamond pick is often termed a “hybrid” since you can rake with it too.
All of these picks, rakes and tools are made of a thinner metal than the Soho rakes and the stand-alone Bogotas. I have heard this described as 0.22" steel, but do not have a micrometer to measure this for myself.
I have tired a couple of these tools on a practice lock and they have worked as expected. My little stubborn lock is resisting the thinner picks, but this may be due to me being a little out of practice over the last few weeks. It pops for the thicker Sohos. (Update: The Serenity Bogota rake works perfectly on this lock. The Prince and Princess also work. The Swerve is not suited to this size of lock.)
The zip case is pretty much ideal for the Serenity set. You can fit four rakes in one side and the other four picks in the other. Place the tension tools how you wish. There is room for the Soho rakes/tension tools. It begins to get a little cluttered when I add my other “good” pick, a Sandman, but there may be room for an additional snake. If I was asked to suggest one improvement, it would be to add a pocket to keep the tension tools separate.
I got this kit from the same company I got my Bogotas from, UK Bump keys. I have found them prompt and very helpful. From youtube videos I note that they have a number of American customers and I can see why. Register on their site and you will be sent a download link to a free 40+ page ebook on picking. You may also get a voucher towards your next purchase. Their webpage has a blog with some interesting articles and there is no shortage of instructional videos too.