An Interview With the LockPickingLawyer
/u/Mr_Guy_Fawkes here, I will just go by Fawkes for the sake of time from here on out, and I have a special interview for you all. I recently got into contact with LockPickingLawyer. He has a great Youtube channel that you should check out and he goes by the same name on Reddit.
Where to find him:
How did you get into picking?
I first tried picking about 25 years ago, when I was in middle school. Back then, there wasn’t the impressive public knowledge base that there is now. If memory serves, the MIT Guide to Lock Picking (downloaded to my home-built 8086 computer) was my sole education. Combine my paltry picking education with a lack of practice locks and pathetic home brew lock picks, and the effort was doomed from the start. I could occasionally rake open a lock, but my pathetic skills were discouraging, and I abandoned my efforts. In retrospect, it was probably for the best. If I had my current abilities back then, it’s a fair guess that I would not have used them responsibly.
Many years later (about a year ago), I happened across BosnianBill’s YouTube channel, and my fascination with lock-picking was reignited. After a couple weeks of watching his videos (and those of many other lock-picking YouTubers) during every spare moment, I decided to try picking again. I ordered a set of Sparrows picks, and started picking. This time around was different. It turned out that I had a knack for it. About four months later, I started my YouTube channel.
Do you carry your tools with you as an EDC, and if so what are they?
I keep a set of Bogotas and a tension wrench in my wallet.
What brand do you prefer for picks, or are do you like custom tools better?
There are aspects of different brands that I like, but none that I’m totally satisfied with. I like the Southord sets’ large selection of hooks. I like the Peterson handles and government steel. I like Sparrows smooth (tumbled?) finish. I like the HUGE Chinese sets because they allow me to test lots of pick profiles for very little money. All of that said, I generally use Peterson’s products because of the size and comfort of their handles. They make my hours long practice sessions possible. I’ve also found the steel very durable despite my tension-heavy picking method, which tends to be hard on picks. Peterson is not all the I use, however. My case has tools from Peterson, Sparrows, Southord, Goso, and USA Lockpicks… and if it’s in my case, that means I use it.
As for custom tools, I generally don’t use them. None of my personal efforts have proven to be materially superior to the picks I can buy. Because of this, and the fact that I’d rather spend my time picking, I rarely make custom tools. The exception is the occasional lock-specific tension wrench.
If you had to build a ten piece set (including wrenches) what would you put together, and what kind of case/carrier would you put them in?
Narrowing it down to ten is difficult. To do so, I have to dump all non-standard pin tumbler (i.e., tubular, dimple, warded, bypass, etc.) tools, then narrow it down to my most used tools. Finding the perfect tension is very important to my picking, so I’m going to devote half the list to tension wrenches, and the other half to picks.
Sparrows Dual End, Non-Twisted Wiper Insert Tension Wrenches (in 3 widths)
Peterson .050” Pry Bar
Peterson .040” Pry Bar
Sparrows Triple Peak Rake
Peterson .025” #1 Hook
Peterson .025 #4 Hook
Peterson .015” #1 Hook
Peterson .015 #7 Hook
I have no idea what case I would use for a ten pick set. I only own one case: a Sparrows Sherman. I love it, but it's WAY too big for ten tools.
What are your top three favorite pick profiles?
Peterson #7 Hook
Peterson #1 Hook
Sparrows Triple Peak
What advice would you give to newcomers to the picking community?
1 - Practice often. I’ve been picking for less than a year. But I attribute most of my successes to the fact that I’ve probably put in well over 1,000 hours of practice. When my family goes to sleep, I’m often in my office until 2:00 am or later practicing.
2 – Practice on as many different locks as you can find. Let me start by saying that I fully understand that not everyone has the money to buy hundreds of locks. But at the same time, it’s important to realize that picking the same locks repeatedly does very little to develop your skills. I see people with five locks who pick them over and over again. They become masters of picking those five locks, but they’re not really developing skills that are transferable to other locks. I realized this early on, and started to troll ebay for good deals on large lots of used locks. One of my first purchases was a lot of about 75 used Schlage KIK cylinders without keys. It was about $20. To practice, I would mix them all up in a bucket and then start picking random locks until the whole bucket was empty, then start over. I went through the whole bucket about twice a night for a week before I moved on to other locks… Arrow, Sargent, Corbin, WB, American, Abus, etc… whatever I could find a deal on. If you look back at my first video – 10 American 1100 padlocks picked in a row – you will get an idea of how I practice. This approach teaches you how to pick locks… not how to pick a particular lock.
3 – When you practice, be conscious of EXACTLY what you are doing inside of the lock. This includes what pin you are working on, how high you lifted each pin, what kind of pin you are picking, etc. My ideal style of picking is very controlled and deliberate. That requires that I keep a running inventory in my head of each pin’s status, to the extent possible. It is not always easy to keep that kind of focus… particularly during a multi hour practice session. To help focus my mind, in my more recent practice sessions, I will pick a lock a couple times in a row, with the goal of figuring out and writing down the approximate bitting, types of driver pins, amount of counter rotation, and best binding order… like creating a road map for picking that particular lock. This forces me to focus my mind on exactly what I’m doing, and what’s going on inside the lock. I have a couple steno pads that I’ve filled up doing this. It’s a very helpful exercise if you are interested in becoming a more precise picker.
Is there anything you would change about lock picking? This being the public view of it, how individuals interact, etc.
Yes. All pickers should be obligated to send me cool locks, subscribe to my YouTube Channel, and watch all of my videos.
More seriously, I do have a minor frustration with the locksport community. This is probably not what you were looking for, but here it is. I don’t think that we pay nearly enough attention to tension, and our collective understanding of how to use tension is downright dismal.
I’ll explain what I mean. Consider the example of setting a normal spooled driver pin. Everyone says “use light tension.” This is fair advice, but at the same time, it neglects some equally important facets of the task, and the need to constantly vary tension. If you use light tension the whole time you pick the lock, you’re making the task much harder than it has to be. A more complete description of the appropriate tension might look like this:
It’s often best to use heavy tension while moving from pin to pin, and while centering your pick on the pin that you intend to probe or pick. Then, use moderate tension when first attempting to detect the spool – moderate tension is required to ensure that you don’t move the pin by accident, while still allowing enough “give” to detect feedback. If you think the pin is a spool, use slightly lighter tension to confirm your conclusion. Light to moderate tension is then needed to allow counter rotation and set the pin. The exact amount of tension can depend on the strength/thickness of the pick you’re using – the thicker the pick, the heavier the appropriate tension and picking force. Near the apex of counter rotation, but before the pin sets, it can help to increase tension considerably to prevent oversetting the pin, and to keep other pins from dropping.
Even that description is a generalization, but it's still far more than I've ever seen articulated.
In the same vein, the "accepted" and most common advice regarding tension is that a picker should use the minimum tension required to pick the lock. That may work best for some people, but definitely not me. This advice always struck me as one of those “the emperor has no clothes” situations, because everyone seems to agree on the "light tension" method, when I’ve found the exact opposite to work best. I like to use the heaviest tension possible, while still allowing some pin movement. Heavy tension has many benefits that are seldom discussed: it amplifies feedback tenfold, it makes pin-setting more distinct, it allows faster picking by binding multiple pins, it helps prevent oversets, it helps prevent dropping other pins, it keeps pins from moving when you move your pick through the lock (very helpful with tight keyways), it allows “sound picking” (i.e., listening for the difference between serration clicks and shear line clicks), etc. I’m not saying that heavy tension is best for everyone or all situations – it is not. But I think that we need to understand that heavy tension is a very important tool in our picking arsenal!
I’m still in the process of developing my thoughts on tension, but what is clear to me now is (i) we have massively oversimplified the topic, and (ii) there is a fair amount of bad or misleadingly incomplete advice out there. That needs to change. Our use of tension needs to be studied and dissected, and the results need to be formulated into a usable discussion of tension strategy. I have a several pages of notes regarding tension that I hope to, one day, turn into a video. It is, however, an exceedingly complex topic that seems to become more complex the deeper I dive into it. It may be a while before I’ve fully gathered and organized my thoughts.
Do you work in a job that you pick locks, or is it merely a hobby?
Picking is solely a hobby. As my screen name suggests, I am a lawyer. My practice areas do not relate to locks or security. I have two specialties: (i) corporate governance (i.e., the law governing the internal operation of corporations, and the relationships among the board of directors, officers and stockholders), and (ii) insurance coverage (i.e., the law governing the relationship between an insurer and its insureds).
That said, I still want to be a penetration tester when I grow up.
What other hobbies do you have, if any, besides picking locks and making awesome videos?
I have two other hobbies:
Target shooting (and, to a lesser extent, building custom guns)
Modifying and racing my weekend/fun car... a 512whp twin turbo 350z.
Between these hobbies, picking, a (more than) full time job, and spending time with my family, let's just say that I keep busy!