There are a scarce number of resources on quality of practice when it comes to lockpicking, and I also mentioned that having as many locks as possible is key to mitigating some of the bad habits you might develop when you’re learning in this article. I’ve got a system I came up with a few years ago to increase the quality of my practice while not having a ludicrous number of locks, and which only takes up to 15 minutes a day.
Now, before I dig in to the method, it’s important first to have a good understanding of what it means to become a better lockpicker. I suggest that lockpickers can be meaningfully distinguished on two fronts:
For the first point, I’ve previously argued that speed is the single most important metric in physical security – it’s basically the only one we’ve got. So, I’m sure it’s clear that if you have two lockpickers, the one who can open the same lock faster than their opponent is the better lockpicker. It’s worth noting, however, that luck plays a factor.
Which brings me to my second point – consistency. Lockpicking is fundamentally a feat of skill. It has to be, since it’s a contest in which participants attempt to defeat a device specifically designed to keep them out. And the reason we value someone achieving something with skill instead of luck is consistency. After all, no-one has consistent luck (Or if they do, they’d be better served with lottery games than locksport!).
It’s this concern about consistency that leads people into the trap I mentioned in my article on locks. This is why some people think there is merit to picking the same lock multiple times – to make sure that their first open wasn’t a fluke, but was really the product of skill. This is especially true of beginners, since they’re most likely to feel like they “got lucky” with their opens.
But this is a mistake, because they’re learning to solve the same puzzle over and over, when lockpicking is about solving puzzles you’ve never experienced before. That’s why competitions feature locks none of the contests has picked before (There are two notable exceptions. The toool.nl blackbag contest is the first. The second is the a competition the SSDeV runs, which is made up of locks only brought in by the contestants).
With that aside, I’ll turn to the ever-impressive Lockpicking Lawyer, who has a video from quite a few years ago now, which got me started on thinking about quality of practice. In it, he uses countless identical locks of the same model and keyway to practice, picking through them one by one. This is incredibly high quality practice, because there’s no way you’re going to remember what the binding order was or how high to set the pins for a particular lock when you can’t distinguish it from the rest. This is really how you’d ideally practice.
However, I also think that’s well beyond what most people are willing or able to spend in order to practice on a single model (Even given the deals LPL said he got, it’s still pricey). Instead, I’m going to propose a different system. In order to make this system best work for you, you’re probably going to want at least 30 different locks total. They should all be pin tumbler mechanisms, and they should all be fully pinned, with at least 5 pins. That might seem like a lot, but it’ll give you more varied practice, similar to a competition. You can also read my tips on getting locks cheaply in this article! Any fewer than this, and I’d wager that you’ll still be able to remember details about bitting and binding order by the time you come back to the lock you started with.
I say come back to, because my system is indeed a cycle. I’m going to recommend that you use two different containers for these locks. Shoeboxes work well, but use whatever works for you. Place all of the locks into one of the containers, and set it to one side. Then, pull out 3 cylinders, and line them up on a clear surface. The plan is to work through these locks, attempting to pick all three. Then, after your attempt, you’re going to take one from the end, and put it into your second container, move your remaining two locks along one position, and then pull a replacement from the box of locks. This means you’ll be able to cycle through your locks slowly, giving you three chances to get each lock open. It should also mitigate a lot of the issues that occur when practicing with a smaller selection of locks.
The last detail, and an important one, is that you only spend 5 minutes on each lock. Why 5 minutes? Well, when I came up with this system, I was aiming to compete in the LockCon lockpicking competition. In that competition, you’ve only got 5 minutes per lock in the first round. However, I do believe there are some further benefits to this:
1. It keeps practice sessions short
2. It prevents you getting overly familiar with any particular lock
3. It ensures high quality practice with a smaller set of locks
Feel free to adjust the amount of time you need for the locks. If you’re not getting any of them open day after day, then increase the amount of time, and if you’re consistently opening them, then bring the time down again.
If your aim is to SPP all of the locks, and not to use rakes, then you might want to give yourself a little bit more time. Also, remember you don’t need to get all of the locks open all of the time when you start. The point is to learn how to pick these locks from a starting point of 0 knowledge, to open within 5 (or whatever timeframe) minutes. The ideal is being able to open all of them within 5 minutes from 0 knowledge after you’ve been training this way for a while.
If you find yourself able to remember information about the lock that you’re working on when it comes back around after your first run, then either the number of locks that you’re working with in total is too low, or the lock is too distinctive. It might be too distinctive because it’s the only one you’ve got of X brand, or because it has a particularly identifiable scratch or something like that. Remember that this is exactly what you’re trying to avoid, so consider removing locks like this.
And that’s all! Hopefully some of you find this method useful as a way to practice picking, whether for a competition, or for your daily practice session. Feel free to adapt this to your needs, since you needn’t use 5 minutes as your time per lock if it doesn’t suit you. As ever, let me know what you think, and I hope you enjoyed reading this article!