How to Open a Locked Door Using a Paperclip

As an honest, upstanding citizen, you probably don't think of lock picking as an essential skill, but it quickly becomes one when you forget your keys, and you're locked out of your own house. At such a time, you're unlikely to have lock-picking tools in your pocket, but if you have a paper clip, you can make a paper clip lock pick.

Door handle gold color with a lock
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How to Open a Locked Door Using a Paperclip

For this technique to work, you actually need two paper clips, but you can make do by breaking a single paper clip into two pieces or using a bobby pin or a spare piece of electric wire. It also helps to know how a typical lockset works.

I'm Locked Out of My House. How Can I Get In?

Unless your home has an electronic lock with a touch pad, you'll see a keyhole for the lockset and perhaps one for the deadbolt. Hopefully, you know which of these is locked. If both are, no problem; you can open each one in turn.

The paper clip lock pick relies on two tools. The first is the pick itself, which is a straightened-out paper clip, and the second is a tension wrench, which you make by forming a 90-degree bend on the end of a second paper clip (or half of the original paper clip if that's all you have). You need the wrench to maintain tension on the lock while you do the actual picking.

Understanding the Lockset

Inside the lockset are a number of spring-loaded pins — most locks have five — and a rotating barrel with a hole for each pin. When the door is locked, the holes in the barrel are facing up, and a pin is inserted into each one. The barrel won't turn until all the pins are forced up and out of the barrel, which is what the key does when you insert it.

The key has a set of notches peculiar to the lock it operates because each pin is inserted to a different depth and must be raised to a different height to clear the barrel. The pins are spring loaded, so the key has to hold them all up at the same time. This is important to remember because you don't have a key, so you're going to have to do this with a paper clip.

The Procedure for Using a Paper Clip Lock Pick

If you're locked out in the winter, you may have to de-ice the lock before you start. It's important for the lockset barrel to be able to spin freely.

  1. Insert the short end of the tension wrench into the bottom of the keyhole. Using the other end of the wrench as a handle, put tension on the lock in the direction it opens. Maintain this tension while you're picking the lock.
  2. Insert the pick into the upper portion and push it in until it contacts a pin. Try moving it up, and if it moves freely, move on to the next pin until you find one that has seized. Push this one up while maintaining tension on the lock, and when it clears the barrel, the barrel will move slightly, and it will stay up.

  3. Repeat this procedure with all five pins, and the barrel should spin.

Picking a Locked Bathroom or Bedroom Door Lock

Most interior locksets have a pinhole on the outside knob for emergencies. All you need to pick one of these locks is a single straightened-out paper clip to substitute for the pinhole door knob key. Insert the paper clip into the pinhole and push on it to unlock the door.


Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience, and he is also an avid craftsman and musician. He began writing on home improvement topics in 2010 and worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. He currently contributes a monthly property maintenance blog on Landlordology.com. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.