Antique roll-top desks often feature a locking mechanism that protects your personal property. When you pull down the rolling top, you have the option of locking it with a key or leaving it unlocked. On some older models, the lock automatically engages when shut, which causes a problem if you lose your key or it's trapped inside. To unlock an antique roll-top desk, you must pick the lock.
Unbend one metal paperclip, turning it into a long, thin tool for picking your desk lock. Slide the paperclip directly into the lock, pushing on it slightly. You need to feel around inside the lock, for the teeth or pins that keep the lock closed. Slide the paperclip back as far as it will go and then bend the end, which shows you the depth of the lock.
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Slide your paperclip back into the lock, running it across the top of the lock. You should hear the pins inside the lock. The pins are what actually keep the desk locked and each pin has a specific placement inside the lock. You need to adjust the location of each pin, to open your antique desk.
Push a second paperclip or a screwdriver into the lock. This provides tension to the lock and keeps the pins from falling back down. Hold the piece down with one hand.
Insert your paperclip back into the lock. Keep one hand on the screwdriver or second paperclip, which applies pressure on the lock. With your other hand, move the paperclip across the pins of the lock.
Continue moving the paperclip across the pins, until you hear a clicking sound. Each time a pin falls into the right spot, it makes a click. You may hear up to five clicks before all the pins fall into place, depending on the size and type of your lock. If you followed the procedure correctly, the lock should open when you remove the screwdriver and paperclip.