Preventing Broken Picks
Why do Lock Picks break?
Lock Picks break. It happens. Although I feel I must say I didn’t break a pick for over a decade, until manufacturers started making picks as slim as 0.018” – and since then admittedly, I have snapped two, but both of which were avoidable. And we all know how annoying it is breaking a pick from your favourite and often painstakingly composed perfect set!
So why does it happen? And more importantly – can it be prevented?
I've managed to round it down to three main ways a pick can be broken (or bent, which can be equally damaging). Knowing what these are and then how to avoid them should help you avoid snapping any more picks.
Three main ways you can snap a Lock Pick...
Accidents happen and pretty much can’t be avoided. Having said that there’s a few common accidents which can be minimized with a little extra care.
Don’t leave picks sticking out of locks when you’re not using them. This is especially likely if – like me – you make picking videos. It’s quite common, half way through a shoot to be distracted, need to adjust the camera, the lighting, answer a phone call etc - or even if you're just picking and have a tea/beer/gin break - and for convenience leave the pick and wrench sticking out from the lock.
This is an accident waiting to happen, and I've seen plenty of people do it. Being on the whole reflective, picks can become almost invisible - like the Predator - and many times I have brushed past them, causing them to bend in the lock. Oh dear! Annoying, yes. And potentially expensive, and certainly hassle to replace. Even if you manage to bend the pick back to its original straightness, not only has its strength now been compromised, that little kink in the shaft will be an aesthetic irritation for the rest of the pick’s life. A bend - even a snap under these conditions is likely. Don’t do it. On the upper end of the scale a pick set can cost hundreds of pounds. And that beautiful leather wraparound case will lose its edge with a pick missing. Your picking will also lose its edge if it happens to be your ultra-slim deforest diamond, or some other favourite pick.
Another accident waiting to happen is having picks laying around in the bottom of a tool box or bag, especially typical with ‘singles’ such a specialist rakes, etc. There’s many cases available on the market for just a few ££ so use them to look after all your singles, failing that just pop them in with your all day picks, there’s often plenty of extra space in the case that comes with your other picks.
While we’re at it, having a half diamond wedge painfully under your fingernail while you're rummaging around the bottom of a bag isn’t the greatest start to a picking session, so this is equally avoided by putting picks in cases. And it’s good practice too. A well-organized pick set makes for well-organized picking. I literally start shaking when I see a lock picker tip a box upside down a shake out all manner of picks, tension tools, bump keys, etc onto his table. Shocking! It really doesn't set up the mind well for something as logical and scientific as lock picking! Tidy them up!
Faulty Picks are hard to avoid. It kind of goes without saying the more you spend on a set of picks the better the quality of steel they’re going to be made from. Additionally, the method of production can affect the final quality of the steel. This isn’t a golden rule, I’ve seen terribly bad picks sold for excruciatingly high prices, but as a general rule, your £5 set of picks is more likely to be made badly and of bad metal than say a £60 set. Having said that, a metal fault is a metal fault; tiny and invisible to the naked eye. Should a pick snap in a situation which seems to surprise you, i.e. not after a particularly heavy-handed moment, you might have been victim to a metal fault. In my experience, contacting the manufacturer and sending them the offending item is usually enough to get a replacement.
Annoying, yes, unavoidable, pretty much. But most companies want you to enjoy your picks so just let them know. (TIP: Be nice! Can you imagine being a customer services rep and dealing with hundreds if not thousands of emails a day, only to come across…”Your stupid pick snapped, what the f**k are you playing at? I expect to get a good few decades out of my picks and you idiots have wasted my time and money”. No, just be nice! Explain the situation, request a replacement and everyone’s happy. Simple!) Take it from someone who deals with such emails - if you're friendly and polite you'll get far better treatment!
Faulty Picker. OK – admit it, there’s been times when you’ve been unnecessarily heavy-handed with a pick and it’s broke. I’ve seen people use picks as turning tools. I’ve seen people use them as bypass tools. I’ve seen people use a 0.018” gauge pick to try and remove another pick stuck in the lock. They are not designed for this and you only have yourself to blame. Lock picking is relatively delicate, you’re only pushing little bits of brass, and you’re only pushing in millimeters. Now there are times – for sure – where you’ll be using the warding as a fulcrum to achieve a small amount of leverage to help shift a stubborn pin, but be aware of the pick’s limits. If it’s really that stubborn the lock might be damaged, it might need lubricating. I have found GT85 and the like fine for quick fixes. Your picks are more important than that one lock. Move on, change to a heavy duty pick or even a different tool to check to see if the pin will actually move, before damaging your pick and feeling like a fool.
If you’re breaking tension wrenches then I really can’t help you! This means lock picking is not for you and you should maybe consider something like MMA, or plumbing instead.
So there you go. Simple really, look after your picks, respect them and keep them in good order. Be patient and aware when picking, and be nice to your suppliers when required, it’s good karma!
PS - Should you break a pick - don't immediately discard it - depending where the break occurred, you might be able to take a file to whats left and make yourself a shiny new pick! Have a look how much metal you have left, and see what you can do - get creative!