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Can you pick a lock with nail clippers?

Picking locks is a useful skill that can get you out of a jam if you lose your keys. While specialized lock picking tools exist, many everyday items can also be repurposed to pick locks in a pinch. One such item is nail clippers. In this article, we’ll explore whether nail clippers can be used to pick locks and how effective they are for this purpose.

Can Nail Clippers Actually Pick Locks?

The short answer is yes, nail clippers can be used to pick some locks. However, they have some limitations compared to standard lock picking tools. Here’s an overview of how nail clippers fare as makeshift lock picks:

  • Nail clippers can be used to apply torque to the lock cylinder and turn the plug. The torque wrench function is essential for single pin picking.
  • The file on a nail clipper can serve as a pick to manipulate the lock pins. However, the rigid metal file is less effective than a dedicated pick.
  • Locks with security features like mushroom pins, spool pins, and sidebars are very difficult or impossible to pick with just nail clippers.
  • The small size of nail clippers limits the types of keyways and locks you can access. Large keyways are challenging for nail clippers.

Overall, nail clippers can pick open simple pin tumbler locks as long as the keyway allows access. More advanced locks will thwart attempts to pick them with just nail clippers.

Step-by-Step Lock Picking Instructions

If you want to try picking a lock with nail clippers, follow these steps:

  1. Examine the lock to determine the keyway size and shape. Nail clippers generally only work on small, wafer-type key locks.
  2. Insert the nail file from the clippers into the bottom of the keyway and use it to apply light torque.
  3. Use the tip of the file to probe the pin stacks and lift each pin set to its shear line.
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 for each pin stack while maintaining torque on the plug.
  5. When all pins are aligned at the shear line, the plug will rotate and unlock the lock.

The process is easier said than done! It requires a very delicate touch and takes lots of practice on locks you own or have permission to pick.

Advantages of Using Nail Clippers to Pick Locks

Nail clippers have a few advantages that explain why they’re one of the more popular makeshift lock picks:

  • Availability – Most people have nail clippers at home or can buy them affordably at any drugstore.
  • Inconspicuousness – Carrying a nail clipper doesn’t raise suspicions like specialized picking tools would.
  • Dual-use – The clipper’s file serves as the pick while the body provides torque control.
  • Compact size – Nail clippers fit into small keyways that larger picks can’t access.

For non-destructive lock picking applications, nail clippers strike a good balance of availability, subtlety, functionality, and size.

Disadvantages and Limitations

However, there are also some downsides to using nail clippers:

  • The rigid metal file is less effective at manipulating pins than a curved, wiggling pick.
  • Nail clippers lack the hook-shaped picks needed for raking attacks.
  • Torque control is more difficult with the tiny nail clipper body vs. a tension wrench.
  • The small keyway access limits what you can pick. Large or obstructed keyways won’t work.
  • No built-in flashlight like a real lock pick set.
  • Advanced security pins like spools can’t easily be picked with a basic nail file.

For these reasons, nail clippers are best suited to quick, simple locks rather than high security locks. Professionals doing covert or destructive entry may also opt for more robust picks.

Ideal Locks to Pick with Nail Clippers

Based on their capabilities, nail clippers are best suited to picking these types of basic locks:

  • Wafer locks – Used on cabinets, lockboxes, and padlocks. Wafer pins are easiest to pick.
  • Pin tumbler locks – Common in houses and offices. Single pin picking works on 3-5 standard pin stacks.
  • Tubular locks – Found on vending machines, mailboxes, and bicycle locks. The circular keyway gives easy access.
  • Warded locks – Primitive design with large internal channels. A basic pick can reach the back.

You’ll also have the most success with locks that have a small, unobstructed keyway to fit the nail clippers into. Brick-and-mortar locksmiths can also help identify pickable locks.

Locks to Avoid Picking with Nail Clippers

On the other hand, you should not try to pick these types of high-security locks with just nail clippers:

  • Disc detainer locks – Require specialized tools to manipulate the discs.
  • Magnetic locks – Cannot be picked physically, only unlocked magnetically.
  • High pin count locks – More than 5 pins requires better picks and tension control.
  • Security pins – Spools, mushroom, etc. cannot be raked open with a basic file.
  • Dimple locks – Require angled picks to lift the dimple pins.

Leave high-security locks to the professionals with specialized decoding tools and expertise. Attempting to pick them with nail clippers will likely just damage the lock.

Is It Illegal to Pick Locks with Nail Clippers?

The legality of lock picking depends on your jurisdiction and intent:

  • In most U.S. states, it is legal to possess lock picks, including nail clippers.
  • Picking your own locks is generally not prohibited.
  • Picking other locks without permission may constitute trespassing or burglary.
  • Possessing picks with criminal intent may violate possession of burglary tools laws.

So you need to be very careful about where, when, and why you pick locks with nail clippers or other improvised tools. Only do so on your own property or with the explicit consent of the lock owner. And never pick locks in public locations.

Is It Ethical to Pick Locks with Nail Clippers?

Beyond legal issues, there are some ethical concerns as well:

  • Picking your own locks – This is perfectly ethical to do.
  • Recreational picking – Harmless on your own locks but get permission first on others.
  • “Good samaritan” picking – Use good judgment if assisting someone locked out.
  • Malicious picking – Absolutely unethical without the owner’s consent.

Like any tool, nail clippers themselves are ethically neutral. But picking locks without permission violates personal property rights and privacy. So only do so in a legal, ethical, and responsible manner.

How to Pick Other Types of Locks

While nail clippers work for pin tumbler locks, other improvised tools can pick other lock types:

  • Wafer locks – Use a windshield wiper insert or a half-diamond lock pick.
  • Tubular locks – Try a straightened paperclip or torsion wrench.
  • Padlocks – Pry open with a shim made from a soda can.
  • Master locks – Bump open the pin stacks with a hammer and screwdriver.

If you learn lock picking for fun and education, invest in a quality pick set. But around the house, these household items can save you if you need to quickly unlock something in a pinch!

Final Thoughts

Nail clippers aren’t the ideal improvised lock pick, but they do work in limited situations. For basic pin tumbler and wafer locks with small, accessible keyways, a nail clipper can get the job done when no other picks are available. But never pick locks in public or without the owner’s permission. And leave high-security locks to the professionals. While nail clippers have some lock picking uses, there’s no substitute for real picks, tension tools, rakes, and decoding equipment.