The Highs and Lows of Picking Locks

British standard 3621 curtain lock picking tips using the Chris Belcher Reversible Pocket Curtain Pick

By Martin Pink

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] favour the Chris Belcher Reversible Pocket Curtain Pick (RPCP) range as in my opinion it is the most versatile set of curtain picks available – and with the best ‘feel’ for me. However, the picking processes I’m about to describe will apply to the use of any curtain pick capable of dealing with very low levers.

In this article, we will look at the most common types of levers, and the processes the majority of locks fitted with one of these lever types will favour. In future issue we will discuss the exceptions to the rules and deal with locks such as the fortress, strongbolt, Chubb 114 and 110 locks that follow their own processes.

Dealing with very low levers using the CB RPCP

Initially, for new users of the RPCP, here is a brief guide to dealing with low levers and how to move freely past them.

Many find dealing with low levers very difficult. This is where a pick (such as my favoured pick) comes into its own. Dealing with low levers becomes simple with practice.

Clock this for clarity

If you imagine a clock face, what I’m about to tell you will make far more sense. So imagine what 5 past 7 looks like. Now reverse it…and it becomes 5 to 5. Look at Picture 1 below…

5 past 7.

If starting at the back of the lock nearest the bolt you find it hard to pass one of the levers as it is very low indeed, then a simple process should be applied – turn the pick’s thumb-turn to the 5 past 7 position with the tip of the wire pointing down at the 7 position as in Picture 1. Pull gently against the low lever you want to pass. Keeping the wire tip and thumb-turn at this position slide the wire off the pick body as in Picture 2.

Once in this position, whilst maintaining the tension on your pick body, slide your pick wire down and pull back at the same time. This action, if done correctly, will skip your wire under the low lift and allow access to the levers towards the front of the lock (cap).

If starting from the cap end, and needing to ease under low levers to get to levers near the bolt end, it is again a very simple process, and easily mastered. Position your thumb-turn at the 10 past 8 position, pushing very lightly against the low lever you wish to pass, as in Picture 3.

Keeping the wire at the 10 past 8 position, slide your wire left whilst maintaining contact with the low lever with the wire, as in Picture 4. This will angle the tip of the wire under the belly of the low lever. Turn the thumb-turn slightly to lift the low lever and ease underneath it.

This procedure is assuming the lock is left mounted, bolt shooting left. If right mounted, it’s the same procedure except the wire positions need reversing, i.e. sliding left reverts to sliding right, and 5 past 7 becomes 5 to 5 on a clock face.

My terminology – what it means

Light to medium tension: Approx 100 grams of tension.

Tickle: Touching the bottom of a lever and lifting it approx 1/8th of a millimetre with very, very light lifting pressure – so light its just enough to move a free lever.

Nudge: Lifting a lever approx 1mm.

Slapping Lever: This is the term I use for a picked and gated lever.

Binding/Stiff Lever: A lever, that when tickled, resists and will not move with the light lifting pressure applied.

Hopefully these terms will raise your awareness of the importance of the processes. Many fail with BS3621 picking as a result of simple errors. These often include excessive tension and overlifting – and one often leads to the other.

Too much opening tension is a curse when trying to pick locks. A heavy tension causes a ‘binding lever’ to become too tight and too stiff to lift. To remedy this, many people then exert excessive lifting pressure with the effect of lifting the lever so high that it becomes trapped hard on the bottom fence or in a bottom fence anti-pick, keeping the mechanism firmly locked.

The reason for a light tension is that the binding levers will move in a controlled manner to where you lift them to – 1mm at a time.

The reason for only lifting each lever 1mm at a time, is this is roughly the increment difference between each lever height.

The reason for tickling levers, is that in lifting a lever under light tension approx 1/8th of a mm with a very light lifting pressure, a binding lever will bind and resist, whereas a moving lever will lift a fraction and return under spring pressure.

A slapping lever is easily felt, as when you tickle it, it will have a tight slapping feeling as it returns under spring tension. You can often feel the lever slapping tightly between the edges of the lever gate.

The slider lever used on Legge 5641 and variants

This picking process works well with the Legge range up to the BS3621-1998 lock with the Chris Belcher RPCP standard wire. The process is the same for the BS3621-2004 and 2007 versions but needs the Chris Belcher RPCP L wire for success.

The legge slider levers are Pictured 5 and 6.

These often cause problems because of their very low levers, so it’s essential to master the process of negotiating low levers as previously described.

Despite some very nasty low levers, the Legge range is mostly simple and straightforward to pick, largely due to common intolerances within the locks’ construction and very poor anti-picks. The anti-pick hooks are small and fairly blunt and the ‘V’ notch on the stump is very shallow, making them very ineffective.

The picking process for Legge style slider levers is very straight­forward. Starting at the cap end is best. Apply a light to medium tension and position your wire under the number 1 lever nearest the cap, with the thumb-turn at the 10 past 8 position. Gently push the wire towards the back of the lock – this will test if you have full movement under the lever pack and identify any low levers if not.

It is likely you will encounter a low lever. (I have picked hundreds of these and I’m yet to meet one without at least one low lever in it.) Once you come to a stop against a low lift lever, simply follow the previously described process for dealing with low levers, and lift/nudge the low lever a fraction. Repeat this for all low levers within the lock. It may be necessary to return to low lifts if they drop back down, but continue applying the process until all low levers are up slightly and out of your way. But remember to be careful not to over lift.

Once you have the low lift levers up slightly, and have movement under the entire pack, the hard work is done. The picking process should now be relatively simple.

Position a wire under each lever in turn and tickle it. If it moves, leave it alone and move to next lever. Ultimately you will find one stiff lever – lift it 1mm.

A light click will be felt and sometimes heard. Check this lever again. If stiff, pick it another 1mm until it moves – then go search for the next stiff lever and repeat the process.

It is sometimes necessary to return to a lever and pick it 1mm a number of times because you will find that it binds.

Whilst following this process, you will feel – and sometimes hear – a much bigger click. This normally signifies you have one lever left to pick and you have probably entered one of the ineffective anti-picks. Once you find the next stiff lever, position your wire under it and lift it whilst relaxing your tension very slightly. The lock will open.

To summarise – the Legge picking process is to deal with the low lift levers first, then simply pick each stiff lever 1mm until the lock opens.

H Gate levers and sharp ‘V’ notch anti-picks

Again using the CB RPCP but this time picking The Union 2134 Lock (see the union lever and stump Picture 7).

You will notice that this lever has a much sharper anti-pick on the lever and has a much deeper ‘V’ notch in the stump and this makes the anti-pick far more effective when picking blind.

When the anti-picks blunt with age, it is possible to jump the anti-picks out, which I will explain later. Assuming the lock is new and its anti-picks are at their best, this process should still yield you a 100% success rate .

First look at the picture of a typical high and low lift lever – Picture 8.

Low lift levers have an anti-pick notch in the bottom fence of the lever and the high lift lever has an anti-pick notch in the top fence of the lever. No Union lever has an anti-pick in top and bottom fence. (This is the same for the Yale 560 and the Chubb 3U114 versions of this lock.)

You will notice that from the position the stump sits at when in the locked position, you would have to lift the lever 7 to 8mm to engage the anti-pick in the bottom fence – important to remember.

Identify positions

This process involves identifying the position of the high lift and low lift levers in the lock that you are picking via a very simple process.

Apply a medium tension to the bolt and search for a stiff lever. Lift each stiff lever no more than 5mm. Do this for all of the lock’s five levers as they become stiff, and you will soon enter anti-pick.

Now the reason it is important to remember that to engage a bottom fence anti-pick requires a low lever to be lifted at least 7 to 8mm becomes apparent.

As a low lever takes 7 to 8mm of lift to enter an anti-pick, we know that we haven’t lifted any lever higher than a maximum of 5 to 6mm. So we cannot possibly be in a low lift lever anti-pick and conversely, any lever in an anti-pick notch can only be a high lift lever.

Maintain the tension on the lock, and tickle each lever (lifting it 1mm) in turn. If it moves or slaps slightly, it is a picked low lift lever. If it is rock solid, it is a high lift lever lodged in its anti-pick notch.

Memorise positions

Lets assume working from the cap in your lock, only position 5 (nearest bolt) and position 3 are lodged in an anti-pick and feel solid. This tells us that the lock has the following levers:

Position 5 (nearest bolt) high lift

Position 4 low lift

Position 3 high lift

Position 2 low lift

Position 1 (nearest cap) low lift

Simply memorise which positions have high lifts and release the tension, thus dropping all levers.

Now we know where the low and high lift levers are in the lock, it is simple to pick the lock avoiding the anti-picks.

Pick positions 5 and 3, high lifting them 8 to 9 mm and pick low lifts in position 1, 2 and 4 no more than 5mm. The lock will open for you every time. (A good tipis to try to ensure that a low lever is the last lever picked and where possible, set your high lift levers first. This avoids every anti-pick as if not there.)

In the rare instance that all five levers are high lifts, there is an alternative process. Set four of the five levers, lifting them high (8 to 9mm). Once four of the levers are set in their gate, position your wire under the final lever to pick. Once in position, lift this lever high very quickly, the anti-pick wont have time to set and you will pass it and the lock will open.

I mentioned earlier jumping the anti-picks in a more worn lock. This requires a little more practice.

Use the same process of applying light to medium tension and lifting each stiff lever no more than 5mm until you enter the high lift anti picks in the top fence.

Identify the solid high lifts in the lock. Position your wire under one of these solid high lift levers, and apply a medium lifting pressure to the lever. Whilst maintaining this lifting pressure on the lever, you need to relax your opening tension pressure very slightly a little at a time – and once the lever begins to lift and move, instantly reapply your full opening tension.

If done correctly you will have jumped out of the anti-pick. This can be confirmed by tickling the lever – it should now slap slightly in its gate.

Now move to the next rock solid lever and repeat the process of jumping out of anti-pick. Once you have jumped each solid high lift out of anti-pick, the lock will open.

Open ended levers

In this case on an ERA invincible lock again using my the CB RPCP.

The Entire ERA range pre-Fortress locks, use these standard type open ended levers, as do locks such as WMS/Avocet. For this example I use the ERA Invincible Lock.

To start, lets look at a typical high and typical low lift open ended lever used in the ERA Invincible Lock:

You will notice that as with the H Gate levers mentioned earlier, high lift levers (at top of picture) have an anti-pick notch in the top fence, while a low lift lever (bottom of picture) only has an anti-pick notch in the bottom fence. Again a low lift lever will require lifting at least 8mm to engage a bottom fence anti-pick.

ERA levers, like Legge levers, have some very, very low lift levers in many of their differs, so again the low lift lever procedures discussed at the beginning of this article should be used.

As with any lock, we need to identify the location of the high and low lift levers within the lock. You could use the same process as I described with the

H Gate levers used on the Union lock. However, you’ll be pleased to learn, a much swifter process for identifying high and low lift levers exists for these open ended lever locks.

This is where the unique design of the CB RPCP thumb-turn is used to good effect. We must begin by inserting the pick and wire and applying a very light tension, as shown.

Whilst maintaining your very light tension, position the pick wire underneath lever 1 nearest the cap, and lift gently until the pick tip makes contact with the lever without lifting it at all.

Touch the lever belly in each position and note the position of the thumb-turn for each lever. For a high lift lever, the thumb-turn will sit in a position visibly above the 9 o’clock position. For a low lift lever the thumb-turn will sit at exactly

9 o’clock or below 9 o’clock as in Pictures 12 – 16.

Bearing this in mind, and working from the cap end and from lever 1, the lock decode is: High, Low, High, Low and High.

Ready to pick the lock

We are now ready to pick the lock open. To achieve this we must lift the high lifts past their anti-pick to the gate, and we must pick the low lifts lower than 8mm to enter their gates without reaching the anti-picks. We know that high lifts sit at just above the 9 o’clock position, and so to reach the gate, we must lift the high lift to the gate. This will be at approx 11 o’clock on the thumb-turn. The low lifts only need picking a few milimetres, so rarely need lifting further than just above the 9 o’clock position of the thumb-turn.

Getting the sequence right

It is very important to lift and set the high lift levers first, and to pick the low lift levers last. This way you avoid the anti-picks. If you pick a high lift lever last, it will enter the anti-pick prior to reaching the gate. Pictured 17 – 21.

If decoded and picked by using the thumb-turn to judge height and position, this is a very quick opening. With a little practice you will avoid all anti-picks and be opening these locks in one to three minutes.

This beginner’s guide to picking BS3621 locks has covered the methods to deal with low levers, and the picking processes used on three of the most common lever types. One of these three processes will defeat most of the BS3621 lock types you are likely to meet, though some locks do follow different processes. We will deal with a different lock types in future issues, building Locks & Security Monthly magazine into a valuable ‘How to Guide’ for picking all BS locks eventually.

Future issues will include:

Defeating the new Morgan BS3621-2007 lock with the CB RPCP and a ‘How to Guide’ on picking the older warded Fortress lock using the CB prelifter pick.

Later this year we will deal with the Chubb 3G110 lock using the soon to be released CB Chubb 3G110 curtain pick which has greatly simplified the picking of this top end lock.

If there is a BS3621 lock that you really struggle with, then email the magazine and we will try to cover this for you in an upcoming issue.

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