A while back I decided it would be kind of neat to learn how to pick locks, I mean think of how sexy it looks in the movies and on TV when some hero takes a paperclip and a hair pin and gets into some restricted area in less than a minute with no light and hands covered in blood and sweat? Sure it looks pretty awesome, but I can safely say that it will piss you right the hell off to get all but one pin to line up right then readjust your hand and reset the whole damn process, or drop your tension bar, or just spend tons of time trying to open a lock and have no damn progress at all.
So lets get down to the business of the reality of consumer grade locks and how well they resist compromise by a serious amateur at lock picking. The first candidate was a Fortress brand padlock that I picked up at the local hardware store. My roommate initially had far more success with this lock than I did, however once I got over the urge to throw it across the room I was able to open it fairly fast with a gentle touch and a little effort. Most disturbing about being able to open this lock was that it’s an off brand made by Master whom would love everyone to believe their locks are invincible.
Having one lock successfully defeated I decided it was time to give my Brinks lock box a try since I had actually lost the key for it a while back and wished to retrieve the contents of it without the aid of a crow bar or other brute instrument. I was all prepared for a long fight with this device however after one pick change I managed to open it; repeated attempts with the pick yielded even faster results.
By this point I was quite pleased with myself and the efforts so far, so I decided to up the stakes and try my fireproof safe made by Sentry. After removing all the contents of the safe I went to work on it trying to get it open, but about three to five minutes in I was getting a little frustrated with having to stand in a weird position to assault the lock so I turned the tools over to the roommate so I could rest. No sooner had I sat down to let my back un-kink he turns around with a shit-eating grin and an open safe; the trick we figured out was that you didn’t have to get the lock to rotate completely to disengage but rather just enough so that it would clear the catch so in all likely hood not all the pins were protecting the contents.
Now we are just tickled pink with the fact that we can get into all these locks; its almost as sexy as in the movies except for the soundtrack was a little lacking and there was no attractive females present to be amazed at such lock-decimating prowess. Naturally we want to find another one to open so I find one of my unused trigger locks that came with one of my guns. Immediately I had my apprehension since the word Master was stamped on the lock-side of the mechanism; I mean if their locks can be shot and not unlock then surely it must be a beast to pick requiring a lot of time right? Fast-forward about 10 minutes of quality time sweating my ass off on the back deck and suddenly the cylinder rotates 90 degrees and the two halves of the trigger lock slide apart. I wasn’t quite sure I had just managed to open a Master brand lock being an extreme beginner to the world of lock picking, but sure enough I was able to replicate the process repeatedly with improvements to speed and reductions to wiggling necessary in order to align the pins and defeat the mechanism.
The whole afternoon of picking made me realize a few things, first of which is this is a fun and almost addictive hobby; each new lock defeated gives you the urge to run over to the nearest hardware store or big-box like Walmart and look for another lock to buy and work on picking. More importantly than the fun of it was the fact that many of the commonly available devices that people rely on to keep things safe (like the Sentry brand fire safe that I mentioned earlier) were total jokes as far as the lock integrity is concerned. If an unskilled hack such as myself can pick the lock in under 10 minutes (or in this case my equally unskilled roommate) then a serious criminal with years of experience is going to make even shorter work of it.
If you are in the market to buy a safe to protect something I suggest asking yourself this question: Which is more likely to happen, someone attacking the safe or the building its stored in burning to the ground around it? In the case of fire I suspect any UL rated box will do the job of keeping your belongings safe provided you get one suited to the type of building that (hopefully wont) would be burning down with the safe nestled away inside. However in case you happen to be siting on piles of drugs, conflict diamonds, the real Shroud of Turin or anything else you value put some time into researching suitable safes and their ratings. If you don’t feel like taking the short time to do that just look for a TL-15 rated safe or better if you are truly concerned about someone assailing it to gain access to its contents; a TL 15 is certified to stand up to 15 minutes of net working time on the lock with various tools and techniques before giving up the goodies inside.