Homebrew "lockpick" slides under door and turns handle

"Dean," a Carnegie Mellon freshman who is tired of his dorm-mates getting locked out of their rooms has developed a door-unlocking tool that consists of a length of copper wire that "slides under the door, flips up and grabs hold of the handle on the inside so that you can pull it down" -- inspired by a classic MIT pranker's tool. He details it here.
The best part about using copper wire is that it rolls up easily. You can keep it in your pocket! I also bought some 1/4" wide 20 threads per inch bolts (which fit right into a standard camera tripod hole) while I was at Home Depot. I figured the tool would be more useful, and look less suspicious as a tripod. This shape of bend prevents the bolt from moving when the camera is attached. It is a very strong bend because it wraps perfectly around the head of the bolt. I added a little duct tape to cover the scratches made from my pliers.
Link, Backup Link (via Make)


  1. This method of opening doors is used by hotels when the electronic locks fail or are they bolted from the inside, so don’t feel too secure when you use that latch. The device I’ve seen used is a large rigid curved bar almost like a hoop that can be slid under the door on its side then rotated up into place to grab the door handle. Deans device is much, much smaller but a little less reliable though it needs less clearance under the door.

    Of course, this is all made possible by ADA compliant lever door handles that have come to replace door knobs. They are much easier to grab with your hands but the down side is that they are also much easier to grab with lock defeating tools.

  2. I sense… a great disturbance in the force… like thousands of college students around the nation simultaneously attempting to pick their own locks.

  3. *yawn*

    This was done with coat hangers on a daily basis in my Freshman dorm, for people who had locked themselves out. (Though looking back, I’m not sure why I wasn’t a bit more paranoid about this being done by other people when I wasn’t around)

  4. CMU students have been doing this since the beginning of time. Traditionally, the tool is an unbent coat hanger. What this guy did is nothing new — the only difference is that it potentially saves you some time (that you would normally spend trying to get some leverage on the handle).

    Edmund Huber

  5. We did the same thing back at Columbia Univ about 7 years ago. You can do the same thing with a coat hanger that slid under the door. Another thing that you can do is keep a coat hanger attached to the inside of the door hanging down. Whenever you need to open the door without a keep, you just stick a pen or pencil under the door to grab the hanger and pull on the hanger.

  6. This trick has been used for a couple years in the new dorms at Case Western Reserve University. Over the last summer, however, the maintenance staff actually rotated all of the handles on the inside of the rooms so that they are vertical, and have to be pulled upward to a horizontal position to open the door. This makes the wire/coat hangar trick nearly impossible. This was done as a direct result of people opening the doors with coat hangars, to increase security and the like.

  7. We used to do this at the Apple R&D campus when we needed to reach a colleague’s PlayStation setup. It’s not exactly an innovation.

  8. Hi Boing Boing,

    I’m ecstatic that you’ve posted my project on your site. Seriously, I’m going to blow up. The link you’ve included though is not my actual website. That page was created to handle the overflow from Hackaday.

    If you would please change that link to: http://mustardhamsters.com/?p=58 I would really appreciate it.

    Thanks very much.


  9. Next up on BB: techniques for defeating the alarm systems on late model cars! After all, if we didn’t post it, someone else would, and “information wants to be free!”

  10. Not very impressive. Some pals and I did this in 1969 at Kansas U while attending Midwestern Music & Art Camp. And we were just a bunch of high school musicians :-)

  11. It’s not a lock pick. It doesn’t pick anything. It pulls the handle from the other side of the door. Picking would imply that you would be making the lock function without the proper key.

  12. Hey, why didn’t I ever get recognition for the lockpicking tool *I* invented in college. I called it “my student ID”

  13. This has one serious limitation: if you’re in a building where the doors have any sort of molding-type decoration, snagging the handles becomes much more difficult to accomplish in a reasonable amount of time.

  14. How is this new? I did this in college 15 years ago. It was so common that if I was going to leave on vacation, I’d cover the inside door handle with duct tape or a bowl before I left.

  15. After my college (Case Western Reserve University) installed new key card access doors in the dorms and decided to charge a $5 fee to open your door when you lock your key inside students started using these made out of coat hangers. Instructions were published in a campus humor magazine.

    However over the summer the Housing department found out and changed the orientation of the inside door handles to vertical so that these wouldn’t work anymore. They claimed it was because of the security risk, though I wouldn’t discount the sudden decrease in revenue from locked door openings clueing them in.

  16. I don’t see how this might be derived from any tool used by MIT hackers (you incorrectly referred to them as pranksters, a term usually reserved for people of the same inclination at Caltech).

    Both a card and L-slide are effective tools for opening a door, depending on which direction they open. An L-slide should be used on a door that opens outwards, and a card for one that opens inwards. However, neither “carding” or “sliding” a door is the same as picking it, which involves going for the lock directly as opposed to the latch mechanism, and neither one uses the handle of the door.

    And while you cite that this tool was inspired by an MIT prankster’s tool (usually referred to as hackers, not pranksters), the L-slide from which it is derived is more of a classic burglar’s tool. It’s presence in MIT hacking circles is more a side-use than its primary usage.

  17. This is a time-honored lock bypass method.

    I was helping my friends get back into their dorm rooms as freshman at the University of Vermont back in 1988 with this technique. A wise and kindly old sophomore showed me how to join two coat hangers and bend them into the proper shape.

    I would wager this technique has probably been around about as long as those ADA compliant lever door handles.

    While lock-picking is a fine and subtle art — when necessity is the order of the day — never discount a straightforward lock bypass.

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