Sourcing Locks and Tools
Most newcomers to our hobby face a problem: how to obtain locks and tools. In this article, I'll give some ideas about where to buy lock picks and locks at decent prices. Nothing on this page is backed by any sort of compensation or affiliation by any company; in other words, any suggestions I make here are solely my opinion and I'm not getting paid for it. Also, if any readers know of other sources of locks and picks, please shoot me an email and I'll add them here (with credit to you if you like).
Legality of Buying Picks
Some dealers will not sell lockpicking tools to those that cannot prove they are licensed locksmiths, law enforcement officers, active duty military, etc... This is a response to the federal law that governs what can be mailed. In the United States, U.S.C. Title 39 Section 3002a basically says that the Post Office has the right to dispose of lock picks unless they are mailed to:
- a lock manufacturer or distributor
- a bona fide locksmith
- a bona fide repossessor
- a motor vehicle manufacturer or dealer
This law is applicable to those mailing lock picking tools and not to those receiving them. Really, its more of a code for the Post Office than anything else. Also be aware that it only applies to USPS and not to private couriers such as UPS or Fedex, but they may have their own policies regarding shipping tools. Also, the words bona fide ("good faith" in Latin) is a term that has more applicability than it may seem at first glance and might be applicable to hobby lockpickers without ill-intent. When ordering from websites, they will almost always make you check a little box that says you are a receipient that meets the requirements of this federal mailing code. This agreement is really just a cover-your-ass policy for the company selling the tools and most hobbyists justify checking the box under the "bona fide locksmith" exception.
Buying Picks Online
Most hobbyists buy their lock picks from an online dealer. This is generally a good bet and I've never heard of anyone encountering problems because of it. The cheaper pick manufacturers that have a good reputation are Southord and SouthSpec. One of my favorite manufacturers, Peterson, makes more expensive but higher-quality picks. Other decent-quality pick-makers that locksmiths seem to enjoy are HPC, LAB, Majestic, and Rytan. The highest-quality and also most expensive commercially-available pick set is made by Falle-Safe Securities and distributed by MBA USA. Many of these manufacturers do not sell directly and use ditributors instead. The distributor I've used most often in the past is LockPicks.com. Another popular one is LockPickShop.com.
The very best picks are those hand-crafted by gifted tool-makers. These folks can be found in the various locksport forums (on lp101 in Buy-Sell-Trade) where they build a reputation for producing high-quality tools. At the time of this writing, I can think of a few of these pick-makers: raimundo, Kaotik, Locknewbie21, ratyoke, Legion303, and ToolyMcgee come to mind. I should also mention Jaakko who makes beautiful disc lock decoder-picks. Many of these artists have dedicated threads in which their works are shown and orders may be placed. More typically, you must send a private message (PM) to the tool maker and work together to agree on a price and style of pickset. Other times, they will simply post up a picture with a price and the first one to PM them gets to buy it. Also be aware that these quality homemade picks may not be cheap and can cost as much as $20 each. They are usually of a custom shape and handle style as well as finely polished.
Community forums are also a good source for cheap and unusual locks. Many times, foreign and rare high-sec cylinders can only be gotten by asking around. Many times, these locks will not have keys, but this is not usually a problem for lockpickers. Also, sometimes large lots of easy/cheap locks may come up for sale at really good prices. Another good way to find deals like this is the lp101 IRC channel ( #lp101 on Slashnet ) where they often come up unexpectedly. Also don't forget about local locksport group meetups and hacker cons like Defcon.
Local Sources of Locks
The most obvious place to buy locks locally is hardware stores like Lowes, Home Depot, and Ace Hardware. These place mostly carry locks suitable for beginners but also charge a lot for them. Keep an out for clearance sales and damaged merchandise and you may find some good deals. Another good source of locks is local locksmith shops. You may not want to reveal that you are looking for locks to pick because some lockies are not too fond of our hobby. I let them know why I'm there with the upfront and honest approach and this has given me mostly good results. By showing them that you are not a criminal and have a genuine interest in locks, its easy to find common ground. Although it was not my goal, this has led to more than a few free or discounted locks and a lot of interesting conversations. Also be sure to check out yard sales, junkyards, and flea markets; these can hold great deals. After hearing good things about ReStores, I dropped by a local one and bought this haul for only $15. Also, don't forget to ask your family, friends, and coworkers if they have any old locks laying around. I have also had success by posting classifieds in my local craigslist.
Ebay is an extremely popular online auction site and is very useful for getting ahold of locks. They have a strict policy that disallows picking tools although I'm sure some auctions slip through the cracks. It is an excellent place to find high-security and exotic locks but, as always, there is an element of risk in using it. Sniping is a frequent occurance on valuable lock auctions and you should expect others from the community to be watching them. Another source that some folks don't know about is the foreign Ebay sites. European Ebays have many more high-security lock listings than the US one and should be checked out. Just be sure to verify that the items can be shipped to the US before bidding. My favorite Ebays for locks are: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, and Switzerland.