How To Pick A Skeleton Key Lock [3 Super Easy Ways!]

Nick Durante
by Nick Durante
Losing a skeleton key is a nightmare, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t access the door. There are several ways to pick a skeleton key lock, such as using a paper clip or coat hanger. Follow along as we explore how you can carefully pick a skeleton lock.

It is all too easy to misplace an old skeleton key. Even if you have your skeleton key on hand, it may not be able to unlock a vintage lock. Because of that, many homeowners are left with their hands in the air wondering how they can pick a skeleton key lock.

The easiest way that you can pick a skeleton key lock is by using a coat hanger or paper clip. It sounds so simple, and it is, but you must be careful as to not damage the lock. All that you need to do is manipulate a coat hanger or paper clip by bending it so that you can turn it once inserted into the lock.

Once your paper clip or coat hanger is in the lock, carefully turn it by taking advantage of the bend and using it as a handle. It can take several tries, but eventually, you may hear and feel the lock disengage. Now, you can open up whatever lies beyond the skeleton key lock.

Let’s get into the specifics on how to pick a skeleton key lock.

Related Content: Types of Lock Picks | How To Pick A Lock With A Bobby Pin | Can You Damage A Lock By Picking It? | Is It Illegal To Owen A Lock Pick Set And Bump Keys?

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How Do Skeleton Keys Work?

Put simply, a skeleton key is a type of key that can open a number of different types of locks. With their hollow insides, skeleton keys work to unlock every door in the house. The only time that your skeleton key won’t work on a lock is if it was not built with the house or a part of that lock set.

Interestingly, skeleton keys are cut in specifically to work with several different types of locks, effectively making them universal keys within your home.

Where the word “skeleton” comes into play is the unique shape of skeleton keys. Generally, skeleton keys have large open circles at the top, similar to a head, with the rest of its length being quite thin, like the body of a skeleton. So long as you have all lever locks in your home, a skeleton key can unlock them all.

Skeleton keys also work with some types of warded locks. However, for the last few decades, manufacturers have changed the design of many warded locks to prevent skeleton keys from working.

Why Can’t I Open My Skeleton Key Lock?

If you can’t open your skeleton lock, even with a skeleton key, it could be for one of many reasons, such as:

  • Lock is an antique
  • The lock was not built with the house/part of original set
  • Damaged locking mechanism
  • Weathering and rust

It is quite common for homeowners that have been using their skeleton key with no problem to suddenly find it not working one day. Even more common, however, is coming into a new house, having built or bought it, and finding that the skeleton key simply does not work at all.

For homeowners that purchased their home as opposed to built it, they may come across some antique locks. Often times, antique locks are not compatible with newer skeleton keys. Either that, or the previous homeowner never provided as skeleton key.

No matter what the reason is that you can’t unlock your skeleton key, picking it is your best bet of getting it open.

Picking a Skeleton Key Lock

If you have determined that the skeleton key lock simply will not budge, it is time to pick it. Sometimes, the safest bet is to call your local locksmith, especially if the lock is an antique, or if it is on a china cabinet. Locksmiths have the skill required to pick a lock effortlessly without damaging it.

Otherwise, you can assess the lock for yourself and decide how you want to pick it. There are several every day items found around the house that you can use to pick a skeleton key lock with, such as:

  • Bobby pins
  • Paper clips
  • Coat hanger
  • Flat head screwdriver (if it is small)
  • Thin knife
  • Allen wrench

Most commonly, homeowners use bobby pins, coat hangers, and paper clips. That is because those lockpicking tools are so readily available and easy to use. No two locks are alike, however, and sometimes a bobby pin or paper clip won’t cut it.

In that case, carefully inserting a thin flat head screwdriver or tiny pocketknife into the lock and twisting can open it. When all else fails, coat hangers work similarly to bobby pins or paper clips, but they do require you to bend them.

How to Pick a Skeleton Key Lock With a Paper Clip

Picking a skeleton key lock with a paper clip is easy, so long as the lock is not rusted or too antiquated. Before you get started, you may want to gather several extra paper clips for this project. Paper clips are incredibly malleable and are vulnerable to becoming overly bent. If this happens, the paper clip will rendered useless, therefore, backups are always a must!

1. Bend the Paper Clip

The more malleable the paper clip, the better. Examine the paper clip in your hand. Begin bending the paper clip until ¾ of it is straight. The remaining piece of the clip that is not straight should appear like a handle

Grab the clip by the “handle” and bend the straight part to form a 90 degree angle. That way, you can more easily maneuver the paper clip.

Quick Tip: For smaller locks, like jewelry boxes or armoires, you may find that a full straightened sturdy paper clip may work best. Since these pieces have smaller locks with smaller inner components, a straightened paper clip will most likely fit better.

2. Insert the Paper Clip

Once you’ve bent the paper clip into your makeshift picking device, grip the “handle” and insert the other end into the lock. When you insert the paper clip, be sure to go in with it straight. You may need to fumble around in the lock for a while before you hit a spot within the mechanism that pushes back. This is the lever. Skeleton key locks consists of two main components: the lever and the deadbolt. To unlock it, you need to engage both the lever and the deadbolt.

For best results, insert the paper clip and press it as close as possible to side of the lock that faces you. From this position, you should be able to push up on the paper clip and feel the lever moving.

3. Twist and turn

Using the handle of your paper clip, twist and turn the clip within the lock mechanism. Be patient and try not to be too rough with the lock. After a moment of pushing and turning, the lock should pop open.

Bobby Pins, Coat Hangers, and Flat Heads

Using a bobby pin or coat hanger to pick a skeleton key lock is the same exact principal as using a paper clip. Flat heads, however, are different in that you don’t need to do any bending, as they already have a handle. You can only use thin flat head screwdrivers, and they may not work with every skeleton key lock.

All that you do is gently push the flat head in, turn it, and the lock should open.

If Nothing Else Works, Watch This Video

What to Do if Picking the Lock Does Not Work?

If you are having no luck picking the lock yourself, call a locksmith. You don’t want to risk damaging the lock by being too forceful with it or stripping away anything within the lock. Luckily, locksmiths have all the tools needed to successfully pick your skeleton key lock, hopefully without any damage.

The locksmith could charge you $50-$100 to pick the lock. Otherwise, you could have the locks changed entirely at an average $75 per hour rate.

Summing it Up

If you’ve misplaced your skeleton key or simply cannot gain access to your skeleton key lock, you can try picking the lock with a bobby pin, paper clip, coat hanger, or other lock picking device. Sometimes, skeleton keys do not work or they get misplaced. In most cases, you can use common items found around the home to pick a skeleton key lock. However, if you are dealing with a precious antique, it’s best to enlist the help of a locksmith to prevent any possible damage.

Don’t fret if you lose your skeleton key or it stops working like it used to. Just reach for the nearest bobby pin or paper clip, and it may save you a trip from the locksmith.

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Related Questions

Can skeleton keys be duplicated?

Whether you collect antique skeleton keys or live in an old home that still uses skeleton keys on interior locks, you may be wondering if they can be duplicated for convenience. Fortunately, if needed, professional locksmiths can craft duplicates of your skeleton keys.

Are all skeleton keys the same?

Although skeleton keys are considered “master keys” in older homes, not all skeleton keys are the same. Skeleton keys are known for their intricate details and what determines whether or not a skeleton key will fit a lock is the cut and size of the bit and the diameter of the barrel.

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Nick Durante
Nick Durante

Nick Durante is a professional writer with a primary focus on home improvement. When he is not writing about home improvement or taking on projects around the house, he likes to read and create art. He is always looking towards the newest trends in home improvement.

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