If your home has a lot of interior doors that lock, sooner or later you’re bound to lose the key, lock it inside the room, or discover your toddler has locked himself in and cannot get out. Calling a locksmith each time is inconvenient (and expensive); instead, you can learn to pick your own locks.
If the doorknob in question is a simple push-button affair, you’re in luck. Most of the time, all you need to do is jab a paperclip in the hole and push on the locking mechanism. If the doorknob has a slit on the outside handle, a butter knife should do the trick.
Keyed locks are a bit trickier to open. But it can be done.
The paperclip and tension wrench method
The easiest approach is to grab a paperclip and tension wrench. If you don’t have a tension wrench handy, a very small hex key (or even the opposite end of the paperclip) will do in a pinch. The wrench maintains the tension on the lock while the paperclip does the picking.
WikiHow tells us what to do next:
First insert the tension wrench into the bottom part of the lock, and rotate it in the direction you would turn the key to unlock it to place tension on the lock. Maintain this tension throughout the process. Then slowly wiggle the pick into the top part of the lock using a gentle up-and-down motion.
You should hear a series of clicks as the various pins in the lock are raised. When you have successfully raised all of the pins, the tension wrench will suddenly rotate freely and unlock the door.
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The credit card method
Some lever-type doorknobs respond nicely to the credit card treatment. The trick, though, is to pick the right card.
Do not use your credit or debit card; it could get damaged in the process. Instead, wikiHow recommends choosing a card that is less important and is stiff but somewhat flexible, such as a grocery store loyalty card or a laminated library card.
Then, start pickin’:
Take the card, and slide it into the gap between the door and the doorjamb. Begin just above the door handle, and slide the card downwards and in. You may have to wiggle it a bit, but if you are lucky, the card will press against the latch assembly and allow you to open the door
Lean against the door while you do this; putting a little weight on it can help it pop open.
The ‘I’m out of options’ methods
If you want to go all MacGyver on the locked door — and who doesn’t? — grab a vacuum cleaner, some dental floss and a piece of paper. Use this step-by-step guide over at Instructables to show that locked door who’s boss.
The guide’s writer, Hackzorz, does give us a helpful disclaimer for this method, which is worth noting: “Please don’t use this to break into people’s rooms. You’re just going to get caught; it takes several minutes and is very obvious.”
Sometimes, no matter what you do, the lock just won’t budge. In that event, it’s time to remove the entire assembly. Slide a butter knife under the collar where the doorknob meets the door and pop the collar loose so you can get at the screws holding the doorknob together.
Once the screws are removed, the doorknob will come apart and you’ll be able to easily slide back the mechanism holding the door closed.
And if all else fails, there’s nothing a hammer won’t fix. First, give the doorknob itself several good poundings until it’s good and dented. (This does absolutely nothing to help unlock the door, but it feels good.)
Next, insert the claw end of the hammer underneath the top of the doorknob’s collar. Put a stiff piece of cardboard where the hammer meets the door to protect the paint. Cover the knob with a thick towel in case metal parts go flying, then yank the hammer down hard.
Do this a couple of times until the screws holding the doorknob together snap. It’s very possible to damage your door with this method, so let’s consider this a last resort.
When you go to the hardware store to buy a new locking doorknob, be sure to have some spare keys made while you’re there.
This story was originally published on 6 February 2010 and was updated on 28 July 2019 to provide more thorough and current information.