A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals
A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals
We’ve all seen it before: the hero has been trapped by the dastardly villain in a pair of handcuffs and left to die in a death trap. Little does the villain know, the hero has a bobby pin tucked up his sleeve! All he needs to do is pull it out, stick it in the keyhole, wiggle it around a bit, and he’ll get out of the death trap right before the laser cuts his head off.
Can you do that in real life? I mean, there’s no way, right? If it were possible, handcuffs wouldn’t be nearly as ubiquitous as they are. Wouldn’t criminals just learn how to get out of handcuffs without a key and carry this easily-obtained hair accessory on them at all times to avoid capture?
As it turns out… well, truth is stranger than fiction. It takes some practice, but it is possible to learn how to get out of handcuffs without a key. All you need is a bobby pin. It’s not quite that simple, though. There are some caveats here and there.
There’s a reason handcuffs are still used despite this obvious design flaw. Whether you’re a picking hobbyist, someone stuck in an unfortunate situation, or Bruce Wayne, there are many reasons to learn and practice this skill.
Here’s an overview of how to get out of handcuffs without a key:
Figuring out how to get out of handcuffs without a key is easier if you can see what you’re doing. If you have your hands behind your back, either move them under your legs and to your front or get someone else to pick them if you can. If you’re in a situation where neither of these are options, picking the handcuffs is still possible. It’ll just be much more difficult.
One important thing to note is that you might need to pre-prepare the bobby pin before trying to pick the handcuffs. This is the reality of how to get out of handcuffs without a key: you need some preparation. If your bobby pin has plastic tips on the end of it, you need to remove the tip on the straight end. This is easier to do with pliers. If you have some pliers near you, grab those.
Once you have the plastic tip removed, unfold the bobby pin. You can unfold it at a 90-degree angle or completely flatten it. All that matters is that the two ends of the bobby pin are no longer close together, so you don’t have to worry about the other end getting in the way.
Now take the end that doesn’t have the plastic tip and bend it at a 90-degree angle. This end of the bobby pin should be able to fit halfway into the keyhole, with some of it still sticking out. The important thing here is to leave enough room for the pin to be folded again in the next step.
This step is a bit tricky. First, you need to insert the pin into the keyhole. This should be in a notch at the top of a circle on the cuffs. You may need to feel around for the actual hole. There should be a bit of a lip that you need to bend the bobby pin around.
Can you guess what you’re supposed to do next? That’s right, fold another 90-degree angle! Bend the pin while it’s still inside so that this new bend is the same length as the keyhole’s depth, and the keyhole is now bent enough to go around the lip. Your bobby pin should now be in a z-shape.
Now you need to check if the handcuffs are double-locked. If they’re not double-locked, there should be a small hole with a line in the middle of it near the keyhole. If that hole is there, but there’s no line, your handcuffs are double-locked, which means this next part will be a little trickier.
Stick the end of the pin in the keyhole and twist it around (usually counter-clockwise). This will take a bit of time to get right. All you need is a lot of trial and error. If your cuffs are double-locked, you need to twist in the wrong direction (usually clockwise) until you feel a click.
After this click, remove the pin and insert it again, twisting in the right direction this time. Then you should be free of your handcuffs. Now that you know how to get out of handcuffs without a key, you’re (probably) fully prepared to take on a Bond villain! Maybe.
If you don’t have a bobby pin on you or don’t have the pliers to remove the plastic tip of a bobby pin, there are plenty of other ways to learn how to get out of handcuffs without a key.
For example, if you have a paperclip on hand, you could use that to get out of handcuffs without a key. Just follow all of the above steps, except for the part about removing a plastic tip, as that’s obviously unnecessary in this case.
Another technique for removing handcuffs is the shimming technique. You can use any kind of thin, flat, sturdy material for this. An old credit card works, for example. If you’re having trouble picking with your bobby pin, you can try shimming with it instead.
Whatever you end up using, keep in mind that this will damage it, so only use something you don’t need later. You should also know that shimming only works if the cuffs are single-locked. Check the hole near the keyhole and see if there’s a line through the middle of it. If that line’s there, you’re good.
Take your flat, sturdy material, or “shim,” and stick it in the teeth of the handcuffs. As you push it in, the handcuffs will probably tighten. That makes this technique a little riskier than picking, as you may inadvertently make them too tight.
As your shim gets further into the cuffs, it will disrupt the locking mechanism and undo the handcuffs. Try pulling them open while you’re shimming. They should eventually detach.
So that’s the basics of how to get out of handcuffs without a key. They’re not nearly as intimidating as they seem, after all.
So how is all of this possible? Why is a bobby pin so easily able to imitate a key? And how does shimming through the handcuff’s teeth work?
The locking mechanism for handcuffs is vastly different from your average door or car. Most locks use pin tumbler lock systems. These can only be opened either with the correct key or after every pin is carefully picked with a specialized picking set.
Handcuffs, on the other hand, have a much simpler mechanism. Handcuff keys have small notches at the end that activate the lock. They’re similar to secret diary keys that children are given: very simplified and minimalist.
When the key is inserted into the keyhole and turned, the notch pulls on a lever. This lever has a jagged end, which mirrors the jagged teeth of the handcuffs. When the lever is not being pulled, the teeth will catch on the lever only if you try to pull them open, allowing them to be locked but preventing them from being unlocked.
When unlocked, the notch on the end of the key pulls the lever away from the teeth. The teeth can now freely move in any direction.
So how does this tie into how to get out of handcuffs without a key? When a bobby pin, paper clip, or wire is given a notch of its own that’s the right shape and size, it can easily touch this lever and move it out of the way of the teeth.
In fact, handcuff keys are all interchangeable, and if you own a pair, you can use that key on any other pair of handcuffs. When you shim a pair of handcuffs, you force an object between the lever and the teeth, pushing the lever back manually.
That’s the basics of how to get out of handcuffs without a key. So, handcuffs are too simple to be useful, right? So why are they still so common? Are they safe at all?
There are a few reasons why handcuffs are still used regularly despite their vulnerabilities.
First, it takes a certain amount of expertise to escape from handcuffs. Even with the know-how, you still need some practice manipulating the keyhole or shimming correctly to get out of the cuffs. When it comes down to it, most people don’t know how to get out of handcuffs without a key.
The existence of double-locking also increases security. It makes shimming useless and the keyhole itself much harder to pick. Even more people don’t know how to get out of handcuffs without a key when the cuffs have been double-locked.
On top of all of that, picking handcuffs is a felony. If a criminal is arrested for any charge, picking through the handcuffs won’t be worth it. On top of that, criminals are not usually out of an officer’s sight. It’s always a bad idea to try to pick handcuffs that a police officer put you in.
While being arrested, the criminal generally won’t be left alone with no security other than handcuffs stopping them. Cop cars can’t be opened from the inside, courtrooms are full of security, and you can’t walk out of a prison cell.
If someone uses handcuffs for illegal reasons, such as kidnapping, they may not be aware of their vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, the kidnapee may also not be aware of these vulnerabilities. Sometimes the illusion of security is enough to convince some people that a lock can’t be bypassed.
Overall, handcuffs aren’t the most effective way to restrain someone, but they’re usually combined with other security measures, making them still decently secure overall. Even if you know how to get out of handcuffs without a key, you’ll probably run into some difficulties.
There are two main methods to learn if you want to know how to get out of handcuffs without a key: picking and shimming.
To pick, you’re going to need a wire-shaped object, like a bobby pin, paperclip, or thin armature wire. You need to bend it into two z-shaped right angles and stick it into the keyhole. After turning it a few ways, the cuffs should open.
To shim handcuffs, just get a flat, sturdy object like an old credit card or a bobby pin, and stick it in between the handcuff’s teeth. This should disrupt the locking mechanism and unlock the cuffs.
Yes, you can absolutely pick handcuffs with a bobby pin! This is a common strategy for those learning how to get out of handcuffs without a key. One caveat, though, is that to pick handcuffs with a bobby pin, you need the plastic tip on the end to be removed. This can be done with a set of pliers.
After the plastic tip is gone, you just need to bend the bobby pin into two z-shaped right angles and stick it in the keyhole and attempt to turn it. This may take a few tries, but it is doable.
Handcuffs can absolutely be picked with a paperclip or any other metal object that can be manipulated and fit into the keyhole.
As you can probably guess, you must unfold the paperclip before inserting it. The paperclip must be bent at two right angles to fit properly. Once it’s in there, it’s just a matter of moving the paperclip around and trying to turn the keyhole. Once this is done, the handcuffs should be released.
Handcuffs are easy to get out of if you know what you’re doing. Anyone can learn how to get out of handcuffs without a key. Picking handcuffs is something that takes practice and skill, though, so don’t think that you can easily escape a pair of handcuffs on your first try.
You have a better chance if you have a way to shim the handcuffs through a thin piece of metal or plastic, and if you can see what you’re doing, and if the handcuffs are only single-locked. Having double-locked handcuffs behind your back means that you need to find something to pick the cuffs with and pick them without seeing what you’re doing.
Maybe those over-the-top action movies weren’t as unrealistic as they seemed. With some practice, picking a pair of handcuffs isn’t nearly as difficult as most people think. In a situation that calls for it, you can get out of them in no time if you know what you’re doing.
Handcuffs rely on the fact that most people don’t have that practice. Unless you’re an escape artist, you probably won’t go out of your way to learn how to get out of handcuffs without a key. Those that use handcuffs take advantage of that.
But, rest assured, next time you see your favorite action hero beat seemingly impossible odds and escape in the nick of time, remember that you don’t need to suspend your disbelief too strongly… Alright, maybe a little.