It happens more often than you think. One moment we’re doing something around the house, and the very next moment we’re locked out of a room. And it can be any room in the house — bathroom, bedroom, storage closet, you name it. But the worst part is when we can’t unlock the door because we lack the proper key to do it.
I’ve written quite a bit on the topic of doors on this website. So far, I’ve covered everything from standard door sizes to door hinge lubricants. However, I believe that the topic of unlocking doors without using a key is not covered enough online, and with good reason. Don’t worry, I’ll get to why I think that in a few paragraphs.
Why Do We Need to Know How to Unlock a Door Without a Key?
I’ve heard this question quite often in my own little social circle. To some people, knowing how to unlock a door without a key seems like useless info. After all, your keys are always with you, so why would you need to worry about locking yourself out? Who’s that careless, really?
Sadly, we all are. Sometimes, especially if we don’t live alone, we can run into a locked room even though we personally didn’t lock it. Maybe a family member decided to get something from the pantry, locked it, and took the keys with them by accident. Alternatively, we might have just dropped the key somewhere and can’t find it to unlock our door.
Personally, during my college years, I’ve had the displeasure of sharing a room with two more people while only having two copies of the front door key. At one point, the two of them left the apartment, with one going home by a bus and the other having early classes. Since my own classes overlapped with hers, she contacted me, asking me to leave my own key in the mailbox so she can enter when she comes back. I hated the very idea of this proposition, so I used what little money I had to make a copy of that key and went to her college to deliver that new copy to her.
But there are other situations where we might need to unlock our doors. Keys might be metal, but they bend and/or break at some point. Key breaking is actually a normal occurrence, but that fact isn’t going to make unlocking the door any easier.
Setting the Record Straight
Before I move on to the different methods of unlocking doors, let me state this right now. You absolutely must NOT use any of these techniques to break into someone else’s home. Breaking and entering might only be a misdemeanor, but it’s still a crime and you can still face jail time for it.
The techniques and methods I’m about to describe must only be used if:
- You’re trying to unlock a door on your own property
- You want to help someone else unlock a door on their property, with their consent and preferably in their presence
- There’s an emergency and you have zero other options
Unlocking the Door Without a Key — List of Methods
1. Using a Bobby Pin
Bobby pins, or hairpins, have been Hollywood’s favorite tool for cinematic burglars. After all, why wouldn’t they be? They’re small, simple to use, almost mundane, and yet quite useful in achieving something incredible.
I should highlight that a bobby pin will work best on a typical pin and tumbler lock. These locks are the most common ones sold commercially. More importantly, they come with their own set of imperfections which we can easily exploit with our bobby pins.
As you can see, I keep mentioning these pins in plural. That’s because you’ll need two in order to make the picking work. One of them will go in the bottom half of the keyhole, while the other will go in the top half. But how do we bend them to our purpose?
Let’s start with the bottom half pin. Take the last centimeter or so of the fulcrum of the pin and bend it at a 90° angle. That part will serve as the “key” since you will use it to turn the lock once you’re done picking. While the short, bent part serves as the “key,” the remaining long part of the pin will be your handle.
Now we move on to the second pin. The first step is to bend it until it’s straight and remove the rubber at the end of it. Next, bend the now rubberless part a little at the tip, but also make a little “handle” at the other end by bending it a few times. Finally, insert this bent, rubberless tip into the top half of the keyhole; this part will be the pick itself.
This method requires a lot of listening and careful maneuvering. In order to get the gist of it, we can buy practice locksmith tools online, including transparent locks.
2. Using a Screwdriver
We can all agree that front doors won’t have visible screws, since any bloke with a screwdriver can simply remove them. But that’s not the case with inside door knobs. Even some of the most sophisticated, modern indoor locks come with regular, externally visible screws.
If the lock is stuck or we can’t find the key, the process is simple. We need to find an appropriate screwdriver and start dismantling the lock itself. Normally, a regular Philips head screwdriver will do the trick.
However, not all doors are that easy to access. There will be times when you run into a door that has an extra layer of protection on the lock. For example, the mounting screws can be under the shank or the rose, or there can be an entire mounting mechanism in place.
In case that happens, find out what type of lock you have by doing some basic online research. That way, you can see the specifics of the mechanism first-hand. Once you do, a flathead screwdriver can help you dislodge those extra mounting mechanisms and go after the screws that lie beneath.
3. Using Cards
Interestingly, the method of using cards to open doors is also a favorite among Hollywood directors. However, unlike hairpins, this method is actually frequently mocked by the very people performing the act. I remember an episode of “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” where Hal Jordan tried to open a high-tech space door by making a credit card construct as an homage to how often this method is ridiculed in modern cinema.
But there’s a reason people still use it. After all, more often than not, it will work, especially if you’re trying to unlock a latch bolt door with the angled edge facing you. The process is simple — slide the card between the edge of the door and the jamb, then apply mild pressure on the knob while pushing the angled edge of the latch bolt. And since the card is flexible, you can wiggle it inside even if the jamb happens to block the way.
Of course, I should probably stress that doing all of that can damage the card. It might be flexible, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be chipped or broken due to all the pressure. That’s why I highly advise against using credit or debit cards. The same goes for ID cards, driver’s licenses, and other important documents.
The best type of card to use in these situations is one that you can easily replace. For example, library cards are resilient, as are some membership cards of private clubs. In addition, try using promotional cards for discounts that certain shopping chains and brands tend to give away.
4. Using a Knife
Knives can work similarly to cards. All you have to do is slide them into the space between the edge of the door and the jamb and quickly slide it in while leaning against the door. The lock will give way and you’ll be able to open the door. However, this method requires lots of practice to get right.
Of course, there are some caveats to using a knife. Let’s remember that knives are sharp and that they can harm us if we’re not careful. It’s not an understatement to say that sliding a knife into a door space rapidly can result in an injury if it slips out at an awkward angle.
In order to prevent that from happening, I always suggest using a butter knife or a spreader. These knives are not sharp, but their “blade” is thick enough to endure pressure. However, I advise against using paper knives, since they are usually thin and easy to break in twain. I’d also suggest avoiding the use of pocket knives, since their handle is bulky and difficult to hold during this process.
“Methods of Desperation”
Most of the methods I listed in the previous section won’t cause significant damage to the lock or the door, nor will they harm us. However, there are times when we need to get a bit tough. For instance, our key can get stuck in the lock, or even break off while we try to use it. Other times, the lock can malfunction and something inside it can cause a jam.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the saying goes. What I’m about to list are some methods that should, for all intents and purposes, be used as the last resort.
5. Drilling the Lock
In case there’s a jam in the lock itself, it might be a good idea to remove it entirely. Using a drill is a good option, but there are nuances to this method. After all, there’s a difference between drilling the lock itself and drilling around it.
First, let’s cover drilling the lock. In order to do it properly, I’ll need several different drill sizes, some lubricant oil, and a flathead screwdriver. The process is simple enough: I drill above the keyhole for some time, test which drills work the best, lubricate them throughout the ordeal, and finally use the screwdriver to pry the internal cylinder open through a newly-drilled hole. The process will damage the lock, naturally, but my door will remain intact.
If this method doesn’t work, I will have to resort to drilling the wood around the lock. Drilling a few key areas should loosen the wood and all I have to do is push the rest of the door open. Needless to say, this method will result in me buying a new door.
6. Removing the Hinges
If the lock doesn’t budge, the hinges will. While this method might seem crude and complex, it’s actually the best way to open doors without damaging anything. All you need are proper screwdrivers and a mallet. Alternatively, if you don’t want to damage the screwdriver through pounding with the mallet, try modifying a chisel and using it instead.
The subheading says it all: sometimes you can’t get access to your toolbox and that room needs to be opened fast. Maybe there’s a fire, maybe there’s someone trapped in there. Whatever the case may be, smashing through the door is the only way to go.
One method of smashing through the door is to kick it down. However, that can seriously harm your foot and your shins. More importantly, it might not get you the result you need. Therefore, ramming into it with the full force of the body is the way to go about it.
Another decent method is smashing the knob itself. In order to do that, I tend to get creative. Just bashing it in with a hammer seems a bit crude and inefficient. That’s why I tend to use chisels, mallets, large drills, and sometimes even massive tools like pickaxes.
Needless to say, any of these methods will leave your door busted beyond repair. As I said, they are only to be used as a last-minute resort in the case of an absolute emergency.
When All Else Fails…
I’ve listed a few different methods of unlocking a door without a key. However, if you have the time and money, I would highly suggest getting a locksmith. After all, they have both the expertise and the tools to help you. But nevertheless, let me know if you found these methods useful and share your experiences in the comments below.