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Lock Impressioning: The Alternative Lock Picking Method

Lock Impressioning is a method of opening a locked door without having the original key and although it belongs to the lock picking family, it’s a quite different job.

Lock pick vs. lock impression

When you pick a lock, you actually use special tools which allow you to push the pins to unlock the door. Lock impressioning is using a blank key replacement having the lock as your guide to actually make a new working key.


So, what is lock impressioning exactly?

It’s a locksmith method to open a locked door and still make a new key withoutkeys1 disassembling the lock. It requires a set of proper tools and good knowledge of how to do the job for the avoidance of lock damage. And so it’s not your usual DIY task unless you want to master the skills in the event of a house lockout in a remote region.

Back to defining lock impressioning. It derives its name from the way it is done. In short, a blank key is used to get impressions of the lock pins and thus make a new key.

Now, before we see the longer version of how lock impressioning is done, let us point out the importance of getting the right key blank. First of all, you must choose the right size. That’s a size that will perfectly fit in the lock depending on the number of pins. And second, it’s vital to choose the right material. By all means, all steel keys will do but the harder the material, the more difficult it becomes to get impressions on the key. So if you are a beginner or want the job easier done, get soft brass key blanks. With that said, let us take a look of how it is done.

Lock Impressioning: 5 steps
  1. Prepare the key. That is file it down to smooth it out. This is important because keys are often chrome plated and you want the brass exposed.
    Tip: if you are not experienced, get several key blanks because mistakes are not avoidable.
  2. Clip a vise-grip on the key and insert it in the lock. Now, what happens when you do that is the blank key will move till it meets the first obstruction. That’s the first pin. You need to gently turn and jiggle the key so that the pin will create an impression on the blank key.
  3. When the right torque is applied, pins leave their mark on the key. And so you need to remove the key, find these marks and file them.
  4. You need to repeat this method several times till you get the impressions of all pins on the key blank and file them.
  5. Continue to file the impressions as much as needed to unlock the door. That’s difficult to accomplish and the point most people make mistakes. Why? Because if you file them too much or not enough, the key will simply not open the door.
Which tools you need to impression locks
  • Blank keys
  • A vise-grip
  • A magnifier (It will made it easier to see the marks on the key)
  • A file (locksmiths suggest #4 Swiss cut products)
Before lock & key impressioning, check the law

Although carrying lock picking tools is not a crime to many regions (illegal in some), picking locks is usually not legal (and that will include impressioning). So check with your local authorities in case you will be interested in impressioning keys and locks should the need arises. But remember that sometimes it’s easier and safer to simply trust a professional locksmith company than trying to figure out how to do the job right and possibly get it all wrong or have trouble with the law too.

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