Raking: The Advanced Possibilities.
Posted by Chris Dangerfield on
In its most basic form they call it 'Bitch-picking': a tension tool is inserted into the lock, followed by a rake, and then the rake is moved about a bit. It's crude, appears thoughtless, it is bitchy, and sure anyone can do it (with little or no practice). It's usually the first technique lock pickers learn, and are often keen to move on to something more 'sophisticated'. It looks cheap, almost random, and largely frowned upon. So, the question is....
Why do I still LOVE Raking?
Well, just because something can be basic, crude, 'bitchy', and 'for beginners', it doesn't mean it has to stay that way. In fact, raking can be developed into a fine art that's incredibly sophisticated, and moreover, very effective! Previously understood limits on what can be opened with rakes are not true, as the rakes themselves continue to develop, so do the techniques, and so more locks are vulnerable. It's a win/win for any pickers able revisit raking with an open mind.
As well as sets of rakes there's a huge range of individual dedicated rakes.
What is it?
OK - if you don't know what Raking is, here's the basics. It's a lock picking technique where (often) dedicated tools called 'Rakes' are used to pick the lock. Although a few basic techniques can be done with standard picks, the advanced stuff needs the advanced picks, plenty of which you'll find in our shop, individual rakes as well as sets - with more coming all the time.
What defines Raking is the simultaneous engagement of the pins. The rake makes contact with each pin at the same time and - while tension is applied with a tension tool - one by one the pins sit on the shearline. The raker has no say which pin and where, and there is no concern for the 'Binding Pin Principle' (which in traditional single pin picking dictates the order in which the pins MUST be picked). You simply move the rake in and out of the lock until it turns, and opens.
And while most of that description will be what most people understand Raking to be, it simply isn't true, at least not fully. Didn't see that coming, did you?
With the wide variety of raking tools available, and other variations being developed all the time, the technique has got more to offer than most people think.
Sure, in it's most basic and crude form that description paints a pretty fair picture of the technique. But if one chooses to develop their Raking skills, investigate further, practice more, learn new tricks, play with no ideas and new tools - and most importantly, experiment - you'll find there's a whole world of Raking out there you never knew existed! But before we go there, let's have a look at the obvious good points of Raking....
Speed - a lock can often be raked in seconds
Ease - anyone can learn to rake and will have success early in their picking development, which is great for morale.
Practical - one rake or set of rakes will fit literally millions of locks. Developing your skills in this area has a very wide range of applications. Rakes are not profile specific. If you can fit the rake in the lock with a bit of movement, you have a chance of a successful open.
Effective - Raking works, sure it's not such an effective technique on the more security conscious locks, but on millions of locks in use today it's a well-proven technique, even before we advance our skills and tools
Alone, these points should be enough to make you consider Raking. But when I go on to explain I used to have around a 40% success rate with rakes, and now have more like 80% - you'd be wise to sit up and listen. 80% - that's a lot of locks.
The legendary 'City Rake' - named so because of its 'New York Skyline' appearance - all good pick sets should have one!
How do you do it?
As I said, Raking is one of the first techniques people learn. Even without instruction, most people, having watched a couple of videos and bought themselves a pick set will insert a tension wrench, insert a pick, and begin to 'play about' - and thus 'Bitchpicking' was born. After a while they'll realize they get better results Bitchpicking with certain tools. The famous 'City Rake', named after the the 'city skyline' appearance of the rake, and Bogota Rakes (named after a mountain range in Bogota, Columbia) - both of which tend to now be found in most pick sets, have proved very popular due to their effectiveness in even a beginners hands. Upon further investigation the beginner might be introduced to 'zipping', or 'dragging' - rake techniques that use standard picks such as a half ball, a half diamond, even a hook. And after that - most people move on to different techniques. They have a grasp of raking basics and generally want to move on to the much-loved SPP (Single Pin Picking) which is considered by most as 'Lock Picking Proper!' And rightly so - being a successful lock picker is about building up a repertoire of different tools and techniques. Since locks are funny things, and while a cheapo $4.99 lock might elude the Single Pin Picker, a pick gun might do it. And while a $100 high security lock might not open with a pick gun, it may respond well to Bumping. Having a variety of tools and techniques is going to give you more chances of a successful open, and offer a semblance of control over the unpredictable nature of these metallic beasts. It makes sense that people want to 'move forward' from raking.
The Sparrows 'Medusa' combines an 's-rake' with a medium hook. Ideal for competition where you want to rake whatever possible and SPP the remainders.
But to abandon Raking there is a foolish thing to do, because in my mind you have barely broken the ice. Raking is a far more subtle and interesting technique than the majority of lock pickers give it credit for. Here I am going to tell you a series of additional Raking techniques that you might not be familiar with, and I encourage you to dust down those old rakes, or get some new ones, and see if there's not a lot more to Raking than you previously thought.
The science of Raking suggests the pick is working all the pins simultaneously. And yet, as I said above, this is patently not true. A bump key could be said to be working all the pins together, but Raking is dealing face to face with the Binding Pin Principle. The only difference being YOU do not have to - the tool does it for you. But you are still looking at setting the pins one by one, even if two might set a fraction of a second apart, it is still in series, not parallel. Just as when Single Pin Picking you are going to be adjusting your tension to accommodate changes in the cylinder, pins setting, the plug turning etc, so with Raking it makes sense to offer a variety of tension pressures. And while it is pretty random - or 'blind' - it is not arbitrary. There's a relationship between the rake's ability to set pins, one by one (however quickly and however long or short the time between pins) and the tension you are applying.
I recommend a 'pulsing' technique on your wrench. This can take many forms. Sometimes I am pulsing between 1 and 0, meaning I am going from some pressure to no pressure. My finger comes right off the wrench before pressing back down upon it - gently! More of a 'tap' than a press. It's rare to fully open a lock this way as there comes a point where you need to maintain tension to keep the accumulated pins sitting on the shearline. But for the first few pins in say a 6 pin lock, it's become quite normal for me to delicately pad the wrench for a few seconds, almost as if I am getting to know the lock, and how it's going to respond to my rake and tension. Experiment with available variables. With Pulsing, change the 'rate' of the pulse, as well as the amount of pressure you're applying. 'Listen' to the lock (via feedback through the rake and tension wrench) and adjust your rate and pressure accordingly. Only practice will improve your ability to interpret the feedback in a productive way, which I'll talk about further below...
Some of the most creative lock picks today are rakes.Variations above on the City-Rake, S-Rake, and Bogota Rake.
Mainly though I am not lifting my finger from the wrench, when pulsing. I am just working with the natural spring in the tension tool and the small amount of give in the cylinder. And here it's all about reading the feedback - as is nearly all lock picking. We have two tools inserted in the lock and we cannot see in the lock. So we are relying on our tools to tell us what's happening, as well as what's NOT happening, in the lock. We need to get an idea of how the lock is responding to our tools and our tension. Only practice will help us understand how to interpret these messages, and how to adapt our technique in response to them. So practice, and have a good variety of locks to practice on, and Rakes to practice with. Just as each lock offers a new challenges, each tool offers a new solution. Learning how one lock responds to your Rake and Raking is great, but consider feedback like a language, your one lock and rake is only going to use a few words, again and again, you need to familiarize yourself with many locks and many rakes if you with to become fluent at the language of feeling problems and solutions.
Occasionally during a Raking attempt the lock will appear to 'seize'. The rake won't move freely anymore, the tension tool seems to have flicked up a bit, and the entire process has come to an end. Frequently however, rather than letting the pins reset, and removing the tools from the lock before starting again, the lock seizing like this can often indicate a moment of opportunity. Frequently this suggests you only have one - or two close together - pins to pick. Get this right and the lock opens. This seizing is often the lock begging to be finished off, we just have to know what to do. And it's here that we go against everything we previously knew about Raking...
Single Pin Raking SPP/SPR
So you've set a few pins a few times but it's just not opening. Every time you take out the tools you hear the pin stacks fall back down into their places, and you're convinced you've set 3, 4 - even 5 pins of a 6 pin lock. There's just that last one or two you can't seem to Rake. Well don't then. SPP (single pin pick) them - but with the rake. Think about it like this. Your lock has say 6 pins, and you begin to Rake. Immediately there are changes in the lock as perhaps a pin is set. You're now Raking - effectively - a different lock, a 5 pin lock with different challenges, a different first binding pin etc. Once that pin is successfully Raked you're now Raking another different lock. A lock that is a little bit different to the 5 pin one, but increasingly different from the initial 6 pin lock you started with! Once you are down to 2 pins, (and let's say these are pins 5 and 6 - right at the back of the lock - it's a very different beast to what you started with. And different techniques will be needed to deal with it. You have just a couple of pins left but the damn thing won't open? Here's a few ways of Raking those final couple of pins with your rake, SPR - Single Pin Raking, you could say.......
Ramping is the technique where you make use of the small amount of vertical movement a standard keyway provides. With Raking, it's often a good idea to keep the Rake flush with the angle of the shearline, making use of the small vertical space, but keeping it parallel to the shearline. Once we're down to a couple of pins, this should go out the window. There's no pins in half the space you're raking so it's time to tilt the pick both up and down and attack with a few new moves. Keep 'listening' to the feedback, and act accordingly, what seems to be working, what isn't? I mean, keeping the rake flush with the shearline MIGHT be exactly what the last pins require, but also, it might not. Experiment, make use of the space and opportunities available to you. Try stuff out, develop your technique!
I'd lose my keys if my door was that colour too.
Raking on a Fulcrum.
Single Pin Raking. It sounds insane, I know, but it's the only way I can describe it. Frequently I'll employ a see-saw technique, the pin providing the fulcrum and the rake not so much raking past the pins, rather pushing the pin, just as in Single Pin Picking, but with the see-saw motion, giving me the ability to slowly increase the amount of pressure I'm applying, whilst maintaining my awareness of the tension tool. At this point it is often a case of reducing tension, allowing the pin to be see-sawed into place, and bang! The lock opens. See-Sawing only really works for the last pin, or two if they're stacked together - but it would have been unfair for me not to mention it, since I'm doing it all the time!
The Bogota Rakes woke people up to new Raking possibilities.
These are just a sample of the things you can try. Experiment yourself, give the techniques your own silly names, share them on forums, ask other people - develop your Raking skills and maybe even your raking tools along with them. There's a lot more to this technique than you might at first think. Don't let long-in-the-tooth, 'old masters' tell you what's right, what's worth it, and what to do. Your lock picking journey is yours and yours alone, make new directions and tread new paths, the well-beaten path is good for getting home, a fresh new path will take you places no one else has been.
Don't think you can only do what you have seen, or what you've been taught. There's really very little written about the possible intricacies of raking, of working single pins, of working with the tension tool, of developing techniques and pushing the possibility of the lock, the tools, and you.
You can see many of our sets and individual rakes HERE.