Photos by Ed Calderon and Courtesy Sparrows Lock Picks
You may have heard the term “snap gun” or seen one of these strange-looking tools in photos before, but you may not have been sure what they were or how they work to pick locks. Pick guns operate on the same principle as a game of pool. If you have two balls touching each other and hit the first one, it stays put while the ball behind it is knocked away. This is what a pick gun does with the top pins and the bottom pins in a lock. When it strikes the bottom pin, the energy is transferred to the top pin, which ideally bounces above the shear line simultaneously with all of the other top pins, enabling the lock to be picked.
Strangely, many locksmiths seem to scoff at most of the stuff the “tactical” community loves. It’s a very weird thing where pros actually use worse equipment than hobbyists. Newer guys like tools such as padlock shims and sesame decoders. After a few years, everybody realizes those things are too much trouble because they’re too specific to certain lock models and brands, and they just start using bolt cutters. Locksmiths have known about bump keys since the ’90s, but I’ve never met one who used them regularly. It was more something they fooled around with in the shop when they got trendy, but found them to be pretty useless in the field.
As a rule, locksmiths don’t have handmade high-end picks. They buy HPC picks for $1.50 each and use them for a couple years till they break. The fanciest pick I ever saw anyone use was a Rytan pick, pretty much a regular pick with a big plastic handle for comfort. Most smiths have two to three picks and a couple tension tools. I picked an average of two to three locks a day for 15 years and used three different picks. I’ve gone through three pick guns in my time. The last one I left at the job when I quit.
In the past, none of the pick guns I used felt like they were well-made. They all felt like they were made in China out of cheap metal and slapped together. You can actually make a crude pick gun out of a wire coat hanger that sorta works — it’d be fun to show off at an escapology class as a novelty. However, there are groups of people who don’t have much time to invest in these skillsets and need ready-made and functional tools for covert entry. In these cases, commercially made pick guns come into play.
The Sparrows Pick Gun
Above: The Double Tap comes in a well-appointed case with tips and tension wrenches included.
You have to appreciate the packaging. The case it comes in features a nice fitted compartment, not just for your gun, but for the accessories that come with it, including tensioners and extra picks for the gun itself. Everything is in its place. The quality and extra attention to detail they put into the case alone is apparent.
The package includes five different types of tension wrenches with different orientations and widths of tensioners on them. This provides a good selection and sampling of what you might need out there in the field. It also comes with a selection of five pick attachments of various types. Again, they attempt to cover most of the needs people will have out there in the field. The gun itself is ruggedly built and definitely meant to last. Unlike most cheaper options that are made out of two pieces, these feature heavy metal construction held by screws. This allows the end user to repair and maintain the tool — which isn’t possible with other options on the market.
Double Tap Snap Gun Specifications
- 1 x Sparrows Double Tap Snap Gun
- 3 x tension wrenches of varying widths
- 3 x standard needle picks
- 1 x bent needle for low and tight working areas
- 1 x long needle
- 1 x hard case
The tension is adjustable, but you’re usually fine just leaving it in the middle. The selection wheel is pretty well-made; I typically just give it a full single rotation after setting it to zero. This helps me open most things that I’ve encountered. It has nine other tension settings. The finger-tightening knob on the pick attachment point is fantastic. It allows you to quickly attach and detach any of the optional picks that come with the toolset without a screwdriver or any other extra tools — a must-have if time is of the essence in whatever game you’re playing.
The pick arm itself moves directly up and down inside of the housing, contrary to most cheaper options out there that move in an almost arch-like manner. The vertical motion results in uniform hits on the internal pins of a lock; plus, it has a double-strike feature. This allows you to hit the pins twice on a single pull of the pick gun’s trigger, again making things easier for you if the pick is correctly aligned in the keyway.
These guns look pretty unique: They’re black and gold. They look like something that John Wick would carry, and that’s actually kind of cool, although maybe not the most discreet. If you’re using it for any sort of covert-entry-type applications, be sure to apply some Loctite to the screws — you’ll thank me later. Also, be aware that pick guns produce a very unique sound with each of the clicks that might negate noise discipline, if that’s important for what you’re doing.
Using the Pick Gun
To use it, hold it loose in your hand and, as much as possible, try not to let the needle scrape against the sides of the cylinder. Adding some grip tape will allow for a bit more dexterity in the handle.
Apply tension with the wrench like you’d with a standard pick. Fire in rapid bursts of 10 to 20. If the cylinder doesn’t turn, release the tension wrench, listen for the pins to drop, and start over.
The hardest element to master is ensuring the needle strikes all the pins. Most residential locks have five, while commercial locks have five to six, so if you don’t insert it deep enough you won’t hit all the pins and it won’t work. However, if you shove it in too deep, the needle might end up striking the back of the cylinder and not bounce the pins at all.
Don’t be afraid to mix up picking techniques. Pick a couple chambers with a standard pick and hold the tension with your wrench, then break out the pick gun and finish it off.
Pick guns work very well on locks mounted right-side-up. They’re usable, but awkward, to use on lever locks where the keyway runs sideways. They’re pretty much useless on locks mounted upside-down. There’s a learning curve, and it’s a skill you have to develop — this isn’t a master key, so it’s not a tool that’ll solve every problem. But it’s a useful tool in your arsenal.
If you’re looking to learn more about these tools and their applications, I recommend Matt Fiddler from Serepick. Definitely seek him out if you want to learn more about this type of thing.
All in all, the Double Tap Snap Gun is a great product with some very unique design elements and user-friendly features. And it’s definitely competitively priced. If you need a pick gun for hobby or work, I definitely recommend you pick one of these up — it’s a solid product.
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