Getting locked out of the house is a frustrating experience. All your stuff is in there, you need your stuff, and you can see the key just sitting there on the kitchen counter taunting you. But you can’t get in your own house without breaking something, right?
In fact, there are several approaches to getting through a locked door that isn’t destructive. From resetting interior door locks to picking a lock, there are several things you can try before you start breaking things. Read on to learn how to unlock a locked doorknob without a key – and what to do if you can’t get it unlocked.
If you have an inside door with a push-button knob that’s locked, getting into it shouldn’t be too much of an ordeal. These knobs lock for privacy, but they aren’t really meant to provide security. So before you start breaking down any doors, go find a good sturdy paperclip.
The knob on the non-locking side of the door should have a small hole in the middle of it. Inside this, there’s a small reset button you’ll need to push. This will unlock the door, but you’ll need something small enough to fit in the hole and stiff enough not to bend when you push the button.
If you have metal barbeque skewers, these can work well, as can large, sturdy paperclips. Eyeglass screwdrivers can work, and some people swear by Spam keys if you still have any of those laying around. If you choose a screwdriver, make sure to go for a flathead model.
Poke your tool of choice into the knob and feel around for the button. When you’ve found it, push it; when it clicks, the door should be unlocked. Some door knobs may require you to insert your tool and twist, which is where the flathead screwdriver or the Spam key will come in handy.
In some cases, you may be able to use a larger screwdriver to take apart the doorknob entirely if you can’t get it unlocked. Like with the paperclip method, this won’t work for most exterior locking doors that are meant to be more secure. Unless they’re not installed properly, the screws for those doors won’t be on the outside.
If you can see the screws on the knob, go get a full-size screwdriver – most knobs require Phillips head models. Take the screws out of the faceplate and the knob so you can slide the knob off the pin. Slide the faceplate off after it, and you should have access to the interior workings of the knob.
Some knobs may not have screws at all on either side of the door. In this case, look at the side of the knob; somewhere on the shaft, there may be a small depression with a button that appears when you turn the knob. If you can, turn the knob, use your pointy object of choice to press the button, and slide the knob off.
If you can’t get the knob off and you have access to the hinges on the door, your screwdriver may still come in handy. Use the screwdriver to push the pins up out of the hinges. From there, you can take the door off its hinges completely and deal with the locked knob more easily.
This next method may do some damage to your door frame, but it does work for exterior doors that are meant to be locked. Most of these doors have a spring-loaded latch bolt that catches on a striking plate to hold the door closed. They also tend to be on an angle, and they may come with a small plunger that either allows or prevents the latch bolt’s moving.
If you’re dealing with this style of locked knob and you know the angle is facing away from you, a coat hanger could help you out. You’re going to want one of the wire ones, and if you have access to wire cutters and pliers, it’s a good idea to grab them, too. They can help you bend the coat hanger into the correct shape.
Start by unbending your coat hanger into one long line, and then bend one end so it becomes a hook with a long handle. You’re going to feed this between the door and the door jamb very carefully. Your goal is to use the coat hanger to hook the edge of the latch bolt and pull it back.
Take hold of the doorknob with one hand and turn it in the direction you usually would to open the door. At the same time, pull the coat hanger back towards you, applying gentle, consistent pressure. The coat hanger should hook on the latch bolt and force it backward, releasing it from the strike plate and allowing you to turn the knob.
You may have seen people in movies using a credit card to break into a locked door. In those scenes, it always looks so easy; swipe the card through the door jamb as quickly as you would through a credit card reader and you’re in. But the real trick takes a good bit more finesse.
The idea with this trick is similar to that of the coat hanger trick. You’re trying to push the latch bolt back so it releases from the strike plate and allows the door to open. But this trick works in cases where the angle on the latch bolt is facing towards you.
Get a flexible plastic card that you don’t care much about getting damaged; a library card or old student ID might work well. You’re going to grasp the knob in the same way as you did with the coat hanger trick. Then slide the card in between the door and the jamb.
Wiggle the card back and forth, trying to work it in next to the latch bolt. The card is going to need to make an S bend, so this is going to take some finagling. Use a see-saw motion and steady pressure to get the card in next to the latch bolt and release it from the strike plate.
If you can’t get the credit card or coat hanger tricks to work, you can try picking the knob itself. Like the credit card trick, it takes a good bit more skill to do this than the movies would have you believe. If you think you may have occasion to do this someday, it might be a good idea to get a practice lock to learn on.
A knob lock has a series of four or five pins that drop down and prevent the knob from turning. These pins all have breaks in them at different levels, and when those breaks are lined up with the turning axis of the lock, you can turn the knob. When you put a key in the lock, the grooves on the key sit such that they make all the breaks in the pins line up, allowing the knob to turn.
To pick a lock with bobby pins, you’re going to need to make one into a rake and one into a tension rod. Unbend both bobby pins into a ninety-degree angle; you’re going to use the flat edge of one and the ridged edge of the other. The idea here is that you’re going to use your rake (the ridged edge of one bobby pin) to pop those pins up while using your tension rod (the flat edge of the other bobby pin) to keep those pins in place.
Insert the tension rod into the bottom of the lock and use it to start pushing the lock as if to unlock it. Insert your rake above it and start scraping it across the pins, pulling it towards you in a sort of circular scrubbing motion. You should feel pins start to pop up one by one, and after several passes, you should feel the lock give way to the pressure of your tension rod.
These next couple of methods go beyond ways to get a knob unlocked without destroying the door. These are for use when all other methods have failed, you can’t get a locksmith, and you have to get in the door right now. It’s important to note that you will be needing at least a new lock and maybe a new door after these methods.
If you have a drill handy, you can use it to destroy those pins we just talked about picking. Again, this is only to be used in emergencies, and you will not be able to lock the door again after you use this method until you replace the lock. You’ll want a power drill and a bit equipped to handle metal.
You’re going to want to set your drill just above the top of the keyhole, in line with the threshold of the cylinder and the pins. Your goal is to drill through the pins, freeing the lock to turn past that threshold. Start with a small drill bit and work your way up as needed, adding lubricating oil as you go.
This process is going to take some time, so go slow and be patient. Keep drilling through on that spot until you’ve made it all the way through, using a larger drill bit if needed. Once you’ve cleared the pins, you should be able to turn the lock with a simple flat-head screwdriver.
This method should be an absolute last resort if there is a child trapped inside a burning room or no other tools are available to you. It will destroy the door, and depending on the construction, it may destroy the door frame, too. But it will get you through the door, though you may need medical treatment afterward.
Like picking a lock, kicking in a door is not as easy as they make it look on TV. You’re going to need a lot of force behind that blow, and it may take you several tries. This also won’t work on every type of door, so take a look before you go breaking your leg trying to kick in a door that doesn’t swing that way.
If the door swings towards you, not away, kicking it isn’t going to do any good. Instead, check if you have access to the hinges and remove the pins. You also can’t kick in a metal door, and if you aren’t a very strong person, you may want to find someone who is for this maneuver.
Take a step or two back, and then step forward with your non-dominant foot (your left for most people). Kick the door with your dominant foot, hitting it with a flat foot, putting all your weight behind the hit, and aiming for the spot just above the knob. If all goes well, the door or the jamb will break out or you’ll at least hear splintering; if you don’t, don’t try again.
One last note: never ever ever try to break down a door using your shoulder. We know it looks cool when they do it in the movies, but it’s a great way to dislocate your shoulder, and it won’t do anything to the door. If you can’t kick it in, you’d better go looking for a window or a battering ram.
Knowing how to unlock a locked door knob without a key can be a very useful skill to have. Start with the least destructive method that fits your circumstances and work your way up from there. Only in extreme cases should a door be drilled or kicked in; it’s much better to pick the lock if you can swing it.
If you need help getting through a locked door, give us a call at Pros on Call. We provide locksmithing services, as well as roadside assistance, door installation and repair, and security systems. Request service from us today and keep your home safely locked.
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