Drilling out a lock is always the last resort. Once drilled, it needs replacing, which is an added expense. But it is a whole lot more cost-effective than damaging the door to gain entry.
Once you have exhausted all avenues and rechecked the bottom of your bag for the keys, it’s time to drill through the lock.
Need some advice on what you should do when you are locked out? We show you how to drill out a lock.
How to Drill Out a Lock
- Check what type of lock you have.
- You need a variable speed drill.
- Grab a HSS 1/8-inch drill bit.
- Increase to 1/4-inch HSS drill bit.
- Tap the hole punch on the lock near the cylinder edge.
- Start by drilling the ⅛-inch drill bit.
Can Your Lock be Drilled?
There are some things you should consider before drilling out the lock. The first is a basic one that relates to the type of lock.
You should check what lock type you have. Tumbler locks are the easiest to drill through, but if it has any added security devices, consider if drilling is the best option.
Don’t Do This
Also, if you have a lock with a hardened steel pin, or a ball bearing in the middle pin, these types of locks are going to be extremely difficult to drill.
Things to Double-Check Before Drilling
Try Picking the Lock
Raking is the best way to start picking a lock, especially if you are unsure of the type of lock you are dealing with. If you can’t feel the inner workings of the lock and you’ve exhausted your knowledge of picking manually, try a pick gun. It might save you some time.
Try Bumping the Lock
Bumping the lock is only effective with certain types of locks. It isn’t a new technique, as it was developed back in the ‘70s as a way of making it easy for locksmiths to disassemble locks (1).
Insert a bump key two-thirds into the lock. By tapping with a hammer in the correct spot on the key, the lock chamber should pop out. If, after 20 or so tries it hasn’t worked, it probably won’t, no matter how many attempts you make.
Have a Replacement Lock
Make sure that when you drill the lock, you have a replacement to slot straight in.
Get the Owner’s Agreement to Drill
If you drill through a lock, it will be destroyed, so getting the owner’s agreement is vital. Also, you don’t want them to feel pressured into agreeing. Make sure they understand you have tried every other means necessary.
What You Will Need
Drilling a lock doesn’t need precision tools, but it does require a well-maintained drill and various drill bit sizes.
- A variable-speed power drill has the power to penetrate the lock.
- Grab a selection of high-speed steel (HSS) drill bits. Start with a ⅛-inch bit for the initial hole and a ¼-inch to step it up.
- A hole punch for the bit to get some guidance when you start drilling.
- A hammer to strike the hole punch.
- A flat-headed screwdriver that fits the key slot of the lock.
- A plastic sheet to collect the filings.
How to Drill a Lock
1. Hammer a Guidance Point
Place the punch at the top of the lock, just below the dividing line between the outer and inner lock. It’s sometimes called the shear line. This is the exact height needed to drill into the tumblers.
With a hammer, make two or three firm taps on the end of the punch, until there is a visible indentation.
2. Start Drilling
Drill a hole through the lock cylinder using the ⅛-inch drill bit. This destroys the pins inside the lock, allowing you to force it open. Most locks have five tumbler pins, but there are some with six or more.
Each pin you hit increases the resistance on the drill. You should feel this ease off as each pin gets drilled through.
3. Apply Steady Pressure
As you drill, apply steady pressure, making sure that the drill is kept level at all times. You wouldn’t want to damage the lock further. Make sure the drill is on a slow setting to do this as you want an even and accurate job.
4. Increase Drill Bit Size
Once the hole is drilled, switch to a ¼-inch bit, or any size that you think best fits. This further breaks up the pins, ensuring the lock is easier to open.
5. Insert the Screwdriver
Turn the mechanism with the screwdriver the same way you would with the key. If you drilled accurately, the lock should turn. If not, drastic action is required.
6. Destroy the Lock Mechanism
Using a ¾-inch drill bit, drill through the entire assembly. If you want, you could use a hole saw or a specialist tubular lock bit. The lock should now be open.
How To Drill Out a Lock with a Key In It
If you have a snapped key, again, drilling is the last resort. It can damage the lock beyond repair if you get it wrong.
1. Choose the Right Drill Bit
Using the ¼-inch bit, drill into the cylinder to the depth that you would expect the key to sit in the lock. The cylinder is the bit of the lock that turns when you twist the key. Only remove metal from the cylinder.
2. Turn the Lock Mechanism
Once you have removed enough debris from the lock cylinder, remove as much metal and any pins you can to allow you to turn the lock mechanism, so it unlocks.
3. Buy a Replacement Cylinder and New Key
Once you remove the cylinder, take it to a lock specialist to buy a replacement.
Can I Drill Out a Master Lock?
You can drill out a master lock, although it won’t work on all of them. Using a drill, and a ¼-inch drill bit, make sure the drill bit goes through the center of the mechanism. That way, it destroys the locking mechanism.
This differs from a tumbler lock because you are aiming for the upper part near to where the key slot is.
There is the danger that drilling it won’t open the lock, but it will disable the lock from being opened.
Can Using a Lock Drilling Template Make Drilling Easier?
Drilling templates give you a guide where to insert the drill, rather than guessing or finding the correct spot by trial and error. They speed up the process and make the job easier. They are widely available and vary with different lock styles, so it’s important to know which type of lock you have.
Tips on Drilling Locks
- Use a lubricant like water or synthetic oil to ease the passage of the drill bit. It also means it is less likely to get stuck in the lock.
- Always go steady and keep the drill on the slowest setting. You want to feel the resistance as the pins fall.
- Keep the drill straight. If you go at an angle, you risk damaging other parts of the lock.
- Don’t blow inside the lock to clear the debris — unless you want shards of metal in your eyes.
- Use high-speed steel drill bits. They have the strength to chew through the metal inside the lock.
- Use sticky tape across the punch hole to give the drill purchase when starting.
Let’s Drill Down
Drilling a lock is a cheaper way to gain access, especially if you do it yourself, but you do risk causing greater damage. Calling a professional will increase the efficiency and speed of the job, but it will cost you more cash.
Whichever way you think is best, the crucial thing is to know what locks you have. Attempting to drill a lock with ball bearings or anti-drill pins will lead to an expensive replacement, and you may end up paying the professionals for a job that didn’t need doing.