Archive for the ‘Impressioning’ Category

Dutch Open Competition 2023

Sunday, September 17th, 2023

In an effort to bring people up to speed on the Dutch Open Competitions at LockCon, we are publishing the competition rules. The PDF below are rules for the Lockpicking, Impressioning and Lever lockpicking competition, exported from the ‘How to run LockCon’ document written by Walter in 2016.

We have a lockpicking, impressioning, disk detainer, and Lockpicking Pentathlon. The Pentathlon has five opening techniques which includes picking, lever lockpicking, car locks and much more.

The organizers will put up flip overs, on which you can register yourself for the competition.
Please be on time when the competition starts. We aim to have Impressioning on Friday afternoon, Lockpicking on Saturday afternoon, and the Pentathlon on Sunday.


For LockCon 2023 we will run the lockpicking competition with locks commonly found in the Netherlands, in addition to locks kindly sponsored by Zeefeene and Nigel from Toool UK.

  • The locks are pickable with normal lockpicks, of which we do not have a restriction for custom or commercial.
  • We aim to have locks without a secondary locking system, I.e. sidebar.
  • Applying torque on the tailpiece instead of using a tension wrench is allowed.

The time per round is adjusted for the difficulty of the lock, usually 5/10/15 minutes per round.


The Impressioning competition will be on Abus C83 locks, kindly sponsored by Abus. The first round will be an hour, and the A and B finals are planned to be six rounds of 15 minutes each.

In addition to the rules below, we added several small nuances to the rules:

  • The tailpiece of the lock needs to be unobstructed. As in, no torque can be applied from the tailpiece. Please take care to mount the lock properly, and not pinch the tailpiece.
  • Any newly invented tool or technique can only be used in the competition after explicit permission of the Judges.

Please see the Dutch Open Impressioning Championship 2022 report for more information on the competition.

Disk detainer competition

We will have a disk detainer lockpicking competition for the first time. For which, Sparrows kindly sponsored five of their disk detainer lockpicks. The competition will run throughout the event as a self timed competition, or if time allows, gets a dedicated time in the schedule.

  • There will be three to five locks selected, from easy to fairly difficult.
  • The supplied Sparrows DD tools are augmented with a 3D printed spacer designed by Thice.
  • Locks are not guaranteed to be front tensioning, but can all be opened with the tools provided.
  • Please keep the combinations a secret for others competing.
  • The tools are not fragile, but shouldn’t be abused either. We have some spares, and come to the organizers if the tools are defective.

For people that are either new to disk detainers or don’t like competing, there will be tools and locks available to learn the technique, as well as workshops in picking high security disk detainers. We will also bring locks with much higher difficulty, starting at Abus plus with butterfly disks, to Tokoz Pro. Picking these high-end locks is left as an exercise to the attendees. (Maybe bring your own tools for these.)


Our friends from Parmakey in Italy will host a pentathlon competition this year. It will include five lock opening techniques of the following list:

  • Lockpicking pin tumbler: Bring your own tools
  • Lockpicking dimple: Bring your own tools
  • Impressioning: Bring your own tools
  • Lockpicking lever locks: Tools are supplied
  • Lockpicking car locks: Tools are supplied

The competition can only host a small group of participants, and will be fun to watch for everyone else.

Appendix from ‘How to run LockCon’ by Walter, 2016

Report: Dutch Open Impressioning Championship 2022

Sunday, September 17th, 2023

Jan-Willem wrote a report in the Dutch Open championship in Impressioning, held at LockCon 2022.
The report talks about the parts of the competition which are rarely discussed, like the bitting of the locks and the opening count of each lock. Hopefully this report is of use for anyone into competitive impressioning.

Our appreciation go to Abus for their generosity of sponsoring the competition locks and blanks.
Abus has sent us the locks for LockCon 2023, as well. Which is on Friday 13th of October.

Quantifying the Brinell hardness of keys

Saturday, April 8th, 2023

In an effort to quantify the locksport world, I’m taking my measuring tools to locksport in an attempt to learn the details. For example, how much torque is required to pick a lock. With this knowledge, we can build better lockpicks, and teach proper technique. In this blog, I’ve set out to compare the hardness of key blanks for impressioning.

As I’m not a machinist, nor do I have access to fancy hardness measuring equipment, I’ve found the cheapest method I could use at home. There are many methods, and many systems, to measure the hardness of metal. One difficulty was to get familiar with the lingo and to find a measurement tool that works for key like metals, thin, soft, etc.

The most common method of cheap hardness testing is to use Rockwell hardness testing files from measuring hardness of knifes. Usually in the range of C40 to C65 in increments of five. I’ve found similar methods online for testing the hardness of lead with pencils. Where HB hardness pencil will be equivalent to a certain percentage lead in tin. To my knowledge, none such system exists for brass.

More expensive methods press a hardened piece of metal with a known force into the sample, and measuring the indentation. While most of these measuring jigs are too expensive, I’ve found one for cheap. That is the Poldihammer test, which is sold on eBay for around €100. The tool uses a captive ball bearing which presses both on a bar of known hardness and the sample. You just simply place it on the object and hit it with a hammer. The ball bearing presses with equal force into both metals object. Comparing the dents gives you the Brinell hardness.

My Poldihammer came with a small magnifier and scale. It’s not so easy to use, and the resolution is minimal. The kit also comes with convention tables, but they feel very approximate. My solution is to measure the indentation with a digital microscope and calculate the BHN from this formula from Wikipedia:

\operatorname{BHN}=\frac{2P}{\pi D \left(D-\sqrt{D^2-d^2}\right)}

BHN = Brinell Hardness Number (kgf/mm2).
P = applied load in kilogram-force (kgf)
D = diameter of indenter (mm)
d = diameter of indentation (mm)

It doesn’t take much to use the dent on the reference bar to calculate the force. As the force is equal on the key, we can use the force to calculate the hardness of the keys. Let’s take a look at a real world example. The next two images are the dents under high magnification.

Key for measurement B1: 214.581 by 209.048 pixels. This is 2.00 mm on average.
Reference bar with hardness 187. Measurement B1: 163.809 by 162.959 pixels. 1.55 mm average width.

For completeness, I’ve added the calculations as to make the method repeatable, and accessible to more hobbyists. The force is calculated as follows: P = BHN(reference) * PI * D * (D – SQRT(D^2 – X^2)). Where X is the dent on the reference bar. In LibreOffice Calc, this is =187*PI()*10*(10-SQRT(10^X^2)).

The hardness of the key is calculated BHN(Key) = P /(PI * D *(D^2-Y^2)). Where Y is the dent on the key. In LibreOffice Calc, this is =P/(PI()10(10-SQRT((10^2)-(Y^2))))

For the numbers above, I’ve found the force as 706.25, and the BHN of the key as 110.8. I’ve repeated the test for four more keys and measured them as 114.5, 103.9, 97.0, and 118.2 with an average of 108.9. In similar measurements, I would drop the minimum and maximum and take the average of the remaining samples, which is 109.7.

The following table is the result of my measurements. The results are surprising.

BrandAverageAquired dateCommentMeasurement [BHN]
SilcaThree keys2018CS206 Brass. 147.1
SilcaThree keys2022LD5R Steel. 222.8
JMA Three keys2018Keys from Nigel Tolley. 135.4
BauelementeThree keys2019SSDeV Impressioning. 123.5
AbusThree keys2019LockCon133.4
AbusThree keys2020Toool Inventory135.8
AbusFive keys2022LockCon Box A127.4
AbusFive keys2022LockCon Box B108.9
AbusFive keys2022LockCon Box C131.5
Table of key measurements. Keys for Abus C83 with keyway similar to Y1.

The data revealed something interesting and confirmed a hunch. The hardness of steel keys is the highest, obviously. We see the brass alloy (nickel silver) have a range of values. There are also outliers, for example Box B, these keys are softer than keys acquired on the same day.

I’ve since played with both harnesses and can tell one hardness from another in impressioning. But only after I’ve switched from one hardness to another after a dozen opens, with the same hardness. After switching backwards and forwards, I can’t tell the difference in a blind test.

One final note, the kit comes with one reference bar that is consumable. We have about a hundred measurements in them. I have not found replacement bars, yet. But I believe we can use a similar shaped bar of steel, which is then calibrated with the reference bar before use. This will reduce accuracy, but can be accounted for if the measurements are comparative.

Thanks for taking your time to read about measuring hardness of keys. If you have a professional (Brinell) hardness measurement tool, and want to help out, let’s swap keys and compare notes. I’m always open to learn.

-3 seconds, Impressioning tool

Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

Impressioning competition are all about opening the most locks in the least amount of time. Quite often, every second counts. As we have been playing the game for a couple of decades, it wouldn’t surprise you that the locks become harder, the times have been getting faster, and the openings more consistent.

Most of the players have reinvented their setup multiple times. I’ve seen 3D printed attributes for key marking, and often see the newest inventions. To keep it fair, however, you require sharing the idea before the competition, as to prevent an unfair advantage.

My first improvements have been to watch the masters work, and to copy what they do. Whereas my last improvements are much more subtle. I’ve, for example, reduced the distance between the lock, lamp, and table. And improved my handling process to save seconds here and there. I don’t believe we are done, either, as I’m trying to find a better way of placing my file when I’m not using it.

The tool idea of this blog isn’t a new one. It has, in fact, existed over a decade in use. We have blogged about it back then: When every second counts: formula 1 impressioning tool. It’s however, still relevant.

What is it? It’s a modified cylinder where the pins are replaced by sharp carbide rods. By pressing a key into the pins, the pin positions are marked on the key. Which, in turn, allows a key of all depths one to be made. The process takes a second, instead of preparing a blank with sand paper, a filling jig, or marking the positions one by one with a scribe. To be completely honest, it might not save me too much time, I just like it as a convenience tool.

I’ve built my first version after I impressioned my first lock, early 2018. It’s not the prettiest, but it worked for over a thousand keys. At that time, I impressioned a lock a day for every day in January. At UKlocksport forum, this is known as the January challenge. I’ve got some good stories about it, including a friend that just never stopped and has a streak in the thousands. (Please, Toni, remind me to write a blog about it.)

The key below shows the principle of operation. The scribe replacement tips scratch the surface of the key. For this one, the scratches are deeper than I like, but it shows the idea. You want a mark, but not too deep.

The current version, as shown in the pictures below, are from a small series production I’ve made for LockCon 2022. It was well received, and I’ve helped many of my friends with one of them. Making them commercially is very much not worth it. But if you want one, or the bits to make one, I might have some.

Please remember, even with all the impressioning gadgets, it’s not going to make a difference if you didn’t put in the hours. Consistency is key.

Pictures are copyright CCBY4.0 Jan-Willem Markus @ Blackbag.

LockCon 2022 – Impressioning Competition

Saturday, September 3rd, 2022

At LockCon we ran the Impressioning competition on the usual C83 locks. (Abus, Thanks for sponsoring!) For the first round everyone has 1h to attempt the keyed a like locks. 12 people opened the locks in 20 minutes, this time. The best six went to the A Final, the subsequent six to the B Final.

In due time, we expect to publish a report on the key bittings, pins, and the times for each lock.

First place in the competition won a custom engraved Abloy Classic lockpick by Jaakko, and a Sparrows voucher of €100. Second place won a Multipick Artimis electropick. The third place won a set of Multipick Elite 27 lockpickset. All winners got a trophy, and a custom engraved PACLOCK, and an M&C pinning mat.

Congrats to the winners!

Jos opened 4 locks and got 1st place
Torsten opened 3 locks and got 2nd place
Lasse opened one lock and got 3rd place
Results A Final
Results B Final

The one-pin lock

Friday, September 2nd, 2022

Eurocylinders have a standard form factor, but they come in different sizes. In the middle is the cam and the screw to attach the cylinder to the door. Measuring the lengths from the center of the cam to both ends gives you the length, for instance, 30/30 is a popular size. This means both ends are 30mm or 3cm for a total length of 6cm.

Although sizes of 30mm and 35mm (or combinations with 10mm for half cylinders) are pretty normal, there’s quite a variation in lengths, especially if you go to Belgium for instance.

A 45/55 cylinder

Very long ones such as the 45/55 above, are quite rare. Ones shorter than 30 are also rare. I had come across a 25/25 once, but a while ago, my favourite locksmith from Oostende (Birger) gave me a 20/20 cylinder.

A 20/20 cylinder

It did not come with a key. The cylinder only has one pin! This means that any key that fits the keyway can be used to open it: just insert the slope of the key just far enough to push the pin to the shear line.

By not inserting the key fully, we can pick the one pin

The cylinder did not come with a key, so I used impressioning to make one.

The impressioned key

Photos CCBY4.0 Walter @ Toool Blackbag

2-in-1 for Abus, that barely works.

Saturday, January 8th, 2022

Lishi 2-in-1 have been around for a long time, both for automotive and more recently for pin tumbler locks. Sadly, these tools are quite costly as they are keyway specific. Furthermore, this type of tool can’t be made for some locks as the keyways are too tight. Or so I thought, as of writing there are several 2-in-1 for sale for the paracentric Yale keyway. As I was intrigued, I’ve bought an off brand 2-in1 for CISA. In testing the tool, I’ve found various limitations that might impact the usefulness of this tool.

Let’s start from the beginning, Lishi is the brand name of a series of lockpicking tools designed and made by Zhi Qin Li. The Lishi company split up and Zhi Qin Li still sells his 2-in-1 under the brand Original Lishi, while another company sells them under the brand Genuine Lishi.

Original Lishi sells a variety of tools, the one generally referred to as a Lishi is a 2-in-1 lockpick that both applies a turning force and a tool for picking individual elements. The tool can also be used to decode the lock once the lock is open, and a key can be cut in the field with another of Li’s tools.

Lishi for the Schlage SC4 keyway.

So, what does a Lishi 2-in-1 lockpick do? The tool consists of two parts; the body that is used as a turning tool and the thin feeler that’s used as a lockpick. This in itself would not be too useful, however, the body has a chart of where the lockpick is in the lock. You move the pointer to the desired element, indicated by the vertical lines, and push down lightly on the pointer. This in turn moves the lockpick, pushing down on the element in the lock. You can feel if the element is binding or not. And just as lockpicking, you go through the lock, pin by pin, and feel for the binders. Then you set each binder and search for the next one, until all elements are set. Click on one, click on three… Open!

From y2k these tools have been available for automotive locks as the combination of open keyways, many wafers, and typically low tolerances work very well for this tool. 2015 was the year 2-in-1 picks became available for pin tumbler lock for the USA market. (Schlage, Kwikset, and Master). Most of these locks have wide keyways, low tolerance, and very few security pins.

I’ve played with a few of these tools, but didn’t find them too useful. I’m not a locksmith, not in the USA. For me, they would be mostly a novelty. But the pick I’m about to show can be a game changer as it targets European locks I’m familiar with.

In December, I was notified a seller on AliExpress sells 2-in-1 (not a Lishi!) for the paracentric Yale keyway. The consensus under lockpickers is that this tool could not exist, because the keyway is too tight and has no straight access to the pins. I was curious enough to fork over €50, and bought one for CISA as it’s very close if not identical to the Abus C83, the lock we use for impressioning championships.

The seller is quite open about the tool’s limitations and wrote on the lever “80% coverage. Without pin 8 or 9”. While this sounds like it’ll open 80% of locks, but it doesn’t seem to be the whole story, as we will find out. The biggest concern with a tool that works on a subsection of locks is if the user can detect the tool does not work, instead of user error or lack of skill. I suspect so, but it will be far from easy. In short, a lock will not work with one or more cuts deeper than a 7 and therefore this pin will always be overset and this you can detect.

Small sub section of factory cut Abus C83 keys, I’ve a modest collection of them.

As I was curious about the 80% claim, I’ve spent an evening measuring my Abus C83 keys. While these are not CISA, they are close, and I happen to have a modest collection of these keys. 92 out of 283 of the measured keys have no cuts deeper than 5.5mm, the size of the tool. This means the tool will only work on 30% of my Abus C83. This is consistent with a statistics sanity check. For this, we assume every lock has a uniform distribution of cuts, ignoring MACS. This came to be (7/9)^5 = 28.4%.

I’m considering this 30% an upper bound, as Abus C83 and CISA aren’t shipped with standard pins. The old locks are shipped with mostly spool pins, and the new ones have serrated, spool, and T-pin key pins and the same for the drivers.

Abus C83 old style vs new style pins.

Besides the theoretical usability and security pins, what other flaws would make this tool suboptimal? The picking tip snags while moving from pin to pin. Furthermore, picking in the counterclockwise direction binds the picking tip, and it makes it difficult to differentiate between a binding pin and a binding picking tip.

Randomly pinned lock with standard pins, decoded to 52452.

Let’s wrap it up, this tool is sold at €50 and promises quite a lot. However, theoretical, it will only open 30% of all the locks it was designed for. Furthermore, the limitations of security pins and rotation direction will limit the functionality even more. A practiced lockpicker might be-able to overcome some limitations, or detect the tool will not work. A tool that only opens a very small subset of locks is not a very useful tool, and I can’t recommend it to pick these locks. However, as new pickers always struggle to find the binders, and this tool enables them to actually ‘see’ what they are doing, it could be a game changer for teaching.

Pictures CCBY4.0 Jan-Willem Toool Blackbag

forensic research impressioning during lockcon’17

Saturday, October 23rd, 2021

As Walter stated in, the good people from FIOPS have asked the participants of LockCon to open some locks in various ways. These locks would then be forensically analyzed to figure out what actually happened to them. Of course I opted for impressioning (because me). It felt weird to impression while standing up (i never impressioned a lock that was mounted in a door before) and walking back and forth between the door and the table also felt rather novel.
(As this all took place late late at night during LockCon, “some” alcohol might have impacted my opening as well)

This is the video shot by FIOPS of my opening attempt;

Book review: Little Black Book of Lockpicking

Thursday, September 30th, 2021

Two weeks ago Alexandre “FrenchKey” Triffault published the book Little Black Book of Lockpicking on NDE techniques for Red teams and security professionals. The book has 171 pages with a broad variety of lock types and opening methods, from lockpicking to impressioning, and from making cutaways to decoding combination padlocks.

Whenever there is a new book about lockpicking I pick up a copy especially when it’s written by a friend. It sold for €35 Amazon that does the printing and distribution of this book. The book is a good read and is a continuation of the OFC guide to lockpicking (free pdf) that’s also written by Alex and translated by MrAnybody. The OFC guide is all about lockpicking while this book includes many more topics including bumping and impressioning, both topics I’ve paid extra attention to.

The first thing I noticed was the many high detailed graphics used. Alex modeled the locks, lockpicks and other tools and included 3D renderings in the book as virtual cutaways. The style works very well for this book. It does not just write about a concept but also shows how it is done.

The book is 27 chapters and on average six pages for each subject, this inevitably means there is not too much room for details or nuances. This is a pity as Alex has the ability to give insights I would never think of.

I want to mention that the advanced topics in the book like (self) impressioning will take a long time to get good at. For me, I’ve experienced it takes many failed attempts to do these attacks, even in a controlled environment. Attacks like self-impressioning took me a very long time to make work. I can only imagine how it would be to attack doors on an assignment.

This is one of the better books on the basics of NDE and I recommend getting a copy for yourself or to to share. When you share the book, do keep in mind the book is written for red teams on an assignment and not for hobbyists. It is never a bad thing to give a small lecture on the locksport ethics and our view on locks as a puzzle with the book.

About Impressioning Handles; DIY

Saturday, July 10th, 2021

In the summer of 2020 Jan-Willem decided to photograph his impressioning handles. Not only are pictures easier to share than the handles themselves, most of them are not worth keeping as they don’t work as well as advertised. This will hopefully be a short series of blogs on impressioning handles. This is the first one about DIY handles and handle experiments by Jan-Willem. Hopefully this post will inspire you to pick up impressioning or to motivate you to build your own impressioning handles; really you can do a lot better then most of the handles in this post.

What makes an impressioning handle an impressioning handle? It has a few requirements:

  • To hold a key for impressioning.
  • Facilitating the motion of impressioning; rotational torque while moving the handle up and down.
  • optional: Comfortable to hold. (This will come in at another blog on improvised handles.)
  • Preferably to reduce strain on the arm by applying rotational torque with one hand and the up and down movement with the other.

This post is solely about the handles not about impressioning itself. Missed out on this marvelous way of defeating locks? Maybe you can find videos on YouTube. I believe Jos Weyers has a few videos on the subject. 🙂

Disclaimer: I’m not a machinist and most of these handles are mostly build with simple tools and from scrap metal.

DIY Impressioning handle 1

After lockCon Jan-Willem was inspired to build his own Impressioning handle. This is the first iteration. Build from scrap laying around in the workshop. The handle works very well and the form factor is great. Mostly as you can’t torque and move the handle up & down with the same hand teaching good impressioning habits from the start.

DIY Impressioning handle 2

This is the second impressioning handle. It’s from 25mm or about 1/2″ aluminum round stock with a slot for the key and a few screws to keep the key in place. The long screw was kept in place to help with rotational torque. The blue covering is for racing bike handlebars and is, apart from looks, completely useless. The covering gives the illusion of grip. People unfamiliar with impressioning tent to think impressioning must require a lot of torque and thus break more keys when starting out.

This model was quite successful and about 20 of them where made. Jan-Willem still uses them, without the handle. Toool has a bunch as well for impressioning workshops, two of these are still traveling the UK, and the rest are sold to friends starting out with impressioning.

DIY Impressioning handle 3

Impressioning handles three and thereafter are made to save as much cost as possible. They can be made with simple tools out of inexpensive material but still work reasonably well.

The first two are made from partially flattened copper pipes. The ends are bend up to keep the key in place. While the design works it has a few obvious drawbacks like replacing the blank is an hassle on both of them.

DIY Impressioning handle 4

This design works a lot better than handle 3. But it’ll not work for all keys as the hole in the blank is used for mounting. It was also an experiment using bicycle handles for grip. It works almost as well as it looks.

DIY Impressioning handle 5

This concept is the cheapest of them all. It’s a PVC tube with a wooden dowel/insert clamping the key with friction. It works well but changing the blanks can be a hassle. The rings of dust around it are where it used to have the race bike handle covering. That has been removed and hence the ugly stripes.

DIY Impressioning handle 6

The last design I want to show is a failure. This is made from POM (Brandless Delrin) rod and is similar to handle two of this article. The POM is not stiff enough for gripping the key tightly.

In a future blog post we will hopefully discuss more impressioning handles. A few ideas for future blogs: Why you might or might not want to pickup professionally designed impressioning handles for hobby use, Things that can hold a key but where never designed to, and more DIY handles from other people in the community.

Feel free to steal ideas or use the photos. The ideas are free the photos are CCBY4.0 Jan-Willem Markus, Toool Blackbag. If you create your own impressioning handle design, please share it with us and we will add it to the DIY impressioning handles in a future blog.