Learn to Pick Handcuffs: 6 Effective Methods Break Free!

There may come a time where it might be very handy for you to know how to open a set of handcuffs. 

Learning to Pick Handcuffs is not as intuitive as you think it is.

So having a learning tool to help you visualize the inner workings is essential.

Quick Navigation

  6 Methods to Pick Handcuffs
      1. Use Clear Cuff
      2. Making a Key
      3. Using a Shim
  Alternative Handcuff Options
      4. Duct Tape
      5. Zip Ties
      6. Saw Method
  Want to Cheat?
  Want to Practise?

Learning to pick handcuffs, should be on everyone’s list. There may come a time where it might be very handy for you to know how to open a set of handcuffs.

You might need to have this skill because of a magic trick gone bad, because some evil home invaders have secured you and are ransacking your home, or maybe you’ve been abducted, handcuffed and tossed into the trunk of a car.

We have all seen it in films and on television.

People get captured and must pick the lock of their handcuffs to get free and get to safety. 

The reality of the situation is that abductions are more common today than they were when we were kids.  People get kidnapped every day for ransom or for political reasons.


Knowing how to escape from handcuffs is a very necessary survival skill these days. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as grabbing a paperclip and digging around in the lock.

The good news is that the process is rather simple once you understand how the lock works. If you are cuffed behind your back, you need to first sit down and pass your wrists across your feet so the cuffs are in front of you.  While you can pick handcuffs while they are behind your back, it is much more difficult. businessman in handcuff

As you practice this skill, be sure that you have a key within reach to free yourself if needed.  Also, be careful not to tighten the cuffs to the point that they dig into your wrists or cut off circulation.  They should be just tight enough that you cannot get free by pulling your wrists through.

6 Methods to Pick Handcuffs

1. Use Clear Cuff

It’s a real handcuff that has had its side plate replaced with clear plexiglass.

As you can see, it’s not really hard to pick a handcuff, but it’s not as intuitive as you think it is, so having a learning tool, like the Clear-Cuff, to help you visualize the inner workings is essential.

There is a good reason that picking handcuffs is part of many Urban evasion and Urban escape classes.

2. Making a Key

I do know some people that carry a handcuff key on their keychain.  This could definitely come in handy as many models use the same design for their keys. 

However, most people are not quite that prepared.  A more likely scenario is to use a piece of wire or paperclip to make your own key.  Paperclips are ideal for this as the have the ideal thickness to bend but also to hold their shape.

Here are the steps to make a handcuff key with a paperclip.

Step 1) Straighten out your paperclip as best you can.

Step 2) Place the end of the straightened paperclip just inside the keyhole and bend it to one side.

paper clip

Step 3) Next, push it further inside the keyhole and bend it back in the opposite direction.  You should now have a zigzag bend in your paperclip.

Step 4) You now have the correct shape.  Rotate your makeshift key just like you would with any key. Take your time and be gentle.  You want your key to maintain its shape.  Try jiggling it a bit or turn it the other direction to get the mechanism to release.

Step 5) Be sure you keep your makeshift key to unlock the other handcuff.

Be aware that there are double-lock handcuffs out there. This means that they must be released in both directions before they will open. You will feel the lock click in each direction before they pop loose.


3. Using a Shim

A shim is a thin, flat piece of metal such as the clip on an ink pen, a piece of an aluminum can, or a bobby pin.

It is used as a barrier between the teeth that hold the handcuffs closed.  It will need to be flexible and thinner than a credit card.  Because of the flexibility, the piece of an aluminum can is my favorite option.

Here are the steps to use a shim to get free.

Step 1) Push your shim into the opening where the teeth slide into the body of the handcuffs.  It should be centered on the teeth with any extra material wrapping around the sides.

Step 2) You will need to jiggle it around push it tightly against the first tooth but be careful not to bend the shim.  This process should be done gently.

Step 3) Apply pressure on the shim and tighten the handcuffs by one tooth. You will feel it click into place, but it should now be on top of your shim.

Step 4) Push and jiggle the shim but be careful not to let it back out of the teeth.  You should be able to push the shim forward and then release the cuffs. You have already tightened the cuffs down by one click, so you may only have one shot at this.

Alternative Handcuff Options

In our modern society, many criminals and even some military and police organizations use alternative handcuffs.  These are typically zip ties and duct tape.

The key to breaking loose from these is quick, striking pressure or a sawing motion.duct tape

4. Duct Tape

Step 1) This only works if the duct tape is wrapped tightly around both wrists in front of you.  Also, the edges of the duct tape cannot be rolled over on themselves or wrapped with anything else.  You want to raise your wrists above your head but be careful not to pull on the duct tape yet.

Step 2) You may want to get in a practice run before you actually try to get free.  Practice swinging your wrists down until they meet your waist or abdomen.  Again, be sure the duct tape does not roll.

Step 3) When ready, repeat the motion but drop your wrists as fast as you can this time.  Hit your body hard and pull out to your sides simultaneously.  If you do it right, you should rip through the duct tape.  However, if you don’t get it on the first try to might get it on the second if you don’t roll the edges of the tape.

5. Zip Ties

Step 1) Rotate the square plastic locking mechanism on the zip tie so it is centered between your wrists.zip ties

Step 2) Cinch down the zip tie as tight as you can get it.

Step 3) If you want to weaken the zip tie, you can rub the plastic locking mechanism on a rough surface.  This will make it pop open easier.

Step 4) As was with the duct tape, raise your hands above your head and bring them down striking your body and pulling outwards.  This should pop the lock on the zip ties.

Note: This can work even if one zip tie is used for each wrist or if a third is used in between wrists. You can use a shim to pick the locking mechanism, but it must be narrow enough to fit inside.

6. Saw Method

handcuff and saw

This process is a bit more complicated but can be used with zip ties or with duct tape. 

I suggest that you replace your boot or shoe laces with 550 paracord as it will be stronger than normal shoe laces. 

Pull out one lace and tie a loop for each foot on each end.  Place one loop around your right foot, pull it across your bindings, and then loop the other end over the left foot.  Lie on your back and push back and forth with your feet like you are on a bicycle.  Eventually the friction should eat through the bindings.

Want to Cheat?

If you want an advantage to get out of handcuffs, there are several products you can buy.  I mentioned above that you can purchase handcuff keys. 

You can also keep a lock pick kit with you.  Many of these include a shim and a pick handcuffshandcuff key.  Some are even shaped like a credit card to fit in your wallet. 

There are all kind of nifty tools like this that can be hidden in plain sight.  There are items like pendants and rings that have shims or keys built in.

Want to Practice?

Practice is very important for this type of skill. 

The cheapest way to start on your practice is to use duct tape and zip ties.  Just be sure there is someone around to cut you free if needed. 

I like to let my five year old son bind my wrists and then watch me escape.  He loves it.  For handcuffs you can use a normal set, but you will learn faster with a clear set of tactical training handcuffs. 

handcuff manYou may also want to get a see through padlock with a lock pick set so you can practice working on any type of lock.

Be aware that escaping is not always your best option.

In many cases, trying to escape could provoke your captor.  I suggest that you never try to escape until you are certain you can get free, you know some sort of self-defense, and are fairly certain your captor is going to kill you or a loved one.  It is still an important skill to have.  Even if you never use it, it might be fun to show off to your friends and family.

Learning to pick handcuffs might just save your magic show someday…or your life!

1 thought on “Learn to Pick Handcuffs: 6 Effective Methods Break Free!”

  1. I have one and I get it out every few months and look at the mechanism and try to open it with a paper clip, dental pick, or lock pick. With out seeing the inside of the handcuff, you would not have any idea how it worked. The little piece that the end is used to keep the handcuffs from getting any tighter.


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