How To Pick A Filing Cabinet Lock (5 Expert Methods)

You can pick your way into any filing cabinet in minutes with the right tools and a little practice.

The first step in picking a lock is to identify which type of lock it is. Once you do this, finding the right tools for the job will be much easier.

Filing cabinet locks come in three types: pin tumbler, wafer, and tubular. Pin tumbler locks are common and relatively easy to open with a single tool – like a bobby pin. Wafer locks are more difficult, with more precision needed to open them effectively without damaging them. The third type of lock, tubular locks, is also difficult but much easier than wafer locks because they use individual pins instead of disks that rotate around an axis.

Let’s get into our methods below.

picking cabinet file lock

#1. Use Bump Keys

You can visit a hardware store and purchase a set of bump keys. Bump keys are like “skeleton keys,” which means you can use them on any lock. (1)

When you have the set of bump keys, look for the key closest to the filling cabinet’s lock. Please insert it into the lock and try to open it by bumping and tilting the key around. Do not apply too much force because you might end up breaking the keyhole. Please remember that it is not 100% effective, so don’t expect it to work every time.

#2. How to pick a Lock with Paperclips

This is the simplest way to try opening a file cabinet. You will be using paperclips which you can commonly find in your office. To do this effectively, you will need pliers to bend the paperclip.


Step 1: Straighten one of the paperclip’s ends while leaving the other bent.

Step 2: Insert the curled tip of the paperclip into the lock’s keyhole. Ensure that you insert the paperclip vertically so that the bent end can push down the lock pins inside.

Step 3: Slowly and gently move the paperclip from left to right to open the lock and find the right way to push down the pins.

Step 4: Remove the paperclip gently after unlocking the cabinet, be careful not to move the pins inside.

Step 5: Open your cabinet and keep it unlocked until you find a new key.

Check the video below;

#3. How to Pick a File Cabinet Using a Nail Clipper

If you failed to open your file cabinet with paper clips, you can take your nail clipper and try it out too. It should have a curved tip as your lockpicking device.

How to do it:

Step 1: Use a small, slim nail clipper file with a curved tip.

Step 2: Place the nail clipper file into the bottom side of the keyhole. Push it as far as possible. Feel the pins inside the lock using the curved edge of the nail clipper file.

Step 3: Find the perfect fit into the pins by slowly moving from left to right. These might take some time, but the file should easily slide in and out of the lock once you find the right spot.

Step 4: Gently move the file up and down to unlock the cabinet. Most file cabinets contain five locking pins that must be pushed down to open the file cabinet.

Step 5: Once you position the file into the unlocked point, usually, you will hear the lock collapse.

Check the video below;

#4. Please bring it to the Manufacturer

You can also request a new key from the Manufacturer of your filing cabinet. Take note of the cabinet model and the lock cylinder number before you contact the Manufacturer, so they can check if they can send a duplicate key. (2)

Do not be surprised if the Manufacturer asks for proof that you are the owner of the filing cabinet. You can prepare documents like the original invoice from the purchase if you have them. This method may take time. If you are in a hurry, this is not the best way for you. However, I highly recommend this method.

#5. Hiring a Locksmith

Locksmiths are trained to open locked file cabinets without damaging the cabinet’s structure. They have special tools that help them open locked cabinets quickly and easily.

Contacting a locksmith is an effective and easy way to open your locked filing cabinet. But this might not be too budget savvy. Locksmiths usually charge a high rate to unlock locked cabinets. These rates can increase further depending on your urgency and the complexity of your cabinet.

#6. Use a Lockpick Set

A great way to pick a filing cabinet lock is to use a lock pick set. A lock pick set will help you identify the pins in the lock and how they line up. They also come with wire which helps you unlock the pins without damaging them. The wire can be inserted into the lock and then around the pin to force it back into place.

Picking locks is not as difficult as it might seem at first glance. You can easily learn how to pick a filing cabinet lock with simple tools and patience!

Guiding you through the lockpicking process would involve an article on its own that’s why we have left it to last as on.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

  • Not putting too much force into picking your cabinet lock is crucial. Forcing it may not help. Otherwise, you might permanently damage your cabinet’s lock mechanism.
  • If you own a cabinet, you must keep the papers, such as the original invoice from the purchase and other documents. These will serve as your proof as to the owner of the cabinet. In this way, you can quickly contact the Manufacturer just in case you lose your cabinet key.
  • Usually, you can find lock pick sets in hardware stores. These could be a safe alternative if you are unsure about the paperclip and the nail-clipper file methods. Typically, you will find directions when you buy lock pick sets.
  • Let a professional handle it if your cabinet uses magnetic cabinet locks. Magnetic cabinet lock is more user-friendly and provides better security. These types of methods might not be effective with these kinds of locks.

Wrapping Up

Here you have it: how to pick your locked filing cabinet. Remember that these methods are not 100% guaranteed to unlock your filing cabinet. There is also a possibility that you might clog the lock even more. An excellent DIY skill could help you achieve opening them.

In an urgent situation, it is a good idea to contact the Manufacturer and request a new key. You can also hire a locksmith if you have spare money. However, if you don’t want to keep the filing cabinet, you can break the drawer open. Simple things may come in handy.

(1) skeleton keys –
(2) duplicate key –

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