How to Pick an Old Trunk Lock in No Time (Pin-Tumbler And Skeletal Both)

Key Takeaway

  • To pick an old chest lock, identify what type of lock it is before attempting to pick it.
  • Pin tumbler locks require special tools such as a tension wrench and picking tool, while warded locks or skeleton locks can usually be opened with the help of two Allen wrenches. 
  • If the lock is rusted, use graphite powder or WD-40 to lubricate it before attempting to pick it.

An old wooden chest with a mysterious iron lock keeping its secrets tightly contained had been sitting in the attic of my family home for generations. The box had become a bit of a legend in the family, whispered about as each new generation wondered what might be inside. 

It was up to me as the lockpicking enthusiast member of the family to find out – if they could just find a way to open it without a key. Fortunately, I had some knowledge so with a few simple steps and the right tools, I could open the chest lock without a key.

If you’ve ever wanted to know how to pick an old trunk lock, then you’ve come to the right place! In this blog post, we will discuss the various methods of picking an old trunk lock and provide you with some helpful tips and tricks. So let’s get started!

Types of Locks On An Old Chest

When it comes to how to pick a steamer trunk lock or an old chest lock, the first step is to take a good look at the lock and determine what type it is. 

There are two main types of locks that you may find on an old trunk: pin tumbler locks and skeleton locks. 

Pin tumbler locks are by far the most common type of lock found on chests. It is usually round in shape and may have a keyhole in the center. Pin tumbler locks are a type of mechanical lock that have been used since ancient times. They  contain a cylindrical key and a plug, which both contain pins of various lengths. The pins on the plug fit into the cut-outs on the key, and when these pins align with the cylinder, the lock is unlocked.

Pin tumbler locks

A skeleton key lock utilizes a unique, specialized key, with a distinctive skeletal-like design that is cut to its greatest possible depth. When inserted into the keyhole of the lock, the lever mechanism inside is pushed down by the key and adjusted to the correct alignment in order to open the lock.

skeleton key lock

In order to determine which type of lock you have, you will need to take a closer look at it. Pay attention to the size, shape, and any other details that can help you identify the type of lock it is. 

Once you know what kind of lock you are dealing with, you can move on to the next step of learning how to pick it.

How To Open An Old Chest With Pin Tumbler Lock

How To Open An Old Chest With Pin Tumbler Lock

Pin tumbler locks, also known as cylinder locks, are commonly found on old trunks and chests. They require a key to open, but if you don’t have one, there is a way to open the lock without a key. You’ll need a tension wrench and a rake. 

  • Step 1: To begin, insert the tension wrench into the keyhole.
  • Step 2: Next, turn it slightly so it applies tension to the pins inside. 
  • Step 3: Next, take one of the picks and begin gently pushing pins one at a time to see which are stuck and which move freely. 
  • Step 4: Then insert the rake into the keyhole and apply a sawing motion with the rake to push the pins one at a time to see which are stuck and which move freely. 
  • Step 5: When you find the pins that move freely, lift each of them up one at a time with the pick until they click into place. 
  • Step 6: After all the pins have been moved, the tension wrench will rotate, indicating the lock is open.

How To Pick An Old Chest With Skeleton Lock

How To Pick An Old Chest With Skeleton Lock

Picking an old chest lock with a skeleton key is a fairly easy task. To do this, you will need to acquire two Allen wrenches that are sized similar to the keyhole of the skeleton key lock (typically a 3/32-inch Allen wrench). To read about the skeleton locks in detail, refer to one of my past articles.

The following instruction should help you open any old trunk lock, including those on a steamer trunk or other antique chest.

  • Step 1: Place the first Allen wrench in the keyhole and wiggle it upward to locate the lock’s lever or ward. 
  • Step 2: Once you’ve identified the lever, engage it with the first Allen wrench and work to maintain its alignment. 
  • Step 3: Place the second Allen wrench after the lever has been engaged to hold it in place. 
  • Step 4: Rotate the second Allen wrench clockwise while holding both of the other wrenches in place to open the lock.

Frequently Asked Question

Q1. How to pick an antique trunk lock that is rusted?

Answer – Begin by examining the lock for any signs of wear and tear, as this can indicate what type of lock it is. Once you have identified the type of lock, if the lock is rusted, try lubricating the lock with graphite powder or WD-40 to make it easier to pick. Next, use the proper tools to manipulate the pins inside the lock until it opens.

Q2. Are pin-tumbler locks more secure than skeleton locks?

Answer – Pin and tumbler locks are often seen as more secure than skeleton locks. This is because skeleton locks can be opened using simple tools like paper clips and knives and are usually not very hard to pick. On the other hand, pin and tumbler locks provide greater protection since they use a cylinder that must be rotated and manipulated in order to unlock the mechanism.


Picking a lock on an old chest or trunk may seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and knowledge, you can easily open any lock. Start by understanding the types of locks commonly used on chests, then learn how to open them. Whether it is a pin tumbler lock or a skeleton lock, understanding how each type of lock works can make the process of opening the trunk much easier. It is important to take your time and follow the instructions carefully. If done correctly, you will have your steamer trunk or old chest open in no time.

I hope the instructions given in the article helped you open your chest lock easily. Please share your experience with me in the comment section.

Leave a Comment

Hey! I am Mark. Though I am not a locksmith by profession, but locks have always fascinated me since my teens. And it all started when I got locked out of my house and I had to pick the lock. Since then it has become my hobby to learn more about different kinds of locks, understand their working and methods to pick them up. In due course of time, I have also become better aware of how installing the right lock goes a long way in ensuring iron clad security. I aim to share my passion (about locks) through this blog. If you are also passionate about picking locks or are just looking to beef up the security, hop on the ride.