When I think of lock picking, SouthOrd is the brand that immediately springs to mind. A few days ago I scribbled about a lock pick adventure on Survival Threads and decided to test out the waters and do a review of my favourite (thus so far) lock picking set, the SouthOrd PXS-14. I understand that lock picking isn’t everyone’s cup of Joe so please let me know in the comments if I should continue with lockpicking articles and reviews. If you guys dig it, I will do a whole series on my personal experiences and techniques.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of this review, I am proud to say that all the photographs in this review where taken by me. Usually my better half (Elise) takes all the photographs, but seeing as this requires more macro shots than normal, I decided to take the initiative and give my poor wife a break from all this photography stuff. But don’t worry, all knife reviews will still be photographed by a camera in her significantly more capable hands so no need to panic, folks!
I first dipped my toes into lockpicking as a kid. I imagine what prompted me to experiment was the same for many of you – spy movies. I loved watching a guy in a tux whip out some paperclips and waltz his way into a secured area like a boss. My first attempts ended in relative failure. I was very heavy handed with the tension (as many beginners are) and basically manhandled the pins to the point that my grandmother actually had to replace the lock on her front door. To this day, she still brings it up (I’m sorry!).
I am adding this as a cautionary tale. Lock picking is a fun, rewarding hobby with a bad reputation, so please be responsible and mess with locks that:
- You have permission to pick.
- You do not depend on for your home security. And finally,
- In the event that you do mess up that lock’s core – make sure that you don’t need to bypass it to access your home or another important area.
Buy a cheap padlock or go into your local locksmith store and ask for snapped cylinders or anything else they might have around to practice. You may get them for free, or at worst, for a few bucks. This is infinitely better than having to explain to your family that we can’t get into the house today because daddy wanted to channel his inner James Bond.
The SouthOrd PXS-14 is what I would define as a “full” kit for beginners. It doesn’t have a crazy amount of tools (and it’s missing specialty picks for dimple locks, amongst others), but what it does have is a solid foundation to learn lockpicking and deal with the majority of locks you will encounter in day to day life. It’s well made, durable (more on this later) and in my opinion features all the high quality tools you need at a price that is extremely reasonable – especially compared to other brands like Sparrows.
Construction is all stainless steel. Nicely machined with what I would consider a universal stock thickness. It’s not the thickest and it’s not the thinnest, but it will fit into the majority of key ways – even paracentric European cylinders that can give you a lot of trouble. The finish is significantly better than the Chinese garbage you can find at flea markets and on eBay, and I would consider this kit to be ready to rock out of the box. I personally would advise a smidgen of work with a high grit stone, but it’s ultimately optional.
The kit is comprised of 9 picks, a broken key extractor, 4 tension wrenches and a sexy leather zip up case. The picks are as follows (in order of the photograph above):
- Standard half ball/half moon
- Single ball
Again, no issues. Although to be honest I very rarely use it.
- City rake/L rake
I feel the peaks are a smidgen too tall and I imagine I will file them down a touch in the future. Works like a charm for Master branded padlocks.
- W rake (SouthOrd calls it the S rake for some reason)
This will be the first pick you break; very fine at the section where the W meets the supporting handle.
- Snake rake (SouthOrd calls this the C-Rake; I quite understood why they came up with these naming conventions, but hey)
Probably my favourite rake and definitely the one I use the most. Very deft as it can snake its way inside most key ways and the results are often shocking. I have raked cylinders with security pins with this bad boy!
- Key extractor
It works and unlike the Chinese garbage, is decently sharp enough to catch those broken picks easily. Nicely tapered, too.
- Short hook/Standard hook
Nicely finished. I personally will file it down a touch, but that’s a European consideration (much narrower keyways). For Americans, it’s called the standard hook for a reason! This pick will be your bread and butter. It would be nice if all locks could be coaxed open with a rake, but single pin picking is the option that will always work – even if it’s harder.
- Long hook
Hardly ever use it, but it’s nice to have.
- Half diamond
I love the half diamond, but I will make mine more acute with a cleanly defined “peak”. Out of the box it’s a bit too rounded for my tastes. And finally –
- Double ended mutated half diamond + quasi w rake
The mutated half diamond needs some work with the files and the quasi w rake is far more reinforced than the previous W rake. Viable as a single tool for a lot of locks and well made. I would recommend rounding off the edges of the handle as it is a touch sharp.
The tension wrenches:
- 2 x standard tension tools
Very sturdy and well made. They will be your go to option.
- Thinner/more flexible version of the tension tool above
I rarely use it.
- Same as the first standard tension tool, but with a twist in the neck for added “spring”
I never understood the appeal as I find it reduces feedback, but to each his own.
9 of the tools come with a super nice soft (almost rubbery), heavily texture plastic grip that you have to attach yourself. I love these grip handles and I would recommend them over all other options. They are very comfortable to use for prolonged picking sessions and the feedback is solid (obviously not as good as if you left the handles naked).
Some other people make a big deal out of slipping those handles on, but honestly it was a breeze. Put some warm soapy water onto the pick handles and push them in.
You can use the picks naked/without handles, but for the sake of your fingers, I would advise against it!
The end result is a lovely tactile surface that won’t ever get loose (seriously, try to take them off!). They offer superior ergonomics and comfort. Very nicely tapered too!
Alright now let’s break down the performance.
SouthOrd advertises this set as being able to open the bulk of locks on the market including car locks. In my experience, I would agree with this assessment. Obviously this is an American company so they are biased towards American keyways, but with that said, they did handle European locks, too (more on this later). Below you will see what I think is the best beginner padlock. It’s a decently difficult Master 150, which has 2 spool pins. They can be a touch tricky and this lock will teach you about counter rotational force and how to identify what the pins are doing using feedback alone.
Standard pin locks are just too easy in my experience. Good for the first day of lock picking, but you won’t advance by doing the easy stuff.
As a side note, I had to “stage” the photographs as I was the one taking the shot – only have 2 hands, sadly.
Next up we have a Maxus lock, European cylinder so access was a touch restricted, but the short hook worked its way in at an angle. No issues.
By the way, I recommend buying a vise, makes lockpicking so much easier. This is the one I’ve got.
And finally, I tested it on the Arrow cylinder from hell – very tight key way with horrible ledges/warding and little to no room to manoeuvre. Did I mention that this lock has 7 pins of which 4 are security pins? Yeah. It’s designed to drive you crazy.
This one I have not been able to pick (yet), but I was able to uncomfortably push all 7 pins with the short hook, so I would say this is a solid stamp of approval for the SouthOrd, as this is the meanest cylinder in my collection.
I would describe this lockpick set as a jack of all trades. It’s versatile, but more importantly, it is very durable. Cheap eBay picks break easily, and for beginners who tend to over-torque their picks, I think the SouthOrd Standard/PXS-14 set is the sort of tool that will grow with you without breaking as you learn to use a lighter touch and become more comfortable locating pins by feel.
The case, by the way, is gorgeous. A lot of people tend to gloss over that fact, but aesthetically it’s a solid 10/10 for me. Soft leather with a single YKK zip and that great gold branding. Reminds me of the lockpick set used in Gone in sixty seconds. I should mention that the picks are loose in the case with only a lil’ sleeve for the torsion tools, but I am okay with that. Plenty of room inside (I can add maybe 3-4 other picks without issue) and it’s a convenient way to travel (discreetly) with your picks.
In my opinion the SouthOrd PXS-14 is the standard for a reason. Its pick selection is sensible and the design is well thought out for both beginners and professionals alike. I would love a Sparrows kit (maybe one day!), but I do not feel “under gunned” with the SouthOrd. I wish SouthOrd included a top of the keyway tension tool out of the box, but taking into account the low entry cost, this is a reasonable compromise.
Frankly I have nothing bad to say. Sure you maybe have to do a smidgen of polishing for optimal performance, but I can say that about all lockpicks I have handled. Picks by their very nature are quasi disposable, and companies are rarely inclined to spend too much time on the finish. Trust me though, compared to the eBay junk from China – this SouthOrd is leagues and leagues ahead.