How to Unlock Handcuffs: The Different Methods

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Accidentally restrained yourself with a pair of handcuffs, and no keys are in sight?

You might be curious about how it feels to be wearing a pair of handcuffs, consequently ending up playing with one without even thinking that you need a way of unlocking it.

If you get trapped in seemingly unconquerable restraints, your best option is to look for the keys.

But you might as well learn how to unlock handcuffs for situations where there are absolutely no keys.

You can also be a police officer and some criminals used your handcuffs to restrain you.

Being able to escape from handcuffs without the key is an impressive feat since handcuffs are designed to minimize hand and arm movements.

Let me give you possible options for unlocking different types of handcuffs.

How Do You Open Handcuffs?

There are different types of restraints available in the market.

We have disposable plastic restraints, single-lock restraints, and double-lock restraints.

Depending on the type, you might not even need to learn how to get out of handcuffs.

Plastic Restraints

Plastic restraints such as cable ties, FlexiCuffs, or any zip-tie handcuffs are very rigid plastics that are quite hard to break.

There are disposable single-use plastic restraints, and there are the ones having locking mechanisms that require keys.

Unlock With Key or Pick the Lock

You can open the lock on a pair of plastic handcuffs with a standard handcuff key, or you can try to pick the lock if you do not have access to a key.

Use a Cutter

If it is okay to throw the handcuffs away, then find a way to break the plastic straps apart instead of spending so much time trying to pick the lock.

Generally speaking, I was able to cut or break most plastic restraints in the past using a sharp blade, such as the one in a cutter.

Apply Some Heat

You can also use a lighter, a lit candle, or a torch to free yourself from plastic restraints.

Burn through the strap of the zip-cuffs, but be careful not to burn yourself.

If you find yourself abducted and zip-tied to something with a straight edge, you can break the zip-ties apart by applying some friction.

Drag the zip-ties back and forth along the straight edge to generate some heat with friction.

After generating enough heat, the straight edge will eventually break the zip-ties.

Single-Lock Handcuffs

The single-lock mechanism uses a spring-loaded bar that keeps the ratchet arm from opening.

The single-lock mechanism’s major flaws include the handcuff loops’ inability to stop tightening and the ease with which it can be tampered with and opened.

To open a pair of handcuffs with a single-locking mechanism, use its key or pick the lock with a bobby pin bent to form an “S” at the end.

Handcuffs With Double-locking Mechanisms

Manufacturers introduced the double-lock to solve the problem of easy tampering with single-lock handcuffs’ locking mechanism.

The key for a pair of handcuffs with a double-lock mechanism has a blunt pin on its other end for engaging the secondary lock.

The same key that opens the single-lock is also the one that disengages the double-lock.

To disengage the double-lock with the key, turn it opposite the direction for disengaging the single-lock.

Although it takes more time and effort to pick the double-lock, I could ( so can you) unlock it using the same bobby pin I use for the single-lock.

In this guide I explain in detail what types of handcuffs that exists.

Cutting Tools for Metals

Besides unlocking with keys or picking the locks, you can open or break a pair of standard chained or hinged handcuffs.

I suggest using any metal cutting tool such as a metal grinder, a hacksaw, a jigsaw, and an oxy-fuel torch.

Opening a pair of handcuffs with these tools is as dangerous as accidentally severing your whole hand from your arm, so take lots of precautions.

You can also use a crowbar to pry the chains and ratchets off a pair of metal handcuffs.

Just be sure you have enough leverage to avoid the possibility of injuring yourself.

tips how to unlock handcuffs

How to Unlock Handcuffs When You’re Restrained to an Immovable Object

You can move and walk around if you have a pair of handcuffs locked onto your wrists.

That means you can search for the keys virtually anywhere.

But what kind of movement can you achieve if you are handcuffed to an immovable object such as a metal post?

In situations like this, your reach only allows you to access a limited amount of objects you can use to pick the lock.

Can You Pick the Lock on Handcuffs?

You pick the lock not only because you can but also because you have to be rid of those restraints.

If there is even the slightest chance that a perpetrator enters your home, you might end up being restrained against your will.

It would certainly come in handy to learn how to escape handcuffs with nothing but a paper clip or a bobby pin.

Here are the steps I suggest you follow when picking the locks on handcuffs:

Assemble Your Lock Pick

Take out a bobby pin and unbend it halfway to form an “L.”

Tear the plastic covering from the tip of the straight portion and bend the tip in two right angles to form a pointy “S.”

Release the Double-Lock

Check if you are working on a double-lock mechanism by looking for a double-lock pinhole that runs through the handcuffs’ cheek plates.

If you see a bar running perpendicular to the length of the pinhole, the double-lock is not engaged, so you can proceed with picking the single-lock.

But if you only see a hole through and through, it means the double-lock is engaged.

To release the double-lock, insert your pick into the upper cutout (thin portion) of the keyhole with the handle facing opposite the direction of the ratchet arm.

Maneuver the pick under the cheek plates until it releases the double lock from the lock spring.

You will notice how the double-lock takes more effort to disengage than the single-lock.

Pick the Single-Lock

To pick the single lock, insert your pick into the keyhole’s upper cutout until it rests down into the opposite cheek plate’s interior surface.

While pressing down, push and pull the pick towards the direction of the ratchet arm.

The form of the pick and its motion should be imitating how any standard key opens the locks.

Run to Safety

Once you get past how to get out of handcuffs without anything but a bobby pin, get yourself to safety and immediately contact law enforcement.

How Do You Dislocate Your Thumb to Escape Handcuffs?

You might have seen action films showing people breaking their hands and injuring themselves to get out of handcuffs.

For the trivial chance that you get trapped and don’t know how to get out of handcuffs without anything, is it really possible to dislocate your thumb to be free?

Let’s take a look at the science.

The CMC and MCP Joints

The distal bones or phalanges are attached to the metacarpal bones through the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints.

The first carpometacarpal (CMC) joint allows the thumb to move about the trapezium, the carpal bone the thumb’s metacarpal bone is attached to.

Another carpal bone at the trapezium base is the scaphoid, the bone attached to the forearm.

The first CMC joint by the wrist is what stops a pair of handcuffs from sliding off your wrists.

Can You Escape Handcuffs by Dislocating Your Thumb?

I do not think so. If you look at all the components of the MCP and first CMC joints on an x-ray, you will find that dislocating the MCP joint is not enough to lessen the size of your hand to escape handcuffs.

The CMC joint is a saddle joint, which means the only way to dislocate it is by pulling the whole thumb away from the hand with a tremendous brute force.

You have to sever the ligaments, cartilage, and tissues around the first CMC joint to slip your hands off a properly tightened set of handcuffs.

Let’s say that the handcuffs haven’t been tightened enough and only needs to get past the MCP joint.

Dislocating the MCP joint would allow a little movement of the cuffs but only to be blocked by the phalanges.

You will need much pain tolerance if you are to hurt yourself trying to learn how to escape handcuffs with nothing.

Much worse, you wouldn’t gain much from doing it.

Ehler-Danlos Syndrome

Ehler-Danlos Syndrome is a connective tissue disorder causing joint hypermobility, skin hyperextensibility, and tissue fragility.

A person with this disorder can have very flexible skin and joints, allowing hand thickness reduction for escaping handcuffs.


It may sound funny if you just cuffed yourself by accident without knowing how to set yourself free in the first place.

This situation may actually be a good time for you to learn how to pick the locks on a pair of cuffs.

If you know how to get out of handcuffs even before any unlawful detention or abduction, you might just have a chance of escaping your captor.

Learning how to unlock handcuffs only requires a bobby pin and a pair of handcuffs, which you can buy almost anywhere.

Some of us, police officers, have a habit of trying to get out of our handcuffs to prepare ourselves for situations where assailants use their handcuffs on us.

It might be a good time to start practicing on your own.

Interested in learning more about handcuffs? Be sure to check out our article about the different types of handcuffs.

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