Lock Decoding Made Easy With Newest Lishi Tools

Just a couple of years ago, the automotive locksmith world was revolutionized by the introduction of the Lishi 2-in-1 tools. These tools have proven so effective that many of us have begun to wonder how we ever got by without them! And, as so often happens in our industry, the very effectiveness of these tools has spawned a legion of copycats and outright imitations. The “Original Lishi Tools” are only sold through a network of legitimate distributors. If you see them advertised somewhere else, they are probably trying to sell you fake goods. In this article, the only tools that I will be discussing are the legitimate “Original Lishi Tools.”

When I was first learning locksmithing back in the early 1970s, an older locksmith used the term “pick & read” for his method of decoding some locks that couldn’t be taken apart easily. This method involved first picking the lock and then using a magnifying glass and flashlight to look into the keyway to determine the approximate positions of the tumblers in the picked position. I was never very good at this method, but it did work. The problem was that if you had a deep cut near the front of the lock, that tumbler would block your view of the rest of the tumblers. The Lishi 2-in-1 picks work in essentially the same way, but with all of the problems eliminated.

“Original Lishi 2-in-1 tools” are specific for various applications, and allow you to pick the tumblers in the lock individually until the lock turns. Once the lock has turned, the same lever(s) that you used to pick the lock can then be used to decode the tumblers one at a time. Once you understand how to use the tool and get in a little practice, you can pick and decode many automotive locks faster than you can call and get a key code.

But, it’s important to understand that the 2-in-1 picks are not the only tools that Lishi makes. In addition, they produce specialized tools for picking many different high-security lock systems and decoder tools that decode specific locks, without picking them. New tools include a 2-in-1 pick set and a “Direct Read” decoder for certain sidebar ignitions used by GM. A “direct read” decoder takes advantage of the construction method of specific locks to let you decode individual tumblers without having to disassemble the lock, or even remove it.

TOY43R 2-in-1 Pick (B108 / B110 / Isuzu)

This 2-in-1 pick allows you to pick and decode the door locks on the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon Pick-ups, the Hummer H3, and some Isuzu trucks such as the D-Max that are sold outside of North America. The Colorado and Canyon were introduced in the U.S. in 2004 and the Hummer H3 went on sale in the 2006 model year. All of these vehicles use a variation of the Toyota 10-cut system, but only cuts 3 - 10 can be determined from the door lock alone. (If the vehicle is equipped with a tailgate lock, you can determine cuts 5 – 10 from it.) The key blank used on these vehicles is the Ilco B110-P (Strattec 692365), which is the reverse of the Toyota TR-47.

Before the introduction of the Lishi TOY43R 2-in-1 pick, the procedure for generating a key usually involved removing the tailgate lock (if equipped), disassembling it and the decoding it. Then cuts 3 and 4 could then be determined in the door by progression. After a working door key was made, cuts 1 and 2 could be determined by progression in the ignition. Even though all of the tumblers in both the door and tailgate locks are stamped with the depths, the decoding process was complicated by the fact that the numbers are stamped in the reverse order from most locks. A tumbler with a number four depth is stamped “1” and the tumblers with the number one depth are stamped “4.”

With the Lishi TOY43R, you can decode the door lock without having to remove it from the door, and then progress the remaining two cuts in the ignition. If you use a code program with a “fill” function, you can usually narrow the possibilities down to three to five possibilities that can normally be cut on two key blanks or less.

The biggest complaint about the Lishi tools is that they don’t come with instructions. While that is true, most picks don’t include instructions either. But to deal with this, Lishi has made available a wealth of videos on their website and some distributors such as Lockmasters, Inc. include an instructional DVD with each 2-in-1 tool. Once you learn to use one of the 2-in-1 picks, you will generally not have any trouble using any of the others. Using the TOY43R was not particularly difficult, and I was generally able to pick and decode the door locks in less than 10 minutes, often in less than five minutes!

Using any of the Lishi 2-in-1 picks requires a light touch and a degree of patience. The basic procedure to pick the lock is as follows:

  • Make sure that the lock is clean, well lubricated and in working order.
  • Insert the tool fully into the lock before applying any turning force to the tool.
  • Using the probe(s), determine the placement of the tumblers inside the lock. (Generally, the even-numbered cuts will be located on one side of the lock and the odd numbered cuts will be found on the opposite side of the keyway.)
  • Once you know where each tumbler is located, apply light turning force to the tool by way of the built-in hinged turning lever.
  • Place one of the probes against one of the tumblers and apply light pressure. If the tumbler moves and feels “springy,” move on to another tumbler. If the tumbler feels solid, apply increasing pressure until the tumbler clicks and becomes springy. (Caution: do not apply excessive pressure – if the tumbler is already in the picked position, it will not move and too much pressure will damage the tool. This is where the practice comes in.)
  • Continue on to the next tumbler and repeat the above procedure (step 5).
  • Keep this up until you have checked all of the tumblers, then go back to any of the “springy” tumblers that you skipped over earlier. Some or all of those tumblers should now feel solid, so repeat step number 5 with each of these.
  • You may have to go back and re-check the tumblers several times, but eventually the lock should turn; then you are ready to decode the lock.


Decoding the Lock

After the lock is turned, all of the tumblers should be in exactly the same positions that they would be in if a key had been used to turn the lock. This is the huge advantage that the 2-in-1 picksets have over decoders that attempt to decode the lock without turning it. By measuring the positions of the tumblers in the turned position, the 2-in-1 tools give you an exact reading that won’t be affected by small imperfections in the manufacturing of the lock or locks made by different manufacturers.

Begin with whichever tumbler you like and place the probe against that tumbler. Apply light pressure to the probe and then note the reading on the scale that is etched into the body of the tool. Make a record of that reading and then move on to the next tumbler and repeat the procedure. Once you have decoded each tumbler, you should be able to cut a key that will operate the lock perfectly.

Wear is always a factor when you decode any lock in this manner, but most of the wear will be confined to the first few tumblers. If you get a reading that seems to be between two depths, cut the key to the shallower of the depths. Worn tumblers will usually read deeper than a non-worn tumbler. In addition, if you make a mistake you can always re-cut the key deeper.


Lishi GM-B107 Direct Read Decoder

This decoder is specifically made to decode the Huf manufactured sidebar ignition locks used on some of the 2008 and up Cadillac CTS models. I grew up believing that sidebar locks simply could not be decoded unless you either applied pressure to the sidebar and picked them, or disassembled them. This was because almost all my early experiences with sidebar locks were with GM 6-cut locks. Those sidebar locks could not be decoded in the “rest” position because all of the tumblers in the lock are identical except for the placement of the “V-notch” that the sidebar drops into when the correct key is inserted.

But today, not all sidebar locks are made that way. Some manufacturers such as Huf, have chosen to vary the positions of the hole through the tumbler and keep the V-notches in the same position for each tumbler. Other manufacturers, like Strattec, build their sidebar lock tumblers with the holes in the tumblers all in the same position, and varying the positions of the V-notches. If the holes through the tumblers are in different positions, then the lock can be decoded in the rest position. Some of the Cadillac CTS models, manufactured from the 2008 model year and up, use an OEM ignition lock that is built in that fashion. (Many CTS models use a proximity fob and have a knob mounted where the ignition lock would normally be.)

Unfortunately, there are also non-sidebar versions of the lock being used as replacement locks. You must determine which lock you are servicing. Look into the ignition lock itself. If the lock has a shutter extending across the center of the keyway, then you are dealing with the sidebar lock. If the lock has no shutter across the keyway, then you are dealing with a non-sidebar lock. For this article, the only replacement lock that I could locate at any Cadillac dealer was of the non-sidebar variety.

The use of the Lishi GM-B107 direct read decoder tool is very simple. Once the tool is fully inserted into the lock, use the probe to locate the individual tumblers. Even-numbered tumblers will be on one side of the keyway and odd-numbered tumblers will be on the opposite side of the keyway. Apply pressure to the probe (no turning force is needed on the lock) and the pointer will tell you the depth of that particular tumbler. Move on to the next tumbler and repeat the process until you have completely decoded one side of the lock. Remove the tool and reverse it so that the probe points toward the other side of the key, and then re-insert the tool. Repeat the same steps on this side of the lock to finish decoding the lock. The tool only covers cuts 3 – 10 because those are the tumblers that are used in the ignition lock. After you have generated a key that will turn the ignition, you can then progress cuts 1 and 2 in the door lock.