Lishi: The Right Pick for Automotive Locksmiths

March 21, 2022
The 2-in-1 tools make jobs easier, and they just keep getting better.

I first encountered Lishi 2-in-1 tools at a trade show sometime around 2007 when I worked for Lockmasters. About a half-hour before the show opened, I was shown an assortment of new-at-that-time Lishi 2-in-1 tools and told I’d be demonstrating them during the show. I was more than a little surprised, because I never had heard of them before that moment. With only the vaguest notion of how they were supposed to be used, I started trying to pick a Ford door lock with one.

Surprisingly, I was able to pick it in short order. Soon, I got the feel for picking that particular lock and moved on to General Motors 10-cut and Chrysler eight-cut locks. As the day went on, I practiced and demonstrated what I had learned until I could pick any of the locks that we had in the display. During the show, I spoke with people who had more experience and slowly learned the “correct” technique for using the tools. By day’s end, I felt pretty good about my abilities with these cool new tools.

The next morning, things got off to a slow start, as they usually do on Sundays. In looking at the picks that I had to play with, I discovered that one was for four-track Honda locks (Image 1), and we also had a Honda ignition lock. Rushing in where angels fear to tread, I decided to see whether I could pick it.

When it first picked, the lock turned only a few degrees, stopped and wouldn’t turn back. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that some of the split tumblers had dropped into the wrong slot, and I decided that I’d have to pick them free to finish picking the lock or turn it back to the key-pull position. I chose to pick it in the original direction and soon had it picked completely. I then practiced decoding the lock and wrote the cuts that I read. When I tried to turn it back to the original position, the split tumblers once again dropped into the wrong slot, but I was expecting that. After I picked it one more time back to the key-pull position, I could remove the pick and, more important, insert the working key into the lock without damaging the lock.

Sadly, the cuts that I came up with were close but not exact. With practice, I learned how to decode that lock correctly. For the rest of the day, I amazed other locksmiths by picking and decoding a four-track Honda ignition! That was a huge ego boost, and I left that show with a selection of Lishi 2-in-1 tools for the most common locks.

When I found myself out in the field again having to earn a living from my skills, the Lishi 2-in-1 tools made it a lot easier than it might have been. I own 42 different Lishi 2-in-1 tools. (Image 2) As far as I’m concerned, my Lishi tools are as important to my business as my van or my key machine.

The Lishi 2-in-1 tools have pretty much eliminated the necessity to pull door panels, and I rarely use a car-opening tool. Picking locks to unlock a car is a lot of fun, particularly when I see damaged doors from the attempts of others.

A 2-in-1 Primer

Now that you know how much I love my Lishi tools, let me describe what they are and how they work, just in case you never used one. Original Lishi makes a variety of tools, and not all of them are 2-in-1 tools, but for the purpose of this article, please assume that I’m talking about only the 2-in-1 tools when I say “Lishi tool.” These tools are designed to operate on a specific keyway, and the part number of the tool typically reflects that keyway. For instance, the HU101 tool is designed to work on locks that use the HU101 keyway. This would include modern Ford and Lincoln vehicles, Jaguar, Land Rover and a few others. So, you must have the correct Lishi tool for each vehicle that you plan to use it on.

A few years ago, I got trapped into making a key to an older Mitsubishi for a friend, and when I discovered that I didn’t have the proper Lishi tool, I spent a miserable couple of hours fighting a door panel and one horribly positioned bolt on a rainy day when the temperature was just above freezing. The first thing I did after that job was to order the correct Lishi tool. I made keys to a similar vehicle a few weeks ago, and I was done in 10–15 minutes.

The hinged panel on any Lishi tool is used to provide turning force to the lock during the picking process.Just as with conventional picking tools, applying turning force to the lock is as important, and maybe more important, than manipulating the tumblers. After the turning force has been applied, the Lishi’s two levers are used to manipulate the individual tumblers in the lock until the lock is picked. As with traditional lock picks, using the correct amount of turning force and varying the amount of force on the lock has a great deal to do with how successful you are at picking the lock.

After the lock has been picked, the two levers are used to decode the lock by way of the scale on the side of the main body of the tool. (Image 4). The scale shows the spacing and the depths for all eight wafer positions. If you’re familiar with the Ford eight-cut door and trunk locks, you know that they almost always use only six cuts. The tumblers might be in positions 1–6, 2–7 or 3–8, but this one tool will handle all three options, and you quickly will discover the actual bitting of the lock after you begin to pick it.

The even-numbered tumblers are indicated on one side of the scale, and the odd-numbered cuts are indicated on the opposite side. When you place the tip of the probe lever on one tumbler and move it until it comes to a firm stop, the pointer will show the depth of that tumbler. After you record the depth, move on to the next until you decode the depths for all the lock’s tumblers. If you then cut a key to the depths that you read, you should have a working key for the lock that you worked on.

In the Real World

The above description applies to a new lock in perfect working order that has no wear. Unfortunately, you seldom, if ever, will encounter that in the real world. On newer vehicles, door locks won’t have much wear, because people rely on the remotes, but the lube, typically a type of grease, gets hard, because the lock is used seldom. This interferes with picking the lock. On older vehicles, the locks might have a lot of wear, but a lock on the passenger door might have little wear. In almost every case, you have to take some steps before you can pick and decode the lock.

When I arrive on a job where I’ll use a Lishi tool to generate a new key, I get out of the truck with four items:

  • The correct Lishi 2-in-1 tool
  • A can of spray solvent, typically CRC QD Contact Cleaner
  • A Post-It note
  • A square of foam for a kneepad

I put the foam on the ground to protect my elderly knees and stick the note on the window. Then, I spray the solvent into the lock and insert the Lishi tool. After I get settled, I begin the process of picking the lock. After the lock is picked, I decode it and write the cuts on the sticky note.

In the real world, the decoding is often the difficult part, particularly with locks that are sloppy, such as GM Z-Keyway locks. It’s common to get a “mushy” reading, where you feel the contact, but the pointer might move a full depth before it comes to a complete stop. When I hit one of those, I write the depth where the pointer stopped as my reading but then add the point where the tool made contact under that depth.

If I get a lot of “mushy” readings, I’ll make my best guess, pick the lock in the opposite direction and decode it again. That often sorts things out but not always. If I get a reading that’s halfway between two depths on the first cut in the lock, I write the shallower depth, because the first tumbler gets the most wear, and a worn tumbler reads deeper than it should be.

After I decide on the cuts, I run them through the “Fill” function of my code program to come up with a progression for any missing cuts. I use Genericode, but most code systems have a “Fill” function to fill in any missing cuts. If I don’t get any legitimate codes from what I’ve entered, it’s time to start playing with alternate cuts until I figure it out.

But, because there’s always an exception, that doesn’t always apply on GM Z-Keyway locks. Those things are extremely crude, mostly because of the warding and the poor grade of pot-metal used to construct the lock. If I don’t get any hits on legitimate codes, I just cut what I’ve read and do a little impressioning.

Picking the Lock

One of the coolest things about Lishi 2-in-1 tools is that they all work the same way. After you master picking with one pick, you can transfer that knowledge to essentially any lock system. The basic technique is the same regardless of whether you pick a Ford eight-cut lock that has six tumblers, a Ford HU100 “high security” side-milled lock that has 10 tumblers or a Honda four-track lock that has 12 tumblers.

Basically, you first clean the lock with spray solvent. Carefully insert the tool into the lock so after you pick the lock, the scale will point up to make the decoding easier. Locate each tumbler and make sure it moves when you use the probe and apply turning force to the lock in the direction that you want to pick the lock. Follow the steps below, over and over, until the lock picks.

  • Check a tumbler with the probe and determine whether it’s “springy” or rigid.
  •  If the tumbler is springy, move to the next tumbler.
  • If the tumbler is rigid, push it until it “clicks” and becomes springy. (You might have to vary the turning force slightly, but DO NOT use excessive force to move the tumbler. If it won’t move, skip it and come back to it later.)
  • Move to the next tumbler and repeat the above process until the lock picks
  • If you get to a point where you believe you aren’t making progress, release the turning force and start over.

Remember that every time you release the turning force on the lock, you’re starting over. You’ll learn by practicing how much turning force to use and how to vary the force as you manipulate the tumblers. Also, as you work your way through the tumblers, you might learn that a particular lock has a “picking order.” You can use that knowledge on successive attempts. I normally begin by working my way down one side of the lock and then the other.

These steps might sound simplistic, but that really is all that there is to it. Practice allows you to develop a “feel” for the process, and in time, you’ll pick and decode locks easily. When I interviewed people who wanted to become a locksmith, the first question I always asked was, “Do you like to work puzzles? I believed then, as I do today, that a person who doesn’t like to work puzzles never will be a good locksmith. The patience required for working complex puzzles is a requirement for many locksmith jobs, and using Lishi tools is a perfect example of that.

Steve Young has been a locksmith since 1973 and has trained and taught locksmiths since 1988. He is a frequent contributor to Locksmith Ledger.