Hopefully, you will never find yourself in a situation where you need to extricate yourself from a pair of handcuffs.
Of course — we’re not advocating escaping from law enforcement. But, what would you do if you ever found yourself chained to a radiator by a kidnapper? Or, on a less serious note, want to impress your friends with a party trick or avoid an awkward call to hotel room service because the man you’re dating wanted to play “good cop/bad cop” and forgot the key?
My name is Catherine Townsend, and I’m a licensed private investigator who has been in her share of crazy situations, both socially and professionally.
For ID’s latest “DIY CSI” video, I demonstrate a few different ways to get out of handcuffs.
First, a bit of handcuff history: Since the beginning of time, people have been looking for ways to restrain other people. In olden times, they used human and animal hair. Bindings were even mentioned in Greek mythology.
In 1862, handcuffs got a major boost when W. V. Adams patented the first adjustable ratchet design. In 1912, George Carney changed the game again when he invented the “swinging bow ratchet” cuff design, which is the model that many of us are familiar with today. These cuffs made it possible for law-enforcement officers to quickly secure them with just one hand, which made them much easier to use.
But that also means that most handcuffs today can be opened with the same style of key — so one option is to carry a universal handcuff key in your bag. This is a a simple solution, and it’s worked on every model of handcuff I have tried.
In the video I show a handcuff key that doubles as a keychain, but you can also also buy tiny ones that hook onto a hiking boot or are part of Swiss army knives. But if you don’t have a keychain — or can’t get to it — I’m going to demonstrate a cheap, quick, and easy way to get out of handcuffs using a hair barrette.
The ones I use are basic brown metal barrettes that you can pick up for a few dollars at most drugstores.For this escape, we are basically creating a “shim” from the barrette’s two thin pieces of steel.
First, we bend the barrette so that the two pieces are at an (approximate) 90 degree angle. We will slide one end inside the handcuff toward the cuff’s direction of travel, and use the other to maintain a grip on the shim, and also to create tension.
Once the barrette has been inserted and is resting under the handcuff housing, add tension and press the pick towards the cuff’s direction of travel. Then push it in while sliding the bow a couple of clicks further into the cuff. This motion will re-create the key’s raised area pressing against the locking mechanism and release the cuff.
But caution: Don’t go too far! You don’t want to make the cuffs too tight.
Now, when you pull the cuff out, you should feel the teeth slide past the track you have created with the smooth surface of the shim, and the cuff should open. If it doesn’t open all the way, you may need to repeat this step a few more times. As with any escape hack, this technique requires patience and practice.
The first time I tried it, it took me about 15 minutes — but now, using Smith & Wesson security handcuffs, I can usually escape in less than 90 seconds.
But what if the cuffs are double locked? I’ll cover picking a double lock in a future video!
Main photo: Catherine Townsend demonstrating how to get out of handcuffs [Investigation Discovery]