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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Escaping Handcuffs - Information for Writers


Handcuffs Clejuso 12 made from stainless steel.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
DISCLAIMER - This is a non-political site that is geared to help writers write it right. I am presenting information to help develop fictional characters and fictional scenes. In no way am I advocating any position or personal decision.
Remember it is always best to get your heroine free as soon as possible. Escape becomes more and more difficult the longer she is left in a captive capacity from a strategic, physical, and psychological standpoint. (Also makes for a slow plot line).

Technique 1 - Breaking the Cuff 

To be used if the heroine has no tools either in her EDC kit or homemade.

Your heroine CAN use this technique. She would be
using torque to produce the pressure required,
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
not upper body strength. This works if handcuffed in the front and the back. Obviously anything in front is easier, simply because there is more room to move the arms around. It all depends on how difficult you wanted to make things for her. (This technique is from Kelly Alwood, SERE Instructor)

NOTE: If you are mentioning the brand of handcuff for some reason, there is a difference in how they will break and the difficulty factor. For ease of writing, I would suggest a higher quality cuff.

* In high quality handcuffs, the Rockwell Hardness of
   the steel makes them fragile and brittle. They will
   sheer at the line.
* Low quality hancuffs the steel is so mild that the
   heroine will have to get a break in the link, thus
   making them more difficult to break.

The Technique:

1. Rough up the metal
   * Dirt will help absorb the oil and help get the
     chains to bind up.
   * Any kind of surface that roughs up the links to make them less slippery and help them to bind up.
2. At the rotation pin, the heroine will want to stuff these holes on either side with anything she can get in
    there to help lock up the chains
3. Leaving her non-dominant hand still, the chains will droop downward.
4. Rotate the chains until they lock up.
   * In the front presentation, she would do a visual check to make sure that she has not caught two links
      across one (three together). She wants to torque only two. (Three will hurt the wearer.)
5. Position her hands so that instead of coming together in prayer form, that they will pass each other. This
    movement produces the physical tension on the metal that is required.
6. Move hands past each other to snap the metal

*NOTE - this will not remove the cuffs from the wrists it will merely separate the hands again. Use this technique if you want tell-tale cuffs left on the wrist.

This technique in action (14:26 - but move 13:00)
Breaking techniques (2:42)

Technique 2 - Pick the lock.

English: : Universal handcuff key
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* Note: It is NOT righty-tighty/lefty-loosy here. It is
   inward opens outward locks. The direction you turn
   will be different left to right

1. Easiest - have a key on you. If your heroine is in a
    place where she is in danger, or in a job that might
    endanger her, she might have a key (cheap and easily
    accessible) sewn into the hems of her clothing or
    taped with duct tape to the inside of her watch.
2. A little harder - have a shim. A heroine can make a
    shim using a barrette, an easy EDC that she can wear
     under her hair without detection.
3. Make a tool like a paper clip or bobby pin. The
    bobby pin is preferred for its tensile strength and can
    easily be an EDC that a heroine puts under her hair.
    This would not be seen by an abductor.


1. If her hands are behind her back move them to the front.If she is not attached to something preempting this move, then the heroine should stand and work her hands down over her hips and bottom. Sit down and work to get  the legs through the arms. Problems can arise if some injury, such as a broken leg, makes this more difficult. Boots make this more difficult. Removing the heroine's shoes will help her get her feet through. So she should try to toe off her day shoe. Knowing how you want this to play out will make a difference in how you dress your heroine for success or complication. (Blog Link to dressing your heroine)

QUICK STUDY - video of me moving cuffs from behind my back to front position. **Turn your sound to mute so you don't have to listen to the ke-yups. Those trained exhalation sounds help reduce anxiety/panic in a fight, keep the fighter breathing, and help anesthetize pain from in-coming blows.

2. Create a tool. (No tools? Try Technique 1)
   * If using a bobby pin, strip the plastic protective end off with her teeth.
   * A Paper clip is easier to bend but this can also create problems.

A Bobby-pin
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    * Pick the double lock first - use counter-
       clockwise sweeps moving from 9-5. She
       should hear a metallic click.
    * Work on the ratcheting mechanism

Working the ratcheting mechanism can be done in two ways
1. Insert your tool into the key hole and bend it into a right angle. Then use this to push the mechanism up
    and out of the way.
2. Feed the tool between the mechanisms and close the cuffs tighter while to insert the tool further until it lifts
    the internal pin away from the teeth like a shim.

Picking is PREFERRED because when you shim you have to ratchet down on the cuff making it tighter. If she fails, she can cut off circulation to her hand. *NOTE ratcheting too tight is prevented by a double lock. You CAN NOT shim a double lock.


Video 1 (10:00) This has a clear cuff so you can see the inner workings as well as the use of a key, shim,
and paper clip.

Video 2 (11:39) Combat Application Technique Handcuff Restraint Escape - excellent hostage
              scenario is silent in the first half of this video the second half has audio and is taught school-style.
 Video 3 (6:49) Shimming
Video 4 (11:56) Picking a double lock. This method seems the EASIEST.

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  1. Besides the obvious one of using a key, which if these methods would leave the handcuffs available for future use, such as if she turns the table on her captor and wants to use the handcuffs to restrain him?

    1. The only one that damages the handcuffs is breaking them. If the victim wants to turn tables, I would have him/her in a single-lock handcuff that they shim (easiest) But even in a double lock it's just a picking action. I have friends who practice this all the time as part of their training. It is not easy to pick - time, patience, and training so maybe not for your average-joe. Hope this helps!

    2. All right, thanks, I just thought some of the other methods might break the handcuffs' locks and render them useless. I thought having a key might make it too easy, even though that would be the best idea in real life.

  2. Hey, Rebel. It depends on your character. If it's a soccer mom, she probably wouldn't even think to try. On the other hand, my friends who are businessmen in "hot spots" or do undercover etc. always have 3 keys on them. One under their shoe insert, one in their wallet, and one taped to the inside of their belt. Many companies will do executive training to help protect their people where security experts do seminars to teach them these things. But yes, jimmying and prying leave the cuffs intact so you can turn tables. You have to think about your character in advance and give them an EDC (everyday carry routine) I think I'll write about that next Monday... So if you have a soccer mom - pin her hair back with bobby pins, if it's the exec. then earlier in the book write about him getting dressed and checking his EDC... hope this helps - love to talk about all of this! Cheers Fiona

  3. If you are going to use a hairpin, scrape the coating off the ends or it will be quite useless. You should also shape it properly before you need it.

  4. What if the character is handcuffed to something behind their back(a support beam like in a basement or above their head or something) and/or somewhere that they can't jam up the cuffs with dirty or anything? I assume that twisting in opposite directions won't break the chain unless they're really crap handcuffs or the character is really strong.

  5. Hi -

    So let me be very clear that I have never tried to break a handcuff. This is Kelly Alwoods' technique that would get someone out of a life or death situation. Why I would not try it unless I had trained support with me or I saw this as an only chance to live is that if the links are not lined up correctly it can torque the cuffs thereby tourniqueting the wrists and cutting off the circulation in the hands.

    That being said, your character would hope that they had expensive cuffs because the metal will snap more easily and will snap at the cuff. The less expensive cuffs must be snapped at the link which is harder to do.

    The point of the dirt being shoved into the links was to abrade the metal and weaken it. If your heroine has her hands cuffed over her head (less probable) or behind her back (more probable) then she can use the anchoring object to create stress in the cuffs.

    Typically a heroine will not be cuffed above her head because with many having the hands over the head for extended periods of time can make someone pass out especially if they have low blood pressure - like and athlete. If they pass out and are dangling from their cuffs they can cut off the blood supply to their hands... So it's probably best if the villain does not do this.

    Twisting in opposition will not break the link unless they have super powers. But using physics will work without too much upper body strength - if I were the heroine and I thought that they were not double locked (she can turn her head and watch with her peripheral vision to see if the key went into two separate holes), then I would try to find a way to make a key or to shim the cuff. As I said before, Alwoods' technique is do or die unless you're Alwood - then you can do it all day long.

    Hope this helped.


  6. I have seen a bra underwire used to pick a standard door lock. Could it be used to pick a handcuff or to shim a handcuff?

    1. That's pretty impressive work with the door. I'm trying to think how that would work with hands cuffed. Getting the bras accessible can be an issue and then getting the wire out. Her anatomy could be a hinderance if she's well endowed. She would need time. If you try this out let me know your results. I don't have a bra I'm willing to experiment with - they're expensive :)


  7. Great article Fiona! Seeing that attack video...I didn't know you were such a badass! Informative article as always. Now I've just seen the worried look on my husband's face as he caught me learning about picking handcuffs lol!