How to Break Through a Locked Door in an Emergency

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A guest contribution from Ryan to The Prepper Journal. Seemed appropriate today as I am doing my taxes. 

“Opportunity does not knock. It presents itself when you beat down the door.”

In a disaster scenario involving the need to escape danger or quickly gain access to a locked room, contacting a locksmith is not going to be an option. In some situations, it may be necessary to compel opportunity to present itself.

Incorrect technique here could prove costly. There are distinct methods for door breaching and lacking a clear understanding of them could be your downfall. Whether it’s a scenario of fight or flight or paramedics rescuing a drug overdose who locked themselves into a bathroom, good technique could make or break the situation by saving valuable minutes.

This guide is intended to give you different methods and tips that are based on the tools that you have on hand. In some cases, you may not have anything to assist you at all. This article will take a look at a few different approaches.

If you have no tools on hand, here’s to hoping the door that you are facing isn’t a reinforced metal commercial door. In this case, you may want to look for alternative means of egress or otherwise start scouting for the tools mentioned further down in the article to assist your entry.

But if you’re dealing with a standard residential door or a lighter weight, wood commercial door, then a solid kick or three should be sufficient to break through.

Assessing the Door

The first step is to assess the door. Questions to ask yourself are:

  1. Does it swing inwards or outwards?
  2. Where are the locking mechanisms located?
  3. Are the hinges visible? If so, are they removable?

If the door swings towards you, you have your work cut out. The best point to attack is going to be the hinges. You can start by looking to remove the hinge pins, but a well-designed exterior door will sport non-removable hinge pins. In this case, you’ll have to use the fork end of a crowbar to shear the hinges off entirely. This can be accomplished by wedging the fork over the hinges one at a time and then hammering the other end of the bar with something. This will take several minutes but it’s about your only option when the door swings this way.

Fortunately, in most cases the locked side of a door will open by swinging away from you. In this case, begin by examining where the locking mechanisms are located. You’ll likely face a circular lock (dead bolt) in addition to the knob itself. A chain lock may be present as well, located higher up on the frame. This is not a major impediment. However, you may have to deal with this lock individually after starting with the others. The toughest to breach will be the circular lock, but all of these types are easily broken through in all but highly-reinforced doors.

The goal is to force the locking hardware through the surrounding jamb.

Breaching With a Kick

 

Kick the door with your heel landing as close to the locking mechanism as possible. If there is time, start out with a light practice kick or two to test if your foot lands where it is supposed to. Unless you’ve been brushing up on your martial arts lately, your accuracy probably won’t be up to spec. Take a few seconds to make sure your aim is straight, and then go for it.

It may take a few tries. If you are making progress, you’ll see space begin to emerge between the door stile and the jamb. You also may see the door begin collapsing in on itself (most modern doors are hollow on the inside except for a lightweight filler material). This is another reason why it is important to keep your kicks as close as possible to the locks themselves. If you hit towards the middle on the door, it may begin to warp outwardly, making your strikes less effective. The edges of the door, on the other hand, will always be relatively well reinforced.

As you see progress, keep on aiming at the locks that haven’t broken through yet. If a particular lock is proving stubborn, adjust your point of aim accordingly.

Eventually the locking mechanisms should break through the jamb and the door will swing free.

Breaching With Tools

 

If the door proves extremely tough and you aren’t able to breach it this way, then you may need to recruit some tools.

Common tools that can be used to open a door are the crowbar, ax or sledgehammer.

If you have access to an ax or sledgehammer, you are in luck. You’ll use these the same way you would use your heel if you are kicking down the door, except this time the tool itself is taking the brunt of the force instead of your bones. That’s a good thing.

When using the ax, you’ll want to use the blunt side to strike the doorknob with a baseball bat style swing. This will transfer an incredible amount of force directly through the locking mechanism, making short work of the surrounding jamb. For obvious reasons, you’ll want to make sure no one is standing anywhere close to you while you are doing this – take extreme caution before swinging an ax around.

A sledgehammer will work the exact same way. The sledgehammer is even better as the end should have more weight than the head of an ax and therefore provide even more inertia to blow the door wide open.

Another common tool that can be had in just about any garage is the crowbar. Wedge the curved end into the gap between the door and the jamb (it may need a little help via a few taps with a blunt object like a brick to get fully wedged in) and crank away. Remember to situate it close to the locks.

Leverage is going to be your friend here. Focus your weight on the far end of the bar. This maximizes the amount of force applied. The curve in the bar is also your friend. It puts continuous pressure on the door as you’re prying.

Once a large gap in the door has been created, you should be in good shape. If it hasn’t fully opened yet, finish it off with a well-placed kick.

Should you ever wind up in an emergency situation where you need to quickly get through a locked door, these methods can provide you with exigent solutions. With your efforts focused efficiently, you’ll be able to make short work out of all but the most reinforced doors. As long as you stay safe and always use them for the right reasons, these techniques should prove a worthy addition to your preparedness skill set.

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Matt in Oklahoma
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Matt in Oklahoma

I’ve got a homemade T Post driver that works well too. Pretty much the same as what I used on the team without the slider piece inside.

Clariden Roberts
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Clariden Roberts

Nice insights. I always wonder if it’s possible because I’ve only seen situation like these in the movies.