Yesterday I got a phone call from a guy who had an Era fortress dead lock he needed opening on an internal door. He really didn’t want the lock to be drilled as it was only fitted 2 weeks ago and his wife had gone away to visit friends and had the key with her so he wanted to be able to use the same key when she returned. I said I would have a go at picking it but could not promise 100% that I could pick it open. When I arrived to take a look the lock was left mounted and really tight up to the frame it could of done with being a 3 inch but they had fitted a 2.5 inch and just to make things a bit more awkward there was a door knob in the way which was bolted from the inside so could not be removed. Thankfully the lock picked in under 10 minutes resulting in one very happy customer and a very happy me! The customer had been told by many 24 hour Leeds locksmith company’s that the lock could not be picked and would have to be drilled so it made picking it open in front of him feel even sweeter.

I picked the lock using a home made pre lifter and a home made wire. Pre lifters can be bought for certain locks and an Era Fortress pre lifter can be purchased from trade locks. I have used the trade locks one and it’s just cheap rubbish I managed to snap it the first time I used it as the tool is very flimsy and the pre lifter was slightly too fat causing it to catch when turning the curtain. The  home made pre lifter I used is just made from a filled down brass key blank worth about 10p and the wire I made is  from a piece of spring steel about £1 for a metre length which makes it about 1% of the price of a bought pre lifter and I find it to be much stronger.

What is pre lifting?

The idea of pre lifting is to part lift the levers off of the curtain wheel to allow the wire to be easily moved under the lever belly’s. On the Era fortress the levers sit on top of the curtain making it very difficult to get a pick wire into the lock unless the lever pack is pre lifted first.

Inside Era Fortress

How to make a pre lifter and pick wire?

Firstly you need a couple of Era Fortress key blanks preferably brass ones as they will be a lot easier to file down. The flag of the key blank will need to be cut to the height of the lowest lever in the lock which in an Era Fortress is a number 7 lever. If you don’t have an Era Fortress lever reader you can take the height by opening up a fortress and removing all the levers, place a number 7 lever into the lock on its own with no other levers in there, put the lock in the locked position with the cap removed, file the key flag down and keep trying the key in the lock, continue repeating the process until the lever gate lines up with the stump. Once completed you will have the key blank filed to the perfect height to lift the number 7 lever into the gate.

Next you will need to file the stem of the key flat on the top to allow the wire to sit properly. If the stem is not filed down flat the wire will sit too high on the key blank and will also keep slipping off as the stem will be rounded if left UN filed.

Once you have completed the two steps above its time to file the side of the flag. This bit needs to be done with care as taking too much off will leave the flag too weak and it may snap off in the lock when you are picking. You will need to file one edge of the flag so you have enough space once inserted into the key way to allow the wire to go into the lock at the same time.

Filed Down Key Flag


To work out which side of the flag needs to be filed down insert the key into a lock and turn in the unlock direction until it stops, now look how the key sits in the key way and it will become obvious which side to file. When making the pre lifter for a left mounted lock you need a gap in the top left of the curtain and on a right mounted lock you need a gap on the top right of the curtain. Hopefully the pictures below will make it easier to understand.

Left Mounted Era Fortress               Right Mounted Era Fortress

The wire I use is also home made and fairly easy to do, if I can do it anybody can as I’m certainly no expert when it comes to making up wires. The wire I have made has a fairly short up stand and is filled on the back edge. Also the offset is quite shallow. Just as with the pre lifter you will also need 2 different wires one for left mounted locks and one for right mounted locks.

Pick Wire

The beauty of pre lifting is that any number 7 levers will automatically be lifted into the correct position before you begin picking so for example if there is 1 number 7 in there you have effectively turned it into a 4 lever lock from a picking point of view or if there 2 number 7s in there then you have turned it into a 3 lever lock etc. Pre lifting will also put other levers closer to the correct position as well meaning that even other levers like number 6 and 5 will only need small nudges to line the gates with the bolt stump.

I find Era Fortress locks to be quite good to pick, I have heard people say in the past they grind and are too notchy to pick but I’ve always found they give good feedback when using the pre lift method and with a bit of practice can be defeated without too much trouble.

Quick Tip

I have drilled a hole in the top of the key blank to allow me to tension by putting the handle from a multi gauge curtain pick through it like in the picture below.

Pre Lifter With Multi Gauge Handle

Happy Picking!



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