Lock picking entrepreneur launches Kickstarter
David Harper began picking locks at age 14.
For his magic show, of course.
Today, David’s first lock picking product, SWICK — The World’s Most Versatile Pick, is 100+ percent funded on Kickstarter, with still nearly two weeks to go.
David’s love for magic began in 1978, at age 10. He performed his first on-stage magic show at age 14, and became interested in escapology. He set off in the footsteps of Harry Houdini and began studying lock mechanisms.
Later the same year, his father took him to visit a pair of locksmithing brothers he knew.
“They were patronizing,” David recalled. “They handed me a master padlock and told me to pick it and come back.”
David had the lock picked before he hit the door.
“It turned out I was better at picking locks than they were,” he said with a laugh.
It worked out for the best — the brothers wanted to focus on car alarm installation, so they set David up with their mother as his driver and sent him out to handle all their lockout service calls.
By 1998, David — known as David Storm in the magic and lock picking communities — had launched Picklocks.com, a company specializing in lock picking tutorials. He sold his first how-to on DVD, but had people call to request it on VHS.
He credits his father for his entrepreneur hustle. A tool and die man by trade, his father quit his day job to launch his own sign-making company, Harper Custom Advertising. His father lettered most of the police cars in the Dayton area at the time, he said, including the car of an area sheriff, who handcuffed David in his cruiser after his father bragged that he could get out of the cuffs. David used the trusty barrette he kept tucked under the Levi Strauss label on his jeans to get out of the cuffs — the defect he exploited to get out of the cruiser has since been fixed, he said with a laugh.
David’s original Picklocks.com audience was locksmiths, but now his larger audience is locksport — men & women who gather to pick locks for sport following set rules and a creed to never pick locks without permission. He also still has a steady audience in the magician community, he said.
Picklocks.com was full-time for awhile. He also had an IT day job for a time, and briefly moved to Zanesville to open and run a wilderness survival school and kayak livery. Family brought him back to Dayton — he’s excited to be near his 2-year-old granddaughter and 6-month-old grandson, a landscaper by day and lock-picking magician by night.
He began dreaming up the folding jackknife-style pick that would become SWICK in 2008. Then a year ago, in 2017, he discovered Proto BuildBar.
He started with TinkerCad, then worked his way toward more sophisticated modeling software, and ultimately began printing prototypes at the public maker space and bar.
“I knew nothing about 3D modeling,” he said. “But Proto became my stomping ground last winter.”
Today, SWICK, patent pending, is the “Swiss army knife” of lock picks, David said.
It features four tension wrenches to the average tool’s one; spaces for 12 blades — you choose from about three dozen designed by an engineer with TOOOL, The Open Organization Of Lockpickers international locksport community — to the average tool’s six; and a spot to keep shims or key extractors.
“I get very intensely into things, learn it and move on,” David said. “But with lock picking, every lock is a puzzle, each is unique and different.”
SWICK does everything he wanted in a tool for the hobby that has held his interest through the years, he said.
Molds are ready to be filled, blades to be cut, pieces to be assembled as soon as the Kickstarter wraps up, he said. He’ll work to market the product to a larger audience — perhaps get sales rep for the lock smithing community — then he’ll get to work on some other ideas he has for the lock picking arena.
“Dayton had the most patents per capita of the US at one time,” David said, “I feel I’m in good company inventing here.”