The tool is simply inserted into the lock and turned clockwise with medium tension. As the tool is pushed into the lock, each of the picks is slowly forced down until they stop, thus binding the driver pins behind the shear line of the lock. When the final pick is pushed down, the shear plane is clear and the lock opens. This can usually be accomplished in a matter of seconds.
Most tubular lock picks come with a "decoder" which lets the locksmith know at what depths the pins broke the shear plane. By using the decoding key after the lock has been picked, the locksmith can cut a tubular key to the correct pin depths and thus avoid having to replace the lock.
In 2004 it was widely publicized that the barrel of a cheap ballpoint pen would act as an effective lock pick for many brands of tubular lock.