A company is paying me $1,400 to remove three safes. Combinations are
Two of them are locked closed, they already attemped to open them and
failed, but they are easy to remove with a forklift so no problem
here. I will open them in my yard one way or another with torches and
abrasive saws, and so on. Nothing interesting.
The third one is locked OPEN, no combination available, but it has to
come out of a narrow door. Therefore, it needs to get its doors
closed. I thought that I could simply remove the lock from behind the
open door, using regular hand tools, after which the door handle will
operate freely and I could open and close the door at will.
This third safe is very beautiful in appearance and function and I
would hate to damage it.
The lock appears to be a typical old high end safe lock.
Is that a correct assumption that I can remove the lock and operate a
I don't know, but it seems probable that it would depend
on the model / brand / year. Do you have that info?
Directions for a Stack-On fire-resistant guns and documents
safe say the door can be removed, as follows: "Open the door,
remove the hinge caps. Lift the door carefully -- you will need
a team lift, the door is very heavy and cannot be replaced."
Have you check to see if you can just lift the door off the safe? Sling
with your forklift?
I bought a couple safes way back in the day. Both were a-rated, and with
door open it would just lift off... its not light. I could not dead lift
them. I had to use a sling and a lift.
[ ... ]
Brand? It might make a difference.
But most that I know should work well with the lock fully
removed. The lock usually engages the lever which opens the door to
prevent it rotating.
I'll give what I would do if the lock were a Sargent & Greenleaf
(which I am most familiar with). How you would apply this to other
brands will vary, of course, but most of this should work similarly.
1) Remove plates to give access to the back of the lock. (Or maybe
the entire back panel of the door -- I'm more used to security
2) Remove the four corner screws on the back plate of the lock
itself, and withdraw the back plate elsewhere.
3) In the back of the spindle, you should see a flat piece
of metal in a 'J' shape which engages a groove in the spindle
and in the back rotating part which also has a sliding block
4) Unscrew the back rotating part from the spindle -- by turning
it or the knob. (Depending on the size of the safe, you may need
someone on one side or the other to keep a part from rotating.
5) Withdraw the knob and its spindle.
6) Check whether there is a threaded ring on the outside end of the
tube and remove it if so. This may retain the index plate
behind the dial.
7) Remove the four screws inside the corners of the lock body, and
withdraw the lock from the back.
(Save all the parts for later, when you can set the combination,
likely to the default and reinstall it.)
8) *IMPORTANT* -- make *sure* that the locking lever works with all
of this removed before closing the door.
Now you can close the door and be sure of being able to open it
Now -- if the lock is a S&G (as above) you will see a small
square hole in the backplate which can line up with square holes in
the three discs. There are several of the keys to fit these, which vary
with the particular model of the lock. The key looks like a square
Allen key with a single ridge projecting from one corner, and cut away
in certain places to allow it to rotate. It is possible to tweak all
the discs into line with the back in your hand, put the key in, and then
use that to start the process of resetting the combination.
If it is a Mosler (at least with the security file cabinet
versions), the disks are two part plastic, which can snap apart, be
rotated, and snapped in again, with an index pointer lined up with the
desired combination for that disc. Maybe, on older ones, the discs
might be brass or bronze -- making it easier to X-ray the door (with
film on the inside) and get a starting point with finding the
combination. (At least, I suspect that is why plastic is currently
I don't know what else to expect with other brands of locks.
A little followup. I got the job done and the safes are in my place.
The safe that is locked open is great and beautiful and changing the
combo should not be a problem. I just do not know how to do it, but
plenty of materials are available to learn.
I started opening one of the locked closed safes. I started with an
old black Diebold. Someone already tried to open it, but that person
did not understand how safes work.
Here are some pictures, more to be added later:
Cut a big hole on the side with angle grinder and, using a big prybar,
broke the drywall material between metal.
The safe has drawers inside.
It is pretty obvious at this point that it is likely empty, but I will
press on with it anyway as it is fun to learn how to open safes. Has
an old adventure style appeal.
Anyway, I can touch the lock from the inside, there is little room to
work due to drawers, but I managed to put together a makeshift tool
from a 1/4" wrench and a flat screwdriver bit. I removed two screws
and had to give up due to darkness falling.
Well, I have no idea how much such a safe would be worth. But, it seems
that opening a safe by just trying all combinations would not take terribly
long, if it is just a 3-number combination. (5 number safes would take
maybe 2500 times longer.) Some comments on this are in Richard Feynman's
book, which is a great read if you haven't read them.
Both locked closed safes are, in my opinion, worth nothing. One is
already ruined as the hinges are cut off. Another is not lookin super
great and not worth a few hours of picking. Since we do not know how
to do it, it will take a long time.
Plus I want to practice safecracking, if feels vaguely exciting, like
riding a rollercoaster. I know that it is not illegal to break into
those safes, but it feels a bit like an adventure.
If I saw a locked safe with the hinges removed I would assume there
might be something of value inside. I would know that unlocking it was
dangerous because the very heavy unlocked door will fall out of the
safe. Take care!
you will see that hinges are cut off on one side only. It is a bit
safer, the door with the lock will not fall.
It was a safe in their workshop, not the office, so I am hoping that
it may hold some expensive consumables like sewing needles or some
such. (it was a clothes sewing company)
We all know, of course, that cutting hinges off any half decent
fireproof safe will not open the doors.
It's a shame it can't be used. A machinist I used to know kept all his
expensive tooling such as gear shaping cutters, hobs, and broaches in a
similar fire safe so in the event of a fire they wouldn't be damaged. An
old boss of mine kept some company hard drives in a fire safe but he
didn't know the difference between a fire safe and a data safe, a fire
safe is good for paper material but a data safe has to keep the digital
media at a much lower maximum temperature, IIRC below 40C for at least
You are missing a great opportunity. Us locksmiths are often in need of a
talented machinist or welder. Contact some of your local guys and offer a t
rade of services. Not only will they be able to give you a working combina
tion, but they can also do a proper service and inspection to make sure the
safe will not fail after you lock your stuff inside.
Roger, thanks. A little update on the safes.
I was able to open one of the two locked-closed safes by cutting a
hole in a side close to the lock, unscrewing the lock cover and
removing the lock mechanism.
Inside, I found a bunch of meaningless profit sharing meeting minutes,
other papers, two old certificates of deposit for $132,000 and
$140,000, and $11.02 in cash.
I cut a similar hole in the side of another safe, however I was less
lucky in opening it, as the safe had double doors and I had inside
access only to the inner door.
However, I was able to reach inside with my hand and look and feel the
drawers. I became convinced that the safe is completely empty inside.
I gave away both of these safes to craigslist scrappers.
Cracking them open was fun, but not profitable (as expected).
At least I did not have to pay for their disposal.