How To Open A Locked Safe
**Please note that this guide is meant for manual-dial safes only. Electronic keypad safes have their own troubleshooting steps that can best be assessed by contacting a local safe locksmith** Locksmiths specializing in security safes commonly receive calls from customers asking how to get their safe to open again. While many assume that the only option when a safe is locked is that it needs to be drilled open, this isn’t always the case. In this blog article, we’ll discuss some common issues that can cause a standard manual combination-dial lock to bind or not function correctly, and how a locksmith determines how to open a locked safe.
Using The Correct Dialing Pattern
One of the most common mistakes people have when they can’t unlock their combination safe is using the wrong dialing pattern. Even if you have the code, entering these numbers requires a specific entry pattern to pull the bolts back. Before attempting other steps we present here to open a locked safe, be sure to follow these 4 steps with your combination exactly as follows, this may not work for all but it is the most common dialing pattern out there.
The pattern is as follows: Left (4 turns), Right (3 turns), Left (2 turns), Right (1 turns)
- Spin the dial left (counter-clockwise) at least 4 full rotations, passing the first number of your combination at least 4 times, then end on that number. (It doesn’t matter how many times left you turn it as long as it has passed the first number of your combination 4 times.
- Now, spin the dial right (clockwise) past the second number of your combination 2 times, stopping on that number the 3rd time.
- Next, you’ll spin the dial left (counter-clockwise) again, passing the 3rd number of the combination once then stopping at the third number of your combination the 2nd time.
- Spin the dial of your safe right (clockwise) until the dial stops and open your safe. If your dial does not stop on its own, you may have the wrong combination and should try again. If you’re entirely sure you have the right combination, proceed to troubleshoot using the next steps.
Another combination-related issue is in regards to changing the combination of the safe. Combination safes have two markers on the dial, one at the twelve-o-clock position and one at the eleven-o-clock position. The twelve-o-clock position is used for entering the safe combo, and the secondary mark at the eleven-o-clock position is used when changing the safe combination on a manual dial.
If you’ve changed your mechanical safe’s combination and accidentally used the twelve-o-clock position instead of the eleven-o-clock mark, the digit(s) of the new combination will be off by the difference between the eleven-o-clock and twelve-o-clock positions, and you should attempt to dial the correct combination this way.
Combination Drift Due To Mechanical Wear
Mechanical safe locks work by a series of rotating disks moving until the notches cut in them all line up with the fence. Once all the disks are lined up, the fence will drop in the notches and the bolt can be retracted. This is presented to the end-user by the numbers on the dial, with each number corresponding to the position of the disks behind the dial in the lock pack.
Over the years or decades of standard use, or much less time if one is heavy-handed and not careful with their safes, these disks can wear down and cause the numbers of the combination to drift or “walk”. What this means is that due to wear, the disks have slipped to a point that the combination of the safe has shifted up or down a few positions.
If you feel this may be the case, then we highly recommend calling a safe locksmith as soon as possible for service and/or replacement of the lock before the wear reaches a critical point that the safe no longer can open.
Loose Handle Set Screw Or Loose Spline Key
The locks and dials of mechanical safes are exactly that: mechanical. This means parts of the safe are prone to loosening and tightening with use, time, heat, humidity, and many other factors. Some of the most common pieces that can become loose on their own over time are the set screw securing the handle to its post and the spline key.
If your handle spins and spins, it may not be the lock, but the handle itself that is functioning incorrectly. Check the handle for a set screw that secures it in place. This screw is usually at the bottom of the handle and is usually hex-shaped. Tightening this screw can be a quick and easy fix to get back into your safe for free!
The other piece that commonly comes loose may be the spline key. Spline keys are designed to fit securely inside the safe’s spindle and drive cam. However, if the spline key has come loose over time, it can throw off your safe’s combination much like wear on the disks inside of the lock pack.
A locksmith may have to come out and get you in your safe before determining that this is the issue. Although sometimes locksmiths can manipulate these dials open without drilling, that’s not always the case.
Safe Bolts Binding Shut
Sometimes, a stuck safe has nothing to do with the lock or dial. Sometimes, it may just be too full or experiencing another mechanical issue with the bolts. The most common of these is overstuffing a safe; which can put pressure on the door from the inside and hold the bolts securing your safe shut.
The easiest way to check for this issue is to try and wiggle the safe’s door with the handle. The vast majority of these safes will have some play when locked, and if yours does not, it may be overfilled. Try to compensate by pushing into the bottom of the door with your foot and pushing the handle while turning it. With this method, you’ll be counteracting the weight of the items pushing on the inside of the safe’s door and it may open. If not call your local locksmith, the Houston Locksmith we all trust Guardian Safe & Lock!
Another issue that can stop your safe from opening is a relocker that has fired. Higher-quality safes include a feature known as a relocker which is designed to drop into the safe’s railing system when it’s being tampered with.
This can sometimes happen when a safe isn’t moved correctly, dropped, or hit with a significant amount of pressure (such as with a forklift). If your safe is equipped with a relocker, the only way to get in is to call a professional. This is the kind of drilling that requires experience, an exact knowledge of the model being drilled into, and specialized drill bits designed to pierce the hardened materials and steel plates in the safe without breaking off.
Guardian Safe & Lock does not condone or recommend attempting to drill into your own safe, as there are literally dozens of ways amateur drilling can go wrong and cause severe injury or worse to the untrained person attempting to drill.
How To Open A Locked Safe: In Conclusion
Safes are made up of many moving parts, both small and large. Each of these components is very precisely made and placed in order to make operating the unit as easy and friendly as possible to the owner, but things can go wrong.
Today we’ve discussed some of the most common reasons a mechanical safe, or a safe with a combination dial, can fail to operate correctly and some means of diagnosing if one of these problems may be happening with your safe. However, there are many other things that can go wrong besides these.
Your best bet is to contact a local safe locksmith to fully diagnose your unit if none of these tips work for you. Luckily, in most cases, drilling can be repaired and our safe technicians can leave your safe looking good as new.
If you’ve had problems with a safe, electronic, or mechanical, and you need a safe locksmith in Houston, call on Guardian Safe & Lock at 832-534-8687, or submit a contact us form on our website. We also act as access control installers and provide surveillance camera installation as well as traditional and auto locksmith work!