For centuries, safes and strong boxes have been used to protect some of our most valuable commodities, be it gold, guns, or documents. Storing these items in a safe and secure location is important, but what happens when you lose access to your valuables? Whether you have forgotten your combination or your lock has malfunctioned, a professional locksmith and safe technician will be here to help retrieve your valuables.
the process of a safe lockout
It’s important as a consumer to understand the process of a safe lockout. Generally, the first step is a phone call; when a customer reaches out to us regarding a safe opening, we will ask a series of questions to gather more information. Also, bear in mind, you will be required to provide proof of ownership prior to work beginning. The most important question we can ask is: what’s going on? This vague question allows us a good jumping off point. Did you forget your combo? Did it just stop working? All of these questions will give us a clear diagnostic plan. With the inculcation of smartphones in today’s society, a photo is one of our most valuable assets when first approached about a safe. Quality pictures can truly be a game changer when deciding how to attack a safe lock. When a customer is able to provide clear photographs of the safe lock dial, the entire container, and/or any manufacturer tags, we can more easily prepare for the task at hand. This includes having any replacement parts we may need already on hand, avoiding a return visit. After we are able to properly formulate a neutralization plan, we are able to give you a more accurate pricing and a more vivid description of what to expect.
As a safe technician, the most important step when arriving at a job is evaluation. From the second we lay eyes on a safe or container, we are constantly evaluating plans of attack and features of the container and lock. From that point, the technician will begin asking many of the same questions in the aforementioned initial phone call. This allows us to have an on the spot view of what the issue may be. For example, if the combination stopped working, the tech would begin different procedures than if the combination was totally unknown. Once we have gathered enough pertinent on-site information, it is not uncommon for a locksmith or safe tech to retreat to their service vehicle and consult manuals, specifications, or other sensitive reference material. These references and guides are an extremely important aspect of safe work. Due to the obviously delicate nature of this materials it is generally unavailable to the public and requires vetting along with subscription fees. Personally, it cannot be stressed enough how important planning your attack prior to beginning work truly is. A professional safe technician’s priority is to complete the job with as little physical damage as possible.
So now begins the work. Let’s say we have a safe with no known combination; there are a couple of different tactics we may use to neutralize the lock. For example, depending on the safe, we may be able to extrapolate a manufacturer set master combination using barcodes, serial numbers, or other identifying marks. This would obviously be the first and the most effective choice of tactics, but it’s often not possible. From that point, we would move onto the idea of manipulation and/or try-out combinations. Try-out combinations will generally only be effective if the combination has never been changed. As a safe technician, we have access to different lists and databases which will offer long list of possible manufacturer combinations based on the type of safe lock; again, this method is hit or miss. Now we move on to the concept of safe lock manipulation. Despite what television portrays, this is an extremely difficult, intensive, and math heavy process. There are many different methods of manipulation, including the use of lasers, graph paper, audio amplifiers, etc. Manipulation is truly an art form and is often not a fruitful exercise for most safe technicians. It takes many classes, years, locks, and practice to confidently and successfully manipulate any quality safe lock, let alone one in the field. So now we are at the point where non-destructive entry seems unlikely; this does not mean it’s time to take out any saws or grinders. One of the most important skills for any safe technician, is the proper drilling of a safe or container. Generally, by drilling only one ¼” hole, we are able to neutralize the lock, replace if necessary, and fully repair any holes to the container. First, the tech will determine the proper location to drill based on all of the information gathered during the discovery phase. This includes knowing the location of any internal or external relockers, knowing the model of, and which position, the safe lock is facing. Once all of these variables are accounted for, the tech will then begin the drilling procedure.
As a professional safe tech, we have many tools at our disposal to quickly and efficiently drill a safe. One of our most important tools is the portable drill press, known as a drill rig or just a rig. By attaching directly to the container itself, a drill rig allows us the leverage and pressure that is necessary to penetrate even the toughest hard plate. As mentioned above, the location where a technician drills will dictate how they plan to attack a lock. In most circumstances, there are two viable options for drilling. The first, and most effective, attack point is often behind the safe lock dial. Once the dial is pulled and a hole is drilled, the tech can then begin to open the lock. Using a borescope, which is similarly to an otoscope or endoscope, the technician will look into the lock body for identifying markers. When these markers are identified, the tech can then begin manipulating the wheels by hand to align them to the proper opening position. This is a fast and efficient technique for opening safes, but it does destroy the current lock, requiring a replacement before the container can be made secure. This leads us to option number two, which can be more challenging, time consuming, and not always 100% accurate or possible; however, it will leave you with a functioning lock. This method tends to be used with older safes, where it is not always easy to replace a lock. The technician will begin by deciding which face of the container to make his hole. More often than not, the top face or rear face are preferred for this method of attack, but it can be done from the side. Once a hole is drilled, the tech will then use the borescope to search the back of the safe lock for what is known as the change key hole or CKH. The CKH is a small opening that allows a special tool to be inserted into the lock for the purpose of regular combination changes. By looking through the CKH for specific landmarks while manipulating the dial, a safe technician should be able to extrapolate a series of possible combinations. This is done by having an extensive knowledge about each individual part inside of a safe lock and how they interact with each other.
Now that we have your safe open, it is time to fix any messes we may have made. You can rest assured that any holes drilled will be repaired and made stronger than the original material. We use a multitude of methods to repair holes, including tapered, hardened steel pins and ball bearings. Depending on the location of the drill point, aesthetics may also be important. As professionals, we come fully prepared to match any paint color to the best of our abilities. We take great pride and responsibility in no one ever knowing we were there. Once any repairs or replacements have been made, we will happily set your new and functioning lock to any combination you wish or leave you feeling confident that you can change it yourself. When you trust a professional locksmith and safe technician, you can be certain that the job has been done correctly, efficiently, and with as little destruction as possible.