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Antique Safes/Servicing the spin dial on antique safe


Hello Terry,

I have purchased an antique safe and plan on repainting it and putting it in my living room as a conversation peace. It is open and i would like to service the spin dial and anything else that needs it so it is in good mechanical working order as well. Can you give me a few pointers on how to proceed and what products (oil, graphite, etc) to use or avoid.


Proper disassembling, cleaning, lubing and servicing is something that takes a while to learn.   This is one of the reasons that I NEVER recommend using locksmiths for safe work.   Even though they work on locks every day, THEY don't have the training and necessary knowledge to work on safes without causing potential problems.   For this same reason, I also never recommend DIY projects, where lock disassembly is required.    This isn't something that can be taught in a few paragraphs.

Without going into lots of details, I'll try to go over the basics.

Vasoline is a no no!
Graphite is a no no!
Oil is a no no!     Oil is used in machinery that has the capability of resupplying its system throughout the course of operation.
WD-40 is a no no!
Vegetable oil is a no no!
Bearing grease is a no no, generally, though you can use it in the hinges.

While you can use a penetraing oil as a cleaner to help remove old or built up grease, it needs to be cleaned COMPLETELY off, as the penetrant WILL react with new lubricant.

I generally try to keep it simple.   Use Tri-Flow aerosol lubricant to clean and lubricate.

Use the Tri-Flow to clean and lubricate most areas of the lock, and bolt work, dial and spindle.  Wipe these areas down almost dry.

For bearing surface areas, I will lightly grease them with a white lithium grease similar to:

Very light coats.   After running the bolt work back and forth several times, wipe the visible parts of the bolt work almost dry.

Are there better quality greases and lubricants - why yes there are, However it makes little to no sense to lubricate something that should be cleaned and serviced on a regular basis, with something that is touted to last 1000 years!!!
ANY wet surface lubricant is nothing more than a dust and/or debris magnet.   Even if it maintains a better lubricating qualities for longer, it still becomes contaminated with dust, dirt and debris.   After awhile this mix WILL harden or become more of a "grinding compound" than a lubricant.
Cleaning and servicing REGULARLY is better than the quality of the product you are using.

Basically the old accronym "KISS" says it all;  "Keep it Simple, Stupid" - or something to that effect!

Lubricating the safe bolt work is one of those things where sometimes "less is more".

While I don't have the time to go over each piece of the lock and HOW it should be lubricated, YOU will have to use your best guess, just remember that globs of grease won't make it work smoother!

Hope this helps, somewhat.   If you have problems, have the safe checked out, cleaned and serviced correctly by a trained and qualified safe technician.

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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 40 years in the Safe & Vault industry, if I can't answer your question I know where to get the answer. Current Project: Restoration of two Tilton & McFarland Safes from the 1860's. Will answer Safe & Vault related questions concerning age, value, restoration, moving, opening & repairing, parts, operation and history. Note: It is not my intention to teach you to open safes or to provide information which may aid in the unlawful opening of a safe. I will not give out drill points or information which I deem inappropriate.


40 years in the Safe & Vault Industry. Service Manager for one of the largest Safe & Vault companies on the West Coast. Graduate of Lockmasters Safe Lock Servicing, Safe lock Manipulation and Safe Deposit Lock Courses. Graduate of Locksmith Institute. Certified Instructor for the California Locksmith Association teaching Basic and Advanced Lock Servicing, Basic Safe opening and Repairing. Factory Trained by AMSEC, LORD Safes, LeFebure, Mosler, KabaMas, LaGard and Sargent & Greenleaf

Safecrackers International and the National Antique Safe Association

Graduate of Locksmith Institute 1972 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Lock Servicing 1974 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Lock Manipulation 1975 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Deposit Lock Servicing 1985 Instructor Certified - California Locksmith Association - 1985 Factory trained by AMSEC, MAJOR, STAR, Johnson-Pacific, Kaba-MAS, Allied-Gary, ISM, Lord, Brown Safe, EXL, Mosler, Diebold.

Awards and Honors
2009 - 2013 Listed in AllExperts top 50 Experts. All Experts Categories - Safes & Security Containers, Locksmithing, Antique Safes. Retired US Army Chief Warrant Officer (CW4), with 39 years of total service. With numerous awards from Vietnam, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. US Navy - 1971-1981 US Army Reserve 1984-2013 US Army Retired

Past/Present Clients
US Secret Service, FBI, BATF, Local Law enforcment agencies, Diebold, Hamilton Pacific, Red Hawk Int., Chubb International, Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank, Mechanics Bank, El Dorado Savings Bank, many Credit unions and smaller banks. McDonalds, Togos, BurgerKing, TacoBell, Carls Jr. FoodMaxx, SaveMart, Lucky's, Albertson's, Raley's, Safeway, NobHill, Bell Markets, PW Markets. Great America, Century Theatres, Cinemark Theatres, UA Cinemas, and many homeowners and small businesses. Provide warranty service for lock and safe manufactures. Service area is Northern California - Fresno to Oregon, including western Nevada

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