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Antique Safes/Cleaning an Antique Safe


Inside Safe Doors
Inside Safe Doors  

My dad has an old safe from the Diebold Safe & Lock Co. - it says JNO.W.NORRIS, GEN'L.AG'T, Chicago on the inside of one of the outer doors.  The patent dates on it are Feb. 1st, 1870 and Dec. 1st, 1885.  He is wondering what would be the best way to clean this safe. Or would you recommend that he not try to clean it? The picture that I've included shows the inside safe doors. I have additional pictures that I could send if you'd like. Please let me know if you have questions or need additional information. Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated.



as far as whether or not he can clean the safe - I can't answer that only he can.   Remember Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry"???   "A man's GOT to know his limitations"!

There are several different problems with paint and art work on old safes - the first is the Varnish!    Manufacturers "clear coated" the art work or paint with varnish to provide a protective finish.   Over the years the varnish yellows, and/or cracks (crazing).   In fact it may look like it has been in a fire or excess heat, with the surface bubbled or cracked.   This isn't heat, its simply old varnish.

Removal of the varnish usually reveals some gorgeous colors and paint that will simply POP!   Re-varnishing will protect the paint and keep the colors vibrant.

Once the varnish is off, if any paint needs restoration, it can be touched up.   if your "painting skills" are not very good - you would want to hire someone.    Professional painters may cost you more than the restoration is worth, but you can check with a local art department at a college to see if they would be interested in working on the safe as a restoration project, and/or they might have one or two good students that might work for extra credit or some $$$$'s.

Definitely learn about paint restoration BEFORE you start working on the project, and start on areas that aren't normally visible, like the back of the safe, to learn how to strip, clean and paint.

Hope this helps.

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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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