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QUESTION: hello andy, i have a cannonball safe i got from a scrap iron yard. i wana open it and restore it. i dont have the combo. but, i took five screws out of the cover and it came off along with the combo. i have a big gear looking at me. should it turn? if so that was way to easy. but i cant get it to turn. and theirs no more stuff to take off. im gona try and take the gear off next. thanks for any help you can give me andy, and i can pay for any advice also. thanks again,  kelly  great bend kansas

ANSWER: Kelly,

By disassembling the door, you may be making more trouble (& possibly danger) for yourself.

The only thing that the lock does is to keep the door from turning, as a day lock or secondary lock.   The main lock is a time lock inside of the safe.   Obviously if the safe has sat for over 5 days, the time lock would have wound down, unless it has rusted frozen with time remaining.   Generally these locks would be 72 hour movements, so I doubt that it would have rusted solid in that short a period.

Assuming that the time lock mechanism has released, and you have already removed the combination lock, the door simply needs to be rotated to open.   If it has rusted on the door flange and body, then it may be sealed by the rust.   As steel can form massive amounts of rust off of a fairly small piece of steel, even a small amount of rust would seal the door.

You have several major problems working against you on this project, besides the rust issues.   The main one being the weight of the safe.   As you plan on restoring the safe, then excessive damage should NOT be an option.

I don't know what type of equipment that you have available, so it is hard for me to give you any guidance.   For instance I have a crane readily available.   If I was working on this door, with the assumptions listed above, I would probably lay the safe over on its back - CAREFULLY, and form a dam around the door.   Penetrating oil would be flooded onto, and around the door, hoping that enough would seep into the door frame to release any rust.   Unfortunately as these doors form an extremely tight fit, you may not be able to get enough fluid to saturate the edge of the door.
After about a week, I would attempt to rotate the door.
You can build a dam around the door, with the safe upright, and then flood the door with penetrating fluid, but this may be more difficult to accomplish.

As far as the "danger part", with the crane hinge removed from the door, "IF" the door comes loose, there is nothing to hold or support it, meaning that it could decide to leave the body of the safe and come to visit you - EXTREMELY quickly!!!!!     Remove the lock from the outer plate, and then reassemble the door and hinges so that it is fully supported BEFORE you attempt to rotate it.

Shocking or vibrating the door, may also loosen any rust and allow the door to open.    You might try to super cool the door to slightly "shrink" the door, which might allow it to rotate.   I don't think that you could apply enough heat to the body to cause it to swell away from the door.   The body is about 6" thick, and it would take a massive amount of heat for this.

You want to be careful with exerting too much force as you may damage or break the gears or gear teeth.

I would recommend flooding it with penetrating fluid and then use a large dead blow hammer to vibrate the door, while trying to turn it.   you may need to make a larger rotating handle to give you the ability to apply more torque.   Also make sure that you are going the correct direction when turning the door - you don't want to bind it up more!!!

Hope this helps

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: thank you, i have big tools. i built the cheeter bar, bolted it on. im going to start on it here in a bit. facing the door, witch way does it turn. clock wise or counter clock wise. and i have it on its back now. that was a good idea, thank you.


I've looked at several photos of screw doors and lug door type chests, and "generally" they appear to rotate clockwise to open, and counter clockwise to secure.

The handle will obviously turn the OPPOSITE direction - or turn the handle counter clockwise, which would rotate the door clockwise to open.
Turn the handle clockwise, to rotate the door counter clockwise to secure.

Let the penetrating fluid work for several days or a week.   The longer the better.    You can try wiggling the door back and forth while the fluid it doing its work, this might get it in deeper.

Good luck.

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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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