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Antique Safes/2 national vault doors from 1906


QUESTION: My husband and I have a construction business.  We are working on a bank building that was built in 1906.  My husbands family recently purchased the bank.  We have 2 nation safe vault doors that we are needing to be restored.  We are having a hard time finding someone qualified to do the work.

The bank is in Spencer Nebraska, a small town in north Nebraska.

If you have any information on people that do this type of work and are willing to travel, please forward their information.

ANSWER: Hi Becky,

Bad news and bad news - there are only about 1/2 dozen companies or individuals in the US that do restoration work, and secondly - they don't generally travel.    The majority of the restoration work that is done, is done at their shop, or on location if local.

Depending on the size of the doors, this can be a VERY time consuming job.    We restored three (over 40 ton) vault doors, several years ago, at the old Federal Reserve building in San Francisco.    Fortunately we were able to squeeze the work between our regular scheduled work, but it still took almost two years and with all the work and material came close to $160,000.    Obviously the amount and type of restoration WILL depend on what the current condition is and how much work is involved.    With these doors, there was a lot of major rust which had to be removed.    These doors were so large that the floors in front of them (11' x 6') had to drop 15" to allow room for the doors to open, which meant the pits were between 3 to 4 feet deep.   The counter-balance elevator floors were pretty much rotted out, so we had to design and install new electro-hydraulic lifts.

Possibly the closest company that does some restoration work, to Nebraska would be:

Frank Zykan of Frank Zykan Safe & Vault, LLC in St. Charles, MO.    As this is around 630 miles to Spencer, Nebraska, I would anticipate his having to stay over until the work is completed, which means that if you are serious about the restoration work, then be prepared for some serious $$$'s to change hands.

This by no means is your only option.    While you can also make this a DIY project, it would depend on what your capabilities are.   You can always sub out the parts of the project that you aren't comfortable with.    For instance actual maintenance on the bolt work, hinges and locking mechanism should be left to a professional safe & vault technician.

You could also check with a local college's art department to see if they wanted to be involved with the restoration portion of the project.   If not, they still might have some talented artists that would be willing to work for some cash.

Sorry, I can't be of more help, but this portion of the industry is extremely small.

Hope this helps,

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

Vault doors - Spencer Nebraska
Vault doors - Spencer  

The vault doors that we are talking about are still actually functioning.  There has been a bank operating in the same location since 1906.  The doors are 4' x around 7' tall.  

The only issue that we have is to find someone to strip the tacky gold paint that someone painted over the original finish, repaint it somewhere close to the original color which was evidently aluminum bronze, and stencil the details.

I have been in contact with Matt Lamborn and he said he would be willing to come and do the stencil, but we are looking on where to direct the stripping and painting to.

I personally do a lot of woodwork stripping and painting, but do not feel that I would be able to give it the professional finish that it deserves.

We just do not know where to look or who to ask.  I wondered about automotive body guys, but don't know if that is reasonable or if there is someone who would specialize doing this.

Any suggestions where I could look would be helpful.  This is a great historic building in a little small town and it would be great to give them a piece of their history back!



ANSWER: Hi Becky,

Very nice looking pair of light weight, crane hinge, pressure bar doors.    Though the paint job on these doors is NOT original, they have been painted over - probably several times.

Matt is very talented, and I would recommend him highly.    I didn't recommend him originally as he is much further away than Frank.

Regardless of whether or not "YOU" think the doors are functioning correctly, "IF" you plan on actually operating the doors, then you WILL need them serviced.

Also, Regardless of whether or not the bank actually was in business, continually from 1906 to present, I can tell you from experience that regular maintenance was NOT done on the door.   Banks generally DO NOT have any maintenance done until something breaks or the door won't actually open.

My comments were based on your request to have the doors "restored", which WILL include a full service, which means complete disassembly, removal of all the old grease, cleaning, relubricating and reassembly - NOT just having some stenciling or art work done.

So you need to separate the restoration work out into TWO completely separate portions:

    1.   Maintenance and service work
    2.   Painting and art work restoration.

Item ONE - Maintenance.    All of the maintenance and service NEEDS TO BE DONE - BEFORE the paint work.    You don't want a nice paint job getting damaged during servicing.
Item TWO - Maintenance AND the painters need to work together as some areas WILL overlap.
Item THREE - Painters must understand how the door closes and locks, as the door jamb and frame compresses to extremely tight tolerances.    TOO much paint will keep the door from closing correctly, and/or not being able to open.     NOTE:   The paint MUST be allowed to fully dry AND cure as closing the door with wet or tacky paint would be the same thing as gluing it shut - possibly permanently!!!

As far as automotive painters go - they are basically the "trained monkeys" of the paint world - (and I know I'm going to get beat up over this one, :) ).   while they can do an excellent job on cars and similar items, where they have a paint booth, and drying lights, etc. etc. etc.   This is not the same type of paint work - and you can verify this with Matt.   Painting or doing a restoration paint job on an antique safe or vault door is a very different trick, which is one of the reasons that sign painters and graphic artist charge a heck of a lot more than an automotive painter.    Don't try to mix apples and oranges.     If you can find an automotive painter, who is ALSO a graphics artist (like Matt), THEN you have someone you can discuss the project with.

Unfortunately, where the safe is, you may be forced to use painters and service techs that I would normally NOT recommend for this type of work

I hope you understand that I'm not trying to beat you down on this project, I just want you to understand the full implications of restoration.    Trust me, I'm being really easy on you about this.    I really laid into the historical society in Tombstone, AZ when they asked me about restoration - in their opinion letting a safe rust away was more important than actually preserving it.

Hope this helps,

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


Being in the construction field we know the difference between being an expert and someone who dabbles in an area.  We encounter this all the time, and that is why we are looking to experts like you.

The vault doors have been serviced through the years.  My husbands family are the ones who have bought the bank and the family actually knows the person who has been servicing these vault doors through the years.  From what I understand, they have it serviced every year for at least the past several years that we know of.

That being said, this guy did recommend someone to us that does the finish restoration.  The problem is that the person recommended to us has recently experienced a serious family illness and will not be available while he tends to his family.  This has left us trying to find someone else in the field.  We have tried to research but as you said, the trade is small.

I will look at trying to contact Frank Zykan and see if he can help me.  If we were not serious about trying to end up with a professional finish, we would not be going to the extra effort to find quality tradesmen to do the work.

Thanks for your help.

Hi Becky,

Great, then you are on the right track.

Usually I find just the opposite - with people wanting the Cadillac work on the Volkswagen budget.   :)

As I recommended, you have a lot of resources available to you, like the art department at a local college.    It won't hurt to discuss the restoration art with some local custom automotive painters.    The one that I use does work similar to what Matt does, but he also does custom auto and motorcycle paint jobs.    He is Arlen Ness's "go to guy" for custom paint.  

Basically you just need to think outside the box when looking for help.    It may actually come from the most unlikely source.     Some really good artists (for instance), are Tattoo artists.     While painting with a brush and needle gun are vastly different, they can still be some really good artists.

Another really important area to consider as part of your project is to document, document, document the history of the bank and the doors, including ALL of the restoration work that you have done.

Good luck with the doors, and don't forget to send me some photos when they are done.  

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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 44 years in the Safe & Vault industry, if I can't answer your question I know where to get the answer. Current Project: Restoration of an Ely Norris Cannonball Safe from the early 1900'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.


44 years in the Safe & Vault Industry. Owner and 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. Author of "The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes". 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 Safe & Vault Technicians Association

The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes

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 - 2015 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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