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Antique Safes/Safe won't open



Hi ,

  Have combination ,  handle turns but won't open safe .   Just had safe open the night before .  Any ideas ?

Hi John,

If the handle turns, then the lock must be unlocked.   If the door won't open then we need to go through a process of elimination.

The door is held closed by to locking bolts on the open side of the door, and two deadbolts on the hinge side of the door.   The deadbolts pretty much just keep the door from opening if someone tries to cut the hinges off.
The locking bolts secure the door closed, and when retracted they allow the door to open.   Assuming that they are retracting correctly (reference handle turning), then we go to the next item, something jammed in the door.

Doors should have a slight amount of play or wiggle.   While this play may be very slight, it still must exist for the bolt work to move in and out correctly.   However if something gets caught in the door jamb, it can keep the door from opening correctly.   Check to make sure you have a slight amount of wiggle.

Unfortunately most older doors like this do not have adjustable hinges, which means over the years if the hinges are not cleaned and lubricated occasionally, you will eventually get metal on metal, and the weight of the door will begin wearing the hinge blocks down.   If sufficient material is lost, the door can sag or drag on the threshold of the door frame (bottom).   If there is a lip, the edge of the door can actually get caught and not open.   
Inspect this area.   If there isn't enough room to slide a piece of paper under the door, it may be caught or binding.

Lift the door slightly to get it off of the frame threshold.   This may allow you to pull it free.

Regardless of the problem, you need to correct the situation so that it does not persist.   

If you still can't get the door to open, it may be time to contact a safe technician from a local safe company.   
NOTE:   I never recommend using locksmiths for safe work, as they generally DON'T have the training, knowledge or tools to work on safes, and can cause excessive damage or charge exhorbant fees.

Ok, I've given you the basic stuff to check.   If you still can't get it open, then it will require hands on problem solving and/or diagnostics to solve and correct.

Hope this helps,

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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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