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Antique Safes/Obtaining parts for restoration project


Inside door panel
Inside door panel  

Interior door
Interior door  
First of all, thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my question. I recently picked up an old mosler floor safe.  I don't believe there is much value to it but I really like it and have been trying to get as much information as I can about restoring it. The combination lock works great on the exterior door and I have the combination.  After opening the main door there is an inner door that opens fine but appears to be missing a lock.  I can see where there used to be a lock attached to the back of the door.  When you open the interior door it opens the main compartment where there is an older safe deposit type box that is also missing the lock on the door.  

I took the safe deposit box to several locksmiths in town to ask if the could find a replacement lock.  None of them could match the lock that is missing.  I'm guessing they didn't look very hard or didn't have the expertise to know what to look for.  The inside of the safe door says Mosler Safe Co. and after removing this panel 1952 is scratched into the cement filling the door.   

I would love to restore the locks to the two doors now missing locks as well as refinish the entire safe.  If you could provide me with information on where to obtain the replacement locks and advice on best ways to refinish I would appreciate it.  If you recommend brand of paint or recommend a primer before putting the finish coat on or any other helpfull advice would be great!  


Hi Kody,

While I am enthused that you are taking on your safe as a restoration project, I also have to be the bearer of some bad news.

In general, when locks are taken off of an old safe, they are usually headed for someone's collection.   Very few locksmiths or safe technicians keep a supply of "donor" locks to be used on other safes - ESPECIALLY the smaller key locks used on the interior.

Bottom line - unless YOU know exactly what lock that you need, most shops simply aren't going to take the time to dig through boxes of old locks to see if they MIGHT have one that is close or actually fits.    In business, time is money, and spending an hour digging through a box looking for a lock that you might make $15-$30 for, simply isn't good business.

Most of the old locks that might be kept as replacement parts, are usually for "THEIR" project safes, more than for resale.

What does this mean for your restoration project???    Chances are you are not going to find the exact locks that you are going to need.   You can either leave the safe without the locks, or you can find something that is close, and retrofit it on to the safe.

Generally retrofitting a lock is going to be your best option.    As I mentioned above - "time is money", so spending a lot of your time looking for a lock that may not exist, also does not make good sense.    if you make the necessary effort, and can't find a replacement, then stop looking and go on to plan "B" - retrofitting.

In order to do this, what we do is to take the existing door, and weld up the current lock holes, machine in the new holes for the replacement lock, repaint the door and install the lock.   

No one is going to know that the lock on that door was not original, if - 1.  it is done correctly and looks good, and more importantly, 2. if it isn't a brand new, current model lock!!!

There are old key locks available, which may not match the mounting pattern for your missing locks, but they are perfectly suitable as replacement/retrofit locks.

As far as recommending a brand or type of paint - I'm not a painter, so the best I can offer is some simple guide lines.   If you want a professionally done job, then you would need to discuss this with someone along those lines.

In general - if it doesn't come in a spray can, then I don't paint it!!!   that being said, originally the paint used on your safe was either a lead based or oil based type of paint.   As I'm NOT an Eco-Nazi, I don't have problems with your using either type of paint, however depending on where you are at, one or both may not be available.   You may want to discuss your project with your local paint dealer to see what they recommend.
As far as the pin striping and art work, there are plenty of "Art, Hobby shops" around, to pick up the type of paint that you will need for this work.

When we do a full restoration, we remove all of the locks and hardware, and have the safe and door sand or bead blasted, to remove all of the old paint.   You would immediately want to get a couple coats of a rust preventative primer paint laid down as a base coat.   Usually the older steel used on safes was fairly porous, and with any rust, it may also be pitted.   Use a fairing compound to obtain a smooth surface that you can paint over.   There are several materials that you can use like Bondo, or check at either a TAP Plastic store, or even a Marine supply Company like "West Marine" to see what materials they have as fairing compounds.

Depending on the material that you use to obtain a smooth finish, this may dictate the type of paint that you use for your outer finish.

Note:   Areas around the door edge and frame, should be kept as thin as possible so that it will NOT affect the closing of the door.  Built up fairing compound and paint, can and will keep the doors from closing correctly.

After you have your main paint laid and smoothed, you can put on your art work, lettering and pin striping.   Afterwards, you will need a protective finish.   Originally safe manufacturers used varnish, however over the years it yellows and needs to be removed and resurfaced.   You can check with your paint supplier for a suitable clear coat, which will not yellow and is compatible with the paint that you use.

If you don't have the technical skills to do the painting and restoration work, you will need to "SUB" some or all of the work out.   Professional painters are an option, but you could also check with a local college art department to see if they would be interested in taking on your safe as a restoration project.   At a minimum, they might have some talented students who would be willing to take on your project for some $$$'s.

Hopefully I've answered most of your questions, or at least provided you with some direction.   I do have some older key locks available, though I can't guarantee that they will fit your existing lock foot print.    I would need a "to scale" drawing, with measurements, to look through my locks to see what I have that might work.

You can send your request along with the drawing to me at:     I'll look to see what I have.

Hope this helps,

Antique Safes

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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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