You are here:

Antique Safes/MacNeale & Urban Safe


Hi - we are a store in a building that housed a grocery store at one time. There is a MacNeale & Urban Safe in the store and we have done our research and asked our customers to crack our safe. Last year (our first for asking customers) we gave the customers a list of four letter words ending in K and the instructions (4,3,2,1,stop). No one got it but a customer told us that her research suggested that the four letter combination was probably NOT a word (she came back with a stethoscope even.)
Well, today, a customer whose grandfather had the same/similar safe came in and quickly got the safe to unlock on the word Bank. This is really exciting for us as we've been told that the safe has not been opened in at least 50 years. The problem is that it is still not open! It's unlocked, you can hear and feel it unlock as you turn the handles, but it will not pull open, not even a little give. Any suggestions for how to get the doors to actually open?

Hi Robin,

The biggest problem that I see at this point is your lack of understanding how the lock AND bolt work operate and interact with each other.    The LOCK and bolt work operation are TOTALLY independent of each other with the exception that the bolt work cannot operate UNTIL the lock bolt is fully retracted.    If the safe has two doors, then DO NOT try to turn both handles at the same time.   The left hand (active) door (safes left hand not yours), has to operate and the door has to open, BEFORE you attempt to turn the handle or open the right (inactive) door.  SO:
Step one - unlock lock,
Step two - turn handle of active door (left hand)
Step three - pull active door open,
Step four - turn handle of inactive door (right hand)
Step five - pull inactive door open.

Step one:
You may not have dialed the combination correctly if the handle on the active door won't turn.  The correct dialing sequence is:

4 times RIGHT to the first letter,
3 times Left to the second letter,
2 times Right to the third letter,
1 time Left to the fourth letter,
right until the dial stops.

Make sure that you are dialing it correctly.    If you dial it LRLR, you may feel it engage, but it may not actually retract the lock bolt.

NOTE:   Left is counter clockwise, Right is clockwise.   DO NOT COUNT the revolutions of the dial, count the individual letter as it arrives at the index mark.   For instance if your first letter is "B", you will turn the dial clockwise (right), stopping the fourth time the letter "B" arrives at the 12 o'clock index mark.

"IF" the lock has been unlocked correctly, and fully retracted, THEN the handle will turn.   If you are trying to turn the handles and the lock at the same time, you are NOT unlocking the lock.
"IF" the handle will not turn, then the lock bolt is either NOT fully retracted, or you have a bolt work issue.
"IF" the handle turns but the door won't open, it may be jammed, rusted shut or you may have a hinge problem.
"IF" the handles turn DO NOT try to open both doors at the same time as you will jam the doors.   It may not appear to open as it doesn't take much to jam them.    OPEN ONE DOOR at a time in the correct order.   If they are jammed, you need to fully close BOTH doors to release them, then open them one at a time.

Generally mechanical problems can not be deduced remotely - Problem solving like this requires hands on diagnostics and solutions, meaning if you can't get it open, then its time to call in a professional safe technician familiar with this type of safe, to figure out what the actual problem is.

Note:   I never recommend Diagnostics as a DIY project for the same reason that I don't recommend using locksmiths for safe work.   Lack of understanding, knowledge and training, can result in a very expensive lockout.

If you don't have a local safe company to call, let me know where you are located and I'll see who I might know or recommend in your area.

Hope this helps - don't make it worse.

Antique Safes

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


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

©2017 All rights reserved.