You are here:

Antique Safes/Dis-assembly of lock mechanism


I currently have two antique safes which I have combinations for and can open. Problem is both are in need of restoration and I need to know how to remove dials and entire mechanism from the doors in order to clean them up and return them to original condition. Both have been repainted on a regular basis and have from 4 to 5 layers over the original finish. I can send any photos you need, even have a very nice high res camera with macro function. One lock is Sargent-Greanleaf the other is Yale-Towne. The safe with the Yale-Towne lock was most likely made between 1920 and 1930, the other safe I have not determined age for. Lock patents both show pre-1900. Thanks in advance for your help.

Hi Jim,

This forum isn't designed to "teach" lock disassembly, there simply isn't enough time or space, and much of it requires hands on training.   Generally BASIC safe lock servicing is a one week hands on class, with a pre-requisite that you already have locksmith training.

So I have to caveat this by recommending that you DO NOT perform safe lock disassembly as a DIY project.   Rather you should have a trained safe technician disassemble the lock and correctly reassemble the lock when you finish the reconditioning.    

The problem is that very expensive lockouts are caused by even one piece of the lock being reinstalled incorrectly.

That being said, I'm sure that you are going to attempt this yourself, so I've done my part in warning you.

In general, most lock manufactures have their own methods for attaching the dial to the lock cam wheel.   You need to pay close attention to how and where this attachment occurs as misalignment during reassembly could easily mean the lock no longer works correctly.    A good analogy would be having you go into your doctors office speaking English, and come out speaking German.   No one would understand you any longer.

Generally the dial has a threaded shaft or arbor, and the drive wheel or cam is also threaded.   The dial spindle is screwed into the drive wheel.    The drive wheel or cam may have one or more key ways cut into it.   These are the alignment points.   The dial spindle also has one or more key ways.    When the dial spindle has been screwed into the drive wheel, and aligned at the correct key way, a spline key is inserted to lock the two together.

Removal is usually as simple as carefully removing the spline key and unscrewing the dial & spindle from the drive wheel.

Note:   If the spline key is not removed correctly (it may be very tight), it can be broken off.   This little "SNAFU" could make the disassembly process go from easy to extremely difficult.    The problem being that replacement parts are NOT going to be readily available.   Removal of the broken spline key WITHOUT damaging the drive wheel, the dial spindle AND the threads is critical.

As mentioned different manufacturers may have different means of attaching the drive wheel and the dial spindle, without seeing exactly what you have, I can't go into more detail, however this does describe the majority of the dial / drive wheel installations.

Reinstallation is not as simple as just screwing them back together.   There are SEVERAL major alignment issues that can keep the lock from working correctly.   Again, I recommend that you have the work done by a trained safe technician.

Hopefully this will help you out, HOWEVER as stated, as this is a GENERAL forum and NOT intended as a TRAINING site.   Please don't send a continuous string of questions in regards to servicing and/or repairing of the safe or lock.   I hate turning away legitimate questions, however I'm not answering questions on this site to train anyone.   It's not the sites purpose or my purpose.

Again, that being said, this is similar to the reasons that I got into this trade, so I salute your efforts.    If this is a one time thing for you, then again, contact a local safe company to have them assist you.    If you like doing this type of work, it can be a good to great career, depending on your passion.    I've got a couple good friends that specialize in antique safe restoration and make a good living at it.
If you have decided to make this something that you are going to do on a continuing basis, then I have several recommendations to help head you down this path.    Learning to be a safe technician, regardless of whether you are doing this as a hobby or a career can be rewarding, though it will take some time and some $$$'s to obtain.

Good luck with your projects.    I would love to see before and after photos of the restoration work.    If you have questions pertaining to the safe manufacturers and/or age I would be happy to entertain these questions.

I would also recommend your checking out the following sites:

and "Matts antique safe restoration" on FaceBook.

Guy Zani Jr., is probably the most prolific safe collector that I know of in the US, with quite a collection of safed to look at.   His website is dedicated to his collection.

Matt Lamborn is a professional graphics artist and sign painter.   His work is some of the best in the US.

The last site I would check out are some friends of mine in Singapore.   Unlike Guy Zani Jr., and Matt Lamborn,   David & Desmond Siah have been in the safe business for several generations, specializing in restoration of early European antique safes.    Many of these safes actually looked like furniture.    They have the ability to make a steel safe look like it was made from wood.

Hopefully these sites will help you develop a passion for this art.    If you are interested in the extra training to become a bonafide safe technician, I would be happy to direct you to some sources as well.

Again, good luck with the work.

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.