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Antique Safes/van dorn safe


We recently bought a house with old van dorn safe. I have the 4 number combination. How do I dial the combination - turns to the right or left- How many?

Hi David,

First thing we have to identify what you actually have - While Van Dorn Iron Works did sell safes, I have no information that they ever actually made safes.   They did make wrought Iron fences, gates and jail cells - and possibly sold safes as part of the business.

The majority of the safes that I've seen with this companies logo were manufactured by other companies.

As far as the dialing sequence for the lock, it WILL depend on the lock installed in general there are going to be TWO dialing sequences though - LRLR and RLRL as:

4 times left to the first number,
3 times right to the second number,
2 times left to the third number,
1 time right until the dial stops - or possibly - stopping at the fourth number.    Turn the handle to open.

Note 1:   Left is counter clockwise, Right is clockwise.  DO NOT count the revolutions of the dial, count the individual number as it ARRIVES at the 12 o'clock index mark.    For instance if your first number is 50, you would turn the dial counter clockwise (left), stopping the FOURTH time the number 50 arrives at the index mark.

If it doesn't work, then reverse the directions above, or RLRL instead of LRLR.

NOTE 2:  There are ONLY three reasons a safe lock will not open - in order, they are:

1.   Incorrect dialing sequence, operator errors
2.   Incorrect combination, wrong numbers,
3.   Mechanical problems.

Generally previous owners pass combinations along, the way that THEY understand them, and NOT necessarily the way that they actually work.    As you didn't provide the instructions that you have for the safe, I can't advise you one way or the other on it.

If you still can't get it open, after trying the above methods, and after we try to ID the safe and/or lock (I'll need photos), then your next option would be to have it opened by a trained safe technician from a local safe company.

Hope this helps, let me know if you need more assistance.

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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

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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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