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Locksmithing/correction "Old" Cole safe.


QUESTION: I just purchased a vintage (circa 50's/60'# Cole file cabinet and safe combination off of Craigslist from the original owner. It is perfectly functioning, and I want to keep it in that condition.

However, the exterior cabinet has rust damage, and shows years of wear/tear.

I would like to refinish the cabinet's interior and exterior.

Best case: I want to pick change the color. However, I am willing to maintain the integrity of the cabinet if that adds value down the line. I am looking to outsource the refinishing to a professional (in otherwords, I don't want to sandpaper it myself and use spray cans).
My research on calling restoration places suggested both electromagnetic paint methods and powder coating methods.

The biggest challenge, however, is the safe. As I said, it functions perfectly. I have a photocopy of the original card with the original (still accurate) combination. (The daughter of the original owner couldn't part with that piece -- she barely could part with the cabinet).

What is your suggestion for me to address the interior and exterior aesthetics of this vintage cabinet and safe?

ANSWER: Scott,

Unless your Cole cabinet is a case of wine or a grape harvest, then it isn't "vintage", it is simply old!

These Cole cabinets are not safes, have no fire or burglary resistance, and should NOT be used for overnight storage of cash, jewelry, valuable documents or any other important items.

As far as your restoring it, simply go ahead and clean up the rust, paint it and enjoy it.

Hopefully you didn't pay to much for it, as it will be another 50 years or so before it actually has any collectible value.

Sorry, I know this probably isn't the answer that you were looking for.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: My concern and question to you is really in regards to the locking mechanism of the safe. Will painting the cabinet damage it? Can I simply tape up the dial mechanism and paint around it?

Should I use powder coating as a form of paint treatment? My concern with that is the oven baking finish. In that case, would putting the cabinet in the over cause damage to the safe's ability to function?

Or is using electromagnetic painting process the better option?

Because I'm lousy with spray paint, I'd rather not go that route and want to make this "old" cabinet look new. I'm less interested in the value. I just want it to function and look nice. And I want the safe to still lock and unlock as intended.

If you are unable to answer my question specifically as it relates to which painting process is best to not damage the safe's locking mechanism, would you please offer me another resource who may be best able to answer that question?

Thank you.


Generally that's how most safes and/or cabinets are painted, use the blue painters tape to make it easier to remove.   Shoot it with your favorite can of spray paint.

If you choose to powder coat or some other process, I would have all of the hardware removed.   Locks, handles, etc., anything that can come off should come off.   After you have it finished the way that you like it, have everything reinstalled.   Some of the screw holes or spindle holes may need to be cleaned out depending on how much overspray is applyied.   Re-tap any screw holes to ensure that the threads are clean.

Powder coating WILL give the container a much more "wear resistant" finish that will probably out last the container.

Areas that close, like drawer or door edges need to have the minimum amount of spray so that they will continue to close smoothly.

I salute your ideas to spruce the cabinet up.   Generally things like this simply wind up in the trash or scrap metal yards.

If you are not able to paint, or don't have the equipment, I would recommend that you enlist the services of a paint shop.   As many of these companies specialize in sheet metal work, auto body repairs and painting, they would be ideal for work like this.    I've seen a lot of safes that were done at facilities like this, though with an actual safe, the doors and framing is a little more critical and does require much more work.

As it doesn't have any "current" collectible status, I would recommend having the paint job done in a manner that YOU will enjoy, every time you walk into the room it is in.   If the interior is simply sheet metal cabinets, think about adding some thin wooden cabinetry to make it look much more than it originally was.   If the paint and cabinetry complement each other you may wind up with something that has some real value.

Good luck with the container.


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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 42 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. 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 Author of "The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes".

SafeCrackers International and the National Antique Safe Association Safe & Vault Technicians Association (SAVTA)

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 Expert 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 and Western Nevada)

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