Locksmithing/Antique J Baum Safe


QUESTION: I have a J Baum safe that will not open with the combination that has worked for years.  The combination clicks , as it always has
when the last number is slowly reached and it sounds as if a metal
ball drops slightly. But the t-bar will not turn to open the door.
 Is there a way to open it without major damage ? Who could repair
this safe ?  I live in SC.

ANSWER: George,

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

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

As you have indicated that you have used the same combination for years, I have to assume that you are dialing it correctly and that you have the correct numbers.   This would leave possible mechanical problems.

The J. Baum safes used either a Yale OB series type lock, or Baum's verson of this lock.   The lock utilizes a gravity lever to block the bolt work from operating.   When the combination is dialed correctly, the gravity lever pivots up, into the wheel pack.   The opposite end drops down out of the way of the bolt work, allowing the handle to retract the bolt work.

"IF" something has gotten caught in the door, and/or the bolt work isn't fully extended, it may cause pressure on the gravity lever, keeping it from moving correctly.   You can PRESS in on the door, and wiggle the handle back and forth to try to free the lever.   

If it still won't open, then you may need to have the safe checked out by a safe technician.   Mechanical problems tend to be "HANDS ON" diagnostics and solutions.

I'll need to have a little better idea of where you are located (zipcode) to recommend a safe tech.   Probably the closest companies that I would recommend are:

Tarheel Safe & Lock Inc
412 West Ketchie Street
China Grove, NC 28023

Talton's Safes
5944 Fayetteville Rd
Raleigh, NC   27603

Sorry I don't have anyone closer.   One of these should be able to help, or they may know of someone in your area.

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

QUESTION: Thank you Terry.
I believe that it is a mechanical problem.
The two shops that you named are about 160 miles away , about 3.5 and 5
hours away at best.
My zip code is 29621.
The safe does have fragile irreplaceable documents in it.

ANSWER: George,

Sorry that I don't have any better contacts to give you, now you can see why I warn people to be extremely careful concerning safe lockouts and who they have do the work.    I see so many ruined safes by people "CLAIMING" to be professional.    Trust me - It sometimes makes me "ill" to have to give out some of these names.  

Unfortunately, there are some areas of the US, that simply do not have any qualified safe technicians, and unless you are willing to pay someone a bundle of money to travel, or you are willing to take the safe to a reputable company, you are kinda stuck, using some "hack"!

Unfortunately it would be awfully expensive to have me fly to SC to open the safe for you.



Having work done on your safe is definitly a "Buyer Beware" action.   While a lot of locksmith companies advertise that they do the work, the quality of the work or outcome is the bottom line.    
It's kind of like having open heart surgury.   While EVERY doctor knows where the heart is located and has a basic idea of what lies between the outside and the inside - VERY FEW are actually qualified to do the work.   You want to ensure (before someone opens the safe), that you have a good idea of what you are getting into.   You should understand how they plan on opening the safe (amount of damage), how they plan on repairing the safe (parts are NOT available), and exactly what the charges are going to be.    Anyone that ballparks or gives you vague answers is actually telling you that they really don't know what they are doing.   There should be no hidden charges.
For instance - a few years ago I did some work for a fast food chain, they ASSUMED that all locksmiths and safe men are created equal, and so MY flat fee of $450 to open & repair their safe was much higher than a local locksmiths quoted $50 per hour.   They went with the locksmith.   3 days later, when the safe was finally opened - the locksmith presented them with a bill for $1100, with NO repairs!!!    The chain had to call me in to repair all of the damage, which resulted in another $700.    When the District manager wanted to know why my fee had gone from $450 to $700, I had to explain that my original quote was to open a perfectly good safe with a malfunctioning lock - the locksmith had come close to ruining their safe.
Bottom line, the locksmith never received any more work from this chain, yet they have been a good customer of mine for over 10 years now, because they know that they can count on my service at a reasonable price.

Discount Lock & Safe         about 20 miles
121 River Road Circle
Piedmont, South Carolina   29673

Advanced Safe & Lock         about 35 miles
311 Center street
Greenwood, SC  29649

Braselton Safe & Lock        about 60 miles
PO Box 302
Braselton, GA  30517

While my original recommendations are based on my personal knowledge of both of the companies, I don't personally know any of these three companies, so I cannot recommend their work - all I can do is give you the names of the closer companies - it is up to you to determine who will work on your safe.
If you have any questions concerning the methods (open AND repairs) or costs, please feel free to run it by me first.    I don't try to price fix at all, however the way that a company bids a job can be a clue about the work that they perform.

Hope this helps,

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

QUESTION: Dear Andy:
     The answers that I got were not encouraging. Most of the lock smith companies I called did not reply at all.
     I decided to try blowing some graphite lubricant into the problem area - no change. Then I tried wd-40 and no change. Now after 8 days I tried again to open the safe with the combination, it clicked as it has for many years, but the t-bar did not move. I got called away and left it without turning the combination away from open. I came back this afternoon and the temperature had dropped, in the room where the safe has been for over a hundred years, from near 70F to 23F below freezing. I tried again and the t-bar turned with difficulty but it opened. When I opened the safe door
I found a deep scratch on  top bar controlled by the t-bar and a small rock with concrete on it in the hole in the safe wall for the top locking bar to lock the safe door. It appears that the differential contraction of the bar and other materials were just enough to allow the locking bar to move and dislodge the small rock. As you know the safe walls and door were filled with concrete. It appears the problem was caused by the failing filler concrete with a small rock becoming stuck in the area above and slightly to the front of the top t-bar (where the scratch was made.
   Thanks for your help. I understand why opening a jammed safe is a hands on proposition.


Glad that you stuck with it and got it open.   This is exactly why we recommend regular maintenance on safes.    Cracks and chips in the insulation can result in debris which can easily jam the bolt work up, which you found out about the hard way.

Graphite lubricant and WD-40 are some of the worst things you can use in a combination lock, somewhere between Lard and sewing machine oil.   While they have their purposes, locks is not one of them.

The safe walls are not filled with concrete.   Every manufacturer had their own "recipe" for insulation material, including gypsum, mortar alum, plaster of Paris, asbestos, and other numerous items.   Concrete didn't start being used until the 1950's.   While I don't doubt that the item may have been a rock, or a chunk of mortar, J. Baum safes don't have concrete insulation.

I recommend a good cleaning of the bolt work and operating area.   If the insulation material is cracked or has chips, you may want to get some mortar repair material to paste into the cracks to keep more debris from loosening.    I would also recommend having the lock cleaned and serviced to remove any old grease, and the WD-40 and Graphite.   This will become a problem later on if it isn't cleaned and lubricated correctly.

Sorry about the "locksmiths", this is one of the reasons that I never recommend them for safe work.    We have to open a safe at a Toys-R-Us tomorrow, that a locksmith has been working on for almost three weeks now.    I'm NOT looking forward to seeing the amount of damage that has been caused, though I have to applaud him for sticking with it that long, he should have known the first day that he wasn't competent to even work on the safe.

Remember Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry series???    "A Man's GOT to know his limitations"!

Good luck with your safe.  


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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 AllExperts.com

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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