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Locksmithing/Sargent & Greenleaf, Inc. Combo


I purchased this safe for $75 about 9 years ago. The company I bought it from couldn't get it to open using the combo they had, but I spent about a week playing with the numbers and figuring out the right combination to open it. Once I had it open, there were instructions inside for setting a new combo, which I did.

I have been using the safe ever sense with no issues until yesterday,  I entered the combo and got the dial to spin to the "locked" position, where it would normally open, but the handles would not budge.

I don't know the age of the safe - it has a tag on the front of it that says "Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., Inspected Light Weight Safe 16863" and the combo dial says "Sargent & Greenleaf, Inc., Nicholasville, Kentucky".

What are my options? Do I need to figure out the new numbers the lock has chosen (can the dials slip over time)? Can a lock smith help me or am I going to have to get out my blow torch?

Hi Mark,

I did look at your photos in the second posting, so I know what you have.

The safe is NOT a Sargent & Greenleaf safe, it was manufactured by the Art Metal Construction Co. (or, AMCO or simply Art Metal).  This company was in business from the about 1880 until the early 1950's, in Jamestown, NY.
The safe is a light weight fire resistive container, designed to protect documents from heat, during a fire.

The lock on this container is not original and has been replaced at some point with the Sargent & Greenleaf lock you currently have.   S&G locks are quality locks, however like anything else, they have to be serviced on a regular basis to keep them operating correctly.

Based on your comments it doesn't sound like your lock has been serviced in at least the nine years that you've owned it, and possibly not since it was originally installed.   Unless the lock has had a major internal failure, the lock has NOT chosen new numbers.   while it is possible for locks to "slip" slightly, this is NOT a problem with the lock in itself, as much as it is with incorrect dialing of the lock or "spinning" the dial rapidly.    If you can imagine, it is similar to revving the engine on a car and then slamming it into gear, the transmission can only take so much before it fails.   Similarly, while the lock is not an engine or transmission it does have small delicate parts which can easily get damaged or adjust the combination slightly.     

Annual maintenance of the lock by a trained safe technician (NOT a locksmith) will keep the lock working optimally for years with no problems.

What you can try doing right now, is to add/subtract single numbers to each number of your combination to attempt to get it to open.   If successful then I would NOT recommend locking the safe further until after you have had it serviced correctly.    If you can't get it open, then you will need to contact a local safe tech to have the safe opened and repaired.

For instance if your combination is  20-40-60 adding and subtracting numbers would yield:

19-39-59          21-41-61
18-38-58          22-42-62
17-37-57          23-43-63
etc. etc.

You can try these test numbers up to 10 numbers on either side of your actual combination.  You can also test each wheel singly by dialing your standard combination, but adding and subtracting single digits to only ONE number of the combination at a time.

If the lock still won't open, then it may have further problems which will require a visit by the local safe tech.

I'm not sure based on your comments if you actually got the lock to stop at the unlocked position or not???   You indicated that you were able to spin the dial to the locked position - NOT the unlocked position????    If you are able to dial your combination, and the dial comes to a full and complete stop, then it is in the UNLOCKED position.   In this case ignore the info I provided above as it is not relevant.

If the dial has stopped at the UNLOCKED position, but the handles will not turn, then you do not have a problem with the lock.    

First ensure that the lock has FULLY retracted the lock bolt.   The dial should stop somewhere between 90-95 if it was installed correctly.

If the handles will still not turn then you have a bolt work issue and possibly a relocker activation.    Art Metal did not install external relocking devices, which would indicate that possibly the back cover of your lock has come loose, activating the internal relock trigger.   If this is the case, you WILL need to have a local, trained safe tech open your safe.

NOTE:   I would STRONGLY NOT recommend your attempting to cut into the safe to try to open it up.    Art Metal safes were known users of asbestos as an insulation material, meaning that this is a HAZMAT item.    As long as the material is sealed inside of the safe walls, it does not pose any type of health risk, however cutting into the safe WILL expose the material.    If it becomes airborne and anyone inhales it, it could prove to be a severe health risk!!!

Check your local yellow pages under "Safes & Vaults" for local safe companies.   You can discuss options and fees with them.    If you don't have any local safe companies and/or no available trained safe technicians to work on your safe, let me know where you are located (zip code) and I'll see who I might know in your area that I would recommend.

Hope this helps,


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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 40 years in the Safe & Vault industry, if I can't answer your question I know where to get the answer. Current Project: Restoration of two Tilton & McFarland safes from the 1860'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.


40 years in the Safe & Vault Industry. 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

SafeCrackers International and the National Antique Safe Association

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 - 2014 - 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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