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Locksmithing/Mosler Safe circa 1905


I have a Mosler safe. It weighs about 1,600 pounds. I purchased it from an individual who said that it have been restored functionally prior to him purchasing it. I have had no problems with it until moving it to another city.

Now, I cannot open it. There is no apparent damage to the safe. The safe dial still rotates freely. can the combination become messed up and non-functional just by moving it 350 miles in a trailer?

What could have happened and what are my options?

Hi Dean,

No, I doubt the combination become "messed up" during the move, however this doesn't mean that other things can't be causing the lock not to work correctly.   Many of these items won't show up as damage externally.

There are ONLY three reasons that a safe lock will not open - in order they are:
1.  Incorrect dialing sequences, Operator errors,
2.  Incorrect combinations, wrong numbers
3.  Mechanical problems.

As you didn't mention how long that you have had the safe since your purchase, and you didn't mention how often that you actually use it, my first assumption is that the instructions you received from the previous owner, were based on how HE understood the operation and not necessarily he way the lock operates.   I also have to assume that you may not have the correct combination.

While the wheels will NOT change the combination set on them during your move, there are other items that can be causing the lock NOT to work.    First item - it is really easy to bump the dial, slightly moving the dial ring.  Dial ring shift (depending on how much) can shift the combination up to five numbers either way.

Second item - loose mounting screws.    Chances are you haven't had the lock serviced in years, so there are possible numerous items inside the lock that can affect the lock operation.    Loose mounting screws can allow the dial ring to move, the lock body to move, etc. etc.    Any of these items can shift the combination that the lock uses slightly, even though the combination itself, on the wheels has NOT changed.

Third Item - If the safe door shifted or moved during transport, the locking bolt work may be causing what we describe as BOLT END PRESSURE.    Pressure exhibited upon the lock bolt can jam up the lock keeping the lever assembly from correctly engaging the lock.

In general, my first recommendation is for you to contact a trained safe technician from a local safe company to have the safe and lock checked out and/or to open and repair it.    Mechanical problems REQUIRE hands on diagnostics and solutions.    Without having the safe and lock in front of me - in my hot little hands, all I can do is surmise and guess.

So what can you try as an intermediate fix???    

1.  Ensure that the door is not jammed or tight.   There should be a slight amount of play in it.
2.  Ensure that the handle and locking bolt work is not jammed or tight.   There should be a slight amount of play in it.   Also, make sure that the handle is fully turned in the direction that you would normally turn it to LOCK the door.   This ensures that there is no external pressure on the lock.
3.  As you have indicated that the dial is moving smoothly, it isn't indicating any glaring issues, however you should STILL be able to feel the pick up of each individual wheel.   If you aren't feeling any normal lock functions, then you may have a serious lock issue.

As you didn't give me the combination that you are attempting to use, I have no idea if you are actually making dialing errors or if it is written down incorrectly.    Mosler used a number of different types of locks, including 3 and 4 wheel varieties.   Based on the info that YOU have provided, I have to assume that the safe has a 4 wheel lock installed.   The correct dialing sequence should be:

5 times Left to the first number,
4 times Right to the second number,
3 times Left to the third number,
2 times Right to the fourth number,
1 time Left until the dial stops -  Should be around 10

Note:   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.

Many times customers will have the lock set using only THREE numbers, instead of four numbers.   The dialing sequence will change as follows:

5 times Right to the first number,
3 times Left to the second number,
2 times Right to the third number,
1 time Left until the dial stops - should be around 10

In this case the first and second wheels are set on the same number.   Dialing as indicated will leave the first two wheels set on this number.

"IF" you have the correct numbers and "IF" you are dialing it correctly, then we need to check to see if the dial ring has been knocked out of alignment slightly.    By adding +/- 1 to each number of your combination, you can slightly adjust the wheel pack setting inside the lock while maintaining gate alignment.    You can test this up to 10 numbers (+/-) on either side of your combination.
For instance if your combo is 20-40-60, you would dial  21-41-61, 22-42-62 and also 19-39-59, 18-38-58, etc.

Hopefully if the combo is only off slightly, this adjustment will open the lock.

Ok, at this point if you still haven't been able to open the safe, its time to contact a local safe company.   Check your local yellow pages under safes & vaults for a local company.    Have their safe technician check your safe out.

Note:  I never recommend using locksmiths for safe work, especially on ones that may be antique, as they generally don't have the training, knowledge and/or tools to work on safes.

If you don't have a local safe company, let me know where you are located (zip code) and I'll see who I might know in your area.


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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

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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 and Western Nevada)

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