Safe & Vault Services

by Hamill & Son Safe Technicians



The following are some of the frequently asked questions and issues we have encountered in our 25 years of experience

If you have a question not answered below then you can email it to us at or ask us on our Facebook page.

1. How to dial a code into a 3 or 4 wheel mechanical combination lock:

3 Wheel
1Starting anywhere, turn the dial left (counter-clockwise ), stopping when the first number comes to the opening index the FOURTH time*.
2Turn the dial right (clockwise ), stopping when the next number comes to the opening index the THIRD time.
3Turn the dial left (counter-clockwise ), stopping when the last number comes to the opening index the SECOND time.
4Turn the dial right (clockwise ) until it stops (the opening index somewhere between 85 and 0).
4 Wheel
1Starting anywhere, turn the dial right (clockwise ), stopping when the first number comes to the opening index the FIFTH time*.
2Turn the dial left (counter-clockwise ), stopping when the next number comes to the opening index the FOURTH time.
3Turn the dial right (clockwise ), stopping when the next number comes to the opening index the THIRD time.
4Turn the dial left (counter-clockwise ), stopping when the last number comes to the opening index the SECOND time.
5Turn the dial right (clockwise ) until it stops (the opening index somewhere between 85 and 0).

To lock a mechnanical combination lock on a safe, simply turn the dial left (counter-clockwise ) FOUR times.

* If you miss the first number of a combination whilst dialing, you can continue turning the dial and stop on the number the next time it appears. If you miss any other number from the combination, you must start the entire dialing process from the beginning again.

If your code is set to just one number, then you turn the dial left (counter-clockwise ), stopping on that number. Turn 4 times left on a 3-wheel combination lock or 5 times left on a 4-wheel combination lock. Then turn the dial right (clockwise ) until it stops (somewhere between 85 and 0), to open the lock.

NB:The last number of a mechanical combination must not be between 0 and 20. This is called the forbidden zone. If the last digit has been set between 0 and 20, you may not be able to open the lock and may require a locksmith to gain access.

2. Should a techncian ever need to cut a hole into a safe to get it open?

No! Cutting a hole into a safe removes it's insurance rating, even if the hole is welded closed. A skilled locksmith will be able to pick open key locks or know where to drill minimal holes to open combination or electronic locks.

3. Should a technician ever have to remove a safe from a premises to open it?

The ONLY time a technician might need to remove a safe to open it is if the premises it is located in is unsafe (e.g. after a fire). Even then the safe should be moved to a premises of the customers choosing. However, this is extremely rare and a skilled technician would never ask to take your safe away in order to open it under normal circumstances. How do you know they just wont cut it open and weld it closed (thus invalidating its insurance rating) before returning it? Who is responsible for the contents in-between opening and returning the safe?

4. Drilling or Picking, which is better?

Picking is more professional than drilling for several reasons. Picking is essentially silent and produces no dust or debris, so it is less disruptive than drilling. Picking can often be quicker than drilling. A drilled lock may need to be replaced and this can incur extra costs. Repeated drilling of a safe may result in the loss of insurance cover. Picking should be offered as standard, drilling should only be offered when picking is impossible, NOT as an alternative to picking.

5. Can every type of key lock be picked open?

No. While > 95% of key locks can be picked open, by a locksmith suitably skilled and equipped, there are a small number of uncommon locks of which there are no picking tools available. However a skilled technician can still open these with minimum damage to the safe and lock, and should be able to leave both operating as new.

6. This locksmith has offered a cheaper quote than you, why shouldn't I use their services?

The locksmith might be cheaper, but have they offered you better value? We specialise in opening safes by non-destructive lock picking and our quotes include leaving the safe operating as new with 2 new keys as standard. When selling safes, our prices include delivery and floor fixing as standard. Ensure that any locksmith offering a quote is going to provide the same standard that Safe & Vault Services do before you consider a cheaper quote.

7. What is the difference between a fire safe and a data safe?

Fire safes are suitable for paperwork only, data safes are suitable for paperwork and storage media (i.e. CDs, HDDs etc.). Both types of fire resistant safe protect their contents from direct fire damage, however only data safes also specifically resist heat damage (keeping the contents as low as 50°C during a fire, for 1 or 2 hours, depending on fire resistance grade.). Please see our page on Fire Protection Standards for more information.

8. Can a deposit opening be added to any safe?

Modifying a safe to have a deposit opening (deposit drawer, drop shoot or envelope slot) will likely invalidate the insurance cover of that safe.
If this is something you still want to do, then ensure that the drop shoot comes fitted with an anti-fish device (some sort of device which covers the inside of the drop hole, to prevent the contents being removed back out through the deposit hole itself).
Safes with factory fitted deposit drawers and drop shoots may have insurance cover, but for most, the deposit drawer must have key lock on it.

9. I have a safe I need opened but I don't know what type of safe it is..?

The easiest course of action in this case is to take a clear photo of the front of the safe and then contact Safe & Vault Services by email or by phone (087 681 7718). We will identify the safe and give you a quote to open it.

10. Should a locksmith ever offer an "open only" price? What does it mean?

Sometimes the cost and effort to bring a safe back to working order after opening it would be more than just replacing the safe. This is usually only an issue in cases where a safe is badly damaged before being opened (e.g. criminal attack, heavy water damage, non-safe technician incompetent attempt etc.).

11. Can't you just open a safe by attacking the handle/combination dial/cutting the hinges?

Safes are made specifically to resist any kind of mindless attack. The handle, lock and bolt-work are all separate but inter-acting mechanisms. If you break the handle, then you can't retract the bolt-work (even assuming you get the lock open). Similarly, if you break a combination dial or electronic keypad off of a safe door, the lock remain locked (now without a way to open them from the outside). Cutting the hinges won't open a safe door either - safe doors have locking bolts on at least 2 sides, usually all four sides, so you can't just pull the door out of the safe on the hinge side. Lastly, beating the door with a hammer or trying to interfere with the lock down the keyhole won't work because safes have re-lockers to combat such attacks.

12. What is a "re-locker"?

A re-locker is a lock inside the door of a safe which cannot be opened from the outside. Re-lockers can be attached to the key/combination/electronic locks, or attached to plates of glass inside the door. They are triggered if the lock is broken out of its position, or if the door is struck and the glass breaks. Re-lockers CANNOT be opened from the outside, even with the key/combination to the safe. Re-lockers can be fitted in almost any position on the door and the only way to open them is to find them and drill them open. An experienced safe technician will know the location or locations a re-locker is likely to be in, thus reducing the number of holes needed to open the safe.

13. What is an "Audit Trail"?

An audit trail is an automatic record of any user interaction with an electronic combination lock. The record will show the time and date of all openings, closings and programming changes, as well as the users who performed them. Electronic combination locks that support audit trails have user ID systems, with each user having their own unique code starting with their own unique user ID. The owner of the lock should have a list of all users and their corresding IDs (not their full usercodes), so that users in the audit trail can be identified. Users should never share their code with anyone else.