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Q: cracking a safe ( No Answer,   25 Comments )
Subject: cracking a safe
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: timespacette-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 09 Dec 2004 20:53 PST
Expires: 08 Jan 2005 20:53 PST
Question ID: 440671
Our local library has an old safe they've pulled out of storage, and a
corresponding record of the safe's combination.  No one has been able
to open it using this combination, so they've put it out in the
sitting room with a sign: Give it a try, Win a prize.  Don't know what
the prize is, sorry! They also don't know what's in the safe.

Wondering if there are any safe-cracking tricks that would help?

It's a Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Company; don't know the model or year it was made.
The combination is as follows:
Turn left 4 times to 35
Turn right 3 times to 55
Turn left 2 times to 71
Turn right to 18

One question I have is: say, for instance, you 'Turn right 3 times to
55'. Does that mean you turn right 3 times *passing the previous
number* and then go to 55?  (I would assume so).

Every time I turn the dial it seems to get stiff at around #20, and
then it lets loose again.

I have tried it changing some of the numbers to alternates, in case
the combination was handwritten and a 71 could be mistaken for a 77 or
a 11; that kind of thing.  I'm sure I haven't tried every combination
using this theory . . .

any suggestions?

Request for Question Clarification by cynthia-ga on 22 Dec 2004 07:26 PST
I wanted you to note that in #4 of my description of how to use the
combination, it should read:

4) Turn the dial RIGHT until the dial STOPS --won't turn anymore.  It
might not be _exactly_ on the 18, but it WILL STOP when the handle
will open.

WHOOPS!  My bad.

If you use my suggestion for contacting a professional safe tech,
please let me know so I can post in the Answer box.  But only if you
found my Comment below helpful, or you use my suggestions.


Clarification of Question by timespacette-ga on 23 Dec 2004 01:28 PST
hi there, everyone.

I know you have been waiting with bated breath on the outcome of this
and other ensuing dramas

I have tried all of the suggestions below that involve a simple
manipulation of the combination.

No, I have not yet tried to torch it yet.

Nobody at the library seems to be in the mood to help me go to those
lengths, but this may change after Christmas.

If I do eventually succeed, it will surely be in the local newspaper,
of which there is an online version, of which I will surely post the
link, so stay tuned!

thanks for all your help!


Request for Question Clarification by cynthia-ga on 24 Dec 2004 05:53 PST

I can hardly wait, it's a real safecracking!
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: questionboy777-ga on 09 Dec 2004 21:24 PST
Dear timespacette,

For your first question, what you assumed is incorrect. You basically
pass 35 two times but three if you count the one you have had landed


Turn 3 times to the left passing 35 and the fourth time land on it.
Turn 2 times to the right passing 55 and the third time land on it.
Turn 1 time to the left passing 71 and the second time land on it.
Turn right directly to 18.

I am not sure what your second question is but I assume it is: Every
time I turn the dial it seems to get stiff at around #20, and then it
lets loose again.

I am not perfectly sure but I THINK you might want to push or pull it
when turning to the numbers.

Also, check and make sure the combinations are correct.

Best Regards,
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: probonopublico-ga on 09 Dec 2004 21:58 PST
Reportedly, if you use a stethoscope you can hear the tumblers click into place.

But beware ...

It may contain a skeleton!

Worse, Jessica Fletcher or Columbo may then get called in.

Well what do you expect in Alcatraz?
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: timespacette-ga on 09 Dec 2004 23:26 PST

It would have to be the skeleton of a very small midget!

The safe is only about 2' X 2' X 2'

I forgot to mention that no one has opened it for at least 50 years!
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: thx1138-ga on 10 Dec 2004 01:58 PST
50 years! The mystery of Kurt Jahnke might even yet be revealed!  What
a Christmas present for Bryan that would be!

Very best regards

Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: gopman-ga on 10 Dec 2004 15:00 PST
I have some limited experience opening safes. I'm guessing that the
tumblers - which should only rotate at certain times during opening -
are sticking together. That may be why you feel friction when rotating
the dial. If that's the case, the only thing I can think of would be
to try to warm them up to try to free them. Someone might have used
oil on them sometime in the past. If so, it could be preventing free
rotation of the tumblers. Personally, I would try limited use of a
propane torch on the center of the dial (only if everything is metal,
though!) - just enough to warm things up - not to melt or burn
anything. Then try rapidly rotating the dial around to try to free
things up. A hair dryer may be a safer  alternative.
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: frde-ga on 11 Dec 2004 05:51 PST
Assuming, and the smart money is on this already, the tumblers are
munged up with coagulated antique oil, I would try the following:-

1) place safe on its back so the dial is horizontal
2) build a ring of plasticine (or silicone sealant) around the dial -
leaving say 1/4 inch around it
3) liberally apply WD40 into the paddling pool
4) Allow time to sink in
5) Spin the dial repeatedly if #20 is still 'sticky' revert to 3)

The hair dryer is a spectacularly good idea, also /lightly/ tapping
the dial and surrounding area with something like a toffee hammer.

If that does not work, then slice 1" into the back with an angle
grinder and use a cold chisel to effect ingress.
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: timespacette-ga on 11 Dec 2004 07:26 PST
hmmm, interesting . . .

I'm working up my courage to go into the public library with a
welder's mask, an acetylene torch . . . . (okay, a hair dryer . . .) a
caulking gun full of silicone sealer, WD-40 and a toffee hammer . . .

will report back (probably after Christmas . . .)

one thought: what if there's money involved in this prize?

I suppose I will OWE you people . . . !?!

; )

Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: probonopublico-ga on 11 Dec 2004 08:39 PST
Thanks to Thx1138, I've had a GREAT IDEA!

At the opening ... Yes I'm sure that you are going to crack it!

Pretend to find an old diary ...

Perhaps not Kurt Jahnke's but someone with A LOT to hide ... say JFK's assassin.

We could really put Orcas Island WA on the map!

I've searched Western Australia High and Low and, so far, NOTHING!

Well ... Are you on?
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: frde-ga on 11 Dec 2004 08:43 PST
one thought: what if there's money involved in this prize?

It will be old money - not currency

There just might be some interesting documents in there
- only interesting to ... those who are interested in esotorica

I would also try simple tricks like reversing the combination.

Avoid heat (damage to contents), if you go for brute force, basically
tape up the front and angle grind the back with a judiciously supplied
hosepipe as a coolant - outside - like in the street - but keep water
away from the power tools. Also keep the safe the right way up.

Do we get an online video of you cracking this safe ?

Or just a few (critical) snapshots ?

Seriously - I am interested in the results.
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: probonopublico-ga on 11 Dec 2004 09:30 PST
Hi, Jerry

The Timely One was referring to The Prize (offered by the Library) for
opening the safe.

It could therefore be 'current' money but, if it's in US Dollars, it
will be near enough worthless in terms of 'hard' currencies.

You and Timely can share the Prize Money, provided I can have the
Diaries (or maybe the Memoirs).

Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: gopman-ga on 11 Dec 2004 16:16 PST
Interestingly, the one time I opened a safe for someone, there was
only one thing in the safe - A business card from a locksmith. What a
letdown. I was hoping for treasure.
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Dec 2004 16:24 PST
When the safe is finally opened, I'm betting that it will reveal the
bones of a bunch of elves who were whacked when Al Capone tried to
take over the Sanata Claus racket.
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Dec 2004 16:25 PST
Um, make that Santa Claus. Sanata Claus sounds musical, though...
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: probonopublico-ga on 11 Dec 2004 22:08 PST
Why Hello Again, Lady Pink!

With TWO Comments, no less. Did you hear about the three men who died
on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates ...
   "In honour of this holy season," Saint Peter said, "you must each
possess something that symbolizes Christmas to get into heaven."
   The first man fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter.
  He flicked it on. "It represents a candle", he said.
   "You may pass through the pearly gates" Saint Peter said.
   The second man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys.
   He shook them and said, "They're bells".
   Saint Peter said "you may pass through the pearly gates".
  The third man started searching desperately through his pockets and
finally pulled out a pair of women's panties.
   St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And
just what do those symbolize?"
  The man replied, "They're Carols"!
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: timespacette-ga on 11 Dec 2004 22:44 PST

does anybody know if WD-40 is flammable?

just wondering . . .
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: probonopublico-ga on 11 Dec 2004 23:26 PST
Yes ... WD40 is flammable.
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: cynthia-ga on 12 Dec 2004 09:18 PST

I have a friend that is a vault tech that works for a large security company.  

There's an old saying that an abandoned safe is always empty. However,
being optimistic...

I would describe the process to open the safe with the combination this way:

~~~~~~~~~~First, NEVER "SPIN" a combination dial!!

1) Turn the dial to the left MANY times (6-7), eventually stopping at
the number 35.

2) Turn the dial to the right --passing 55 twice, and stopping on the third pass.

3) Turn the dial to the left --passing 71 once, and stopping on the second pass.

4) Turn the dial left until the dial STOPS --won't turn anymore.  It
might not be _exactly_ on the 18, but it WILL STOP when the handle
will open.

5) Open the safe with the handle.

If this fails:

I would call the manufacturer and ask about the problem of the dial
getting "stiff" around the number 20.  I'd also ask them for help on a
cell phone while you try to use the combination.

The former Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Company was acquired by the
Diebold Company in the 1970's.  You can call them at 1-800-DIEBOLD for
information on old Herring-Hall-Marvin safes.

In the event that fails, I would hire a professional safe technician
before heating the tumblers or using WD-40. You may make the job
harder for a safe tech. The cost will probably be between $75 and $100
to open the safe.  Safe techs usually charge between $80 and $100 an
hour.  Your safe should take less than an hour, easily.

You can find a Safe Tech here:

Safe and Vault Technicians Association - Search Page

No harm in locating a professional and asking for a ball-park quote
(best case - worst case).

Alternatively, you could ask your local police department or bank for
a referral to a qualified person in your area.  You can also look in
the yellow pages under locksmiths, but you may get someone
inexperienced that might result in needless damage to the safe.

A qualified safe tech will either open it with the combination, or
drill a small hole. near the dial.  A long thin bent rod (or a
screwdriver) is then pushed through and manipulated to release the
bolt mechanism --bypassing the combination lock altogether. In that
case he will repair the hole. A proper repair will frequently leave
the safe more secure than it was before.

An experienced, qualified safe tech will not damage the safe at all,
and can reset the combination for you so the safe will be usable
again. it's possible that applying heat and WD-40 could add to the
cost to open the safe and make it usable once again.

Let us know what's in the safe when you get it open, and how you
managed to open it, ok?  The researchers here are an isatiably curious

I hope this helps.  Good luck to you!  

Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: cynthia-ga on 12 Dec 2004 09:21 PST
I forgot.  Did you try reversing the numbers to 53, 55, 17, 81 ...?
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: timespacette-ga on 13 Dec 2004 08:54 PST
hmmm, Diebold Company, hmmmmm . . . .

shades of the 2004 election . . .

this doesn't look good . . .
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: silver777-ga on 17 Jan 2005 01:48 PST

Is it safe to venture out into the weather yet?

Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: limon160-ga on 02 Jul 2005 22:41 PDT
You said that the dial sticks at the number twenty, if it sticks at
the number twenty all the time then you?re probably OK, this would be
due to a flat spot or gunk that has built up on the drive cam, but if
it only sticks at certain rotations then it might be that one of the
drive pens on a fly wheel may have warn down and is not catching, that
would be a reason why the combination does not work this is rare, but
given the age of your safe it is a possibility in that case you?d have
to be mechanical in opening it which includes drilling it so that you
can view the fly wheel notches and turn them until the fence drops.

Read this article, on how stuff works, this is an introductory to the
methods of safe cracking, and it will give you some of the anatomy of
a safe.
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: kauty-ga on 24 Sep 2005 21:21 PDT
Which town is the safe located in? I can open it without the
combination if it is not mechanically impaired.
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: silver777-ga on 25 Sep 2005 11:10 PDT

The location is a secret. TS has apparently lost interest in
the novelty of being the first modern day person to open
the safe. A pity, as verification of the combination lays
within the library's own register.

Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: kauty-ga on 26 Sep 2005 07:54 PDT
that is alright, no big loss for me
Subject: Re: cracking a safe
From: silver777-ga on 29 Sep 2005 08:33 PDT
Hi Kauty,

If you are still interested .. look up Orcas Island Public Library.

Page 58 of the Library's register rings a bell. 

I believe that there may have been a mistranslation of the
combination when it was recomposed for public viewing within
the foyer entrance. 

You will find the library staff most helpfull.

I'm outa here.

All the best with your safe-cracking.

Yes, it is for real .. this is not a wild goose-chase.

Kind regards, Phil

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