Safe Opening by Side Drilling

Harold Fink, Locksmith, CRL CPS
Fri, Apr 30, 2010

Safe Opening

Safe Opening by Side Drilling or Top Drilling

Safe opening by side drilling or top drilling safes can often be the most efficient of safe opening methods. Other than safe lock manipulation, front drilling is often the preffered method of safe opening. When a safe lock failure requires that the safe be drilled, it does not necessarily mean you must approach the safe opening from the front. Safe opening by side drilling or top drilling may be your best safe opening method, depending on the safe lock and the construction of the safe. Advancements in safe technology and safe construction methods, such as glass, difficult hard plate, effective repairs, or additional relocking devices often make front drilling extremely risky and not a recommended course of action in opening certain safes. To not  know what is between you on the outside of the door and the safe lock case is an open invitation to disaster and almost certainly a recipe for a difficult and complicated safe opening, rather than the efficient, professional safe openings we prefer and take pride in.
The recommended safe opening procedure for many high security TL-15, TL-30, TRTL-30, TL-30 x 6 or better safes is often through the side. It is often possible to side drill a safe and penetrate the safe lock case without  touching any glass and setting off any relockers. Safe openings can be performed where relockers are pinned to prevent firing and the glass allowed to break. This is often the best safe opening method if there is no access to the top or side of a larger safe. However, drilling a safe with glass that is broken as part of your safe opening procedure will require that you replace the glass in order to repair the safe back to its original condition, and it may be difficult and or costly to replace the glass plate in many higher quality safes. Additionally, you will save much time in your safe opening procedure by not having to devote time to drilling for the relockers and pinning them to prevent firing. Your efficiency in safe opening allows you to offer more competitive rates for your valued customers and avoids any loss of security of the safe itself when you have completed your repair in a cost effective manner.
In most cases the only damage to a safe in a side drilling safe opening is the hole itself, which can be plugged and repaired in a manner which is more secure than the original construction of the safe. You must have a safe opening procedure which includes the penetration itself and an understanding of what is between the side of the safe and the safe lock case.

Side drill safe opening or top drill safe opening methods

1. Side drill to view the change key hole with your scope.
2. Side drill to penetrate the side of the safe lock case and view the wheel pack.
3. Side drill to punch the lock bolt into the safe lock case.
4. Side or top drill to cut off a lock bolt or compromise the boltwork of the safe.

Unlike front drilling safe openings, where you drill into the safe until you reach the safe lock case, side drill safe openings may require exact measurements. If you are going to drill into the side of the safe to scope the safe lock through the change key hole, you must determine exactly where that change key hole is relative to the side entry hole. For your depth measurement, you can remove the dial and insert a thin stiff wire into the spindle hole, alongside the spindle until it hits on the case of the safe lock. Add about 1” more to accomodate the thickness of the safe lock case, and another ½” to allow for clearance between the safe lock and the cavity between the safe lock case and door cover. Add your measurements and measure that same amount from the front face of the door, at its edge, back along the side of the safe. This is good for the depth measurement. For the elevation measurement you must determine the handing of the lock and its position (right hand, vertical up, vertical down, or left hand.) If you don’t determine the handing with references or by making an educated guess, using the safe handle orientation and position, you may be drilling more than one hole.

Safe opening measurements for the safe lock change key hole

1. If the safe lock is installed vertical up, the change key hole will be ½” down from the dial center and ½” to the left.
2. If the safe lock is installed vertical down, the change key hole will be ½” up from dial center and ½” to the right.
3. If the safe lock is installed right hand, the change key hole will be ½” down from dial center and ½” to the right.
4. If the safe lock is installed left hand, the change key hole will be ½” up from dial center and ½” to the left.

Some safes do not provide a change key entry hole in the back plate of the safe lock case. There may not be enough clearance between the safe lock back cover and the door cover material to insert your scope, even if there is a change key hole. In cases like this you can drill into the side of the safe lock case and view the wheel pack of the combination lock. It is also possible to drill the lock bolt away or compromise the boltwork if you can view the boltwork arrangement with your scope and the design of the safe allows this safe opening method.

Side drilling a safe and viewing the change key hole with your scope requires that you make an alignment of the wheels, taking notes of the numbers as you read the dial. Safes with Sargent & Greenleaf safe combination locks have the #3 wheel closest to the drive cam at the rear of the lock. When viewing the wheels through the change key hole you can either scope the change key entry hole in each wheel or scope the gates. The wheel gates are much easier to find. Make a mark on a dial ring 41 numbers clockwise of the opening index. Whenever a gate appears through your scope hole, note that number on the mark on your dial ring. This a working combination number which you can later dial to the opening index. Determining the gates in the number 2 wheel and the number 1 wheel is more time consuming because the number 3 wheel will obstruct your view. You must constantly advance the dial very slightly to move the #2 wheel around, but always return to the #3 wheel to open your window of view through the gate. After you determine your number for wheel 2, you will have to place both wheel 2 and wheel 3 at their respective numbers every time you advance wheel 1 to determine its number. While it is possible for one safe tech to scope the change key hole of a safe lock, it is much easier for two safe techs, or one safe tech and a good camera. If you are good at dialing you can concentrate on which wheels you are moving at all times and can do it alone. Unless you have really long arms this safe opening procedure makes a camera very useful and quite indispensible.  It can be quite difficult to concentrate on how you are dialing the safe lock combination wheels while being distracted by your aching back, stretching to reach the dial while you struggle to maintain your view through the eyepiece of your scope.

You must have good references of how safes are constructed or experience in certain safe designs and construction to succesfully drill from the side. When faced with your next decision about attempting a safe opening by side drilling or top drilling, remember time spent in determining the design and construction of the safe you are opening may save you lost time in additional repairs due to poor decisions. Safe opening by side drilling will become your preffered method of safe opening in many more safe openings and should not be something that intimidates you. Side drilling or top drilling is often the most efficient and preffered method of safe opening.