A Common Home Safe "Problem"

"My safe won't open. I know the combination and I haven't been having any trouble with it."

Above is a very common job call. It comes most often from people with safes in their homes, and it happens most often when a safe has a numbered mechanical dial.

Suddenly, after months or years of trouble-free use, the owner enters the combination as usual, and . . . nothing. The dial doesn't stop like it used to, and the handle that retracts the bolt won't turn either.

The above describes a lot of the "sudden" lockouts safe openers respond to. People who have safes in their homes are usually infrequent users, meaning they open their safes once a week or less.

But something is causing today's problem. Safes don't just sit there and suddenly decide on their own to not operate. Safes do break, but unless it's something obvious, safes in homes are less subject to spontaneous breakage from abuse or lack of service. Notice I didn't say they're immune, but they are less vulnerable.


Here's how it happens:
You go to open your safe. You might have your mind on something else as you enter the combination, maybe the phone rings, or perhaps someone is talking to you from another room. Whatever the case, the first try doesn't get it.

The most usual reaction to a missed first try is "Missed! Need to do it once more." You're not confused, just mildly annoyed. You enter the combination again, maybe paying a little more attention, maybe not. Once more, it doesn't open.

Now you give it full attention, but something happens in your head: When you summon your memory of the exact opening sequence for something you've done so often that you never had to think about it, you realize it's easier to actually do it than to put it in words.

Was it three or four turns? Starting right or left?

You think hard, then you're satisfied you have it. You then try again, and nothing. You ask yourself again if your memory of it is right, and you tell yourself you're positive that it is. You slowly and methodically reenter your combination exactly as you just did again, then again, then again, and each time it's the same; a whole bunch of nothing.

Convinced it's broken, you call a service company. When logging your call the person at the safe company might have asked "are you sure you have the right combination?" You answered that you most definitely were sure, please get over here. Maybe you became impatient at such a question, or annoyed, or even indignant. After all, what kind of nitwit do they think you are, anyway? Do they think you'd be calling to spend money on something that's not broken?

The technician visits, gets the numbers from you, gets in front of the safe, opens it immediately. You're surprised to say the least, and ask "What was wrong with it?" Then you're even more surprised to hear "You had the right numbers but you were dialing them incorrectly."

The most common reactions are shock, confusion, and/or indignation: "But I've been dialing them this way for xxx years! Why would it be different now?"

The answer is that it's not different. You had the safe opening routine reduced to an exercise in muscle memory, like tying your shoes in the dark. When the initial distraction that forced you to pay close attention to it happened, your memory of the wording of the sequence didn't match what it actually was. Needing to be sure, you then convinced yourself that it was the right sequence, then slowly and methodically repeated that wrong sequence until giving up in frustration and calling for service.

The service person who opened it knew the correct sequence for your lock, and wasn't subject to what your imperfect memory of it had you convinced was correct. You on the other could probably have passed a lie detector on the correctness of the combination you remembered, despite it having been wrong.

So . . . Are you 100% positive you have the correct combination?
In other words, is it written down somewhere, or are you going from muscle memory, where you can't even tell someone the numbers unless you get in front of the dial and have your hand on it?

Your memory plays tricks.
safecracker

Comments

Anonymous said…
When you want to lock my safe, you close the door, turn the handle to the left, remove the key and spin the combination. However, you now can't spin the combination. If you leave the door open and go through the locking procedure, you can spin the combination just fine, but the door is open. I have no idea what the problem is or how to correct it. I think I need advice.....
safecracker said…
The door bolts are being blocked or impeded by:
Something inside the safe that won't allow them to extend fully.

Or, the bolts are rubbing against the inside area of the safe, binding, and not extending fully, perhaps from previous episodes of the door having mistakenly been swung shut while the bolts were extended.

Check for physical blockages, and check for obvious heavy rub marks where bolts extend.
Good luck.
Ken Dunckel
safecracker said…
The door bolts are being blocked or impeded by:
Something inside the safe that won't allow them to extend fully.

Or, the bolts are rubbing against the inside area of the safe, binding, and not extending fully, perhaps from previous episodes of the door having mistakenly been swung shut while the bolts were extended.

Check for physical blockages, and check for obvious heavy rub marks where bolts extend.
Good luck.
Ken Dunckel
Safes in NYC said…
You can find the Safes in NYC to get the floor safes, office safes, diversion safes and wall safes in different styles.

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