Friday, January 30, 2009
How To Dial A Safe Combination
"I have the combination but it doesn't work."
Judging from how many people who have trouble with them, mechanical safe combination locks have to be some of the most non-user friendly devices ever invented.
Along with the “how much is my old safe worth?” question, “I have the right numbers but they won’t work” ranks right up there among the most frequently heard safe problems.
Please bear with me here. I promise, I will explain dialing in this session. But you probably need to read this if you're here because you're trying to dial a safe combination.
The percentage of intelligent and literate people who are unable to dial a safe combination without extensive coaching is amazingly high. I hear from them when they can't get the thing to work after repeated tries. They think of themselves as intelligent beings, so it must be that either the numbers are wrong or the lock is broken.
The hardest thing for most of the people I coach on the phone is to actually listen, hear what I say, and follow my instructions without misinterpreting or altering them. I say the word "to" and they interpret it as "past." I say "dial left" (which is counterclockwise . . . it needed to be said), and they dial right.
Some people have brains that automatically reword things they hear, and others are consciously or subconsciously dismissive of a series of simple-sounding instructions. Until they try to follow them, that is.
The Main Problem
Assuming the combination is correct, most combinations that "won't work" aren't being dialed correctly.
Quite often this is because users who were never told how to dial properly over-complicate the process. It's not uncommon for me to visit a customer and be handed combination dialing directions that take up nearly half a sheet (sometimes more) of notebook paper.
Confusing? No, it's mind-boggling. Most safe combinations can be jotted down in four or five very short lines.
They go in descending number of turns, and turning directions alternate with each number.
It's not necessary to spin a safe dial multiple times before dialing in earnest and counting turns. You don't have to do anything to get the lock "in the mood." This is a baseless myth among safe users who were never properly schooled in how to dial a combination.
So remember: There's no such thing as "clearing it." When a user locks a safe by closing the door and then turning the dial several full turns, that activity is the locking process; the wheels inside the lock are all out of their opening positions, or "scrambled," if you will.
Dial spinning doesn't help the lock; it's like spinning your tires every time you drive away from the curb. All that does is wear your tires out faster.
The same goes for spinning a safe dial to "clear" it. When you do this, you're not "clearing it," you're just helping the lock wear out or break sooner. That part is okay with me.
But if you want your lock to have a longer life, just begin counting and paying attention to the number of turns and directions as soon as your hand touches the dial.
People, that lock and dial assembly does not know what number you have it set on. These are simply ritualized movements that people who neither understand their locks nor want to have incorporated into their safe opening routines. When I ask people why they do such things, I hear answers like "I dunno . . . the person I got the combination from just said that if I always do it this way, it will always open."
In fact, the only thing they're really sure about is that spinning the dial "clears" the lock. They don't know how spinning "clears" the lock, but that's what they've always heard. Nor do they know why they believe this mythology.
HOW TO DIAL
When dialing, count "times TO the number being dialed," NOT how many times PAST it.
Substituting the word "past" for the word "to" is probably the biggest contributor to the troubles people create for themselves when dialing safe combinations.
So LOSE the word "past" from your vocabulary when dialing.
Every time the number you're dialing touches the index mark (at top center on the ring around the dial) counts as 1 time TO the number.
A typical mechanical safe lock combination might look like what you see below. The turns and directions shown are the most commonly used.
4 times left to 41
3 times right to 22
2 times left to 63
1 time right until dial stops (some must be turned to "0" or another number)
"Left" means counter clockwise.
"Right" means clockwise.
(Did you notice? The word "Past" did not appear once in those dialing directions.)
Also . . . it's true that some combinations must start to the left, and some must start to the right. Some combinations have more than three numbers. What I've said here about alternating turning directions and descending number of turns is generally applicable no matter which direction you start dialing. .
If you don't have any luck it's time to look in the phone book under "Safes" and hire a safe technician to come try the numbers and show you how to work the safe.
CA License 1985
CA Contractor 553337
Safe and Vault Service in the San Francsico Bay Area and Northern California