How To Open A Safe: Safecracking Scenes

Safecracking Scenes: How To Get A Safe Cracked

Bill & Ted's Excellent Safecracking Job
By Ken Dunckel
Owner, Safecracker
SF Bay Area and Northern California
Situation: Business partners Bill & Ted move into a new location:

Bill: Whoa, dude, somebody (previous tenant) left a safe here!
Jeez, it's big . . . is it open?

Ted: No.

Bill: Can we find the combination? Maybe . . .
Let's see if we can hook up with the last tenant, maybe they'll tell us.

Ted: I found out who they were; but nobody remembers the numbers . . . shit.
I found the old owners. Someone gave me some numbers, but they don't work . . . shit.

Possible Reasons:
The numbers are wrong
The correct dialing sequence is unknown (it can vary).
The numbers might be right but the lock is broken.
Can't find the previous owner; nobody knows where they went
Bill: Well, even if we can't use it, I want to see if anything's inside.
Normal enough, right?


Can't find the previous owner; nobody knows where they went

Ted: Let's call a safe company and see if they can do it.
. . . Good idea.

Bill: I called three companies, and I'm not paying that much to get this thing open.

Ted: Let's try to open it ourselves; I bet we can.
(Ayyyup, go for it guys. I bet you can. Fade to black, with clanking noises from striking tools and power tools.)
Here's a partial list of the tools the erstwhile safecrackers Bill and Ted bring to bear on their quarry:
Hammers, of course (all sizes up to heavy sledges)
Prying tools (small medium, and large crowbars, medium to
heavy duty flat screwdrivers
Power drills and drill bits of varying types
Grinding and power cutting tools
Cutting torches
Boundless energy and confidence ("hey, we're strong guys, and this is just a stupid metal box: I know we can do it")

Not long afterward, my phone rings. A voice on the other end gives me a synopsis of the above hypothetical narrative, ending with, Do you think you can open it, and how much do you charge?

After some questions about make, model, circumstances, etcetera, I give a price. The reactions are almost never the "Oh frabjous day!" kind.

Some callers flat out turn me down, thank me for talking with them, and hang up.
Some callers gasp as if I just emptied a bucket of ice water on their heads, then indignantly tell me about how I'm overcharging for such a simple and easy job. (Really . . . ? If it's so simple and easy, why are you wasting time talking with me?)

They go on, telling me maybe they'll just take it up to San Quentin or (your favorite jail's name here) and let the boys up there have a go at it.
Really? If "the boys" in lockup are so good at this sort of thing, how did they get in stir in the first place? And if they're so good at beating locks, what's keeping them inside?

Some callers remember getting a job just like this one done by someone like me just a very few years ago, for less than half what I want. What's more, the guy only took about ten minutes to do the whole job.
If they can remember all those pertinent details, why can't they remember how to contact this cracksman extraordinaire? It baffles me.
Not every caller subjects me to the foregoing. Some savvy consumers do more price-shopping, using my quote as a pricing index, then hire the one who comes in cheapest. Sometimes this works, especially if they don't mind excessive noise, damage, and disruption, and furthermore don't want to use the safe afterward.

Very often, however, the discount safecracker raises an inordinately large cloud of real and figurative dust, then excuses himself, saying he needs to "go get more tools," or "check some technical information." This is erstwhile safecracker Latin for "sayonara, adios, auf wiedersehen . . . Then poof! They're gone, like they were never there (except for the damage they've done).

I've followed the efforts of many such alien abduction victims, and I usually charge more to clean up after them than if the owner had called me first. The most unbelievable aspect of this stuff is first that some of these pretenders to Jimmy Valentine's throne have the cojones to try charging for their failed effort, and secondly that some consumers actually hand over money for same. Takes all kinds, right?

Some callers listen, sigh, and reluctantly hire me.

If they haven't made total hash of the safe in their failed attempt, I can get their newfound treasure box open and working again. That is, unless it's one of those super cheapo flimsy things that the discount stores happily sell to people who believe that cheaper equals better.

Do you think there just might possibly be a reason for some things to cost appreciably more than others?
Since the first wooden strongboxes were first made, their makers have been building them to withstand the forcible efforts of people equipped with the available tools of their day. We're not talking about safes from discount houses here, this is about real safes.
So . . . if you have a (real) safe to open, and you have a mechanic's stethoscope, or a doctor's stethoscope, you figure you'll just put it on the door and turn the dial and listen as the tumblers fall? Do you know what a "tumbler" looks like? Do you know where and how and why they "fall?" Do you know that this kind of thinking makes you sound like you watch way too much television and movie junk?
So . . . if you have a (real) safe to open and your first thought is to cut the hinges, think again: Do you think that maybe, just maybe,, the safe maker might have thought of this and designed the safe to make this approach harder?
So . . . if you have a (real) safe to open, what exactly do you think will happen when you take that hammer and knock off ther dial and handle?
So . . . if you have a (real) safe to open, what exactly do you think will happen if you "just go get some dynamite?" And where will you put the dynamite? How much will you use?
So . . . if you have a (real) safe to open, and you know that a safecracker drills holes, and you have your own drill and figure you, too can drill holes, where exactly will you drill? And once your hole gets drilled, should the safe just fall open? Do you think that safemakers might have thought just a little bit about making their boxes hard to drill holes into?
So . . . if you have a (real) safe to open, and you have a stout prybar or crowbar and you figure that you can just pry the door open, do you think that perhaps the safe maker might also have given a little thought to designing a safe that's hard to pry open?
So . . . if you have a (real) safe to open, and you figure you'll just fire up the old cutting torch and get to work, have you given any thought to what the heat from a cutting torch might do to the safe contents, if any? Also, do you think the safe will be repairable and useable after your cutting torch escapade? And if you don't know what's inside your safe, are you sure it's not explosive or toxic when subjected to the kind of heat generated by a flame hot enough to cut/melt steel?
So . . . if you have a (real) safe to open, and you have a grinder or a cutting wheel and figure you'll just use that and cut an arm hole in the side or top, have you thought much about the noise, sparks, and airborne debris this will create? Not to mention the time it will take.
So . . . how do you open a real safe?
Best (but least popular) answer: You should pay someone who knows how to do it. Or leave it alone.
But don't take my word for it; have a try at it.
Ken Dunckel

Note to readers: Please feel free to comment and post your thoughts about this and any of my posts. Don't worry, I'm pretty thick-skinned. Thanks.


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