Key-Locking Safe Dials

Key locking dials on combination locks are sold as security upgrades, especially on gun safes.  Safe buyers are rarely informed of their limitations, however, and misinformation sometimes actually jeopardizes the safe buyer’s valuables.

Sargent & Greenleaf combo lock with key-locking dial
Sargent & Greenleaf combo lock with key-locking dial

To use the key feature properly, close the safe, turn the dial several full turns stopping the dial at “0”, then turn the key 180 degrees and remove it.  The dial is now locked so it cannot be turned.  This is supposed to keep unauthorized people from tampering with the lock.   However, anyone who is skilled enough to manipulate open a combination lock by touch and sound will also be able to pick open that key lock in a few seconds.  The dial lock is also easy to drill open or just force it to turn with a good screwdriver.  Now for the surprising part — most safe manufacturers order their key locking dials so that all of them use the same key!

Now, this is what puts many safe buyers at risk:  It is somewhat common for workers in box stores to show safe buyers how to lock their safes up for “fast unlock”.  With this procedure, you close the safe and lock it by turning the dial clockwise only about 15 numbers to “0”, then turn the key so the dial won’t turn.  Next time, all it takes to unlock the safe is to turn the key back to unlock the dial, turn the dial clockwise 15 numbers, and the safe is unlocked.  Simple and easy!  However . . .

Relatively intelligent burglars know this trick too.  If they find a safe on which the dial has been key-locked, they know there is a pretty good chance that the safe can be opened is just a few seconds.  They can turn the key lock with a pick set, a heavy screwdriver, or even a key that came with another safe made by the same manufacturer.  If the owner is using the “fast open” trick the only other thing to do is turn the dial clockwise.  And then empty the safe.  That is exactly what happened to a local guy who bought his safe from a box store.  He did what the store worker told him to do.  The trick cost him over $20,000 that he thought was secure in his safe.  To get properly educated about safes, buy your safe from people who really know them, not from a box store or a gun store!