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How to Troubleshoot to Open Safe Combination Locks

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I enjoy writing about general tinkering and repairs, guns and gun safes, computers, the outdoors, sports, and more.

Mechanical locks are low maintenance and reliable . . . most of the time.

Mechanical locks are low maintenance and reliable . . . most of the time.

Help, My Combination Lock Won't Open!

From electronic keypads to biometric fingerprint readers, there are a whole lot of ways to get into a safe. That said, even with so much variety available, I still prefer trusty old safe combination locks.

Sure, they’re not as hip, snappy, and accessible as their electronic counterparts, but with the right amount of maintenance, a well-kept mechanical safe lock can keep your safe ticking for generations.

Of course, the reason you likely stopped by this article is that you need to troubleshoot your safe combination lock; they’re great, but they’re not perfect. For complex issues, you’ll likely need to employ the manufacturer’s help or the professional assistance of a locksmith; however, there are a few things you can try before calling in the reinforcements.

3 Common Combination Lock Safe Problems and How to Troubleshoot

Here are three common problems that occur as well as information on how you can easily solve them.

1. The safe won't open after the combination is entered.

Usually, what you experience in this scenario is the door failing to open even after you enter the correct combination. Either the lever's stuck, or your wheels are out of alignment. In the case of a stuck lever:

Spin the first two numbers of your combination as you normally would, but instead of finishing the final rotation, stop on the number eight. Grab a heavy rubber hand-sledge and pound the door—not the dial—a few times. If it's indeed the lever that's stuck, this is a potentially quick way to free that sucker up.

Once you've gotten out a few good whacks, continue on to the final number in your combination, and attempt to open it up. If it doesn't work, repeat the process a few more times until you get it.

As mentioned, if that doesn't do the trick, you may be out of alignment. Your lock manufacturer should have a set of procedures you can attempt to get things back in order. Generally, the process involves drifting the index around numbers in your combination.

2. The dial won't rotate past certain numbers.

If you're experiencing this issue, you likely have a relocker on your safe (aren't you glad it's working?). Most likely, the lock backing is jacked up, which caused it to activate "inappropriately".

Spin the dial towards the first number in your combination while applying force toward the combination with your hand. Bust out that trusty rubber sledge and whack the door a few times. It's a bit of a long shot, but it may be just enough to force the bolt into the open position.

3. You forgot the combination.

Again, the unfortunate fact is that there are several mechanical issues that will require the presence of a certified locksmith to address, one of which is if you forgot your combination.

If, however, you haven't changed it from when it was originally delivered, contact the safe manufacturer with the serial number of your unit. Often they can recover the combo for you, giving you the ability to unlock the safe on your own.

When to Call the Manufacturer

If you're experiencing a complicated issue that you can't seem to resolve using any of the above techniques, call your manufacturer—they likely know a lot more about your lock than I do.

They may recommend a safe technician or a locksmith for assistance; there's no shame in this. Pay the man, and get your safe back in the shape it needs to be. Good luck!

How to Open a Safe With a Combination Lock

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Marion Levy on August 30, 2020:

I have an old Horizon safe, serial No.025839 which I cannot open. It has

a dial that won't turn with the combination. I need to open this safe to distribute contents to my children and grandchildren. I live in LA 90035.

Please advise.

Ted Bogle on June 18, 2020:

I have an old safe. It is open but no one knows the combo. How can I determine or change the combo?

Alexis on November 04, 2019:

your tips work, thank you for sharing!

Jay Spielberg on June 26, 2019:

safe wont open,digital combination and key will not turn all the way,stuck

Chris on June 10, 2019:

well......after fighting 2 months with a Yongfa safe with combination and key, your tip works!!!! the safe was stuck......pound the door several times with a small sack of sand and done!!!! I then oiled all the parts.

Tony on March 17, 2019:

Case of a stuck lever, worked great


Henry Siethe on September 11, 2017:

Actually, it's a lot harder than i thought. I've dealt with a lot of usual deadbolts & Euro Profiles due to my work. But the safe is on another level!

Carla on August 15, 2017:

My husband had a gun safe that was very full. He was ready to call the locksmith to destroy the safe. Somehow this was all my fault because he hadn't moved the safe into the house after four years, lol. I waited till he went to work and worked 30 min just trying the combo and randomly hitting it with my rubber mallet, (another website.) I gave up and searched and found you!!! Another 30 and the amazing clunk when the lever swung over. Yeah, another crisis and $$$$ out of pocket averted.

joseph on November 14, 2016:

first option work like a charm very helpful article , question is how do i prevent this from happening again

kathleen on July 26, 2016:

I cannot open my has a digital combination and a key. I have the combination and the key. It will not repond. Please advise