How to Enter a Commercial Grade Safe Combination

A common question from customer is “how do I enter my safe combination?

Electronic safe locks are fast gaining popularity, the standard mechanical locks will not be going away anytime soon – there is a place for each.

Mechanical safe locks appear complex compared to the keypad style electronic safe locks. However, by just taking a few moments to understand what happens when the combination dial is turned, the complexity becomes a non-issue.


NOTE: The sequence described here applies only to commercial grade or higher models of safes. The sequence here applies to 3-wheel (3 number combination) mechanical locks often found on cash control drop safes, gun safes, floor safes, and others.


What Happens When I Spin the Safe Dial?

Briefly, each 360° turn of the dial picks up another wheel in the lock. This is necessary to position the wheel correctly to allow the lock to open. Each wheel has a notch (or gate) in it that must be aligned with the lever and fence. The fence must be able to enter the notches to allow the lever to engage a drive wheel. This combination of events allows the lock bolt to retract, in so doing unlocking the safe.

Each wheel in the lock is NOT directly connected to the dial. There is only one, the drive wheel, that turns each and every time the dial is moved (clockwise or counter-clockwise). The other 3 wheels move freely, but only when the drive wheel is turned enough times to pick up other wheels.  This wheel “pick up” happens once every 360° of the dial rotation.

Opening Procedure

Let’s start with a basic combination: 25-75-50

On a modern safe each of the numbers represent the dial position that each consecutive wheel must be set at for the rest of the lock to open. A fourth “number” is also required but is not considered a part of the combination.

Here is the opening sequence.

  1. Turn the dial counter-clockwise (to the left) 4 or 5 times. This “clears” the lock and gets it ready to position the wheels correctly.
  2. Continue to turn the dial counter-clockwise but STOP the dial the next time the first number (e.g. 25) is aligned with the small hash mark on the dial ring at the 12 o’clock position.
  3. Next, turn the dial clockwise, counting the number of times the second combination number (e.g. 75) is aligned with the hash mark. STOP the THIRD (3rd) time it is aligned.
  4. Next, turn the dial counter-clockwise until the third combination number (e.g. 50) is aligned with the hash mark for the SECOND (2nd) time and STOP.
  5. Now turn the dial clockwise until the dial stops turning. On a properly installed safe lock this will occur when the dial numbers are somewhere between 90 and about 15 relative to the hash mark at 12 o’clock. (This is the “fourth number” mentioned above.)

If you have the correct combination and have followed the instructions the dial will have a positive stop somewhere close to the number 90. It will NOT allow you to continue to turn the dial after this point. When this happens the lock is open and you may now turn the handle on the safe to pull back the door bolts and open the door.

If your safe does not have a rotating door handle then simply pull the door open after step 5.

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