It’s a nightmare scenario. You’ve invested in a high-quality gun safe to keep your firearms protected from damage and unauthorised access, but suddenly you can’t remember the combination. You’ve searched high and low, just in case you’ve jotted the number down somewhere, but no luck. Your guns are trapped in the safe – what can you do?
Luckily, there are plenty of options to get around this situation. Whether you’re currently trying to open a locked safe or want to have some very useful knowledge stored for future reference, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll walk you through the best ways to open a gun safe without the combination.
Use a Manual Override Key
Forgive us it if seems like we’re stating the obvious, but in the first instance, you should use any tools or equipment that came with your safe. Most manual override locks are in a noticeable location on the front of the safe, usually adjacent to the combination dial.
If you do have a manual lock override, find the key immediately. It’s the safest and easiest way to regain access to the safe. Use the key to open the locker, and refer to your manual to reset the combination. It may be worthwhile to temporarily store your guns in another safe while you’re performing a lock reset, just in case the issue reoccurs.
Of course, if the override key can’t be found, you will need to try a different tactic. Don’t worry at this stage; we’re only on the first option!
For future reference, when you take delivery of a combination lock gun safe with emergency key access, ensure that those keys are stored securely in a place you’ll remember. Try not to keep them too close to the actual safe, but in a memorable location that is itself easy to access. If your safe is supplied with more than one override key, give a spare to a trustworthy person for additional backup.
Try a Combination Lock Change Key
This solution isn’t suitable for all safes, and the equipment you’ll need is quite specialist. A change key is a small device that can change or reset a combination lock. Some safes will come with a lock that can be controlled by a change key, but there is a caveat; successfully using one may require knowledge of the existing combination, as access is usually at the back of the lock. Of course, if the combination has been forgotten, this approach won’t be suitable.
However, if a change key can be used at the front of your safe and the previous combination is not required, this can be a useful strategy. Use the change key in a similar way to a manual override, by placing in the slot and turning clockwise or anticlockwise – according the specifications of your safe’s lock. You may also need to turn the combination dial while you use the key.
A change key has an additional benefit. It will reset the lock, allowing you to choose a new combination. To avoid this scenario recurring in the future, make sure it’s memorable! You may also want to note down the combination and store it away from the safe in a secure location, or let a trusted person know the pass code.
Use a Magnet
It’s actually possible to open some gun safes with a magnet. Rare earth magnets, which are usually made of neodymium, can be found at DIY stores and online at retailers like Amazon. This is the type of magnet you’ll need to attempt to open a safe without the combination. A large magnet is recommended.
A word of caution before you try this tactic. Rare earth magnets are extremely powerful. They can ruin electronics, such as mobile phones, computers, and external hard drives, in a matter of seconds. So, if you do purchase a rare earth magnet, make sure that it’s always stored away from any electronic device it can potentially destroy. These magnets should not be used by anyone with a pacemaker or other metallic medical device, and injuries are possible if they are misused in any capacity. In short, use extra caution!
Once you have your large rare earth magnet, you’ll also need a gym sock or similar piece of tubed fabric to handle it. This is to help you move the magnet around on the safe door, and to remove it once you’re done. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to get it off! Place the magnet into the sock and approach the gun safe. Whilst we’d love to tell you it’s simply a case of waving the magnet over the safe, it’s not quite that straightforward – although there’s just one further step.
Next, you’ll need to find the safe’s solenoid. This shouldn’t be difficult, as most are located on the front door, close to the lock. Move the magnet around slowly until the door opens. You’ll need to be patient, as the solenoid might not be exactly where you expect. This method works because the nickel solenoid controls the locking system. The powerful real earth magnet effectively resets the lock, allowing you to gain access without damaging the structure of the safe, nor the lock itself. Think of it as an elaborate, DIY master key.
Once you’re back in the safe, don’t forget to use caution when you store the rare earth magnet. It remains potentially dangerous, and it shouldn’t be left somewhere that children can reach it. It may sound like overkill, but it’s worth attaching a warning to the box or storage area where the magnet will be kept. As well as the junior members of your family, this helps to prevent injury to anyone with a metallic medical device.
Drop it a Few Times (No, Seriously!)
This might sound unbelievable, but some people have been able to access a safe simply by gently dropping or bouncing one side of it. This movement can do just enough to knock the mechanism into a reset position, releasing the door and granting access. Of course, if you have a heavy gun safe – particularly a tall cabinet that could fall over and become damaged easily – this approach is probably not the best idea.
But for small combination safes that can’t be unlocked, it’s worth a try. Place the safe on a flat surface, with a piece of cloth underneath it to protect the surface you’re using. Then, lift one side of the safe an inch or so, before letting go. Start with a small drop; there’s no need to go for anything dramatic, particularly at the start. After you’ve dropped the safe, test the door. For some safes, a small drop will be enough to release the door.
If your first attempt doesn’t work, try the same distance a couple more times. Try to open the door after each drop. You may need to increase the drop distance, but do this gradually. Work your way from one inch to an inch-and-a-half initially, repeating each distance a few times. Then, continue to try different drops, moving up in half-inch increments.
If this strategy hasn’t worked by the time you reach 4 – 5 inches, we wouldn’t advise going any further. The aim is to use a gentle motion, and putting your safe through more strenuous dropping is likely to cause eventual damage, which can render it useless. So, start small, work your way up gradually, and don’t be a hero; if you get the impression it’s not working out, stop.
Utilise a Wire or Paperclip
It might seem like something you’re more likely to see in a movie than real life, but a small, thin piece of wire can actually help you to access your safe. It’s all about knowing where to place the wire, and having just enough to room to get it in.
Although the doors on combination lock gun safes are usually strong, sturdy, and resilient to unauthorised access attempts, there will always be some kind of gap between the door and the main body of the safe – even if that’s just a fraction of a millimetre. Using a thin wire, paperclip, or even a flattened plastic straw, work your way along the length of the gap on the front door, with particular focus on the area around the locking mechanism, if you know where that is. Place your ear close to the door, and listen for any sounds that indicate movement in the lock. If you identify any encouraging noises, focus your efforts on that area.
You might not believe it, but opening some safes is as easy as knocking the lock with a thin instrument like a paperclip or a straw. There are even instances of kids accidentally accessing locked cabinets this way. Other locks might need more manipulation, and you’ll need to fiddle them with a wire or paperclip until the door is released. This is another approach that minimises damage to the safe, and allows you to access your guns without having to spend a lot of money on calling a locksmith.
Use Math and Logic
OK, this one needs a lot more thinking power, but it’s an ingenious way to regain access to your safe, while feeling like a master of espionage at the same time!
This approach requires a fair bit of focus, so be prepared to work without distractions. You’ll need a stethoscope (seriously!), a notepad, pencil, graph paper, and possibly a few hours free. It’s also worth brushing up your understanding on the principles of how a combination lock works.
Start by resetting the wheels of the mechanism by turning the dial several times in a clockwise direction. Next, place the stethoscope on the surface of the front door, near the combination lock. Slowly begin turning the dial counter-clockwise, and listen for two clicks close to each other. Note down the dial positions that correspond with the clicks. Reset the lock by spinning the dial a few times clockwise, then repeat the process to confirm you’ve taken down the correct location of the clicks.
Next, you’ll figure out how many numbers are in the combination. If you already know, skip this step. Move the dial counter-clockwise to the opposite position to the location of the clicks. This is your ‘parked’ position. From there, slowly dial clockwise, whilst still listening with the stethoscope. Pay close attention every time you pass the ‘parked’ position. You should hear a click the first time you hit that location; listen for further clicks and note down how many you hear until the mechanism stops clicking. This will help you to confirm how many numbers there are in your combination.
You’re now ready to begin the real sleuth work! Reset the dial as before, then set it to zero. Then, slowly begin moving the dial around counter-clockwise, listening again with the stethoscope for sequences of two clicks close together. There will be several of these, so listen carefully. Note down the locations where you hear clicks. Then, plot these points on a simple line graph.
Next, reset the dial and move it in a clockwise direction to three numbers left of zero (30 on standard combination locks). Repeat the process above, note down the locations of double clicks, then plot them on the line graph. Reset and repeat, moving three numbers back again, until you’re back at zero.
Now, look for points on your graph where y-values converge. These will reveal your combination numbers, but not the order they’re supposed to be in. To find the correct combination, it’s a process of trial and error. For locks with just a few numbers in the combination, there are only six possible solutions, so it shouldn’t take long to find the right one. Of course, as the number of components increases, so too will the possible combinations. Be patient; you will get there eventually!
This approach is quite hard work, and it’s understandable to become frustrated. It’s worthwhile to have someone helping you, particularly if you’re not sure about the graphical element. Plus, having an accomplice on such an audacious endeavour makes it twice the fun!
Call a Locksmith
If you’ve had no luck with the strategies above, it’s time to call a locksmith. In fact, some people may prefer to do this in the first instance, rather than use a locksmith as a last resort. Although it can be expensive to hire a specialist, they have the expertise to get you back into your safe quickly.
There are a few things you need to know before you hire a locksmith:
Find out the brand, model, and serial number of your safe
Be ready to provide specific information about your safe to the locksmith. This helps them to prepare the equipment they’ll need in advance, allowing them to work more efficiently. The locksmith will be able to unlock your safe quicker, and if they’re charging by the hour, you’ll save money!
Start with the vital information: brand name, model, and serial number. These should be readily available, although the serial number might be behind or underneath the unit. It might even be inside the safe, so if you can’t find it, don’t worry too much. It’s really helpful if you’ve kept any instruction manuals or quick start guides that came with your safe. This can provide valuable insight to the locksmith when they arrive.
Let them know any important details
If there’s any critical information a locksmith needs to know before they attempt to open the safe, provide this in plenty of time. Think about the contents of your safe. Is there anything in there that could potentially be dangerous to someone unfamiliar with it?
Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone would store a fully-loaded gun with the safety switched off, but it’s not completely outside the realms of possibility. There might be other weapons in the safe that could be dangerous if dislodged, or documents containing sensitive information. A locksmith won’t root through your possessions, but if there’s something you’d prefer them not to see, simply indicate this delicately before they begin working.
Be prepared to prove who you are
Locksmiths are experienced professionals, and they’ll be on the lookout for people attempting to access safes without proper authorisation. Don’t be offended if they ask you to prove who you are, and that you have ownership of the safe and its contents, or permission to open it if it’s not yours. They’re simply making sure that the work they do is not unlawful, and that nobody’s safety is jeopardised by opening the safe.
It’s helpful to have some identification ready, and proof of purchase of the safe. If you’re opening the safe on someone else’s behalf, let them know what’s happening and ask them to be ready to speak with the locksmith on the phone or by video chat to confirm both their identity and your right to be there. Some may not open the safe without the owner present.
Forgetting the combination code to your gun safe is not the end of the world. There are lots of approaches you can take to regain access. Some require MacGyver ingenuity, others are astoundingly simple. And if you’re in any doubt, you can always call a locksmith!