Unlocking a Gary TL-15 Round-Door Safe

Many characteristics of a safe and its lock can be determined by the safecracker even when no published or personal records can be found. Often, a logical approach is enough to open the safe.


A man once closed and locked a safe, knowing that the combination was written down … somewhere. Ten years later, the safe remained locked and the combination had not been found. Since the owner of this safe wanted to start using it for his business, the company requested my services as a...


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A man once closed and locked a safe, knowing that the combination was written down … somewhere. Ten years later, the safe remained locked and the combination had not been found. Since the owner of this safe wanted to start using it for his business, the company requested my services as a safecracker.

When I arrived at that business, I was led to the safe shown in Figure 1. It was a red Gary safe with a jeweled steel face and a chrome-plated, spy-proof Sargent & Greenleaf dial. The serial number on the door was 46792. I knew very little about this model of safe. In fact, everything I knew is what I just told you. I simply had not yet had the privilege of working on any hinged round doors made by Gary. It is wonderful, when approaching a job like this, to have good documentation of all relevant details about the safe. This article, however, is intended to demonstrate that a good plan of attack can often be devised even without such information.

Having taken note of all the visible characteristics of the safe’s exterior, I started manipulating the lock. The first steps are to identify internal lock characteristics and to confirm functionality of various lock components. By the lack of gear noise, I can suppose that this is a direct-drive lock. By feeling contact points, I can tell that it has either a spring-loaded or perhaps gravity-driven fence that seems to be operational. By feeling wheel pick-up, I can identify this as a three-wheel lock with moveable flies. These characteristics are rather typical, but let’s not make unconfirmed assumptions. These things are usually easy to check.

I did not get this safe unlocked by manipulation alone. Since the lock is direct-drive, its wheels are on the same axis as the dial. (If it were indirect-drive, however, the wheelpack location would be difficult to predict. I would search for more information before attempting an opening by frontal penetration.) The wheels of most safe locks have about a 7/8-inch radius, and none that I’m aware of are over 1-1/4 inches. It seems common for small round-door safes to be rather burglar-resistant, based on which I estimated that the lock was mounted 2” to 2+1/2” behind the face of the door. This measurement might be considered to have been pulled from my wazoo. The radius of the dial is 1-1/2 inches.

I planned to use the aforementioned measurements to get a view of the wheelpack, somewhere near its circumference. I needed no access to the fence, because the lock seemed to be perfectly functional. I needed no view of the fence, because transferring is easy. To avoid depositing debris in the wheelpack, I generally avoid drilling within or above its top half.

The lock I was dealing with seemed much like a Sargent & Greenleaf 6730 but could have a very different lock case. Some round doors have an integrated wheel post and plenty of space around the wheelpack, since the door itself is the lock case. If the lock case were like that of the 6730, the most space would be found toward the lock bolt (most likely to the left, I supposed), while sufficient space would likely be found in the corners farthest from the bolt. Based on all this, I chose a target that seemed to have the most potential —one that I believed would work for various possible configurations. Eight ball, lower left corner pocket!

Preferring to avoid damage to the chrome dial and to the visible portion of the jeweled door face, I chose to drill through the dial ring at about 65. To get close to the circumference of the wheelpack, I would have to drill at somewhat of an angle, as shown in Figure 2. I drilled with StrongArm and Joran Uni-Plus tungsten-carbide-tipped bits in a hand-held drill, alternating between 1/8” and 3/16” sizes and pausing from time to time to beat on the hardplate with a punch. When the drilling became easier, I carefully finished my hole, anchoring an elbow against the safe and bracing the drill motor’s side handle for a controlled entry into the lock. My bit emerged inside the safe’s door, which I felt as a slight forward surge.

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