I talk to many locksmiths who are just starting out. Most of these folks ask automotive questions, but fairly often, I get asked about safe deposit locks. I guess it’s because I produced a three volume set of DVDs on safe deposit lock servicing a few years ago. Here is a very basic introduction to the subject of safe deposit lock servicing, intended for those who are locksmiths, but have no experience at all in working on safe deposit locks.
Why Offer Safe Deposit Lock Service?
The vast majority of safe deposit lock work is done today by dedicated bank equipment service companies. For that reason, many independent locksmiths believe that they simply can’t get that kind of work.
The problem with bank equipment service companies is that they try to schedule their work weeks in advance, and a lot of safe deposit work has to be done on short notice. If a customer comes in to the bank to access his safe deposit box and his key won’t work, he won’t want to wait a week or two for the bank to schedule a box opening.
Failure of a safe deposit lock is very rare, but there are lots of other situations involving safe deposit locks that have to be handled quickly, such as a renter who needs immediate access to their box, but has lost the key, the death of the renter, or a court-ordered box opening, etc. If you are willing and able to respond quickly, there are many opportunities for the average locksmith to do safe deposit work.
Of course there are other advantages, like the fact that safe deposit locks tend to be in well-lit, air-conditioned areas. Banks tend to be pleasant places to work, and they have lots of locks that the bank service people don’t normally service. Those locks also get used every day and consequently need regular attention. These range from the locks on the front doors, individual office locks, and lots of locks on individual desks and drawers. Once you have established yourself with a bank, it’s only natural that they will call you when one of these “minor” locks needs service.
What is a Safe Deposit Lock?
Most modern safe deposit locks are actually two separate locks inside one housing that work together to control a single locking bolt. The whole idea is to have a lock that requires two different keys before it can be unlocked. Traditionally, a single key is used to control one side of all of the safe deposit locks in a bank. This key is maintained by the “vault custodian,” and is called the “Guard Key.” The guard key is always inserted into the lock plug that is the closest to the hinge on modern locks. Once the guard key has been turned and left in the turned position, then the key that the renter of the box controls is inserted into the other plug and turned to unlock the box. Naturally enough, the key that the renter controls is normally referred to as the “Renter’s Key.” Only when both keys are inserted and turned can the box be opened.
Since there are two different locks in one unit, there are twice as many elements to fail, but because most safe deposit locks use old-fashioned lever tumblers, these locks rarely fail.
Most safe deposit lock servicing boils down to opening and repairing a box when a key is not available. While there are some picks available for some locks, there are many banks that will not permit you to use them, simply for public relations reasons. Many banks want their customers to believe that there is absolutely no way to open their box without destroying the lock.
While there have been many different companies making safe deposit locks through the years, the most common ones are from one of four major manufacturers: Diebold, LeFebure, Mosler and Sargent & Greenleaf. For a more complete list, see the Locksmith Ledger Web Site Buyers Guide.
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