How To Open A Safe With a 3 Number Combination

Eli Smith
by Eli Smith

The skill of opening one of those old school classroom locks is lost after you leave school. Unless you happen to have a job where they use this kind of locker, it is only natural to wonder how to open a safe with a 3 number combination.

Spin the lock one full rotation left past the first number of the combination. Next, set the dial to the first number. Rotate the lock to the right until you reach the second number, then rotate the lock left up to the third number. You should feel a click and can now open the safe.

At this point, you may be encouraged to kick yourself in the pants for not remembering. But unless you do it regularly, you can’t be expected to memorize something you haven’t done for a few years. Below, we will get into how to open other kinds of combinations and details for how these safes work.

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How A 3 Number Combination Safe Works

A three-number combination safe has three separate wheels, each of them representing different numbers in your combination. The position of various notches within those wheels represent the position of those numbers. When all three numbers are correct, all of the gaps line up. The openings fill with a small metal bar that can now drop due to gravity, which removes the safe lock.

This design is known as a wheel pack, at it has been in use for around 100 years. Because it has been around for so long, the safecracking methods have been fully explored.

How To Open A Safe With 4 Number Combination

All of the same steps we mentioned above still apply. The only difference is that you will not pause after the third number. Instead, you will rotate the lock like this:

  • After one full rotation, stop at the first number
  • Spin counterclockwise (right) to the second number
  • Spin left again to reach the third number
  • Spin right and rest at the fourth number

The fourth number in the combination naturally results in higher security because it is harder to guess the combination. More numbers do not result in thicker walls, that will vary from model to model.

How To Open A Combination Safe Without The Combination – Cracking Safes

Contrary to what you may believe, this isn’t a guide that you can use to reenact the safecracking scene from Oceans Eleven. This guide is more helpful for people who lost the combination.

Before we provide this guide, some classic scenes in safecracking involve using a torch. Contrary to popular belief, using a torch is more likely to melt or burn the safe contents. A fully insulated, safe hit with a blow torch is a waste of time and money.

So let’s look into some useful methods of safecracking.

Try The Try-Out Combination

Manufacturers include a pre-set combination with their safe that allows you to test the safe out for initial access. These combinations act as placeholders so that the user may eventually set their combination.

However, people who get safes don’t read the owner’s manual. As a result, there are a plethora of safes out there that have the original try-out combinations. By finding the safe’s owner’s manual, you can locate the try-out combination. Check out these common try-out combinations:

  • 50-25-50
  • 10-20-30
  • 50-50-50
  • 20-40-60
  • 20-50-25
  • 60-40-20

Day Locking

Day locking a safe involves putting in the first two numbers of the combination. It allows easy access for safe managers who need to get to their money quickly. However, it also provides an easy way for would-be thieves to access some safes. Given that day locking is still a common practice, try and see if you cannot remember your combination’s last number. Disregard this step if you do not participate in day locking.

Weak-point drilling

Manufactures create drill-point diagrams that allow for easier access to their safes. Because of the high potential of security risk, they are typically only shared with locksmiths. Access to these diagrams will enable you to drill through a less reinforced portion of the safe.

Drilling will allow you to access the lock, so you can view ways to manipulate the mechanism. Given that it is the quickest route to getting a paycheck, locksmiths typically prefer this method.


Scoping allows you to place a small camera tube (borescope) into your safe. Before scoping, you will need to drill a hole through the safe to put the borescope. Position the scope in such a way where you can see the turning of the wheels.

Lock Manipulation

Lock manipulation requires patience and technique, which is better done after years of training. Many master manipulators can open locks in seconds. Simply speaking, it involves slowly turning the lock until you feel the mechanical bits slip into place.

By taking advantage of these mechanical imperfections, a technician can use feedback from the lock to get it open. They typically feel a vibration that tells them that they are on the right path. Modern locks reduce the amount of feedback given, making a lock manipulator’s job impossible.

Manipulation is also typically limited to Group Two locks, which are the most common and least expensive. Group one locks are a bit more sturdy and security-heavy, but you can manipulate them with some effort.

Brute Force

The adage “if at first, you don’t succeed, try punching it” applies mostly here. Although following this advice with any degree of closeness will result in a broken hand.

Instead, brute force involves using tools and explosives to break open the safe. Some people can use torches with some effect, but remember that you are more likely to burn down the contents. There is no guarantee that any brute force methods work, so lock manipulation is a preferred technique.

How Do I Open Old Safes With Old Combinations?

Old safes still follow many of the same processes as new safes. As a result, your best bet will be to start following the safecracking guide listed above. Because many old won’t have owner’s manuals, your best bet will be to open the old safe and change the combination.

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How Do I Change The Combination On A Safe?

  • Find the change mark
  • Turn left until the original first number passes the change mark four times
  • Rotate right (clockwise) until the second number passes the change mark two times
  • Turn left until the third number passes the change mark once
  • Insert the change key into the back
  • Insert and test the new combination

Step One: Find The Change Mark

The change mark is typically on the right or left side of your mechanical combination lock. It is similar to the spot on top and might be labeled “change.”

Step Two: Turn Left Until The Original First Number Is Passed Four Times

To clear the lock, you will want to be very picky. One way to do so is to pass by the number a total of four times, ensuring that your number passes the change mark a total of four times. On rotation number five, pause your number on the change mark.

Step Three: Rotate Right Until The Second Number Passes The Change Mark Twice

Be very careful as you proceed to number two. Passing it over more than twice will result in you need to start from the beginning. By rotation number three, you need to pause the second number on the change mark.

Step Four: Rotate Left Until The Third Number Passes The Change Mark Once

Take one rotation off of the previous step and rest on the third number. Once you get here, your safe should be easy to open.

Step Five: Insert The Change Key Into The Back

Safes come with a change key that allows you to adjust the combination. After opening the safe, you can often find the change key inside of the safe. Without it, there is no real way to change the combination.

Step Six: Turn And Test The New Combination

With the change key still inside, turn until you find a new set of three numbers. The third number will always have to be higher than 25 unless you deal with a 100 piece lock.

Once you have the third number done, remove the change key from the back. Close the safe and test the new combination out to see that it works. If it doesn’t work, start from the beginning and be extra careful to count the number of rotations.

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Eli Smith
Eli Smith

I'm a guy who becomes the expert of whatever I stumble upon, writing-wise. I've written tons about cool home products, home improvement, and smart technology in the home. I'm also the proud father of a kiddo born on new years, making my holidays very busy.

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