Drilling into a modern safe

SafecrackingThe first safes were made from metal. So the first safecrackers simply drilled in using a drill bit made of a harder metal. (Setting aside the options of cracking the combination or blowing the hinges off.)

So the safemakers started using really hard metal – a ‘hardplate’ – eventually settling on cobalt plating, particularly right around the dial and the mechanisms that stop the lock bolt from moving.

So the safecrackers started using diamond-tipped drill bits. That will go through cobalt eventually, although it may burn out the drill motor first.

So the safemakers started using tricks like this: They make a hardplate of a cobalt alloy and sprinkle it with tungsten carbide chips, which can shatter the diamond-tipped drill bits.

So the safecrackers also started trying torches to melt the alloy instead of conventional drills. ‘Thermal lance’ is a cool-sounding safecracking tool.

So the safemakers started adding other layers of material besides the cobalt. Fire-resistent materials to thwart the thermal lance. Spongy stuff or angled soft-steel plates in concrete to tangle drill bits instead of stopping them cold. They also came up with the concept of “relockers”. Typically if you trigger the relocker, a new set of bolts spring into place. Ironically the trigger mechanism in some cases is a plate of glass, which obviously would get broken if you drilled where you were expecting to hit cobalt hardplate.

And so on.

A vastly entertaining read (in a geeky way) on this stuff is Matt Blaze’s Safecracking for the Computer Scientist. Wikipedia on safecracking is also good.

11 thoughts on “Drilling into a modern safe

  1. I have read this ‘Safecracking for the Computer Scientist’ before! That’s crazy that you put it here, it definitely teaches you a lot about safes. One time at work like a year and a half ago my supervisor accidentally closed a safe that we had lost the combination to. I spent a good part of the day looking at ways to get it open (that’s when I found this great resource) but in the end the owner just called a locksmith. I learned a lot that day though, I’ve always wanted to try some of that out though…

    This battle between safemakers and safecrackers reminds me of the development of opening theory, but maybe that’s just because I’m obsessed with chess.

  2. Richard Fynman used to break into safes, and his writing inspired me to learn how to pick a Master lock, which, if you look it up online, is not so hard to do (and impresses the uninitiated).


  3. the technology has changed.

    Nowadays safe Crackers use only 3 types of drill bits.

    1. high speed (HSS) drill bit ~for just metal safe.

    2. Carbide drill bit~ for drilling harden steel

    3. Diamond cores for drilling carbide chips embedded hardplate.

    They don’t drill free hand anymore,
    they use a magnetic drill press to drill the safe material and then use a Fibre optic flex scope to see the “wheels”…to unlock it.

    safeCracking is not rocket science , anyone who has the equiment can do it.

    1. Take it from a “Safecracker”, having the equipment gets you about 30% of the way there. Having drill points, technique, info on the safe, and patience gets you the next 60-65%. The final 5% or so is luck/fate that you didn’t miss or forget something.

      But, yeah, “anyone who has the equipment can do it.” Sure!

  4. “Anyone with the tools can do it…”

    Thats a ridiculous statement. I’v spent years mastering my trade and you couldn’t be more wrong.

    The amount of times i’v had to go rescue customers that decided they could do it and made the situation 100 times trickier…

    Every master locksmith has a wealth of product-specific knowledge that cannot be taught, ok you can learn the basics.

    I could learn the basics of laying a few bricks, but i wouldn’t try and build a house

  5. Hey I’m new to this. Any and all info is greatly appreciated. If I am going to begin the trade of a safe technician, what tools should I begin to accumulate? I like to get quality from the start. I want to know about the drills,the drill rig,scopes etc.. I am also interested in buying anything you may not need anymore.

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