In part one I removed the lock case and got that working again. My next step was to disassemble the safe door; the levers, bolt cylinders and bolt cylinder guides, along with all the bolts holding everything in place. [I'm not sure my terminology is quite right but you get the idea.]
In the last blog I wrote that this building had been abandoned for a number of years. What I hadn't realized is that for many of those years, the roof had collapsed in, exposing everything to the weather (and pigeons, too!). The above photo gives a good idea of how cruddy everything had become. I was very worried that the bolts would be completely corroded into place but one good turn revealed some very good news...
The bolt heads were a bit corroded to the surface but the rest of the bolt was undamaged. They were in such good shape, in fact, that after breaking the initial bit of corrosion loose, I could unscrew them with my fingers.
The parts looked awful as you can see below. They were covered in loose rust, pigeon droppings and penetrating oil that the owner had put on everything to help loosen it up.
I knocked the worst of it off in the washtub and then moved onto the wire wheel on the bench grinder.
After cleaning the first part, I discovered that it threw out so much rust and dust that everything on me became coated in the stuff, including my nose, mouth and eyes, hence all the safety gear you see me wearing.
All the spots where the bolt cylinders moved through the guides came apart surprisingly well, usually needing no more than a good thump with a steel mallet and wood block to loosen them. All of them, that is, except for ONE particular piece that had been on the bottom of the safe door and seemed to have collected the most water and droppings. No amount of pounding and PB Blaster was getting me anywhere so I took the offending piece to Ripley Products Company where he heated it (a bit hotter than he would have liked) but finally got it loose.
The result was pretty impressive for a safe that looked like a lost cause. Below are some before and after pieces.
To clean out the holes that the bolts and bolt cylinders went through, I used a dremel wire brush and drum sander to get it shiny smooth.
All in all, I probably put in around 40 hours cleaning all the parts up and even then, they weren't in perfect condition. Early on in the process I consulted the owner of the safe and discussed his options. While it would have been possible to clean each part to the Nth degree and even get them re-plated with nickel, he was realistic about the money he was willing to spend on this project. I think this is a good attitude because, for me, much of the beauty of an antique like this lies in its function rather than its appearance. It gives me a lot of joy to think of all the people working on this safe over 100 years ago knowing that what they created and installed will once again be up and working and still carrying on with its original function.
Next month: Putting it all back together again.
I was asked for help on restoring an antique Diebold walk-in safe to working condition. Given the patent information stamped on the dial and the history of the building it was in, a good estimate of the manufacture date would be between 1880 and 1900. When it was new, it was a formidable and gorgeous safe with extensive artwork inside and out.
Alas, with decades of neglect in a more or less abandoned building, corrosion set in on nearly all the parts. At first glance the whole thing looked completely hopeless, rusted beyond salvage. The dial still turned with a little difficulty but all the moving parts inside the door were completely seized up.
The first thing I wanted to try was removing the lock case. It would be a simple task compared to the rest of it and give an indication of what I was up against. Even if the internal parts of the case were beyond repair, however, it wouldn’t be too difficult to put in a modern replacement. Amazingly, once the screws on the lock case cover gave, they unscrewed without any difficulty. The surface of the screw heads were corroded a bit, but the threading was in great shape. Maybe this wasn’t impossible! With the case opened, I pulled out the drive cam and spindle and unscrewed the case from the door without any problems. I took all the parts home and started work on them.
Watch for part II - disassembling the rest of the safe door
Everywhere I go I check out the door hardware. Usually it's pretty boringly normal, but occasionally there's something fun...
This is a door in a 100+ year old school house that has been converted into office space. My kids take music lessons here. If you look sharply at the above photo, you can see where there was once a piece of vertical trim that has been removed. When they replaced it, I'm guessing, they forgot to take into account the width of the door and the need for the door latch to spring into a box of some sort. When they realized their error, this was their solution (photo of same as above, different angle):
Voila! You take four old strike plates and stack them until they're thick enough to provide a proper box. It's not a high security area, so I guess that while it might not be the best solution, it at least had the virtue of being a cheap solution.
I was called by a customer who wasn’t sure if I could help her with her unusual problem: An heirloom cedar chest that, during a move, had become stuck shut. It wasn’t my typical call but, whether or not I could help, I was certainly willing to try.
She dropped it off and I discovered that although it had a key, it wasn’t locked at all. What seemed to be stuck was the latching mechanism. The lid had a little bit of play; I could lift it just enough to try out of couple of shims, hoping to trigger the mechanism to release. There were two problems, however, one, the lid had a lip that made it hard to reach under the lid and, two, I had no idea what type of latching mechanism this chest used.
I was having a tough time holding the lid up with one hand and probing at the mechanism with the other so I got out my auto lockout kit and inserted the air wedge so that I could gently hold the lid open while I worked on it.
How an air wedge works: The first two photos show the wedge in the uninflated (left) and inflated (middle) states. On the right the wedge is inserted (uninflated) into a cabinet as an example. The bottom picture shows the wedge inflated and "opening" the cabinet.
Back to the chest: I started pumping up the wedge and “Hey!” The lid, without any catching at all, had opened!
Once I had it opened, I inspected the latch mechanism.
It has a spring latch that engages a bar on the lid. It opens when the thumbturn button on the front disengages the spring latch. Notice the scratches on the bar where the latch usually rubs on it. The lid seemed to have drifted over the years so that the latching mechanism was engaging on the front of the bar where, I’m guessing, it eventually caught on the bracket and stuck. Probably during the move it had gotten an extra little "jar". By using the air wedge, I'm guessing the lid was pushed up AND over, allowing the latch to release.
If the hinges were loose this could have caused the engagement point on the latch bar to drift too far forward. I tightened up the hinges. I also went ahead and moved the latch bar so that it would engage on the middle part, not the end close to the bracket (in the above photo, if you look sharp, you can see where I moved it from). I also took apart the lock and latch and cleaned and lubed it. When I was done it worked like a champ!
Important note: When I looked up information on cedar chest locks online I found a lot of information on the dangers of self-latching chests (like this one). It is possible for a child to climb into the chest, close the door, become trapped, and suffocate. I warned my customer of this and recommended simply unscrewing the latch bar and setting it aside if young children had access to the chest. Alternatively she could lock the chest so that children couldn’t open it at all. Lane, another company that manufactured chests with a similar latching mechanism, recently recalled these latches, dating from recent models all the way back to 1912.
Thanks C.R. for permission to post!
I was presented with the above by a customer who had bought it at a garage sale and wanted a working key made for it. Picking open the lock was the work of a minute, given that it was a wafer style lock with sloppy tolerances. Finding the proper key blank for it, however, was another matter.
One of the least profitable things I do (but enjoyable nonetheless) is find oddball keys for people. Usually customers present me with a key that they want copied, but sometimes, like in this case, I only have the lock itself to work with. My go-to resource for both of these problems is the ILCO company’s index to keys. ILCO makes key blanks for most every pin and wafer tumbler lock ever manufactured.
Below is a sample of their publically available index.
Image taken with permission from the Ilco Key Blank Directory Section 2 - North American Cylinder
As you can imagine, having the key makes it easier to find the key blank because not only do you have the groove pattern of the key, but you can usually match the bow (top) of the key also. The ILCO catalog gives an image of the key and a silhouette of the different grooving patterns associated with it. The grooving silhouette is essentially a representation of what the keyway looks like (and, the same, what looking down the length of the key looks like). So this was the keyway I had:
…and I only had about 80 pages of North American keyways to look through. There were a few good candidates but I took a leap of intuition and ordered the blank shown below – Chicago’s 1041N
A week later, it arrived. Jackpot! It was the right blank! But, wait a minute, this is a very strange lock.
It’s a wafer lock, which isn’t unusual, but what is odd is that part of the lock mechanism (the shell) is built into the body of the machine. The slots on the photo above are what the wafers fit into when locked. Most every lock in existence has these two parts together as a single unit that somehow attaches into whatever it is you’re locking up. With further research, I found that this is specifically a double bitted cam lock manufactured by the Chicago Lock Company.
Another strange feature of this lock is that the blank won’t fit into the keyway completely until it’s already been cut. Usually on a lock like this you would make the cuts based on putting the blank into the keyway and then filing it to adjust the wafer position. My conundrum: need to insert blank to make proper cuts, key needs proper cuts to be inserted.
What did I do? Cursed, tried some online searches, cursed some more, tried to make my best guess as to what the finished key should look like and then I started filing.
It’s a good thing I ordered about 6 keys because my first few attempts were failures. Finally I ended up with this wavy thing:
What the key ended up being is a reverse of the “wave” pattern of the wafers. Given the sloppy tolerances of the lock, however, I’m guessing that my customer could probably now open most toy-n-joy machines.
Thanks Matt L for permission to post your awesome gumball machine!
Too long; didn't read summary: Skeleton keys do exist, they are keys that have been filed down to bypass the wards in warded locks, thereby opening all locks of that type.
When I was 8 years old in a Meijer's Thrifty Acres store I wandered into an independent key shop they had inside the store. Among the racks of shining keys was a single peg of old-fashioned looking keys (bit keys actually) that were labelled "skeleton keys". I don't know exactly where I had heard the word before, but I had a firm idea of what a skeleton key was - a key that would open any lock!
Gasp! Could they really sell something like this to just anyone!? If I bought it could I open any lock? Even at 8 I was pretty dubious. First off, the thing they had hanging up didn't look like it would fit into any lock that I had ever seen and second, geez, why would anyone want to buy a lock that any schmuck could open with a skeleton key from Meijer's?
I was right to be skeptical. In actuality, there's not much a skeleton key can open - only the simplest and least secure locks of yesteryear - warded locks.
Warded locks have been around forever, and they work on a very simple premise: there is a mechanical device (usually a latch or bolt) that must thrown (moved) in order to actuate the lock (a sliding bolt on a gate is a very simple example of this). The mechanical device is hidden inside the lock body and requires a tool, ie the key, to be inserted through a hole in the lock body then turned to throw the lever or bolt directly (or a latch attached to the lever or bolt), thus releasing the lock.
What makes these locks "warded" is that barriers (wards) have been put into place inside the lock to prevent just any old key from being able to turn inside the lock. Each lock has wards located in different points along the turning radius so one key can't open a different lock of the same type.
A Modern Example
These types of locks are still in use today and are as close as your local hardware store. For a demonstration I've pulled apart a warded Master lock. Slideshow below:
So what is a skeleton key? A key that has been filed down to just its bare bones. Get it? It's the skeleton of a regular key. In the above example, the only part of the key that needs to be "wide", that is, uncut, is the tip. By taking a key packaged with one of these locks and filing it down along the entire length, minus the tip, the key will turn in ALL warded master locks. Thus the warding plates inside the lock, no matter where they are placed, are avoided altogether.
Sandy Eisele is owner of Peninsula Locksmiths and loves to talk and write about all things lock related.