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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

How To Open Gun Safes Properly: New Safes And Safe Lockouts

by Ralph October 27, 2021

There are different concerns when a gun safe won’t open right after purchasing versus after years of use. In the first case, you may need to know more about how a particular safe lock is supposed to open. For a broken safe or lost combination, you need safe lockout services.

Here what you need to know about how to open a gun safe:

Though you could consider any safe you can store a gun inside, we are going to work off of the more technical definition of a gun safe. And when we say technical, we are referring to the strictest legal guidelines for what can be sold as and advertised as a “gun safe.”


Are gun safes different from other safes?

California’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has the strictest criteria for what can be considered a gun safe. This includes the use of 12-gauge steel for the walls of the safe and a door composed of two layers of 12-gauge and one 7-gauge steel layer.

What gun safe opens fastest?

How to open a gun safe the fastest way possible requires a digital combination pad. Under stress and in poor lighting, an illuminated keypad is going to open much faster than a combination dial or key. Biometric locks may be faster, but they can be inconsistent. 

Does a personal protection box open faster than a gun safe?

A personal protection box is designed to open extremely quickly during an emergency. A gun safe is designed for secure storage. The difference between the two devices is equivalent to the difference between safes and lockboxes. The added security of a gun safe increases the time needed to open it.

How do I find the combination to my gun safe?

When you first buy a home safe, your combination can be found within the documentation or manual. If you cannot find the combination there, check for a sticker in or on the safe. Once you have looked through these basic locations and found nothing, reach out to the seller.

Can I change my gun safe combination?

There are many methods for how to change combination locks, all of which vary depending on the lock type and manufacturer. The most common element between these ways to change your gun safe combination is you must be able to open the safe (often with the current code).

Is it possible to open a gun without the combination?

If you forgot your safe combination, it is still possible to open the safe. How to open a gun safe without a combination will almost always damage the safe. Even if the gun safe is not irrevocably damaged, destructive opening procedures will make the safe less secure.

How To Open A Gun Safe Correctly

In this section, we will discuss the various ways of how to open a gun safe as the manufacturer intended. This information will serve anyone who is new to using these types of devices in general or needs help understanding how their previous experience applies to a gun safe lock.

You will also gain a deeper understanding of how these different devices work mechanically. That mechanical familiarity will be invaluable to understanding the next section on how to open a gun safe when you are locked out.

Types of gun safe locks include:

1. Combination Dial

When most people picture a safe, they imagine a numbered rotational dial that you can spin both clockwise and counterclockwise. This lock style is used on all types of security safes because it is reliable and does not require an electrical current.

A combination dial works by rotating a series of wheels. When you rotate the dial in one direction, it turns the first wheel. Changing direction turns the second wheel, and so on. When all the wheels are aligned correctly, the actuator on the lock is freed up to open the safe.

How to open a gun safe with a combination dial changes in terms of the rotational direction and number of turns before moving on to the next number in the combo. The most common combination dial installed on a gun safe is a Sargent & Greenleaf (S&G) mechanical dial.

Standard S&G Opening Procedure:

  1. Turn the dial 3-full rotations counterclockwise past the first number.
  2. On the 4th counterclockwise rotation, stop at the first number in your combination.
  3. Rotate clockwise, passing your second number twice.
  4. Stop on your second number when you see it for the third time.
  5. Rotate counterclockwise, passing the final number once.
  6. Stop on your final number when you see it for the second time.
  7. Rotate the dial clockwise until the dial comes to a complete stop.
  8. The dial should stop when it reaches around the 87 tick mark.

2. Electronic Keypad

How to open a gun safe with an electronic keypad is pretty straightforward. Just be aware that the combination may require the octothorpe (#) or asterisk (*) to be pressed before or after you begin dialing the combination.

The most important thing to know about the electronic lock your safe uses is how to replace the power source. Some gun safe electronic keypads are hardwired into the building’s electrical system, but most use a single nine-volt battery.

Make sure your battery can be changed without opening your gun safe. If you cannot, or the safe is hardwired, there should be a temporary battery port. This port is often on the side of the keypad with a plastic cover. Remove the cover and hold the battery to the correct inputs for a temporary charge.

Standard S&G Opening Procedure:

  1. The default code on S&G keypads is 1,2,3,4,5,6.
  2. After inputting the code, press the octothorpe (#).
  3. To change your code, press 7,4,*.
  4. Then use the current code, followed by #.
  5. Watch for the keypad to beep five times.
  6. Press 1,*.
  7. Enter new code, followed by #.
  8. The keypad will beep three times.
  9. Re-enter the code and press #.
  10. After the next three beeps, test that the lock opens.

3. Keyed Lock 

Gun safes can have secondary locks which use a keyed cylinder, but this is not going to be the exclusive way to open the lock. In cases where a gun safe does have a keyed cylinder that can open the device, you can still unlock a safe without a key by using the combination lock.

It is important to know that the existence of a keyhole does not guarantee that this cylinder will open the safe. Some safes utilize change keys, which are inserted when a user wishes to change the combination that will open their gun safe.

If you are looking for how to open a gun safe with a key because the key you have has never worked, this is a fairly good indication that your key is not meant to open the safe. If your gun safe does open with a key, it is vulnerable to criminal lock picking.

Basic Opening Procedure:

  1. Insert your key and turn clockwise.
  2. With no rotation, attempt to turn the key counterclockwise.
  3. If the key turns without the lock opening, this is most likely a change key.
  4. Change keys assist with changing the combination but will not open the safe.

4. Biometric Scanner

The most common biometric reading a safe will take is a fingerprint scan. The most difficult part of how to open a gun safe with a biometric reading will be inputting this information to read as the key. Make sure when those initial readings are taken, they work consistently.

If you have ever used biometric scanners in other instances, such as fingerprint door locks or biometric time clocks, you will know that they can be rather finicky. When they work, they work fast, but the real issue is consistency. How many times is a reading needed for approved access?

When your biometric gun safe won’t open, erase the problematic user information and attempt to re-input it. If you are doing work that scars your fingertips or leaves calluses, this is going to interfere with the opening procedure.

Standard S&G Opening Procedure:

  1. Press the “START” button at the top of the keypad.
  2. Press the asterisk (*) and enter your code.
  3. The default code on S&G keypads is 1,2,3,4,5,6, #.
  4. Scroll down with the # key to “Fingerprint Setup”.
  5. Select “Enroll.”
  6. Choose the user number and press #.
  7. Input your full code.
  8. Place your finger on the biometric reader.
  9. Remove and place the finger as directed.
  10. To open press “START.”
  11. Wait for the green indicator light.
  12. Place your finger on the sensor.

How to Open A Gun Safe When Locked Out 

Guns safes are more secure than the security safes made by brands security experts love to hate. As a result, how to open a gun safe when you are locked out is going to be limited to professional and highly destructive techniques.

Simple bypasses and methods like bouncing the safe are not going to be viable for these better-constructed safes. You will likely need a locksmith to open your safe, but these are the most common methods they will use for how to open a gun safe forcibly.

Methods for how to open a gun safe during a lockout include:

1. Manipulation

The only non-destructive method for how to open a gun safe without keys or a combination is manipulating the locking mechanism. If you are dealing with a keyed safe lock, you need to know how to pick locks. More commonly, gun safe manipulation will deal with combination dials.

Not every safe locksmith is capable of manipulating a combination dial, as this requires a tremendous amount of specialized practice for a skill that is rarely requested. It is unlikely that an untrained gun safe owner will be able to learn this while solving their gun safe lockout.

You are feeling the rotation of the dial to determine the true gates on each wheel. Any blockage or discontented part will throw off the feedback needed to detect the correct combination. Some combination dials use false gates to add this incorrect feedback while the safe is functioning.

If there is damage that requires some form of safe lock replacement, this will not work. Locks must be functional to be manipulated. Also, this is not a method for how to crack a gun safe with an electronic lock, as you do need something mechanical.

2. Drilling

How to open a gun safe with a drill is mechanically distinct from drilling a lock. When you are drilling a safe, you are attempting to do one of two things. Either you are making an entry point for a borescope to better manipulate the dial or making an opening for a tool so you can directly interact with the actuator.

Both approaches for how to open a gun safe with a drill require an understanding of your lock hardware. If you do not understand where your lock actuator is and how the bolt assembly works, drilling into the gun safe is not going to get it open.

If a locksmith drills open a gun safe, there may be a way to repair the damage. Holes may be able to be patched or covered, though there will likely be a marking or sign that the lock was drilled. This can make the safe vulnerable in the future but will save you the money needed to replace your safe.

3. Prying

Opening a gun safe via prying is different than the type of prying that will open a basic safe. This can be done with almost no understanding of the mechanical elements of your gun safe but is aided by knowing where the bolts are on your safe door and how many bolts there are.

Prying works best when the safe door is pointed at the ceiling. If you are dealing with a hidden floor safe, it is already positioned properly. This gives you the benefit of gravity when you are leveraging the door open. For tools, you will want at least one pry bar and several wedges.

As you pry the safe door, insert the wedges into the widening crevices. Wedge all along the door. Continue prying and forcing the wedges deeper to expand the gap. You can then cut the exposed bolts or pry until the safe breaks open. How to open a gun safe with prying may require cutting if the product is more substantial.

4. Cutting

As mentioned in the section on prying, you can cut into the bolts of a safe door, but you may want to try the safe walls first. How to open a gun safe with cutting will depend on the safe’s construction, but often the walls use less metal than the door.

An angle grinder can cut through almost anything, but a thick metal gun safe is going to take time and even a few blades to fully open. You also have to be concerned with cutting through the walls, as the positioning of valuables within the safe may put them at risk of damage.

The best safe companies will offer products that have cutting protection. Similar to some of the best padlocks, gun safes can use ceramic inserts to displace the heat. This can make torch-based cutting nearly impossible. Ceramic inserts can be placed in the safe walls, doors, and bolts.

Closing Thoughts

When you need to know how to open a gun safe correctly, you can always reach out to the seller or manufacturer if the documented instructions are not clear. When it comes to how to open a gun safe when you are locked out, it also pays to contact someone with more experience.

If you need help opening your gun safe, see if United Locksmith services your area. And for general questions and additional information, feel free to leave a comment below.

Category: How To's, Safes

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