NewsA few words on combination lock manipulation by Mark Bates
During the past five years I have had the good fortune to spend time opening safes with a close friend from across the Atlantic, Mark Bates.
Mark is the owner of MBA USA Inc, a locksmith and safe technician tool supply and training company.
During visits to the U.K. I have witnessed Mark manipulate several combination locks. The time taken has varied from30 minutes to 5 hours and there was only one occasion that Mark was defeated by the lock.
All of the above has led to many conversations regarding, what I would describe, as the subtleties of manipulation. It has been during these discussions that I have come to realise that Mark Bates knows a LOT about manipulation.
I have asked him to try and explain a little of that knowledge here.
I have been asked to say a few words about combination lock manipulation. This is more difficult than might be imagined, as manipulation is the act of doing…of being fully absorbed in the present. It is not a thing that can be easily translated into mere words. Many people (relatively speaking) are adept at lock manipulation. I hold each in admiration and am awed by a few. There are people who have manipulated more locks than I have and those who have done it faster. I consider myself adequate and am contemptuous of those who think they have mastered the craft.
One thing I am most grateful for is the fact that I have been able to teach and observe hundreds of others learn this skill. Being of a contemplative nature, this experience has helped me gain insight into the often mysterious and misunderstood craft we call manipulation. It has helped illuminate my own misunderstandings of the process and humbled me in the realization of my own ignorance.
Well…so much with a "few words".
Its very easy to explain why one has succeeded in manipulating a lock open. I and countless others could bore you to tears with stories of how we found a number, then how we struggled to find another, then brilliantly sorted out the final solution. There is no end to saying what can go right. So I will choose a different approach today. I will tell you three simple things that can go wrong. Just three. If you avoid these three mistakes, the lock will surely open. Truly.
THE THREE REASONS MANIPULATION CAN FAIL
1. FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND HOW THE LOCK OPERATES.
a. Don’t skip this part. It is the most important of the three, and the most difficult to master. The problem begins when we THINK we understand how the lock operates. This causes some sort of mental valve to close, and all further learning ceases. Very few people (I am talking Safe Engineers here—not common folk) really fully understand how a simple 3 or 4 wheel combination lock operates. When you tell yourself that YOU do, you might as well stop reading right here. Your valve has been closed. Example a locks combination is L10-R20-L30. Going the other way, it is R8-L21-R30. Why does it change when the dialing is reversed. After you tell me that, tell me how to dial it L10-L21-L30 (that’s right, all wheels being parked to the left!) In your head. No lock in front of you for reference. Admit to yourself that there just MIGHT be something left you could learn about the lock and you have my deep respect. And you will have taken one of three steps needed in order to get your lock open!
2. FAILURE TO RECOGNIZE A "GOOD INDICATION"
a. By definition, a Good Indication is when your contact area narrows. This means the lever nose has dropped into a wheel’s gate and indicates you have likely found a number of the combination. Many people graph the changes in the contact points, and others merely take mental note.
b. IT IS A MISTAKE to accept the commonly held belief that the lowest contact point invariably indicates a gate! Gates tend to yield "signatures" and there are several types. The one most folks hope for and expect goes a bit higher just before the gate, the drops down for a few numbers, then goes high again, then levels out. Classic gate signature.
c. A second, but also easily recognized signature drops for a few numbers then rises again, but without the small "highs" on either side.
d. A less recognized signature drops when you find the gate, but never rises again. This is often thought of as a "low area" on the wheel. Believe me, a gate can be lurking at that drop.
e. The most overlooked signature is one that has the small rises before and after the gate, but never has the drop in the middle that we expect.
3. FAILURE TO FULLY INTERROGATE THE LOCK
a. If you don’t ask the right or enough questions, dont expect to get a valid answer. OK, so you took all wheels right and saw no indication. What to do, Drill, You can if you like, but who said you couldnt take all wheels LEFT? Or park wheel 1 at 53, take wheel 2 around, and keep putting wheel 3 at 79? Or ANYTHING the lock allows you to do.
b. Granted, fully interrogating the lock can go all the way up to dialing all possible combinations, but it’s up to you where the limit is.
Well, there it is. Three simple rules to live by. If you have a functional lock and you follow the above precepts the lock cannot fail to open. Its just my opinion…but I’m right!!