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#1
Old 10-15-2012, 04:34 PM
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Help Opening a Locked File Cabinet

I got a really good deal on a heavy-duty filing cabinet, but the keys were lost and I can't get into it. Based on advice from the internet, we've been trying to drill out the lock, but we don't seem to be making much headway with that. Are we doing something wrong, or does it just take a really, really long time to drill out a file cabinet lock? We started with the regular drill bit, and moved on to a metal oxide bit (about a 3/8th inch bit, I think it is).

I also saw some advice on just popping the lock from the top of the cabinet (if only I'd seen that before we started drilling) - does anyone have any idea if we can still try that method, or has all the drilling we've been doing made that method impossible?

Thanks in advance for any help anyone can offer.
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#2
Old 10-15-2012, 04:48 PM
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I've simply punched them out in the past. A big punch, a big hammer, WHACK...

They're not very good locks, and are easily defeated.
#3
Old 10-15-2012, 04:51 PM
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Drilling the lock works.
You need to drill far enough to free all the pins, at which point you can use a screwdriver to turn what remains of the cylinder.
#4
Old 10-15-2012, 08:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beowulff View Post
Drilling the lock works.
You need to drill far enough to free all the pins, at which point you can use a screwdriver to turn what remains of the cylinder.
We've been drilling, for hours now - it's not going very fast. Is this normally how long it takes to drill out a lock?
#5
Old 10-15-2012, 08:15 PM
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Have you considered getting a core key for that brand of filing cabinet? You may be able to just pull it out using the core key and replace it with a new one, if you want.
#6
Old 10-15-2012, 08:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cat Whisperer View Post
We've been drilling, for hours now - it's not going very fast. Is this normally how long it takes to drill out a lock?
With a decent drill bit and a good drill?
2 minutes.

Go to Sears or Ace and get a Cobalt drill bit.
(Not Kobalt, BTW - a real, High-speed steel bit made by a decent manufacturer).
#7
Old 10-15-2012, 10:07 PM
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May I suggest the MIT guide to lock picking? If you haven't damaged the lock too badly it should be a quick pick. If nothing else it's a great guide on how locks work.
#8
Old 10-15-2012, 10:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beowulff View Post
With a decent drill bit and a good drill?
2 minutes.

Go to Sears or Ace and get a Cobalt drill bit.
(Not Kobalt, BTW - a real, High-speed steel bit made by a decent manufacturer).
Who's a decent manufacturer?
#9
Old 10-15-2012, 10:26 PM
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Also, make sure that the drill bit is designed for drilling into metal.
#10
Old 10-15-2012, 11:15 PM
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You're doing something wrong if you've been at it for hours. You should be drilling through the soft brass cylinder. Unfortunately you've probably already damaged it too much for picking to be an option so you're pretty much stuck with drilling unless you've got a friend that does auto body work that you can borrow a slap hammer from. Just put a screw in the hole you've already made, hook the hammer on, and yank it out.
#11
Old 10-15-2012, 11:43 PM
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Unless your lock was made by Medeco, you've got a bad drill bit or are trying to use a hand-cranked eggbeater drill.

Assuming this will be a one-off project, pretty much any brand of cobalt or titanium bit will be fine.
#12
Old 10-16-2012, 12:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reply View Post
Who's a decent manufacturer?
Craftsman, Irwin, DeWalt, Ridgid, Hitachi...
All of these will be fine for home use.

Stay away from the no-name brands at the Dollar Store.
#13
Old 10-16-2012, 01:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beowulff View Post
With a decent drill bit and a good drill?
2 minutes.

Go to Sears or Ace and get a Cobalt drill bit.
(Not Kobalt, BTW - a real, High-speed steel bit made by a decent manufacturer).
TWo minutes, eh? Well, something is definitely not going as expected, then. The bit we're using does say it is for metal as well, but it's not going quickly at all.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Projammer View Post
You're doing something wrong if you've been at it for hours. You should be drilling through the soft brass cylinder. <snip>
??? There is no soft brass cylinder available at the front of the lock - it's all stainless steel.

Will look for a cobalt or titanium bit tomorrow. We're trying not to pay a hundred bucks for a drill bit to drill the lock out of a ten dollar filing cabinet.
#14
Old 10-16-2012, 01:39 AM
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Sounds like you've dulled the bit. Not much point in trying to sharpen a normal drill bit, they're cheap and a pain to sharpen anyway.

I'd get a new bit and some light machine oil to keep it lubricated - for a one off job like that just 3-in-1 oil or even WD-40 will be ok.

Don't push too hard, let the bit pull itself into the cut, and if it's getting really hot and/or shooting off little smoky bits of metal and lubricant stop for a couple minutes to let everything cool down, and don't go as fast when you start up again.

It may be easier to drill a smaller hole and then make it larger later than it would be to try to drill out the whole thing in one go.
#15
Old 10-17-2012, 02:09 PM
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Sorry, I was busy yesterday and forgot to get a cobalt/titanium bit. I'll try to remember that today.

buckgully, I don't think the problem is a dull bit - we've used two different bits now, and the second one was brand new. We haven't been using lubricant, though - I'll get the WD-40 out.
#16
Old 10-17-2012, 06:04 PM
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You can get keys from the manufacturer for about $2. I get free or very cheap filing cabinets for old file storage all the time and most of them don't have the key or are locked.

You call the manufacturer, give them the number on the lock and pay a small fee and they send you a set of keys that show up in the mail a few days later.
#17
Old 10-17-2012, 06:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LurkerInNJ View Post
You can get keys from the manufacturer for about $2. I get free or very cheap filing cabinets for old file storage all the time and most of them don't have the key or are locked.

You call the manufacturer, give them the number on the lock and pay a small fee and they send you a set of keys that show up in the mail a few days later.
Pretty sure that ship has sailed...
#18
Old 10-18-2012, 11:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cat Whisperer View Post
??? There is no soft brass cylinder available at the front of the lock - it's all stainless steel.
If it really is SS this will be part of the problem. SS is a pain, and if drilled with the wrong technique will quickly blunten any drill bit to the point of uselessness. Worse some SS grades will work harden if drilled incorrectly, making life even more miserable.

Drill bit must be sharp. Must use lubrication. If the SS gets hot it will harden. Use reasonable pressure, medium to slow drill speed (too fast and you will just wreck the bit) and be sure the drill is actually cutting, not just spinning in the hole. Be careful as you reach the back of the SS piece - as the drill bit emerges it will tend to catch and can snap.

High speed and no lubrication and you just end up with a round end on the drill bit, and you can sit there until the sun goes cold spinning in the hole and make no progress.

If you are still only in a SS cover it is probable that the lock proper is still intact and the above suggestions about opening it may be a better option.
#19
Old 10-19-2012, 09:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dano83860 View Post
May I suggest the MIT guide to lock picking? If you haven't damaged the lock too badly it should be a quick pick. If nothing else it's a great guide on how locks work.
This. I've picked filing cabinet locks with 2 paper clips in under 30 seconds. If you know what you're doing, and it's hardly rocket science, it's a simple process that requires little skill and only some cursory practice.

The locks on most cabinets are 3-5 pin tumblers which are especially easy to pick even for the novice. In the more unusual cases, a cabinet will have high security locks, however this is something you will be able to feel when you go to pick it for the first time.

Last edited by allotrope; 10-19-2012 at 09:07 AM.
#20
Old 10-19-2012, 09:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by allotrope View Post
The locks on most cabinets are 3-5 pin tumblers which are especially easy to pick even for the novice. In the more unusual cases, a cabinet will have high security locks, however this is something you will be able to feel when you go to pick it for the first time.

Usually they're wafer locks. They can be picked by just inserting something and jiggling it up and down and applying tension (you can pick them wafer by wafer, or by raking too). I could open every locker at school using a pen knife.
#21
Old 10-19-2012, 10:06 AM
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Please use eye protection.
#22
Old 10-19-2012, 10:37 AM
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for the distinction between wafer/pin tumber locks, there is the wiki article here and how stuff works here. According the latter reference
Quote:
Another common type of cylinder lock is the wafer-tumbler lock. These work the same basic way as pin-and-tumblers, but they have thin wafer-shaped tumblers rather than pins. You pick the wafers exactly the same way you pick pins -- in fact, it is a little bit easier to pick wafer-tumbler locks because the keyhole is wider.
#23
Old 10-19-2012, 12:24 PM
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You're all going about opening the file cabinet the wrong way. All you need to do is lift up the lock bar that slides into side of the drawer to prevent it from opening.

Jam a wedge into the crack at the side of the drawer on the lock side. Use a flashlight to see where the lock bar is holding the drawer from opening. Insert a thin metal strip or rod (a slim jim or even a thin metal ruler works great) and lift the bar preventing the drawer from opening and pull.

Once you get it open you can remove the drawers and access the lock cylinder to replace it with a new one.

Last edited by Sparky812; 10-19-2012 at 12:28 PM.
#24
Old 10-19-2012, 06:17 PM
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There's also the freon and hammer trick, but canned air should also work. I've never done it myself but I'm sure youtube will be eager to help.

I think you turn the can upside down and spray into the keyhole. The liquid air turns the metal in the springs brittle (if it's a pin tumbler lock). Then a sharp blow with a hammer shatters the springs. At least I think that's the principle. No idea if this works with wafers though.

Last edited by allotrope; 10-19-2012 at 06:18 PM.
#25
Old 10-20-2012, 10:39 PM
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For crying out loud!

Half a pound of C-4; problem solved.

Sheesh!
#26
Old 10-21-2012, 01:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hibernicus View Post
Please use eye protection.
I was - also ear and hand protection. I considered using a face mask, too, once the metal filings started flying, but I was working outside so I didn't.

Anyway, the cobalt bit did the trick. I drilled all the way through the lock until I was able to rock it, and that released the drawers. I'm a little irked at the "How-to" sites for not mentioning that if you have a stainless steel lock, you're going to need a special bit. On the plus side, I got a helluva filing cabinet for ten bucks. The thing only has two drawers, and it's so heavy I can't lift it.

Thanks, all, for your help.
#27
Old 10-21-2012, 03:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Szlater View Post
Usually they're wafer locks. They can be picked by just inserting something and jiggling it up and down and applying tension (you can pick them wafer by wafer, or by raking too). I could open every locker at school using a pen knife.
The problem is already solved but the best tool is with the file end of a standard nail clipper. you insert it and rotate clockwise in a rocking motion as if there is an axis in the center of the file. Usually takes about 5 seconds. Most office desk locks are like this.

Really squigs out people who forgot their keys at work and need to get into their desks. "you can open a desk in 5 seconds".
#28
Old 10-21-2012, 03:22 PM
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Nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
#29
Old 10-21-2012, 05:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cat Whisperer View Post
I was - also ear and hand protection. I considered using a face mask, too, once the metal filings started flying, but I was working outside so I didn't.

Anyway, the cobalt bit did the trick. I drilled all the way through the lock until I was able to rock it, and that released the drawers. I'm a little irked at the "How-to" sites for not mentioning that if you have a stainless steel lock, you're going to need a special bit. On the plus side, I got a helluva filing cabinet for ten bucks. The thing only has two drawers, and it's so heavy I can't lift it.

Thanks, all, for your help.
Glad it worked.
It's surprising how much difference a quality drill bit makes. Almost any bit is fine for wood, but it really takes a decent bit to drill into Stainless.
#30
Old 10-22-2012, 10:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Magiver View Post
The problem is already solved but the best tool is with the file end of a standard nail clipper. you insert it and rotate clockwise in a rocking motion as if there is an axis in the center of the file. Usually takes about 5 seconds. Most office desk locks are like this.

Really squigs out people who forgot their keys at work and need to get into their desks. "you can open a desk in 5 seconds".
I used to be a facilities maintenance guy at a large office building and I became the "go-to" guy for people that had forgotten or lost their keys. I had (or made) master keys for most of the standard furniture brands, but if I didn't have them on me I'd just pick the lock. My favorite was a senior VP who insisted I wouldn't be able to open his giant wooden credenza because it was "very secure." Well, it wasn't. It was a typical wafer lock and I had it open in less time than it takes to read this sentence.
#31
Old 10-22-2012, 06:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by August West View Post
I used to be a facilities maintenance guy at a large office building and I became the "go-to" guy for people that had forgotten or lost their keys. I had (or made) master keys for most of the standard furniture brands, but if I didn't have them on me I'd just pick the lock. My favorite was a senior VP who insisted I wouldn't be able to open his giant wooden credenza because it was "very secure." Well, it wasn't. It was a typical wafer lock and I had it open in less time than it takes to read this sentence.
And I know what his face looked like when you did it. . A word of advice when doing this. Don't open the drawer after picking it. Just unlock it and let them open it. It's less traumatic/invasive for the soon-to-be-surprised person you are helping.
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