Personal Account of Safe-Cracking "Penetration Party."


Master hacker and lockpicker Barry Wels (who shot the photo above) has posted an account of a "penetration party," at which safes are made available for guys skilled in the fine art of lock-cracking to demonstrate and hone their skillz. I love all the photos he illustrated this account with -- these guys are as scary-smart as they are cool. Snip:

[S]afe opening is all about experience. The best safecrackers are the ones that have the most experience, or with the best connections to people who can tell you what the internals of the target safe most likely will look like. In previous events the strategy to open safes was to drill a hole on a strategical place in the safe. This sounds easier as it is, and I always admire the craftsmanship that is needed to pull it off. Just think about it: you need to picture what is inside the safe and then try to drill away the element that keeps the safe locked, or in case of a combination lock drill until you are inside the heart of the lock and set the code by looking into it with a scope. Being off by a millimeter can cause you big trouble, not to mention the glass plates that can set off ‘relockers’ if hit (shattered) by a drill. If this happens, the safe will lock up, and even the original key and combination will not open it anymore (a mechanism to win time, safes that have the relockers fired can take a looong time to open).

[A]t this event we tried to shift from drilling to picking and decoding safes. Just as with opening standard locks, there is nothing like opening a high security safe without a scratch. To do so requires the right tools, and Jord Knaap is becoming really good at making safe opening tools. His hand made Hobb’s picks are just as good, and sometimes better, as the stuff that is available commercially on the market. And Paul Crouwel was the first one to pick open a safe at the weekend. In about fifteen minutes the door of this monster safe swung open without a scratch. Later Paul tried his luck (skill) on another safe, but when it did not open in fifteen minutes decided to go for a smoke. When he came back, master lockpicker Julian Hardt was kind enough to have picked it open for him. Later that day Julian would repeat the job and pick open the lock on a heavy rosengrens safe.

About the safe opening weekend (next one in 1 month!) (, via Wayne's Friends list)


  1. Cut time to “penetration party” dirty jokes in the comment thread… and… threee…. twoooo….

  2. Hehe, Abus is already way out of my league. This is so cool in so many ways! Especially since the guy in the photo really looks like the nerd-character in heist-flicks.

    PS: Sorry Xeni, but I’ll leave the jokes regarding the title to others, if you don’t mind.

  3. Man, tupperware parties have never seemed so boring. I never get invited to the good things.

  4. Back when I worked in the prison system, the medical unit had a wall safe where the important meds were kept. Just for the hell of it during a lunch hour, I actually “borrowed” a stethoscope once and tried to listen for the tumblers clicking in the safe the way they do in the movies. Didn’t work. I should have asked for lessons from one of the inmates.

  5. Actually, Xeni, I think your comment may have inoculated this thread against morons making obvious jokes. Can you do that from now on?

    I love it when I can hear a real expert and enthusiast talk about something like this in real depth. Movies simplify these sorts of things. I’ve been on Wikipedia for awhile now reading about relockers and safe autodialing machines.

  6. OK, by Xeni’s request:

    “I’ve been to a penetration party before, but the only SAFES were the condoms they passed out!”

    *rim shot* (hehheh he said rim)

    “Thank you very much, I’m here all week, try the tortellini in mushroom/asiago cream sauce, it’s to die for.”

  7. I helped a pal move an old safe to his basement.* When he finally got around to cleaning it up and painting it, he found a rather large bottle of tear gas integrated into the back of the door – no doubt a quick and painful lesson for those who might try drilling it out.

    As the safe is 40 years old or so, I don’t know how ‘good’ it is, but I’m happy to say I don’t know.

    * Yeah. Don’t do this. Took four strong guys (and me) and was the heaviest thing I’ve ever moved down stairs, and I’ve moved Ampeg combo amps.

  8. @ Takuan,

    Mad props for mentioning Toool. It seems I’m not the only one here on BB fond of safecracking.

    Best I ever did was an old Yale lock. Not much at all for anyone of skill, but at least I can say I’ve done it.

    My real challenge is, after reading the greatest treatise on mechanical locks ( copy, I’m trying to design something that even the guys at Toool can’t crack!

    I highly recommend that link to anyone deeply interested in the history of mechanical & safe locks- it’s long been out of print & copyright, so you can download the whole thing (all 922 pages, with tons of pictures and explanations!) for free. Xeni, please don’t punish me for linking that, it’s relevant & free.

  9. Read this while listening to the “Bernie Lee” track from Tricky’s “Product of the Environment,” monologues from retired London East End gangsters, backed with a trip-hop beat.

    (I love nitro. Nitro’s easy.”

    I know some of the guys and went to one of their early meetings years ago. Sadly, I could barely pick my nose.

    Morecently they collaborated with some of the founders of heroic Dutch ISP to expose the electronic voting machines then in use for the hacktastic pieces of crap they were. It was pretty funny to watch. The Dutch government went back to the paper and pencil system, which works just fine.

  10. Ok, so how do those of us who own jewelry shops (I don’t yet, but I’m thinking about it) get together and come up with better tech to stop these guys (or those they teach) from stealing all our inventory?

    Yes, I’m aware that most of the crime against perceived high-value retail stores involves either smash-and-grab or armed robbery during business hours, but it would be nice to feel that a safe is actually somewhat “safe”.

  11. MadJeweler,
    It would be foolish to think you can ever design an absolutely secure safe. Don’t waste your time or money. Buy a good safe and an insurance policy and get on with your life.


  12. the safe should have an internal communications device that’s activated by the sound or vibration of drilling. one more thing to disable. you know, a computer inside instead of broken glass activated tumblers, that’s so 18th century.

  13. I was quite happy when I picked the lock on my desk in my cubicle. One set of drawers had been locked by the previous occupant, and I had no key. So, I fiddled with a T-pin and a paperclip while reading some rather dry technical material.

  14. How many of the lurkers in a meet like this is actually the police getting your photos on file? :)

    Those guys who pick the safe without leaving any mark is actually a bigger problem. When you try to make an insurance claim, the adjusters will be happier to see some signs of break-in. Of course, if you lose the combo and your lock smith drills a hole and destroys the safe, you might not be so happy.

    Our safe is just a big steel box, just under 1m on each side, made of welded together 5mm steel plates, bolted to the floor. There’s a little box made of the same steel plates attached to the door, with the opening at the bottom. We just use a normal lock there. The little box prevents anyone cutting the lock, or inserting a crowbar to break the lock.

    There’s no complicated locking mechanism. When someone holding one of the keys resigns, we buy another lock. Since they are so cheap to make, there are a few of these in the office. Some are empty, if anyone needs to use them, they can use their own lock. The biggest ones have two locks. Doubles the time you need to pick the locks, and both key holders must be present to open the door. The safety of this thing depends on the lock used, and since we just use regular locks (not extremely expensive or cheap ones) I imagine it’s not very secure. Nevertheless, despite a few burglaries, none of this were every broken in to. One of them has a few scratches in the paint, but they didn’t even dent the steel plate.

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