Advanced Technique for Finding the First number in the Combination

The following technique will locate the first number of the combination on many, but not all, locks. After you locate the first number, you apply the basic procedure to find the second and third numbers. The basic procedure will go much faster when you start out with the correct first number.

This technique may take some practice to learn, but will save a lot of dialing. It is helpful to try this technique on several practice locks (locks with known combinations) first. The practice lock may be one of the "old" Master locks.

Learning the Technique on a Practice Lock

Verify that the practice lock's combination's last number is not 3 to 6 marks to the left of its first number. Example: If the first number is 20, the last number must not be 14, 15, 16 or 17. If it is, try to find another practice lock where it isn't. If you can't find another lock, find a good "test" sticking place that is elsewhere on the dial, but at least 3 marks away from the second number in your combination.  Example: If the second number were 10, avoid sticking places between 7 and 13. (At a good "test" sticking place, the lock dial should turn just as freely, between the two stopping places, as it does at the correct last number, no matter how hard the shackle is pulled.)

Make at note of the two places where the dial stops. On my practice lock, the last number is 2 and the dial turns between 1.5 and 2.5.

Turn the dial two turns to the right and stop at the first number of your combination, and then turn the dial left, almost one turn, to 3 marks before the first number of your combination, and continue to just slightly inside the last number's sticking place. On my practice lock, I stop just beyond 1.5. (If you stop too soon, the dial will move when you pull the shackle, and spoil the test.) Pull hard on the shackle and, while pulling, turn the dial left. Notice that the dial is harder to turn. Now continue to pull hard on the shackle, but turn the dial right. Notice that the dial turns freely. Turn the dial back and forth and notice that the dial now turns freely, even though you are pulling hard on the shackle.

To repeat the test, you do not need to turn the dial two full turns right. Instead, turn the dial right 3 marks short of a full turn from the beginning of the sticking place. (You may turn the dial further as long you do not pass the first number. If you do pass the first number, continue another turn right and stop at your first number.) Repeat the test several times on your practice lock to get a good feel for how hard the dial turns.

Now repeat the test with an incorrect first number. Start out by dialing a wrong first number that is at least 5 marks away from the correct first number. Pull just as hard on the shackle as you did in the previous test. As you first turn the dial left, you will find one of the following 3 situations:

1) The dial may turn freely.

2) The dial may was harder to turn, but not as hard to turn as it was when you dialed the correct first number.

3) The dial was just as hard to turn as when you started with the correct first number.

Since you want a noticeable difference to let you know when have the correct first number, you don't want situation 3. On some locks, it will not be possible to detect a difference in how hard the dial is to turn, and you are stuck with situation 3. However, on many, possibly most, locks, there will be a detectable difference, and it just takes practice to pull the shackle with the same amount of force and to notice the difference in how hard the dial is to turn.

Click here for Applying the Technique to a Lock with Unknown Combination.