An illustrated lecture about the history of Safes and Safe breaking. The lecture is based round a large wooden safe with a video camera inside, projecting the inside of the door mechanism on a screen. This is currently my favourite lecture to perform. There’s something very satisfying about the simple ingenuity of safes and locks. Its also an area of engineering design that has not been transformed by science or maths, and to me illustrates intuitive aspect of the subject, which often now gets forgotten.
In the last twenty years, the craft of safe cracking has tragically declined. It is no longer the glamorous activity featured in every other detective film, and the number of real criminal attacks on safes has fallen dramatically. So I’m delighted to see so many children in the audience as its time to start training up a new generation of safe crackers or it will become a lost art. I suspect this decline is linked to the general loss of practical mechanical skills – children today are no longer taught metalwork, just DT. A sound knowledge of metalwork would be very useful in breaking into a safe, but DT is no help at all.
At first glance a modern safe does look totally impregnable. The two locks, (one key and one combination) do not themselves open the door, they merely release the elaborate bolt mechanism. This pushes 50mm steel bolts out in all directions, securing every side of the safe door, even the hinge side. It is no use chopping the hinges off a safe, the bolts will still hold it as firmly shut as ever. If it looks virtually impossible to get in through the door, getting in through the walls or the back is no easier. They are about four inches thick, an inner and outer skin of steel, with the cavity between filled with extra strong concrete. The enormous weight of a safe makes it very difficult for thieves to carry it off, whole – it also makes the door very dangerous. Its extreme weight gives it such momentum when closing that it becomes a guillotine, chopping any fingers caught between door and frame.