Safe Breaking: Tools Of The Trade

Safe breaking is no longer as widespread as it once was. This is largely down to the new technologies employed by manufacturers in constructing their safes, as well as other factors such as burglar alarms, intrusion prevention systems and CCTV security cameras. However, there are still many instances where safes are targeted.

Modern safes typically consist of several outer layers or shells, each incorporating a variety of sophisticated materials and each of which provides resistance against specific forms of attack. In turn, there are several tools typically used by the burglar attempting to get through each of these layers. The same tools and techniques are also used by organizations such as ESSA when performing their independent burglar resistance tests.

Oxy welding torch throws up sparksThe oxyacetylene torch and oxy-arc cutter became particularly prevalent as safe breaking tools in the post World War II years. Many soldiers gained experience in using them on the battlefields. They are typically used to remove the safe’s outer metal skin. However, they are not the easiest tools to transport as they require a supply of gas cylinders. They also require an experienced hand to use them effectively.

Removing the outer skin of a safe could also be achieved using an abrasive disc cutter, but this is time consuming and extremely noisy, and would very likely draw unwanted attention.

Most safes now feature a thick layer of special security concrete to fend off the torch and cutter attacks previously mentioned. This concrete also provides incredible impact resistance and gives the safe much of its weight. In most cases, hard metal pellets, metallic fibres or other materials will be mixed through the concrete, toughening it further.

To breach the concrete, the safe breaker might attempt to use a sledgehammer. If so, he will very likely fail, as this concrete is many times tougher than that used in road or building construction, and is capable of withstanding dozens of sledgehammer blows without so much as cracking.

A jackhammer would be a better choice of tool, but increases the risk of discovery because of the amount of noise it generates. A special diamond core drill might also be up to the task, but again would cause a substantial amount of noise. The other materials present in the concrete also tend to quickly blunt such tools.

Perhaps the most fearsome item in the safe breaker’s arsenal is the thermic lance (also known as a thermal lance). Typically used in construction and steel making, it creates an incredibly intense jet flame which can cut through almost anything. It is extremely hazardous to use, operating at temperatures up to 5,000° Celsius. Stray sparks, flames and blowback are a constant threat. So intense is the heat generated by the cutting flame that the lance itself is actually consumed within minutes, requiring it to be replaced and reignited.

While a thermic lance will make quick work of most safes, there is also a good chance that the cash and valuables inside the safe will be heavily damaged or destroyed. Like the oxyacetylene and oxy-arc cutters, it also requires a supply of oxygen cylinders to operate, while a separate oxyacetylene torch is usually needed to ignite the lance. Along with the need to have multiple replacement lances, this makes it an extremely impractical and dangerous tool.

A crowbarA far less intimidating item is the hydraulic or mechanical jack. This might seem a strange tool for a safe breaking attempt, but in fact it might be the most common. If a safe is not adequately anchored using the correct bolts, the burglar simply uses the jack to break it away from the floor, then transports it to an isolated location. Away from prying eyes and ears, breaking open the safe can be undertaken at leisure and using any tools required. A crowbar might also be used in the case of smaller, lighter safes that are poorly bolted down.

It is important to note that no safe is truly impervious. Given the right tools and skills plus an adequate amount of time, an experienced cracker will most likely eventually breach even the most secure safe. However, breaking into a modern security safe is a time-consuming, noisy affair, and the greater the amount of time and noise, the greater the chance of capture. A security safe is doing its job perfectly if a burglar is discovered before he can reach its contents, or if he decides it’s not worth trying in the first place.

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