How can I break into an empty filing cabinet?
March 4, 2008 10:56 AM   Subscribe

How can I break into an (empty) filing cabinet?

We have an old Hon 4 drawer filing cabinet like this
and a staff member wants to take it home to store tools in. It's locked, and we can't find the key. He doesn't want it unless I can get it unlocked, and I want it out of here!

I tried all the suggestions, including Adam Savage's, in this thread, to no avail. I think the lock construction is different on these guys, but I couldn't get the pin to budge.

I have all the tools you might find around an office including metal letter openers, paper clips, and we also have a small tool-kit. Any thoughts?
posted by paddingtonb to Grab Bag (15 answers total)
I have not done this to the particular cabinet you are confronted with, but: insert screwdriver into key slot. Twist until lock breaks.

...mind you, again, I haven't tried this on your cabinet. It might destroy the whole thing, setting off a chain reaction that will kill everyone within three miles. I dunno. I have, however, used this technique on other small locks in my life.
posted by aramaic at 11:00 AM on March 4, 2008

Last time this happened at my house we just got a flathead screwdriver and bent out metal on the drawer enough to reach the tool in and trigger the locking mechanism from the inside. If I recall correctly, this was after I somehow managed to push the keys through some sort of slot in the drawer, causing us to have to pry it :)

It sounds like you have the basic tools for lockpicking (might be able to use the metal letter opener as a tension wrench and the paperclip to move the pins) but if you don't know how to pick a lock you probably wouldn't be able to do it.

If co-worker is okay with it, I'd try prying the door out a bit near the lock and see if you can just lift the locking mechanism.
posted by DMan at 11:05 AM on March 4, 2008

Sometimes these cabinets have a metal bar/pin underneath them that can be triggered to open the drawers.
posted by iamabot at 11:07 AM on March 4, 2008

Have you thought about getting a replacement key? I was in a similar spot a few years ago, and was able to get a new key from a local locksmith. All I needed was an ID number printed on the face of the lock. If I recall, it cost under $10.

Barring that, you can also call HON at 1-800-833-3964 and order a new key.

(I know. My idea isn't nearly as fun as picking the lock, or destroying it with a screwdriver. But it does leave the cabinet and your sanity intact.)
posted by mattybonez at 11:12 AM on March 4, 2008

If nothing else works, you can drill out the lock. Drill on lower speed and use oil. Note this will take awhile and it *might* damage the locking mechanism.
posted by d4nj450n at 11:12 AM on March 4, 2008

A hammer and a big screwdriver. Put the screwdriver where the key goes, smack it until you pound the lock into the file cabinet..

should open just fine... I've done this with a couple of old ones that some idiot locked with no key...
posted by HuronBob at 11:19 AM on March 4, 2008

Dman: I can definitely pry the door open a bit and I have a few different tools I can wiggle around in there. It opens maybe a half a centimeter-- not far enough to get my fingers in, but with plenty of room to wiggle the letter opener or a screwdriver around. My problem is, I don't know exactly what I'm looking to spring. How do I lift the locking mechanism?

Thanks for all your help so far, guys!
posted by paddingtonb at 11:27 AM on March 4, 2008

Look for the MIT Lockpicking Guide. Screwdriver for torsion, bent paperclip to rake the pins, unlocked in under a minute.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:53 AM on March 4, 2008

I can't tell what kind of lock the cabinet has. However, with "normal" filing cabinet locks, I've used a drill bit to undo it. Literally, drilled right down the middle of where you'd normally insert the key. I'm not sure why it works, but our maintenance guy suggested it and it has worked for me before. You just won't be able to lock it again unless you buy a new locking mechanism.
posted by jmd82 at 12:08 PM on March 4, 2008

Have you tried a key for a similar filing cabinet that you may have in the office?
I recently ordered some HON pedestal files, and I am pretty sure all 3 were keyed the same -- it was more of a "modesty" key than a security key.
posted by misterbrandt at 12:58 PM on March 4, 2008

I'll second what zengargoyle said...I had to get into a cabinet just like that for a co-worker who was not physically on-site. Less than one minute, and no damage to the cabinet. Once you've got it open, you can purchase a new lock from an office supply store and replace it just like new.
posted by richmondparker at 1:04 PM on March 4, 2008

I moved into an office and inherited a filing cabinet without any keys. I was able to order keys from the internet using the manufacturer and the code on the face of the lock, and had them in a few days for less than $10. I would check and see if that path works for you before going along a destructive route. So, in other words, what mattybonez said.
posted by procrastination at 1:34 PM on March 4, 2008

Dman's solution ended up working, but the MIT lockpicking guide was a good read and gave me the perseverance I needed. Thanks guys!
posted by paddingtonb at 2:16 PM on March 4, 2008

The locks are trivial to pick.
posted by Netzapper at 5:48 PM on March 4, 2008

Glad it worked! The lock on those things isn't terribly good at protecting anything, I guess they keep someone from stealing something without leaving physical evidence of their misdeeds, but it's not at all a good security solution.
posted by DMan at 7:55 PM on March 4, 2008

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