Safecracking

McSweeney’s:

Q: How did you learn to be a safecracker?
A: In 1978 I took a correspondence course to learn the basics of locksmithing. The ad in the Popular Mechanics classifieds said, “Be your own boss.”

The course consisted of about 70 lessons. I’d study each lesson and practice the particular skill required, like how to fit a key, lock disassembly, rekeying, etc.

Q: What does it mean to fit a key?
A: This is only one of a dozen basic locksmith skills. You insert a blank key, wiggle it while turning and the bumping action creates marks on the key blade. You file where the marks are until the key turns in the lock. It’s also known as “impressioning.”

Q: It seems like you could use this knowledge in bad ways if you wanted to.
A: Clients often ask, jokingly, whether we learn our trade in prison.

Technically, the biggest difference between what a burglar does and what I do is that the burglar wants to get in and out quickly and doesn’t care if the safe ever gets used again. I take my time because my objective is opening it with minimal damage so the owner can use it again.

A criminal safecracker also needs different knowledge and skills, beyond the technical, that I don’t have or need. I don’t need to know how to avoid leaving evidence, circumvent an alarm system, plan a get-away, or fence-stolen goods.

Photo by Kirsty Pargeter/ShutterStock.