How to unlock combination locks

Updated July 19, 2017

Invented by Linus Yale in 1851, combination locks have long been used for a variety of security reasons, including keeping lockers safe and items from being stolen. The most common type of combination lock is the dial version, popular on lockers in schools and gyms. Often with only three numbers to remember, people choose this lock for its simplicity and affordability. They work by turning the numbers in the sequence of the combination. No physical key is required.

Hold the lock in one hand while turning the dial clockwise for three full turns with the other hand. Allowing the number zero to pass the arrow each time. Stop on the third turn when the zero lines up with the arrow.

Turn the dial clockwise until the first number in the combination lines up with the arrow. This number must be directly in line with the arrow on the lock frame for the rest of the combination to work.

Turn the dial clockwise from the first number. Pass the first number once and then line the second number up with the arrow.

Turn the dial counterclockwise from the second number straight to the third number, lining the number up with the arrow. Do not pass the second number before stopping at the third number.

Pull down on the body of the lock once the third number in the combination is lined up with the arrow. The lock should release. If it does not, repeat the above three steps until unlocked.


Be precise. Make sure each number lines up with the arrow at the end of each turn. Going past the number and then attempting to correct the mistake will not yield results.

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About the Author

Samantha Martin has been writing since 1999, specializing in outdoor recreation, home-and-garden and photography, among other topics. Her work appears in a variety of publications, including "OUR HOMES Magazine" and various daily and community newspapers throughout Canada. Martin holds a Bachelor of Journalism from Ryerson University.