How to Unlock the Drawers of a Roll-Top Desk

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Roll-top desks are a design classic dating back as far as the 19th century. Drawers, compartments and small cupboards on the surface of the desk can be hidden by a sheet of jointed wood, which is folded down and locked to keep the desk's contents safe.

Roll-top desk draws generally use a built-in barrel lock and can easily be opened using the correct key.

Locate the keyhole or padlock where the jointed wood cover meets the surface of the desk. Most roll-top keyholes are surrounded by a metal panel. The hole can be quite small on some roll-top desks with basic locks. Locks are sometimes located on the back panel of the desk.

Insert the key all the way into the lock with the bit facing toward the ground. Turn the key clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on the lock (there are no strict rules about which way the barrel should turn).

Remove the key and pull off the padlock if necessary. Slide up the roll-top cover up using the palms of your hands. The jointed wood cover will fold away into the back of the desk, revealing the drawers and cupboards on the surface of the desk.

Insert the key into the lock on the front of the drawer you want to open. The barrel of the lock should turn the same way as it did when you opened the roll-top cover. The bolt will retract inside the lock.