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Can't open antique file cabinet

Having read the FAQ's you are still unfulfilled and seek more enlightenment, so post your general questions here.

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Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby blackfilecabinet » Thu Feb 03, 2011 6:07 am

I have an antique filing cabinet which won't open. The drawers won't open. They used to, but then I moved the filing cabinet to another room and when I put it in place, none of the drawers would open any more. I assumed that the lock had been triggered somehow by moving the cabinet. Since I don't have a key, I spent a few hours trying to open the lock with various tools such as a nail clipper and paper clips. I researched how to pick locks here and on YouTube but was unable to get the lock to turn. So next, I looked at the lock and noticed that it was held in place by two nuts holding two screws which had been screwed in from underneath (inside one of the drawers). So I assumed that if I removed these nuts with pliers the screws would fall out and I'd be able to remove the lock, and the drawers would open. Made sense to me. I was able to remove the lock, but the drawers still refuse to budge. There does not appear to be anything that I can see which is continuing to keep these drawers locked. I don't see any other locking mechanism anywhere on this filing cabinet. I have turned it upside down, looked at the back, and felt around inside where there are missing drawers, but can't find anything that might be keeping these drawers locked. I've used a crowbar to try and pry them loose but nothing is happening. If I use more strength I can get them loose, but the cabinet will get destroyed in the process. I don't want to destroy it, I want to keep using it, but it's useless if my stuff is locked in there forever.

I've included 2 photos. One shows the file cabinet and the other shows the top of the cabinet, with all the tools I used to try and open it so far. In the middle of the 2nd photo is the lock which has been removed.

So if anyone here can tell me what I'm supposed to do to open the drawers - maybe there's a trick I don't know about. Maybe there's some kind of mechanism I'm not aware of that I'm supposed to trigger somehow. I just want to know that since the lock isn't the problem, how am I supposed to open this without destroying it?

Image
Image
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby blackfilecabinet » Thu Feb 03, 2011 6:10 am

Where's the edit button? My photos didn't show up.
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby blackfilecabinet » Thu Feb 03, 2011 6:14 am

Since it won't let me post or attach pictures, you'll have to cut and paste the links

https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/- ... directlink

https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/- ... directlink
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby Evan » Thu Feb 03, 2011 10:55 am

@blackfilecabinet:

If that lock was installed at the top on the outside of the sheet metal top panel like you said it was, then there is a missing linkage piece that should connect to the back of the cabinet somehow to operate the locking bar(s)...

It sounds as if the locking bar shifted into the locked position when you moved the cabinet...

I have never seen a cabinet like that with a lock before -- if you can lay it down on its back and snap a well lit photo down into one of the slots where a drawer is missing the people here can see what kind of interlock it uses and offer some suggestions on how to manipulate it open again...

~~ Evan
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby blackfilecabinet » Thu Feb 03, 2011 11:17 am

Ok, here are some more pictures.

https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/L ... directlink

https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/_ ... directlink

https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/- ... directlink

https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/v ... directlink

Evan, after reading your reply, I looked for something that might be a locking bar. If you look in the 2nd photo from the earlier posts, there is some kind of bar on the top of the cabinet, near the top of the photo. When I pull on a locked drawer, I can sort of feel that bar trying to move simultaneously.
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby Raymond » Thu Feb 03, 2011 12:07 pm

Evan is 100% correct.

If you look into the hole where the lock came out with a good light you should be able to see either the connecting rod, or the socket at the back where the rod fits into. The connection at the back must be rotated to slide the vertical locking rod, to open the drawers. So, trying to move the locking rod at the back from inside the second middle drawer space may not be possible or do anything. The rod may have simply disconnected, fallen off and be at the bottom of the cabinet.

Rotate the rod, if it is there, or make a long enough replacement rod to reach the back of the case and rotate the socket there.
Nothing is foolproof to a talented fool. Wisdom is not just in determining how to do something, but also includes determining whether it should be done at all.
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby EmCee » Thu Feb 03, 2011 5:53 pm

Unless I'm mistaken, the lock was removed from the top of the cabinet, behind the front 'lip', so there's no need to look inside with a torch since everything can be seen from above.

Are all three sets of drawers locked or just the middle column? Can't see in the photos you posted whether a bar can be seen towards the right through the missing drawer in the left hand column. If not, then that column of drawers should not be locked.

The photo of the top of the cabinet shows what look like three slots in front of that bar at the back. The bar has what look like brackets with fixing holes either end (although there seems to be a stray bracket lower left of the photo which might have come from the right hand space on the bar). Hard to see whether those brackets are connected to the bar or not and hard to tell therefore whether the bar is supposed to move (and maybe just rusted so that it won't) or whether it's fixed and was originally the support for the connecting rod from the back of the lock.

The locking bar you can see at the back of the missing drawer is supposed to move up and down. Not sure whether the top of the rod is twisted so it'll come out of the slot, or whether part of the (missing) linkage - or the top bar itself it if moves - fitted down through the hole to connect to the locking bar.

The locking bar can't be 'stuck' due to corrosion if, as suspected, it moved when you moved the cabinet. It might be a tight fit for an arm, but I'd try to get to that bar and push/pull/wriggle from side to side while trying to lift it. If could be that the top needs to come up through the slot, so if the bar has moved out of place you'll have to position it correctly.

Cheers...
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby stratmando » Thu Feb 03, 2011 10:55 pm

Not sure if I missed something, but have you tried on a flat level surface?
Irregular surface can bind drawers/doors?
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby Evan » Fri Feb 04, 2011 9:21 am

@blackfilecabinet:


Ok... The second pic of your new set is the most clear... https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/_Wzpogq89jOueA720JOueQ?feat=directlink

That silver colored bar which is about 1/4 of the drawer width in from the drawer glide on the right side of the opening... That silver bar moves up and down and captures something on the back of the drawers to lock them closed...

Your cabinet locked itself because you tipped it too far out of level to either the left or the right when you moved it... You can get it open again by laying it down on its right or left side on the floor (I don't know which way will lock it and which will unlock it) and then gently rapping the side of the cabinet case near the back and top edge corner with a rubber mallet while using a pair of pliers to pull upwards towards the top of the cabinet case (which will actually be sideways with the cabinet on its side on the floor) on the silver locking bar at the same time... You will have to flip the cabinet the other way with the opposite side down on the floor if the silver bar doesn't move on your first attempt...

To try and restore the locking ability with a key would require figuring out what the original linkage piece which connected the back of the lock cylinder with the bar mover mechanism at the back of the cabinet case consisted of...

Good luck...

~~ Evan
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby blackfilecabinet » Fri Feb 04, 2011 10:12 am

Evan wrote:@blackfilecabinet:


Ok... The second pic of your new set is the most clear... https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/_Wzpogq89jOueA720JOueQ?feat=directlink

That silver colored bar which is about 1/4 of the drawer width in from the drawer glide on the right side of the opening... That silver bar moves up and down and captures something on the back of the drawers to lock them closed...

Your cabinet locked itself because you tipped it too far out of level to either the left or the right when you moved it... You can get it open again by laying it down on its right or left side on the floor (I don't know which way will lock it and which will unlock it) and then gently rapping the side of the cabinet case near the back and top edge corner with a rubber mallet while using a pair of pliers to pull upwards towards the top of the cabinet case (which will actually be sideways with the cabinet on its side on the floor) on the silver locking bar at the same time... You will have to flip the cabinet the other way with the opposite side down on the floor if the silver bar doesn't move on your first attempt...

To try and restore the locking ability with a key would require figuring out what the original linkage piece which connected the back of the lock cylinder with the bar mover mechanism at the back of the cabinet case consisted of...

Good luck...

~~ Evan


Ok, I got it.

First I tipped it on its right and reached in with electrical pliers to grab something that was sticking out on one of those shiny bars. At the same time I tried hitting the side at the back with a wooden mallet since I don't have a rubber one. That did nothing. So I turned it on its left side, reached in and grabbed the shiny thing, hit the side near the back with the mallet, jiggled the shiny thing, still nothing was happening. I moved to one of the other columns and grabbed the thing sticking out from the shiny bar, jiggled it, again nothing. Then I noticed on the underside of the cabinet were 3 things sticking out of squarish holes, lined up with the locking bar on the top of the cabinet. So I started hitting one of those things with the mallet. At the same time, I was pulling the corresponding thing sticking out from the shiny bar into what I assume is the 'unlocked' position. Eventually I noticed one of the drawers in that column was loose and was able to pull it out. Then the other drawers in that column came out. I had knocked the thing sticking out from the bottom in all the way. So I repeated these steps in the middle and the left column, requiring some WD-40 for those.

Many thanks for your advice!

Pic showing the things I hit with the mallet, on the right.
https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/G ... directlink

Success!
https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/c ... directlink
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby Evan » Fri Feb 04, 2011 10:54 am

blackfilecabinet wrote:Ok, I got it.

First I tipped it on its right and reached in with electrical pliers to grab something that was sticking out on one of those shiny bars. At the same time I tried hitting the side at the back with a wooden mallet since I don't have a rubber one. That did nothing. So I turned it on its left side, reached in and grabbed the shiny thing, hit the side near the back with the mallet, jiggled the shiny thing, still nothing was happening. I moved to one of the other columns and grabbed the thing sticking out from the shiny bar, jiggled it, again nothing. Then I noticed on the underside of the cabinet were 3 things sticking out of squarish holes, lined up with the locking bar on the top of the cabinet. So I started hitting one of those things with the mallet. At the same time, I was pulling the corresponding thing sticking out from the shiny bar into what I assume is the 'unlocked' position. Eventually I noticed one of the drawers in that column was loose and was able to pull it out. Then the other drawers in that column came out. I had knocked the thing sticking out from the bottom in all the way. So I repeated these steps in the middle and the left column, requiring some WD-40 for those.

Many thanks for your advice!



Cool, it sounds like the linkage works in a slightly different way than along the lines I was thinking it did...

Glad you could open it again... From what you describe and how you have operated the locking bars, was the cabinet put down hard or dropped at all when you moved it...

Sounds like corrosion was a factor in the cabinet's not opening again after it locked itself as it provided sufficient friction on the mechanism to make it difficult to operate...

~~ Evan
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby Evan » Fri Feb 04, 2011 11:07 am

@blackfilecabinet:


Alternate theory on how the locks might have originally worked:

Was that cabinet made up of sections ?

The reason the "linkage" connecting the lock cylinder to the locking bars might be missing is that the lock could have controlled the section of the cabinet located ABOVE where the lock is located and the "bar" with the sets of holes at each end of it which we saw at the back of the top of the cabinet in the second of your original set of photos was an attachment point for the part of the linkage mechanism which rotated up and down to push up on and pull down on those bars sticking out of the square holes in the bottom of the cabinet you discovered while figuring out how to open it...

This would also explain why the lock was installed on the outside of the top panel of sheetmetal of the cabinet shell with no visible or immediately apparent means of connection through the top of the cabinet case... This is just a guess but I would say some sort of rod attached to the back of the lock which rotated a pivot and actuated the separate locking bars for each of the columns of drawers...

~~ Evan
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby blackfilecabinet » Fri Feb 04, 2011 11:55 am

This cabinet is made of solid steel; it's nothing like the ones they sell today, made out of aluminum or plastic or cardboard. It weighs maybe 200lbs or even more. I had to bring it up 2 flights of stairs on a dolly, so yes, it got banged around. I took the drawers out when moving it, but when I put them back in, they all locked except for the last one which I didn't push in all the way.

There is a lot of corrosion on the locking bar, around it, and the outside part of those 3 bars that are hooked into it is rusty. The inside parts of the bars, at the back where the drawers slide in, is shiny with no rust.

That's right, this is stackable and was probably just one of several stacked units. The lock mechanism on the top is completely visible, which it shouldn't be. There were originally 2 adjustable clips which would have held another unit on top of this one. Only one of those clips is left. There are also 4 non-adjustable clips welded to the top of the unit, one of which has been bent out of shape, which obviously happened when somebody disassembled the stack. And if a rod was supposed to connect the lock to the locking bar, it's gone. It would have been hidden by another unit stacked on top.

If there were a rod, then it looks like turning the key in the lock would rotate the rod, which would be attached to the locking bar on the top near the back (it would be hidden by a unit stacked on top), which would raise and lower it (the bar). Without being able to do that, you have to hit the three vertical bars attached to the horizontal locking bar from below to unlock it. You could probably use pressure to push the locking bar down to lock the drawers on purpose, but I haven't tried that yet.
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Re: Can't open antique file cabinet

Postby Raymond » Fri Feb 04, 2011 2:03 pm

This looks like a "Lista" brand cabinet. (relatively expensive and very good quality) Are you sure there is nothing inside the cabinet, at the back wall, behind the top-middle drawer, that when rotated moves the flat bars behind all three columns?

We all still want confirmation of how it works. Glad you got it open.
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