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How to Use a Combination Lock

People use a wide range of locking mechanisms to protect themselves from anyone planning to harm them or their property. A well-made padlock can protect against break-ins, theft and vandalism.

This introductory guide outlines a brief overview of the overall design of these unique locks, common ways people use them every day, and steps for unlocking single- and multi-dial combination systems.

The Overall Design

Companies manufacture padlocks in a diverse range of sizes and shapes. That said, these locks typically feature a metal body, a locking and unlocking mechanism and a U-shaped metal arm or bar (i.e., a shackle or shank). or with the assistance of a locksmith, Additionally, a padlock has a keyhole, a dial or dials marked with letters, numbers or symbols, or a letter and number keypad. Many padlocks have a weather-resistant construction, such as a protective plastic or silicone case or keyhole cover.

Although people commonly use a padlock by running the shackle through a metal loop (i.e., a hasp) and a metal plate (i.e., a staple), many other options for securing property with a padlock exist. You might run the shackle through a double-hole metal plate system or double-loop system welded to a door, one or more links on a metal chain, or a metal loop affixed to the end of an encased rope-style metal cable. With combination options, you might use a preset combination or reset the lock with a custom one.

Common Everyday Uses

People use combination padlocks in both outdoor and indoor scenarios. The type of padlock depends on different factors, such as elements that might damage the lock and the level of necessary security.

Outdoors, you might secure a garage, shed or storage unit door; a recycling or trash bin or dumpster lid; an outside key or money drop box; or a small, medium or large fence gate. Indoors, you might use this type of lock to secure a journal, filing cabinet, locker, luggage, safe or vault. Key and combination padlocks have also become symbols of love. People often attach combination “love locks” to objects at public and tourist sites.

How to Use a Combination Lock

Although the steps to use a combination padlock vary based on the lock design, common elements exist across designs. For example, with a single-dial, three-part rotary combination padlock, such as a gym or school locker lock, you typically turn the dial clockwise (i.e., right) three times and align the first part of the combination with an arrow. You spin it counterclockwise (i.e., left) one full rotation past the previous part until the second part aligns with the arrow. You finish by turning it clockwise again until aligning the last part. You must then pull down on the body to release the shackle. With a multi-dial combination lock, you rotate the dials to align the parts of the correct combination. With a keypad, you merely enter a code.

When to Hire a Locksmith

Even though this guide outlines how to use a combination lock, it doesn’t provide DIY fixes for common mechanical and other problems for a good reason. It’s always wise to seek professional assistance when dealing with a malfunctioning combination padlock, especially if it has a stuck or non-turning shackle or dial system or a non-functioning keypad. A locksmith can also assist with customizing a padlock with a new combination.

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