Please tell me the trick to unlock a roll top desk

lindamarieAugust 17, 2011

When I bought this desk only the middle drawer and the top drawer on the right opened. About 2 weeks ago the middle drawer locked. There are no keys. Only the roll top has a key hole.

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Pretty much you are SOL ! LOL!
Old roll top desks often had complicated locking systems. Often closing and locking the roll top locked up the whole desk and sometimes there was away to leave access to one drawer.
You will have to find a locksmith to unlock it for you and make a new key. or you could pick the lock your self.....there are directions on the web.
Good luck!!
Linda C

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 4:56PM
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Good Luck! I have an AB Chase 1905 piano the lid got slammed and locked. EVERYONE who came over had tried to 'pick' with no success. A local locksmith with a good reputation came out for $50 and tried everything in his arsenal and still couldn't opened. He did offer to break the lock-I declined. Finally found a seller of pianos in CA & he had a key and it worked! Only $20. As for the local locksmith....No charge since he couldnt open, not even for the hour he was here.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 7:46PM
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I'll try to explain how my desk works, it also has drawers without keyholes.
When I'm sitting at my desk, there is a drawer directly in front of me. If this drawer is closed all the way, the drawers along the side are all locked. When I open the drawer in front of me, there is a mechanism which releases and unlocks the side drawers. Try this and see if it works.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 8:40PM
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Linda is completely ill informed. Roll tops are the easiest things in the world to open and DO NOT require the expense of a locksmith.

If you explain which locks you are unable to open, I would be happy to tell you how.

Most roll tops have levered pressure back drawer locks that are simple to circumvent.. as well as the main roll top lock. Don't waste your money.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 8:57PM
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I really have to say that I am extremely disappointed in this board that a poster would be told they are "SOL" and recommend an expensive fix that requires.. in the worst case... 2 butter knives... and as a last resort... 2 - 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches pieces of masking tape, a screw driver, and less than 5 minutes of their time.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2011 at 1:01AM
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I apologize for the outburst. I was just floored that someone seeking advice would be "talked" to in that way for a 30 second fix.

My bad. I tend to get a little grumpy after 10pm and I don't have my beauty sleep. :-)

My apologies.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 3:36AM
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No need to apologize. I thought the reply was rather rude toward someone merely asking a question also.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 6:22PM
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I don't think linda was being rude, I think it was no more than any other outburst most of us would have sitting around talking with friends. She did, after all, guide the OP toward the internet for directions to pick the lock. Re-read the thread -- who's the rude here?

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 10:10PM
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Hmmmm, ok, I guess it's a cultural difference between us. I didn't think it was acceptable to torque someone around when they have a problem on their hands and are asking for help. My bad

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 10:43PM
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I used a technique not too long ago to unlock a secretary for a friend, maybe this will work for you.

It turned out, the faceplate over the lock was attached with what looked like possibly brass brads instead of rivets, it turned out to be just that. I laid a piece of waxed paper along the edge of the face plate (so as not to scratch the wood) and I worked a putty knife under the face plate and working carefully around it, I was able to pry the plate off without bending it or the brads. The lock mechanism was laying inside there, in a routed out hole. I lifted the lock out and took my finger and slid the lever over and it unlocked. We took the lock mechanism, about the size of a Zippo lighter, to an antique shop and tried different keys until we found one that fit real good and unlocked the lock. That one required what we called a skeleton key with a hole in the center. Looking at the lock mechanism after it was out, I think we could have used a dental pick to open it, not sure but worth a try also. We aligned the brads back into the holes and pushed them back in to remount the plate. There was no evidence we had ever done it, worked out great.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 7:51PM
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It's actually quite easier for 95% of rolltops ever made. The OP has been messaging offline... the fix remains the same.

In short.. remove the center drawer. Grab two flathead screwdrivers or a couple of butter knifes. Lay down in the knee hole and look up. The locking, springloaded, retractable tabs will be right above you. Using the flatheads or butter knifes, compress the flanges back into the locking tab. LIFT (a third hand can be handy). Voila!

Once the tambour is fully raised, the dowels will compress and the pedestal drawers will open. No "picking" required.

Just an FYI.. the locking tab recess in the top of the desk is cut all the way through in order to prevent "gunk" build-up, which will, eventually, prevent the locking tab from fully seating and engaging. It also comes in quite handy for those that lock themselves out of their own desks. :-)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 8:30PM
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That was too easy Mikk!!!! I'll copy your post to my notes I'm sure it will come in handy some day!!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 10:34PM
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Yeah.....think I'll make a copy of thoe instructions too. My husband has such a desk when I married him so I inherited it. It's lovely other than there is a hole where the lock used to me. I've never asked him, but now I bet I know what happened. LOL

Little skeleton keys. If you're lucky enough to get them with your antique pieces I'd recommend you get a copy made pronto and keep in a safe place. I had a locksmith make a copy for my china cabinet key when it broke.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 10:15AM
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Thanks to Mikk the desk is unlocked!

I had my hubby lift up the ends of the desktop, while I put 2 books on each corner. He then pushed down the rectagle dowel things and the drawers unlocked on each side. We are going to tape a thin piece of plywood over those dowels, so this does not happen again

I can see where someone had been gauging between the drawers like this has happened before

Thanks to my Gardenweb friends!

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 3:44PM
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Lindamarie's desk was one of those in the 5% category, so her instructions where a bit more detailed. She had to go to the screwdriver/masking tape/5-minute method. :-) Glad it worked out.

One other little industry secret when it comes to skeleton type keys... there just aren't a whole heck of a lot of unique keys around. Probably less than a few hundred. The deal being that the same hardware supplier sells to different furniture manufacturers the world over. The locks and keys are identical.

Keys get lost in shipping. It's common practice for manufactueres to supply copious numbers of spare keys to their dealers in order to prevent any delay in sales, and to be able to service their customers in the event of a lost or broken key. The reason why that is important to know is that the next time you loose or break a key, turn to your local furniture dealer rather than a locksmith. Chances are, they have boxes upon boxes of spare keys floating around in their back office that will more than likely work for you. The longer the dealer has been in business, the greater the odds are thay you'll be able to find a key that works.

Also, don't be fooled by unique key end designs. Manufacturers can have those customized, but the key shafts and ends are largely the same and open the same locks as their competitors. :-)

Better yet, take in your single key BEFORE you loose or break it. :-)

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 5:04PM
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What's the making tape approach?

I tried the "easy" way, but even through the flanges seemed to retract, the lock would not disengage.

I must be in the 5%. :-(

Much TIA!

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 7:16PM
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