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Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:30 pm
by MartinHewitt
I got one borrowed from a friendly Dutch guy and had therefor the chance to completely disassemble it and have a look.

I will start with the lock and later come back to the case. The lock is that one sold here on alibaba: ... 93282.html It is cheap, it looks like a combination lock, it does what a lay safe user expects, at least for a while. From what I have seen from Chinese locks in the past, this is all what is provided and this lock did not disappoint me.

What is apparent even without opening the case is that the dial doesn't turn that well. It needs more force around 50. I don't know really why. The spindle itself is straight. I believe, that the spindle does not sit straight in the dial. That might be exception. I would be interested in feedback on the dials of this lock.

The first problem which I noticed upon opening was that the relocker did not work. (Maybe an exception too.) The bolt was not moved far enough for the relocker to be able to snap into the intended hole. After removing and mounting the dial this problem did go away. So I am not sure what the reason was. And it was also the case with this lock like with all others which you can see in youtube reviews that the spline key sits in the Vertical Down slot even so the lock is mounted Right Hand. The reason is that the dial is (apparently reliably) splined to about 81 instead of the normal 50 (or 41).

Upon disassembly I noticed also:

1) There is to much grease all around the wheel pack and there is no grease at all at the bolt.
2) The dial spindle and the cam have non-standard threading. It has 13 threads per cm or 33.5 threads per inch. Most of the spindle has an outer diameter of 7.8mm, but the rusty tip where the cam sits has been milled down (with a blunt cutter) to 7.3mm. My guess is that the initial threading sat a bit to tight in the cam at least in some cases, so they machined it down. The inner diameter of the cam is 6.8mm and it sits now really wobbly on the spindle even with the spline key inserted.
3) The 2-wheel levers have also be shortened with a blunt cutter. The resulting burr has been left for decoration. The difference in the fence lengths in this lock is 1.4mm.
4) All washers have burrs too. The were not smoothed after cutting from sheet metal. These burrs scratch on the wheels when the lock is operated. The torque washer at the back of the wheel pack was bent very much putting a lot of pressure onto the wheel pack and therefor the turning of the dial was very hard and very fatiguing.
5) The flies and pins on the wheels are to wide. The movable flies were invented because with fixed pins only the wheel has a zone which can't be reached thereby reducing the possible numbers. To wide flies and pins making this improvement nearly void.
6) The locking between the inner and outer wheel ring is really awful. One side is locking slightly, the other not at all. Shifting and thereby the change of the combination while dialing can be expected. So I strongly recommend not to try to use this lock in a real safe.
7) The mounting screw holes are much smaller than in standard locks. Standard mounting screws won't fit there.
8) The slots in the cover screws are very funny.

Now to the case. It looks much better made than the lock, but has flaws too. The thin mounting screws are wood screws. So the case does not have a real threading, which makes mounting a real lock difficult. The smell of the foam inside is very noticable. Often smelling plastic is not healthy and it is not a sign of good quality.

To summarize this, I think that the Sparrows Vault is to expensive for what it offers and that it could have offered much more with just a little care. If they had made proper threading for mounting the lock it would have been much easier to install a real safe lock. That would have been a really nice lock mount. Now there is the danger that the wood screw heads slip through the bigger holes and that the plastic wears and the screws fall out. If they made a standard spindle threading it would even have been possible to just exchange the Chinese lock for many other safe locks and reuse the dial. With the current setup it is just a box with a lock and when you are done with this lock you can put it up for display.

The new extra stuff, i.e. the extra levers are IMHO not that useful. The stepped levers are really useless and the short straight fenced lever is a bit useful. With the stepped lever one can say to have manipulated a safe lock without having actually learned something. It is not necessary to make a plot, because the difference between gate and non-gate is so obvious (about 1 number). It is not necessary to identify the wheel because the order is known. It is just dialing work. My dialing is not especially fast, but I got it open in 5 minutes without graphing and thinking.

My hope is that Sparrows fixes the design of the box and sells it without lock or perhaps with a dial as a safe lock mount. If this is the case, I for sure will recommend it. They could also sell it with a Big RED combination lock and a S&G R6730. Both are real safe locks. The first is the cheaper choice, the second is the lock which is used in manipulation competitions.

In the next posting(s) I will provide some detail photos of problems. I will work on the lock I have here to improve it. After that I will make some photos of the reassembled lock and write what I did.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:34 pm
by MartinHewitt
1) Photo of the funny cover screw.

2) That is the tip of the spindle. The surface of the milled part is rather rough.

3) Cam wobble when pushing into that and this direction. With the spline key inserted it is better, but it is still moving on the opposite of the spline key.

4) Unevenness of the dial rotation.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:36 pm
by MartinHewitt
1) Left the mounting hole of the Chinese lock. Right a S&G hole for comparison.

2) The 2-wheel fence with burr and the lengths of both.

3) Washers with burr.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2020 10:39 pm
by MartinHewitt
And finally ...

1) Dimensions of cam pin and fly. The empty space left of the pin is smaller than the fly on the right.

2) The locking between both rings. Ideally the teeth should really lock together on both sides. Here on all wheels one side is barely locking, because the teeth do not fit inside each other, and the other side is not locking at all, because the the distance to the other mechanism is not right.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2020 11:51 pm
by SafecrackinSammmy
Wow what a piece of junk!

Thanks for the awesome write up and fantastic pics!

I know that people will buy these thinking they are getting a "close to S&G' lock and you have shown that its not worth the money and better to go elsewhere.

Thanks again.


Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 7:38 am
by femurat
MartinHewitt wrote: I would be interested in feedback on the dials of this lock.

I tried one. It felt uneven. Harder around some number. It didn't feel like a real safe lock. It was very difficult to feel the wheels pick up. I tried to count the wheels three times and was not sure if it had two or three.

Thank you for the detailed review.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 10:08 am
by MartinHewitt
The dial is somehow tilted, but I think the real dial scratching comes from the wobbly cam. The spline key tilts it to the side.

Another problem: The standard fences are running on the wheels even so it seems they run properly on the drive cam. The clearance between wheels and fence is minimal and the lever can tilt. (Btw. it can tilt in the S&G also, but there is a generous clearance.) As I don't have a camera attachment to my endoscope I can't provide photos of this.

To improve this lock, I did:
1) Clean it from all the grease.
2) Slightly lube where the bolt runs, on the outside of the wheel post and where the drive cam runs (inside and outside of the plastic washer).
3) File of all burrs (all washers, 2-wheel fences).
4) Shorten one of the 2-wheel fences, because it was nearly touching W1.
5) File of some material from the underside of the non-stepped fences so that the drive cam lifts them from the wheels. Don't care about the stepped fence levers.
6) Straighten a bit the torque washer, so that there is not so much pressure on the wheel pack.
7) Insert a strip of aluminum foil between drive cam and spindle on the opposite side of the spline key.
8) File of a bit from the relocker tip, so that it will work in the future reliably.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 11:23 am
by MartinHewitt
This lock never stops to amaze me! The change key doesn't fit into the change key hole!

So, next step: Enlarge the change key hole.

And btw. I inserted two layers of thicker aluminum foil into the cam threading, because it was still to bad, when the spline key was fully pressed in. Now it is ok.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 11:34 am
by MartinHewitt
And the complete lock view.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:02 pm
by SafecrackinSammmy
I can see in the dial thread pics that the last inch or so the threads/diameter are smaller which might point to the hard turning. It would be interesting to throw a straight edge length wise on the spindle and see what it looks like.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:06 pm
by MartinHewitt
Did that. The spindle itself is straight. What you are referring to with the tip is issue 2.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 5:23 pm
by NKT
It's a shame that beginners to Locksport get ripped off like this.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 11:38 pm
by SafecrackinSammmy
Sad part is that puppy aint cheap... For 129.00 which is what they are currently asking, you can buy a S&G 6730 and a mount on the internet....

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2020 9:54 pm
by edocdab
Thanks a lot for the excellent post. Didn't spend that money yet so I'll keep looking for a better alternative, such as your suggestions.

Re: Sparrows Vault - a close look

PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2020 10:23 pm
by MartinHewitt

Btw. forgot to mention the last problem, that I fixed. I think that is now number 10. After all the fixes above the lock still had scratchy sounds. I also noticed, that the lever was not lifted much by the drive cam. So I looked closer and yes, the fence rode always on the wheels, even when the drive cam lifted it. So I filed of a mm from the underside of the fence.