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Your Guide to Combination Padlocks


Combination padlocks provide both convenience along with a high level of security. In this latest post we aim to answer many of the questions often asked about combination padlocks.

What is a Combination Padlock?

A combination lock use a sequence of symbols, typically numbers, for lock operation. In some combination lock applications, such as door entry systems and safes, the combination code is entered via a keypad or single rotary dial. Combination padlocks typically use a number of rotary dials to enter the numerical code sequence.

Combination locks are not a recent invention. The earliest known combination lock was excavated from a Roman period tomb, attached to a small box. Further historic records describe the use of combination locks in 1206. And U.S. patents for combination padlocks, established by J.B. Gray in 1841 and J.E. Treat in 1869, refer to how their patents were for combination padlock improvements, thereby acknowledging the existence of combination padlocks at that time. Modern combination lock design is attributed to Joseph Loch for Tiffany’s Jewellers in New York in around 1878. He went on to improve his lock designs from 1870 to 1900.

As noted, combination locks take a variety of forms from modern, electronic keypad entry systems, single dial locks and multi-dial combination padlocks. This article is focused on popular and affordable multi-dial combination padlocks, commonly used in a wide variety of applications.

How Combination Padlocks Work

Multiple dial combination padlocks use a simple system involving several rotating discs with notches cut into them. When the correct combination code is set on the dials the notches align, allowing the lock to be opened.

This highlights one of the main security limitations of combination padlocks which is that there is a finite limit to the number of code variations. For example, a 3 x dial combination padlock that offers 10 digits (from 0 to 9) on each dial can have numeric combination codes from 000 to 999, or 10 x 10 x 10 variations. This means the lock could potentially be opened by working through all of these combinations.

Adding another dial of 10 digits to the combination lock means the number of code variants increases to 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 10,000, from 0000 to 9999. And adding a fifth dial increases the number of potential combinations to 100,000, from 00000 to 99999.

How to Reset a Padlock Combination

When supplied, good quality combination padlocks, such as the excellent Squire CBW85, are factory set to the default combination code of 00000. This is then easily reconfigured by the lock user to their required combination code, which should be a numeric sequence they will remember.

This is achieved by opening the lock, unwinding the screw at the bottom of the lock by 4 turns, pulling the knob further away from the lock body and turning it 90 degrees anti-clockwise to put the lock in the reset position. The five dials can then be rotated to the desired combination code before rotating the knob clockwise by 90 degrees where it will spring back into the lock and can then be wound back into the lock body to establish the new combination.

Other combination lock manufacturers each have their own procedures for resetting combination padlock codes. They typically involve unlocking the padlock, rotating the shackle to the reset position and pushing it inwards to allow a new combination code to be entered via the dials.

What Types of Combination Padlock are Available?

Combination padlocks are available in a variety of designs and styles. Many look exactly like their keyed counterparts but with dials to enter the combination codes instead of key holes. Others such as D-locks, Discus Locks and Container Locks (also known as Anvil or Shutter Locks) are specifically designed as combination padlocks.

Combination padlocks that mimic conventional padlocks offer the same variations and design features found with keyed padlocks. These include both standard and long shackle variants, open and closed shackles, high-security boron shackles, weatherproofing and more.

As previously noted, an important security attribute of combination padlocks is the number of dials and therefore the number of combinations that can be set. Some low-security locks offer just 3 x dials and therefore aren’t suitable for high security applications. High-security combination padlocks generally offer 5 x dials enabling a far higher number of code combinations and therefore lower vulnerability and greater security.

Here are some great examples from our store:


3 wheel combination padlock
3 Wheel Combination Padlock

squire cp50 combination padlock
Squire CP50 Combination Padlock

squire cp60
Squire CP60 Combination Padlocks


squire cbw85
Squire CBW85 High Security Combination Padlock


People often want to know which is the best type of combination padlock. The answer comes down to the application and how the lock will be used. For example, the best combination padlock for a small tool chest isn’t likely to be the best choice for a high security application. We discuss how to select the right combination padlock later in this article.

What are Combination Padlocks Used for?

Combination padlocks are used in all manner of applications. But one of their primary attributes that make combination locks appealing is in situations where multiple people need to operate a lock to gain access to a particular location or resource, such as an allotment site, bin storage facility or secured equipment container. Creating, issuing and managing a high number of keys for keyed padlocks presents significant headaches which is generally recognised as impractical, as well as costly. Whereas, using high quality combination padlocks is a far more practical solution. Combination lock codes can be readily changed and securely shared when necessary, without the need to replace the locks and issue new keys.

If, for example, somebody who knows the combination code is no longer involved in using the secured resource the combination code can be quickly and easily changed and the new code shared with the remaining authorised users. Where required, logical groups of combination padlocks can be configured with the same combination codes which is great for convenience and flexibility.

Everyday uses for combination padlocks include:

  • Main and ancillary Gates
  • Warehouses
  • General Access Gates - such as allotments.
  • Gates to shared residential facilities such as clubs, sports facilities, swimming pools, gardens or parks.
  • Sheds garages and outhouse doors
  • Storage Cupboards, Bins & Cages
  • Motorcycles, Scooters and Bicycles
  • Boats, caravans and trailers.
  • Lockers such as sports or changing room storage lockers.
  • Luggage & Bags
  • Tool boxes
  • More..
squire cp50 at allotment site
Squire CP50 Combination Padlock at Allotment Site

Any situation in which resources need to be secured but accessible to multiple people benefits from the use of combination padlocks. This might be a household shed, used by the entire family to store valuable bikes and tools, or possibly a family beach hut or other shared resource. Or it may be multiple gateways to a shared, private garden area that’s only open to a specific group of residents. Similarly, combination padlocks are commonly used around allotments and other sites that often have multiple secured gateways and a high number of authorised users.

Are Combination Padlocks Secure?

People often want to know if combination padlocks are secure and how secure they are. As previously discussed, the number of dials on a combination padlock affects the number of potential code combinations that can be used. A three wheel padlock offers a maximum of 1000 numeric combinations, from 000 to 999 so it would be possible to ‘crack’ a 3 dial lock by taking the time to enter each of these codes in turn, but this would take some time. Increase the number of dials to 4 and the number of potential combinations increases to 10,000 which would take a lot more time to crack.

Although simple 3 wheel padlocks offer relatively few code combinations, when compared with their 4 and 5 wheel counterparts, they are an ideal choice for tool boxes and other lower security applications.

When considering the level of security provided by combination padlocks there are other design features that must be borne in mind. These include whether the padlock uses an open or closed shackle design, the dimensions of the shackle and the material its made from as well as the quality of the lock manufacture.

The bottom line is that combination padlocks are not as secure as keyed padlocks but this is offset by their convenience in many situations. We’ve previously compared combination and keyed padlocks in this useful post.

As noted, there are no combination padlocks that have gained CEN rating or Sold Secure approval. But that doesn`t mean combination padlocks are not secure. Combination padlocks can provide excellent levels of security and protection along with convenience and ease-of-use.

How to Select the Right Combination Padlock for Your Needs.

Making the wrong choice when selecting a padlock can be both costly and have a detrimental impact on security. When considering padlock selection here are some of the key questions that need to be answered.

What’s the Value of the Secured Assets?

An understanding of the value associated with whatever is being secured informs the padlock selection process. If, for example, the padlock is intended to secure a toolbox in a shed, to prevent family members or others from ‘borrowing’ tools, then a high security padlock is probably not needed and a simple 3 x dial combination padlock would do the job. But if the padlock is intended to secure a structure that contains high value tools and equipment, as might be used on building sites, then it makes sense to invest in a high quality, high security lock.

High security padlocks are generally larger and more robust than lower security models. The steel used for both the padlock body and the shackle are primary attributes that support high security. When considering the convenience of combination padlocks its important to think about the number of dials and therefore the level of security offered by the lock.

Who Will Need to Use the Lock?

This important question can determine whether a combination padlock or keyed padlock is the best choice to provide the required level of convenience as well as security. As noted, combination padlocks avoid the need to create and manage the allocation of multiple keys to every person who needs access to a particular resource.

When considering who will need to use the lock its also important to think about whether the group of users will ever change. For example, security around allotment sites needs to accommodate changes to the allotment community as new people are allocated plots while others depart. And allotment sites will typically have multiple gated entrances. For these reasons combination padlocks provide an ideal solution as they can all be configured to use the same combination code and there is no need to allocate and manage a significant number of keys.

Similarly, a shared family resource such as a shed, beach hut or boat, might need to be accessible to various family members. Combination padlocks are an ideal and convenient solution, avoiding the need to allocate or hand over keys when somebody wants to use a facility.

Will the Padlock be Used Inside or Outdoors?

If a padlock is to be used outdoors then it makes sense to select a weatherproof model. This is particularly important in environments where locks are subjected to corrosive conditions, such as by the seaside.

What Size and Type of Shackle is Needed?

The padlock shackle must be able to pass through the staple, hole or chain link of whatever is being secured, so its important to get the measurements correct. For example, if the padlock is to be used with a chain then its shackle dimensions must match the internal dimensions of the chain link.

Its also important to consider the shackle length and whether a long shackle padlock is needed for the application. Another important shackle related consideration is whether a closed shackle padlock would be beneficial. Closed shackle padlocks effectively enclose as much of the shackle as possible, thereby making them more secure and less vulnerable to shackle cutting attacks.

What Size of Padlock is Needed?

As well as the padlock shackle its important to consider the overall size of the padlock and whether there are any size restrictions. Padlocks must sometimes fit into restricted spaces, such as a lock cowl, so the size and style of padlock can be important factors.

How Tough Must the Padlock Be?

This important question relates to the value of the secured assets. If the padlock is securing high value property then it makes sense to invest in high quality, tough padlocks from reputable manufacturers. Its always worthwhile examining reviews from those who have already purchased and used any padlock models that might be considered.

When shortlisting padlocks its worthwhile examining their respective technical specifications, as well as their reviews. The padlock specifications should provide details of what the lock and shackle are made from and how the shackle has been toughened.

What Level of Security is Needed?

This is another question that directly relates to the value of the secured assets. Padlock applications can be broadly categorised into low security, medium security and high security.

Low security applications include luggage, bags, lockers and similar areas of usage where the secured assets have relatively low value. Smaller, 3 x dial combination padlocks are generally suitable for this level of security application.

Medium security applications include sheds, outbuildings, gates and storage containers where the assets involved have some value but don’t have high security requirements. For medium security needs, 4 x dial combination padlocks are generally a good choice.

High security applications include factory or workplace main gates, the main gates of other establishments (such as storage yards), building sites, warehouses, motorcycles and more. These application areas include high value assets as well as locations where safety is a primary concern. For high security applications combination padlocks with 5 x dials and 100,000 potential code combinations are the best choice.

What is Your Budget?

Padlocks are available at various prices but as the old saying goes - ‘you get what you pay for’. High quality padlocks offering the highest levels of security can be notably more expensive. But they are also amongst the most robust, secure and long lasting padlocks available. For example Squire provide a 10 year manufacturers warranty with their products. Once again, its worth considering the assets that are being secured and what it would cost if these were stolen, damaged or vandalised.

Talk to Us About Your Padlock Needs

We have many years experience in supporting our customers with our carefully curated selection of high quality padlocks. You can be certain that all of the padlocks in our store have been considerately trialled and verified to provide the best value for money.

If you have any questions about combination or keyed padlocks remember we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll provide you with free, expert advice.

This message was added on Thursday 6th April 2023

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