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Forcible Entry: Six ways to dismantle barrel bolts

Six ways to dismantle barrel bolts 

December 11, 2007
By Andrew Brassard


andrewbrassardIn today’s security conscious communities barrel bolts are one of the most common types of security device firefighters encounter on the fireground. The reason for this is simple: barrel bolts are cheap, easy to install and provide excellent security against the criminal element. Firefighters have to stay one step ahead of security techniques when it comes to forcible entry. Getting water on the fire safely and efficiently is a top priority and a quick forcible entry can mean the difference between a rapid and aggressive interior attack or a defensive operation and a total loss of the building and contents.

As with any forcible-entry problem we need to be able to find the weakest part of the assembly and manipulate it to gain entry as quickly and safely as possible. Here we look at six methods of disabling barrel bolts. The typical barrel bolts that we find in our communities are fairly easy to force with the right tools and the right game plan. Barrel bolts are usually made of stainless steel and have a 1.5- inch to 4-inch throw that slides into either the door frame or a lock strike that is attached to the door frame. These bolts usually come with a spot for a padlock to make the locking device more secure.

Sizeup of doors that are going to be forced is crucial in establishing the right plan and tool selection for the job. With a properly manicured set of irons and a K12 saw, barrel bolts are little match for a well-trained firefighter. Firefighters should be able to spot barrel bolts attached on the back side of a door by the presence of carriage bolts (see photos 1 and 2). An interior view of the door confirms that the double barrel bolts are not only in place but are also padlocked This will make egress for interior crews very difficult in an emergency. This is why ALL doors should be opened at ALL working structure fires.

forcjuly1 As with any forcible entry we need to “try before we pry.” Nothing looks less professional than smashing down an unlocked door. Also, with exposed barrel bolts, the padlock may be the weakest link so forcing the padlock may be the way to go.


There are two basic methods of disabling exterior-mounted barrel bolts. Both are effective and should only take seconds to complete.

Method 1 – Forcing exposed bolt heads: Using the pike of the halligan is a very quick and effective way of forcing barrel bolts. Simply put the pike of the halligan onto the exposed carriage bolts and drive the bolts thought the door with blows from the flatheaded axe (see photo 3). Repeat this step for all of the exposed bolts and the door will then be easily forced with conventional forcible entry techniques.

Method 2: The second way to remove barrel bolts is with the K12 saw; simply saw the bolt heads off of the door using the K12 at a 45-degree angle (see photo 4).  Remember to make sure the saw is at full r.p.m. before and throughout your entire cut. Letting the saw “bog down” will burn out the belt. After the bolt heads are cut off, conventional forcible entry can be used to get into the building.

Store owners will typically place barrel bolts on both sides of the door (lock and hinged sides) to keep would-be thieves from popping the hinges. If we are going to force the door from the lock side on an outward-swinging door we do not need to remove the barrel bolts from the hinge side as they will simply pull out of the door frame or strike when the door is opened from the opposite side (see photo 1). The same applies if you are going to take the door from the hinge side.

Method 3 – External mounted barrel bolts: A very fast and effective technique is the spin method. This  is easily accomplished with one firefighter and a halligan. Place the forks of the halligan onto the shackle of the padlock. Use one hand to stabilize the padlock and one hand on the bottom of the halligan by the adz. The next step is to spin the halligan and the padlock 360 degrees, causing the padlock to rip right out of the locking assembly (see photos 5, and 6). After the padlock has been spun out you can use the adz of the halligan or the flatheaded axe to hammer the slide bolt back out of the strike.

forcjuly2 Method 4: This method for forcing exterior barrel bolts is a little quicker to perform but requires two firefighters and a set of irons. The firefighter with the halligan places the pike in behind the padlock and the body of the locking assembly (see photo 7) then, with strikes from the flatheaded axe, drives the pike in behind the shackle of the padlock creating a new path for the slide bolt to go (see photo 8).

Method 5: This is easy to perform but only works on doors that swing outwards (towards the forcible entry team) and are not recessed into the wall of the building. This technique is completed by removing the handle of the slide bolt. The slide-bolt handle is the only thing holding the sliding bolt inside the locking assembly when the padlock is in place. Place the pike of the halligan onto the small indent on the back side of the handle (see photo 9). After the halligan is in place use the flatheaded axe to drive the handle out of the slide bolt. After the handle is driven off of the barrel bolt slide the bolt all the way to the left (away from the padlock) and out of the locking assembly. With one or two good hits with the flatheaded axe the handle pops off.

Method 6: The sixth technique works well for both interior- and exterior-mounted barrel bolts. This method involves shearing the bolt heads off using the adz of the halligan or the blade of the axe. In order for this to work, your tools must be well taken care of. If the edge of the halligan or axe is not sharp or has dimples in it this method will not work very well so take care of our tools! When performing this method always go behind the locking assembly. To get the tool in place be sure to tap the tool in behind the locking assembly and then once the tool is resting directly on the bolt to be sheared use a very strong swing of the axe or halligan to shear the bolt head off (see photos 10 and 11). One or two hits should be enough force to pop the head right off the bolt.

These are six simple yet effective ways of gaining entry into barrel bolts. Forcible entry techniques are always evolving. We attempt to stay current on new locks and locking techniques so we will be ready the next time the pagers go off.

Until next time, stay safe, train as if your life depends on it and clean your tools!






Andrew Brassard is a career firefighter with the Milton Fire Department in Ontario. In 2006 he was one of two Milton firefighters awarded the Ontario Medal for Firefighter Bravery and the MSA Fireslayer of the Year Award. He owns Phoenix Fire Service Training and teaches forcible entry in Ontario. He can be reached at .

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