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This 3 part series is reprinted with the kind

permission of

Safe & Vault Technology

3003 Live Oak Street
Dallas, Texas 75204
(214) 827-SAFE (7233)
FAX (214) 827-1810

and the author Ken Doyle, owner

Advanced Safe & Vault


his article will attempt to define

the attributes and characteristics
of the various borescopesthat are
available. I will also try to summarize
the requirementsof a good, serviceable
borescopefor the novice borescopepurchaser.In future articles, I will describe
scopes'withadvancedfeaturesand capabilities, as well as discussing adjuncts,
options and accessories.
I hope this article will make it easier
for you to make your first borescope
purchase,as well as allow you to understand and appreciate the possibilities
and advantagesof this technology for
the future.
That future will probably include
changesin safedesignthat will preclude
the useof many standardopening methods. With the ever-increasing use of
electronic safe locks, variable remote
mounting, hi-tech barrier materials,
glass,decoys,vision barriers (that mask
the locations of locking components),
drill deflectors and other modem safe
building techniques,it's easy to envision a time when opening a basic cont~iner could become very difficult.
Direct techniquesthat rely on reference

points and published materials might

have little or no value, except as history.
Several safe manufacturers are already
incorporating remote mounting into
their designs. How many more will follow suit? There are at least several technicians (myself included) who fiendishly incorporate some of these practices
when doing routine retrofits. For opening purposes, we own those safes. God
help the tech who "lowballs" a price
quote and tries to open one. It will certainly redefine his idea of the "safe from
Of course, you could argue that this
will take a long time to come to pass and
that there will be plenty of containers
around (possibly for years) that will
yield to traditional methods. That's
probably true, but competition in that
niche is and will continue to be fierce,
resulting in lower fees and a generally
mundane day for those that pursue only
that aspect of the mark~t. The future
(and a higher standard of living) will
belong to those that are prepared for it.
A few months back, in an article about
alternative drilling sites and scoping
change key holes, I stressed the impor-

tanceof having a good borescope.Most

competentand successfulsafe and vault
technicians have at least one. If they
work on high-security safesand vaults,
they probably have several. And, of
course,there are at leasta few techsthat
collect borescopeslike my wife collects
Beanie Babies. To quote one of our
more prominent (though slightly eccentric) industry leaders: "You can never
have too many scopes." Being a cardcarrying gadgetfreak, I tend to agree.
Choices, Choices
Borescopes and endoscopes come in a
variety of different styles and sizes and
are availabl~ from several different
are usually
designed and built to perform a specific
function, as in the various types used for
medical endoscopy. Endoscopy simply
means to "look inside." There are many
different endoscopes for looking inside
the human body. In ,the medical industry
they even go so far as to name them
according to what part of the body they
are designed to explore. Colonoscope,
bronchoscope and sygmoidoscope. are
examples of these. Medical practitioners


Page 15

constitute one of the largest professional groupsthat use this technology.

There are several types of borescope
used for the non-destructiveinspection
of the interior of suchthings as gun barrels, aircraft, machinery,molds, casting
equipmentand other various structures.
Theseare used to help technicianssave
many hours of "tear-down time."
Borescopeswith slightly different characteristicsare sold to the security industry for surveillance
purposes.For the purposes of
this article I will use the term
"borescope" to describe any
instrument that allows you to
look inside safes or vaults.
What you are looking for determines the type of borescope
you will use. For example: a
borescope designed to reveal
tiny flaws in an injection mold
system is probably not a good
choice for use in identifying
and locating componentssuch
as relock devicesin an X6.
No borescopewill do everything we need it to do. In fact,
the cold, harsh reality is that
safe and vault technicians are
forced to use borescopesoriginally designedfor use in other
industries.This fact, combined
with the awarenessthat this is
fairly complex technology,
requires that prospective buyers do some very tough, (and
hopefully) informed comparison shopping.

facturer's and dealer's reputationswithin our industry.

When attending seminars where
borescopesare being used, or at industry meetingsor exhibits where they are
displayed, ask lots of questionsand try
to obtain the user's or seller's opinion as
to the quality and usefulnessof a particular scope.If you're asking a user,askif
they use the scope as much as they


Get what you need

It is important to carefully
consider all of the possible
opening scenarios that might
benefit from this technology
before deciding on which
scope(s) to buy. Considering
the purchase of a borescope
should be approachedfrom the same
perspectiveand with the sameattention
to detail one would use in purchasinga
computersystem,a drill rig or a service
vehicle. Avoid being snowed by "bells
and whistles" that you may never use.
Concentrate on basic functionality,
design,after-saleservice,and the manurPaGR 16

Safe& Vault

industrial equipmentsuppliersand medical instrument distributors. There is

also a large market dedicated to the
resale of quality used borescopes.The
variables of quality, features and price
rangesin the new and usedmarketplace
are truly astounding.
If you are connectedto the Internet,
manufacturers' Web sites are good
placesto start gatheringinformation. At
these sites you will be able to
perusean overview of the manufacturer's wares, request more
detailed information, and find
dealerswho representthat particular brand.
There are also many Web sites
dedicated to used or surplus
borescopes. A search for
"borescope" and/or "endoscope"
on your favorite search engine
will yield a number of sources.
Someof1;besebrandnames,manufacturers' Web sites and other
contact are listed at the end of
this article.
In doing the research for this
article, I was amazedat the volume of information and jargon
facing the new borescopebuyer.I
was reminded of the applied

thought they would and if they got their

money's worth. It's a lot better to learn
from others' experiences than from your
own mistakes.
High quality borescopes are available
from many sources, including distributors of locksmith and safe technician
tools, security product companies,

physics class I took in high

school - terms and concepts I

had learned and forgotten more
than 30 years ago startedmaking
senseagain in light of a practical
usefor that information. It canbe
very challengingto ferret through
all this information and come
away with enoughunderstanding
to make an informed buying
decision, especially if you are
buying your first borescope.A
thorough understanding of the
terms in manufacturers'literature
is the key to a successfulshopping expedition. Some of these
terms are: depth of field, magnification, direction of view (DOV), field
of view (FOV), fore, aft, oblique.
Defining "view"
We all know that "to view" is a very
subjective thing. Where, when and
under what conditions we vi6W something defines its characteristicsto the


Inusb'8tion2: Dmtion of view

(DOV)0 -135~

viewer. I'm sure you've heard the saying: "He can't see the forest for the
trees." The ability of the mind to perceive, structureand interpret visual data
under varying circumstances can be
directly affected by changing, limiting
or expanding the view of a specific
object. There are basically two "views"
that concernus when faced with choosing and using a borescope.These are
"field of view" (FaV) and "direction of
view" (DaV). These determine what
and how much you will be able to see
through an accesshole. Field of view
and direction of view tend to overlap in
actual use and combine to create an
interesting variety of view options, as
you will seefrom the following descriptions and illustrations. I consider the
other terms in the abovelist to be modifiers of the two basic elements of

how much of a particular areaor object

you can see.Field of view is expressed
in degrees (see illustration 1). For
example: the unassistedhuman eye is
capable of viewing approximately 170
degrees.This means we can see about
85 degreesleft, right, above and below
(relative to straight ahead) all at the
same time. Of course, the ability to
focus on and interpret the detail of what
we see within that field is limited. An
exampleof an intentionally limited field
of view is a racehorsewith blinders on.
The horse has had his lateral field of
view limited (to about 80 degrees) to
minimize distractions.
A narrow field of view allows us to
seea smaller areaof an object, but with
greaterdetail due to its telephotonature.
A wider field of view allows us to seea
larger area of an object, but with less
detail, and is similar to the term "wide
angle" as used in the photography
industry. Field of view can be likened to
a flashlight beam used in a completely

Field of view

Field of view (FOV~ simply means


3:Aft- Oblique

DOV= 135+ FOV= 45

darkenedroom. The cone-shapedbeam

allows you to see only what is within
the cone. Most borescopeshave a field
of view between30 and 90 degrees.
Field of view also has a direct relationship to magnification, as well as to
the depth of field,-of the image. Very
narrow fields of view tend to be in focus
for a greaterrange of distanceswithout
having to refocus the image. Therefore
an object viewed close to the tip of a
scope will be magnified and in clear
focus. As the subject is moved further
away from the tip, more of the object
can be seen(but with less detail) without refotusing. This is called depth of
field. Magnification can also be
enhancedby the use of a telephoto lens
assembly within the head of the
borescopeor by other attachmentsto the
basic borescope.
Direction of view
If you took the field of view, as
defined above, and shifted it (without

Borescope probe

90 Degree mirror tube

Dlustration4: Dedicated

view - pmmbol :'eSCOpe


llustration 6: Crosssedion c)f


Page 17

mustration 10: Elementsof a common rigid borescope

~age 18

Safe4 Vault

changingit's field) from straight ahead(0 degrees)

to the left or to the right, you are changing the
direction of view (DOV). This shift is also
expressedin degrees(See illustration 2). Within
current borescope technology, there are several
methods used to change direction of view.
Incorporating various combinations of field of
view and direction of view with other useful features allows borescopemanufacturersto provide
special-purposeborescopesfor various applications.
One way of changingthe direction of view is by
the useof a permanentor temporaryprism nearthe
tip of the borescope.By the use of a prism, it is
possibleto allow a side view of 30, 45, 60 and 90
degreesor more. It is evenpossible (using a prism
with a combination of wide field of view and an
aft direction of view) to allow a view of nearly 180
degrees(see illustration 3). That's the equivalent
of looking directly behind the tip of the borescope.
If a scopeusesa permanentprism to define direction of view, it is called a "dedicated" view scope
(see Illustration 4). Prisms relay the image only.
The light is relayed through a separateport. Some
rigid borescopesare capable of being rotated to
eliminate the need for rotating the entire eyepiece/head.
Mirrors can also be used as a temporary way of
changing the direction of view. The mirror is
attachedto a tube or removabletip that slides over
the shaft of the borescope(seeillustration 5). The
mirror, which is set at a predeterminedangle on
the attachment,reflects both the image and the
light from the light sourceat the sametime. Mirror
tubescan also be rotated, as describedabove,and
usually through a full 360 degreesof rotation. The
mirror assemblyis very fragile and scratcheseasily. A lot of care should be used during handling,
insertion and cleaning to avoid displacement or
When a prism or mirror is usedto changedirection of view, the resulting image is reversed.In the
caseof a permanentprism, a speciallens asseItlbly
can be usedto correct the image.According to the
information I've read, prisms are supposedto be
better suited for observing objects that are farther
away from the tip of the scope.Mirrors are better
suited for looking at objects that are close to the
tip of the borescope. This is because mirrors
reflect light and prisms only relay the image. It is
difficult and expensiveto align the light port precisely enough to illuminate the object exactly
where neededwhen in close proximity to the tip.

literature that describe direction of view are: "fore", "aft" and

"oblique." The term "fore" simply denotesa combination of field
of view and direction of view in which its center is less than 90
degrees."Aft" denotesa combination in which its centeris greater
than 90 degrees.In other words: "fore" looks forward from 0-90
degreesand "aft" looks backwardfrom 90-180 degrees."Oblique"
describesdirections of view other than 0 degrees(straight ahead)
or 90 degrees.Examplesof oblique directions of view would be:
45 (forward oblique) and 135 degrees(aft oblique). (Seeillustrations 2 & 3.)
Shared attributes
All borescopeshave several things in common. Starting at the
distal end, eachhas a port that allows an image of a remoteobject
to be relayed back to the user. Also at the distal end, each has
anotherport that allows the object to be illuminated by light conveyed from a light source.
At the proximal end is the scope head. It incorporatesan eyepiece that usually contains a focusing lens assembly.In between,
there are fiber optic and lens componentsthat transmit or "relay"
the illumination and the image. These componentsare contained
within a tube-like shaft of varying lengths, which constitutesthe
"probe." This probe may be either a rigid shaf~ora flexible, cable-

!~Fore, Aft and Oblique"

Other terms you might find in sales or technical


Page 19

like structure(seeillustration 10).

The probe may also be armoredto prevent damage caused by insertion into
hazardousareas. Medical scopes have
specialouter sheathsthat make it possible to sterilize the borescope.Somealso
have markings which enable users to
take exacting depth measurementsas
the probesare introducedinto body cavities.
Basic types
There are two basic types of
borescopesand endoscopes:rigid and
flexible: They range in length from a
just few inches to over 10 feet. The
outer diameter of the probe may be as
small as one or two millimeters or as
large as 1/2 inch or more, dependingon
its intendeduse.In this first article I will
discuss in detail the attributes of rigid
scopes,as they are currently more common to our industry.

"aae 20


Rigid Scopes
Quality rigid borescopesuse one of
three glass lens systems. The flfst is
called the "achromatic doublet." This
type consistsof many lensesarrangedin
pairs, in what is called a "relay lens system" (see illustration 7). This system
relies on many high-quality, preciselyground and polishedglasslensesto convey the image through the probe to the
eyepiece.This was the first design and
was usedmostly for shorter,large diameter borescopes. Richard Wolf
Borescopesare examples of this technology.
The secondtype of glass lens system
is called the "Hopkins rod lens relay
system" (seeillustration 8). It combines
longer rod-type lenses in conjunction
with conventional lenses (similar to
thoseusedin the achromaticdoublet) to
achieve a design that is readily useable
for longer and smaller diameter scopes
at a lower cost. Karl Storz Borescopes

use this relay system.

The third type of lens systemis called
the "Gradient index lens system" (see
illustration 9). This system eliminates
the shorter glass lenses in the probe
entirely and substitutes much longer,
optimized versions of the glass rods.
Gradient Lens Corporation developed
and usesthis systemin their "Hawkeye"
product line.
The shorter the lens, the more lenses
you have to place into the shaft (with
great precision) to convey the image
accuratelyand clearly through the entire
length of the probe. The quality of the
lenses,how they are arranged(in terms
of quantity, precision and distancefrom
eachother) and the diameterand length
of the probe are all factors that greatly
influence the quality of the image and
the cost of the borescope.
Incorporatedinto all of the aboverigid
borescopedesign~ is also a bundle of
very fine optical fibers surroundingthe

lens system (see illustrations 6 & 10).

These fibers carry light through the
entire length of the probe to the light
port in the tip of the scope,to illuminate
the object being viewed.
Becauseof the structure of theselens
systems, they are not flexible at all,
hence the designation "rigid." Even a
very small degree of flex of the shaft
can and will result in misalignment or
other damage to the lens system. The
result is a totally uselessscope.Several
of us have discoveredthis fact by direct
experience.Ironically, the more flexible
fiber optic light bundle containedwithin
a rigid scope is more difficult to damage,and thereforelight will usually still
travel through the probe to the tip of a
damaged scope. Of course, what you
then have is nothing more than a very
awkward-to-useand expensivepenlight.
Depending on the quality and type of
lens system,the length and diameter of
the probe, and the features and other
attributes; these borescopesmay range
in price from approximately500 to several thousanddollars.

bypass some seriously demonic hardplate. There are other times when I was
forced to use a much longer scopethan
was necessaryto look through a hole
placed through the door at the drop-in
location. It was very hard to hold the
scopeon target and keep my eye to the
eyepieceat the sametime. I was so far
away from the door face that it was
uncomfortableand awkward to turn the
spindle. A shorter scope would have
been much more practical. On the other

hand, I would gladly live with that awkwardnessin order to have the option of
scoping from the side or top of a container.

thing's first

What is a good choice for your first

scope?This is a very tough question.
After all, this is not exactly essential
technology for opening most of what is
out there right now. In the beginning of
our careers, we usually start out by

Image resolution
Imageresolution canbestbe described
as the ability to seedetail. It dependson
a number of factors. Glass relay lens
systems provide the best resolution,
with glass rod and gradient technology
following in very close pursuit.
Improvementsare being madeconstantly. Aside from the type of lens system
used,physical dimensionsplaya role in
resolution as well. Higher resolutions
are possible with larger diameter
probes. Extremely thin scopes with
high-resolution optics tend to be the
most expensive.No surprisesthere1
Size and adaptability
Rigid borescopescommonly used in
the safe and vault industry are available
in lengths of approximately 4 inches to
as long as 30 inchesand are available in
diameters of less than 1/8-inch to as
large as I/2-inch. Which size is best?
Obviously, tliis depends on what you
will use it for.
There have been times when I would
hij.vekilled for a really small diameter
scope so that I could be tricky and



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openingbasic containersand by using rather traditional methods.I have

seenguys who have gotten along for years with just an otoscopeor a
Someof the more expensivesafeson the market may require new technologiesas well as a bit of creativity to defeatthem in a professionaland
profitable manner.Careful analysisof the type of openingsthat you currently perform, aswell asidentifying what capabilitiesyou'd like to have
in the future, will help you in making a sounddecision on purchasingan
entry-level borescope,as well as any future needs.
I guessif I was limited to having only one scope,I personally would
choosea rigid scopethat was relatively slim (liS-inch to 1/4-inch) with
a working length that would allow use from the front as well as the side
or top of a medium sized container (16-22 inches long). It would allow
a straight (0 degree)as well as a side (90 degree)view via a mirror or
prism tube - or preferably both. It would provide a bright, clear view and
the highestresolution I could afford. The ability to connecta high output
light sourcewould also be essential.I'd expectto pay between$SOOand
My current scopearsenalincludes:
-Two Hawkeye slim (4/25-inch) rigid scopes(7 and 17 inch), both
with 90. mirror tubes;
-One Olympus 5/16-inch by 20-inch rigid scopewith a dedicated90.
DOV and a 60. FOV;
-One ACMI 1/4-inch by IS-inch non-articulating semi-flexible
-One Olympus 5/16-inch by 6-foot, four-way articulating flexible
Both the flexibles and the Olympus rigid were purchased"used" and
obtainedfrom a surplus source.They have addedgreatly to my capabilities and at a very reasonableprice. My next borescopepurchasewill
probably be a very small diameter, rigid scopeof medium length, or one
that incorporatesone of the oblique directions of view. I am also very
interestedin checking out the new 90. prism tubes that should soon be
available for the Hawkeye Slim and Hardy models.Who knows? If the
idea of a removeable90. prism tube catcheson among safe techs,other
useful DOVs might soon follow.
Someof the things I'll discussin Part II of this seriesare illumination,
flexible scopes,and articulation.
Part III will cover optional accessoriesand high-tech adjunctssuch as
video cameras(B&W, Color and Zoom), monitors (B&W, Color, CRT
and LCD), borescopeto video adapters,and compactvideo systems..~

About the Author: Ken Doyle lives in San Francisco, California. He is an established
writer for S&V7: