There’s a lot more to a safe lock than just the way it looks. Though image is a bonus, your primary concern when choosing a lock for your safe should be security, and more importantly, how it meets your individual needs. When shopping for a new house for your firearms, you’ll likely have to choose between three style locks; the traditional combination dial, electronic keypad, and the speedy biometric lock. As you may have guessed, there are pros and cons associated with each one of these options, and you’ll need to decide which one best fits your lifestyle (betcha didn’t know picking a lock type was such a serious ordeal).
The most beneficial feature of a combination lock safe is that requires virtually zero maintenance. The sturdy design of a quality made combination dial lock will last you decades (barring a serious drill attack), without the need for you to invest any time in upkeep. No batteries are required, and though changing the combination often is always encouraged, with a rotary dial, it’s not quite as detrimental as, say, an electronic keypad. You’re fingerprint wear won’t show a noticeable pattern, exposing the combination, and should you be the victim of voyeurism, it’s far more difficult to read this combo over someone’s shoulder. S&G, one of the top safe lock manufacturers even offers a patented a “SpyProof” lock design to ensure that no one but you can see the numbers you enter.
A combination safe lock is also generally the most inexpensive option, and the common, time-tested design is the most widely available of the three options. I also tend to lean toward the rotary dial lock myself because it’s highly reliable. The parts are usually made to last forever, and you never have to worry about a short circuit or a faulty battery.
The only thing you’ll want to make sure you do, is every five years or so, have a certified locksmith give a quick diagnostic to make sure that the system is in working order. Periodic maintenance will ensure that the lock sustains its accuracy; over years of prolonged use, neglected combo locks tend to shift a couple notches on the dial. Doing so will help prevent any major hang ups in a time when you don’t want them (ever, right?).
If you’re concerned with someone trying to guess the combination while you’re away, look into a key locking feature offered on most higher end safe locks. By employing the key locking feature, you’re essentially locking your lock…you prevent any safe crackers from being able to spin the mechanical dial. Very nice feature.
The primary flaw in mechanical locks are their speed, or rather, the lack there of. Anyone who’s ever had a high school locker knows that you need at least a couple of seconds to spin your combination…assuming that you get it right the first time. For this reason, I recommend that anyone who selects a combination lock safe practices to the point that they can open it in their sleep…just in case. Of course, for my money, I’m not looking to invest several thousand dollars in a gun safe because it has the ability to open in a split second. In my house, my full sized safe is in the basement, and chances are, I’m not going to be down there when a home invasion strikes. I’m more than likely going to be in my bed, which is why I have a separate hand gun safe within arm’s reach (no pun intended). That said, combination safes are still the slowest of the three.
The design of a mechanical lock can either make or break you. On one hand, almost any dial lock made by a company like the aforementioned Sargent and Greenleaf is going to provide incredible security. On the other hand, if you get a lock made with shoddy craftsmanship, and untested ratings, you could easily be the victim of a drill attack. Drill attacks are a particularly common method of breaking safes used by many professional burglars, and the lock itself is almost always the main target. A pro thief with the right set of tools could rip through a crap lock in just a couple minutes. If you’re going to go with a combination safe lock, make sure it’s been rated in the UL Group II or higher. UL (Underwriters Labs) offers their coveted endorsement to only the most secure systems.
An electronic safe lock is simply easy to use. We punch numbers into our computers and phones all day, so how could a gun safe protected by an electronic lock be any easier to open (by a biometric scanner, but we’ll get to that in a moment). Most electronic locks open using a four to six number combination entered by a keypad, so as long as you remember the combo, you shouldn’t have any issues opening up one of these in a jiffy. They’re also not terribly expensive. The technology used to govern these locks is becoming cheaper and more mass-produced which is directly reflected in the cost and availability of this option.
They’re very flexible as well. The form factor of many models makes it relatively easy to “upgrade” from a mechanical lock, or downgrade back again. Some of the higher end models, allow you to seamlessly integrate the locking mechanism with your home security/surveillance system. In addition, you can look for features like time delay, multiple user combinations, and penalty lockouts to efficiently secure your belongings.
The combination of speed, ease, and flexibility makes electronic locks safes a formidable alternative to combination locks, but they do have their down sides. The primary negatives associated with electronic locks are due to lazy owners. This may a bit sound ironic, as you’d think that lazier folks would be more interested in a safe that opens with the push of a few buttons. Though this may be the case, safes that open via electronic keypad require a little more TLC.
If you only remember three things, make sure that you change your batteries and combination frequently, and don’t forget the combo. The batteries aren’t quite as big of a deal, but if you happen to be in an unfortunate situation where you actually need a firearm, you want the safe to open. On the bright side, under less urgent measures, most electronic locks will store the combination for 5-10 years in the system – with the presence of batteries or not.
That said, change your combination often. A set of 9 Volt batteries may provide enough juice to open and close your safe a few thousand times. If during all of those times, you punch in the exact same combination, I bet you’ll leave a mark. Even if it’s minute, a burglar with an eye for detail may just be able to gather all of the information he needs to open her up cleanly. Finally, remember your combinations. In many electronic gun safes, there’s no backup plan. If you forget the numbers to open it, you better remember the numbers for your local locksmith.
Just as in the case of combination dial locks, you want to go for quality, preferably a lock that will hold up against aging (check the warranty on the lock/safe as well before purchasing), corrosive salt spray, vibration, moisture damage, and cracking attempts (relocker features). You’ll also want to look for a lock with over a million possible combanations to make things more difficult for your neighborhood safecrackers. If you invest in an electronic lock with a UL Type 1 rating, you’ll be in good shape. Sorry, I know this doesn’t really directly address any cons, I just didn’t know where else to make mention of these rather important characteristics.
What makes a biometric gun safe so appealing are the same characteristics that work for the electronic variety; speed, ease, and flexibility. Biometric safe locks open with the swipe of a finger – literally. They open by reading your fingerprint. It almost goes without saying that this method provides extremely quick access to the contents of the safe, making this a huge selling point for those interested in quickness. Many folks get intimidated by the high tech aura emitting from this lock style, incorrectly assuming that the configuration process will be over their heads. It’s incredibly easy to set one of these up, and the best part is, most higher quality models will allow for the storage of several fingerprints. Multiple storage will allow you to provide rapid access for both yourself, and the rest of your household. This redundancy can also give you the ability to store access for multiple fingers.
Honestly, you can’t open a gun safe any faster than with a biometric lock. Several models, like the S&G 6120, 6123, and Z02 series make the biometric keypad available as an add on to an electronic lock, offering the ultimate in swift failover protection. Bottom line – fingerprint readers are quick, and you don’t have to remember anything (as long as you take your gloves off).
They aren’t 100% reliable. Combination locks are slow, and electronic keypad models are subject to a lot of wear and tear, but with them, you can almost always be certain that what the combination you enter, is the combination received. Though a biometric safe lock doesn’t use a combination per se, it matches fingerprint patterns against the algorithm that you configured when you set it up. Though the margin of error is very small, it’s still existent. This means that there’s a small chance that you won’t be able to access the safe when you need or, or a burglar may just get lucky (read understanding a fingerprint gun safe for more information). Perhaps I’m being over anal…perhaps I am, but nevertheless, it’s something to consider.
If you’re willing to look past my personal hang ups, you’ll also need to prepare yourself to spend a little extra money on a fingerprint reader. In addition, not all safes offer biometric locks as a standard option. Though you’ll likely be able to change it out yourself or with the paid help of a professional, it could be a deal breaker right out of the gate.
There’s your information, folks. Get out there and make an informed decision!