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Are Mechanical Locks Reliable for Your Gun Safe?

Everything You Need to Know About Mechanical Locks

You’re looking to buy a safe, but you’re not sure whether to get one with a mechanical lock, or an electronic lock. Asking yourself these 4 questions can help make your decision easier:

  1. How reliable are mechanical locks?
  2. What do I do if I forget my combination?
  3. Can I change my combination?
  4. Do I need a lock that comes with a key?

How Reliable Are Mechanical Locks?

Mechanical locks have been around for a very long time. That means we’ve had plenty of time to get it right. As a result, locks from reputable brands like Sargent & Greenleaf and LaGard are incredibly reliable.

Mechanical locks don’t rely on batteries or electronic components, so you never have to worry about them being “turned off” or “out of power.” High quality mechanical locks (like those that are UL-listed) are also built with precise, durable parts, so you can keep that dial turning for years.

That said, problems do occasionally crop up. Most reputable safe brands come with a warranty on the lock, at least for the first year.

What Do I Do If I Forget My Combination?

Remember in school when you’d come back to class after the winter break and, since you hadn’t used it in two weeks, you couldn’t remember your locker combination? Yeah, well that’s still sometimes a problem with a grown-up “locker.”

The good news is that many safe manufacturers will have your combination on file. This isn’t guaranteed. But if you forget your combo, call up the safe company and see if they can help. You’ll obviously have to provide verification that you are who you say you are. After all, the company can’t make it easy for thieves to get any combo.

When you get in your safe, you may want to write your combination down and put it somewhere safe... just not in your safe. And don’t leave it somewhere a burglar might find while snooping through your house while you’re gone.

Can I Change My Combination?

One of the advantages of e-locks is the ability to change the combination on a whim. You can reprogram the keypad to accept a different number sequence at any time. Mechanical locks are a little more difficult. The correct combination is determined by the settings of the tumblers inside the lock. Because of this, it takes an experienced locksmith to change it.

In other words, the combination to your mechanical lock likely isn’t going to be changing. If you really want to make the combo something easier to remember, you can call a locksmith and have them set it to something new. Just be aware that when you change it, the manufacturer won’t have a record of that new combo. If you forget your combination after that, you’re in real trouble.

Pro Tip: It’s a good idea to contact the safe company before you change your mechanical lock combo. They can help you find an authorized locksmith, which offers two benefits. First, using an unauthorized locksmith can sometimes void your lock warranty with the safe company. Using their recommended locksmith should help keep your warranty intact. And second, it can also help ensure that you’re using a good locksmith. Once you're done, contact your manufacturer again to tell them what your combination has been changed to, so they can keep it on record.

Do I Need a Lock with a Key?

When you’re talking about mechanical locks, there are two kinds of safe keys. There are override keys that actually lock and unlock the safe. These locks can either be very secure or a serious flight risk, depending on the quality of lock that you buy. Always look for a UL-listed lock.

The other kind of key works a little differently. These dial keys enable you to use what’s called the “day lock” feature. This is used by retailers to set the dial in the unlocked position, and keep it there. That way, they can show off the safe to customers without having to remember the combination and open it 30 times throughout the day.

Similarly, home users can use the day lock feature to lock the dial when they’re getting in and out of the safe several times in rapid succession, for example, when they’re cleaning their gun collection. Be aware, though: The day lock feature is NOT intended for extended use. The dial locks are easily picked (because they weren’t designed with security in mind), so don’t trust the safety of your possessions to it if you plan on leaving the house. Once you’re done accessing the safe, lock it normally by closing it up and turning the dial.

Which Should I Choose?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want the reliability, look and feel of a mechanical lock?
  • Will I ever need to get into the safe quickly, or in the dark? If so an electronic lock may be a better choice for you.
  • Will I ever need to change the combination?
  • Am I willing to spend an $100 to $300 for an electronic lock?

These questions will help you determine if a mechanical or electronic lock is right for you.

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