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  • Writer's pictureNick Giglio

Mechanical Dial Lock vs. Digital Lock

Should I get a mechanical lock or a digital lock? That is one of the most frequently asked questions for consumers looking to buy their first safe. As the nation’s largest specialized safe and vault moving and logistics company, we have experience with every lock manufacturer in the industry. Ultimately, which type of lock you need depends on what your priorities are and how you are going to be using your safe. Both mechanical locks and digital locks have advantages and disadvantages. The largest manufacturers in the industry, like Liberty Safe, Browning Prosteel, and American Security, are going to offer both mechanical and digital locks for their safes. However, most safes produced today come standard with digital locks. Securam, Sargent Greenleaf, and LaGard make some of the most common locks. Let’s explore the pros and cons of both.

Pros of Mechanical Dial Locks

  • Longer Life Span – Simply put, mechanical locks don’t use the perishable components digital locks do. A quality mechanical lock can easily last the lifespan of the purchaser, maybe longer. In The Nick of Time Moving gets requests across the country to move safes that are 100 years old sometimes where the old school mechanical dial still works. These locks truly stand the test of time.

  • Reliability – With a design that has changed little over the last few decades, manufacturers really have these locks… dialed in, you could say. The fail rate of mechanical locks is virtually nonexistent. That is a huge selling point for a lot of consumers.

  • Esthetics – For some, functionality isn’t the priority, but rather its look. In truth, it’s really hard to beat the classic look and feel of using a mechanical dial lock to open your safe.

Cons of Mechanical Dial Locks

  • Confusing Operation – When we deliver our customer’s safes, we always do a quick tutorial on the locking components, key warranty, and maintenance recommendations. With mechanical locks, most people tend to think of the old padlocks, like the one they used on their gym locker in high school or maybe the one they used on the storage unit down the street. Those padlocks typically have a simple three number sequence of right-left-right. In contrast, the mechanical lock outfitted on your gun safe will have a four number sequence that starts with four revolutions left, three revolutions right, two revolutions left, and lastly one revolution right to end somewhere around 85-87.

  • Time – Based on the sequence detailed above, if your priority is being able to get into your safe with a sense of urgency, a mechanical lock may not be for you.

Pros of Digital Locks

  • Speed – For many people with children, the gun safe is where their home defense firearm is located and not under the bed or bedside table. In the event of a break in, time is of the essence. You need to get to your firearm, and you need it quickly. Most customers can open their digital lock in under 5 seconds.

  • Ease of Use – If you are in a high-stress situation like a break in or a fire, ease of use is important and calmly executing the sequence of a mechanical dial lock can be very challenging.

  • Combination Resets – Digital locks allow the owner to easily change the combination as many times as they want and, sometimes, add multiple combinations that can be audited over time. In contrast, we strongly recommend only allowing a trained locksmith to change the combination of a mechanical lock.

Cons of Digital Locks

  • Life Span – Digital locks have come a long way. Our experience shows if we don’t catch an issue with the lock when we do our quality inspection at the store, you likely won’t have any issues either. That said, digital locks have a much shorter life expectancy. We recommend changing your digital lock every two or three years for high volume use, like once a day or multiple times a day. If you only use your safe every few weeks, you’re safe to wait five to seven years before changing your digital lock.

  • Battery Operated – Most digital locks are rated for at least three thousand entries under the right conditions. However, if you don’t change the battery at the right time, you may not be able to open your safe. It’s also important to note that you may see a light and hear a chirp while still not having enough juice to throw the swing bolt. We recommend changing it once a year as a good rule.

It can be difficult choosing which lock is best for you, but we recommend evaluating what factors are most important to you and your family. If the ultimate priority is reliability, then maybe a mechanical lock is for you. However, we have seen great success in the last decade with digital locks, and they shouldn’t be seen as taboo as they once were. In our modern world, ease of use and speed tend to be the most valued features.


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