December 7th, 2013

Electronic vs. Dial Locks on Gunsafes

gunsafe gun safeGunsafes can be fitted with either an electronic keypad-style lock, or a conventional dial lock. In our Gunsafe Buyer’s Guide, we explain the important features of both dial and electronic lock systems. Many safe-makers will tell you that consumers prefer electronic locks for convenience. On the other hand, most of the locksmiths we’ve polled believe that the “old-fashioned” dial locks, such as the Sargent & Greenleaf model 6730, will be more reliable in the long run.

Here is the opinion of RFB from Michigan. He is a professional locksmith with over two decades of experience servicing locks and safes of all brands and types:

What a Professional Locksmith Says:
For the convenience of quick opening, the electronic locks can’t be beat. However, for endurance and years of trouble-free use, the electronics can’t compare with the dial lock.

I’ve earned my living, the past 22 years, servicing locks of all types. This includes opening safes that can’t otherwise be opened. I do warranty work for several safe manufacturers (including Liberty). What I’ve learned in all those years is that manual dial locks have very few problems. The most common is a loose dial ring which can shift either left or right, which will result in the index point being in the wrong place for proper tumbler alignment. This is simple to fix.

Electronic locks, however, can have all kinds of issues, and none (except bad key-pad) are easy to fix, and when one goes bad, it must be drilled into to open it. IMO, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ an electronic lock will ultimately fail, but a matter of ‘when’ it will fail. Over the past 10 years or so, since electronics have become more and more prevalent, I’ve had to drill open bad electronic locks vs. bad manual dial locks on a ratio of about 20-1.

My professional opinion is to get the manual dial lock, unless you’ve got a good friend who is a locksmith/safecracker.

How Secure is Your Lock?
RFB tells us that both dial and electronic locks offer good security, provided it’s a good quality lock made by LaGard, Sargent & Greenleaf, Amsec, or Kaba/Ilco. However, RFB warns that “Some of the ‘cheaper’ locks (both manual and electronic) however, are very simple to bypass.

An electronic lock that’s glued or ‘stuck’ to the door with double-sided tape, and has its ‘brain’ on the outside of the lock in the same housing as the keypad, and merely sends power to an inner solenoid via a pair of wires through the door, is a thief’s best friend. The good ones have the brain inside the safe, inaccessible from the outside.

No amateur can ‘manipulate’ either a good manual or electronic lock. Both give you a theoretical one million possible combinations. I say ‘theoretical’ because there are many combinations that cannot, or should not, be used. You wouldn’t set your combo on a dial lock to 01-01-01 etc., nor would you set an electronic to 1-1-1-1-1-1, or 1-2-3-4-5-6.”

Tips for Dial Locks
RFB notes that “The speed, and ease of use, of a manual dial lock can be improved upon, simply by having your combo reset using certain guidelines. Avoid high numbers above 50. Having a 1st number in the 40s, 2nd number anywhere from 0-25, and 3rd number between 25 and 35 will cut dialing time in half, without compromisuing security. (For mechanical reasons I won’t get into here, the 3rd number of a good manual dial lock cannot — or should not — be set to any number between 95 & 20).”

Tips for Electronic Locks
Electronic locks can have the combination changed by the user much more easily than dial locks. But, RFB explains: “That can be a double-edged sword. More than a few times I’ve had to drill open a safe with an electronic lock that has had the combo changed incorrectly by the user, resulting in an unknown number that nobody can determine. Also, don’t forget that electronic locks have a ‘wrong-number lock-out’. I would NOT rely on the normal quickness of an electronic 6-number combo in an emergency situation. If for any reason (panic etc.) you punch in the wrong number several times, the lock will shut down for a 5-minute ‘penalty’.

LaGard electronic locks all come from the assembly line set to 1-2-3-4-5-6. Most safe companies (Granite-Winchester is one) leave it at that, and either the retailer or the end user must reset it. My local Walmart store had those same Winchester safes on display, and one day I was in the sporting goods section near the safe display, and another customer asked the Walmart employee if she could open the safe so he could look inside. She said “no, sorry, I don’t have the combination handy”. I walked over, never said a word… just punched in 1-2-3-4-5-6, turned the handle opening the door, and walked away… again not saying a word. They both just looked at me… dumbfounded that I could open it like that.

To get the most life out of that LaGard [or other electronic lock], you should change the battery at least once a year, whether it needs it or not. Low voltage won’t necessarily shut down the lock, but using it in a low voltage situation is bad for the electronics, and eventually will cause lock failure. C’mon, how much does a 9-volt Duracell cost? A few bucks is a good investment.”

IMPORTANT: If you do nothing else to maintain your digital-lock safe, replace the battery every year. And get a fresh battery (with a release date) from the store — don’t just pull a battery out of a storage bin, even if it’s never been used. Old batteries can degrade, even when in storage.

Safe Warranties — What is NOT Covered
RFB cautions that “With most gunsafes the ‘free repair/replacement’ warranty covers the lock only… not the door of the safe, which will have some holes drilled through it to remove that bad lock. The only proper way to repair those holes is to weld them. I don’t know about you, but most of my customers don’t like welding done inside their home, and the safe must be moved outside. Warranties typically won’t cover that moving cost if your safe is in a difficult to move outside location. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that.”

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December 7th, 2013

Benefits of Sound Suppressors Demonstrated in Surefire Video

If you are considering purchasing a sound moderator (aka “suppressor” or “can”) for one or more of your rifles, a video from Surefire explains the many benefits of modern suppressors. Sound moderators not only reduce the audible sound coming from a firearm, but they also reduce flash signature, dust signature, and recoil.

Surefire Suppressor

In the video below, Surefire highlights the features and benefits of its line of quick-attach suppressors. These are crafted from special alloys that are “stronger at 1000° F than stainless steel is cold.” While the video focuses on the use of suppressors by military and police personnel, these devices are also beneficial for hunters and competitive tactical shooters.

YouTube Preview Image

Noise Reduction
A shot from a .308 Win rifle can be as loud as 167 db to the shooter. Notably, the noise level can be just as great to someone positioned one meter away (Source: 1999 Finish Suppressor Trials). What’s worse is that popular muzzle brakes can INCREASE shooters’ noise exposure by 5 to 10 db. The noise level at which hearing damage can occur is about 140 db. A quality modern suppressor can reduce .308 Win rifle shot noise levels to 130 db or less.

Finland Suppressor Test Trials

Surefire SuppressorFlash Signature Reduction
For a varminter, a quality suppressor can reduce the visible muzzle flash from a rifle by 90% or more. That’s important when hunting at night. The bright flash can both spook game and temporarily degrade the hunters’ night vision. Using a suppressor can help the shooter maintain his night-adapted vision.

Recoil Reduction
Recoil reduction is a real benefit. In 1992, Finland’s National Board of Labor Protection tested a variety of suppressors on both bolt-action hunting rifles and select-fire military rifles. The study concluded that recoil reduction was significant: “Suppressors reduced recoil energy by 20 to 30 percent, or about as must as muzzle brakes, making powerful bolt-action hunting rifles considerably less painful to shoot (especially repeated shots in training).”

Dust Signature
When firing prone, a rifle with a muzzle brake kicks up a large cloud of dust. (Watch video at 3:00). In a military situation, this dust signature can reveal the shooter’s position — with potentially disastrous consequences. For a tactical competitor, the dust may prevent recognition of a hit while impeding a rapid second-shot. For the varminter, the dust cloud is a nuisance that may prevent him from seeing his hits, while sending critters scurrying back into cover.

Message to Politicians — Suppressors Will Save Tax Dollars
Here is an interesting finding from the 1992 Finland Suppressor Project: “The unit price of a mass-produced suppressor may be reduced to $50 to $70 (1992 prices). [This low cost] will make cost-effectiveness of the suppressor far better than that of any shooting range [sound-proofing]… and, actually, also better than the cost-effectiveness of hearing protection, especially when several persons are present while just one of them is shooting at a time.” Too bad most politicians can’t seem to understand these points. They still view suppressors as evil tools employed by gangsters, rather than proven safety devices that will reduce noise pollution.

Is the “price of noise” something we really need to consider from a public policy standpoint? Absolutely. In 2004 the Veterans Administration paid out $633.8 million in compensation to 378,982 vets whose main disability is hearing loss. Only a small fraction of those vets saw combat; most damaged their hearing during weapons training activities.

Resources:
Finnish Suppressor Trials 1999 Chart
Finnish Suppressor Trials 1999 (.308 Sound Measurements)
Finnish Suppressor Project 1992 (English Summary)
Finnish Suppressor Project 1992 Procedures

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