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November 28th, 2014

Word to the Wise — Replace Gun Safe Keypad Batteries

Gunsafe safe keypad control battery batteriesGot a gunsafe with an electronic keypad? Is the battery more than a year old? Then you should replace it right away. Don’t procrastinate!

Here’s an important reminder for readers who have digital keypad entry systems on their gun safes. If you have a safe with an electronic keypad, you should replace the battery every year as a precautionary measure.

Here’s a true story. I have one safe with a Sargent & Greenleaf (S&G) keypad. Last December, I went to get into the safe. Punched in the combination, but all I got was a rapid “beep, beep, beep, beep” after I finished the last combination entry. I tried again to ensure I entered the combination correctly (I did). But again, the locking system responded with multiple rapid beeps indicating something was wrong. And the safe would not open. Now I was worried….

I popped out the battery holder (which slides in from the bottom of the keypad housing on the door). I removed the battery and tested it with a volt-meter. The year-old Duracell 9v only registered 6.1 volts.

Low voltage was the problem. I went down to the store and got a couple new 9V batteries. I tested the new batteries and both measured 9.4 volts output. I slipped one of the new 9V batteries into the keypad housing, punched in the combination and everything worked OK again. Eureka.

Most electronic locks for safes WILL “remember” the combination for a period of time even when the battery is low (and the keypad’s “brain” should retain the combination when you remove the battery for replacement). However, a dead battery, or extended periods of low voltage can give you problems. Don’t rely on wishful thinking…

If the battery on your safe is more than a year old, or if it is not giving you the right voltage, replace it today!

My Sargent & Greenleaf (S&G) keypad takes one (1) 9v battery. The version below takes two. Note how the battery compartment slides in from the bottom:

safe battery gunsafe sargent greenleaf
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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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July 28th, 2013

New Dual-Access Safe Lock: Electronic Keypad with Dial Override

We are often asked, “Which is better for a gun safe — an electronic lock or a dial lock?” We actually like both kinds of locks — depending on the application. We review the pros and cons of both electronic and mechanical locks in our comprehensive Gun Safe Buyers Guide. A digital keypad lock provides quick entry, while a quality, commercial-grade dial lock can deliver decades of reliable service, with no worries about dead batteries or worn-out keypads.

New Dual-Access Electronic + Dial Locking System
Until recently you had to choose one or the other — Electronic Lock or Dial Lock. But imagine if you could have the best of both worlds — keypad speed plus dial lock dependability. Well Cannon Safe has finally made that possible. Cannon is now offering a Dual-Access Combination Lock on its higher-end safes (Armory Series, Cannon Series, Commander Series). Cannon is currently the only safe company with a combined digital/mechanical lock system. Cannon’s new EMP dual-access lock offers rapid access, simplicity and day-to-day security of an electronic lock backed up by the assurance of a manual (rotary dial) combination lock.

gunsafe lock cannon safe emp dual access dial lock keypad

Watch Demo of EMP Dual-Access Lock on Cannon Safe

gunsafe lock cannon safe emp dual access dial lock keypadNOTE: The EMP dual-access lock is NOT available as an upgrade to older safes (yet). It is currently available with new Armory Series, Cannon Series, and Commander Series Cannon-made safes.

Cannon Safe’s President, Aaron Baker, declares: “Cannon’s EMP lock is the cutting edge of high security lock technology. It allows the … ease and security of a Type 1 high security lock with the peace of mind of a mechanical override, all of this rolled into the ultimate UL Type 1 rating. This is a huge step forward for safes and for the experience a safe owner will have in the future.” To learn more about the EMP Safe Locking System, visit www.cannonsafe.com.

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January 24th, 2010

SHOT Show Report: Innovative GunSafes from Browning and Pendleton

Among the many brands of gunsafes on display at SHOT Show 2010, two series of safes caught our attention. Browning’s new Tactical MK II safes possess many smart features, such as rubber-coated shelves and built-in LED lighting, that we’d like to see as ‘standard equipment’ on other safes. The Browning Tactical safes even offer handy Picatinny rail sections on the bottom of the upper shelves, so you can securely stow optics or rail-mounted accessories when not in use. Check out the video below, which showcases the unique features of the 60″x30″ Browning Tactical MKII safe.

YouTube Preview Image

Pendleton circular gunsafeCylindrical High-Security Safes from Pendleton
Pendleton drew crowds with its innovative line-up of cylindrical safes. A Pendleton Safe looks like a large vertical water heater clad in heavy steel. Pendletons feature a fairly narrow front door with a multi-level, rotating gun storage carousel inside.

The big advantage of the Pendleton safes is that they are very, very resistent to pry-bar attacks. The door gap is just .090″ (ninety thousandths) making it very hard to insert a prybar. The safe’s curved sides offer no entry points for prybars, and if a thief manages to tilt the safe over, it just rolls when leverage is applied to a prybar. The doors feature a patented cam locking mechanism and a commercial grade blocking plate to prevent drill attacks. Notable were the number of locking “bolts” — actually rectangular locking tabs of solid 1/4″ steel, providing 54 square inches of locking surface (compared to 4-8 sq. inches on bargain Costco/Walmart safes). Where some cheaper safes may have only three locking bolts on one side of the entry door, the 72″ Pendleton has 14 locking “tabs”, arrayed on the left AND right door sides (seven per side). A very impressive new safe, the Pendleton offers exclusive, patented security features, along with quality fabrication by a well-known, US-based commercial safe manufacturer.

YouTube Preview Image
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July 19th, 2009

Gunvault Introduces New, Portable MicroVault

MicroVault Gun SafeA handgun is useless for home defense unless it is readily accessible in an emergency. At that same time, you must keep handguns safely secured from children and curious house guests. The “loaded .45 under the pillow” is a bad idea. There are many small handgun safes on the market, but most are still too large to be placed at arm’s reach, but out of sight, inside a dresser drawer or bedside table drawer.

Gunvault’s new MicroVault, measuring 11″ x 8 1/2″ x 2 1/4″, is ideal for bedside table installations. It can be secured via four bolt holes in the bottom. Using the No-Eyes® Keypad, a special set of finger-activated push-pads, the MicroVault can be unlocked in under three seconds — we’ve tested this ourselves. It is a reliable set-up that is much faster than using a key or spinning a combo lock. The finger-slot system also works in the dark, unlike most electronic numeric keypads.

MicroVault Gun Safe

MicroVault for Vehicle Applications
There are also situations where you want to transport a handgun in a locked case, but still want to be able to access the weapon in seconds. The new MicroVault serves that purpose well. In many states, it is illegal to carry a handgun in your vehicle unless it is in a locked container. (This assumes you do NOT have a separate concealed carry license.) But if that lockbox has a conventional hasp lock or combination lock with small tumblers, you’re not going to be able to access the weapon in a hurry. With the Microvault, your gun can be secured in the glove box or center console, yet still be accessed in seconds by pressing the right combination of fingers. LEGAL NOTE: In some jurisdictions handguns must be in a locked container in a remote part of the vehicle (e.g. backseat or the trunk), not immediately accessible by the driver. CHECK YOUR LOCAL LAWS.

If you need to transport a handgun, the MicroVault also serves as a secure, locked container that will fit inside a backpack or attache case. The standard MicroVault (model MV500) is available from vendors such as SportCo Warehouse for about $90.00. There is also a “biometric” version that works by reading your fingerprint. Potentially, the biometric MicroVault (model MVB500) offers the fastest access of all. It retails for about $175.00.

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