Safe Locks: Types & How They Work
Safe Locks: Types & How They Work

When it comes to keeping your prized, valuable possessions secure, you want to have faith that your safe is ready for all of the elements. When choosing a safe, it is important to consider what you are going to put inside, along with who you are trying to keep out.

Locks' formation and uses have evolved over time. As our technological prowess grows, so does the lock's capacity to protect and conceal. Conventional combination and key locks are the oldest in the long history of safes. Now, they are generally only used as backup systems for the more high-tech options favored in today's market.

Electronic locks have become more reliable and readily available. They allow the safe owner to keep an eye on their valuables, even when they are worlds away.

Electronic locks are an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of locking options to fit a variety of needs. Some of these locks include the classic touchpad and the smart biometric lock.

As we rely more heavily on smartphones and their ever-evolving capabilities, from controlling the thermostat of our homes to tracking our health, the smartphone-enabled lock has become the first choice of many.

Let's review the six locks that are available today and that are most commonly seen in home environments.

Standard Pin and Tumbler

Locks: Past to Present

Opening a textbook on Ancient Egypt will likely reveal pictures of jewels, gold, and tombs stored deep within the Pyramids. This "Birthplace of Civilization" along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers didn't just lead to complex writing and social structures.

About 4,000 years ago, Nineveh, Egypt was the birthplace of the lock. This cleverly engineered pivotal lock form would eventually become a pin tumbler lock. Later, Ancient Romans would wear locks on their rings that kept their precious items tucked safely away.

The locks of antiquity were made of wood or wood with some metal accents. It wouldn't be until England in 870 that the first all-metal locking system would appear. Years later, the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries would usher in locks that more closely resemble the ones we rely on today.

The Standard Pin and Tumbler Today

The standard pin and tumbler lock is a mechanical lock that can be opened with a specifically-crafted key; however, safes with key locks only are now largely considered unnecessarily burdensome given the other options available.

Fumbling for keys or even losing them can be an inconvenience and require a call to your locksmith. There is something to be said for their technical reliability, which is the reason that digital locking home safes often have a key as a backup measure.

How Does the Pin and Tumbler Work?

As you insert your key into the cylinder of your pin and tumbler lock, the bottom pins are pressed away from the tumbler to specific lengths.

When all the pins are evenly pressed against the plug retainer, this is called the "shear line."

When the pins are in the correct positions, you can turn the locking mechanism that will turn the bolt to open the safe. If you decide to rekey your pin and tumbler lock, you must replace the bottom pins that match your new key. If they do not match, the shear line won't form, and the safe will not open.

The Combination Lock

Think about the enormous, highly armored vault at your local bank, and its mechanical dial lock mechanisms might come to mind. Many safes still use this turn-dial locking mechanism.

Despite their prevalence, combination locks have a relatively short history. New York native Linus Yale invented this lock type in 1862.

How Does the Combination Lock Work?

Combination locks often use a three-digit code, turning the dial left, right, then left. The dial is connected to a spindle that, when turned, will turn the drive cam. The drive cam will move the drive pin. If the code is correct, the drive pin will hit the wheel fly resulting in the other wheels spinning in a perfect pattern.

If the combo is correct all the wheel notches will line up, and the lock will open.

The Electronic Lock

Fifty years ago safes started becoming less blocky and less dull. Modern safes are designed with sophisticated locks and beautiful designs that can match any space.

The Push-Button Keypad

Electronic keypad entries have improved throughout the years. They are so reliable that they are becoming the standard in safe locks. This keypad has even been integrated into the quintessential wall safe.

Push-button keypad locks are designed for simplicity and grace. With the evolution of technology, modern electronic lock safes like the Mycube Classic feature backlit keypads and internal lights, combining ease with comfort.

How Does the Push-Button Keypad Work?

A simple exterior aesthetic does not mean a simple interior mechanism.

Push-button keypad locks are opened by entering a 4-6 digit code, which engages the locking mechanism to open the safe door.

Changing your security code is as fast and easy as opening your safe's lock. Be mindful when picking a combination: birthdays, anniversaries, and addresses are the most commonly guessed.

Keypads require batteries; most use 4 AA batteries with a life of up to 12 months. Changing batteries once a year is a critical aspect of maintaining the 24/7 functionality of your safe.

The Biometric Lock

Biometric sounds complicated but is perhaps the most user-friendly and easiest to open.

Thankfully, technology does all the work bringing you one-touch access to your most treasured valuables. The biometric lock is reliable; it is neither threatened by a lost key nor a forgotten passcode. By swapping keys and codes for a simple fingerprint, the biometric lock provides fast and easy access to the items inside.

How Do Biometric Locks Work?

Biometric locks can only be opened through authorized fingerprint access offering protection from intruders. Unlike other lock types, a biometric lock is impossible to replicate or copy.

A biometric lock works by accessing the ridges and valley pattern of your fingerprint. Since no two fingerprints are alike, the minutiae matching process can tell even identical twins apart.

The Biocube Professional is a gun safe with a biometric lock - the most secure way to store your valuables. This safe is programmable for up to 10 fingerprints, providing access to anyone who would need it.

As an example, for owners with a firearm collection, safety and speed of access are the most important aspects. Safes with biometric locks allow the peace of mind that the responsible gun owner deserves.

A Smartphone-Enabled Lock

Popular culture has given rise to the saying, "There's an app for that."

That witty phrase goes perfectly with home safes such as smartphone-enabled safes like the iCube.

Advances in modern technology have brought us to the current security revolution. With smartphone-enabled locks, you will have remote access at your fingertips.

The iCube's locking mechanism is not powered by BlueTooth or Wi-Fi currently (although a WiFi version is coming out this summer). The iCube connects to Mycube's secure cellular cloud, granting you access to your safe from virtually anywhere.

Once the app is downloaded, you control your entire safe through your smartphone.

These features include:

  • An inventory list of your keepsakes that lets you know what has been recently removed or added to your safe.
  • The ability to keep track of the complete history of events.
  • Alerts if your safe is opened or even moved, and reminders if you forget to close your safe.

Safety Features First

Every lock type is unique, and every safe has a unique purpose. For instance, some safes call for fire protection while others need to be hidden. Even if your safe is out of sight, it is never out of mind.

Choosing a safe is more than just choosing a size (although size can certainly be critical). Safes are the sum of their parts, including the specific lock type.

Whether you are in the market for your first locked safe or are looking to upgrade, you can find a safe lock that fits your needs and lifestyle with confidence.


combination lock | device | Britannica

The History of Locks | ThoughtCo

How Do Locks Work? | Science ABC

Fingerprint Enhancement, Minutiae Extraction and Matching Techniques | SCRIP