Changing Manual Locks to Electronic Keypad Safe Locks | Northwest Safe

Changing Manual Locks to Electronic Keypad Safe Locks


It’s possible to replace an electric keypad with a manual lock in nearly all cases, or vice versa. This is because most high-quality and US made are typically outfitted with a “magic module” footprint for the lock unit. Because most UL Listed locks bolt onto this footprint, UL Listed electric locks and UL listed manual locks can be exchanged.

However, it’s important to note that we sometimes have to slightly modify a few of the mechanism components and the face of the safe to accept a lock. In nearly all instances, this is doable and the finished product looks factory installed. 

Why Would You Replace Your Safe’s Lock?

There are pros and cons to guns safes with a combination lock and those with a digital lock. Depending on your needs and how you use your gun safe, the pros of one lock mechanism could outweigh the cons of the other. Let’s explore:

Electronic Lock

Keypad Locks & Biometric Fingerprint Locks

Pros of Electric Locks:

  • Sleek, Modern Look — These high-tech digital gun safe locks offer a contemporary look.

  • Quick Access — Digital locks are often praised for their quick access capabilities. This is particularly true of biometric fingerprint locks that can be opened with the swipe of a finger. 

  • Ease of Use — Keypad locks and biometric locks are undoubtedly easier to use.

  • Easily Customizable Combinations — Digital locks allow owners to more easily re-set their combination and in some cases provide unique combinations to separate individuals. 

Cons of Electric Locks:

  • Battery Operated — If the battery fails and you need to open your safe quickly, replacing the battery would slow-down your access. 

  • EMP Rating — Some models carry an EMP rating. (These are the same units that our military uses). However, lower-end electric locks often won’t and could become inoperable in the event an EMP was detonated. 

  • Life Expectancy — Because an electronic lock is an electric component, the life expectancy is shorter than a manual lock. 

Dial gun safe lock

Dial Locks

Pro of a Dial Lock:

  • Reliability — Dial locks haven’t changed much in the last 30 years. The design is ultra-reliable. So, why mess with a good thing?

  • Longevity — Unlike electric parts, dial parts are mechanical and offer a much longer lifespan. If you treat a dial lock well, it could last as long as your lifetime.

  • Old School Elegance — For many gun safe owners, the classic look of a dial lock offers matches their decor, making it a better addition to their home. 

  • Customized Color Schemes — In years past, dial locks typically came in a standard silver or gold/brass finish. But today, you can easily customize the dial ring and numbers to adjust the aesthetics and make it easier to see. 

  • Added Security Feature — In the event an unwanted individual gains access to your code, you can lock your dial lock so that it can’t be turned until a technician is onsite to change the combination.

Cons of a Dial Lock:

  • Difficult to Use — A dial lock is undoubtedly harder to operate then an electronic gun safe lock. Even individuals who have been using a dial lock for decades run into issues operating their dial lock. 

  • Complicated Operations — Dial locks have both a combination and a specific sequence for imputing the combination. We frequently get calls from owners who have forgotten their combination, sequence or have transposed the numbers of their combination. 

  • Quick Access — It takes 5-7 seconds for most folks to open the average electronic lock. In comparison, it takes the typical gun safe owner with a dial 15-30 seconds to open their safe.

  • Additional Maintenance — Like the engine of a car, dial locks require regular maintenance to ensure they are operating correctly. In addition to regularly checking for metal shavings, you’ll want to make sure the dial bushing is greased regularly and the wheel packs are checked to ensure the combination has stayed centered.

Gun Safe Lock FAQs & Tips

Never Snap or Quickly Spin Your Dial Lock

Snapping or flicking your dial faster than 45 rpm (which is about 1 revolution per every 1.5 seconds) will prematurely wear out your lock causing it not to open. The combination wheel packs drift to a different number as a result of the abuse. This requires a technician to come out to gain access to the safe and repair the lock.

Replace Your Battery Yearly

We receive phone calls weekly from gun safe owners reporting that their electronic lock won’t open. The most common reason an electronic lock won't open is because the battery doesn’t have enough charge to operate the lock — even if it still has enough juice for the lock to chirp and light up. 

This is why we recommend replacing your battery yearly with a brand new, high-quality Duracell battery with an expiration date of 4-5 years from the date you are installing the battery. Learn more about why the battery you use matters.

Changing a Gun Safe Lock

Always Have Your Lock Installed and Serviced by a Professional Gun Safe Technician

Whether you have an electric lock or a mechanical lock, we strongly recommend you have it installed and serviced by a professional. If it’s not installed correctly, you could be locked out of your safe. These mistakes include:

  • Not Retaining the Relocker Properly — The relocker in your safe has to be retained properly while it’s being serviced. If it is not, the relocker will lock you out of your safe and you will need to hire a safe technician with a specialized drill rig to help you regain access. This is a very costly service procedure and repair.  

  • Not Following the Combination Setting Process — There’s a detailed dial combination setting process when a new lock is being installed. If you complete this process incorrectly, you will be locked out of your safe. 

  • Ensuring the Cables are Properly Routed — This is essential for electronic locks. If the cables are not routed correctly, your lock may not work or it could fail due to a chaffed wire. 

  • Voiding Your Warranty — If you service or replace a lock yourself, in most cases it will void your lock warranty.

What if Your Lock is Exposed to Fire Damage?

Especially in recent years, we’ve seen more and more safes exposed to fire. In most cases, both dial locks and keypad locks melt off the front of the safe. Don’t worry. A good gun safe technician has you covered. 

They know where to drill, cut, and manipulate the safe mechanism to allow you to gain access to your safe without damaging the items inside your safe. Learn more about fire resistant safes and how to protect your valuables from forest fires. 

Schedule a Service Repair to Have Your Dial Lock Update

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