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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

Safes vs. Lockboxes

by Ralph January 14, 2016

When it comes to securing valuables there are endless ways to go about planning and a plethora of products that you could buy. However, every once in awhile there are some protections that come along, which seem to do the same things. In this case, we are talking about safes and lockboxes. Where do they fall on the spectrum of security? How close are they in terms of the protections they provide? How vague are these umbrella terms? Once we understand what both safes and lockboxes are, we will be able to better understand the protections they provide us. Together we can decide if one is better than the other, and what we need to consider before buying.


One of the most important things to remember about safes is that not all safes are created equal. When it comes to the protection that a safe provides there are many factors that need to be considered. What is the steel content of both the door and the body? How was the safe welded together? What were the fire and burglary standards that the safe was tested under? How is the bolt work assembled? Is there a warranty? And where is the product made? For more on those questions, you can check out our past article on the best safe companies. Once you have a quality safe, we can begin to talk about the protection it offers and the hurdles they can create. First off, your safe should not be easily accessible. Hiding your safe will make protect your valuables, and hiding your safe will protect the safe.

It will be up to you whether you would like a combination dial or a digital lock. A combination dial will be the slowest of the two choices. Once you get the hang of the combination, you should be able to get it open pretty quickly, but even without a stressor, it will still take longer than typing in the combination on a digital lock. A combination dial, if expertly manipulated with no rush of adrenaline, might take as long as 15 seconds to open. With an electronic lock, you should be getting into the safe, ideally in two to three seconds. Safes work off the idea that when your valuables are placed inside, they will remain there until you decide to remove them. Safes are of course not perfect. If you were to forget your code or lose access to your safe controls, due to something like an EMP or some other mechanical failing, a safe can still be opened. At this point, we know that all safes can fail and that all safes can open. The quality of your safe will determine how easy and often it will fail, and how easy it will be to open without the combination.


  • Potential for a high level of protection
  • Lower need for concealment


  • High cost
  • Long entry time



A lockbox is technically a type of safe, but it has several key differences. There are two main types of lockboxes: A standard lockbox and a personal protection box. The idea behind both of them is to be small and easy to access. Something like a standard lockbox will need to be opened very frequently. This may be used to hold money during an informal outdoor sale, ie. garage sale, bake sale, swap meet, etc. A personal protection box is essentially a lockbox that is meant to hold a gun. Specifically, a personal protection box is going to keep a gun out of the hands of children, but not secure it to the point where it cannot be quickly retrieved. Where a standard lockbox may

Where a standard lockbox may open with a key or an electronic lock (like a safe), a personal protection box is designed to open faster. The ideal opening speed for a personal protection box is around a second. Any type of lockbox can be bolted down to prevent the box from being stolen. The metal that both of these locks can vary in quality, but the strength of a lockbox is by its very definition, not as strong as a safe. The difference between a lockbox and a safe is the difference between a safe and a vault. The lack of metal, will, however, make the product significantly cheaper than most safes.

Another type of lockbox that is quite popular are the lockboxes for keys, sometimes called key safes. These little boxes are often made in plastic or a very thin metal. Sometimes there is a combination dial, other times there is a four-wheel combination lock. Very rarely do these boxes open with a key. Keyed systems have not been that appealing to the market because these lockboxes are meant to serve as a protection against forgetting or losing your keys. You may have seen these types of lockboxes used by real estate agents to keep a key to a property handy for open houses. These types of boxes are by far the most insecure because they are not meant to be bolted down. The most that a key safe is designed for is to be screwed into a wall. They are very small, and, therefore, easier to steal. The materials are not meant to provide security. The product itself is based around convenience almost to the point of neglected security. The upside is that, like all security, a safe can be better protected by concealment.


  • Low cost
  • Potential for quick entry time


  • Low protection
  • High need for concealment


Why Get One Over the Other?

There are certainly circumstances where it may make sense to purchase a safe and a lockbox. Both the products are so different that it would be like saying you don’t need shoes because you have a jacket. Though a lockbox may technically be a type of safe, a shoe technically being a type of clothing does not mean it serves the same purpose as a jacket. It really comes down to what are you looking to accomplish with your protection. Every type of safe serves a purpose. It doesn’t matter if the safe has an inch and a half of steel on the body and the door, or if the safe is almost just a tool box. There is a reason for each.

It is up to you, the consumer, to determine what the purpose is that best suits your need. Easy transportation and concealment are perfect reasons to get a lockbox over a safe. It makes them a great item to increase the security of your travel bag. Hardy construction and protection from multiple types of attacks are characteristics of a safe. Essentially, a safe is an investment and a lockbox can be a purchase. There are safes that are essentially glorified lockboxes. Paying for a product like that may even serve your purposes. There are lockboxes that are essentially glorified lunchboxes. There is even a chance that a product like this is what you are looking for. What your purchasing comes down to are these types of considerations.

Other Things to Consider

What type of locking mechanism do you want?

Something like a key can come in handy if you need to open the device very often. A key can be left inside the keyway of something like a lockbox to open the device, much like a thumb turn. Once the box needs to be secured, the key can be removed and the box can be left, bolted down, or taken with the owner. Of course, if there is a keyway then the lock can be picked. Electronic locks may be faulty, or fail due to electrical shortcomings. Dial combinations may be the most reliable form of lock, but they are also the slowest. Redundant locks may be the option that you wish to use. With redundant locking devices, you can have both a digital and an analog dial.

How are you using this device?

The intended purpose of your security is very important. You should not buy a lockbox wanting it to act as a safe, or vice versa. Really understanding what you want will also help you determine what type of lockbox or safe you purchase. Size, weight, locking mechanism will all play a role in making the functionality of the product better.

What are your concerns?

Separate than how you will be using the device, knowing your perceived threats will help narrow down what you need. If theft is a concern, a safe is going to be the best option. If you are looking for accessibility, then a lockbox is a better option, specifically something like a personal security box. Similarly, if something is not a threat, it may make sense to save money by not investing in unnecessary protections. The money you save can go toward furthering some alternate form of security.


There is not a clear winner in this versus match. In fact, the game is not even about winning. The name of the game is ‘ the desired outcome’. The success of one type of protection over the other comes down to what you want. As the Beastie Boys so famously asked, “ so what’cha, what’cha, what’cha want?” Do you want something that is more expensive, but offers better protection? If that is what you want, then you need to explore your options within the safes category. Safes as a category offer too many options for any type of easy suggestion, the best thing to do is find information on the types of safes.

Consider the pros and cons of safes and lockboxes. Think about the type of locking mechanism that would best suit you. Ponder what type of use the security is going to get. It might need to be opened 10 times a day, once a month, or anything in between. Lastly, decide what your threats are. Discover what you need to protect yourself against, and find the product that will balance the security you need with the application you need. There may not be a perfect product, but knowing what you want, what you need, and the difference between the two, will make sure you make the best choice possible. Make sure to stay safe, and stay informed.

Category: Buying Guides, Safes, Safety & Security

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