Selecting a Gunsafe
Points to consider; size, level of security, amount of fire
protection, finish, where you will place it and budget.
Size –You need to determine what capacity you currently need and
determine your future needs. It doesn’t make sense to buy a safe that
is too small to begin with. Also you need to try to project your future
needs. Buying the next size safe now is less expensive than upsizing
in the near future. Also remember that you may wish to store other
valuables such as jewelry, collectables, documents, family photos, etc.
Locks -The standard lock that is used on most gunsafes is a Sargent &
Greenleaf Group II lock. These are very good locks and are used on
most commercial safes. Another choice of lock is the electronic lock
with a digital keypad. These locks actually have a slightly higher
security rating and are easier to operate. Another benefit of the
electronic lock is that they can easily have their combinations changed
and they can be programmed to open on more than one combination.
A new type of lock that is now available is the biometric lock. I
personally prefer a combination or electronic lock over a key type
lock. For one thing if you lost a key ring someone else would have a
key to your safe. For backup you would need a second key and a place
to hide it. To me it is easier to memorize your combination, also if you
needed quick access to your safe you would not have to look for the
key. Most gunsafes have devices to protect their locks from drilling &
cutting attacks. Hardplate is a steel plate that is heat treated to increase
its hardness. Normal drills and saws are not able to cut hardplate. The
hardplate is placed between the dial and lock. A safe may have
relocking devices. If a safe lock is attacked by a sledge hammer the
relocking devices are triggered and then a safe will not open even if the
lock is completely destroyed. Safes with higher levels of security may
have multiple relockers and glass plates that will break if a safe is
drilled. The broken glass would then trigger a relocking device making
a safe very difficult to penetrate.
Steel Thickness -Most manufacturers produce safes made of steel that
range from 12 ga. to 3/16” thick. (12 ga. =0.1046”, 1/8”=0.125”, 10 ga.
=0.1345”, 7 ga. =0.1793”, 3/16”=0.1875”) Of course the thicker the
steel, the better the safe. Generally it is considered that 12 ga. is a
minimum, 10 ga. is good and 3/16” steel is very good. Anything thicker
is difficult to form and usually too expensive for a home gunsafe.
Door Construction –Doors are usually constructed of either a single
steel plate (Champion and Superior safes both feature double step  plate
steel doors with an inner steel plate, this gives incredible door strength
and security) or a composite of more than one piece of material. The
first gunsafes had one piece doors that were 3/16”, 1/4” or thicker steel.  
Now most of the doors are composite meaning that they are composed
of more than one piece of material. Usually these doors have layers of
fire rock built into them which gives a better fire rating. The lighter
composite safe doors may have one thin layer of steel and a layer of
firerock. This type of door may not hold up under a serious attack. The
better doors have an outer layer of steel followed by a layer of firerock
and then an inner layer of steel and then another layer of firerock. This
type of door would be difficult to cut through even with a torch and it
would hold up very well in a fire. Doors usually have heat expanding
door seals that swell up several times their thickness when they are
heated up during a fire. This seal greatly enhances a safes fire rating.
Locking Bolts -Another factor that determines security would be
locking bolt count and size. Sizes usually range from 1” dia. to 1½” dia.
Another locking bolt factor is coverage. Some come out on 1 side, 2
sides, 3 sides or 4 sides of the door. Generally the more sides with
locking bolts the better the security. The locking bolts not only improve
security they also improve fire protection by keeping the door seal
more secure (when metal heats up it tends to warp which could allow
hot air and flames to enter a safe).
Fire Protection –a minimum fire rating of 1,200°F/30 for 30 minutes is
usually for entry level safes. If you have a house constructed of brick,
concrete slab and sheet rock this type of safe may give you enough fire
protection. When a gunsafe is tested for a fire rating it is usually heated
to 1,200°F within 10 minutes and then remains at or above that
temperature for at least another 20 minutes. The inside temperature
should not go above 350°F- this temperature was chosen due to paper
charring at about 420°F. Since most houses only burn for about 30
minutes this type of safe may be sufficient. If you have a safe with a
higher temperature rating in the same fire the inside temperature would
then be lower. Fires are unpredictable and therefore most of us prefer to
have a better fire rating just in case we have a hotter than normal fire.
Finish -is a matter of personal preference. Some prefer a gloss finish
while others prefer a textured finish. Usually the gloss costs more due
to more labor involved by the manufacturer. Both should be durable
and if a safe is not placed in a harsh environment the finish should last
forever.
Location – The best place for a safe is one that is convenient other
wise you may not always use it. Places that people put safes range
from closets, bedrooms, dens, garages or work shops. If you end with
your safe in a garage or other space that is not heated and cooled you
should use some type of dehumidifier.
Budget – A safe will last a lifetime and therefore buy
a safe that you have confidence in.
-Safes are like
anything else - you
get what you pay for!
-The only way to
make a product
cheaper is to cut
back. When you
make a safe
cheaper you have to
use thinner steel
and less structure. A
dealer located in
Medford, Oregon
has made a video
showing how one
safe can be pried
into in less than 2
minutes with
common tools.
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