courtesy opticsplanet.com

By Don Leavitt

Firearm ownership and firearm safety go hand in hand. Lots of attention is given the safe handling of firearms, but safe storage is often only given lip service. “Get a safe” is about as much as is said about it, and while the advice is sound it is also incredibly vague. Going to your local big-box outdoor retailer will give you several options but little in real information, and searching online can be easily overwhelming. So what should you look for? . . .

Security Ratings

In the United States, virtually all security container testing is carried out by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and their testing is generally the only one accepted by insurance companies. While this isn’t a concern for gun owners, it does tell us this: If the security rating doesn’t come with a UL label, it should be considered highly suspect. There are several different levels of security tested by UL, and it is important to know how they are tested and what they mean. The most common are:

Residential Security Container (RSC): This is the lowest security rating tested by UL, and is the rating held by virtually all gun safes on sale today. To pass this standard, the safe door must resist forceful opening with hand tools (pry bar, screwdriver, hammer, etc.) for 5 minutes of tool contact time. No testing is done to the body of the safe, but it must be at least 12 gauge steel. No lock requirement.

Surprised? At first glance, that seems like an incredibly low bar to pass. However, it is important to note a few things:

1). The individual performing the test is a UL technician, and breaking in to safes is their job.

2). The technician has access to the design schematics of the safe in question, spend time prior to the test looking for weaknesses.

3). The test is five minutes of tool contact time, meaning they can spend 10 seconds prying, stop and survey their handiwork and review the blueprints for an hour, spend another 10 seconds prying, and only have it count as 20 seconds of the test.

TL-15: Door must resist opening and/or having a 6-inch square hole cut into it for 15 minutes of tool contact time, using hand and portable power tools (including drills and pressure applying devices). Body is not tested, but must be constructed of the equivalent of 1 inch of steel with a minimum tensile strength of 50,000 psi. Lock must be rated UL Group II or better.

TL-30: Same as TL-15 but for 30 minutes. Power saws and grinders are included in the available tool set.

There are several other ratings indicating resistance to torches and explosives, but these safes are uncommon and much more expensive.

How much security do I need?

While we’d ideally want to get the best of the best when it comes to security, for most people this is unrealistic and unnecessary. Sure, a class TXTL-60×6 (yes, an actual rating) safe would certainly protect your items from basically everything, but if you’re just going to fill it up with Mosin Nagants a $50,000 safe is a bit overkill. Before deciding on your level of security, you need to consider what you will be storing in your safe. Guns, obviously, but what else? Gold coins? Jewelry? A valuable stamp collection? Something with more sentimental value, like old family photos?

A good guideline is to look at what level of security insurance companies require for differing content values. These are for businesses, but can still give you an idea of what to look for. A lower-end RSC would not be insurable for business purposes, but is generally considered suitable for up to $1,000 liquid assets (cash and precious metals, etc.) or up to $5,000 in “merchandise” (guns, stamps, and the like). A B-rate would have a 1/2 inch plate door and 1/4 inch plate body, and despite still being an RSC would be insurable for $2,000 liquid assets or $10,000 merchandise. Stepping up to a TL-15 would allow up to $10,000 of liquid assets or $100,000 in merchandise, and a TL-30 would be $30,000/$300,000.

Pretty much any of the safes at your local outdoor retailer will belong in the first category, and for most people these should be perfectly sufficient. If you are a stamp collector (of the NFA variety) or plan on keeping precious metals in addition to your firearms it might be wise to look at higher security options, or even consider buying two safes: a smaller high security safe for more valuable items and a larger, less expensive RSC for the rest. The level of security needed is highly personal and dependent on your circumstances. Level of crime, police response times, and replaceability of items all play in to the decision.

Fire Protection

Most gun safes will advertise that they offer fire protection in addition to burglary protection. While UL does rate fire safes, no gun safe on the market carries a UL fire protection label. This has led the various safe manufacturers to have their safes tested at other independent labs to get their ratings. Unfortunately none of these tests are identical and comparing them is difficult to impossible, so we must depend on their construction to determine their effectiveness.

First: some fire protection theory. With few exceptions, all safes provide thermal protection through the vaporization of water in their chosen fire protection material. As temperatures rise, the water in the material vaporizes (absorbing thermal energy) and the resulting water vapor serves as a form of insulation, slowing the transfer of thermal energy to the inside of the safe. The effectiveness of this approach is largely dependent on the amount of water in the fire resistant materials.

Most gun safes use fireboard (essentially sheetrock) for their fire protection, with additional layers providing more protection. This insulation is inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to install. However, as the water evaporates the material tends to crumble, leading to hot spots that can compromise the fire protection. Some companies have internal supports or other structures to prevent this, but only on their higher-end safes.

A few gun safes (and all TL-rated safes) use what is referred to as “cast fill” insulation. The closest analogue most people are familiar with is concrete, but the actual material used varies on the safe. Rather than attaching sheets of material to the body of the safe, this insulation is actually poured into the walls of the safe and cured in an oven. It is a labor and time intensive process, which is why it is not seen on very many gun safes. It is also much heavier, which is good from a security standpoint but bad for manufacturers (freight costs) and a hard sell to a lot of consumers (who have to get it moved and installed). The upshot is far superior fire protection, and a significant increase in security on the TL-rated safes.

If needing to decide between physical security and fire protection due to cost constraints, I’d generally lean more towards greater burglary protection. Getting a small dedicated fire safe for your important documents to place inside of your gun safe can make up for deficiencies in your gun safe’s fire protection, and is ultimately less expensive than trying to increase burglary protection down the road.

Again, the amount of fire protection you need depends on a number of factors. Location of flammable materials, fire department response time, and value of contents all come in to play.

Space

The size of your safe is generally dependent on the size of your collection, and it is here that the marketing materials can again lead you astray. Advertised capacity and realistic capacity are two very different things. Basically, if the safe advertises “24-gun capacity”, replace the word “gun” with “Unscoped .22 single shot rifle”. Actual useful capacity is usually 1/2 to 1/3 of what is advertised, maybe less if you will be storing other items in addition to your firearms. However, some actually strip the interior and stack their rifles like firewood, increasing capacity (not recommended, and not kidding). Ultimately, whatever size you get will eventually be too small so plan accordingly.

Other safe related security concerns

Placement and installation can be just as critical to the security of your safe as its construction. Every safe, regardless of size, weight, or security rating, should be bolted down. This prevents your hypothetical burglars from simply rolling your safe and its contents out of your home and to theirs, where they would have all the time in the world to open it. It also keeps them from laying it on to its back to allow for additional leverage on the door.

If possible position your safe so that none of the body is accessible. The body of your safe is far less secure than the door, so any additional protection you can give it works to your advantage. Additionally, secure any of the tools in your home that can be used to compromise your safe. Most criminals don’t carry around a Sawzall as part of their EDC package so keeping those tools in a JobBox, or even in your safe, makes it that much more difficult for them to break in.

Some manufacturers like to tout the number of bolts in the door and the number of sides with bolts. Ultimately, a well-designed safe door should only need active locking bolts on the side opposite of the hinges, with deadbolts on the hinge side. Active bolts on the top and bottom sides of the door add only marginal security benefits, and aren’t often found on the inexpensive safes where they would be most needed due to the additional cost.

The lock for your safe should be UL listed Group II or better. If a safe you are considering does not have a UL listed lock you can have it easily replaced by a locksmith, as the mounting is standardized. A new lock currently runs between $150 and $200, and will provide much greater reliability and security. The Electronic vs. Mechanical lock debate is much like 9mm vs. .45 or AR vs. AK, it comes down to preference. If going the electronic route, making sure it is from a reputable manufacturer (American Security, Sargent & Greenleaf, LaGuard) will provide some peace of mind regarding reliability.

Finally, a note regarding door hinges. Some manufacturers use internal hinges for their doors, and advertise it as a security benefit. The reality is that any quality safe does not rely on the hinges for security in any way. Generally I’d recommend external hinges, as they allow the door to open a full 180 degrees. Internal hinges generally only open 90 degrees, and create a gap in fire protection where the hinge rests as the door is closed. However, all else being equal a safe with internal hinges is no more or less secure than one with external hinges.

Conclusion

Not all safes are created equal, especially in the crowded and broad ranging RSC market. While all are far superior to leaving firearms in a cabinet or in various hiding places, some are more resistant to burglary and fire than others. Knowing what you need your safe to accomplish and what features to look for can save you from a false sense of security and disappointing performance should the worst happen.

Recommended For You

84 Responses to P320 Entry: So You Want to Buy a Gun Safe…

  1. There is one glaring omission from this article.

    If you are married and buy a safe, think of what you you may reasonably need and double it. Once your spouse realizes that you have a safe, you will lose half your space to your beloved wife’s jewelry. Ask me how I know this.

    • Also, once your safe is full, each new purchase will require you to sell off something to “make space.” A bigger safe is not an option, so make sure there is more space than you think you need, even after accounting for jewelry, etc. Downside: you may be tempted to spend more, as “there is room in the safe.”

    • What you said ….

      And this advice applies if you are not married, because as a single “charmingly eccentric firearms enthusiast” you will have only your own budget controlling your purchases, so figure on doubling your collection every ten years (or less.) Buy a big safe. No, wait, buy one bigger than that … how about a walk-in vault?

      For you folks with “just a few” guns, figure that the safe will soon get crowded with tax documents, heirloom stuff, ID papers, etc. Buy a bigger safe.

      • A safe will need to store ammo too that way you do not have to hunt for ammo in a home defense situation.

        • If you’re planning to wait to load your gun while a home defense situation is in progress, you might want to re-evaluate your plan.

        • Yes because nothing says prepared like trying to spin a big brass dial back in forth in the middle of the night with adrenaline skyrocketed through the roof. You must have a bigger house than me, because in my place even with the bedroom upstairs if I kept my HD gun in the safe the cops are probably going to find me in the closet dead by whatever means the criminal had available facing the safe trying to enter my combo

        • I keep a small amount of rounds in magazines (or clips) within the safe, but I keep the bulk of the ammo in another locked metal cabinet next to the safe. With three different rifles with three different calibers as well as handguns, there is no way I can fit all the ammunition in the safe properly.

        • You might want to take a look at the V-Line Quick Vault Pistol Safe, an “in the wall” steel gun locker – installs in the wall between two wall studs (16″ centers), and they can be located in the back of your closet of your bedroom. Pushbutton lock with re-settable combination, pretty quick to open, and tamper-proof by your kids. A lot faster than getting into a regular safe, and not obvious when you hang clothes in front of it..

    • How do you know this, Ryan? 🙂

      Medications, too. Our safe is home to anything that any visiting teen or inquisitive kid might abuse, especially if it’s desirable on the street (where Obama tells us military rifles are running free; I wish I knew where those things were running, cuz I’d trap one and tame it).

    • Easily breached gun safes to avoid especially since many can be opened in second by children.
      By Donald Dodson

      STACK-ON and their competitor’s gun safes are easily breached in seconds many of them by children of almost any age making them unsafe around children of almost any age as well as any other prohibited person. Here is a link to a video with a detailed analysis of STACK-ON and their Competitors;

  2. When deciding on a safe size and cost, do a quick total of the value not only of your firearms but the other “stuff” that will end up in there – jewelry, papers, pictures, passports. You might be surprised.

    Size matters! Bigger is better. Never met anyone who said “I got too big a safe”.

  3. After considerable research I purchased a Sturdy Safe. Made in US, solid, a bit more expensive than many buy extremely tight door tolerances. Took 2 men and a boy to move it into the house.

    • +1 on the Sturdy. Excellent boxes and a very nice company to do business with. Also, folks who tend to have to relocate frequently might consider multiple smaller safes. I went this route for years and it made moving days much easier, as well as allowing me to expand storage more economically.

    • Sturdy indeed makes a good steel box, and depending on what you are looking for in your safe can be an excellent value. They use thicker steel in their bodies than comparably priced safes, and have many options that are unique at their price point. I nearly purchased one myself, but eventually decided to go with the Amsec BF (review forthcoming if TTAG is interested).

      • AmSec BF series is what I recommend to my customers who ask. It appears to be a good quality box with a good company behind it. I’d like to hear your opinion of the product line and company.

      • + 1 on sturdy safe, bought one and they gave me a retroactive discount because I’m cheap and asked them :)… they didn’t have to, I already bought the safe, but they did it anyway, my second one will be from them as well in the near future. Read up on their fireproofing as well… impressive.

  4. Wow, talk about timely! I’m headed out to my LGS or Cabelas to get a bigger safe. I was shocked by the descriptions. I always knew about fire safety but not how. Thanks very much. An excellent lesson.

    • Moving safes isn’t as difficult as some would think.

      A shopping bag full of golf balls, or a half-dozen lengths of wood handrail from Home Depot and Bob’s your uncle.

      Going up stairs? Get a stair-climbing dolly. Or you could tip the safe on the side/back, put an eyebolt in the top and winch it up the stairs with a come-along anchored to some point beyond the top of the stairs.

      Or, get it up on a small pallet and get a pallet jack.

      Come-alongs, winches, block and tackle sets, pallet jacks, etc – all available for rental at local U-rent type tool outfits.

  5. Don’t count on any readily available safe to stand up to a real wildfire though. They might be good for a short house fire that gets put out, but not much more.

    Following a local wildfire (near Fritch TX), people’s gun safes had *melted* (as had street signs in the subdivision). It was pretty sobering going through that and seeing folks gun safes basically melted to slag.

    • Most “fire-rated” safes are inadequate for wildfire. They will work okay for a house fire in a city that has a fire department 5 minutes away. But there won’t be anyone around to douse your home in an active wildfire so it burns hotter and longer. To protect valuables in that situation requires at least a KIS (Korean) or UL Class B fire rating that gives 2 hours of protection–these are usually poor for burglary though. As pointed out, a small fire box inside a normal safe may be adequate for papers and small things.

      Anyone living in a wildfire region should read “The Fire Smart Home Handbook,” which has a good discussion on fire safes, among a lot of other important things.

  6. Noticed an omission: how do you safely store your firearms while you save up for a safe, particularly if you have children?

    If you have children and firearms, then want to keep them safe from negligent discharge. If you have children and firearms, then you probably don’t have a fat wad of cash sitting around; both are very expensive to feed. So, what do you do?

    Remove the bolts, barrels, and/or cylinders, and keep them in zipped plastic bags. Adding lubricant is your prerogative.

    When you have children, there are only two places to keep a loaded gun:
    1. In your holster, which is on your body.
    2. Within 10 feet of you, in plain sight.

    If you can’t meet those two requirements, then you should consider making them inoperable.

    This has been a public safety announcement.

  7. I gathered much knowledge on safes.

    Tip #1: keep your safe on the lowest possible level of your home. Fire burn upward, will cause safe to fall through floor, hit foundation, compromising safe’s integrity, belongings destroyed.

    Tip #2: Buy cheap decoy safe.

    Tip #3: Safes are most useful when would-be thieves aren’t even aware that you own a safe. Don’t brag to anyone about your awesome new safe.

  8. I strongly agree with the statement that “Advertised capacity and realistic capacity are two very different things.” I have a Winchester-brand safe, which was advertised as a “26-gun”. I’m sure was OEM-ed by another safe manufacturer and just cross-marketed as Winchester. To support the long-guns, they cut notches to create the rifle rests — 4 rows of 5 front-to-back, and 3 on each side along the back. Apparently they counted the notches to arrive at the 26 gun figure. Unfortunately, they can’t be real guns, since the buttstocks of the guns in the front-to-back rows preclude a place for long-guns along the back. So, it’s real capacity is actually 20 guns, and even then many of the bolts have to be removed for them to fit.

    • Though that still only applies to rifles.

      In the average 30 gun safe I can fit 10-12 long guns, and 30-40 pistols. And the pistols would be such a way that they wouldn’t touch each other.

  9. This has been my favorite P320 article so far–very informative, and the type of article that emails a good reference after the first read. Thanks, Don!

  10. Be careful how you load that safe up as well. I live in a hundred year old house and my carpenter brother advised, very wisely, that a bit of reinforcement would be a good idea. The safe itself is 800 lbs, add four dozen or so firearms and it really adds up. I’ll be adding a safe for my bedroom upstairs this autumn. A nice, small, lightweight safe for a select few guns. Fire rating will suffer, but hauling safes upstairs is for younger guys than myself.

    • roger that on the weight. I too have an old house and safe weight is a big concern. Better to have a hidden safe than one that overtaxes the floor supports. Secondly I tried to move my BIL’s safe when he remodeled his house. The steps could not take the weight and we ended up breaking a couple boards and the wall took a hit when one step gave out.

  11. I have 2 Centurian Safes from Lowes with combination locks which I bought for about $700. I am very happy with them. (22 gun safes)

    I also have one Cannon Safe with a digital lock from Tractor Supply which I bought for $500. (22 gun safe). I had a problem with the digital lock which was repaired under warranty. They had to send a locksmith to open the safe. It took him about 4 hours to open and restore it.

    Stay away from digital safes. Anything electronic will eventually fail. It costs at least $500 to have to locksmith open a safe and restore it. Parts extra.

    The only digital safe I would use is a small one that you store only one gun in for fast access and keep under your bed.

    Remember to bolt or screw your safes into the floor.

    I find 22 gun safes ideal. They weigh about 425 lbs. Too heavy to easily move… but movable. They are also very common, so the price tends to be the most economical.

    • Not all electronic locks are created equal, sometimes even within the same brand. In the price range your safes are in I’d agree with you: go with a mechanical lock. As the safes get more expensive, so do the lock’s quality (both mechanical and electronic). Researching the lock on your potential safe, especially if it is an electronic lock, can save you from an expensive drilling job.

    • For a smaller safe, wall-mounting is also a good option, especially since it allows you to conceal it. If they can’t find it, they won’t open it.

  12. for a long time, my gun ‘safe’ was an old freezer with a padlock on it, when I finally decided to drop the cash for a real safe, I was amazed at how big I had to go to match the room I had in that old freezer. The biggest lesson I learned when I bought mine was that the delivery and installation charge would have been $230 well spent.

  13. If you are buying a safe get the best you can afford. I don’t know how many people I meet that have expensive firearms and the Walmart special safe. Insurance rarely covers the replacement cost of a firearm and if it’s a family heirloom you get doubly screwed.
    Item of note count your long guns and how many more you plan on aquiring and add 20% as the real number. My one safe is a 60 gun Liberty but: you quickly find out that some rifles take up 2 or more slots, Pistol grips, bipods, scopes and the like always interfere with the layout.
    Get the fire liner as stated plus a de-humidifier if you live in a humid environment and anchor the thing into the floor preferably against a wall since the back is usually the weakest point. Finally get some lights the bigger safes are all very dark towards the back, I use low voltage xmas lights on the interior as they really make your collection “pop” if the door is open.
    I also keep jewlery and any important papers titles, deeds, will etc) inside the safe as well.
    Finally don’t keep the comboination around the house why make it easy my one friend had his on the firdge since he could not remember the combo duh? If you own a safe don’t make it easy and always remember to lock the thing.

    • To a certain extent, the comparable reliability is an apples-to-oranges situation:

      1). I’d imagine a vast majority of the electronic locks he deals with are found on low-end safes (a huge portion of the market), and are therefore lower quality. Given the nature of their designs, electronic locks are more sensitive to quality processes than mechanical locks.

      2). Mechanical locks often fail progressively, allowing the owner to recognize the problem and get it repaired or replaced without locking themselves out of their safe. Electronic lock failures are almost always sudden, and because they lock when the door is closed they need to be drilled.

      That being said, I went with a mechanical lock on my safe so I may not be the best advocate.

      • I’m a retired EE.

        I’ve examined the electronics in the electronic locks available on gun safes. They’re pretty much all crap, very cheap consumer-grade, disposable-type electronic components. The safe companies don’t have much to say about the issue; they look at the e-lock as a sub-contracted component on their wonderfully-built steel box.

        That said, a fair bit of the failures in e-locks can be avoided by changing the batteries frequently and using the best quality batteries available to insure the lock always has adequate power levels when you go to open the lock.

      • It’s really not apples to oranges. It’s closer to comparing a meal from the finest restaurant you’ve eaten at to an MRE.

        My dad works in commercial security, and has for decades. Most of these safes actually use the top of the line digital locks from some of the best lock manufacturers operating. His advice: stay away from electronic, period. They will fail.

      • Anecdotal, but confirmation on the electronic vs. mechanical:

        I have a safe that’s about 15 years old. It has a mechanical lock. I had it serviced about two years ago as the lock was getting difficult, for want of a better term.

        The locksmith that came to service it did a lot of business with safes and safe repair. I asked him about electronic locks. He told me that the electronics outsold the mechanicals by a wide margin. However, he also said they were far more troublesome. What iced it for me was when he said that he, personally, would never buy a safe with an electronic lock. ‘Nuff said, as far as I’m concerned.

  14. Here’s my suggestion. Buy a cheap safe and spend your money hiding it with a hidden door. http://www.murphydoor.com

    Safes can be easily penetrated from the side, even expensive safes. No one will break in if they can’t find it.

  15. Thank you Dan for this thoughtful analysis.
    I have a pistol safe from FAS1Safe.com and recommend it for: quick access; and, theft security. Easy access fosters greater care in locking up my gun when I leave home without it.

    I think we all need to think-about and do more to secure our guns.

    First and foremost, we need to make the argument to our non-carrying fellow voters that the most important measure to secure our guns is to carry them EVERYWHERE. While I am carrying my gun, it’s secure. If I leave my gun on the night-stand or in my trunk because my plans call for me to go to the Post-Office (to NJ, etc.) then my gun is LESS secure. Want to steal a gun? Hang-out in the parking lot near any Gun-Free Zone with a pry-bar. You won’t have to wait long or take much risk of getting caught. We are not going to install an expensive pistol safe in each of the cars we own. We are going to forget – occasionally – to put our guns in our home safes when we know we can’t carry somewhere on a trip outside our homes.

    I could afford the economic loss of my guns; not the emotional reaction that they fell into the hands of a criminal. I imagine most gun owners would morn the loss of their guns on both counts. As a community, we need to be concerned with the public image of criminals getting guns by burglary. Three reasons for every one of us to be concerned.

    I would appreciate any contribution anyone could make as to the risk-management aspects of guarding our guns. For example, I THINK (but I’m not sure) that I need to be more concerned about my handguns relative to my long-guns. Likewise, more concerned about theft of my handgun safe in whole than breaching it’s door on-site. If I’m right then I should concentrate on bolting down my handgun safe and hiding my long guns. Yet, if the facts of gun thefts should point in a different direction I’d like to know that.

  16. I was able to get a state of the art 1930s safe from a jewelry manufacturing company that went out of biz. I out bid a scrap dealer for it about 15 years ago it weighs a bit over 4,000 lbs and getting it moved and bolted down to a corner of my basement was the larger part of the expense. I refit the inside for my guns and it now has 14 long guns and about 20 pistols and of course the other valuables. My insurance company (Chubb) on inspection gave me a large discount on my contents insurance as well as my listed items insurance…. The safe has things like a time lock and a glass re locker fully fire rated etc as I said state of the art for about 1935.

    I was told a safe of this sort bought new today would be over $40,000 and while its lock might be somewhat better today most other features would not have advanced much. Total cost was under $ 2,500 installed…

    Keep an eye out for auctions for places going out of biz. you too may get lucky.

    • Used safes can be a great value, especially with the high-security safes. If you keep your eyes open you can find used safes from jewlers or other retailers for much less than new retail and comparable to mid to high-en gun safes with much better security.

      • +1 Mine is a used jeweler’s safe rated TL30x6. It weighs 4000 lbs and is a rock. Any safe is penetrable by a professional, but 2 crackheads with a crowbar wouldn’t stand a chance with mine.

  17. Something I’ve just thought about;

    Fire safes tend to rely on the fireboard for protection, releasing water vapor. Most people put dehumidifiers in their safe to protect against the humidity.

    Does this reduce the effectiveness of the fireboard by gradually drawing out the moisture?

  18. There’s an important omission on fire safety. A lot of fire protection as advertised is not good enough for electronics. Solder flows at lower temperatures than paper burns. Especially if your safe has holes for power cords, it may not keep things cool enough for electronics to survive.

    If you want to keep backup disks or other electronics in a safe, make sure it keeps temperatures well below 200F or 300F.

  19. I generally find safes to offer a false sense of security as most people don’t spend the money required for real protection.

    Unless you have irreplaceable collectibles, I recommend getting a cheap safe or security cabinet (to keep kids out) and get firearm insurance instead. $125 gets you $30k guaranteed coverage for a year against theft, fire, flood etc. This is better protection than any safe will provide.

  20. The best deal is on a used, TL-rated safe. For far less than the cost of a high-end gun safe, you can have an actual safe– one that meth heads cannot open, cannot move– and will survive a house fire.

    The author has only written an overview– the info is out there. The sheetrock fireproofed safes do not offer any where near the protection that one might think, though some are definitely better than others. (Basically, if your house burns down, you’re going to lose everything in the safe too.)

    At a bare minimum, buy a fireproof “file folder” or whatever, and put that inside the safe. Keep the pictures and papers in that. Need I point out that it should be in the bottom of the safe?

    Really though– you’ll quickly descend into paranoid hell when you start researching safes. When you actually price a Graffunder, or decide that you need a $3K plus safe– it’s time to look for used commercial safes. Find the local safe guy– ask in pawn shops or jewelry stores who services theirs– then contact them. Real safe guys don’t advertise to you and me, if at all. You’ll know you’ve found the right guy when you ask if he can deliver a 3000 lb. safe and he answers “depends on your flooring”.

    • You speak truth. If there is one area that is overestimated the most it is fire protection. It’s pretty easy to visualize how little steel is used in making a RSC body, but much more difficult to make a judgement on the efficacy of fireboard. Putting a dedicated, UL-Listed fire safe inside your larger container is exactly what I did, and what I recommend to anybody wanting to protect their documents from fire and theft.

  21. After hand-wringing over the cost/benefit of a gun safe, I finally came to realization that protection can and should be two part.

    1- Buy as much safe as you can afford. Pay attention to the actual security features and ignore the window dressing, like lacquer paint and velveteen lining. Focus on the security features. I have found that many of the upgrades on residential grade safes are purely cosmetic.

    2- Insure your guns. Search up insurance for collectibles. You’ll find several insurance companies that offer firearms-specific coverages that exceed your homeowners policy and a rider on your homeowners policy. In my opinion, firearms specific coverage can be had at such a low price that it is silly to NOT have it.

    I think the old adage holds true- a motivated criminal is going to take your stuff if he wants it badly enough. The best you or I can do is deter the criminal from doing it. The good news is he can’t take away an insurance policy.

    • The only problem with insuring firearms that aren’t collector pieces is the fact that such if you were to say, insure your AR-15s, Sigs, AKs, and other MSRs, you have effectively created a registry of your guns should the insurance company want manufacture, model, caliber, dimensions and serial number for their policy. I’d say keeping them secured in the safe is deterrent enough when you’re not home, and using it against a would-be robber/burglar when you are home is even better.

  22. And while this should go without saying, a safe is useless unless you use it.

    So …clean or not, guns go back into the safe when not in use.

    And remember to spin the dial after you’re done … an unlocked safe is just a closet with a heavy door.

  23. Before people buy one big safe, consider this:

    If you have multiple safes and they’re all properly secured and used, any thieves will have to spend more time to get all of your guns and valuables because the time it takes to open one good safe doesn’t mean the second (or third) one just says “open sesame!” and it swings open. No, each safe is another investment of time.

    If you have one big safe, then thieves have everything of yours gathered into one location, they work on that and they’ve got a big haul. Once you start splitting things apart, now their job becomes harder.

    For those of us who have lots of tools in their house/garage/shop, don’t leave the means to undo your safe in easy access. If you have a set of bottles for a gas axe sitting there with hoses, regulators and torch… hey, you’ve just given the thieves a big boost there. Lock up your regulators in the safe when you’re not home. It’s a little difficult to get anywhere with a set of bottles, hoses and torch without the regulator set.

    A little thing like a secure switch (eg, a keylock switch) to turn on the lights in the safe room also hampers thieves. Everyone works more slowly in the dark.

    Any safe can be compromised, it is just a matter of time. You have to make the time it takes to get at your stuff take longer than thieves want to spend. If you’re in a rural area, thieves can take a long time to whittle away at your security without someone noticing. I know people here in Wyoming who have extensive gun collections who have gone to the expense of taking delivery of a new, high-end gun safe without any paint on the outside and they’ve welded plates of stainless steel to the outside. Now the torch attack is a moot point, but the weight has ballooned upwards, as has the expense.

  24. I didn’t see anything about bolting your safe to the floor. Most safes have some bolt holes in the floor.
    If you do bolt it to the floor, you should use “through” bolts, at least grade 5, if not grade 8. Also be sure to use lock nuts on the inside of the safe. Of course if you have a 1000 lb. behemoth of a safe, you may not need to worry about someone carting it off.
    My safe is in a small closet, no room for a thief to work on the safe body. I also have a small file size Sentry safe, on a pull out shelf, in side, in which I keep medications and important documents, also mini revolvers.
    The best advice I have seen above is to get the biggest and best safe you can afford, even if you have to use “plastic” to get it!

    • Grade 8 bolts aren’t expensive or rare. Might as well go all the way to 8’s.

      A good RSC or BF safe for a large-ish gun collection will be 1,000 lbs easily. That’s not all that heavy as safes go.

      When you get to 2,000 lbs in something that holds, oh, 30 guns… now you’re talking heavy.

      Per the above comment to put the safe as low as possible in the house (modulo flooding dangers), you bolt to a concrete floor or wall with expansion bolts. You can find these at home building supply stores. You’ll need an impact drill to make the hole, or you’ll need a hand star drill and sledge hammer.

  25. A few of you ridiculed electronic locks. My Liberty has an electronic lock and it has worked perfectly for however long I’ve had the safe—probably 20 years now.

  26. Take note of the comment about fire retardant material used in cheaper safes. It is basically just sheet rock.

    My safe will basically be in a recessed wall with a mildly disquised door. The recess and the door will be lined with 3-4 layers of sheet rock as an extra fire retardant.

    It will be in my basement (lowest level) which is great for security and the fall mentioned in the article. However, understand that in a fire your basement will basically become flooded by the fire hoses. Plan accordingly.

  27. Also should go without saying, along with the comment about bolting the thing to the floor. I have seen too many safes where it looks like the homeowner received it off the pallet and had them wheel it to the back of the garage in a straight line from the garage entrance. No amount of concrete anchors are going to stop a thief with a chain/strap and a pickup truck from dragging you stuff down the driveway and away they go. Not to mention, broadcasting that you have guns that you felt were worth protecting with a safe to anyone who happens to pass by when your garage is open.

  28. Very good piece! I worked for a safe company for 9 years,owned a w over the years ,moved many of them for friends who bought them, as my wife still works there and she gets good prices.

    One thing I’d add, let nobody know you own a gun safe.
    Workmen inside the house,babysitters,friends of your kids.

    Nothing screams I got good stuff to steal like a big safe,only now they’ll bring tools a normal burglar would not, plus they most likely watched some YouTube videos on how to,break into your model safe…….

    Another thing you are now putting all your eggs in one basket. Before your gun safe you most likely had guns here and there,jewlery in a few spots,emergency cash hidden somewhere else. Make sure you basket is a strong one ,mounted in a corner that nobody knows of.

    • Well buying something as big as a gun safe requires a shipping company deliver it, and unless you’ve got dollies and jacks to move it around you are probably going to need some help getting it wheeled in. You’ll never have 100% security but the average scumbag is probably not going to have the means to break into your safe. And a burglar alarm is also a good pieces of *ancillary* security equipment, which in tandem with a safe, offers significant deterrence. Again, talking about a 600-1500 lb gun safe, not a strongbox.

      • It’s the professional thieves you have to worry about. The guys who learn your daily routine, wait for you to leave for work and 5 minutes later have a van backed up to your driveway and 5 minutes after that are gone again. No point in planning only to thwart the dumbest of the dumb.

  29. Easily breached gun safes to avoid especially since many can be opened in second by children.
    By Donald Dodson

    STACK-ON and their competitor’s gun safes are easily breached in seconds many of them by children of almost any age making them unsafe around children of almost any age as well as any other prohibited person. Here is a link to a video with a detailed analysis of STACK-ON and their Competitors;

  30. Years ago I bought lead when I could find good deals. I reloaded a lot of 38/357/44 back then. I’d cast a couple hundred bullets in an evening. To store it, I cast ingots that where 4″x6″x2″ bricks. These weigh 40#. I stored them on the floor of the garage. Then one day I realized I could line the floor of the safe with them. Now my safe weighs an additional 1,800# with a loss of only 2″ of floor to ceiling height. I also have a good supply of lead for reloading well into the future (when the finally outlaw lead). Plus this weight is concentrated very low making safe tipping very difficult.

    Something to think about if you have reloading lead around.

  31. The decoy safe idea sounds good. You might even be able to get a very cheap used one, possibly one with no key or known combination anymore, since it’s just a decoy anyway. If that one is heavy, but not affixed to the structure, it might encourage thieves to take it and spend less time in your house.

    It might be a good idea to conceal the safe, too. Wall safes have been mentioned, but those are only so big. What about hiding the safe in a utility closet or in the garage, perhaps behind a dirty, rusty panel that reads “Danger: High Voltage” or similar? Still anchored, of course, but in a place where it’s less likely to be discovered in the first place. You’ll have to keep that secret, though, which will be impossible if you have teenage boys. They’ll brag to their friends, and neighborhood teen boys are the first source of potential burglars.

    Instead of sacrificing burglar protection for fire protection, would it be possible to go with greater burglar protection, but place the safe in a walk-in closet, which you could then protect with fire resistant materials? For high value documents, jewelry, etc., just get a safe deposit box. Some credit unions offer them free with membership, anyway, and it’s not like you need daily access to those items.

    Finally, I would recommend external hinges, too. If the thieves are unprofessional, as most are, and unaware that hinges on a quality safe are not part of the security features, then let them go ahead and waste valuable in-house time hacking away at the hinges to no benefit.

  32. Safe? phhhhht. I just store mine inside the walls so I can just punch into any drywall and rip out a ready to go AR15.

  33. Good Lord. 76 comments and only two of them (Gun Safe and Alex) made the painfully obvious recommendation to insure your freakin’ gun collection. I don’t get it. How could you own any firearms at all and not have them insured? Go ahead and buy all the RSCs and pawn shop bank vaults and 8 gauge wall thickness whatever-you-wants and don’t insure the contents and then please come back and show us all your surprised face when someone smarter than you breaks into your steel box and then you call State Farm to collect your 2500 bucks total gun limit on your homeowners policy as the only compensation you’ll get for your 30 grand it-took-you-a-lifetime-to-collect gun collection.

    Don’t want to give State Farm a list of your gun serial numbers? Then insure with Eastern Insurance – Historic Firearms. No serial numbers required.

    • Well, for starters, that is a painfully obvious notion. So why mention it? In all the talk about fire resistance of the safes, nobody mentioned the importance of not smoking in bed and eliminating that risk of starting a fire in the first place, either. Related, but obvious.

      It’s also off topic, or at best tangentially related. The topic is physical safety of the firearms, as in loss prevention, not economic recovery of the owner after the loss. That said, insurance is a very important topic in itself and, since mentioned, deserves a few more comments.

      Your typical homeowners policy has personal property coverage, and it’s usually a fairly large amount, but for specific categories like furs, firearms, jewelry and others, there are limits and exclusions. Limitations often exist per item and on the category as a whole. Say, $1,000 each gun and $2,500-5,000 for all guns. Exclusions could apply to an entire category, like firearms. You can get an endorsement (specific coverage) for more, but this will entail an additional premium and itemization by serial number supplied to the carrier. Your insurance provider might then require a safe meeting their standards, if you have extra firearms coverage.

      My little tip is to avail yourself of your NRA membership insurance feature. You get $5,000 worth of firearms insurance as a benefit of your membership. You MUST activate this coverage online, though, before the loss. Takes two minutes on their site and no serial numbers are required. One time activation and it’s good for as long as you’re a member. There are couple other free coverages available there, too, which must be activated. I know, five grand isn’t much, but it’s free. Plus there’s the opportunity to purchase additional coverage, if needed.

  34. Great article! I am a big time proponent for gun owners to get good safes, not the cheap big box retailers models. My friends will literally drop thousands of dollars on a gun, but balk at the thought of spending more than a couple hundred dollars to keep that thousand dollar investment (as well as the other thousands of dollars in accessories and other firearms) safe. Thank you for providing solid advice to fellow gun owners.

  35. if you do the gun rod method of storing guns in the safe, you may do a little better than “actual useful capacity is usually 1/2 to 1/3 of what is advertised.”

  36. Good article – would have been nice to see some recommendations though. About 8 years ago I bought a Liberty Centurion 32-gun safe. It had a good all-around rating and was affordable ($800 with another $100 for deliver), and moveable, but not easily at about 800 pounds empty. Was not comfortable with the two light weight locking gun cabinets I have. Now I use the larget of the two for ammo and parts storage, the maller one is my “Ready Locker”.

  37. got my vote (FWIW) for P320 contention. Not just because of the awesome and informative post, but also because of all the informative comments that are being collected.

    TTAG rocks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *