Purchasing a gun safe can be challenging due to the numerous options and features available. Misinformation from uninformed sales staff can add to the difficulty. This guide will simplify the process by breaking down the basics of buying a safe.
Although size and price are important factors, there are many other considerations. If cost is a concern, it’s better to have a basic safe than none at all. Use this information to be prepared for a successful shopping experience.
What do you need to store in the safe?
Before purchasing a gun safe, determine what you will store in it. Not all safes are created equal, and some are designed specifically for jewelry, cash, and documents, while others are designed for firearms.
Be cautious of individuals in the industry who sell low-quality safes and claim to offer top-quality merchandise. To ensure you purchase a safe that meets your needs, consider factors such as metal thickness, lock type, door steel plate, RSC rating, fire rating, hinge placement, and floor anchor points. These factors vary based on requirements, budget, and manufacturer.
This guide provides an overview of what to know before making a purchase.
Determine the maximum space you are willing to dedicate to your safe. The standard advice is to purchase the largest safe you can afford. If finances are a concern, it may be better to wait and save up to get a higher-quality safe.
A simple method to evaluate the quality of a safe is to assess its weight. Generally, heavier safes tend to be of better quality, as they often feature thicker gauge steel and utilize high-density concrete-based materials instead of drywall panels. Keep in mind, this is a starting point, and it is recommended to further research the reasons for a safe’s weight.
Remember, thicker is better. Often, manufacturers will provide the total thickness of the door, which includes air space and drywall sheets. However, what matters is the gauge of steel used on the door and the walls of the safe, as they are typically different, with doors usually made of thicker gauge steel.
The insulation between the steel sheets of a safe varies in quality. The best option is a poured concrete amalgamate, consisting of Portland cement mixed with materials like fiberglass and vermiculite to hinder cutting tools and absorb heat. Fiberglass-reinforced gypsum fireboard panels are a commonly used fire-resistant insulation. However, when exposed to fire, the gypsum absorbs heat and converts it to steam, causing the gypsum to fall apart and putting the contents of the safe at risk.
The lock mechanism is often a weak point on a safe, so manufacturers often include a hard plate made of heat-treated steel behind the lock to prevent drilling. A hard plate is meant to break or jam a drill bit before it reaches the lock mechanism. However, be cautious when purchasing a safe, as some sellers may emphasize the presence of a hard plate while using thinner gauge steel in the safe.
A continuous welded joint is stronger than the surrounding metal when done correctly. However, some less expensive safes use stitch welding and fill the joints with body filler. For optimal strength, the body and seams of the safe should have a deep-penetrating weld, with a minimum of a quarter-inch specified by the UL 687 construction ratings. Dropping the safe on its corner or side edge is a common method to quickly access it, but this can cause a cold weld to split due to the force and weight of the safe.
Not securing your safe to the floor is a common error made by safe owners. Anchoring the safe makes it difficult for a thief to tip it over. If a safe is tipped on its back, a thief can stand on the door for leverage and, with the help of an accomplice, easily pry open the door. If anchoring to the floor is not an option, filling the safe with heavy items such as ammunition can make it harder to tip.
The choice between internal and external hinges on a safe can affect accessibility. External hinges allow for a wider door opening, up to 180 degrees, while internal hinges typically open only up to 90 degrees. Consider placement and ease of access when making a decision. Hinges themselves do not play a role in security and can be cut by inexperienced thieves.
However, the door of a safe with external hinges is securely anchored in place by fixed bolts running the height of the door on the same side of the hinge when locked.
The most common locking mechanisms for home safes are electronic, mechanical, and biometric. Some safes offer a combination of both manual and electronic options, offering a backup plan if one fails.
Electronic locks are quick to open, but some people are hesitant to trust them due to fears of electrical malfunctions, EMP attacks, or a general distrust of electronics. If you prefer electronic locks but worry about EMPs, there are now electronic locks that are able to handle such pulses.
Mechanical locks, with their simple multi-tumbler combination design, are reliable, require limited maintenance, and offer a large number of possible combinations. Some companies even offer a lifetime warranty.
Biometric locks use fingerprints as a code, unlocking the safe with a quick scan. When considering a biometric lock, be sure to test the biometric reader on a demo safe, as not all scanners are equal in performance.
Examine the door’s “bolts” of a safe, which are cylindrical projections that extend from the door as the lock is rotated, securing it in place. Consider the number, thickness, length, and composition of the bolts. Also, assess the strength and thickness of the walls that support the bolts.
The shear pin is located on the door handle shaft and acts as a fail-safe mechanism in case of prying attempts. If the handle is used as leverage to pry open the bolt system, the pin will break, disconnecting the door handle from the bolts and rendering the safe unopened. Note that this is a one-time use system, and repair will require the assistance of a safe smith once the pin has broken.
A clutch mechanism in a safe serves as a security feature by protecting the locking mechanism from being forced open by unauthorized individuals. This is achieved by allowing the handle to spin freely when excessive force is applied to it. The clutch serves as a fail-safe system, which helps prevent theft attempts while minimizing damage to the safe. The clutch mechanism acts as a barrier to protect the locking mechanism, making it more difficult for a thief to break into the safe.
This added layer of protection enhances the overall security of the safe, ensuring that valuable items stored inside are kept safe and secure. By incorporating a clutch mechanism in a safe, users can have peace of mind knowing that their possessions are protected from theft and damage.
A relocker is an essential component of a safe that provides added security and protection against tampering. It is designed to engage automatically in the event that the safe is subjected to excessive force or attack with tools such as hammers, drills, or crowbars. The purpose of a relocker is to prevent the transfer bars from moving, effectively locking down the bolts and making it impossible to open the safe through conventional means.
Relockers can be made of either glass or metal and serve as a secondary line of defense against theft or unauthorized access. If the glass relocker shatters or the metal relocker is impacted by a tool, the spring-loaded mechanism will activate, locking the bolts in place. In this scenario, the dial of the safe will no longer function, and the owner will have to seek the services of a professional locksmith to open and repair the safe.
In conclusion, a relocker is a critical component of a safe, providing an added layer of security and protection against theft or tampering. It serves as a fail-safe system, ensuring that the safe remains secure even in the event of an attempted break-in.
The evaluation of safe ratings can be perplexing due to various and overlapping systems and the absence of a compulsory testing requirement for manufacturers. This leads to misleading claims regarding the security of safes. To determine the resistance of a safe against burglar attacks, there are two distinct rating methods: Construction Ratings established by the insurance industry and Test Performance Ratings developed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
In the construction rating system, B-Class and C-Class are the most widely recognized ratings. These ratings are based on the door and body thickness rather than the level of resistance to attack. A B-Class-rated safe must have a door that’s less than 1 inch thick and a body made of steel that’s less than half an inch thick. A C-Class rating doubles these thickness standards. To put this into perspective, the lowest UL rating (TL-15) is equivalent to a Class ER rating in the construction rating system.
Test performance ratings
Under the UL 687 Standard, safes undergo extensive testing to earn certification as burglar and fire-resistant. The lowest rating, TL-15, requires the safe to resist door opening or creating a 6-square-inch opening through the door or front face for 15 minutes when attacked with common tools, picking tools, electrical tools, drills, and pressure-applying devices.
However, many safes only receive a UL-RSC rating, which only certifies resistance against 5 minutes of tampering attacks. The highest rating, TSTL-60, certifies the safe can withstand 60 minutes of attacks from professional safecrackers using cutting torches, nitroglycerin, or other explosive methods.
The cost of fire-resistant safe increases with its rated fire protection time. Consider the length of the fire rating and evaluate your protection needs. It’s important to note that a fire-rated safe may not necessarily protect firearms, as high heat can cause rifle barrels to warp and paper documents to become damaged or destroyed.
The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 72 is the standard for fire resistance in safes, divided into three categories: 350, 150, and 125. These categories are typically translated into time limits for internal temperatures. For example, a UL 72 Class 350 rating for two hours means that the internal temperature of the safe won’t exceed 350 degrees for two hours, even if the outside temperature reaches as high as 1,850 degrees for 45 minutes.
The fire endurance test also includes an impact test (a 30-foot drop to simulate failing floorboards in a three-story building) and an explosion test. Claims of “UL Rated Fire Insulation” or “Tested to UL Standards” should be viewed with caution. UL offers product ratings for thousands of items, but just because a product has UL-rated fire insulation or was tested to UL standards doesn’t necessarily mean it passed the test or received a specific rating.
For example, the gypsum board used as insulation may have been UL tested, but the safe itself may not have been. Similarly, a safe being “tested to UL standards” doesn’t provide information on its performance or the rating it received.
As you can see in this guide, buying a safe requires a little bit of research and knowledge before putting the money down. It’s important to understand all these key factors to make sure you buy the right safe for your needs.
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