Friday, July 12, 2013

A primer on Gun Safes

While shopping for gun safes, I learned quite a bit about how gun safes are made, what options are available and what you should look for in a safe. A couple of pieces of advice: Always buy bigger than you need and look at the safe as an investment, you can sell the safe later and recoup most of your money and while you own it, it will protect your valuables.

The number one thing to know is that you get what you pay for (this is a universal truth). The second thing to know is that specs do not always tell the whole story. For instance you cannot say two safes that weigh 1000 lbs each are equal, you need to find out what the material is that is making up the weight. Is it steel, fireproofing material or ??

Most safe makers make a higher end model(s) that have very secure doors, but only a few safe makers make their safe bodies that can withstand an attack from a diamond tipped saw or axe. Also weak sides can be compromised in the event of a structure collapse.

There are two main reasons people buy gun safes to protect their guns:

1. To prevent unauthorized access, both from children and criminals. Children can be easily thwarted, criminals are another matter. Most professional criminals will spot a worthy safe and not waste any time attempting to open it (an unworthy safe will only take them a few minutes). Tweakers on the other hand….they may spend hours cutting, chopping, sawing, hacking away at your safe trying to get in.

2. To protect the guns in the event of a fire. One thing to remember is that heat is not the only danger during a fire. Smoke can also do damage. The thousands of gallons of water being sprayed onto the fire by the local fire department can also flood your safe. The upper floor could collapse upon your safe, crushing it and allowing smoke, heat and water into the interior.

Most safe companies use drywall as a safe insulator, a few use concrete or a special fireproof composite material. There are currently no standard tests for safe insulation, look for evidence of a lab test on the safe rather than just a “30 minute” fire rating.

Hinges; it doesn't make a difference whether the hinges are external or internal, the better quality safes do not use the hinges as part of the door locking mechanism anyway. External hinges are better in that they do not take away room for locking bolts, they allow for a wider door opening radius and they are easier to lubricate. You may notice that the higher end safes have heavy duty external hinges.

Locking bolts, the more the better, but they need to be locking against a solid surface. If the door frame is made of 12 gauge steel, 100 locking bolts are no stronger than the sheet metal they lock against. Size is important as well, but not as important as the door frame. Some safe companies (like Fort Knox) put bolts on the corners, I'm sure they have a good reason, but I would think that if your door and door frame were made of solid steel (3/16 or thicker) the corner could not be compromised anyway.

The best way to mount your safe is to bolt it to steel or wood beams that are then bolted to the floor and wall.

Unless you buy one of the “Excellent” safes, you should find ways of protecting the exterior walls (sides, back and top) from attack. Building shelving units made from sturdy wood (4x4” or bigger) could also help protect the safe from an upper floor or roof collapse.

Also, mounting the safe near a corner wall could help limit the amount of room a criminal would have to use a pry-bar, this would also help during a fire as the outside walls are generally cooler than the middle of the inferno.

Let's break down which safes are worthy of our dollars and which ones we should avoid. We'll start with the "Excellent" safe makers, of which there are only two (in my opinion) Graffunder and American Security. Keep in mind I am referring to the highest end model by the manufacturer listed. Some manufacturers high end model would not even compete with Graffunder and American Security’s low end models.

GRAFFUNDER ( is by far the best built gun safes in America (perhaps even the world)

Graffunder has several models, their highest rated safe: the F series, features an impenetrable door along with a 1" thick solid steel body that also has a 14 & 16 gauge interior panels (with insulation sandwiched between).
The doors are hand fitted to the frame so the gap is very tight, take a close look at the door, the gap is so tight that you cannot slam the door on a Graffunder safe, the air escaping from the tiny slit acts as an absorber and prevents the door from making contact. This also makes it impossible to use a prybar on the door.

Here is what the material used to build the safe body looks like (E & F rated safes), this also makes these safes so heavy that they cannot be lifted or transported without special equipment.

American Security is another great safe company ( Amsec's highest rated safe: The H.S. Series (High Security) also has a 1" thick body, the doors are also quite stout (3.5" composite with 1" thick outer plate) and have a tight gap.

Moving to the "Very Good" class of safes:

Browning Pro-Steel ( makes some very good and worthy safes, their doors are tough and the body (on their Pinnacle series) is made from 3/16" steel.

Fort Knox is another brand that stands near the top of the safe builders, their Legend series features 1/4" steel bodies that also have a 10 gauge stainless steel inner liner.
 Superior ( makes great safes, remember to compare their models. Their top of the line models (Untouchable series) feature solid steel triple stepped doors and strong frames, and a body made from 1/4" steel plate

You may have noticed that most of the "Very Good" safe makers use external hinges.....
Champion's Crown series safes feature 3/16" solid steel bodies and triple stepped doors (

Heritage Gun Safes ( makes very good line of safes, their top of the line "Ultimate" series features a 3/16" steel body (1/8" outer body plus 1/16" inner liner)
A new safe company has emerged: The Sports Afield line (claiming to be in business since 1887??) is selling rebranded safes. Their top of the line safe is indeed made by Heritage Safe in Idaho. It features an 11 gauge body with a 3/8" thick solid steel door.

But their standard safe looks suspiciously like the Winchester safe made in China

 Summit Safe's best model the McKinley, can be ordered with 3/8 steel body (1/8" outer + 1/8" inner) and a 3/4 solid steel door. They have some other great features like their "punch proof" cam design, see them here (

Sturdy Safe makes a very good safe with options on size and material (including fire insulation). With up to a 4 gauge body (1/4") and a 3/8" thick sold plate door. They use external hinges and a non-nonsense gray color (to save the customer money). One thing to note, they pay special attention to the door/body gap making a pry attack more difficult.
 Moving down to the "Good" safes......

 Liberty safes ( makes a broad range of safe models, that is why comparing the specifications is so important.
Liberty's top end, the Presidential Series as well as their other brand National Security feature 7 gauge thick bodies, their doors however are composite with only 1/4" thick solid steel

All of the safes listed above are Made in America, although you still need to look for the "Made in USA" logo as some of these companies have lower end safes made in Mexico, China, Korea and Taiwan

There are some other great smaller safe companies like Sportsman Steel, Patriot, Homeland, Pentagon and Citadel, again compare the specs.

 the "not so good" list contains many names, Cannon, Big Horn, Rhino, Mesa, Brahma, Steelwater, Dakota, Sentry  and the lower end Liberty safes... these safes are decent, but not great, you really need to investigate each safe. If their spec sheet does not include the actual thickness of the steel in the door & body, that is probably because they don't want you to know. Also be wary of the word "composite" when referring to the door or body thickness, they could be including the insulation, air gap and other things in the measurement.

an example of a composite door is shown below, they can be pried open with crow bars

More safes that suffered at the hands of thieves

This is why you need to bolt your safe down, when on its back the safe's door is easier to pry open

This safe is an example of what could happen in a fire, the upper floor or roof collapsed onto the safe, the body of the safe was made with thin material and could not support the weight/inertia, the door was compromised and the contents destroyed

On the DO NOT buy list would definitely include the "Winchester" brand safe being sold at the big box stores. I believe the same Chinese factory is also making safes under the names: Steelwater, Sportsafield, East King, Dragon & Wilson
This Winchester safe was opened with nothing more than a 3lb hammer in under 5 minutes, you can see how thin the metal is...


Here are a couple of installations that might help thwart a pry attack or an attack against the sides, back or top (but they MUST be bolted to the floor and/or wall)
While I do not recommend Big Horn Safes, this guy had the right idea:
A couple more:

Putting your safe in a corner could make it harder to move or get room to swing a hammer or pry bar

A special thanks to:
Fort Worth Locksmiths
The Safe
Thompson Safes
and the guys at Northwest Safe Company.

more great info on safe buying can be found here: