Safe Or Cabinet?

Glenn posts about personal safes. You know, those heavy metal boxes that are supposed to contain your valuables so thieves can’t carry them off. It seems that sales have jumped.

I have had some experience with safes, the same as just about anyone who is a responsible firearms owner, and thought everyone might be interested in hearing about the basics.

Before we get started, let me caution everyone by saying that safes do not provide a guarantee that your stuff won’t ever be stolen. It simple adds a layer of complexity to the thief’s job. Any safe can be defeated by a determined, well equipped, experienced criminal with a plan and plenty of time.

What I described in the previous paragraph sounds an awful lot like one of those heist movies, where a gang of colorful characters portrayed by photogenic Hollywood stars come together to make the one big score that will set them up for life. Those guys will probably not bother with the safe in your basement, mainly because they know that it isn’t very likely for you to have a few million dollars in cash, let alone that you will keep it in your home safe. If you set it up right, just about any sturdy lockbox or safe will foil the efforts of the casual burglar.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there are two levels of security to consider when buying a safe.

There are types that are merely metal boxes with a lock on them, and they don’t protect your valuables from fire. These are usually referred to as “lockboxes” if they are small, while the larger versions are called “security cabinets”. They are not safes! The word “cabinet” is what should clue you in that you are buying what amounts to a sturdy, immobile suitcase with a lock on it.


Then there are metal boxes that have thick walls filled with an insulating material, and they will protect your valuables from fire. They are traditionally known as “safes”. They cost more than the lockboxes and cabinets, but are worth it if keeping whatever is inside them as safe as possible is an important goal.


The locking mechanisms used to secure the doors of these security devices range from a Victorian level of technology…,


…to computerized cypher pads that one could find on the doors leading to a secret weapons lab.

The advantages to the high tech stuff is that it still keeps your valuables nice and safe, and it allows easier and quicker access to the inside of the box. After all, just punching in a 5 digit code is a lot simpler than manipulating one of those little silver wheels with all the numbers etched into them.

But there are also problems, as fellow gun blogger and respected gun writer Michael Bane found out. The electronic locking devices add a much greater level of complexity to the relatively simple task of keeping the lock engaged until the correct combination or code is employed. Greater complexity means that there are significantly more potential failures built in to the mechanism. That is why I have never recommended a safe with an electronic lock to any of my students. Stick to the old fashioned safe wheels and avoid some potential frustration.

Your safe, cabinet, or lockbox also needs to be bolted to something so thieves simply won’t carry it off. Most gun safes come with small holes in the back, a place where bolts can be inserted to secure the box to an interior wall in your house. Make sure that the material or wall in question is made of hardy stuff, as bolting your expensive safe to nothing more than sheetrock is a really dumb idea.

Is there one safe or cabinet manufacturer that I would recommend over all others? Not really. Just about all of them provide the same level of customer service, just about all of them provide the same level of protection for the money. Still, after saying that, there are a few fly-by-night operations I’ve come across over the years. I would suggest that, before you buy, call the number listed on the safe for customer service. If someone answers then I’d say got for it.

Most of my students don’t have much money, but they still need a place to secure their valuables when not at home. I have written in the past about low cost ways to create a lockbox or gun cabinet, with one method costing less than $10.00 USD. Click on that last link and you will find easy, step-by-step instructions to making your own. It won’t be as nice as buying something custom built for the purpose, but it will work pretty well for the money.

(Cross posted at Hell in a Handbasket, my own personal blog.)

6 thoughts on “Safe Or Cabinet?”

  1. I can open any Master combination lock in about 10 minutes. Security is a state of mind, as Feynman showed in “Surely you are Joking, Mr Feynman.”

  2. I took care of the potential for carrying the safe away by having it placed in the basement. If the thieves want to carry a 600 pound safe up the stairs, they are welcome to try.

  3. > I have written in the past about low cost ways to create a lockbox or gun cabinet, with one method costing less than $10.00 USD. Click on that last link and you will find easy, step-by-step instructions to making your own.

    I go with the grungy toolbox option, offhand, esp. in a reasonably remote, hard to get at location, combined with a highly visible lockbox that says “grab me and run!”

  4. I’d like to add a couple points.

    1) While there’s not much difference in crack-resistance (anybody who hauls it away and has the right tools will get in) there are some differences in fire protection. This is usually expressed as a period of time at a temperature during which the interior won’t go above a temperature, eg, 60 minutes at 1200F with the interior temperature not going over 300F. I made fire resisitance the gravamen in choosing mine.
    2) Fire resistance is partly the result of positioning. If you put it on a slab floor, as for instance in a basement or garage, next to an exterior wall, it will do better. In a garage, of course, makes it relatively easy to back a pickup up to the door and take it if you have not bolted it down. Bolting it to anchors in concrete is the best, but all the bolting really does is add time to the process, time the scrotes don’t want to spend.
    3) Assuming the safe is on a slab floor, storing the most flammable stuff on the floor of the safe may add a small increment of protection. Assuming you are tidy with your solvents during the cleaning process, store long guns muzzle-up.
    4) If you are self-employed or run a business from home or store your business backups at a ‘remote location’ (ie, at home), it’s deductible.
    5) One of the backups to store in it, or store somewhere, is a complete video of every room in your house, with commentary about any custom features and any valuables. When State Farm wants to cost your house, they’ll assume formica, but the backup tape will show the granite (or sodalite!) countertops.

  5. Safety deposit boxes and secure storage are the best options for highly valuable items you don’t need access to on an ongoing basis. I have noted that people keep things in personal safes that they never actually use for years. Seems inefficient and risky.

    For weapons, safe storage breaks down into two categories: actual storage and versus someplace to put the weapon until you need it in a hurry. In both cases, hiding in secret compartments in furniture or structure is cheap and easy but relies on you not revealing the hiding place to any but the most trusted intimates. For bibliophiles, a hollowed out book on a high self is an excellent place to securely hide a hand gun. Compartments built under coffee tables, cabinets or beds can hide rifles. (the kickspace under kitchen cabinets is always empty and almost always forgotten. Simply, remove/replace the front panel and you have a something like a 3″x18″x24″ storage space that most people won’t check.)

    On perl of wisdom about having an actual safe. Always make sure you know the combination because the sociopath that breaks into the house with you their probably won’t believe that you forgot.

  6. I would prefer to put my valuables under a removable panel underneath the safe. Once the crooks do you the favor of removing the safe, you can access your valuables again.

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