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.)