Gear, Parts and Accessories

Choosing a Gun Safe

When I was a young man, the average living room or den featured a wooden gun cabinet, the stores had racks and safes were unheard of. That quickly changed, and today it would be foolish indeed to rely on a gun cabinet. There is little security. In fact, gun cabinets are not really secure, even from children.

Picture of a black gun safe with a silver bolt
That big bolt means security.

I once had a friend who was a good child, although as curious as any. He had learned how to take the back off of his dad’s gun cabinet—I suppose David was about 11—and reverently showed me the family .32-20 Winchester. It was wrong, even though not unexpected. He did know how to check to see if the rifle was loaded and was very reverent when handling it; however, the old-time gun cabinet had no security. The last one I saw still in use was at the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, NC. I am not a family friend; I was on tour, and the place was well guarded.

It is a moral responsibility, and sometimes a legal one, to keep firearms out of the hands of children and criminals. The first advice I can give is to buy all the safe you can afford at the first chance. Most of the time, we end up with two, or even three, safes. We purchase the first safe, then we keep accumulating the guns of our dreams, and it grows from there. That is prosperity.

If you own a small number of working guns and need to keep the deer rifle, the bird gun, a couple of .22s and the pistols out of the hands of children, you need a gun safe. If the accumulation of firearms is more appealing than the growth of a 401K, you need a larger safe. If you have a steel door on the safe room and just want to keep the children away from the guns, a simple safe—really a metal cabinet—is fine. Fires are terrible, so you need a fireproof safe, although the primary concern is theft. Guns are one of the few things that bring more on the street than they may fetch at retail, which makes them very attractive to thieves.

There is a great disparity in the availability of gun safes. Many are simple locking cabinets; others weigh thousands of pounds. It all depends on your focus. If guns are the focus of your hobby or investment, then the largest safe you can afford is a wise choice. If you collect motorcycles and cars and like a few guns too, then a modest, quality safe is advisable. A locking cabinet is OK for keeping the kids out.

Let’s Talk Features

There are many things to consider when purchasing your gun safe. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

The Gauge of the Steel

Let’s look at gauges of steel: the lower the number, the thicker the gauge, just like shotguns. A 10-gauge metal is heavier than 12-gauge. You could breach a lighter safe with a heavy axe. Sure, they are easy to move, but that means they are just as easy to steal; do not get a false sense of security.

Fire Rating

Blue label safety label on a black gun safe
Fire-tested and affordable Cannon safes are always a good bet.

Fire rating is also important since most of us will store deeds and checkbooks in the gun safe. Not long ago, I was having a problem keeping my oatmeal cookies from my daughter. I have one with my coffee, and she would steal two or three a day. So the oatmeal cookies went in the gun safe; there are many uses (I had to insert that—knives sometimes go in the safe, and I have hidden jewelry just before Christmas as well). The more extensive and expensive your collection, the better the quality of the safe you need to buy, and a large and heavy safe is better than two small ones.

Location

Location is important. A professional team of thieves will remove the safe from a home and cut their way into it later; make it difficult to them to get the safe. A doper who breaks in and comes across the safe by accident will sometimes take a sledgehammer to the locking mechanism. The handles may break off, but the safe will remain intact.

Internal and external hinges are a consideration. If the safe has external hinges they are easier to get to and it would still take a great deal of effort to get into the safe.

 

Plan Ahead

Obviously, the heaviest safe is unsuitable for an apartment, and some second floors will not support a safe. As an example, a few years ago I purchased an antique bathtub for the bathroom of the older house where I lived. As it turned out, I had to shore up the floor, and the same for my daughter’s waterbed. Not all homes are made for that type of weight in the corner.

This safe has given excellent service. The dial pad requires that the batteries be changed occasionally, otherwise the safe has been trouble free.
This safe has given excellent service. You must change the dial pad batteries occasionally, but the safe has been trouble free.

As for security, this is common sense: no one needs to know what you have. You should not save the code or combination, unless absolutely necessary. If you copy the combination, store it in a safe deposit box and put the key to the bank box in the safe, you will have a problem.

Back to size—handguns or rifles? The layout is different. Choose wisely, and make your safe purchase a once-in-a-lifetime investment.

Do you keep your guns in a locked safe? What type of gun safe have you purchased (or are planning to buy)? Share in the comments section.

[bob]

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (28)

  1. One point about the article relating to the external hinges, If you have a good quality safe, that’s made in America, or Germany there are interior bolts that are positioned all around the door so cutting off the hinges will not work! The exterior hinges are made so the door opens fully and out of your way when accessing into it!

  2. All great things to consider when choosing a gun safe. There are many other features and things to consider making sure that the gun safe is not only safe and secure, but will last for a very long time.
    The actual construction of the gun safe is immensely important. The body should be made of the thickest steel with the safe door construction at the most importance. For example Sportsman has 3″ jig saw doors with double expandable gaskets. These gun safe doors, like the one shown here, are built almost like a bank vault by sealing your firearms on three different levels. http://www.sportsmansteelsafes.com/images_vault_new/3-inch-crown.jpg
    Another important construction that someone can look into for a gun safe is the addition of a separate steel frame made solely for the lock plate. This is commonly used as an added safety mechanism against common intrusive attempts such as drilling the lock.
    Sure, gun safes like this might be more pricey, and vary on each gun owners objections but ultimately you get what you pay for. I don’t think anyone should take a chance on an inferior safe and make sure that whatever safe you choose will protect you, your family and your firearms investment. Here is another resource for some additional safety tips people can take into consideration when picking out a gun safe.

  3. I have a Liberty safe, model Lincoln 25. About 800 lbs, in the basement. It was hard getting it down the stairs, I’ll leave it behind should I ever move again. BTW, Liberty has some good guarantees.

  4. Actually, that type of EMP attack is well modeled. It would also drop the Texas grid.
    Now, what are the realistic chances of such an attack?
    A launch would be detected, the missile tracked on radar. Once it’s known that it’s headed toward the US, our missiles would launch.
    The difference is, ours would strike land. Meanwhile, DoD strategic systems would stay up, as their supplies are isolated and self-contained or have a self-contained alternate if the external mains fail. That gives a second strike capability as well.

    We’ll suffice it to say, it’s unlikely anyone is dumb enough to want it raining thermonuclear warheads onto their heads over a crippling strike of the civilian infrastructure of the US.

    I’m retired military and started my career with nukes. 🙂
    Probably one of the stupidest ways to defend oneself. It’s like using a claymore mine in the livingroom against an armed intruder. It’d work, but the house wouldn’t be worth much afterward.

  5. Tim Smith, you are spot on about the difference between a gun safe and one for high end valuables. I used to have a body shop and the guy who built the place put in one of those pain in the ass floor safes. Well lightning struck the building and that was the end of the building as we had to bring the dumpster in every night so the neighborhood idiots would not torch it.Of course the building started to burn all the paper then a car, the rest was history Oddly enough the paint room did not go poof.. back to the safe. The building was toast as were 7 cars. The thing that was not hurt was the cash I had in the safe.. I always thought that if I ever got rich and bought my wife a bunch of jewelry I would put one in the ground..

  6. bought a Liberty model #FX-23, 1200f for 20 minutes fire rating, make sure it has a fire rated gasket, this is to prevent smoke from penetrating the gap, yes talk to any one, everything got sooted after a fire in my house, it now has the new gasket. wish it was bigger.

  7. I prefer a mechanical lock too, but for a different reason. Without power, that electronic lock is useless. For high end rotary locks, if the supercapacitor fails, again, no power.
    If an EMP takes out my electronics, it’d likely be from a nuke that was quite close. Electronics would be the least of my worries, being incinerated would be my most likely problem.

    1. No, not necessarily so, EMP’s are calibrated for max pulse not max blast. I understand that it would take only two EMP’s to destroy every unprotected circuit in the US except for Texas which has its own grid and only one additional EMP would be required to destroy that one as well.
      Since the nuclear blast is not that great and from 50 miles or so straight up we might not be aware of the blast at all or minimally so, but the loss of a majority of electronics could put us back into the 1920’s within a few days. You would need your weapons to keep hungry mobs away within three or four days.

      For this reason I have no electronic locks at all. Actually, I have one old safe bought from Sears and Roebuck in 1948, used and moved many times and the old combo lock works like new. That’s good enough for me. I even had the electronic ignition removed from my old truck so I’ll have transportation if TSHTF.

  8. I can appreciate these comments. I have an Amsec. I really believe in combination locks as opposed to electronic touchpads. An EMP attack could certainly knock out all the electronics in a keypad device.

  9. I should add, a preferred installation has steel reinforced concrete walls, if possible and a reinforced concrete pad under with anchors that would be mounted where the entire slab would have to come up to lift the safe.

    Bank safes use steel reinforced concrete, steel sides to each slab to make them modular and those steel sides, floor and ceiling are welded together. The welds have varying specifications, from multiple one inch seam welds to multiple three inch weld seams to even fully welded seams.
    The idea is not to completely defeat an intruder, but to delay them long enough that, regardless of equipment used, law enforcement has enough time to be notified and arrive.

    It’s an adage in security, one cannot keep *everyone* out forever, but one can delay them and make them do things that attract attention for long enough for a response to be mounted.
    That is true in a military situation with a minefield and sentries, it is true with a safe or even vault. One layers ones defenses, with overlapping protections.
    One spends along the lines of both worth of that which is being protected and risk expectancy.
    So, one does not spend ten thousand dollars to protect one thousand dollars worth of assets, one also does not spend at 1:1 worth of assets.
    One gauges the threat, the chance of a risk to that threat and calculates the value added in protection.

    But, ignoring the gold value, just from a firearms perspective, one has a gauge as well.
    I have several rifles that cost $1800-$2500, plus added items like high end scopes. I have match grade ammunition, which isn’t inordinately expensive, but it’s not cheap plinking ammunition. I have antique firearms as well.
    I also have some firearms of unique historic “value”, such as some stereotypical “Saturday night specials” that have their own place as items of historic interest, if not worth much for accuracy. Those have an additional value to me, as they were my father’s firearms.
    So, with around $10k worth of firearms and accessories, plus some high personal value firearms, it would be worthwhile to consider approaching $5-7k to protect them.
    The safe cost a fair amount, the room that the safe is in now has a reinforced door and frame, the walls to the room are impractical to breach due to the nature of the construction in that part of the house.
    There is a well window present, it is narrow enough that a child might manage to enter, but be unable to defeat the room lock or do much with the safe, the window also has concrete, aluminum and glass blocks sealing it that would take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to breach and it would be noisy.
    The remainder of the cost was the alarm system. It has outside visual signalling, external and internal alarms and one extremely loud alarm in the room with the safe. It also, of course, calls out if there is trouble.
    I have neighbors close enough to be annoyed by the alarm and who actually would notify the police if it went off.
    All of those are protections, the last of which costs little than either annoying the neighbors with noise and flashing lights or being friendly with them.

  10. Wzrd1,

    You make some good points about safes and especially mounting them to the floor or any part of the home.

    I am always surprised when people talk about the “thickness” of the door. Any burglar worth his salt will not come in through the door. He will come in through the side/top. Why would they choose the most protected side of the safe?

    The next time you’re in a store that sells gun safes take a look at the gauge of metal used. Just knock on the side of the safe. They should be advertised as “as safe way to keep your guns away from children” not as “safes”. They are not safe from any person with a rotary rescues saw that would go through ANY side, even the door, of the safe in mere seconds! After all even a 10 gauge safe is only 0.1345″ thick! The rest of the safe is simply drywall.

    I do agree if you that if you are only storing guns then a “gun safe” is fine and meets the law’s requirements: however if you are putting silver, gold, cash or irreplaceable items in a gun safe you are only fooling yourself. Yes you are most likely protecting yourself from children or a druggie; however you have NO protection from a real burglar with the proper tools.

    As far as banks go, yes they have an impressive door, but that is really where the protection ends. Banks depend upon good alarm systems and Police response. NOT a really strong safe. Crime annals are full of bank robbers who came in the safe not through the door but the bottom/top/side of the safe.

    So, if you are storing more than guns and irreplaceable items a gun safe is NOT the answer. A good way to figure out what you should spend on a safe is to spend ten to fifteen percent of the replace cost of the valuables contained in the safe. Example if you have say 50k of silver/gold or heaven forbid paper money, or invaluable keepsakes, watches jewelry etc. in total then. you want to protect then spending anything less than 5 – 7k on a safe is only giving you false security.

    And in any case as Wzrd1 says BOLT it down!

    Take a look at http://www.graffundersafes.com/products/safes-weapon.html choose either an E or F rating if you have serious items to protect.

  11. One other consideration for placing one’s safe is to mount it.
    No, I’m not talking about wall safes, floor safes or hidden safes.
    Bolting the thing through the provided mount points to prevent the safe from being easily stolen.
    One of my safes is bolted to concrete. There are two ways to get that safe out, one being opening it and unbolting it. The other being using a crane and well, the house is in the way.
    My other safes are bolted to joists. Again, it’ll take a great deal to get those lag bolts from those heavy joists.

    Firearms aren’t cheap, they’re expensive. Why risk losing them when a decent safe costs around half of the cost of a quality firearm and a high quality safe isn’t anywhere near the cost of replacing a collection?

    What isn’t mentioned in detail is the ratings of a safe.
    There are two ratings in common safes. The class, which tells you the temperature inside of the safe in a fire. After all, a safe is a metal box, in a fire it is a metal box that is heated. A non-fire rated safe would then fulfill the description of an oven. That isn’t good for ammunition, papers or the furniture on your firearm.
    I went with a class 150 safe, the hottest it should get inside is 150 degrees. Not a great chance of a cook-off or papers being incinerated.
    The other classification is the TL number.
    I went with a TL-30, it would take a determined person a half hour of abusing the safe to open it. TL-40 cost a lot more and only gives one 10 additional minutes.
    There’s another Tx rating scheme, but they’re a lot more expensive, they’re combined ratings models. TRTL and TXTL, where they resist oxy-acetylene torches and explosives, respectively. Let’s face it, we’re not protecting a quarter ton of gold, too expensive, no real return on investment for the protection given.
    If you need something like that, you *really* need to get a safe company in to build you a proper commercial safe with a class 5 door. If you’re doing that, you have an armory or you’re Jack Benny’s character. 😉
    And yes, you’d need that safe built, as the safe door is only part of the problem, the walls, ceiling and floors also need protecting when you’re doing a room sized protected area.
    Personally, I’d be looking at buying a used bank. 🙂

    1. You have the right idea ! A person I know had a safe like a banks, While he was gone for a few days, Thy broke in, cut a large hole in the back wall and winched the safe on to a truck ! He lived in the woods.

    2. Wzrd1 .. Agree with you 1000% about anchoring you safe. Mine weighs 800 pounds empty, no telling how much it weighs now loaded with guns and a ridiculous amount of ammo. Everyone made fun of me when I set 6″ bolts into the slab and into the foundation wall. Like you it in in the basement and now surrounded by additional walls.
      In short, getting it out is extremely remote but, not impossible…
      I have no “specially modified” rifles or guns, but replacement would be difficult.
      Like with anything there are things that have memories. I still have the first rifle my father gave me, a single shot, 22 along with the pocket knife to pull out the spent case as the ejector was broken.
      Thing like that cannot be replaced.. so why take the chance with buying a POS safe.
      Don’t cry when your guns are gone when all it would have taken was to not buy that one gun you had to have and invest that money is a better safe.
      No I am not rich, actually I live of a small pension and my SS.. But if I want, not need a gun, it sometimes has to wait.. It took me over a year year of buying nothing to pay off my safe..

  12. I bought a Fort Knox and the size is approx: 28″ x 40″ x 70″ tall.
    1/2 shelves and 16 rifle.
    After 20+ years, it is overflowing.
    The door is 5/8″ solid steel.
    The ones I see now a days, are thinner metal rolled over a drywall insert.
    I guess.
    Are they just as secure?
    I have priced the one I have now, today’s price the same safe is over 400% more, geez inflation!
    If I was to do it over, I would definately get the largest one I could afford!

  13. Do your research! I found out that most big store retailers safes are made in china! Make sure it is made in the USA and the combination lock is also made in the USA. UL fire rating is very important if you are storing all your valuables in there and buy a safe that is twice as big as you currently need. You will be surprised how fast it fills up! I took two years and talking to several lock smiths safe dealers and research on the internet before I made my purchase, and now I can leave my house for the weekend or for longer periods of time and not have to think of if my belongings are safe! Check youtube videos and watch how fast thieves can get into a Chinese safe! Research and a big hurt to the wallet is key to security!

  14. Most gun safes use forms of drywall, gypsum which contains water of crystallization in the form of hydrates. Heat drives out the water and subsequently steam heats your guns. My old safe is very vulnerable, but newer safes may contain fire” fire code C” or Type X drywall – better but not perfect.

    The first order of fire protection is inspecting your house and yard for fire hazards. A house fire that doesn’t happen is what you want to have

  15. Okay, so I go out and buy me a new gun (Kel-Tec RFB) and go to stick in my gun safe. It’s not a bad case, spent some serious change on. I look at it as I am placing my $1900 gun in it and say WTF.. I am now storing over 10k worth of guns in my $800 safe.. At this point I start researching safes and en up buying a Browning M28 USED… Yes you can buy these over sized boat anchors used and save a bunch of money.. Now why the Browning, everything on it is the best including interior attachments. Remember you are storing a lot of $$$ in there. For me I was restricted by the opening I had to manually get it through.. At almost 800 pounds with the door off it is a ball buster.
    When I look at my safe I feel confident that my guns are safe.. Oh an when I sell my house I will start looking for another one as the only way to get it out of my basement is to tear down a wall from my latest addition

  16. I just purchased a gun safe (delivered two days ago), after about 30 days of research. No matter what safe you get, you’re buying one thing, and one thing only. TIME. Time against intruders, and/or time against a fire. My personal needs were theft and fire protection as I live in a very rural area with volunteer firefighters. I fully agree with another poster that you buy all the safe you can afford. It should hurt.

    UL’s RSC rating (Residential Security Container) cert is a joke. 5 min against break in–DOOR ONLY. Still better than no cert at all because its a known standard.

    My research showed me that FIRE ratings are all over the map. UL fire ratings are top notch. That test is insane, and you’ll pay dearly for that cert. BE CAREFUL of other safe builders fire ratings because there is NO other standard. Most are doing their own thing on this important spec. What was the hi temp? For how long total test? What was the ramp up temp? You’ll have to do your homework on this because without UL cert you won’t know how they went about thier testing. Most employees at ‘big box’ stores won’t know jack about the product, so be prepared to do your own research. This is a major purchase, and should not be taken lightly. Some of you may be curious as to what safe I purchased. I wanted a Ft. Knox, but even though I said above it should hurt, I didn’t have the budget to allow it to hurt that bad. I settled for a Liberty Fatboy and am good with the cost vs. performance AT THIS TIME. Your mileage and needs will most likely be different than mine, just SPEND THE TIME AND DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH.

    Hope this helps someone.

  17. What ever you do, make sure the safe you buy will fit through all the doorways through which it must pass. I checked and I double-checked, but the published dimensions did not include the protruding external hinges or the electronic locking mechanism. Fortunately, after removing the door from the safe, it was successfully maneuvered through the doorway. I can take some comfort in knowing that it would be just as difficult for thieves to remove it.

  18. My gun safe is not fire proof, but I keep a small fire proof safe inside to keep important papers that I want to keep at home in… Other more important papers such as home owners Ins. I keep in my bank lock box…

    If it was mentioned, I missed it…
    But speaking of bolts made me think of the lag bolts I used to bolt my safe to the floor joists and also the wall studs…

  19. I don’t actually think hinges out or in makes a bit of difference if the door has locking bolts on all four sides. In that case, the hinges just help you swing the door outwards after it’s unlocked, but are not playing any role in keeping the door closed when locked. If you’re buying a residential security container that doesn’t have bolts on all four sides and does rely on hinges for keeping the door closed, you might want to upgrade your system.

  20. There is no difference in security with internal versus external hinges, both are secured by bolts, not by the hinges.

    External hinges can give advantages. Generally external hinges allow the door to open 180 degrees or more, but internal hinges may be limited in opening angle. Also external hinged doors, when open, can more easily have the door removed for transport.

    Electronic locks may not be any more secure than mechanical, and are reported to have a much higher failure rate.

  21. A true fire safe is a bad choice for a gun safe. These have thin steel walls so they don’t absorb excess heat. And they have insulating material with high moisture content that will make guns prone to rusting. Most fire safes sold at large box stores are actually inadequate in a full blown house fire. If the contents are important, it should have at least a Class B rating from UL or KIS.

    OTOH a fire safe is a poor choice for protection against theft because of the thin gauge steel.

  22. I only have a small collection of firearms and have no children living at home. I also live in a very rural area (about 3,000 people live in the whole county) so I just use a key lock Stack On gun case. An actual safe would be nice, but I can’t justify the cost at this time.

    1. maybe you could justify the cost of a safe if a methhead broke in and stole your guns and you wished after that, that you bought a safe, can get a smaller winchester safe for about 300, usually the farm stores like tractor supply, atwoods, orschelins, etc have them

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