For his 56th birthday, a relative of mine decided to buy himself a “real” gun safe. In other words, he wasn’t buying a small safe to hold a pistol or two, but a large gun safe that would house his entire collection.
Needless to say, he was excited to purchase this safe so his guns would no longer be stored in the attic and other areas throughout the house. But, as he quickly found out, there’s a lot you need to know when deciding which type of large safe is right for you. Eventually, he found the perfect safe, and I’d like to share with you the buying process he went through.
When it comes to buying a large safe, the first and most important question you need to ask yourself is, how many guns do you want it to hold? If you’re like me, your gun collection seems to multiply like Gremlins, and the list of guns you want gets bigger each month. That’s why you need to make sure to buy a safe that can hold several more guns than you already own. For instance, if you own 20 guns, don’t buy a 20-gun safe because you’ll have no place to put your new guns, which will force you to buy another safe. If you already own 20 guns, consider getting a safe that holds 30, 40 or even 60 guns.
Once you’ve chosen the number of guns you want the safe to hold, the next decision to make is the thickness of the steel. In the safe industry, steel thickness is measured in terms of gauge. For example, a #16 gauge means the steel is 1/16 of an inch thick. A #12 gauge is 7/64 thick and a #7 gauge is 3/16 thick. The best advice I can give you is to buy quality and don’t go cheap on the thickness of the steel. Safes with a thickness of #14 or #16 can easily be defeated by an axe or a sledgehammer, and these are typically the cheap safes made overseas. To protect your guns, I would buy a safe with a minimum gauge of #10, and ideally #7. These safes will be American made because they weigh more and it’s not cost effective to ship them from the other side of the world. Also, definitely don’t buy a safe that doesn’t have a UL RSC rating. This is an Underwriters Laboratories Residential Security Container rating. Underwriters Laboratories is the independent firm that torture tests safes to make sure they meet certain standards, and this particular rating means the steel is thick enough to withstand an attack for five minutes with various tools. I realize five minutes may not sound like a lot, but that’s just the minimum and most safes will withstand an attack for a lot longer than that.
Lock It Up
Continuing along with the construction of the safe, you want to get a safe that has locking bolts on all four sides. What are locking bolts? Well, when you close the safe these bolts lock the door in place. So, if a burglar tried to remove the hinges and take the door off, they wouldn’t have any success because the bolts would keep the door locked in place. Although locking bolts come in various sizes, a quality safe will have bolts that are 1 inch to a 1.5 inches long. Also, since I just mentioned how a burglar would be unsuccessful in attempting to gain access by removing the hinges of the safe, I do think it’s preferable to get a safe with external hinges versus internal hinges. A safe with external hinges is just as secure as one with internal hinges, however the door opens a lot wider with the external hinges. If you buy a safe with internal hinges, the safe door won’t be able to open 180 degrees and offer you easy access to your guns.
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The locking mechanism is the next choice you have to make about your safe. Do you want to get a manual spin-dial lock or an electronic keypad where you simply have to push a few buttons? I can tell you that the vast majority of problems people have with their safes involve malfunctioning electronic keypads. If I were you, I would go with the manual lock and you’ll eliminate almost every problem you’ll ever have with the safe. I realize manual locks take longer to open, but, in my opinion, a large gun safe isn’t an instant-access safe for home-defense purposes, which is why I have a small rapid-access safe on my nightstand that holds my home-defense weapon. But whatever type of lock you decide to go with, you need to ensure it’s at least a UL Listed Group 2 Lock. A Group 2 Lock means the lock will resist common manipulation attacks, will have a minimum of 1 million combination choices and will have a relocking system that automatically locks the safe if someone tries to punch out the center of the dial. Many safes on the market offer a combination of the keypad and the manual spin-dial lock. These are well worth looking into.
The fire rating of the safe is another factor you definitely want to pay attention to. After all, it’s not just burglars you want to protect your guns from, but also the likelier scenario of a house fire. The temperature of a typical house fire ranges from 800 to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and burns for around 30 minutes. Even so, you can purchase safes that come in 30-minute, 45-minute, 60-minute, 90-minute and even 2.5-hour ratings. In other words, if you were to get a 30-minute-rated safe, the inside of the safe would remain below 350 degrees for 30 minutes, and a 90-minute safe would last 90 minutes. Safe manufacturers use 350 degrees as their testing temperature because it gives a 100-degree buffer before the temperature reaches 451 degrees. If you remember from our childhood reading, 451 degrees is the temperature at which paper starts to burn. Personally, I believe that any safe you buy should have at least a 60-minute fire rating, if not more. In addition, you want to make sure the safe includes a Palusol fire seal. This fire seal goes all the way around the door and is heat activated. For instance, in the event of a fire, the seal will expand up to five times its size, keeping smoke, fire and water from entering your safe.
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After you’ve made the above critical decisions about your safe, there are other smaller factors to consider, too. For instance, do you want a safe that has interior lighting? I sure think so, and most quality safes will come with lights already installed. But if for some reason the safe doesn’t, you can always buy battery-operated lights and put them in yourself. Also, does the safe come with a dehumidifier? Like the lighting I just mentioned, a quality gun safe will include a dehumidifier to reduce moisture in the safe. But another alternative is to buy the desiccant packs and to put several throughout the safe to take care of moisture issues and to prevent rust on your guns.
The setup of the interior of the safe is another personal preference of every gun owner. Does the safe have the type of drawers you want? Does it allow you to store as many rifles as you wish? Does the door have an organizer attached to it to allow you to store even more guns? Is there space for ammo, too?
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While you’re making all of these decisions, don’t forget about the manufacturer’s warranty on the safe. For example, Liberty Safe offers a lifetime warranty against any attempted break-in or fire for as long as you own the safe. The company also offers a five-year warranty on the paint and lock. Cannon Safe offers a lifetime warranty against defects with the safe. They say if their safe is damaged by fire, flood or attempted break-in, they will provide free parts, free labor and a free safe for life. Browning Safe offers a five-year warranty against defects and will replace a safe for free if damaged by fire or burglary.
As you can see, it’s important to be an informed consumer when purchasing a large gun safe. So when the day comes for you to get your 60-gun safe, take this short primer with you. And, finally, when you bring home your safe, don’t forget to bolt it to the ground!