The photo shows a Graffunder vault door waiting to be delivered and installed (handle spokes not yet installed).  This unit is an in-swing version, in the smaller of their two sizes, a VB7834.  The paint is textured “Medusa Gray” with chrome hardware, which I like because it seems to show the depth and the lines.

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Even though this is Graffunder’s smaller size and lightest construction it still weighs 1300# and has plenty of strength built into it.  The door is ½” solid plate steel, the outside and inside frames are 5/8″ and ½” respectively, and the threshold plate is 1” solid steel.  Like the doors on Graffunder gun safes, Graffunder vault doors fit tighter into the frame than any others on the market.  There is absolutely no way to insert any kind of prying tool.  They also have special lock protection, unique relockers and other security features not found on other units.

Graffunders are the very best.  Other good, less expensive options are American Security, Golden Spike or Fort Knox vault doors.  If you are building a new home, or if your existing home has a place for one, a walk-in vault door is a terrific addition that adds value to your home.

Gun Safes Make Great Christmas Gift, But . . .

Gun safes, as well as regular fire/burglary safes, make terrific Christmas gifts provided that the unit selected is appropriate for the recipient’s needs.  That can be a problem, however, because the well-intended purchaser often does not appreciate the differences in quality, and they may not know about everything the user will store in the safe.  The buyer is usually a spouse or “significant other” who is buying an special, useful gift.  Understandably, they are focused on price because even a cheap gun safe is a big purchase.

Big box stores take full advantage of this situation with Black Friday sales and Christmas sales.  They sell thousands of cheap Chinese units which, to the person who doesn’t do proper research, appear to be suitable.  The result can be that the gun owner ends up with a safe he would not buy for himself.  It might not offer the protection he knows he should have.  While truly appreciating the thought behind a major gift, he may have unspoken doubts about it, and it’s a difficult gift to return.  We have all been there with one gift or another.

So here are my suggestions:

  • Don’t buy a gun safe as a surprise. Talk about it in advance.  Get his/her input about brand, size, and value of what it will be used for.  Select a manufacturer like Fort Knox that offers a range of security levels.
  • Be wary of Black Friday and Christmas sales.
  • Don’t buy only, or primarily, based on price.
  • Don’t buy a Chinese product.
  • Both parties should learn the basics about gun safes, the differences in brands and models. A good place to start is by reading my earlier posts about gun safes, safe locks, etc.
  • Buy from a legitimate safe store, not a gun store or big box. Your research should include talking directly with safe experts who actually service different brands.
  • If cost of a good unit is too high, then agree that this gift will be for Christmas and the next birthday, or this Christmas and next, or have them pitch in on the cost, or get their family to contribute.

Honestly, a quality gun safe or fire/burglary safe is a gift they will actually use and remember for years, even if they need to help with the cost.  But the memory will be less positive if it is one of those gifts that he/she would secretly prefer to return for something better.

Small Antique Safes for Sale

I have been collecting small antique safes for a long time, but I have been informed that it is time to thin out the collection.  Most of these safes are from about 13” to 18” tall.  They are too small to be very functional, but cute as decorations or conversation pieces.

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Some folks claim these are salesman’s samples but most were actually sold to be used for storage of cash and jewelry in a home or office.  They typically weigh from about 70 to 100 pounds – a thief could walk away with one, but at least he couldn’t run with it.  Several have handles on top so maybe a poor salesman did have to lug them around on a regular basis.  They were built to be fire proof.  Some units have real wheels underneath, some have fake wheels, some have little feet and some sit flat on the ground.  There are both key and combination lock models.

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Finding small antique safes for sale with good original paint is difficult so they don’t sell cheap.  If the paint is too plain or worn out to be attractive, they can be restored or customized to suit your taste.

A small antique safe could be your adult version of a piggy bank, or a visible reminder of that special savings goal.  A financial planner I know has a very classy little unit in his office, I think because it sends a message to his customers.  A small antique safe might make a great Christmas gift.  The units shown start at $700.  Call if any of these grab your attention, 616-458-6365.  Antique safes can be delivered, picked up at our shop or shipped across the country.

Used Safe Deposit Boxes Can Be Useful

We sometimes get blocks of safe deposit boxes from inside large safes.  But a large local bank is getting ready for a renovation project which includes removing over 2600 safe deposit boxes of various sizes from a large vault.

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Safe deposit boxes typically have ½” thick stainless steel doors, while the bodies are light duty steel or aluminum.  They usually have dual key locks, a “guard key” for the bank employee, and a “user key” for the box renter.  Some come with combination locks, these are usually for bank personnel.

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Safe deposit boxes are not hot sellers but a few folks find uses for them.  Coin collectors, for instance, may segregate different classes of coins in separate boxes.  Ammo can be organized with safe deposit boxes inside a gun safe.  If you have a use for safe deposit boxes your local safe specialist probably has some around.  If you need 2600 of them call us right away before this group gets scrapped.

Gun Safe Ruined by Locksmith

The previous post was about a gun safe that was destroyed by a locksmith who had no idea what he was doing.  Last week we had an even worse instance of this kind of work by a different locksmith with similar lack of knowledge.

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The “victim” came to our shop needing to buy a replacement gun safe.  His had been ruined when he called a locksmith to open it.  The locksmith told him the only way to get it open was to cut a hole in the door. It had been a good safe with heavy steel and good boltworks.  As you can see the safe was butchered.  The locksmith left a pile of metal shavings on the floor and filled the customer’s entire house with drywall dust.  The customer was charged $1200! And now he needed to buy a new gun safe!!

The real tragedy is that the problem was a loose spline key in the lock (see July 25 post) which we would have opened without even drilling a hole!

The man is now the proud owner of a Fort Knox gun safe, but he is very angry at the guy who cost him lots of money.

Again – if you have a safe problem, call a trained safe tech, not just a locksmith.

Call a Safe Tech to Open a Locked Safe

This low end gun safe was being used in a pharmacy (wrong safe for the application).  When the cheap lock failed the owner called a local locksmith to open it.  For some reason the locksmith started out by drilling six holes in the left side, and when that did not work he cut a large hole in the door to remove the lock.  We were called to repair it, but the cost to repair and make it presentable was more than the safe was worth.  How would you like to pay this locksmith’s bill for destroying your safe?

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If we had been called first we would have opened the safe without drilling it at all, or by drilling one hole behind the keypad where it wouldn’t show.  Calling the right technician first would have avoided:

  • Needing to buy a new safe
  • The hassle of removing and disposing of the old safe
  • The hassle of moving in a new unit
  • Wasting time to clean up the mess left by the locksmith

When you need a safe for your business, don’t go to a box store — go to a safe store where they carry appropriate safes.  When you have a safe problem, anywhere in West Michigan, call a properly trained safe technician, not just a locksmith.

Securing Historic Documents, Signatures, Stamps, Part 2

The last post was about why most fire safes are not appropriate for securing collections of historic documents, signatures, stamps, etc.  Media/data safes are the best way to store these items.

Media safes are built to protect computer discs, tapes, thumb drives, etc., which get damaged at much lower temperatures than paper.  175 to 200 degrees F – or high humidity — is all it takes to ruin discs and tapes.  Data safe insulation does not give off moisture like traditional fire safes, and it will keep the inside temps lower.  During the same test in which the inside of fire safes must stay below 350 F, the inside of data safes must remain below 125 F or 150 F, (lower than the melting point of plastics).  While the inside of most fire safes will become saturated with moisture in a fire, data safes are built to stay under 80% humidity.  Doors on media safes are also more air tight, and many units even have two air tight doors.

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There are trade-offs with media safes, however.  Thicker walls and doors mean that for safes with comparable exterior dimensions, data safes will be smaller inside.  They are not as burglary resistant as some other safes, either; it makes sense to keep the safe holding your collection in a locked room.  Cost of a new data safe is about three times that of other types.  But since few businesses now use data safes, used ones are selling cheap.

For example, the used Schwab 1844CTS pictured is rated 1Hour/125 F.  During the one hour test up to 1700 F, the inside will stay under 125 F at less than 80% humidity.  It is 50.5”h x 22.75w x 13d outside, 38.5 x 12.8 x 13 inside.  Original list price was over $8000, but we’ll sell it in like-new condition for $1000.

Don’t let your bit of history be ruined in a fire.  Protect your collection in a data safe.

Securing Historic Documents, Signatures & Stamps

Collectors of signatures, historic documents or stamps should secure their collections in good safes with two-hour fire ratings, right?  Maybe not.

Fire safes protect papers from charring and burning if there is a fire.  If you experience a fire, however, your documents are likely to be damaged by moisture in most types of safes.  When subjected to heat the insulation gives off water vapor to the point where the inside air is saturated with water.  As the safe cools down, lower internal temperatures cause the air to become super-saturated, so that papers will become damp or even wet.  They will get wrinkly and inks may get blurry.  In addition, water pressure from a fire hose may penetrate the crack between the safe door and frame, forcing water into the safe.  If the safe is in a basement and water pools up there, that water may also seep inside the safe.

People in the safe and gun safe industries usually recommend that valuable documents be protected by putting them in plastic sleeves or Tupperware-type containers to protect them from moisture damage.  This advice may be erroneous.  There are hundreds of different plastic compositions and each has its own characteristics. Good information is hard to find, but the melt point will vary depending on the exact chemical composition.

Consider Tupperware:  Most of their products are made from low density polyethylene (LDPE), high density polyethylene (HDPE) or high density polypropylene (HDPP).  From what I can find these materials begin to melt at temps as low as 278 degrees F for HDPE, or 266 F for HDPE.  Characteristics of the melting process also vary by chemical composition – they may just lose their shape, they might become sticky or they might give off damaging chemicals.  That process might damage the items you are trying to protect.  When fire safes are tested the inside temperature can go as high as 350 F before they are considered to have failed.  Plastic containers, therefore, could potentially melt inside a safe that is “performing well”.

Next:  A better type of safe for historic docs.

Plastic Fire Safes

The photo shows a very low-end fire box or fire safe which is sold at big box stores.  We get these in at our shop because they frequently need some kind of work.  The cost of our labor often approaches the cost of a new unit.

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These fire boxes have an Underwriters Labs “1 hour 350” rating so they apparently do well in a fire.  The problem with these, however, is that people buy them for burglary protection because the packaging calls them a “safe”.  You need to look pretty hard to find any steel here – both the exterior and interior are plastic, as are the working parts.  Even the metal bolts are held in place by plastic.  Poor excuse for a lock, too.  If a burglar breaks into your home and finds one of these units he will go into a “happy dance” before he pops it open.

You need to use some common sense when buying a safe – if you are going to put valuables in it, spend enough money to buy real burglary protection.

Why a Safe Lock Quits Working Gradually

Here is a call we often get that drives me crazy:  “My safe quit working today and I can’t get it open.  The lock started acting up about four months ago and kept getting worse, but now it won’t open at all.”  The safe now needs to be drilled open and they complain about a bill of $300 to $400.

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The most common reason a combination lock goes bad gradually, and then fails completely, is a loose “spline key”.  When you turn the dial on a good combination lock a spindle transfers that movement to the lock body which is mounted on the inside of the door.  Three or four wheels and some other parts are held in place on the spindle by a tiny L-shaped spline key, pictured on left.  The other photo shows the inside of a Group 2 lock.  At the center of the “drive wheel” is the spindle.  It is grooved to hold the spline key (here pointing to 10:00) that in turn unites the wheels to the spindle.

When the spline key gets loose the wheels move, so they are no longer in sync with the dial.  The lock will not open consistently even when dialed accurately.  Keep trying to use the lock and the spline key will loosen up more, until it hits the inside of the lock cover or it falls out completely.  In either case you are locked out of your safe.

When your safe acts up, don’t put it off.  Avoid paying to drill it open by calling a competent safe technician immediately when you have problems.