A nice old gentleman who lives near our shop worked on trains his whole life. He planned to give his railroad key collection to his grandson, but he brought them to me because his grandson had no interest in them. I paid what seemed a reasonable price. He came back several times to give me more keys as they turned up
We have never provided locksmith services for railroads so I don’t know much about train locks and keys, but they represent lots of history. Most are stamped with initials of the railroad company who used them. Those companies are almost all gone. While most of the keys were for padlocks, several keys are unusual, like the one that he said opened the last generation of cabooses. One is a cute little hinged key which he said was for the time clock in a caboose. My favorite is the last one he passed on to me. It is huge — 6″ long, weighing over a pound. I couldn’t guess what it was for so finally he told me it is the key to start up a locomotive. How cool!
Thinking about the history behind train keys and locks and all that other stuff takes you back to another era. It is easy to understand why there are so many avid collectors of railroad memorabilia.
One of the fastest growing companies in the gun safe industry does not make anything, they import their gun safes from China. This blog has referred to them in the past because they are most flagrant liars, the most deceitful people I know. (Fear of getting sued prevents using their name.) They came around again last week with a cube truck in which they display a number of products. Giving them another chance, I climbed into the truck and listened to the national sales manager for a minute about how great their Chinese gun safes are.
Their top-of-line gun safe is supposed to be built of 8 gauge steel, which would be pretty good, but feeling the steel was enough to tell that this was another lie. With a micrometer and gauge chart it took about 30 seconds to show he was wrong. The steel was 10 gauge – a big difference. Even after proving the lie he made up stupid stories to weasel out of the problem: “Well the supplier’s paperwork says 8 gauge”; “it depends on which gauge system you are using”, “maybe this is one of the old models”, etc.
This guy stated that their gun safes are better than other imports because the factory they use is the best one in China. But this factory is one which I know uses skip-welds. It also uses drywall construction scraps for insulation. This company claims that one of their product lines is “Made in America” even though they are, in fact, made in China. Apparently, if you install the lock and a few little pieces in the U.S. you can claim the whole safe is American. I could go on….
The point is that these crooks claim to be protecting your valuables while intentionally misleading you. Dishonestly selling JUNK at low prices is why they are growing. If you buy a safe to protect the guns which are your passion, or to protect a significant part or your net worth, you darn well better buy your gun safe from someone who knows and cares and is honest about what they sell!
Earlier posts talked of the problem with gun safes having only one seal. We have two safes in our shop from different manufacturers that went through fires, and they demonstrate the point perfectly.
Gun safe manufacturers all talk about having the intumescent seal which is supposed to protect your valuables in a fire. The theory is that when you have a fire, heat will cause the intumescent seal to swell up and seal the door shut. But in many fires the gun safe does not get hot enough for the seal to work, allowing heat and smoke to enter between the door and frame. Pictured is a gun safe with a “60 minute fire rating” which uses only the intumescent seal. While the safe got coated with sooty smoke it did not get very hot, so the seals did not expand. The paint will clean up fine; everything inside, however, was damaged by heat, acidic smoke, cinders and ash. You can see that the seals never expanded. Pictures of the interior show damage from smoke, ash & cinders. Ironic: The “Fire Safe” label is coated with soot and smoke that the “fire safe” did not protect against.
The plain fact is that for good fire protection gun safes need at least two different seals. One needs to seal the door ALL THE TIME, whenever the door is closed. See posts dated 7-6-15 and 7-20-15 for details. Fort Knox gun safes use an airtight fin-type seal on most of their units and Amsec uses a foam cushion. In both cases the gap between the door and frame is closed even when the safe is cold.
Seal systems on gun safes and vault doors are not a minor point – they are one of the most critical features. Yes, you might need to pay a little more for real protection, but there is no point in paying less for a product which does not work!
If you need to put your safe or gun safe in the garage here are the steps you should take:
- Invest in a heavier, higher quality vault, preferably TL-rated like American Security’s RF series gun safe.
- Conceal the safe the best you can. Build a cabinet around it or drape a blanket or something over it. American Security sells what they call a “Safe Cloak” for gun safes which is a fabric cover that makes your safe look like a cheap storage cabinet. It attaches to you gun safe with a magnet across the top and hangs down to ground level. If possible, put the safe in a back room or around a corner.
- Don’t allow service people or delivery personnel to go through your garage.
- Keep your garage door locked at all times to keep people out.
- Increase the perceived risk to a burglar — put up a sign stating that the house and garage are monitored. It helps to install a very conspicuous camera, even if it is fake.
- Anchor your safe to the concrete floor using high grade anchor bolts. Most fire safes are light enough to be picked up. If you don’t have the right tools or skills, hire someone who does.
- Don’t keep pry tools, sledge hammers, torches, etc. in the same area – keep them locked up in the house.
To avoid problems from cold and fluctuating temperatures in northern states:
- Use a dehumidifier rod (heat bar) inside the safe to keep temps as stable as possible.
- There can be a problem in those first warm humid days of spring when the ground is still very cold. The cold floor will keep pulling warmth from the safe causing condensation, making the safe sweat, which encourages rust. Antique safes are especially prone to rust. It is best, therefore, to have a small amount of contact with the floor. Thin squares of wood or plastic at the corners will minimize the problem. We usually use pieces of the plastic shims used to install windows and doors. Important Note: Don’t raise the safe too far off the ground; the bigger the gap there is between the floor and the safe, the easier it is for someone to move the unit. A big gap makes anchoring less effective too.
- Battery life in electronic locks will be shorter in cold situations. I would guess that electronic locks themselves would have shorter lives, but that is just speculation. Dial locks are less affected by cold.
Keeping your gun safe in the garage is less than ideal. Minimize risk by taking proper precautions.
Customers regularly ask if putting their safe in a garage or pole building, as opposed to inside the house, creates any potential problems.
A safe or gun safe in the garage is typically not as secure, for the following reasons:
- Depending on placement, it might be that every time you open the garage door the safe is visible to whoever is driving or walking past the home.
- It is likely to be seen by delivery or service people like UPS, FedEx, the gardener, maintenance personnel, etc., people who have legitimate reasons to go into the garage.
- A safe may be seen by neighborhood kids who enter the garage looking to steal bicycles, beer, etc.
- Everyone has heard stories of the ATM or safe that was stolen when burglars put a chain around it and dragged it off. In a garage or pole building, burglars could open the overhead door and back a truck right in so they could easily do the chain trick.
- Many older safes are on wheels which allows someone to just roll them outside.
- With a safe or gun safe in the garage, you could even be in the house watching TV or sleeping while someone is working to open it with quiet tools like torches.
- Many garages are loaded with tools that burglars would find useful in opening your safe.
Aside from security issues, temperature variations in northern states can cause problems for safes in garages. Rust and lock problems are not uncommon.
The next post will cover how to protect your safe or gun safe from these issues.
Instead of buying a cheap gun safe because your budget is limited, consider spending a similar amount on a good used commercial safe and make your own “gun safe”. You may be way better off both fire-wise and security-wise.
For example, pictured is a commercial safe we took in last week. It was used in a high security situation – you can see where several types of alarms were mounted to the front. It also has a legitimate 4-hour U.L. certified fire rating. There are several gun safes with ratings as high as 2.5 hours, but those ratings are bogus and the safes would never pass U.L. tests for that long.
The Mosler safe shown is 76”H X 42.5”W X 30”D outside and 60 X 33 X20 inside. That is 23 cubic feet of inside capacity. We will sell it for $1500. So if you invested a few hours into making a gun rack, and maybe painting it, you would end up with an outstanding unit for the price of a poor quality gun safe. Check with your nearest safe dealer for similar opportunities. If you live in Michigan come see us.
It has been a long time since I wrote about the inferior insulation used on most gun safes, and the inferior way it is installed. The photo below prompted me to comment on the subject again. The picture shows a gun safe (made by the best-known manufacturer) which went through a fire earlier this year. As you can see this gun safe failed completely. The “Type X” drywall is in pieces in the safe, along with the remainders of expensive shotguns.
Brief refresher: Type X drywall shrinks and breaks into pieces when heat from a fire cooks out the moisture. Glue used to install the drywall gets soft and lets go, so the drywall caves in. That glue probably burns, too.
Do not buy a gun safe that uses Type X drywall installed with glue! There aren’t many good choices because almost every gun safe manufacturer uses this type of construction. Try Fort Knox, Graffunder and American Security’s BF line.
If you have shopped for a gun safe you have run into the “one size fits all” interior configurations. Everyone is supposed to want the same set-up – a vertical divider in the center and 10 to 15 gun spaces on each side. But that doesn’t work well for everyone.
I sold a gun safe to a woman this week who has just two rifles, and plans on one more. She has lots of other stuff that needs to be secured, however. So why should she waste half of the interior space for just two rifles? A Fort Knox unit in the 60 X 31 X 27 size with a four-gun interior works perfectly for her. She has four full width shelves for jewelry, pistols and documents with just a small area dedicated to long guns.
Fort Knox has many different interior configurations so the owner can use the space efficiently. A 60 X 31 X 27, for instance, can be set up to handle 4, 8, 13, 18, 26, 31, 36 or 40 long guns. If your needs change in a few years you can order different shelving. The photo shows a small unit, 60 X 26, with a 3 gun interior. Lots of usable shelf space. Other alternatives include the “all gun” rack shown at the bottom, which has 18 spaces.
Fort Knox dealers will have lots of gun safe options in stock, and lead times for special orders are usually only about 6 to 8 weeks. Fort Knox specializes in allowing you to get exactly what you want by offering many sizes, security levels, colors, lock arrangements, etc. Don’t “make do” with a gun safe that doesn’t fit your needs, just because it’s the only choice offered. Go to a Fort Knox dealer and spec out a unit that is exactly what you want, including the right interior.
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.
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, 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.