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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Gun Safe or Burglary Safe: The Affect on Insurance

Customers always ask about insurance coverage when they have a gun safe or burglary safe.  There are lots of assumptions and questions, so I called several agents that handle home insurance, and here is what I was told.

One said that usually, if you have a burglary safe you can get a small savings on your annual insurance cost, probably around $10; the other disagreed.  Ask your agent.  The next paragraphs talk about coins in particular, but collections of guns, jewelry, watches, etc. will be similar.

They both said that, if you don’t have your coins scheduled or itemized on a rider, your policy will usually cover up to about $500, whether they are in a safe or not.  But they will only be replaced at face value, so numismatic value will not apply.  A penny that is worth $50 to a collector will still be reimbursed for $.01.  Value of the silver or gold content most likely will not count either.

If you have your collection appraised and covered on a rider, they will be covered up to the appraised value.  (My coin guy charges $50/hour to do written appraisals.)  When that value is based mostly on the gold or silver weight, however, be careful.  If the appraisal is done when gold is $1300 per ounce, and you are robbed when gold is worth $1600 per ounce, you will be reimbursed at the original $1300 value.  Cost of the insurance rider will probably run about $38/year for every $10,000 in value provided the collection is in a safe.  Cost will go up about $4 to $5 per $10,000 in value if there is no safe.

All kinds of variables affect insurance, including where you live, which insurance company you use, your loss history, etc.  For an extremely high value collection there may be better coverage with a TL-rated safe.  There might be specialized policies for high value collections, like there are for classic car collections.  Some items are irreplaceable because of sentimental value, like Great Grandpa’s old rifle or Grandma’s wedding ring.  To the insurance company they are probably only worth generic value.  I am certainly no expert.  Don’t make assumptions – ask your agent lots of questions.

You should always have insurance coverage on your valuables.   But the best protection against theft in the first place is to have a really good gun safe or burglary safe and good home security.  Don’t take a chance that you may not be properly reimbursed after a loss.  Prevent the loss!

New Home? Get Divorced? Make Sure to Re-key the Locks!

We had an emergency residential service call last week from a couple who were very upset.  They finished moving into their new home on Wednesday.  On Saturday night when they were away someone got in with a key and robbed them.  At least no one was hurt, but they obviously needed their locks re-keyed.

Last year we had a similar call from a single mother who was robbed the first day after moving in, while she was at work.  She was afraid to stay in her house that night with her children, so we fixed her up that night.  There are always more keys around than the previous owners turn in!

We see terrible things happen when a couple goes through a messy divorce.  You hear about the worst cases on the news when someone gets hurt.

Home security should start immediately when you buy a house or when there is a change in living arrangements.  Check the quality of the locks, make sure they latch properly and have them re-keyed.  Consider spending more for high security locks which are un-pickable or for push-button locks that don’t use keys.  Make sure windows lock properly.  Look at slider doors especially close to make sure they latch well, and make sure the sliding unit cannot be lifted completely out of the frame.  Install motion activated exterior lights, and maybe add a security system.  If there is a safe, change the combination.

When you have a new home custom built have the locks re-keyed before you move in.  Think about how many workers were there with access to the locks and keys.  Incidentally, do not have the builder install a wall safe – every person who goes through the house will know about it.  Workers all have access to various power saws, so they could come back later and just cut the safe out from a stud wall.  Wait until after the contractors have left the jobsite to install wall safes or fire/burglary safes.

Don’t ignore security at these life changing events when you are especially vulnerable!

Coolest Gun Safe on the Market, From Fort Knox

Fort Knox Safes is famous for allowing the consumer to customize the gun safe he wants.  This year Fort Knox introduced two more options that offer cool new looks, more ways to get your gun safe your way.

Old, very retro industrial design is fashionable.  This is especially true where old factories and warehouses are being converted into desirable apartments and condos.  Fort Knox’ new “Distressed Industrial” finish fits right in.  Each gun safe is different with the addition of big rivets and random distress marks to the paint.  Besides rehabilitated industrial buildings these units look good in your work shop area or man cave.


The other terrific new option is Fort Knox’ crane hinge.  This is also a throw-back to the old days.  A hundred years ago very heavy safes and vault doors were frequently built with crane hinges to help the doors move more freely.  This system makes safe doors that are actually double-hinged, so they move in a more three dimensional manner.  Crane hinges are available on all Fort Knox gun safes (except Mavericks) and in all finishes.  D6031 and D7240 shown.

If you want to really impress your friends — and get serious security at the same time — get a Fort Knox gun safe or vault door with the new Distressed Industrial finish and crane hinges.  Awesome!