Monthly Archives: June 2012

Antique safes and fire resistance

Most antique safes were intended to be fire resistant safes — they were filled with concrete or some other material for that purpose. This is what makes the walls so thick and what makes the safes so heavy. But in the “old days” there was no standardized testing program, so it was all just a guess. Some years ago we even found a note from a manufacturer glued to the bottom of a drawer inside a safe.  The note said that the fire resistance of safes was an inexact science, and that if this safe ever went through a fire it’s condition should be reported back to the manufacturer to help them gauge effectiveness of their fire insulation.

Two months ago a customer brought in an antique Alpine brand safe.  Her house was completely destroyed by fire.  Pictures of the burned house showed that the only spot where rubble stood more than 2 feet tall, was the place where the safe rested underneath charred remains.  When our technician opened the safe (they rarely work after going through a fire) it was found to be completely full of papers, none of which were burned.  It’s impossible to predict, but not all antiques would have held up as well as this Alpine.  The woman was thrilled to recover all her documents, and she kept the safe even though it was no longer useable.

Are cheap safes worth buying?

I can’t mention any brand names here, but . . .  The cheap safes that are sold in “big box stores” may do a good job in a fire, but don’t expect them to protect valuables from burglars. Many of these “burglary safes” are plastic on the inside, and one brand is even plastic on the outside, too.  Some have working parts that are made of plastic, with bolts made of weak cast metal rather than steel.  We have a sample burglary safe in our shop with a plastic interior and cast bolts, which was pried open.  The steel of the outside shell is just 40 thousandths of an inch thick.  Not sure how much that is?  It’s 4% of an inch thick!  It’s the same as 11 sheets of standard copy paper.  You have to wonder how many people will be kept out of a cheap safe like that!