Monthly Archives: March 2014

Gun Safes: Other Types of Insulation

Rather than using dry-wall for insulation (see previous post), Graffunder safes and Amsec BF safes use poured-in concrete based composite materials.  This requires an inner layer of steel so the gun safe body ends up being stronger and more difficult to cut into.  The inner steel also prevents insulation from caving in like Type X drywall.  Making safes with poured-in composite material is a slower and more costly manufacturing process, resulting in a superior product.

Liberty Insulation 006

Amsec BF: Inner and outer steel, poured-in composite insulation

A less common form of fire protection is the use of a thermal blanket made from fiber glass or ceramic fiber. This is supposed to reflect heat away before it gets to the inside of the safe.  I have no idea how well it works, but it does not provide any actual cooling effect like the moisture release from dry-wall or composite materials.  Whatever heat does get inside, however, — mostly through the gap between the door and frame – will certainly be trapped inside.  That will lengthen the time it takes for the safe to cool down after a fire.

Gun Safe Fire ratings: Insulation

Consumers are usually surprised to find that the majority of gun safes use dry-wall for insulation — aka sheet rock, wall board, etc.  Commercial and residential fire safes are not built this way, but dry-wall construction allows gun safe makers to have lower start-up costs and faster production speeds.

Dry-wall contains moisture which gets forced out by the heat of a fire, in the form of water vapor.  That happens at about 300 to 330 degrees, and it actually provides cooling, similar to water evaporating off your skin.  The water vapor then creates a positive steam pressure inside the safe.  This pressure will minimize heat and smoke infiltration if there is a good fit between the door and frame (something missing in many safes).

There are several types of dry-wall.  As far as I can tell every gun safe manufacturer that uses dry-wall, except for Fort Knox, use “Type X”.  As “type X” dry-wall loses moisture it wants to contract and will eventually break into pieces similar to a dry mud puddle.  Then it can cave in like it did in the gun safe shown below.  Fort Knox uses “Type C” dry-wall, which is more expensive.  But Type C has a component which prevents cracking and caving in.  Obviously, this is better.

Safe failed when dry-wall caved in

Safe failed when dry-wall caved in

Also important is how the drywall is installed.  Most companies pack it in tight to the steel of the safe body, so as soon as any heat hits the steel the insulation gets hot, too.  Fort Knox builds an air pocket between the steel and the insulation to slow down heat transfer.  (Think of the effectiveness of the air gap in a double pane window.)

No insulation where hinge strap goes

No insulation where hinge strap goes

Some manufacturers talk about how many layers of dry-wall they use, but then cut away big chunks of it which creates hot spots when exposed to heat.  When a safe has internal hinges, look and you may see that all the insulation is cut away (right down to the steel) where the hinge straps move as the door closes.  Recessed holes in the ceiling for lights mean insulation is missing there, too.  If you had a fire and burning wood falls on top of your safe, wouldn’t it be best for all the insulation to be in place?  Purchase a low-end safe made in China and there is a chance that the dry-wall is actually construction scraps.  I have seen inside a number of doors on Chinese safes where pieces of dry-wall as small as 5 inch squares are pieced together and glued in place.  And people wonder why they cost so much less?

More on insulation soon . . .


Gun Safe Fire Ratings: Buyer Beware!

The biggest “dirty little secret” in the gun safe business is that most of the Fire Ratings are bogus.  Flat out lies in many cases.  It seems that people in this industry — manufacturers and knowledgeable dealers — are happy to intentionally deceive buyers just to boost sales.  I suspect that the Big Box Stores accept whatever the manufacturers and importers tell them as being legitimate.  They don’t really know any better, but they don’t investigate to find the truth, either.

Several years ago I sat in a meeting of about 20 gun safe dealers and several manufacturers.  One of them, a gentleman who imports thousands of units annually from China, started his talk with “We all know that our fire ratings are not accurate and that the gun safes we sell would not survive a serious house fire.”  What?  That offends me!  He knowingly cheats his customers and is willing to admit it among his peers?

I will not run my business like that!  And I will not buy that man’s safes, either.  I try hard to be honest with our customers.  We sell American Made gun safes from several manufacturers who I trust.  I work hard to learn about our competitors’ products as well as our own, so that we can educate our buyers.  Our products often cost a little more, but the buyer has been told enough to make an honest quality/value judgment.

This subject is a big deal to me.  It is certainly more than can be covered in one post, so I will be writing about it three or four times over the next few weeks.