Author Archives: Tom Ziemer

Transponder Keys for Cars

One part of the locksmith business I hate is when customers buy key blanks over the internet, then bring them in to our shop to be cut and programmed – for almost free, of course.  They try so hard to save money it is kind of insulting.  And fairly often they make their lives more difficult without saving money anyway.

With non-transponder keys for cars, motorcycles, etc., it is common for customers to pay more online just for the key blank than we charge for the key and cutting it, so they gain nothing.

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Transponder keys, the keys with “chips” embedded in the plastic head, are cheaper online, but there are two important reasons.  1)  Internet sellers frequently provide low quality off-brand keys, a high percentage of which cannot be properly programmed.  2)  Online sellers pass all the risk on to the locksmiths who actually cut and program the keys.  Those risks include wasting time on defective keys that will not program, keys that affect the car’s electronics or computer, and those times when the locksmith makes a mistake on cutting the key.  The locksmith’s regular price factors in these risks.

Therefore, when key blanks are purchased elsewhere and brought to us to cut and program, we do not accept the risk – we pass the risk back to the customer.  That means:

  • We will be paid for our service, even if the key does not work.
  • If the key will not program we will spend no more than ten minutes attempting to fix the problem.
  • If the car’s computer or electronics are affected, our involvement ends.
  • We will do our best to cut the key properly, but if the key does not work we will not replace it for free.
  • We will not pay for towing the car or any other related costs.

If these policies are not acceptable the customer is welcome to go somewhere else.  We assume all the risks and stand behind the products we sell, but we will not pay for problems brought on by internet sellers.

Electronic Locks on Safes and Gun Safes

A great recent development in security is the electronic safe lock.  The majority of gun safes, vault doors and commercial safesgun now come with them.  They are easier and faster to use than traditional combination locks.  Another advantage is that owner can easily change the combination himself, whenever he wants, without calling a locksmith or safe expert.

Well, while working on a project last week I discovered something interesting.  One of the safe manufacturers told me they actually – intentionally – make it hard for consumers to find instructions on changing codes for their electronic locks.  They do this because most of their dealers don’t tell the consumer how to change codes and don’t give them operating instructions.  That way the dealer can charge a fee for going to the customer’s home and doing it.

I don’t know whether this is treating the consumer unfairly or not, but it seems greedy.  We always provide personal instruction as well as owner’s manuals for electronic locks.  We do charge when changing combos on mechanical locks because there is potential for the safe owner to make an expensive mistake.

When buying a safe, gun safe or vault door with an electronic lock, make the dealer give you instructions for the lock.

American Made Gun Safes

Does “Made In American” mean anything to you?  Far too many people just do not care anymore.  I believe our federal government is largely to blame for this.  They have done whatever it takes to pass trade deals like NAFTA which immediately lead to American jobs going to other countries.  There are entire industries in which the U.S.A. no longer competes.

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“Made In America” DOES mean something here at Hoogerhyde Safe where we do not sell foreign made gun safes.  And our customers truly appreciate that we take a stand.  Michigan is still a manufacturing center, but we know what it means to lose hundreds of thousands of jobs to other countries — where workers are grossly under-paid and the environment is destroyed with pollution.

We are proud to sell high quality U.S. built gun safes by Fort Knox and Graffunder.  We also sell American Security’s domestic BF and RF series gun safes, but we will not sell their Chinese units.  I have written about many of the specific quality problems and mis-representations concerning foreign made safes.  (Remember in the past, when someone mentioned “Chinese junk”, you knew they were talking about a kind of boat?)

Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Take a stand and Buy American when it comes to your gun safe.  The rewards include a feeling of patriotism as well as a feeling of having better security.

Using a Crane to Move a Heavy Gun Safe

In 2012 a man bought a 3025# Graffunder gun safe from us, but the delivery was especially tricky.  The only way to get the vault into the basement was to go over the house, then go in through a lower level door.  Lifting something that heavy, that high, then extending the boom far enough, requires a special crane and a talented crane operator.  Even the condition of the ground where the crane sits has to be right.   Everything went smoothly.

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Well, last month our customer moved to a new home, so we needed to reverse the process.  After making the vault “fly” again and taking it to the new location, it actually needed to go up some stairs too.  We had to build a special structure to accomplish this part of the move.  Obviously, this is not work for amateurs.  It takes special equipment and lots of experience.  It is not inexpensive, either.  But if you really need a high security gun safe, like a Graffunder or a Fort Knox Safe, delivery cost is just part of the investment.  Buy your gun safe from a company that is highly skilled at delivering safes.

Used Vault Doors For Sale

The photo shows a used Mosler vault door that we just got from a bank which is being gutted.  It is a U.L. certified two-hour fire rated door.  Many banks have fire rated vault doors in addition to the heavy stainless steel units on their high security vault room.  When these fire doors are removed carefully they remain good and flat with no distortion.  All you will need to do is repaint it.  When removed incorrectly they frequently have twisted frames, thresholds which are not flat, boltworks that no longer work properly, etc.  Like with a gun safe, the fit of the door and seals are really important.

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One of the nice things about buying a used door like this one is that they are reasonably priced.  We usually sell them for $2000 or less.  Another thing is that the fire ratings are legitimate.  I believe there is only one company left who makes vault doors with certified fire ratings, and they are really expensive.  So why is it that you can find lots of manufacturers who sell new vault doors with “fire ratings”?  It is because they just make up their ratings!  Their doors have never been tested, they lie to you to make a sale.

Anyway, if you want really good fire protection on that vault room you are building look for a used vault door with a U.L. Certified fire rating from companies like Molser, Schwab, Diebold or LeFebure.  Check it out well to make sure it is in good condition.

Railroad Locks & Keys, Fun Collectibles

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

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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.

Beware of Gun Safes Which Are Mis-represented

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!

Most Gun Safes Do Not Seal Properly in Fires

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.

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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.

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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!

Putting a Safe or Gun Safe in a Garage, Part 2

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.

Putting a Safe or Gun Safe in the Garage

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.