Tag Archives: fire/burglary safes

Gun Safes Make Great Christmas Gift, But . . .

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.

Small Antique Safes for Sale

I have been collecting small antique safes for a long time, but I have been informed that it is time to thin out the collection.  Most of these safes are from about 13” to 18” tall.  They are too small to be very functional, but cute as decorations or conversation pieces.

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Some folks claim these are salesman’s samples but most were actually sold to be used for storage of cash and jewelry in a home or office.  They typically weigh from about 70 to 100 pounds – a thief could walk away with one, but at least he couldn’t run with it.  Several have handles on top so maybe a poor salesman did have to lug them around on a regular basis.  They were built to be fire proof.  Some units have real wheels underneath, some have fake wheels, some have little feet and some sit flat on the ground.  There are both key and combination lock models.

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Finding small antique safes for sale with good original paint is difficult so they don’t sell cheap.  If the paint is too plain or worn out to be attractive, they can be restored or customized to suit your taste.

A small antique safe could be your adult version of a piggy bank, or a visible reminder of that special savings goal.  A financial planner I know has a very classy little unit in his office, I think because it sends a message to his customers.  A small antique safe might make a great Christmas gift.  The units shown start at $700.  Call if any of these grab your attention, 616-458-6365.  Antique safes can be delivered, picked up at our shop or shipped across the country.

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.

FIRE SAFES VS. FIRE/BURGLARY SAFES: THE DIFFERENCES

The last post was about what makes gun safes different from fire safes or fire/burglary safes. So what are the differences between a fire safe and a fire/burglary safe?

Fire safes are geared toward protection against fire, but that is only for fire. These are the products you find at box stores. Many of these products are rated by Underwriters Laboratories for one or two hours. But the fire rating can be accomplished with paper thin steel or even plastic safe bodies. Better units may also be “drop tested”, in which they are dropped 30 feet onto concrete while still hot from the fire test.  These safes may have good locks, but frequently the locks are very low security and made of plastic.  Lock bolts are normal small, few in number and often made of pot metal.

Most fire safes are on the small side, made for residential use. Some commercial units, however, are up to 80 inches tall and wide enough to require two doors. These giants normally still have steel that is only about 14 gauge thick. The composite insulation in fire safes is usually relatively light-weight and is made to retain moisture.

Fire/burglary safes are obviously intended to keep burglars from breaking in, in addition to providing reasonable fire resistance. To enable the safe to stand up to drills, cutting tools and prying tools the steel is typically heavier – 11 gauge, 10 gauge or 3/16 are common.  Lock bolts will be large and made of solid steel.  The composite material is likely more dense, too. The denser material may contain stones or other things to make drilling more difficult, and these materials resist sledge hammers better. There is a trade-off, however, in that the denser composite is not as fire resistant as the lighter material. So when you get better burglary resistance, you probably only get 30 minutes, or a maximum 60 minutes of fire protection.  Fire/burglary safes will always have good locks.

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One picture above shows 14 gauge steel which is common on fire safes, compared to 10 gauge which is common on fire/burglary units — 10 Gauge is 80% thicker. The other picture shows samples of the two composite materials used by one safe manufacturer. The more effective fire insulation, left, weighs 0.5 pounds. The more burglary resistant material on the right weighs 1.5 pounds.

When looking for a safe think about what you want it to do. If you only want it to protect papers from fire, a unit from a box store may be OK. If you want it to provide security against theft, then get guidance from a knowledgeable safe dealer.

Fire & Fire/Burglary Safes VS. Gun Safes: Big Differences

The vast majority of fire or fire/burglary safes, are built with an outer steel shell and an inner steel shell. The space between the steel layers is filled with a poured-in composite material similar to concrete. (Note that box stores sell frequently sell safes with plastic inner linings, and even plastic on the outside — don’t waste your money.) Photo on left shows a high quality Gardall fire safe, with steel interior and poured in composite insulation.

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Almost all gun safes consist of an outer steel shell lined on the inside with drywall, and no inner steel. Most use Type X drywall which contracts and breaks into pieces during a fire. Drywall is a poor insulator compared to the poured-in composite. That causes manufacturers to misrepresent their fire ratings. Photo on right is a typical gun safe – fabric covered drywall, no inner steel.

Most quality fire safes have an Underwriters Laboratories fire rating of one or two hours. These safes have been tested independently under standard procedures at temperatures up to 1700 and 1800 degrees, respectively. Some have also undergone a 30 foot drop test. Imported units are normally tested according to Korean or Japanese standards, which are similar to U.L.’s. Gun safes will rarely pass U.L. tests so most manufacturers and importers do their own tests, or they make up numbers without testing. They often mislead consumers by mentioning “U.L. Rated”, but the U.L. rating they refer to has nothing to do with fire.

There are all kinds of ways to cheat when you test your own product. I have been told by people who worked there, that one company actually caulks the door shut during their fire test. Another way to fudge is to put the inside temp recorders in the bottom of the test unit where temps are lowest. Putting some kind of thermal barrier in front of the safe during the test also works well. For instance, remember how effectively even a sheet of paper blocks radiant heat coming off a camp fire.

If you want to protect papers or cash in a safe with the very best fire ratings available, you really should not get a gun safe. If a gun safe with inner steel and poured-in composite makes sense to you, look at Graffunder safes or Amsec’s BF series.

A Reason to Keep Cash & Silver in a Home Safe

Want some fascinating reading? Google “Iceland financial crisis”, “Cyprus financial crisis” or “Greek financial crisis”. These are big, complicated, interesting stories where problems at major banks and government mismanagement lead to financial failure.

One common feature in each instance is that citizens and bank depositors (that would be you and me if it were in the U.S.) paid for other people’s mistakes. In particular, with the Cyprus crisis of 2013, if you had deposits of over 100,000 Euros, almost 50% above that level were confiscated from your bank account. With one privately owned bank’s failure 100% of deposits were lost. If you were a non-resident who had over 3,000,000 Euros confiscated you were compensated with the opportunity to get a Cypriot citizenship. That would certainly make everything OK! The family of one of our customers, who is Greek, lost about 200,000 euros in Cyprus. My perspective is that Cyprus set an international precedent, making it OK for governments to steal from bank accounts.

Look at what has been going on in Greece. Banks were closed, withdrawals were limited, people could not get to their own money.

Now Google “U.S. Debt Clock”. Our national debt is over $18,000,000,000,000! That is $124,000 per household. Last year, with record low interest rates, our government paid $430,000,000,000 just in interest. Our government has no plan to address this. They keep spending more. In my opinion our elected leaders in both parties are incompetent, greedy cowards who are more interested in keeping their jobs – living on your money – than in running the country responsibly. YOUR money is at risk. YOUR retirement could be in jeopardy. (The politicians will do fine because they have given themselves a better deal than you and I have.) If our financial system should collapse the whole rest of the world does not have enough money to bail us out.

Here is the point: It is worth keeping some cash, physical silver, maybe some gold at home, out of banks. Buy a safe with an appropriate security rating or a gun safe with lots of steel.  It is entirely possible/probable that we are heading toward our own financial crisis. If that happens YOU will pay and YOU may not have access to your own money. Ask the folks in Greece, Cyprus, etc. My Greek customer would have been cheated out of more, except his family also keeps a good stash of silver and gold in a high security safe.

Naturally, there may be a bias here because I sell safes. But part of why I feel good about my job is the appreciation we receive from folks who were protected from fire, break-in, etc. with our safes. You can bet that if we should have a financial catastrophe in the U.S., many of Hoogerhyde’s customers will survive it better than those who put complete trust our government and banks.

Fire Rated Safe Saved Family’s Life Savings

The Hercules fire safe shown here in pictures was sold by Hoogerhyde Safe decades ago. It is really filthy and smelly right now because it just went through a bad house fire. It is small, 12 x 14 x 12, a light duty one hour fire rated unit.  With little burglary resistance it is not the kind of safe that a person should put much value into, but our customer had his family’s life savings in it – lots of cash.

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The fire was severe so the customer was afraid that his savings were gone. When we got his safe open he was ecstatic to find that everything had survived. He now has an emotional attachment to this safe so he wants it cleaned up and the lock repaired. His family’s life savings should go into a safe with higher security. If his safe had been discovered by a burglar rather than being burned in a fire there would probably be nothing left to protect. His retirement would take a dramatic turn for the worse.

Too many people will use a safe like this inappropriately. For protecting large amounts of cash or other valuables, buy a safe with burglary deterrence in addition to a good fire rating.

Got a “Smelly Safe”? What to do:

People sometimes complain that their home fire safe stinks and it makes the contents smell bad, too.  This is caused by leaving the safe closed for long periods of time, especially when it is moist inside.

1)  All safes should be opened every two weeks or so to let the old air out.  This is especially true with new units because the poured-in insulation may not yet be completely dried.  Just leaving the door open for several weeks might get the smell out.

2)  Clean the inside of the safe with detergent or bleach.  Then enclose one or two laundry drier sheets inside.  We use Bounce/Febreze and it normally fixes the problem.

3)  If the smell persists there is probably mildew growing in the insulation.  We have had success by putting a bowl of bleach in the safe and closing the door for a week.  It seems like fumes from the bleach kill the mildew.

4)  Still got a problem?  Buy a new safe and open it regularly.

Stamp Collector’s Safe

Stamps are easily damaged, in more ways than you might think. Of course they can be torn, burned, soiled, etc., all of which reduce their value. Same for historic signatures, photos, sports memorabilia and other collectables. Naturally, a valuable collection should be secured in a safe, but most stamp collectors use the wrong type of safe.

To protect contents from heat and fire, 98% of safes use moisture which is locked up in the safe’s insulation. When heated by fire the insulation cools by forcing moisture out, to the interior of the safe. Air inside the safe will be saturated and hot (up to 350 degrees). That level of moisture will affect the stamps’ adhesive and may also affect the delicate colors and paper.

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To avoid the possibility of being damaged this way in a fire, the best stamp collector’s safe is technically a media safe. Media safes generally keep humidity below 85% during a fire, and maintain a temperature of only 125 to 150 degrees.

Note: Media safes tend to be expensive, but we usually have used ones in stock.