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.
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.
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!
If you have shopped for a gun safe you have run into the “one size fits all” interior configurations. Everyone is supposed to want the same set-up – a vertical divider in the center and 10 to 15 gun spaces on each side. But that doesn’t work well for everyone.
I sold a gun safe to a woman this week who has just two rifles, and plans on one more. She has lots of other stuff that needs to be secured, however. So why should she waste half of the interior space for just two rifles? A Fort Knox unit in the 60 X 31 X 27 size with a four-gun interior works perfectly for her. She has four full width shelves for jewelry, pistols and documents with just a small area dedicated to long guns.
Fort Knox has many different interior configurations so the owner can use the space efficiently. A 60 X 31 X 27, for instance, can be set up to handle 4, 8, 13, 18, 26, 31, 36 or 40 long guns. If your needs change in a few years you can order different shelving. The photo shows a small unit, 60 X 26, with a 3 gun interior. Lots of usable shelf space. Other alternatives include the “all gun” rack shown at the bottom, which has 18 spaces.
Fort Knox dealers will have lots of gun safe options in stock, and lead times for special orders are usually only about 6 to 8 weeks. Fort Knox specializes in allowing you to get exactly what you want by offering many sizes, security levels, colors, lock arrangements, etc. Don’t “make do” with a gun safe that doesn’t fit your needs, just because it’s the only choice offered. Go to a Fort Knox dealer and spec out a unit that is exactly what you want, including the right interior.
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.
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!
Most brands of gun safes are mass produced with little or no flexibility in colors or options. Fort Knox gun safes (excluding the Maverick series) can be customized to create your own one-of-kind safe that truly reflects your needs and taste. Here are some of the options Fort Knox gives you:
- Nine sizes of gun safes
- Internal or external hinges, on the left or right
- Three textured paint colors and thirteen high gloss paint colors
- Two tone paint schemes or custom blended colors
- Eight interior configurations, with five fabric selections
- Door organizers or Velcro compatible inside door panels
- Two interior light packages
- Multiple different graphics packages
- Up-graded fire protection
- Add extra steel to the safe body and/or the door – you decide how much
- Add stainless steel or Armaknox Ballistic AR500 steel
- Add corner bolts to units that don’t normally have them
- Pull handles to make opening a heavy safe door easier
- Locks: Group 2, Group 1, electronic or redundant
- All kinds of accessories and extras: Mirror inside back wall; jewelry drawers; pistol pockets & storage bags; carpeted pedestals; humidity control, etc.
The safe shown is a Fort Knox Guardian 6031 in Champaign color, with black chrome hardware & trim, and beige interior. Options include external hinges, pull handle, raised double diamond graphics, electronic lock, internal lights and an inner steel lining of 10 gauge steel. Standard features include the 5 spoke handle, corner bolts, door organizer, internal electric plug, etc.
Everyone’s needs and preferences are different: You store gold, your friend stores silver; you have 47 valuable rare rifles, your friend has 5 low end shotguns; you like black, he likes green; your safe will be a showpiece where everyone sees it, his will be hidden in the furnace room; you keep lots of cash at home, he doesn’t. You need more protection than your friend and you want to project your personality. Don’t buy the same (inferior) gun safe that everyone else buys at the local box store. Work with your Fort Knox dealer to design something special – something with real protection and style.
In my last blog about vault doors I mentioned the ridiculous fire ratings that some manufacturers claim to have, based solely on how much dry wall insulation they use, when their doors have never been tested. Now consider the seals used between the doors and frames.
To see the importance of seals on vault doors read my last few postings about gun safes. Look at the test data that shows how poorly most of them (all of which use a single heat expanding seal) perform – how heat and smoke can infiltrate the safe before and after the expanding seal actually expands. The insulation in gun safes creates a positive steam pressure, because of the small confined interior space, to help push out the really hot air and smoke. This phenomenon will not occur with a walk-in vault because the interior space is so large. So an effective cold seal, in addition to an expanding seal, are even more important on a vault door than on a safe. And yet most vault door manufacturers use a single, expanding type seal.
Expanding seal on door edge, cold seal in door jamb
American Security vault doors are built and sealed the same way as their BF safes, the safes that did so well in the fire test. It is logical that their vault doors will work the same way. I suspect that Fort Knox vault doors would perform in a similar way too, because they have both cold and heat expanding seals.
When you look to buy a vault door, do not trust any claim the manufacturer makes about a “fire rating”, unless it has been tested and certified by U.L. The best you can do is to get one in which the door fits tight and there are two kids of seals.
Below is a smaller portion of the test curve which was shown in the previous blog. Note how with the three inferior safes the inside temp shoots almost straight up at the beginning of the test. Then at about four minutes the curve turns back down slightly before shooting up again. This momentary reversal happens when the expanding heat seals get hot enough to expand. It does help, but it is clearly inadequate.
If there is a large gap between the door and the door frame, or the door does not close snugly, then heat and smoke will just pour in. In theory when the insulation gets hot enough to release moisture it provides a degree of cooling. And the resulting water vapor should create a positive pressure to keep really hot air from coming into the safe. But these affects are not enough to overcome poorly designed doors which do not seal.
So why did the American Security safe perform so well? First, these safes have plate steel doors that have tight tolerances so the doors fit properly. Second, these units have two types of seals. They have an expanding seal like other safes (top edge of door in photo above). But they also have a cold seal (in door frame) that keep out heat and smoke even before the expanding seal gets hot enough to work. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? None of the test safes were by Fort Knox, but most Fort Knox gun safes also use double seals. The inner seal (see photo below) expands, while the outer seal is a fin-type which is very air tight all the time. Graffunder gun safes use double seals, too — see earlier post.
Why don’t other safe manufacturers use double seals? Some choose to sacrifice real protection in favor of lower costs. When buying a gun safe, make sure the door fits properly and make sure it has both hot and cold seals
Just as important (maybe more important) as the insulation used in gun safes, is the type and number of seals used around the door. Some manufacturers claim to have terrific fire ratings – numbers made up based on the amount of drywall they use – but then poor fitting doors and inadequate seals allow heat and smoke to rush to in during a fire.
This portion of a fire test graph illustrates my point perfectly. It comes from Intertek ETL Laboratories, an independent testing lab. Results were released this January for fire tests done on four gun safes in December, 2013. Temperature is shown on the vertical axis, time on the horizontal. During the test the furnace temperature was raised to 1200F in 8 minutes, then held steady until the end. Temperature sensors were located inside each unit 7” from the top. A safe is considered to fail when it’s inside temp hits 350F.
Looking at the test curves from right to left, the curve furthest to the right is for an American Security BF gun safe. This safe lasted for 126 minutes before the internal temp reached 350F – over two hours! I cannot name the other manufacturers here, but they are very well known. The next curve to the left is a top-of-the-line unit with a 2.5 hour “fire rating”. Few companies claim to have a fire rating that high, but when this safe was tested by ETL it failed in only 69 minutes – less than half what the manufacturer claims. The next safe has a 60 minute rating but it lasted only 47.5 minutes. The final unit is said to have a two hour rating but, incredibly, it failed in just 9 minutes!! That’s some kind of great fire protection, isn’t it?
Next time: Explanation for the successful test and the failures.
Recently we have been selling vault doors across the country, more than ever before. This is a reflection of increasing home construction, and also an increase in the number of home owners who want the security of an in-house vault room.
If you dream of having your own vault room, be really careful of what door you buy! There are a number of companies producing low cost, poor quality products which might disappoint you. Ask lots of questions and get good, knowledgeable answers.
- How much steel are you really getting? (Not how thick the edge of the door is.)
- Is the inside emergency release easy to use? Would your children be able to work it?
- How many seals does the door have? (A single heat-expanding seal will allow lots of smoke to enter before the seal expands.)
- Does the door come with a commercial grade lock or a low cost model? (Even well-known lock manufacturers make locks that we won’t use.)
- Can you lock yourself inside quickly if you need to?
- Does the door have an inside trim flange or will you need to cobble up some kind of trim when the door is installed?
Hot and Cold Door Seals
I had a recent example where the home owner bought a vault door specifically for emergency protection for his family, only to find later that you cannot lock yourself inside in an emergency. Was the seller ignorant of this fact or just dishonest? Some manufacturers (even well-known brands) are also making up numbers, claiming that their doors have 60 or 90 minute fire ratings, when they have never been tested. All of the vault doors we sell have fire linings to be “fire resistant”, but only one brand has actually been tested and certified.
The point of this post is that if you are going to buy a walk-in vault door, do your homework! Only buy from a reputable manufacturer and a dealer you trust.
We sell Fort Knox vault doors more than any other. We also sell American Security vault doors, Golden Spike and (when someone needs a certified fire tested door) Sentry/Schwab.
Most safes come with a safe warranty card when they are new. Whether you buy your safe from Hoogerhyde or someone else, make it a point to fill out the warranty card and mail it in. Having the card on file with the manufacturer will increase the chance that you will get help if you should have a problem. Read the warranty too, so you know what is supposed to be covered and for how long.
Choose a Safe Manufacturer that Stands Behind their Products
Some companies, like Sentry Safe, Gardall Safe, American Security and Fort Knox are very good at helping a consumer with a problem. Several others, however, are terrible. Buy your safe from Hoogerhyde and if you have a warranty issue, you can expect a good result. We work with great manufacturers who stand behind their products.