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.
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.
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.
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!
The photo shows a Graffunder vault door waiting to be delivered and installed (handle spokes not yet installed). This unit is an in-swing version, in the smaller of their two sizes, a VB7834. The paint is textured “Medusa Gray” with chrome hardware, which I like because it seems to show the depth and the lines.
Even though this is Graffunder’s smaller size and lightest construction it still weighs 1300# and has plenty of strength built into it. The door is ½” solid plate steel, the outside and inside frames are 5/8″ and ½” respectively, and the threshold plate is 1” solid steel. Like the doors on Graffunder gun safes, Graffunder vault doors fit tighter into the frame than any others on the market. There is absolutely no way to insert any kind of prying tool. They also have special lock protection, unique relockers and other security features not found on other units.
Graffunders are the very best. Other good, less expensive options are American Security, Golden Spike or Fort Knox vault doors. If you are building a new home, or if your existing home has a place for one, a walk-in vault door is a terrific addition that adds value to your home.
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!
A man whose gun safe we drilled open in late November relayed the following story:
Early in 2015 Jeff purchased a gun safe at a box store thinking it was decent quality and American made. (It wasn’t because this “manufacturer” imports 100% of their product.) Jeff’s safe malfunctioned and locked him out in late September. He was disappointed but not too concerned because opening day of deer season was still eight weeks away — surely he would have no trouble getting to his favorite rifle by then.
Jeff tried numerous times to call the company’s warranty department to arrange for the gun safe to be opened. Eventually he got an answering machine and was able to leave a message. After waiting a week or so without getting a return call the process was started over again. A few weeks later he reached a real person who apparently dropped the ball, because nothing happened again. He started over once more but the “customer dis-service” continued until after opening day of deer season. Jeff ended up borrowing a rifle to hunt with. He was not happy.
Obviously, few warranty issues take that long to get resolved, but some gun safe companies are known for their poor customer service. A little online research will tell you which companies to avoid. Buying you gun safe or vault door from a business that can service them will also save you from this kind of trouble.
About six years ago a California company wanted me to buy some of their chinese made gun safes which have a nice patriotic, all-American name. The prices were very good for safes with 11 gauge steel bodies. I ordered two to test the quality. When the gun safes arrived the steel was 2.5MM rather than 11 gauge — 17.7% less steel than advertised. (This is a very common lie, Chinese steel is usually in millimeters but importers advertise guage thickness.) The paint was also flawed, shelves were weak and the seals were coming off. We sold these units at our cost and never bought any more.
That company is still selling these products online directly to consumers, and through a few resellers. A small number make it into our area that way. We do service work for this California company when their products have problems. Their quality still sucks!
Last week we got a call from a lady whose husband had purchased one of these gun safes online. He has died and she did not have the combination. We told her that we could open it for a reasonable fee. We also told her that if she could find the serial number the company may have a record of the combination; but it might be a hassle to get it from them because they have no idea who she really was. I explained that they would probably want a notarized letter proving who she was, and might also ask for a death certificate. That made sense to her.
The woman called back 20 minutes later. She was shocked that the company gave her the combination without even asking her last name!! She thought we should know how careless the company is with people’s security.
People selling gun safes talk about protecting your valuables. But you need to be aware that many of them, especially online sellers, are just there to make easy money. Once they get your money they don’t care about you or the fact that you may put your life savings in their safe. They don’t want to be bothered by following appropriate security procedures.
Think about this: A visitor to your home might be able to write down the serial number of your safe, and then get the combination just by making a phone call! He could open your safe when you’re gone and empty it, leaving you to wonder how someone cleaned you out. Comforting, isn’t it? How much would you lose if this happened to you? You need to be really careful about what gun safe or vault door you buy and where you buy it.
The majority of gun safes and vault doors come with cam drives. Turn the handle and the spindle transfers that motion to some kind of cam inside the door. The cam then transfers the motion to some type of linkage that moves the bolt bars in or out. Safes with cam drives are easier for burglars to open than safes with gear drives. Why, then do most gun safe manufacturers use cams? Because they make more money selling cheaper (less secure) safes. Consumers almost never see what’s inside the door of their safe, and store personnel don’t know enough to tell them. Without good information, consumers will sacrifice security for a cheaper price.
Besides offering better security, gear drives make for smoother operation when opening and closing the safe. On most gun safes, whether operated by cam or gear, the handle turns about one quarter to one third of a turn. I especially like the “cool factor” of a handle that spins completely around several times, like Fort Knox’ 5 to 1 rack & pinion drive mechanism.
The safe on the left with a cam drive is much less secure than the unit on right. Both are made in American, but notice the difference in quality and craftsmanship . It is hard to tell from the picture but the cam is assembled with press-on fasteners, and the external re-locker was installed incorrectly at the factory.
When looking to buy a gun safe, learn about all the major features – the locks, the type of insulation they use, how the insulation is mounted, how much steel there is, how the boltworks are made, etc. Buy from a place that knows the differences and is willing to show you.
The last post said that the size of the bolts in a gun safe makes no difference in a pry attack, but mentioned that there are other potential weaknesses. Flimsy bolt bars are a major problem in many safes.
The picture on the left shows the bolt bar– the vertical angle iron to which the bolts are attached — from a safe we sell. The picture on the right shows the bolt bar from a well-known brand of gun safe that we will not sell. The safes are the same size. The bolt bar in the safe on the right is extremely weak compared to the one on the left for four reasons:
- The one on the left is slightly longer than the one on the right.
- The one on the left is 23% bigger: 2” x 2” vs. 1.5” x 1.75”.
- The one on the left is 44% thicker: .1943” VS .1345”.
- The one on the left is a solid piece of steel, while the other piece has 12 extra holes punched into it, each of which makes the piece weaker.
I believe the extra holes are there so the bolt bar can be used interchangeably in other safe models – good for manufacturing efficiency, bad for security. Smaller dimensions and thinner steel also keep manufacturing costs down, but they’re bad for security. Take all these things together and there is a huge difference in strength.
So why is that important? The next picture shows a safe which uses that same flimsy bolt bar. Burglars successfully pried this safe door open. Pressure from their pry bar caused the bolt bar to bend, which allowed the bolts to fold over enough for the door to open. This manufacturer talks about protecting your valuables, but in reality all they want to do is make more money. They make more money by going cheap on one of the most important pieces in their safes! The same principle applies to vault doors. This is why you need to talk with real experts when buying a gun safe, not a box store or a gun dealer who also happens to sell gun safes.
Do bigger bolts really make a difference?
One of the biggest misconceptions relating to gun safes is that “the bigger the bolts are, the more security you have against pry attacks”. The idea is that if someone is trying to pry open your safe, 1” bolts will break before 1 .25” bolts, and those would break before 1.5” bolts. Bigger bolts do look more impressive, but they are primarily cosmetic. Manufacturers use larger bolts to differentiate between lower priced and higher priced safes.
Consider this: If you are towing a 5000# trailer where you are stopping, starting, slamming on the breaks, etc., your whole rig is usually held together by just one 5/8” bolt in the hitch. Ever hear of that bolt breaking? So how would someone break the bolts on a gun safe or vault door, even with a long pry bar?
Bigger bolts make no difference in prying attacks – the weakness is somewhere else. The next post will tell how prying attacks DO open some gun safes.
P.S. It is appropriate to note that if someone uses power tools to cut through the edge of a safe door, then cuts completely through the safe bolts, bigger is better. But this kind of attack is extremely rare and doesn’t even make sense. Someone with that kind of tool will go through the side of the safe much quicker.