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Antique Safes/General Safe Questions


I have a few general Safe Questions after reading some of your discussions:

1. What "physically" makes an Antique Safe not a good choice for personal safe. From a Fire/Valuable Goods Storage tool stand point.

We recently came into ownership of a very large and heavy double door "jewelers'" safe from an old jewelry store in a small town in Northern Ohio.  It is estimated to weigh 4,000lb. I don't think anyone is going to steal that out of my finished basement.  However, it is not fire resistant (understood) but is it not a decent safe storage device for paperwork/jewelry? Or are the "vintage" locking mechanisms so archaic that any knowledgeable thief could open it in a mater of minutes?

2. What standards would you recommend following for selection of a personal safe?  Based on the multiple uses of a safe.  

I see a lot of safes specific to different uses; file storage, guns, jewelry. Is there a "catch all" safe out there that has a large open compartment for long guns, shelves for handguns, a couple of "file" drawers for documents and some smaller "Jewelry" drawers.  

I understand that each of these materials have different heat transference rates and needs for safe storage (temperature/humidity/.  However, I want to be able to have one place to store them.

ie... if they can make a wine cooler with a humidor on top they can make a multi-functional safe.

Looking for some real world education on this choice rather than some sales pitch from the manufactures.




I'll try to answer all of your questions WITH the reasons that I have.   Hopefully they will make as much sense to you as they do to me.

1.  PHYSICALLY, safes built over 100 years ago (antique), and in many cases even 50 years ago, do NOT meet the same standards as safes built today for a number of reasons.   Some of these include tool availablity, type and quality, material used, and age.
For instance simple "battery" operated tools that you can get at any hardware store were NOT available even 50 years ago.   The drills that safe manufacturers had to protect against were hand powered egg beater type, that would take a burglar all night to make a single hole.   Manufacturers weren't as concerned about how DRILL resistant a safe might be.   Diamond or Carbide drill bits which are now commonly available were not 50 years ago.   Cutting torches were NOT easily available until WWII.   Bottom line safes built over 50 years ago, were NOT designed to stand up to even some of the BASIC hand tools that are readily available at any hardware store.
While many of the manufacturers years ago, made some really good fire resistive safes, these also do not meet any current standards for other reasons.   Age takes it toll on the insulation.   Dried and cracked insulation does little to reduce the heat of a fire, resulting in the charring or burning of the documents stored inside of a safe.   Safe doors being slammed over and over again, over the years, will severely damage the heat resistant qualities of a safe door.   As the majority of these safes (over 50 years old) are sealed, and the insulation cannot be replaced, repaired or even inspected - how can you tell which safe MIGHT protect your documents and which safe won't???   
Locking mechanisms - while some of the locks built over 100 years ago are still working with no flaws, and are probably better than many of the current locks made, the locks are not the problem (in most cases), the problem is the design of the safes - they were NEVER designed to last and/or work forever.

Let me put it this way - If your Great grandfather came to visit, would you give him a night stick and expect him to guard your bank against robbers or burglars, or would you choose your son, who just finished military training????    While your Great Grandfather may have been the "MAN" in his day, he is simply an old man trying to guard against young hoodlums!   

Ok, next item concerning "standards"!    I'm not sure where this question is trying to go as there is no such thing as "STANDARD".    Walk out side your house, and look up and down the street - WHAT is the standard vehicle on the block???   If there are 20 houses on your street, and TWO of them have a blue VW, would THIS be the standard for the rest of the street?   Every person, business, place or thing, is going to have a different VALUE for what is important, and what they want to protect.   This means that while a fire resistive file cabinet may work for me, it may not for you.   As far as your question about having ONE multi-functional safe, why???  What limits you to only one safe?   Unless you have a home owners contract or a city law that indicates each resident can only have ONE safe, I'm not sure WHY you would limit this as an ONLY possiblity.

Out of the 13 safes that I have at my house, 6 are antiques that I'm restoring, one is fire resistive only which I keep documents in.  2 are for weapons storage, 1 is for ammo storage, 1 is for my daughters use, and two are not being used at the moment.   Safes don't have to be big monster, catch all's, they can be many different sizes, instaled throughout the house, and used for different purposes.   Besides my house is too small for one large catchall safe.

Bottom line is that YOU can buy safes in one of two ways, you can simply by production line equipment, letting someone else dictate WHAT is available, and WHAT you have to use it for, or like BurgerKing, you can have it your way.   If you want ONE single safe that has a humidor and a small wet bar, while also providing storage for long guns, ammunition, as will as a fire resistive container for document storage, you can have it.   That being said, you are NOT going to find that safe from a production line or one of the manufacturers catalogs.    There are a handful of safe companies in the US, that offer customized safes.   You dictate what level of burglary protection that you need, along with the level of fire resistance, and the interior configuration.   This is one of those "only the wallet" is the limiting factor (unless your wife catches on to your spending frenzy.)   Obviously common sense will prevail - DON'T ask for a microwave oven size safe to keep your Cadilac stored in - there are limits to our magic!

As for your "Jeweler's Safe".   Just because you obtained the safe from a jeweler doesn't mean that is a "Jeweler's Safe".   I've been doing this work for over 40 years now, and Jewelers tend to be the CHEAPEST sons of guns, when it comes to buying safes.   Just because it may weigh 2000-4000 lbs, does not mean that it has ANY level of burglary resistance.   While the price of gold, and many insurance companies are FORCING jewelers to upgrade to more modern safes, the majority of the older ones that are hitting the market DO NOT meet any standards for fire or burglary resistance.

So bottom line YOU need to decide what you need.   You can choose a number of safes to provide you with the various protections you have requested.   Remember that manufacturers provide a cookie cutter approach to making safes.   Or you can find a safe company that has the capability to convert a single large safe into the monolith, multifunctional, cigar protecting, mini bar, man cave behemoth that you desire.

How was that for a canned sales pitch???  

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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 44 years in the Safe & Vault industry, if I can't answer your question I know where to get the answer. Current Project: Restoration of an Ely Norris Cannonball Safe from the early 1900's. Will answer Safe & Vault related questions concerning age, value, restoration, moving, opening & repairing, parts, operation and history. Note: It is not my intention to teach you to open safes or to provide information which may aid in the unlawful opening of a safe. I will not give out drill points or information which I deem inappropriate.


44 years in the Safe & Vault Industry. Owner and Service Manager for one of the largest Safe & Vault companies on the West Coast. Graduate of Lockmasters Safe Lock Servicing, Safe lock Manipulation and Safe Deposit Lock Courses. Graduate of Locksmith Institute. Author of "The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes". Certified Instructor for the California Locksmith Association teaching Basic and Advanced Lock Servicing, Basic Safe opening and Repairing. Factory Trained by AMSEC, LORD Safes, LeFebure, Mosler, KabaMas, LaGard and Sargent & Greenleaf

Safecrackers International and the National Antique Safe Association Safe & Vault Technicians Association

The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes

Graduate of Locksmith Institute 1972 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Lock Servicing 1974 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Lock Manipulation 1975 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Deposit Lock Servicing 1985 Instructor Certified - California Locksmith Association - 1985 Factory trained by AMSEC, MAJOR, STAR, Johnson-Pacific, Kaba-MAS, Allied-Gary, ISM, Lord, Brown Safe, EXL, Mosler, Diebold.

Awards and Honors
2009 - 2015 Listed in AllExperts top 50 Experts. All Experts Categories - Safes & Security Containers, Locksmithing, Antique Safes. Retired US Army Chief Warrant Officer (CW4), with 39 years of total service. With numerous awards from Vietnam, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. US Navy - 1971-1981 US Army Reserve 1984-2013 US Army Retired

Past/Present Clients
US Secret Service, FBI, BATF, Local Law enforcment agencies, Diebold, Hamilton Pacific, Red Hawk Int., Chubb International, Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank, Mechanics Bank, El Dorado Savings Bank, many Credit unions and smaller banks. McDonalds, Togos, BurgerKing, TacoBell, Carls Jr. FoodMaxx, SaveMart, Lucky's, Albertson's, Raley's, Safeway, NobHill, Bell Markets, PW Markets. Great America, Century Theatres, Cinemark Theatres, UA Cinemas, and many homeowners and small businesses. Provide warranty service for lock and safe manufactures. Service area is Northern California - Fresno to Oregon, including western Nevada

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