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Antique Safes/Gun Safe Recommendations?


First let me say thanks for taking you time to help others with their questions.

I know you deal mainly with Antique Safes, but since you have so much knowledge in this area I was wondering if you had any recommendations for gun safes for the average guy.  There is so much out there and everyone is saying something different and so much depends on what you can't see, so I thought I would ask an expert that wasn't trying to sell anything.  I know there is a lot to consider but I thought you might have a few pointer regarding the trade off between price, weight, build, etc.   



I'm not sure "what" you mean by an average guy???    I figure anyone who owns guns is a supporter of the constitution and therefore an above average guy.   As far as "owning" a safe, what you REALLY need to look at is WHAT you plan on storing in side the safe.

Lets start with "values" - you should take a look at ALL (or anything) that you plan on storing (or may ever store) in the safe.   Every item has two values - its dollar value, and its protection value (fire or burglary).   For instance important papers probably need protection from fire, where as items like gold or coins need burglary protection.   However even your documents have a value.   For instance if you have to replace a birth certificate, besides its need to be protected from fire, it also has an associated "cost".   The actual cost to obtain the document, AND the value of your time to obtain the replacement.   Pretty much you can figure that EVERY sheet of paper, of important documents is worth about $50.   So with birth certificates, vehicle titles, land deeds or mortgages, insurance documents, replacement documents or warranty documents, etc. etc. etc., could easily represent a replacement value of $2500 to $5000.

Next would be items of value that may not necessarily need fire protection, like gold, coins, guns, jewelry, etc. etc. etc.    Come up with a replacement $$$ value of these items, NOT the price you paid for them.    For instance I have a number of guns which I originally purchased for between $300 to $1000 - with many of these guns now being collectors items as they are not made any longer or possibly imported, so the ones that ARE available, have in some cases gone from 3x to 10x their original value.    Always consider REPLACEMENT value.

Ok, so you have some basic numbers ($$$) to work with.   While you have this huge pile of your stuff in one place, it should also give you an idea of (minimum) how much storage space that you need.   NOTE:   As we generally collect more "stuff" over the years, you should ALWAYS anticipate adding more items in your safe.   As you don't want to have to buy extra safes or a larger replacement safe every few years, it is always prudent to buy at least double the size you currently need, and better yet triple the space.
So if your little pile of items is around 6 cubic feet, MINIMUM that you should buy would be at least 12 cubic feet (normal size of a gun safe) to a maximum of 18 to 20 cubic feet of storage space.

By now, you have a dollar value that you need to protect, you have an idea of whether you simply need fire protection only, or burglary protection only, or a composite safe which offers both fire and burglary protection, AND you have a size that you need.

Basic numbers:
Fire protection:
1 hour of fire resistance - This is the MINIMUM level that you should consider.   While some safe manufacturers provide safes which offer 1/2 hour and 45 minutes of fire resistance, this should be considered sub-standard protection.   While it is still better than leaving your stuff on the kitchen table, it isn't even the MINIMUM level.   Safes which offer 90 minutes, 2 hours, or 4 hours of fire resistance would be considered super-standard, or better than the standard which is one hour.

Burglary protection:    While fire safes are designed to keep heat out of the safe, burglary safes are designed to keep PEOPLE out of your safe.   Basically ANY safe can be opened given enough time, so just like fire safes are rated in their ability to keep HEAT out for a period of time, you should consider a burglary safe for its ability to keep people out of your safe.   The longer it takes them the better the safe.
For storage purposes there are various standards (depending on which industry you talk to) that provide "bankers standards", "jewelers standards", etc.   Generally as the names suggest these are industry related standards rated by insurance companies for risk - as in how much RISK are you willing to assume.   The standards that I use are as follows:

Non-rated safes - overnight storage of:
B-rating          $5000 or less
C-Rating          $10,000 or less
Rated Safes
TL-15          $50,000 or less
TL-30          $100,000 or less
TL-15x6          $250,000 or less
TL-30x6          $350,000 or less
TRTL-30x6         $500,000 or less
TXTL-60x6         $1,000,000 or less

"B" rated safes, which is the lowest burglary rating is basically a "catch-all" category, covering most of the fire safes and gun safes.   Basically it states that the safe would have LESS than 1" of steel in the door, and LESS than 1/2" of steel in the walls.   Please note the word LESS!!!!

So while TWO similar looking gun safes may be touted as being the same, if one has 1/16th inch of steel in the walls and doors, and the other has 1/2" of steel in the door and two 1/4" layers of steel in the walls, are these safes ACTUALLY the same???   While they are BOTH considered to have a "B" rating, they DO NOT offer the same protection.

When a number of the states were coming out with their "weapons storage laws" a number of years ago, they approached the gun safe industry to find out WHAT the standard was.   What they found out was that while all of the safes meet the "B-rating", THERE WAS NO STANDARD!!!!
UL finally came out with a NEW standard, now knowing as the "Residential Security Container" or RSC rating.   In order for a safe to have the newer RSC rating (and a label), it MUST meet a minimum standard, which is still only a "B" rating, but they are kind of the best of the "MINIMUM" rating!
Bottom line though, even though two safes MIGHT have the same rating (RSC), this DOESN'T mean that they are the same by any stretch of the imagination!!!!

As far as "TRADE OFFS" between price, weight, construction, etc., only YOU can answer that question.    When YOU go off for that long weekend in Las Vegas, or that week in Florida or Hawaii, when YOU come home and find out that you have been burglarized - if your safe is still secure with YOUR stuff still inside, you can tell me if THAT particular safe was worth it or not!!!!!

Obviously if the safe is heavy enough that they can't walk off with it, then weight is a positive.   Generally ANY safe which weighs less than 750 lbs MUST be bolted down to concrete to be semi-secure.   Bolting down heavier safes is an option, but is always a good idea.   If the safe weighs as much as your house, it isn't going anywhere!  :)

A number of manufacturers offer a "limited lifetime warranty policy".   Basically what this means is that they will either repair or replace your safe if it is damaged in a fire or burglary attempt.   Obviously this doesn't cover the loss of any of your items inside the safe that are ruined or lost, but their basic idea is that they want you to always have a safe to protect your valuables.

While the majority of the safes on the market WILL probably keep the majority of snatch and grab break ins, from opening your safe - generally they don't come prepared with a lot of tools, and will usually use YOUR tools to attack your safe.    Anyone that may know about your safe WILL come better prepared, WITH tools designed to attack the heck out of your safe.   In this case saving a few hundred dollars for a cheaper safe won't pay to replace the items that are lost.   This is where you need thick steel and/or concrete.   If they are going to get into your safe, make them earn it.

Bottom line, probably the best gun safe on the market for fire and burglary protection (thick steel and quality insulation) is AMSEC's BF series of gun safes.   see: to obtain a brochure.

Now, if you have gone through the "numbers lists" above, and have determined that you actually need better protection for fire and burglary, AMSEC also offers their HF series of gun safes to provide you with either TL-15 or TL-30 protection.
Hint:   These safes are simply upgraded standard AMVAULT TL-15 and TL30 safes.   If you want to save money, buy the standard AMVAULT, and buy a gun safe interior kit, and put it together yourself.   Same safe but less money.

OK, just like anything else you ARE going to get what you pay for - or so it seems.   Because many of the gun safe manufacturers are really good at "dressing up" their safes, it MAY seem to you that the big $$$'s get you the same thing, just remember the story about putting lip stick on a pig!!!!    Don't get to locked into the $$$ cost of the safe - educate yourself on what every manufacturer is representing so that you can compare apples to apples!

Hope this helps, download the brochures from the various manufacturers so that you can learn what differences are offered.   Also consider the AFTER purchase service.   Some manufacturers like AMSEC, Liberty, National, Browning and a few others have on staff technical service operators which are available to answer your questions, and/or provide you with service.   Most of the smaller companies have none.   After the initial purchase, good luck with EVER contacting them again.

Unless you have a good safe company locally that can sell you the safe of your choice, AND provide delivery and installation, the safe may be drop shipped to your drive way from the manufacturer, which means that YOU will have to figure out how to get it into your house or garage, into place and properly bolted down.    While this MAY seem like a good argument for a cheaper, lighter weight safe, again - you get what you pay for.   While you may be saving money on delivery and installation, when you come home from that long week end to find your safe open and your stuff missing, call me up and remind me how much money you actually saved on that safe.
As this is generally a ONE time purchase, unless you are like me and have 13 safes at home, you want to buy the best one that you can afford, that offers the BEST fire and BURGLARY protection.
It always amazes me to see someone drive up to our shop driving a $50K Escalade or Mercedes and yet want a high quality safe for under $500.   If they were REALLY that concerned about the money, why aren't they driving a $5000 car instead.   Makes no sense to me what so ever.

ANYWAY, all of the proceeding is IMHO (in my humble opinion) only and does not reflect the views of any other safe technician or safe company.   Hope this helps.

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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 40 years in the Safe & Vault industry, if I can't answer your question I know where to get the answer. Current Project: Restoration of two Tilton & McFarland Safes from the 1860'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.


40 years in the Safe & Vault Industry. 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. 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

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 - 2013 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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