How to Choose the Right Safe
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How to Choose the Right Safe

"The safe business has had its share of products that are of questionable value."

You have come to the conclusion that it’s time to purchase a safe. Chances are you have contacted every safe company listed in your favorite hunting or shooting magazine, and now you’re sitting in a pile of literature trying to figure out what to do next! How do you make the right decision with so many choices available? Some brands you may have seen, then there are the factory direct companies promising big savings on safes that are not nationally distributed. These are much like the direct marketing ads you see on TV for products that are "not available in stores." If you’ve ever ordered items such as these, you may have discovered why they are not available in stores! As with any product, some safes are better than others. Unfortunately, the safe business has had its share of products that are of questionable value. These range from "safes" you assemble yourself, to "safes" with see through doors which enable a burglar to inventory your valuables to see if it's worth the risk of moving up to armed robbery.


The question most often asked by our customers is "which safe is the best?". Most dealers respond to this question by recommending their most expensive model while quoting the ever popular sales pitch, "you get what you pay for." While you can’t buy a safe that is too secure, it is possible to spend too much on a safe by getting into the area of overkill. Conversely, you can definitely spend too little and end up with an inferior product that will not protect your valuables. This can lead not only to the loss of your valuables, but also the loss of the money you spent on false security.

"The first step in choosing a safe is to decide whether or not cosmetic appearance is a factor."

The first step in choosing a safe is to decide whether or not cosmetic appearance is a factor. Will it be used as a piece of furniture in a den, or will it be placed in a closet or basement? Obviously, fancy paint finishes and gold plated dials will not make a safe more secure, but they definitely add to the cosmetic appeal and price of the safe. At Southern Security, we don’t have sales people working on commission. You won’t be pressured into a high priced unit that you may not need. We will help you choose a safe that will fit your needs as well as your budget.

The next step is wading through the different choices. We’re not sure who coined the phrase, "if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with b.s.," but we feel certain they must have been in the safe business! Every manufacturer will have their sales pitches as to why their safe is superior to that of their competitor. The first thing you should look for in a safe is the Underwriters Laboratory security rating label that assures you the safe has passed their test. Some smaller manufacturers will argue this is not necessary. Generally this will mean one of two things. They’re afraid their safe will fail, or they can’t afford to have their safes tested. In either case, your best bet is to keep looking.

Locking systems are a major area of concern for most safe buyers. Systems using a combination lock are considered to offer the highest level of security. Have you ever seen a bank vault with a key lock? Many people base their decision to purchase a safe by choosing the one with the most locking bolts. Locking bolts serve only one purpose, and that is to keep the door from being pried open. Once a certain level is reached, it doesn’t matter how large the locking bolts are, whether they are square or round, or how many are used. Arguments to the contrary would be much the same as claiming a man killed with a .44 is twice as dead as one killed with a .22! Some manufacturers use excessive numbers of locking bolts to give the appearance of higher security. This is simply a marketing ploy and is not the best way to judge a safe. If it’s of any consolation, we have never had a safe broken into where the locking system was defeated. We’re sure that if an independent agency put our different brands of safes through laboratory testing by a group of rocket scientist types, a winner would emerge. However, considering your average home burglar will be armed with a 10th grade education and a screwdriver, it is doubtful there would be any difference in a real world situation.

The next area you should consider deals with steel thickness. Provided a safe has an adequate locking system, steel thickness is the single most important factor in the amount of security you can expect. How thick does the steel have to be? Again, this depends upon the individual application. Should your primary concern be with securing your weapons from your own children, lighter cabinets made of 14 gauge steel should be sufficient. For general theft protection, we recommend steel thickness of at least 12 gauge. This should protect your valuables against all but the most determined thief. However, if you live in a rural area or are known to have an expensive collection, you may want to consider a heavier built safe. Safes with a minimum steel thickness 3/16" or greater will offer more protection against a tool attack. In practical terms, there is no reason to go with a minimum steel thickness beyond 1/4" in a residential application. At that point you have already reached the point that will require a torch or exotic power equipment to compromise. Choosing a heavier built safe will virtually eliminate the possibility of entry with hand tools.


The security of a safe can be enhanced by placing it in an area where access to the thinner side walls is limited. Limiting the area in which a would be thief has to operate will decrease their attack options. Of course, any safe can be compromised given the proper equipment and sufficient time. Most people give too much credit to the average home burglar. They are primarily hit and run types with no tools or expertise in safe cracking. Our experience has been that most burglars will not attempt to break into a safe. It’s too easy to get caught, and it’s much simpler to move on to another house, like yours, where there is no safe.

The issue of fire insulated safes is the most abused area of misinformation you will have to sort through. The first thing to remember is there is no such thing as a "fireproof" safe. There are limits on any fire safe as to how long it will protect its contents, and there are limits as to what items will truly be protected from fire. Unfortunately, fire ratings listed by the various manufacturers are not derived from identical testing procedures. This makes it difficult to make head to head comparisons. Most gun safe manufacturers are claiming approximately one half hour of fire protection. Some are independently tested, some are not. Beware of terminology such as "2300 degree fire protection." This refers only to the fire rating of the insulating material, and it does not address the internal temperature of the safe which is most important. Also beware of clever word games such as "U.L. listed fire insulation." Again, this refers only to the insulation, not the safe, as being U.L. listed for fire resistance. Our best advice here is not to lose track of your common sense when comparing ratings.

You can usually increase the survival time of your safe by placing it in the lowest point of your home, preferably against an outside corner. This will likely decrease the amount of combustible material around the safe. By comparison, a safe placed on an upper level in the center of your home will likely be subjected to more intense heat and will fall through the flooring once it has burned out from under the safe. If you plan to keep valuable papers or cash in a fire insulated gun safe, you may want to consider purchasing a secondary unit to provide maximum protection at minimal cost. Simply place the smaller unit inside your gun safe for a double layer of protection.


The next step in choosing your safe deals with size. The most common mistake is to purchase a safe that is too small. A safe can be a once in a lifetime purchase provided you choose a model that will not only accommodate your present needs, but also give you room to grow in. One of two things will happen when you buy a safe. You will either grow into it, or you will grow out of it. Usually the only repeat customers we get are dealers who place multiple orders, or individuals who have outgrown their first safe.


This brings us to the final and most important step in purchasing a safe, and that is actually going through with it. We talk to people every day who are buying a safe after they’ve been robbed. Let’s face it, nobody wants to buy a safe just as nobody wants to buy insurance for their home or car. It probably makes you mad to think in terms of having to spend a considerable amount of money just to keep what’s already yours! As if that’s not enough, it’s no secret that gun owners are politically under fire. Talk about adding insult to injury, new laws are making gun owners liable for crimes or accidental shootings involving their stolen guns. At the risk of making a self-serving statement, gun owners need to be responsible for their weapons. The best answer to gun control is to keep guns in the hands of the law abiding citizens who purchased them. A safe will do exactly that.


Hopefully this information has provided a basic education on safes that has taken you beyond the marketing hype stuffed between the pages of the various factory brochures you may have received. You will certainly have specific questions that will need to be addressed on a personal basis, and we will be happy to assist you. Deciding which safe to buy requires careful consideration, but deciding where to buy it is less complicated. Southern Security is the only name you need to know!