Buying a gun safe is getting harder and harder over time. With more manufacturers being formed, and the ability to build overseas becoming increasingly less expensive, it is becoming easier for really anyone build safes, whether they can back it up with great customer service and warranty.
That is why I have put together this buying guide, so you can keep an eye out for these features every time you are looking at a gun safe to buy.
One thing before we get too far into this article, is that when you are buying a safe, you are buying time. If someone breaks into your home and is trying to get into your safe, the better the safe, the longer it takes to access it.
In the end you really do get what you pay for, so while a cheaper safe is still a safe, it won’t keep someone out as long as a more expensive of a safe.
I mainly add this thought, because there are a lot of people out there that don’t believe you should buy a cheap safe, however my thought on the matter is just be aware of what you are buying, and think through it. Maybe for your purposes, that cheap safe is perfect for you.
With that comes the decision as to which one should be purchased. It also means that a buyer needs to be educated on what to look for when buying a safe!
Below are 7 things that I look for when buying a safe to keep things safe in my home.
- Quality locking mechanism
- Steel thickness
- Fire rating that suits you (Doesn’t apply to pistol box)
- Security Features
- Additional Features
Get a safe with a Quality Locking Mechanism
The locking mechanism is one of the most important parts of any safe, whether it be a full size safe, a pistol box, or a gun cabinet. Without a quality lock, it can fail at any time, leaving your firearms on the inside, and you on the outside.
This isn’t a winning formula when someone is breaking into your home and you need to access your safe easily and quickly.
Some good brands of locks to keep an eye out for when shopping are SecuRAM, S&G (Sargent and Greenleaf), La Gard, Kaba Mas, and a few others.
A good rule of thumb is to keep an eye out for a brand, most locks that lack in quality do not display their name on it, and you will normally find this on lower end import safes. Most USA made safes tend to have a great lock on it, backed by some form of warranty.
So you may ask, what are the different lock options for a gun safe? Let’s talk about that for a quick moment, however you can read more in depth about it in my article here.
- E-Lock (Electronic Lock, Digital Lock) – Best for if you need quick access into your safe, whether that be to access it regularly, or if you intend on using this for your self protection weapons.
- Mechanical Lock (Dial Lock) – Best for people that keep their self protection weapon in a quicker access spot like a pistol box. Good for people that don’t get into their safe often.
- Redundant lock – This type of lock actually has both a mechanical and electronic lock built in. It is great for those people who want the ease of access that the electronic gives, but also don’t want to rely on the battery, and then have the mechanical lock version included as well. A great example is the SecuRAM Xtreme lock that I wrote about in this article.
- Biometric Lock (Fingerprint Lock) – This option still isn’t my favorite out there, and is why it is later on in this list. Biometric locks also known as fingerprint locks (for the most part) are locking mechanisms that use your fingerprint to gain access to the contents, they also generally have a key or keypad backup for those times you need another way in. I have this lower down on my list, because even though it offers quick access, there is a small part of the population where this type of lock doesn’t work for, as well as there are times where it can reject your fingerprint, even when you have done everything correctly.
Steel quality and thickness
The steel of a gun safe is what keeps thieves out of the safe and away from the contents, so is extremely important to pay attention to when you are buying your safe. The thicker and better quality the steel is the longer it will take to get into the safe, buying you more time and is more likely to make the offender give up and move on.
There are two different aspects of gun safe steel that I think you should keep an eye out for.
Where is the steel made?
I personally don’t have much evidence on this side of things. However I have heard in the industry that Chinese steel can be softer, and easier to cut through steel.
Meanwhile USA made steel can be more hardened than its Chinese counterpart.
As mentioned, I don’t have many facts to back this up, as everywhere I find that talks about it talks about how 14 gauge steel is many times easier to cut than American 12 gauge steel… well duh its thicker steel.
So take this with a grain of salt for sure, but just be aware of this aspect of the steel
How thick is the steel?
This is the much more important aspect of steel in my opinion, and there are quite a few different ways you can handle this part of the process.
The main way gun safe manufacturers handle this is by having a single layer of varying thickness of steel. This is really standard across the industry, and is how most safes are made.
In my personal opinion, is that 12 gauge is going to be the start of a quality safe. You will find quite a few safes out there with 14, and 18 gauge steel, but those can be cut through, or dented easily.
12 gauge and better (lower numbers are good) tend to be where you start to see real security. These safes can also be purchased for a low price, as companies like Tracker Safe, and Browning can be purchased for less than $1000.
Now the second way some manufacturers, which in my opinion can be arguably better than the main option is to layer thinner steels to give a more difficult way of cutting through the safe.
This can be seen in its most extreme way, by looking at the SecureIt True Safe. They sandwich a proprietary cement filling between a 16 gauge steel outer steel, and a 14 gauge inner steel liner. Then there is the more traditional path that Fort Knox takes by having a standard outer liner, and then you can upgrade it by having 1, 2, or 3, additional 10 gauge liners.
One rather cool article that I wrote is a list of as many safes as I could think of listed out by their gauges of steel, you can read that article here and learn more about this.
A Fire rating that suits you
Fire ratings have become synonymous with gun safes. However not every safe comes with a fire rating, or may even come with too much!
If you were to live two minutes from a fire station, you may not need more than just the industry standard 30 minutes at 1200 degrees. However if you live in a rural area 2 hours from a fire station, or any help, a 2+ hour fire rating may be called for.
To learn more about what fire rating you may need, I highly recommend you read this article I wrote here.
Not all fire ratings are created equal though, cement is a great way to keep the heat out (but crazy heavy), while certain cheap Chinese fire boards may not stand up to what they are advertised as due to lack of quality, gaps in the fireboard, and more.
That isn’t to say that fireboard is bad by any means, as many companies like Liberty and Browning (and more) use it extremely effectively. If you want to learn more in depth how gun safes are fire rated, this article I wrote would be a great one to read.
Also please keep in mind that fire ratings may also not be necessary for everyone, as you may have a fire suppression system in your house, or you may not even care if what is in it is burned up, instead you just want to keep it out of children’s hands, or possibly just for the burglary rating.
While not as common, there are also safes with a “waterproof” rating, however most of those tend to sacrifice quality in other ways.
There are many different features that a gun safe may have to better enhance how well a safe will handle an attack.
This includes features like:
- Re-lockers – I’m not quite sure why, but re-lockers are one of the harder gun safe concepts to understand. However essentially they make it so that if a safe is tampered with, then a bolt will go into place, making it completely impossible to open. An expensive but well known version of this is where there is a glass plate on the inside of the door, and when accidentally drilled into, it shatters and closes the safe forever. I have seen this one in movies at least once.
- Bolt shear – Shear pins are very similar to the above re-locker above and the slip clutch we we will learn about after this one, where there is a pin between the bolt work and the handle of a safe. If enough force is put on the handle, it will shear this pin off and make the handle move freely, making the safe impossible to force open.
- Slip clutch – This may sound like car terminology, however it is another great way to keep someone from breaking into your safe. Slip clutches are a part of the exterior handle of the safe, when too much pressure is put on the handle it will release and spin freely (it can easily be put back to normal by spinning it the other way), this makes it so a thief can’t force your safe open.
- Anti-pry tabs – Prying open a gun safe door is a well known way to gain entrance to a safe, however anti-pry tabs site right on the inside of the corner of the door. This makes it so a pry bar can’t gain leverage to pry it open.
- Bolt down kits – Not every safe even has bolt down holes stock on the inside of the safe. However this is a security feature that everyone should think about. Having this means that even if someone could carry your safe out of your home, they can’t, because it is bolted to the ground. Remember, you are buying time when you buy a safe, and this is a cheap, effective way of doing this. This also makes it so you can’t get the safe on its side to gain leverage on the door to pry it open as mentioned above.
- Hard plates – This is where there are varying amounts of hard plates between the locking mechanism on the inside of the door, and the outside of the door. These varying thicknesses of plates will protect the lock from drill attacks that can harm the lock, and possibly allow access to the safe if damaged.
Sometimes this part of looking for a safe is what may set very similar safes apart from each other, and it is up to you as the consumer to decide which is most important to you.
Liberty has even launched some cool security features in the way of military style locking bars that are a new development.
USA made gun safes are well known to have some of the best security features. Check out a list of manufacturers that make these.
Gun Safe Warranty
My wife can attest that I very much enjoy the idea of a warranty. Getting to have someone fix something for me, for free, that I otherwise would have to do myself is just awesome.
A personal favorite of mine is to have a lifetime warranty, because I know I don’t have to worry about the product for the lifetime of owning it.
In the gun safe world there are many different types of warranties.
- Lifetime warranty on craftsmanship and for fire, and break in, and locking mechanism. – This is reserved for the best gun safe manufacturers out there. Fort Knox is one of the few that offers this warranty.
- Lifetime warranty on craftsmanship and fire and break in. However only a specified warranty term (generally 1-5 years) on the lock. – While this is still an awesome warranty, this raises a red flag that this company doesn’t trust their lock. Make sure to look further into that.
- Lifetime warranty on fire and break in, but only 1-5 years on craftsmanship and lock. – Yes, strangely I have seen this warranty before, and it worries me. They are questioning their own craftsmanship, and betting your house won’t get broken into or burned down.
- 15 year warranty. – I think I have only seen one gun safe manufacturer with this warranty term on it. It’s respectable, however still would like to see a lifetime.
- 5 Year Warranty. – Most full size gun safes tend to have a lifetime warranty on them, however a few do have lesser terms for their warranty. You will also find this warranty as common on electronic pistol safes.
- 1 Year Warranty. – I would steer away from any manufacturer of gun safes that only offer a 1 year warranty on their products. Safes need to be accessed after that 1 year is up… so they really should be built, and warrantied for that.
Some of my favorite manufacturers that offer awesome warranties are Liberty, Fort Knox, and Browning. Yes, I know, big name companies… but there is a reason they are big names.
Aesthetics of the Safe
Yes, I know, gun safes are just for storage. However, they can also look awesome as well. These are just some of the aspects to think about when buying a safe, and shopping for the right aesthetics for your safe.
- Paint – There is a huge amount of difference between manufacturers in the quality of paint they use on their safes. Some of the safes have a rough texture, like some of Browning’s safes (This is actually a good paint), then there is your powder coated finish, which is a good quality. Then, there is my favorite, which is a true automotive quality finish! Fort Knox, and Vault Pro are great examples of manufacturers that use this automotive paint finish style. This is a paint you can buff just like a car, and it will end up extremely nice afterwards.
- Decals – Alright, so not everyone wants decals on their safe. However there are tons of different types of artwork that can be added to a safe. Browning has 11 different scenes you can add to your safe, and Liberty has a cool modern style artwork you can have on the Lincoln series. Of course every manufacturer has their own thing they have, but you want to make sure you get a safe that looks the way you want it to.
- Interior cloth – You probably didn’t even think about the cloth on the inside of your safe huh? Nope! Well there are tons of different types out there. Fort Knox is a great example, they have 6 different carpet styles, including 2 carpets, and 4 velours. Browning on the other hand even allows for wood in the back of the safe on their Platinum series safes.
- Hardware – Gun safes have quite a few different things that are included in their hardware. These are things like the handle, the lock, and the hinges. Some manufacturers allow you to adjust the colors of these to match the color of the safe or even your decor in the home. As for the hinges side, Fort Knox has a really cool 2S Crane Hinge you should look into.
- Pull handles – Gun safe doors are huge and crazy heavy. Because of this, as a safe gets too heavy, you don’t want to put that much pull on the handle itself, so a finial pull handle solves that issue! This is a handle that goes on the non-hinge side of the safe, and allows you to pull on that, instead of the spin handle that can damage the door. Also, they look cool, and your safe should have one just because of that.
- Shelving – Many safes come set with how the interior is going to be put together, however some manufacturers (mainly USA made) will allow you to order it with different styles. Regardless of if you can adjust it, just make sure you look at the safe interior, to see if it will fit what you need. Also, make sure to look into Browning’s Axis interior, it is my personal favorite and is completely adjustable.
- Lighting – Have you ever been in a cave? It’s extremely dark. Now keep that in mind when you are shopping for a safe. They tend to be rather deep, and everything in the back of the safe will be dark and difficult to find. So make sure you have a lighting kit to help out with that! Strangely enough, some manufacturers will have an option to add a mirror in the back of it to reflect light back there as well.
- Door panel – This is also extremely important. You are going to want to have the maximum amount of space in your safe, and you don’t want that door to be just unused real estate! You can either buy a safe with one built in, or you can get one aftermarket, it’s up to you.
Gun Safe Size and dimensions
Buying a gun safe with the right size and dimensions is incredibly important.
You don’t want to buy a gun safe that is too small, when you could have bought a bigger one and stored more items.
You also don’t want to buy a safe that is too big and won’t fit where you want it.
I would recommend looking at these couple things to make sure you get the right safe, and also you should read this article where I go much more in depth to help you find the right sized safe.
- Height – The height of the safe is important because you need to make sure it will fit height wise where you are putting the safe, but also because the taller a safe is, the more storage you are going to get in the top of the safe.
- Width – This is where you are going to get most of your capacity in your safe, so the wider the safe is, the more rifles you can store. However you want to make sure it isn’t too wide where it won’t fit where you need it.
- Depth – Most safes are around the same depth, give an inch or two either way. This depth tends to offset the weight of the door so that it doesn’t tip forward, so the larger a safe is, the more depth you will have.
- Capacity – You are buying a safe to store your rifles and other items, so you want to make sure you are buying the right capacity. However be wary, manufacturers tend to advertise their safes can handle much more than they actually can. So if they advertise 40 rifles, you probably will fit 20-25 in it, when you account for larger rifles and scopes.
- Weight – There are quite a few reasons to keep weight in mind. However the main reasons are for moving it, and also making sure your home can handle the weight of the safe without damaging your home.
Additional Features when buying a gun safe
Outside of security features like discussed above gun safes can come with a plethora of features. This may be things like:
- Rhino’s swing out rack – This swing out rack lets you swing 6-13 rifles completely out of the safe, making it extremely easy to access the rifles, as well as the remaining items in the safe. You can read more about it here in this article about their Kodiak line of safes.
- Browning’s Axis shelving/DPX Door system – I mentioned this a bit earlier, however Browning has an awesome interior system that is completely adjustable. They also have maximized the door space that not many others can compete with.
- Mossy Oak’s sliding rack system – These are racks that slide in and out of the safe and allow for easy, but extremely dense storage of long guns in the safe. This is perfect for collectors.
- Corner bolts – Some manufacturers have corner bolts that can be added. They basically are those anti-pry tabs times 100. You can read more about them in this article I wrote.
- Modular assembly – While note extremely popular yet, modular gun safes are actually one of my favorite styles of safes. These safes come in pieces in a crate, then you can put them together yourself one part at a time. This can save you money on moving companies, and they are awesome quality. Here is an article about my favorites.
Non-Feature Related things to look for when buying a gun safe
When shopping, things may get kind of confusing. Make sure to keep an eye out for the below things.
- Manufacturers are constantly launching new products, and discontinuing old products. Make sure to compare their new line with the old. Browning just launched a bunch of 2019 safes.
- Another great thing to keep an eye out for is a good value on used safes. There are upsides and downsides to this. Reading through this article may help you understand if this is a good idea for your situation.
- You should also keep an eye on where you are keeping the safe, as the garage may or may not be the best place.
Now that you know everything to look for when researching the safe you want to buy. Let’s sift through some of the things you shouldn’t listen to. Check out these myths about gun safes.
Make sure when you find the gun safe you are looking for to look into the best way to buy it.
I hope in this article, I have helped you understand there is a lot more to think about when buying a gun safe than the steel thickness. I just want to make sure you are buying the best safe for your needs.
Remember, you are buying time when you get a gun safe. While most all safes have a place in someone’s home, you need to decide for yourself what needs you have, and where each of these thoughts fit into your plan for protecting your home.
If you want to learn more about safes, this is a great post where I have links to most questions you may have about different brands, features, and common questions about gun safes.