Internal Hinges vs External Gun Safe Hinges | Full Guide w/ Pros & Cons

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Every full-size gun safe on the market offers either an internal or an external hinge. While it may seem like such a small detail regarding a purchase, it can make a big difference in your gun safe ownership. In this article, I will discuss everything there is to know about each type of gun safe hinge and hopefully help you make the right choice for yourself.

Why should you trust me? I have helped hundreds of thousands of people make the right choice regarding their gun safe decisions. This article has taken me years of talking directly with owners of gun safes, people looking for gun safes, and even the brands that sell and build these safes. Hinges are an essential topic, and I want to help you make the right decisions.

What is an internal hinge on a gun safe?

[Image courtesy of Liberty Safes]

Internal hinges are generally found on higher-end and more luxurious gun safes. These hinges are hidden behind the door and are attached to the internal portions of the door’s frame.

Some great reasons for an internal hinge are for styling, the inability to cut off the hinge in an attack and to keep the outer dimension of a safe smaller for access to rooms with doors under the standard width.

This hinge style’s drawbacks are fire rating in some models, only a 90-degree door opening, and the inability to pull the door off the safe to lighten the load while moving a safe within a home.

What is an external hinge on a gun safe?

[Image courtesy of Browning]

External hinges sit outside the gun safe; these are ball-bearing hinges that attach to the face of the door and are welded to the exterior bodywork.

SnapSafe is an excellent example of a manufacturer that uses external hinges. There are many great reasons to have an external hinge. This includes aesthetics and the ability to remove the door from the safe, and there are no complications in the fire rating due to the fire board needing to be cut out.

Some drawbacks of an external hinge are that it protrudes from the front of the safe, it can be cut off in an attack (however, this will not allow the door to be removed, more of just a pain after the attack), as well as some people may find them unsightly.

Why would you want an internal hinge?

1. Aesthetics can be better

Many people prefer the cleaner look that an internal hinge offers. Rather than having something protruding from the face of the safe, you end up with clean lines, and a more refined appearance.

2. Easier to move into a home

If you have never moved a gun safe through a home, you are in for a “fun” experience. Internal hinges allow for this move to be just a bit easier. Most hinges protrude around an inch off the face of the safe, and this inch can mean the difference between making it through a doorway, or not.

Why may you not want an internal hinge on your safe?

1. Cut out into the fire-board.

While some higher-end manufacturers have a way around this, you must cut out the fire-board to fit an internal hinge into the safe. External hinge safes can have a rectangle fire-board in the door and the door jambs. However, the internal hinge safes must have two corners cut out on the hinge side. This means more metal is not covered, so more heat gets in.

2. It doesn’t give thieves a distraction.

As we’ll learn about in a minute when we get to external hinges, thieves are generally under the impression that they can cut off the external hinges on the safe like it will get them any closer. In the event of a break-in at your home, you want to buy time, and that buys time. When you have an internal hinge on a safe, they may not attack that first, meaning they might start attacking a portion of the safe that will achieve something. 

3. Unable to remove the safe door

If you have ever moved a gun safe, you have probably realized how crazy heavy and complicated it is. The safe’s door is an easy way to lose about 1/3rd of the weight when removed; however, internal hinge doors don’t have that ability. This means you will have to carry 100% of the safe through your home instead of being able to shed that needed weight. Before you ever remove a door from a gun safe, consult the manufacturer, as there are some brands that cannot have the door removed (even though they feature external hinges).

Why would you want an external hinge on your safe?

1. Security

Most people probably don’t know this; however, the hinge is not an excellent safe security function. On most good safes, all four sides a safe have bolt-work on them, and this bolt work keeps the door attached to the safe.

All the hinge does is allows the door to open and close smoothly.

Side Note: If a safe doesn’t have bolts on the hinge side, it acts as a security function—just not a very good one.

2. Thieves attack it first.

Now that we know the hinges don’t play a good role in the security of a safe, that is one reason I like external hinge safes. The misconception that external hinges are the weak point of a safe also applies to thieves.

Would you prefer to have someone waste time trying to cut off hinges or work on the part of the safe that will get them into the safe? All you are getting with buying a safe is time, which means more chances for them to get caught or give up.

3. You normally can remove the door

Did you know that many external hinge safes can have the door removed? This makes it so much easier to move a safe throughout the home. Did you also know that the door is about 1/3rd of the weight of the safe? Yes, because you already read about it earlier in the article.

4. Full fire-board coverage

As discussed earlier, external hinge safes do not have to have the fireboard cut out around the hinge because they are outside the safe. This means more reliable fire coverage and less bare steel.

5. The door opens 180 degrees.

No matter what size safe you buy, you will find it challenging to get into the back of the safe. Having a door next to you can make that even more difficult while working in the safe. With an external hinge, you will find that you can open it a full 180 degrees, leaving you with a lot more room to maneuver.

6. Aesthetics

Just like internal hinges, some people much prefer the idea of an external hinge on a safe! Some manufacturers even allow you to add hinge caps to make it fancier.

What downsides of an external hinge are there?

1. Difficult to move around homes

Most safes are built to be small enough depth-wise to make it through a standard home door barely. External hinges, though, will stick out just a bit further from the face of the safe, making it easy to catch on door jambs while being moved around. Of course, manufacturers make sure it is still thin enough to make it, but it’s never fun having something protrude from the safe.

2. Aesthetics

Yes, this is also a downside of an external hinge. Many people also don’t like the look of the hinges coming out from the safe.

What gun safes have these two types of hinges?

Best Safe with External Hinges
Browning Sporter SP33
  • Lock: Mechanical or Electronic
  • Dimensions: 58" High by 30" Wide by 23” Deep
  • Steel: 12 gauge
  • Fire Rating: 60 mins at 1400 degrees
  • Weight: 520 pounds
  • Quality steel gauge
  • Great fire rating
  • Built by reputable company
  • Impressive, and adjustable interior
  • Imported safe
See Price: Sporter SP33
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. [Image courtesy of Browning]
Best Safe with Internal Hinges
Liberty Fatboy Extreme
  • Lock: Mechanical or Electronic
  • Dimensions: 60.5" High by 42" Wide by 27.5" Deep
  • Steel: 12-gauge
  • Fire Rating: 90 Mins at 1200 degrees
  • Weight: 730 pounds
  • Great layout for more firearms, but still some standard storage
  • Large capacity
  • Decent steel gauge
  • Fantastic warranty
  • Expensive for the features
Paid Link: Fatboy Extreme
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. [Image courtesy of Liberty Safes]

I am a fan of external gun safe hinges, as I prefer the styling of the hinge, and the ability (typically) to remove the door and lower the weight of the gun safe by a third can make a massive difference with something so large and unwieldy. While some internal hinge safes can be fantastic, their inability to remove the door is a deal breaker for me.

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