Buyer's Guide on Gun Safes

person holding a mechanical safe

Did you know? Some states require you to have a gun safe by law? However, even if that’s not the case in your country, it’s still YOUR responsibility to keep your firearm secure and safe from others.

Obviously, you don’t want your guns lying around. We’re going to make an educated guess here and say that nine out of ten times, these situations almost always result in accidents. Our recommendation? LOCK THE GUNS AWAY. So regardless of whether or not it’s a law where you live, we think it’d be smart to own a gun safe.

So you’ve decided that you want to own a gun safe, well, how do you choose the right one? You may have heard of different types of gun safes, but you should do your own research, understanding all of your options before you make an investment. Some models work best for specific guns, others are better for fending off intruders and threats.

Continue reading if you feel like you could use some help! Our entire buyer’s guide on gun safes will help you choose the best model based on your preferences and needs.

What Makes A Gun Safe Good?

safe with valuables sticking out of it

One of the most important things is knowing what makes a gun safe great right off the bat. This way you can narrow down all the options to only those that could actually serve your purpose. To us, safes are more than just locked boxes stashed away in a closet or under your bed.

It’s crucial that you understand the possible threats you’re facing. Do you live in an area with a high theft/home burglary rate? Do you have children? What about natural disasters (fires and floods)? These are just a few of the questions you need to answer before making a decision on purchasing.

A good safe is the one that answers all your questions and concerns, protecting your valuables from potential risks. To be frank, ask yourself what you’re protecting your valuables from.

Gun Storage Size

multiple gun safe sizes

If you only have one gun,  you probably think you can get away with a small safe. Our general rule of thumb is to always choose bigger than you think you’d need. The rule follows for all different types of guns, from pistols, rifles and shotguns.

Getting a size up brings more versatility, allowing you to store a few other items like ammunition, cash and jewelry too. Plus, your gun needs space. You don’t want to cram your weapon in there.

Steel Wall Thickness a.k.a. Shell Strength

The main thing to keep in mind is that the thickness of walls doesn’t always guarantee security. The thing is, some brands advertise thick walls and doors when in reality not all of the material is comprised from steel.

Though thickness is important, you want to make sure that most of it IS steel. Here’s what you’ll find most often in gun safe materials:

  • 14-16 gauge – Safeist’s recommended minimum
  • 12 gauge (0.109”) – Better
  • 10 gauge (0.141″) and up – Best

With today’s technology, power tools have become so powerful. Here at the Safeist, we honestly feel like safes can be powered through (opened) in a few minutes if they don’t have a bare minimum amount of steel in the walls and door. It’s the most expensive part of the entire safe, which is how brands cut costs.

You’ll often hear manufacturers say the safe has 2″ thick walls without actually mentioning the amount of steel. While it sounds impressive, it could be made from 14 gauge outer shell steel and some drywall.

Because the walls are the easiest to break, try not to buy anything that is less than 10 gauge single sheet in these areas. It’s safe away from children, but not from thieves with the power tools we mentioned above.

Door Thickness

In most cases, the very thing applies to door thickness, too. Brands usually advertise it as total thickness when not much of it is steel. Most have thick doors but are made from gypsum drywall that’s wrapped in some thin metal.

  • 10 – 14 gauge – minimum
  • 1/4″ (0.250”) – better
  • 5/16″ (.312”) and above – best

If you see that the doors are 5” thick, that’s most likely a combination of different materials that include but not limited to steel, drywall, dial, bolts, airspace, inner panel and all other parts of the door itself.

Get a safe that has door thicker than 10 – 14 gauge for the outer sheet. It’s obvious you want the thickest outer sheet while everything else is an added bonus.

Safe Construction

Apart from how thick the safe and its doors, there are a few other things you should pay attention to. One of the most important things to look into is how the joints are welded. As opposed to base metal, joints welded with full weld penetration are much stronger.

Simply, a wall may be thick, but if everything’s not welded correctly, someone could just hammer it down. Joints have to have some kind of strength as well.

Look at the overall construction and use your best judgment. If it’s not done correctly, in most cases, you’ll be able to spot that.

Is Your Gun Safe Burglary and Weatherproof?

burglar looking into open safe

Whatever vault you choose, it has to be burglary proof. You want something that’s going to keep the intruders away at all times regardless of how much time they have at hand.

Different factors determine how safe it is against burglars. If you live in an area where this might occur, this is something you should pay particular attention to.

The same goes for weatherproof vaults. If you live where there are possible fires and floods, you want something to protect your guns in the best possible way.

Burglary Proof

It’s often considered that every security box can be opened with the right tools and enough time. While this might be true, the odds that someone will have an ax and hours of time with your safe are relatively slim.

You want a safe that takes too much time and effort to break into because that’s the one a thief will most likely give up on. However, it’s crucial that the vault is bolted to the floor or the wall. Some models come with security cables, which are also a good option. Either way, make sure that nobody can just pick it up and leave with it.

Another factor that plays a significant role in this is the type of lock you choose. Some are more secure than others regarding how easy they are to figure out. For example, if you opt for a simple lock and key, it’s possible that someone simply finds the keys and opens the vault.

Gun Safe Burglary Ratings

It’s recommended you choose a safe with at least a UL 1037 Residental Security Container rating (RSC). However, different states and overall situations may require a higher rating.

For example, if you live in California, the state requires you to get only a safe that meets the California Department of Justice requirements and RSC rating.

Burglary ratings were initially developed by the insurance industry to establish a standard that indicates a degree of safety your vault provides against possible burglary attacks. The most common are B-rate to C-rate.

The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) was founded in 1894 and dedicates to testing performance ratings.

  • B Class – Good Protection
    • Doors less than 1” thick and body less than ½” thick
  • C class – Better Protection
    • Doors at least 1” thick, with a body at least ½”
  • UL RSC – Residential Security Container
    • U.L. listed group II combination lock or type I electric one.
    • 3/16” open-hearth steel door and 12 gauge steel body.
    • The door can withstand drilling, prying, chiseling, and punching for about five minutes.
  • UL TL-15 – Best Protection
    • Group 2M, 1, 1R combination or type 1 electric lock
    • At least 750lbs heavy
    • Walls are at least 1” open hearth steel
    • The door put up against at least 15 minutes of common hand tools attack
  • UL TL-30 – Superior Protection
    • Group 2M, 1, 1R combination or type 1 electric lock
    • At least 750 lbs. heavy
    • Walls are at least 1” open hearth steel
    • Its doors resist 30 minutes of attack with common hand tools, mechanical, electric and picking tools as well as carbide drills, power saws, and abrasive cutting wheels.
  • UL TL30x6 – Extreme Protection
    • Group 2M, 1, 1R combination or type 1 electric lock
    • At least 750 lbs. heavy
    • Walls are at least 1” open hearth steel
    • The door and body resist up to 30 minutes of attack by hand tools, electric, mechanical and picking tools. They also resist power saws, abrasive cutting wheels, and carbide drills.

Before you buy any security vault, make sure to research its performance and construction standards. This way you ensure that the safe you got can protect all the weapons and valuable items you keep in it. To decide on one of these, you simply have to consider the possible threats. It’s up to you to decide which would work the best for your needs.

Fireproof

The most important thing is that you don’t mix fireproof safes with those that are truly fire-rated. Most manufacturers use a little drywall as fire lining which is in no case enough to protect. These vaults mostly cannot meet industry standards because brands just make up their own ratings out of nowhere.

However, keep in mind that there’s no such thing as genuinely fireproof safe. Every model has its limit depending on its construction, materials and also the strength and duration of fire itself.

It’s also crucial you remember that anything can happen and you might end up surprised. The key is in details.

Plus, no fire is the same, so it’s kind of tricky to determine how much protection the vault provides. This is why you should consider standardized fire ratings. These ratings are independent tests that evaluate the possible worst fire to provide your weapon with the best protection.

Fire Ratings

Most gun safes today have gypsum drywall for protection from fire. It’s what manufacturers use to minimize the spread of fire.

However, it all depends from brand to brand. For instance, there might be some chemicals left in the drywall one the manufacturing is done. This is especially common for drywall that’s made in China.  So, make sure to check where your vault is made. Sometimes brands buy materials in China and then just assemble them in the USA. This usually happens with low-quality and cheap safes and not with reputable and reliable brands.

UL-72 again stands for Underwriters Laboratories providing a standardized examination for protection and fire resistance. These are divided into three classes depending on what you’re protecting.

  • Class 350 – the inside must withstand up to 350°F and is designed to protect paper.
  • Class 150 – the inside temperature can withstand up to 150°F. It protects paper, computer disks, photos, and other non-paper items.
  • Class 125 – the temperature must be below 150°F, and it protects everything of the above plus flexible computer disks.

The first test called First Endurance Test and is for basic fire protection. The second is Fire and Impact Test for analyzing the impact that might affect your safe. They drop it from 30 feet to simulate a 3rd-floor drop. The third test is called Explosion Hazard Test. It’s designed to ensure that the vault won’t build up pressure and explode when exposed to fire.

  • 350° – Interior temperature of AMSEC gun safe
  • 405° – Paper chars
  • 1200° – Average house fire
  • 1700° – U.L. 350°  – 1h fire endurance test
  • 1850° – U.L. 350°  – 2h fire endurance test

To receive the UL72 rating stamp the safe must go through explosion and impact tests.

Waterproof and Flood Protection

For a gun safe to be waterproof it would have to be fully sealed. If that were the case, then there would be lots of buildup pressure that had nowhere to escape. 

Customers are often confused when brands claim their safe is waterproof because it has a Palusol seal. This seal is used around the door and expands five to seven times in case of a fire. Because it’s primarily designed to keep smoke and heat from the inside of your safe, it cannot stop water from entering.

There’s no such thing as a waterproof safe just because there’s no way to construct it, so it’s completely sealed. You can do several things to make sure your belongings are protected from the water like put them in a zip lock. However, this isn’t really a convenient way of storing guns especially if it comes to any emergencies.

Rust Protection

Rust is a big issue, and it’s important you take measures to prevent it from appearing. There’s no point in having a high-end safe if your weapons are rusting inside.

Remember the Palusol seal we mentioned? While it may not be as resistant to liquid entering the safe, it does put up a fair fight against humid, moist air. However, attaching any seal around the door is a good idea even if it’s a simple rubber-type.

Maintain humidity of 50% because everything higher than that will cause corrosion. So, think about which room in your house has the best conditions for this. For example, don’t hide your safe in the bathroom or a garage that has a hole in the roof.

Also, emptying and venting the safe now and then is also a good idea. Apply an anti-rust spray to the body of the vault as well as your guns and other valuables that could rust.

Still, the general rule is that quality guns as well as high-end safes cannot rust as easily and should provide you years of durability.

Different Types of Gun Safe Locks

Biometric Locks

Biometric locks are the newest technology to the market. It remembers fingerprints stored in its internal database and unlocks the safe if it matches up with one that’s saved. Generally using a optical or thermal scanner, it scans fingerprints and identifies the series of unique ridges and grooves that are microscopic to the human eye. While expensive, biometric locks save a lot of time generally ranging from 1 to a mere 3 seconds to open. If that’s not enough, how about never having to carry an extra set of keys around? Our best biometric gun safes have some of best products available on the market.

Mechanical Locks

These locks are often considered the most reliable simply because they don’t feature any electronic components. It’s the kind of lock you saw in old movies, or you’ve maybe even had it in high school. Here’s how it works:

  • Spin it 4-5 times to the right to clear the last code
  • Spin four times to the left for the first code
  • Spin three times to the right to get the second code
  • Spin two times to the right to get the third one
  • Spin to the left until it catches

Now, this probably sounds somewhat confusing and more so if you’ve never had to work with a mechanical lock. However, don’t let this discourage you because it quickly turns into second nature with just a bit of practice.

The access takes about 45 seconds or so. This might not sound like too much time required, but it might be in dire situations. Plus, people often make mistakes in emergencies so the whole thing can become really confusing. For this reason, this type of lock is mostly recommended for people who’ve already mastered them.

Digital Locks

Digital locks have had their share of doubts and are often considered unreliable although their general quality and reliability has improved over the years. However, you still have to be careful what you’re buying so make sure to only get a lock with a clearly visible name on it.

This is a pad usually made of plastic or metal. It features a predetermined code that you have to enter in order to access the safe. Once you enter the code, it releases the internal lock that allows you to turn the handle and retract the bolts within the safe.

Most safes on the market allow you to change the code whenever you like. The benefit of this lock is quick access and easy handling. It’s recommended for gun safes just because they provide quick access to your pistol in case of an emergency situation.

Which is better? Biometric, Mechanical, or Digital Locks?

This is really up to you to decide. In terms of reliability, mechanical locks get the win just because they don’t have any electronic parts that could fail. They don’t have batteries that could die either but require some practice to get the hang of. However, both biometric and digital locks take far less time and are easier to use.

When it comes to security, these offer somewhat the same level of protection. One is easier to use while the other doesn’t require batteries, so you have to understand that both types have their own pros and cons. Each suffers from certain setbacks while serving great in some situations. 

Our safeist advice is to go with a biometric gun safe. Although it could be a pretty penny to pay, time is the MOST valuable asset. In a serious case of emergency, they unlock in an instant, giving owners their best chance of survival.

Gun Safe Interior and its Dimensions

As we mentioned above, you should always get a safe that’s slightly bigger than what you think you need. It sounds ridiculous, but it will pay off.

The thing is, 9 out of 10 times, you’ll want to store more than just a single pistol in there. For this reason, give yourself some options and get more space for just in case. This allows you to store a few pistols (if you expand your collection), some jewelry, passports, valuable documents and whatever else you consider valuable.

Also, the interior of the safe is important contrary to popular belief. You want the inside of your vault to be lined with some type of protective material or foam. This protects your valuables from scratching or any kind of damage. It’s especially significant in car gun safes due to bumpy rides.

The Safeist's Conclusion

While not all states require you to have a gun safe, we always recommend everyone owning one. The first and most important reason is to have your pistols and rifles well protected from misuse. A gun is a great thing to have for self-protection, but it can prove rather fatal in the wrong hands. This should be reason enough to get one.

We’ve laid it all out, the different locking systems and different levels of protection. The search for the right gun safe might be long, but it doesn’t have to be confusing. So, we hope our guide helped you to understand what to pay attention to when buying a vault for your weapons.

Also, take your time and be patient as you can always return to this guide for help and reference in your search. Thanks for reading!