Gun Storage, Arms, Defense, and General Babbling

Short Guide to Buying Cheap Gun Safes

Liberty Centurion DLX

I’ve posted this link to the Liberty Revere 20 DLX (pictured to the left) at the top of this page, just in case you don’t feel like reading the following 2000 word guide, and coming to your own conclusion :).  Of all the cheap guns safes out there, Liberty’s entry model is my favorite, and for under $900 with shipping included (from the site in the link), I can endorse it with a clear conscience.  Now, onto the post…

So, you’re tired of storing your loaded guns unlocked under your bed.  Good.  I’m tired of you doing that too–it’s dangerous and ignorant.  You’re ready to step up your game, and get yourself a gun safe…but, you don’t want to spend any money, right?  Of course not–you’re not ignorant, you’re just cheap…I get it.

I’ll cut to the chase and tell you the features you want to look for, but first, I need to draw a line in the sand.  As far as I’m concerned, a cheap gun safe is a residential security container that falls within the $700 to $1000 price range.  Unless you’re getting a heck of a deal on a used unit, anything less than $700 is almost guaranteed to be a total waste of money.  Anything more than than $1000, and you’re wandering into a different class (which is encouraged, if you have the means).

A thousand bucks isn’t going to buy anything stellar, but find a model that carries the following features, and you’ll be off to a great start:

Lock:

The lock is the most important piece of a gun safe, whether it’s $1000 or $10000.  I strongly recommend a combination lock over its electronic counterpart.  Yes, it takes a little longer to open up, and frankly, it isn’t as cool, but in the long run, maintenance and reliability are going to work in your favor.  Besides, in the said price range, you might not find a safe dawning a half-decent electronic lock anyway.

The are tons of crap locks on the market.  Avoid these by ensuring that the safe you purchase has a combination lock with a UL Group II listing or higher.  I’ll spare the technical details in this post, but the bottom line is, it’s going to work forever with little maintenance.  While popular brands, like Kaba and La Gard, have nice offerings, I’m partial to Sargeant and Greenleaf products–hard to go wrong there.

Bottom line: Get a safe with an S&G UL Group II listed combination lock.

Body:

When shopping for gun safes, you’ll find that most of your money goes into the steel.  I’m going to recklessly throw out a blanket statement, and say that the thicker the steel, the more costly the safe.  Having said that, when you’re going cheap, you’re going thin.  With your budget, you’re going to be in the market for a model touting 12 to 10 gauge steel (10 is thicker).

That’s not a lot of girth–a seasoned lumberjack with a sharp axe could tear into a 12 gauge safe wall within a few minutes.  Having said that, all is not lost.  First off, while professional attacks on the body of the safe (ie – the walls) aren’t totally unheard of, they aren’t very common.  Careful placement of your safe can stifle many of these attacks, anyway (mount it in a corner, don’t leave sledge hammers in plain sight, etc…).

Secondly, don’t be easily star-struck by the size and number of bolts around the door.  A lot of sub-par manufacturers will throw a dozen or so one-inch shiny bolts on the perimeter to create the illusion that the safe is secure, and “pry-proof”.  Don’t get me wrong, well-placed bolt coverage, coupled with solid linkage can be crucial in securing your contents, but if the rest of the safe is lacking, the bolts might as well be Christmas lights.

Lastly, what you’re missing in thickness and bolt coverage, you can make up in sound construction.  Avoid stitch-welded assembly and chinsy door framing.  You’re not doing yourself any good buying a safe with thick steel walls, assembled with duct tape and bubblegum.  Hyperbole aside, find a unit with solid welding and strong framing, and you’ll be well ahead of the curve.  A unit with gaping seams has weak integrity, and weak integrity invites destruction, whether it be from a house fire or the hands of a thief.

Without a trained eye, it can be difficult to spot quality versus shoddy craftsmanship.  If there’s a product you’re unsure about, ask a local safe dealer, or contact me–I’ll do my best to get you an answer ASAP.

Bottom line: Find a model with seamless/continuous welded construction, and at least 12 gauge steel.

Fire protection:

Most likely, even a cheap gun safe is going to offer some level of protection against fire.  Fire protection gets very tricky in the gun safe industry.  A true “fire safe” will normally carry a UL rating, branding it as a unit that has been harshly tested, and will almost certainly withstand the blaze for the time advertised.  Unfortunately for you, a UL-rated fire safe big enough to house a gun collection is going to be 10-fold out of your price range (and mine).

But don’t feel bad–UL fire-rated gun safes, as far as I know, don’t actually exist, at least through mainstream availability.  If the guy at the gun store tries to tell you that the $800 safe he’s selling is UL rated for fires, it’s b.s.  What’s likely the case is that the unit he’s hocking is a UL-listed RSC that also has an alleged fire rating, or the unit is lined with UL-rated fireboard…regardless, I can assure you it’s not a commercial-grade, UL-rated fire safe.  This, however, doesn’t mean that your gun collection is going to be DOA when the firemen show up.  Most quality cheap gun safes (bit of a paradox there) are going to buy you 30 minutes in a typical house fire.

While the bulk of manufacturers don’t actually test their safes in house fires (a lot of gun safe fire ratings are nothing more than educated guesses), you’re doing yourself an injustice by neglecting to get at least a 30-minute listed rating.  You’re not going to find cast insulation or ceramic wool lining for this price; just make sure it’s seamlessly constructed (as discussed earlier), and has fireboard installed in both the walls and the ceiling.

Bottom line: Understand the limitations of fire-”proofing” on a cheap gun safe, but find one with tight construction and fire board coverage top-to-bottom.

Warranty:

Believe it or not, you can spend less than $1000 and still get a safe with a lifetime warranty.  In fact, I’d go as far as saying, don’t get a safe if it doesn’t have a lifetime warranty–there are too many others out there that do.

The most important thing to note here is that you must read the fine print.  Legally speaking, “lifetime warranty” can mean a million different things.  Buy a safe from a manufacturer who will not only replace your safe in the event of a fire or burglary, but will cover associated freight and maintenance charges as well.  Here’s a list of safe manufacturer warranties if you want to dig deeper.

Bottom line: Don’t settle for anything less than a lifetime warranty, but understand the particulars before you buy.

Country of origin:

Like so many other goods, China churns out the largest number of imported safes to the United States, and while I’d love to state otherwise, not every single one of them sucks; Big Horn, for instance, is a pretty decent China-born budget brand.

The thing that Chinese manufacturers have going for them is that they put a lot of effort into to copying American design and craftsmanship.  On the other hand, what they don’t have going for them is that they rarely pull it off.  Long-story-short, the quality of the materials is often sub par, and construction is inconsistent.  If you can spend the same amount of money and get a decent American-made safe, why buy an import?  That’s all I’m going to say about it in this post, but if you want more information on import versus domestic, check out this post I made a while back: Are American Gun Safes Really the Best?

Bottom line: While not all imports are lousy, there’s no good reason not to buy an American manufactured safe.

Other stuff:

Buying on the cheap doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon security.  In addition to heeding my recommendations above, there are a few little things you can do to ensure you get the most out of your investment.

First of all, anchor your safe down.  If the model you’re looking at doesn’t have pre-drilled holes, I wouldn’t even consider it for purchase.

Do you have to bolt it down if it’s downstairs in the basement?  Yes.  Do you have to bolt it down if it weighs 2000 lbs fully loaded?  Yes.

No matter what the circumstances, take the extra time and anchor it down.

If you aren’t sure the best way to anchor it, or what materials to use, ask the manufacturer.  They’ll be more than happy to help you out here–many of them even offer inexpensive kits to help take out the guess work.

Even a one ton safe isn’t terribly difficult to tip over, and once it’s on its back, the crooks have a perfect opportunity to get the leverage they need to pry it open.  And if they can’t get it open in your house, they can scoot it out the door, load it in a van, and try it on their own time.  Like it or not, some crooks are pretty darn smart.

Which brings me to my next point…

Don’t give them a reason to break into your house in the first place!  Yes, sometimes being a victim of burglary is unavoidable, but there are very easy things you can do to stack the odds in you favor.  For one, don’t talk about what you have to anyone you don’t absolutely trust.  The dude you just met at the range might not break into your house, but he may have a shady friend who’d be glad to do it.  Put your pride to the side, and keep your mouth shut (that’s right–don’t create a website devoted to showing off your toys :)).

Also, to the best of your abilities, keep the safe out of sight.  You don’t have to build false walls and hidden rooms (if you were that devoted, you’d be spending more than $1000), but keep it away from windows, and places where the pizza man can see it.  It’s not too difficult–just do your best to avoid advertising that you have a treasure chest in your home.

Lastly, I’d recommend investing a little bit in basic home security.  I had a bit of fun a few months ago building a budget DIY home defense package, which included a monitored security system (I went with Simplisafe, and have been very satisfied with the setup).  If you’re too cheap to go for the real thing, at least fake it.  Get some alarm stickers, put a smoke detector above the safe (hardcore riff-raff use power tools, which can create a lot of heat and smoke), you may even want to consider a dummy camera.  The key is to make stealing your valuables as inconvenient as possible.  I wrote this post a while back, if you want to supplement with a few more ideas: Where to Put Your Safe.

Bottom Line: Anchor your safe, keep it out of the open, heed basic OPSEC principles, and don’t be afraid to supplement your investment with a security system.

Recommended unit:

The question I probably get asked the most in emails is something to the effect of, “what’s the best safe for under $1000?”.  While I couldn’t wholeheartedly claim any model to be the best cheap gun safe on the market–there are a few decent models out there–I could very comfortably recommend to nearly anyone Liberty Safe’s entry level unit, the Centurion DLX-20 (22 gun capacity).  It’s also made in the good ole’ US (to my knowledge, all of Liberty’s UL RSC listed safes are).

It has an S&G 6147 UL Group II combination lock.  It’s built with nearly seamless construction.  It also includes fireboard all around, giving it a respectable (for the price) 30 minute fire rating (at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit).  It only has bolt coverage on two sides of the door, and with 12 gauge steel, the body is a little thin, but again, 10 gauge is probably going to be the thickest steel you’ll find in this price range; at that point, you’re splitting hairs (literally–the difference is a fraction of an inch).

Liberty has perhaps the best lifetime warranty, and renown customer service record of any of their main competition, and I’d feel comfortable recommending this safe to anyone wanting to lock up their firearms for under a grand.  I helped my father-in-law pick one out, and he still lets me make babies with his daughter…now that’s an endorsement!

Regardless of the cheap safe you decide to roll with, make sure you don’t rush into it.  Ask tons of questions, hold the dealer and the manufacturer accountable when they answer them, and feel free to hit me up if you need any help in the process–if I don’t know the answer, I’ll do my best to get you one.

Stay safe!

24 Comments

  1. thanks for the above entry. It is super refreshing.

  2. Refreshing, eh? Interesting choice of words, however, appreciated.

    Thanks!

  3. I’m thinking of buying this safe.

    http://www.costco.com/Browse/Product.aspx?prodid=11468049&whse=BC&topnav=&cat=3373&b=1&lang=en-US

    Please let me know what you think about it.

  4. Hey Justin,

    Thanks for asking. Big Horns are pretty solid, as far as RSCs under $1K go…one of the few units manufactured in China that doesn’t make me cringe. If you get a good buy on it–sure–go for it. Let me know if you have any more questions.

    Thanks!

  5. Jack,

    Thank you for the excellent article. Your advice was very helpful. I’ve researching gun safes lately with the intention of purchasing soon. Tractor Supply has a Winchester safe with many (maybe not all) of the specifications of the liberty. It is a 24 gun safe that retails for $599.00. I actually ordered it from a saleman at their 1.-877 customer service hotline. After waiting almost two weeks and multiple calls, my order ended up getting cancelled due to lack of stock at their warehouse. I called yesterday to inquire about when more safes will be in stock and was told to call back next week. Great Customer service eh?? Needless to say, I took your advice and am really interested in the Liberty safe you mentioned above. Lowe’s has it for $727.00 and it looks like it might be the same safe you mention in your article. (I hope so!!). The one thing I wanted to pass along, is that they list one of the “cons” is that it is manufactured in China. Again, thank you for taking the time to write this article. I found it extremely helpful!! – Rob

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