Since their beginnings in 1972, the Illinois based company, Stack On has been manufacturing some of the best selling personal security products in the world. Their success isn’t necessarily a direct reflection of the quality of a Stack On gun safe, not that they specialize in making crap – they don’t – it’s just that a Stack On Elite doesn’t quite live up to its moniker when “stacked up” next to a Liberty Magnum (America’s best selling gun safe manufacturer…that’s my pitch) or a Browning Platinum Plus. Of course, when you compare a Stack On safe to the two aforementioned monsters, you probably can’t help but notice the $4000 difference in price either.
The price point is where Stack On gun safes really shine. People look at one of these seemingly feature filled puppies and see a great deal. I mean, you can’t say no to a fire resistant, 500 lbs, 28 capacity $1000 gun safe, can you?..We’ll get to that in a minute.
I’ve hit on some of Stack On’s products on this site before. They manufacture a slew of security products and price them at a relatively affordable rate. They offer a little bit of everything – full size gun safes, a plethora of different steel gun cabinets (remember gun cabinets are NOT the same as gun safes), personal fire safes, drawer safes, there’s a Stack On handgun safe, they even have an entirely separate division devoted to tool storage. I’m no business analyst, but I think you can attribute a lot of Stack On’s nearly four decades of success to the combination of their massive product line, and attractive pricing. And like I said before, their quality isn’t all that ulbad either.
First off, some of their more premium safes (the Elite and Total Defense models) offer a little bit of fire protection, and they’re rated by Intertek ETL. If you remember (assuming you actually read) my write up on Cannon safes, earning an ETL rating is pretty respectable. I go into a bit more detail in the Cannon article, but Intertek is a third party company, with no direct affiliation or public loyalty to either Stack On or Cannon, and they don’t slouch on testing. What separates Cannon’s fire protection from Stack On’s, however, is that Cannon’s top fire safe, the Safari has a 90 minute 1200 degree F rating, while Stack On’s poster child, the Elite boasts a cool 30 minutes of fire protection at 1400 degrees. That’s a significant difference, especially when you consider that the National Fire Protection Association has a six minute response time guideline that they try to stick to. Their clock starts ticking from the time you call 911 to the time they arrive on the scene, hoses a’blazin’.
Six minutes is pretty impressive, and roughly 90% of the time, they shoot par. However, you still need to factor in the chance that your emergency may fall into the other 10%, or the time it takes for them to get the fire under control once they arrive. You may also want to think about the fact that you may not be there to make the phone call when the fire starts. Maybe that lazy neighbor of yours wants to let your stuff cook for a while before he picks up the phone. In addition, there’s the ever present truth that fire tests aren’t totally accurate. Again, ETL is great, but there are a number of factors that can sway the results of a real life test. Is 30 minutes enough time to keep your valuables safe? Maybe, but you might be playing with fire (I’m all about the puns tonight, folks).
One feature that makes Stack On pop a little in the industry, even among some of the upper echelon manufacturers, is the addition of water resistance. Their high end models, like the Stack-On Elite, has been tested by Intertek ETL to withstand two feet of water for 72 hours. This can be a real deal breaker if you’re living in a wet region of the world, and you’re more concerned with flooding than fire. Many safes, even some of those manufactured by industry monsters like Liberty and Fort Knox leave out water protection. Though I’m sure that their motives are justified, and their planning well researched (perhaps they’ve recognized that water damage to the gun safe directly is more avoidable and predictable than break ins and fire damage), the fact still stands that Stack On is one of the few mainstream safe manufacturers that employs effective temporary waterproofing into the design of all of their top model safes (Elite and Total Defense received the ETL 72 hours at 2 feet of water rating).
So, let’s say your fire department is incompetent, and they couldn’t kill the flames around your safe within the 30 minute time frame. Most likely everything in the safe will be damaged, if not ruined, and the safe itself…forget about it. Here’s where we examine the Stack On warranty. First off, in any safe that claims to offer fire resistance, a lifetime warranty for fire damage is included. Only the safe is covered, not the contents inside, but that’s the norm. Stack On will send out a local repair service to assess, and possibly fix the damages, and if they can’t do it, your warranty will cover the freight to ship the safe off for repairs or replacement (if necessary). The same applies to damage from break ins as well (I’ll elaborate on security standards in a few), however, damage resulting from manufacturer flaws are only covered for the first five years. In their lesser quality safes, lacking fire protection, like the Security Plus Steel, both the theft damage and manufacturer warranty only last three years. As also seen in many other companies, only the original owner of the safe benefits from the lifetime warranty (when applicable). Over all, I’d say Stack On safes are about on target for their warranty coverage, considering the quality and sticker price.
Stack On Security Features
I mentioned we’d get to Stack On security. Well, here we are, and I can’t say I’m terribly impressed. On their more expensive safes, I think they put a lot more effort into their fire protection than their security features. Let’s go back to the Stack On Elite 45 gun model as an example. For an anchored 750 lb, 45 cap gun safe, it has a pretty nice looking price tag, currently going for $1479 over at GunSafes.com. You have the option between my personal preference, a rotary combination lock, or an electronic keypad, and behind each lock is a steel hard plate to help resist drill attacks. Honestly though, aside from its weight and price tag, I’m not totally sold.
First off, I don’t think the previously referenced drill attacks, or any other attempt to foil the security on this safe is going to be terribly formidable against a professional troublemaker. I realize that certifications and marks of approval aren’t the end all be all for a safe’s security reputation. However, if a gun safe meets UL’s standards, I can have a little bit of confidence in its ability to take a beating. Stack On’s top model, appropriately named the Premier meets UL’s RSC rating, which is pretty respectable. As for the rest of their models, however, the only mark of approval that I could find is the California DOJ (Department of Justice), and this is strictly a safety medal – technically, a trigger lock can pick up the same certification. There’s nothing wrong with safety, just keep an eye out for shifty salesmen trying to use this as a major selling point.
Okay, so it doesn’t have a fancy security certificate – not the end of the world – we’re talking about a Cavalier here, not a Cadillac. I wonder how a Stack On tests out outside of a laboratory. In all fairness, I’ve never seen anyone break into one, but I’ve seen two man crews pry open a lot of their competition in just a matter of minutes. Pry attacks are one of the most common attacks on gun safes, and the locking bolts on the safe door are one of the biggest lines of defense. The Elite only has 10 locking points, and the bolts are just 1″ thick in diameter. When you compare this to a Winchester Legacy 45, only a couple hundred dollars more, which has 18 1-1/2″ bolts around the perimeter, you’re looking at a significant difference in pry protection. The bolts, of course, aren’t everything. It’s exceptionally difficult to get a door open with a crow bar if you can’t tip the safe over for leverage. If you bolt a 750 lb Stack On Elite to the ground, the burglar is going to have a very tough time getting it to the floor.
Of course, he may have a plan B. Namely the punch tactic, which starts by creating a hole in the steel door or wall, and “punching” the lock out of contact with the cam. Stack On safe walls are equipped with 11 gauge steel at best. The 12 gauge inside the safe may be a powerful weapon, but it’s not going to take a whole lot to get to it if you’re dealing with a burglar who knows what he’s doing. Thin walls and the lack of a redundant spring loaded relocking system, make this a bit vulnerable to said attack methods. Again, I’m just not that impressed, and I wouldn’t even consider spending any money on their non fire resistant safes – I’d honestly rather just save a few hundred bucks and go with a gun cabinet instead. As far as their gun cabinets go, theirs are very slick. Sure, a determined burglar is going to rip into a gun cabinet a little faster than a generic Stack On “Security Gun Safe”, but the difference isn’t worth the extra money…at least not to me. With anything short of their Total Defense or Elite model safes, I think I’d just be fooling myself.
To you Stack On lovers out there who want to kill me, please reconsider. I think the company in general is great. I love their gun cabinets (as far as steel gun cabinets go), and you get some decent value with their higher end safe models. I just think a safe like the Winchester Legacy, which is in the same ballpark price-wise, is a little better value. That said, you’re talking to a hard core security buff. Then again, if saving a few bucks and sporting pretty interior features (lights, convertible shelving…) is your thing, a Stack On safe might just be your ticket.