A Brief Background
Since their very humble beginnings in 1988, Liberty, based in Payson, Utah has grown into the number one best selling gun safe manufacturer in America. That’s not too shabby, considering, there’s a whole lot of other competition out there trying to provide us gun nut Americans with the best protection for our firearms and valuables. It’s by no coincidence that there have been over 1.1 million Liberty gun safes sold in the US – they don’t take shortcuts – you may have to shell out a bit more for a Liberty safe, but you get the quality that you pay for.
Liberty makes some steel monsters, but the folks behind the scenes in Payson also know how to run a business. For one, they’re riding the green wave beautifully. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that Liberty didn’t have a legitimate concern for the environment when they revamped their 95% pollution free factory, but I’d imagine it also works wonders for their publicity. And when it comes to publicity, they don’t miss an opportunity to shine. Back in 2008, a huge F4 tornado demolished poor Shane Woodson’s house in Jackson, Mississippi, leaving virtually nothing standing. That is, of course, with the exception of his gun safe which was launched 200 ft from the house, still protecting all of his valuables inside. In 2007, San Diego native, Kim Crosser, like many, was the victim of the infamous California fires. His house, and everything in it was lost in the fire. His Liberty Lincoln, however, survived the 2000 degree flames, and protected nearly all of his photos, documents, and other valuables inside. The fact that Liberty is able to produce such resilient safes is quite impressive, nearly as impressive as their ability to capitalize on the free advertising (ain’t nothing wrong with that).
Extensive testing and real-world testaments to Liberty’s quality give people the confidence they need put their faith in the company’s products, and their 350 American dealers make it extremely easy to put those products in their hands. Once you purchase one of these big fat suckers, you’ll have it forever. In fact, your family will have it forever. Not only does Liberty provide a lifetime warranty to the original owner of the safe which covers any damage, regardless of the cause, the warranty also transfers to any future owners as well. As long as Liberty stays in business, you can pass the safe down for generations (just make sure your kin fills out the proper warranty transfer paperwork). For the record, lifetime warranty transfers are a rare breed in the gun safe world.
Another thing that I think Liberty does very well is creating appeal to non firearms owners. Although their safes are very accommodating to gun storage needs, no where do they indicate that their products are built exclusively for firearms. They sling a lovely spin, creating the idea that owning a Liberty safe is like having your own personal security guard to watch your valuables. Truthfully, I don’t think it’s too much of an embellishment. Most safe experts (I’m more of an enthusiast than an expert) tend to agree that 750 lbs is an adequate safe size. Liberty safes are built with massive frames – their 39 gun Presidential safe can easily weigh over a ton fully loaded (1570 lbs empty). Needless to say, Johnny burglar is going to have a heck of a time trying to tip this sucker over for a pry attack, much less wheel the thing out of the house. Not only do Liberty’s notoriously large safes provide an extra dose of security, but the possibilities for storing your valuables are endless, and they make organization very easy.
Liberty offers a slew of gun safe accessories to compliment the organization in your pet bank vault. These can include moisture absorbers, computer media storage, jewelry drawer add-ons, additional cabinets, and safes from their premium lines come equipped with many of these options already included. Liberty makes a nice convincing case for themselves, even to a non gun collector. They’re running quite an operation. But this is a gun safe site, so I’m going to take this opportunity to devote the remainder of this post to what makes these suckers so flippin’ sturdy.
I mentioned earlier that Liberty gun safes go through a wildly extensive battery of testing before they hit the market, through both fire, which we’ll touch on momentarily, and security. They employ Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) to do all of the testing for them. This isn’t because they’re lazy, and don’t want to do the testing themselves. It’s because UL has extremely fierce standards, and earning the UL mark of approval is not only an accomplishment, but it’s the sign of a superior product. I looked a little further into the security testing process that UL puts these gun safes through. First, Liberty give them the blue prints of the safes that include everything from their dimensions and thickness to their mechanical operations. UL then uses this knowledge to try to break into the safe by finding weaknesses in its integrity. They hire professionals, who break into safes for a living to perform four brutal attacks on the potential product.
First, they employ the classic drill attack in an attempt to mimic the correct lock combination by trying to manipulate the tumblers. The second test involves prying the lock from the door of the safe and manually forcing the removal of the tumblers from the back plate to retract the bolts. The third and fourth tests further the intensity by attempting to create holes in both the door and the side of the safe to manipulate the lock and gain entry. If the Liberty gun safe holds up, it passes the security tests. I couldn’t quite cut it in professional safe cracking school myself, but layman or not, I have to say that the degree of testing that these safes endure is pretty incredible. UL wouldn’t approve them if it weren’t.
So what gives a Liberty the ability to hold up to the barrage of UL drilling, punching, and cutting attacks? On their website, they reveal their secret rather objectively with their “10 Security Features” that help Liberty uphold their award winning reputation for innovative security. Of course, though all of their safes include these 10 foundational security elements on a basic level, their premium safes boasts higher levels of quality and additional features.
Liberty Safe Security Features
A lot of safes on the market are manufactured with prominent seams and sloppy stitch welding. This just begs a burglar to pick at it with a pry bar. Liberty gun safes are built with their “Uni-body” construction system. This manufacturing method ensures that the welding is tight, limited, and as unexposed to attackers as possible. They do this by using just two pieces to put the box together. This creates an incredibly simple, yet effective design for the constitution of all of their safes.
Gun safe doors are more prone to burglary attacks and fire damage than any other part of the safe, primarily because they’re the only part of the box that’s meant to open (for the owner). For this reason, the door has to be built with a bit more TLC – typically built heavier, thicker, and with more engineering prowess than the rest of the body. Liberty’s answer to the necessary toughness is a state of the art composite door constructing process. They have big freaking robots folding solid sheets of steel into 1-1/2″ thick doors, then filling the gaps with insulation. The folding process creates an extra thick perimeter around the door frame, deterring pry attacks, and the composite material adds to Liberty’s renown fire protection.
Though not every Liberty gun safe is constructed with internal hinges (the ultra-resilient Magnum vault has external for a wider door opening), nearly all of their safes are. They do this for a couple reasons. First, thieves are going to have an insanely difficult time cutting the hinges off, which can leave a safe more susceptible to pry attacks. And secondly, the ball bearing operated hinges serve as fantastic door stops. You won’t have that 400 lb door swinging through your drywall.
Liberty doesn’t fool around when it comes to locking up your valuables. They use Sargent and Greenleaf locks, a high-end, UL approved lock manufacturer that’s part of Stanley Security. Other industry leaders like Browning and Cannon look to S&G to provide locking solutions for their safes as well – mainly because they’re the best. For their mechanical, or dial locks (my preference), they use a very impressive relocker system, which activates the final tumbler during a drilling or cutting attack for redundant protection. If you don’t want anyone fooling with your dial while you’re gone for the day, S&G dial locks also include a day locking system, which allows you to freeze the spinner until you come back.
You also have the option of an electronic lock for quicker access. The S&G Direct Drive lock, which is available on the Lincoln models and higher, allows for external battery replacement, comes equipped with a rotating outer sleeve for ease of opening, and it’s designed with the potential to hook up directly and communicate with your alarm and surveillance systems to thwart and capture any intruders. For you speed demons and tech buffs out there, you have the option to go with the biometric safe lock. I discuss biometric gun safes extensively on this site, but for a refresher, this lock allows you to gain entry to your safe simply by swiping your finger over a scanner. One attractive feature of their fingerprint locks is that they also include a mounted keypad should all of your fingers fall off.
A drill attack is a very popular and effective method of gaining entry to a safe, and therefore, a very effective defense is required. Liberty uses “hardplates” to protect specifically against such breaching attempts. They mount on the locks to protect against malicious drill bits. Liberty triple layered plates are able to stop UL’s safe crackers from gaining any ground in their first test, and the ball bearing hard plates, which are used in some of the higher end safes, are designed to literally snap drill bits in pieces upon contact.
These safes also include some pretty impressive locking mechanisms. Three different types of locks are installed in the safe depending on the quality of the model, and everyone of them includes a slip-clutch. Many cheaper safes can be subject to breaches when the burglars use the leverage of a steel instrument to rotate the handle passed the breaking point. The slip clutch takes this out of the picture – if it undergoes any extensive pressure, it simply releases it, making such attacks virtually impossible. There really isn’t a crappy Liberty gun safe – they’re all quite effective at stopping break ins, but the quality and engineering of the locking mechanisms do make a difference. The over center, gear drive design, which is included in the previously mentioned ‘National Security Magnum Vault’, turns side punching attacks (UL test 3) into a joke.
You may be starting to realize that Liberty doesn’t goof around too much with their security standards. They make no exception with their bolt locking system. Generally speaking, in the gun safe world, the longer, thicker, and more plentiful the bolts, the better. In another post, I highlighted Winchester gun safes, particularly their top line, the Legacy series. Winchester safe are very slick and affordable, but you pay a little more to get top notch quality out of a Liberty. The Winchester Legacy series is stacked with a pretty impressive 18 1-1/2″ bolts around all four sides of the door. The Liberty Presidential also employs the use of 1-1/2″ bolts, except that there are 26 of them sticking out nearly 2.5″ into the frame. This, coupled with the other features we’ve discussed, makes opening one of these doors absolute hell for the bad guy.
I already briefly touched on the relocker devices included in Liberty safes, but I’d like to elaborate just a little more, as these are truly marvels of security engineering. First of all, Liberty safes include two different relockers. One is used to prevent the tumbler from turning and the bolt from spurning. Should the thief actually manage to knock off the backplate, the second relocker, which is external, clamps up the locking mechanism completely, making foiling the lock truly hopeless. Many safes don’t include relocking features, and even fewer employ two of them. I’m honestly not aware of a better relocking system.
As if their massive frame, composite doors, and thick steel bolts weren’t enough to stop a pry attack, Liberty gun safes are also built with “security door adjusters” to further tighten the seal. On their intermediate to premium models (Franklin and above), they include reinforced brackets called “anti pry tabs” which have been proven to triple the protection against their namesake.
Several times in this post, I’ve made note on just how massive these safes are. To add insult to injury (for the crook), all Liberty safes are drilled for optimizing the process and function of anchoring the safe to the floor. The anchoring kit costs a little extra (~$20), but once installed, you can be confident that your neighborhood thief will kill himself before he’s able to tip over or pick up your already heavy as hell gun safe.
That novel I just put together sums up just the basics of Liberty’s theft protection features. However, because not every predator seeking your valuables is going to be motivated by greed, it’s best to have a safe that can also stand up to those motivated by destruction, particularly fire. Fire is a bit of a hot button (PUN BABY!) in most gun safe circles. Few manufacturers use the same standards to rate their fire protection, often resulting in very misleading claims. In my entry on Cannon safes, I discuss in detail some of the short cuts many companies will take to pad their fire proofing professions. Cannon uses Intertek to do their fire protections testing, and they do a heck of a job. Liberty doesn’t use Intertek, but you can rest assured that their safes can take the heat (oh yeh!). According to their website, they’ve stacked their safe up to over 250 of their competitors’ products and have out-burned them all.
Although a rocket scientist could probably explain things better than I can, fireproofing (fire protecting rather) gun safes isn’t rocket science. You need heavy insulation, tight seals and seams, and some really thick steel. Fire protection and theft security really go hand in hand during the construction of a well manufactured gun safe, but they also have their differences. To provide adequate resistance to intense temperatures, fireboard is often part of the equation. For those unfamiliar, fireboard (often called firewall) is essentially a drywall like insulation that dissipates the heat as the flames build around the safe. As it heats up, it releases moisture, displacing the heat through steam. It’s a darn shame, but unfortunately, when selecting a safe, you need to be cautious of the claims associated with fireboard. Liberty uses a hefty four 5/8″ layers of firewall around every inch of the safe, including the door jambs. A lot of the cheaper safe companies use thinner layers, and often leave potentially dangerous gaps between the steel and the insulation. In addition, some of those crafty mothers will give you the rating of the fireboard itself, and not the entire safe. Fireboard can create a dangerous illusion of safety if not utilized correctly. Just read the fine print…or better yet, go with a Liberty.
One reason Liberty uses four thick fireboard layers is because the shell of the safe is thick [up to] seven gauge steel. Steel serves as a great barrier to initially keep the flames out, but it has the tendency to eventually absorb the heat and transfer it to the interior. Luckily, the folks at Liberty are masters of their craft, and have created a near perfect balance of the two elements. The key to protection in a fire safe is to prevent heat from passing through ANYWHERE on the safe. All it takes is one “weak link”, and it’s all down hill. This is why Liberty insulates the walls of the entire safe evenly, but the door falls into the same set of rules. Those big 1-1/2″ bolts we talked about earlier? Those aren’t just for surviving pry attacks. The stronger, longer, plentiful and evenly distributed the bolts are around the door, the longer the door will maintain a tight seal during a fire.
Of course, those steel bolts aren’t going to be able to hold out all by themselves. A more uniform seal needs to be applied around the door. Liberty uses a foam seal stripping created by Palusol, a leader in the field, and arguably the best. When it starts to get hot, Palusol will expand up to eight times in size, sealing out both heat and smoke. It’s what the citizens of Hell use to weather strip their windows. Keeping the flames out is great and all, but how often are you going to have a fire, right? Palusol also provides the benefit of keeping out everyday moisture, which can cause corrosion and mold growth in your safe.
The beautifully orchestrated combination of thickness, balance, and a nice tight seal, puts Liberty’s fire protection in the upper echelon. It’s important that their potential customers know this too. I mentioned several examples earlier illustrating the company’s clever marketing strategies. They definitely haven’t left out any cunning in the fire protection arena either. Anyone who has ever purchased a bbq grill is probably familiar with the BTU rating (British Thermal Unit). It’s essentially the amount of energy that a heat source will put out. Propane for instance has roughly a BTU rating of 15,000. Liberty has taken this well known rating system, and adopted their own interpretive version of it. Rather than calculating the amount of heat it puts out, Liberty gun safes are rated by the amount of heat they can withstand.
This system is slightly arbitrary, as it’s far from a universally adopted gun safe rating. However, it’s not just a number that they randomly slap on the side of the box either. The BTU rating on a Liberty safe is the combination of the thickness of the steel, the amount of fireboard used in its construction, and the final number for the rating is the amount of BTUs their gun safes can withstand before the interior heats up passed 350 degrees Fahrenheit. So if their Presidential model, which has a rating of 131,000 BTUs, were cooked on a giant grill, it would take two and a half hours before major damage was done to the safe’s contents. Yeh, the math doesn’t quite add up for me either, but nevertheless, these boxes can take a burning.
Final Words on Liberty Gun Safes
I’m not going to come out and say that Liberty gun safes are the best on the market. Truthfully, I don’t even own one (I wish I did, but I can’t afford another safe at the moment). I will, however, say that if you’re looking for a top-tier safe to give your valuables, regardless of what they are, nearly unbeatable protection, you won’t regret it. If you find yourself in the market for a premium gun safe, you encounter one of these on sale, and you pass it up, you probably will regret it. My Winchester gives me a pretty good peace of mind, but my smoke detector still gives me the willies when my oven sets it off. Thanks for reading!