You’ve spent a lot of money on your guns. You want to protect that investment. You want to protect your family. You need a gun safe — a good gun safe. A haphazard collection of guns around the house is a recipe for disaster, especially if you have children. Anyone with more than a single rifle or shotgun should invest in a high quality, secure and fire resistant safe to store weapons and appropriate hunting paraphernalia.
Size — Buy More Than You Need
The first thing to decide is how big the safe needs to be. Experts agree here — buy more size than you need, at least more than you need right now. Your gun collection is bound to grow over time. A good safe is more than just a gun locker — it becomes a secure storage device for your family’s other valuables as well. You’ll find you quickly fill up even a large safe. Spend the money for the size, protection, and features you want. Your gun collection may be worth many tens of thousands of dollars. Some people who visit Dunham’s wouldn’t hesitate to spend $450 on a EOTech Sight or $1100 for a custom action, yet they don’t want to spend more than a few hundred dollars on a safe. That’s not common sense.
“The most common mistake gun enthusiasts make in buying a safe is to not plan ahead,” says Ken Wolowicz of Stack-on-Safes. “People will think ‘I have 10 guns, so I need a safe to hold that many.’ But just because you have 10 guns, doesn’t mean you won’t get more. You can always use the extra space now for other items — hunting accessories or even other family possessions.”
One of the biggest reasons to have a gun safe is to protect those guns in case of fire. Fire protection ratings vary a great deal among safes. That rating is usually expressed in terms of temperature (degrees) and time. A safe rated at 1200 degrees for 30 minutes means that a fire of 1200 degrees (typical for a house fire) can burn for a half hour without the interior exceeding 350 degrees — enough to damage contents. Considering that most house fires are put out in 15-20 minutes, that half hour protection is usually adequate.
To be especially cautious, if you keep other valuables (jewelry, documents, etc.), consider having a smaller safe within the gun safe — that way you are doubly protected.
What Kind of Lock?
Standard combination locks remain the most popular with gun safes, but electronic versions are becoming more popular. Both kinds of locks offer security, so it really comes down to personal preference. Electronic locks tend to add a bit to the cost, so you pay for their convenience — it’s up to you.
Ken Wolowicz says the most important consideration in shopping for a gun safe is to be flexible. “You want a safe that you can modify to fit your own particular needs,” he says. “You might want special shelving, and you might want to change things around based on new purchases you make, or new things you want to store. Look for a safe that lets you be creative in how you arrange things inside.”
You can easily build a replacement that fits the guns you own, not the guns some marketing director thinks you have. For scoped guns, you need to increase clearance from the sidewalls 3” or more (assuming scope-side faces the safe wall). To ease access, you should also increase the spacing between guns. If you have a number of benchrest rifles with square, 3”-wide fore-ends, consider building a shelf with 3.5” rectangular slots instead of the typical tight half-circle cutouts. This will give you a rock-solid mounting point that won’t allow the rifle to bang into its neighbor.
If you have a variety of AR-type rifles, some long and some short, you can build a simple stepped box that sits on the safe’s floor. Place your 20”+ ARs on the bottom step and the short-barreled ARs on the upper step.
One much overlooked aspect of gun safe performance is the ability to protect the contents from water damage (due to floods, plumbing leaks, or water from fire-fighting). In the aftermath of the flooding in New Orleans, more people are thinking how they can keep water out of their safes. The first thing you can do is create a raised concrete platform. This will also make it easier to access items in the bottom of the safe.
Then, you should ensure that all holes in the safe base or sides are sealed with heat-resistant silicone or similar caulking material. This will also help safeguard the contents from fire damage.
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