What makes a burglary safe a burglary safe?
Before delving into the components that make up a burglary safe, it’s important to understand that there are 32 different ratings designed to create a base of quality for insurance companies to insure the value of the items stored inside. Each level of rating will bump up the quality and features of the safe’s security.
These five components are the key ingredients to what makes up the safe’s rating:
Steel Thickness is measured in the reverse of what you would think, so the higher the gauge number the thinner the steel and the lower the number the thicker the steel. When it comes to body thickness, Safes typically range anywhere from 14 gauge to 1″. For the door anything from 14 gauge to 1.5″ is commonly used. The thicker the steel, the longer it will take to get through, thus more steel equals more security. Thicker steel is also less flexible and more sturdy, making it harder to bend during a pry attack.
Please see the chart below for a size guide to steel thickness:
One of our most commonly asked questions is: Do more bolts equal more security?
While this is a fantastic question there is more to it than just the number of bolts. You can find safes at big box stores with 20 bolts that can still be pried open in less than 2 minutes because of the size of the bolts and the flexibility in the light gauge door.
The main function of the steel bolts is to make the door harder to pry open with a crowbar or similar tools during an attack, however if the safe has a 14 gauge door or less and the bolt length is less than an inch, the number of bolts is irrelevant as the door itself will flex and literally bend open during a pry attack.
For a general rule of thumb, the longer, thicker and greater number of bolts, the harder it is to bend or break. It’s also very important to remember that a safe with less bolts can be just as secure as one with more depending on the engineering of the frame and where the bolts are strategically placed.
Here we reach the most common question in the industry: Electronic Lock vs. Mechanical Dial Lock?
While there is no right or wrong answer, we’ve found that with the ease of use, customizability and better security, electronic locks take the crown over their mechanical dial counterparts.
- Typically Electronic Locks you’ll find on most Safes are classified as UL Grade 1 as it would take roughly 27 years, working 24/7 to manipulate by hand with the 999,999 different combinations available. After 3 or 4 wrong attempts, depending on the lock, a 10 to 15 minute lockout will occur creating a longer time constraint for the would be intruder. There is no question, Electronic Locks are significantly faster to operate than their mechanical counterparts providing quick access for those who know the combination. More key advantages of electronic locks are the user’s ability to change the combination at any time without the assistance of a locksmith and having the ability to open it without your eyes, including not needing reading glasses, being in the dark or being blind. Electronic locks do have a battery that needs to be changed periodically. They can last up to 6 years however we recommend swapping it out at least every other year.
- Mechanical Dial Locks are classified as UL Group 2 and are significantly slower to operate than their Electronic counterparts. Dial Locks are secure however they can be manipulated by a machine or picked by an experienced safe cracker in under an hour. To change the combination on a mechanical dial lock the assistance of a locksmith is necessary. Considering the time length it takes to operate mechanical locks, we’ve found that many customer use the key locking dial feature to lock the dial while leaving the combination entered. This leaves the safe vulnerable in the un-locked position and makes it much easier for a burglar to pick your safe open.
- Duet, Dual & Redundant Locks: New to the market are a combination of the two styles of locks. Duet locks will have both the Electronic capabilities and a dial in one lock. For an example, check out the Cannon EMP lock with the dial in the middle of the lock and the electronic numbers located on the top. This guarantees access in the event the electronics malfunction or the batteries die. Another style is known as the Redundant lock where you will find the standard electronic lock and the standard mechanical lock both on the door of the safe with the ability to use either one to open the safe. Please see pictures below for examples of the different styles of locks.
Most hardcore safe guys will tell you a lock is only as good as the hardplate protecting it and I like to equate it to going into a football game without your helmet. You can still tackle people, catch touchdowns and play the game, however one good hit to the head and you could be out for life. Similarly, the hardplate stands between the outside of the safe and the interior lock protecting the locking mechanism on the inside of the safe from being drilled. There are several different types but the most common is just a nice thick piece of heat treated, hardened steel varying in size, once again depending on the safe’s rating.
Another type of hardplate is called “ball-bearing” commonly used by Fort Knox and Liberty safe where the hardplate will be made up of little metal balls that causes the drill bit to continually slip creating a high level of frustration for the driller. Other types of hardplates include diamond bit, carbide and various, exotic materials for drill-shattering hardplates.
Most manufacturers will use a special “proprietary” recipe that they don’t want you to know the components to as they know their competitors will attempt to steal it. All in all, having a hardplate is as important as wearing your helmet during a football game.
A Relocker is a device designed to relock the safe causing all bolts to lock in place when the original lock is damaged or removed. During a drill attack, the driller will drill into or around the lock to find the release point, also known as the bolt that goes in and out of the lock called the nose.
Some manufacturers will use both an internal and external relocker for these scenarios:
- An internal relocker is located inside the lock itself and when drilled will fire a pin keeping those bolts locked into place.
- An external relocker will be located outside of the lock and is often comprised typically of metal or glass. When the drill shatters the external relocker, a pin is once again fired locking the bolts in place.
Relockers act as your back-up security during an attack prolonging the burglars ability to get your safe open. It’s important to remember that there are thousands of safes sold out there without relockers or hardplates. A UL rated burglary safe will always have both a hardplate and a relocker.
How do burglary safes differ?
Safes differ in quality based on their ratings, see below for a full breakdown of the most commonly used classes in increasing order of security:
Regulatory Gun Safe Standards DOJ regulatory standards require a gun safe to meet ALL of the following requirements:
- Shall be able to fully contain firearms and provide for their secure storage.
- Shall have a locking system consisting of at minimum a mechanical or electronic combination lock. The mechanical or electronic combination lock utilized by the safe shall have at least 10,000 possible combinations consisting of a minimum three numbers, letters, or symbols. The lock shall be protected by a case-hardened (Rc 60+) drill-resistant steel plate, or drill-resistant material of equivalent strength.
- Boltwork shall consist of a minimum of three steel locking bolts of at least 1/2 inch thickness that intrude from the door of the safe into the body of the safe or from the body of the safe into the door of the safe, which are operated by a separate handle and secured by the lock.
- Shall be capable of repeated use. The exterior walls shall be constructed of a minimum 12-gauge thick steel for a single-walled safe, or the sum of the steel walls shall add up to at least .100 inches for safes with two walls. Doors shall be constructed of a minimum of two layers of 12-gauge steel, or one layer of 7-gauge steel compound construction.
- Door hinges shall be protected to prevent the removal of the door. Protective features include, but are not limited to: hinges not exposed to the outside, interlocking door designs, dead bars, jeweler’s lugs and active or inactive locking bolts.
or ALL of the following requirements:
- Is listed as an Underwriters Laboratories Residential Security Container;
- Is able to fully contain firearms;
- Provides for the secure storage of firearms.
Burglary Classification Residential Security Container (RSC) signifies a combination or keylocked unit designed to offer protection against entry by common mechanical tools. Performance tests are conducted against the entire unit. The basic standard used to investigate in this category is UL 1037, “Antitheft Alarms and Devices.
- An Anti-theft device, as defined by Paragraph 1.3, shall resist at least 5 minutes of attack that would defeat its purpose.
- Any disassembly of the protected property required to make it removable, is to be included in the 5 minutes of attack test.
- The tools used in the test are to include hammers, chisels, adjustable wrenches, pry bars, punches and screwdrivers. The hammers are not to exceed 3 pounds in head weight, and no tool is to exceed 18 inches in length.
- The product under test is to be mounted securely in its intended position, and the attack is to be carried out by one operator.
Burglary Classification TL-15:
Signifies a combination-locked safe designed to offer a limited degree of protection against attack by common mechanical and electrical hand tools and any combination of these means. Has successfully resisted entry* for a net working time of 15 minutes when attacked with common hand tools, picking tools, mechanical or portable electric tools, grinding points, carbide drills and pressure applying devices or mechanisms.
Burglary Classification TL-30:
Signifies a combination-locked safe designed to offer a moderate degree of protection against attack by common mechanical and electrical tools and any combination of these means. Has successfully resisted entry* for a net working time of 30 minutes when attacked with common hand tools, picking tools, mechanical or portable electric tools, grinding points, carbide drills, pressure applying devices or mechanisms, abrasive cutting wheels and power saws.
Burglary Classification TRTL-30
Signifies combination locked safe designed to offer a moderate degree of protection against attack by common mechanical and electrical tools and cutting torches and any combination of these means. Has successfully resisted entry* for a net working time of 30 minutes when attacked with common hand tools, picking tools, mechanical or portable electric tools, grinding points, carbide drills, pressure applying devices or mechanisms, abrasive cutting wheels, power saws, impact tools and oxy-fuel gas cutting or welding torch (test gas limited to 1000 cubic feet combined total oxygen and fuel gas).
Burglary Classification TRTL-60
Signifies a combination-locked safe designed to offer a high degree of protection against attack by common mechanical and electrical tools and cutting torches and any combination of these means. Has successfully resisted entry* for a net working time of 60 minutes when attacked with common hand tools, picking tools, mechanical or portable electric tools, grinding points, carbide drills, pressure applying devices or mechanisms, abrasive cutting wheels, power saws, impact tools and oxy-fuel gas cutting or welding torch test gas limited to 1000 cubic feet combined total oxygen and fuel gas.
Burglary Classification TXTL-60
Signifies a combination locked safe designed to offer a high degree of protection against attack by common mechanical and electrical tools, cutting torches, high explosives and any combination of these means. Has successfully resisted entry* for a net working time of 60 minutes when attacked with common hand tools, picking tools, mechanical or portable electric tools, grinding points, carbide drills, pressure applying devices or mechanisms, abrasive cutting wheels, power saws, impact tools, oxy-fuel gas cutting or welding torch, nitroglycerin or other high explosives equivalent to not more than 4 ounces of nitroglycerin in one charge (entire test must not use more explosive than that equivalent to 8 ounces of nitroglycerin).
* Entry means for:
Safes classed TL-15 and TL-30 – Opening the door or making a 6 square inch opening entirely through the door or front face.
Safes classed TRTL-30 , TRTL-60, and TXTL-60 – Opening the door or making a 2 inch square opening entirely through the door or body.