Do you own a safe? Do you keep all of your most prized possessions in it? Did you buy it at Home Depot? If you answered yes to those questions, we have some terrible news for you. Your safe is probably worthless. Not worthless as in you can’t resell it to some other dummy hoping to protect their entire life savings in it. Just worthless as in it won’t keep thieves out for very long should they come wielding crowbars and blowtorches to get inside it.
We know you’re unlikely to believe that just coming from us, so we brought in some experts to discuss the matter. The people at Brown Safe have been constructing some of the highest quality, nearly impenetrable safes on the market for decades now. They gave us the sad truth about the current state of the safe business.
Here are 8 things you should know about safe cracking.
Like We Said, Your Safe Is Probably Worthless
“The startling truth is 95% of the safes built today are only designed to withstand attacks by common household tools for a maximum of 5 minutes. Even most high end safes fare only marginally better.” That’s a quote from Lynel Brown, VP of Brown Safe. She has some experience in the field, having once cracked a safe purchased from a local department store in less than two minutes during a demonstration.
She adds that, “Hidden within the ranks of everyday immoral criminals, exists a highly capable class of criminal safecrackers, professional and highly efficient thieves capable of violating and emptying a fortified safe within minutes. However, this is not the kind of criminal who will likely invade your home. The vast majority of safe attacks are performed by ill equipped idiots armed with simple crowbars and hammers…but in the vast majority of cases, these idiots will succeed.”
A closely guarded secret within the safe industry…back in the 80’s an onslaught of extremely cheaply built foreign safes devastated the US safe manufacturing industry, crippling and destroying the reputable safe builders. Facing extinction, most safe builders survived by severely cheapening the build quality of their own safes in order to directly compete with the Chinese knock-offs. Many builders gave up safe manufacturing altogether and served under the overseas aggressors as glorified distributors. Only a handful of safe companies that produced quality safes managed to survive the slaughter.
The Internet Made It Worse
For years, the little known fact that safes were no longer impregnable strongboxes was concealed. The prior reputation safes carried was generally enough to prevent simple criminals from even attempting entry, and instead thieves searched elsewhere for easier pickings. However, with the advent of the internet and popular social networking sites like YouTube, the truth about safes spread like wildfire among the criminal element.
Type the word “safecracking” into any search engine today and you’ll be greeted with a vast library of friendly and easy to follow videos providing all manner of instructions on illicit safe entry. The bottom line is most safes built today are now stupidly easy to crack, and even the most base criminals now know this. Thieves now immediately seek out safes in homes, as a safe provides an easy opening container of high value items that can be accessed within minutes. So how do they do it?
Tools of the Trade
The Crowbar: The doors of most safes are comprised of thin sheet metal wrapped around drywall to give the appearance of a thick door, in truth these doors are about as tough to open as a locked filing cabinet. The most popular form of entry into these under built boxes is to simply wedge the tip of one or two pry-bars into the doors seam, then applying leverage. The thin walled steel rapidly buckles and gives way allowing the door to be pried up with ample time to spare.
The Wedge: A simple iron wedge placed and driven by a large hammer into at a few key locations along the safe’s door seam will rapidly push the locking bolts through the doors thin carriage walls, allowing for a fast entry.
The Sledge: A favorite amongst the hooligans due to the severe damage inflicted on the safe, the perpetrator simply bashes through front of the safe door with the raw force of a sledge hammer…repeatedly. The flimsy safe door generally caves after only a few decent whacks and can then be pried back out with an enthusiastic yank.
Pretty unsettling info for safe owners. So what should you look for when you’re hoping to keep your mountains of gold bars safe?
Check the Weight
Weight is the number one factor in determining a safe’s ability to protect from both fire and theft.
The best fire protection comes from cladding the safe in a dense layer of solid poured composite amalgamate material, which is roughly the same weight as high-density concrete. Fireboard, on the other hand, is a relatively light material. An inferior fireboard safe is easily identified by simply noting the safe’s low weight.
Protective steel plating is by far the heaviest and most expensive component of a quality safe, accounting for at least half of the safe’s overall weight. The thicker the steel, the heavier the safe.
The best safes for both fire and burglary are easy to spot as they weigh many times more than thin steel fireboard safes. These heavyweights are infinitely more capable safes, comparing their capabilities to the lighter models is like comparing an indy car to a go-kart.
Most safes provide some form of fire protection with little to no burglary protection. Few safes provide both forms of protection.
Look For Steel
This highly significant category is simple to interpret, the higher the number, the more core burglary protection the safe will provide.
If you care about burglary protection, as 95% of buyers do, do not consider a safe with anything less than a half inch (0.50″) solid door steel, and quarter inch (0.25″) walls.
Bear in mind, all fire safes have thick robust looking doors, but only a small fraction of that door is actual steel. Most of the door, especially on less expensive safes, is comprised of fireboard wrapped in ultra thin sheet metal. If a safe is heavy, it doesn’t mean it has a lot of steel. There’s a good chance this weight comes from the composite material which is far less expensive on the builders budget. Bottom line, always find out how much real solid steel plating a safe has prior to purchase.
Firewalls Aren’t Just for Your Computer
A safe with composite cladded firewalls provides superior fire protection over all other firewall types, usually vastly superior fire protection.
That being said, some multi-layered insulation/Fireboard safes can provide adequate fire protection by replacing most of the steel walls and support structure with a plastic or other non-conductive structure, but use of these materials yields a safe that affords no burglary protection at all.
Insulation/fireboards also contain a lot of moisture for increased fire resistance. This excessive moisture tends to make its way into the safes interior creating a constantly damp environment inside the safe during normal storage, causing metal items within the safe to rust and paper and photo based items to wilt.
Well that’s just great. A safe full of rusted watches and fast deteriorating currency. So why is a Brown Safe different?
State Your Case, Brown
What makes Brown Safes the best? Here’s the thing, we totally asked that very question! Here’s what they had to say:
“For the past 35 years, Brown Safe has been producing safes for the global military sector. Our safes are housed in US embassies and military installations the world over. Producing military safes is still part of Brown Safes core business. It was military contracts that allowed Brown Safe to survive the previously mentioned wave of Chinese knock-off safes that whipped out most respected safe manufactures in the 80’s. Our luxury safes are these same battle hardened military safes, only dressed more respectably and infused with numerous luxury upgrades.
Our top rated safes are completely encased in the same ballistic armor used by military vehicles and fortified installations to withstand severe attack by extensive gunfire, grenades, and missiles. While it’s highly unlikely one of our luxury safes will take a hit from an RPG, we find the extreme hardness of ballistic armor makes it the perfect material for countering all forms of penetration attacks.”
We will literally buy anything with ballistic armor on it. Sign us up!
Much thanks go out to Lynel Brown and everyone at Brown Safe for their help with this article. For some background about Frederick Brown, President of Brown Safe, click here. Read more about Lynel Brown right here. To pick up your very own Brown Safe, including some of the military-grade badassery pictures in this article, start here.
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