Monday, February 15, 2016

Reviewing Safes /Storage Options for your firearms: Securing your valuables

     It is estimated that there are over 300 million firearms in America.  This number keeps growing, particularly since President Obama was elected to office by a naive electorate.  To put it into perspective, there are now a little over 1 firearm per adult person in America.  Pause for a moment and let that sink in.  That means that there are many household that need a solution to secure firearms in the home, that is, the ones you are not carrying on you.

     Firearm safes vary widely in construction, weight and size.  In general, you get what you pay for.  Like the old saying goes regarding motorcycle helmets, "if you have a $10 dollar head, buy a $10 dollar helmet".  While we may snicker at the obvious nature of the joke, it rings true across a wide range of topics.  The main factors regarding firearm safes are:

2-WHAT you plan on putting in it
3-THREAT model

     While only you can ascertain all of those for your own situation, they nevertheless are important considerations.  Example lines of thinking may be, "I have a vacation home with a few recreational .22LR rifles and some ammo, the cabin/cottage is vacant for weeks at a time", to "I live in an urban enclave with notable criminal activity and hideously restrictive laws, and need to protect my 18.5" barrel pump action shotgun with 100 rounds of ammo".  Some Americans have more firearms on hand than they can set eyes on and revert to using spreadsheets for inventory.  To them, I bid you a hearty congratulations.  For the rest of us, please read on.

     If your threat model is nuisance burglars into a home that is often unoccupied, you need to make your security container hard to find and provide no indicators that you have it or firearms to begin with.  This starts with removing any hunting or firearm related art, paraphernalia, part, etc. from the residence.  If the local meth heads break in and see a set of scope mounts on your coffee table, they might be inspired to be especially diligent in tossing your place to find what the parts go to.

     Nuisance burglars, if they know the place is remote or not watched by a neighbor, can take DAYS tearing a place apart if sufficiently motivated.  REMOVE the motivation and any indicators that there is ANYTHING there worth the time.  By not attracting them or giving them reason to uproot your hut, you save yourself immense headache and cost.

     Diversion safes are a waste of time.  We have all seen the empty shaving cream cans, the wall clocks with storage compartments, the hollowed out books.  These are a waste because a burglar tossing a joint will just sweep these off the wall, shelves or wherever they are and see what pops open.  Burglars are not neat freaks and have no compunction to be tidy.  Making a mess also helps them conceal WHAT has been taken, as most people do not keep inventory.

     One safe that I found to be very clever is  this "Red Herring" wall safe.  It is disguised to look like a standard electrical utility breaker box.  Its lock is a 3 digit mechanical item, but its cleverness may work for you.  Maybe complete the look with an appliance or utility service magnetized business card over the lock for "authenticity".  It is easy enough to get a spare "service record tag" sticker, add it to the inside cover and put in a few spurious yet plausible dates on it.  Give it a few "John Hancocks" and it will look quite legitimate.
picture via

     Hiding a safe or security container is a viable option in this case.  There are in-floor safes that are effectively immobile, as they are secured into the concrete foundation with more concrete.  Some safes can fit into a wall between the studs and remain flush with the wall surface.  These are most likely positioned in a closet or behind mirrors or large appliances (behind refrigerators, etc.).

     In looking at safes and security containers, there is a lot of terminology that the user may not be familiar with.  The thickness of the construction is an important point, it is often listed as "gauge".  The lower the number, the thicker the metal.  You can see a table of thicknesses in gauge and inches here.  Metal thickness is a reasonable proxy value for general toughness of the safe/security container.  It also reflects in cost, and indirectly reflects in quality of locking mechanism and other features.  An example is 14 Gauge, is .0747" thick....  3mm is between 11 gauge and 12 gauge.  Often, thicker metal is used on the front and door, with thinner metal elsewhere, so read your specifications carefully.

     The locks featured on many of the entry level containers like those sold by Stack-On and offered at "big box" sporting goods stores are wafer locks or tubular locks.  I will state right off the bat that these locks are built to a price point and that price point is LOW.  Security wise, they are minimal.  At ITS Tactical, there is an excellent article on the tubular lock and its vulnerabilities.  The youtube video of a tubular lock being opened with a ball point pen illustrates the point that the "locks" you have may not provide you with the security that you think you have, and that misconception is DANGEROUS.

     What, then, can you replace the tubular or wafer locks in your security container with?  Glad that you asked!  I was watching footage from DEFCON 19, the presenter provided excellent content and highlighted his skills.  The tubular locks and any lock in a container that shares its dimensions can be replaced with high security locks, like the Abloy CL205 or -201.

The Abloy CL (Cam Lock) 201 can be had on Amazon:

ABLOY "Almost Pick Proof" Cam Lock

The highest security can be had by replacing the existing tubular locks with the Medeco cam locks.  Fortunately, these are ALSO available at Amazon:

     If you are wondering about the level of skill needed to do this, don't fret it.  Many Americans have mailboxes that are arrayed in groups.  You can see these at condominium complexes, town home developments and the like.  Since you may not be the 1st occupant of that unit, you may want to replace the lock on your mailbox.  This is simple to do! The replacement lock sets can be had at either the blue or orange big box store.  They are super inexpensive, I paid under $10 for a suitable replacement when I did this for my own condo mailbox.  Here is what I bought (albeit at the orange big box store):

     As you can see in the diagram, the lock comes with a number of different "cams" that have different offsets and geometry.  It was easy to pick out the right lock, as I had taken a picture of it as well as taken some basic measurements so that I was in the right ball park.  If you are still wondering when you get to the local blue or orange emporium, ask a clerk in hardware... I try to ask the oldest guy I can find, they usually know the score and can find what you seek quickly.

     When you remove your lock, you just replace it with the new one.  If the geometry is not right on a replacement cam, you can use the old one.  I did and it worked out very well.  In this way, I ensured that I had the only keys to this box (no previous resident could open it) and replaced the worn out components (locks wear out!)  This took me LESS than 10 minutes to do, and I worked slowly.  Tools needed were a leatherman tool extra set of pliers, appropriate screw driver), and a set of slip-joint pliers to hold things.  I may or may not have used Lock-Tite thread locker to ensure that the nuts holding the cam would not back out.  This was a good warm up for the other project, which was the genesis for this article.

     My research has also led me to my next safe purchase for one of my children who lives out of state and has a need for such security.  The answer to that is the LOCK SAF PBS-001.  I had no idea this existed, save for seeing it on a DEFCON 19 youtube (referenced earlier).  3mm construction, a biometric lock for ease and quickness of access, and a pretty good key lock are certainly enough to meet and exceed the local threat model.  It is not "perfect", but it will more than do.

     I had inherited a sheet steel security container for the storage of long arms from a departed and fondly remembered relative.  Room for a half dozen long irons, with a small shelf toward the top.  It had been in use for years and was a dark brown color, in and out.  He had mounted it solidly to a poured concrete basement wall with tap-con masonry anchors (you maximize the holding power of these by using some fender washers between the head and the safe body).  The tubular locks had seen many use cycles and eventually, one of them failed.  I painted the exterior in a high gloss utility fixture gray, the same color as a circuit breaker power panel.  This helped it blend in and look like it "belonged".  I also painted the interior to make it easier to see inside.  Replacing the pair of tubular locks is what brought me down this path and this article to you.

A note on safes and security containers.

-Safes and security containers have to be fastened to something immovable and sturdy to prevent them being carried off.  Bolt securely with serious bolts (try to go at least 2-3" deep) into concrete or structural timbers.  If possible, do this on more than one side. See TAPCON in the article for masonry applications, use the biggest galvanized lag bolts that will work for your application if they are going into wood.

-Stuff in safes has to be maintained.  Safes, particularly in basements, are little rust factories for firearms.  You can help preserve your firearms by using dessicants to dry the air in your safe or container.  Remember to clean & lubricate your firearms often, as rust never sleeps or takes a holiday.  Bulk silica gel looks like this (see below) and can be hung in old nylons if you don't have a specialized container for it.  The beads are a pain to pick up if you spill them, so use a vacuum.  Silica gel beads can be dehydrated in the oven, so it is reusable.  In a pinch, some cat litters have a lot of silica gel beads in them, and can be used. You can buy Volatile Corrosion Inhibitor (VCI) impregnated paper at local industrial supply houses.  Grainger has "Armor Wrap" VCI paper in stock.  This is the sort of material that gets placed in armory mount out boxes by the military, it should meet or exceed your requirements.  As it can be a bit pricey, consider splitting a roll with a few friends to reduce your costs.  It works by slowly outgassing a volatile rust inhibitor.  Amazon actually has the best prices on this, and it comes pre-cut and is called "PolyAir VSP Kraft Paper".

-If the inside of your safe is dark, you can clean, prime and spray it in a high gloss white.  This makes seeing things inside a LOT easier.

-Consider placing a battery operated LED light inside so that when you need to, you can illuminate the inside without turning on your main light.  These are inexpensive, you can attach them with sticky foam tape or magnets.  This is a handy way to not ruin your night vision.

-Don't leave a bunch of tools lying about.  Power drills, crowbars and the like will definitely get used if they are there.  They may not get in, but they can wreck a lot with them.
-Don't forget to use big 'ol fender washers on the fasteners that hold your safe/container in place.  They spread the mechanical load out and make it a LOT harder to pry or pull your safe/container out of its anchors.

I hope that you have found this article interesting and of use.  Good luck in your endeavors!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another great article with some great ideas. Made a purchase through your Amazon link as a way of saying Thanks!! Please keep up the good work, so good to see you back in the saddle! (Loved your rant when it first went viral, BTW).