By David Higginbotham
A couple of years ago, I decided I needed something larger than my bedside fast-access handgun safe. I inherited a couple of worthless pistols from my father’s estate, and I loved them more than anything else I owned. My bedside safe offered no real fire protection. Its size and relatively light weight made my little safe a convenient way for a crook to carry my valuables out of the house. So I went in to see my FFL. The refrigerator-sized safes that lined the floor of the shop were visually impressive. Yet the visual impressiveness was short lived. When I knocked on their sides, they rang like old tin garbage cans. They were bigger, but not much better than what I already had. I needed a real safe. So what actually makes a safe worth buying? Let’s take a look inside a Liberty.
I needed something bigger, stronger, fireproof, and impervious to burgling miscreants. I find it is almost impossible to judge safes by their exteriors. There are some companies, Liberty included, that put extra emphasis into the graphics and paint jobs. While most of the safes on the market are available in a variety of greys and blacks (both glossy and matte), Liberty offers a wider variety of colors and some extra graphics on some models, but you really aren’t paying for paint.
Making it harder for criminals
Instead, you should concern yourself with the quality of the safe’s construction. One of the first things that you should look into is loss prevention. A good safe should keep prying hands out. While a low-cost safe will keep kids and stupid criminals out, anyone with half a brain (and even a modest set of tools) can open it like a tin can.
You want to pay attention to the thickness of the steel. This one is from Liberty’s Lincoln line and has a thick skin: 11 gauge steel. All of the seams are welded, completely. Some companies tack-weld their safes and fill in the voids with Bondo and paint. Bondo has its place, but you don’t want it to be the first barrier any thief will have to overcome.
The Lincoln 50 stands 72 inches tall, and is 42 inches wide and 32 inches deep. That’s enough interior storage for 41 guns, according to Liberty’s count. This is, of course, dependent on the size of your guns, how they are outfitted and how easily you want to access them. Any way you cut it, it is a wide safe. It is wide enough to lay an AR-15 flat on the top shelf, easily. I think the number is a bit low, and I intend to test it, though I haven’t yet.
The next point of concern should be the bolts that hold the door secure. The more bolts, the better. This Liberty has 16 bolts, and all of them are active (meaning they retract and engage). The construction of the bolt, and its length and width is also important.
Liberty Lincoln has bolts that are 2 inches long and 1.25 inches wide. There are bolts in all four sides of the door, which is a huge improvement over some safes that have fixed studs in the hinged side and nothing on the bottom. If one of those is tipped on its side or back, the bottom becomes easy to pry open.
Bolts on all four sides and a thick skin will only go so far. Locks have to have secure features that keep them from being compromised. The best protection available against drilling is a plate full of ball bearings. The Lincoln has one to protect its lock’s guts. When a thief tries to drill out the lock, the drill bit will hit these bearings. If the bit catches in the hardened bearing plate, it will break. If it connects with the bearings, they will simply spin, preventing the drill from penetrating further.
Keeping your treasures safe from the elements
Once you’ve established some basic protections against outside, two-legged threats, you may wish to consider how a safe will stand up to natural disasters. Fire is always one of the big dangers. A good safe should seal tightly to prevent an exchange of moisture, but a good fire seal is also a plus. Palusol door seals are an industry standard. This thin membrane expands when heated and seals up a safe. The Lincoln line is rated for 90 minutes at 1,200 degrees. How much fire protection you need depends on how far you live from a fire station and how long it would take to get a fire under control and out. In my case, I’m protecting a couple of guns that aren’t worth anything. That said, I can’t ever replace them. It isn’t the gun that’s valuable, but the memory of my father. I want as much fire protection as I can get.
The fire protection is inside the steel. Fireboard is stacked, sheet on sheet, and lapped inside the safe. Each additional layer helps shield the contents from a fire outside of the safe. Higher fire ratings are earned by filling the inside space with fire board, which isn’t light. While weight does slowly add up, it provides a mass that gives the safe some extra protection, and the loss of interior space is negligible. Pay attention, though, to where you place the safe, especially a heavy one. Liberty’s Lincoln isn’t a lightweight. Even empty (still 1,115 pounds), the Lincoln can put some serious stress on poorly constructed structures. And even fire-resistant safes can be compromised when they fall though a burning floor.
How can you keep a safe safe?
If you can, place the safe close to the foundation. Then bolt it to the concrete floor. If you can’t sink lag bolts into concrete, consider bolting it down anyhow. Make sure it is where you want it, and lock it down. It is best to avoid exterior walls. Burglars have been known to drill through exterior walls, wrap chains around the safes, and pull them through the walls. It isn’t an easy task, really, but it can be done. The most secure safes can be stolen. Extra weight inside the safe can help. It is a good excuse to buy more guns. You have to weigh down the safe, right?
This is where many are really tempted by the big safes offered at cut-rate prices by the discount houses. My FFL, which is located in a tiny town, had been in the habit of stocking inexpensive safes. These were the ones I was knocking on that sounded oddly hollow. And it wasn’t because they were empty. They were more like shells than safes. Their walls are thin. Their fire protection is minimal. This makes them easier to move, which some find attractive. It is nice to rock back a safe and muscle it into position. Yet when you buy a light safe, you are sacrificing all of the features that make a safe safe. Sure, you can spend the savings on more guns, but you are gambling, at best.
If you want to move a heavier safe, get help. Find those trusted friends who can help move it around. Go the extra step and have it delivered. Many shops will have special lifts to help overcome stairs and obstacles. If you have hardwood, tile or linoleum floors, a safe can be moved around using nothing but wooden dowels. The heaviest safes will roll on unbelievably small dowels.
Consider the extras, as they are built into the price
There are other benefits to the Liberty line. The Lincoln is upholstered nicely. The modularity of the interior space allows for the storage of all manner of valuables. The shelves can be arranged to your preferences, and there are even drawers for smaller items, like jewelry. The door panels are great for pistols and extras that are easily swallowed whole in a safe this size. Once plugged in, the Lincoln line offers excellent interior lighting. There are more advanced features that govern the way the lock engages and the over-center cam-drive operates that will make the bottom-end safes seem even more ridiculous.
Liberty’s Lincoln 50 isn’t cheap. The MSRP begins at $3,539. While that represents a significant investment for almost everyone I know, we’re talking about genuine protection. I know some shooters who have at least that much wrapped up in one tricked out AR-15. Why would you invest in firearms and then store them in cut-rate weapon lockers? It doesn’t make much sense. Still, the Liberty Lincoln line is high up on Liberty’s list. The Revere line, which still offers serious protection, starts just under $1,000. At that price, there’s really no excuse.