Best Small Gun Safe

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This article will help you avoid wasting money on a handgun safe that looks secure, but can be opened with paperclips, coat hangers, or just bumping them (videos below).

Small gun safes, handgun safes, and pistol lock boxes for home have become very popular.  It makes sense, because keeping a self-defense weapon in a separate small gun safe frees up your options for the type and location of a full sized gun safe.

But finding a good gun safe isn’t easy, and finding a good handgun safe is actually even harder.  Let’s take a look…

Handgun Safe Locks

The locks are the worst part of most small gun safes.  Generally pistol safes have cheap unrated locks which can be compromised easily (videos below).

Mechanical dial or electronic keypad combination locks on small gun safes will not carry a UL 768 rating so avoid them.  This is especially true of electronic keypad and biometric locks.

Problems with Non-UL Rated Electronic Locks

Cheap Handgun Safe Solenoid Latch

Cheap Handgun Safe Solenoid Latch

For starters, many cheap electronic handgun safes use electromagnetic solenoids to lock the door.  I hesitate to call these locks, so I’ll call them latches.  

You can compare this type of latch to the latch on a screen door. 

A spring loaded plunger protrudes to the door latch.  Entering the combination energizes a coil, retracting the plunger.

When no electricity is applied to the solenoid, all that is holding the plunger which locks the door is a small spring.  Simply bumping these gun safes can overcome the spring holding the plunger, opening the door.

UL 768 rated electronic locks generally use a motor with a reduction gearbox to actuate the deadbolt, or a stronger solenoid and spring.  Properly rated locks cannot be bumped in this way.

Too Many Holes

Another major problem with the vast majority of small electronic handgun safes is that they have too many holes in their steel skins.  The holes may be for mounting or seams in the sheet metal.  Or, the holes may be covered, used for routing wires or attaching plastic parts.  Either way, the holes are accessible to tampering, usually without doing any permanent damage to the handgun safe.

Any holes can be used to poke inside and access the latching mechanism or electronics, as shown in the video below.

Combination Reset Button

Most electronic handgun safes have a reset button inside which can be reached through a hole, or by prying open the door a little bit.  After pushing the reset button, typing in a new code will open the handgun safe.

If the reset button can be poked through one of the holes, the door will open as shown below.

Wafer-Style Key “Backup” Locks

A lot of small gun safes have wafer-style key locks.  These are advertised as a feature to allow backup access to the safe.  However, the locks also add another way to break into the safe.  Jamming something into a wafer lock and wiggling it while twisting will open many of these locks.

This video shows all three of the entry methods described above.

Choose your tool; this small electronic gun safe can be opened with a drinking straw, a screwdriver, a strip of metal, a pair of pliers, or two pieces of wire.  All methods leave no indication it was opened.  In addition, a commenter on YouTube pointed out that the white tape on the bottom covers a hole which can be pulled off to open the safe with no tools, just a finger.

Yet another small safe opened by poking around a coat hanger and a metal strip, leaving no indication it was opened.

Most of these videos were found in this article How to Break into Almost Any Gun Safe with Straws, Paper Clips, Coat Hangers, and Even Children!

If you’re looking at other handgun safe models, Dave at Handgun Safe Research has been making lock picking test videos for a variety of handgun safes.  You can find ways he defeats more models there.

There are dozens more of these “lock picking” and “safe cracking” tutorials online. If you don’t think your kids could figure this out on their own, there’s a good chance they may run across one of these videos.

Small Gun Safes Locks and Gun Safety

Do actual children ever actually break into small gun safes?  While not frequently, tragically yes.

In one high profile case, an officer’s toddler and/or his babysitter somehow got into his police department issued handgun safe.  The results were tragic.

I used to link that local news video here, but it has now been taken down by the news station.  I considered including another instance, but thought better of it.  Rather than bring any more attention on a family who has already suffered a terrible loss, I’ll continue, in the interest of preventing a future tragedy.

Good Handgun Safe Locks

Electronic combination handgun safe locks/latches are discussed above.  Many companies also offer biometric fingerprint locks for handgun safes.  In general, these locks have all of the same issues of the electronic handgun safes above — and then they add even more.  If you’re interested in these types of locks, you can read my article on biometric gun safes.

The majority of electronic handgun safes use inexpensive, lower-reliability electronics technology like you find on “disposable” consumer gadgets.  If you’re interested, the biometric safe article has a detailed summary of reliability differences between commercial and military electronics.

Simplex mechanical pushbutton combination lock

Simplex mechanical pushbutton combination lock

Guns should be secured with UL 768 Listed combination locks, robust key locks, or Simplex style mechanical combination locks.  For more detail see recommended types of locks.

Simplex style mechanical push-button locks are great for office and vehicle handgun safes.  Unfortunately Simplex locks generally only have one or two thousand possible combinations.  Because of this, they’re not the best choices if you have unsupervised teenage children who might methodically try to enter every possible combination after school.  If children do not have unsupervised access to your small gun safe, or if the handgun safe is empty all day because you’re carrying your pistol, this may not be an issue for you.

Small Gun Safe Security

Now that you’ve seen how easy it is to break into many of the pistol safe locks, let’s try to find a decent one.

Unfortunately most small gun safes are very flimsy.  If someone wants to apply brute force, the majority can be opened with a kick.  The rest will pop open with fingers or a screwdriver.  

Common construction materials are thin stamped sheet metal and plastic.  Many are actually weaker than the old fashioned cash boxes used for petty cash or to sell hot dogs at high school football games.

Handgun Safe Fire Protection

Some small gun safes claim that they have some fire protection.  For the majority of products marketed towards firearms, this is nonsense.  A detailed explanation of why I say this can be found in my fire safe article.

There are small true fire safes.  However small fire safes have several limitations for use as fireproof handgun safes.

Depending on interior size, it takes several inches of fireproofing to achieve a true UL fire safe rating.  Square interiors are more efficient to fireproof than long thin ones, so most small fire safe models will be square-ish.  As a result, even small true fire safes are bulky.

The most common real fire safe fireproofing material is a concrete mixture.  So, small true fire safes will usually also be heavy.  Fire ratings are discussed in detail in Myths About Fire Ratings.

Burned Up Pistol Safe and Ammo

For legal reasons, your self-defense guns should be unmodified and commonly used for self-defense.  This makes them replaceable — another reason why a “fireproof” handgun safe is a waste of money.

If you do find a small fire safe which works size-wize, you’ll be in the same situation a reader was.  The lower price point fire safes will have questionable unrated locks.  

Small inexpensive fire safes are intended to secure occasionally accessed paper valuables like birth certificates.  How often do you use your birth certificate?

These locks are not intended for life and death situations, like a self-defense pistol.  They’re also not intended to be opened several times a day for your carry pistol.

Even with unrated locks, small fire safes still often cost as much as the self-defense pistol you’re trying to protect. This is due to the fire proofing and testing required to achieve a real fire rating.

In a fire, the pistol will be covered by most homeowners insurance minimum firearm deductibles, or your free $2,500 NRA member insurance  anyway.  BTW, for some reason NRA member insurance must be activated (use the link).

For legal reasons, self-defense experts and lawyers advise that you use an unmodified, common self-defense gun with factory ammunition for protection.  You can read about why in this ACLDN article.  These guns are by definition cheaper and easier to replace than the expensive custom race gun you built for shooting steel.  Your trophy guns can be better protected in your full sized gun safe.

If you’re looking for a pistol safe for a defense weapon, choose one which doesn’t pretend to offer fire protection.  Then put an unmodified gun inside that you could replace if you had a fire.

An important consideration about fires and handgun safes is ammunition cooking off.  Normally, the main concern with ammo cooking off is the damage it will do to other objects in the gun safe (e.g. guns), as discussed in Myth:  Ammunition is protected in my fireproof gun safe.  Rounds which cook off in a box or in a magazine will not pierce most storage containers.

Handgun safes, however, are more often used to store loaded weapons.  If a round “in the pipe” cooks off, it could pierce many of the flimsy electronic handgun safes.  This is a special concern for magnum revolver owners.  Fortunately most self-defense ammunition is designed to fully expand upon contacting a much softer target than steel, limiting penetration.

Regardless, if you want to store a loaded gun(s) in a handgun safe, it’s better to chose one which could stop the round you intend to leave chambered.  Or, at least keep the gun pointed in the safest direction (no pun intended) inside the handgun safe.

Installing a Handgun Safe

Guidelines for installing small gun safes were covered in the article Where to Put a Gun Safe.  Due to their inherently less secure nature, location is important.

Best Handgun Safe for Home

Here are three options for quick-access handgun safes depending on your budget.

1) Best Pistol Safe for clever children and a limited budget

If you have clever children and a limited budget, get a robust pistol lock box with a good key lock, or go with a creative solution.

Some of the creative solutions include getting a large toolbox or locker.  If you’re handy, build a closet gun safehidden gun safe, or locked hiding spot as described in the previous article.  All of these options will keep your guns and your children safer than any of the flimsy electronic handgun safes shown above.  And, many of them will save you money.

2) Best Quick-Access Gun Safe for the Money

Simplex mechanical pushbutton combination lock

Simplex mechanical pushbutton combination lock

Check out these Simplex handgun safes if your situation doesn’t include unsupervised children who might methodically attempt every possible combination.

A robust American-made pistol safe with a Simplex type lock is a great choice for a home defense weapon for many gun owners.  They’re also perfect for vehicles and businesses.

Old-school Simplex pistol safes are generally better constructed than the wave of crappy Chinese electronic handgun safes.  In addition, they’re much more reliable.

Simplex locks, first patented in 1960, are mechanical pushbutton devices with user-changeable combinations.  You never have to worry about replacing batteries or flaky electronics with these models.

Simply put, they are the revolvers of small gun safe combination locks–an easy to open lock that “always goes bang”.

Fort Knox Personal Pistol Boxes

Fort Knox manufactures an impressive set of handgun safes, which are made in the USA. All of their small gun safes have 3/16″ (0.1875″) steel doors and 10 gauge (0.1345″) steel bodies. This is thicker steel than you’ll find in the majority of full-sized gun safes. The safes come with four pre-drilled mounting holes on the bottom side, interior carpet or padding, and a Lifetime Warranty.

A reliable Simplex-style lock is employed.  Most models use Kaba Mas brand locks with round buttons.  One of my FTK-PN’s has a lock made by the Illinois Lock Company with square/diamond buttons.

The only holes in the body are the mounting holes are on the bottom of the gun safe.  That’s the side you’ll bolt down so that a thief can’t just pick it up and take the safe. Even if the holes weren’t blocked by being bolted down, poking inside won’t open these units like the ones above.

For example, to change the lock combination, the correct combination must first be entered before pushing the reset button. So, even if someone could access the combination reset button, they could not use it to open the lock.  For additional security, the combination reset button is protected by a steel tab anyway, making it harder to access.

The lock actuates a deadbolt mechanism instead of a spring-loaded plunger. This prevents the type of bump attacks shown in the videos above.  I have deliberately not included pictures of the locking mechanisms here for security.

The Fort Knox Original Pistol Box FTK-PB Handgun Safe is a top-opening model measuring 12.5 x 10.2 x 4.5 inches. It’s the largest of the handgun models listed here.  Due to the thick steel it weighs in at 22 lbs.  For one-handed operation in a self-defense situation, the heavy 3/16″ thick steel door has a gas strut installed.  The interior of the pistol box is padded.

You can see it in person at your local Fort Knox dealer. Online, Amazon.com carries it and has more reviews, as does GunSafes.com.

For those who wanted a side-opening version, Fort Knox created the Personal Pistol Box FTK-PN Handgun Safe.  It is narrower and taller than the Original Pistol Box at 12.5 x 9.5 x 5 inches.  The side opening-door allows it to easily be bolted up high, out of the reach of young children. It uses the same thickness steel as the Original, but weighs in a little lighter at just under 20 lbs. Like the others, it’s also American-made.

The door on this model has spring-assisted hinges which swing the door open on its own when mounted horizontally. If you want to mount this model vertically, you’ll notice that the springs do not have the strength to flip the door up to open from the closed position. This isn’t a problem though because it only takes a light tug on the knob to flip the door open when mounted vertically. Either way you get one-handed access with the door held open, out of your way.

See the Personal Pistol Box in person at your local Fort Knox dealer. You can also read more reviews at Amazon.com, and it’s available from GunSafes.com as well.

On a recent family vacation I actually brought a FTK-PN for the rental house.  A 22 lbs handgun safe loaded with pistols, holsters, flashlight, and ammo doesn’t make for the lightest luggage.  A smaller, lighter model would have been better for this application, which brings us to the FTK-AUTO.

The side-opening door of the FTK-PN would be convenient for a car or truck, but that model is a bit large for many locations in a vehicles.  For that there is the Fort Knox Auto Pistol Box FTK-AUTO Handgun Safe.

The 9.5 x 6.5 x 5 inch size makes it easier to mount and conceal in a vehicle.  It still has the same steel thicknesses as its bigger brothers, weighing in around 12 lbs.

It’s smaller size and weight make it more portable.  More portable can mean easier to steal if you don’t bolt it down, but a portable handgun safe has advantages as I mention above.  

If you want to test fit one in your car/truck, check a Fort Knox dealer. Online you can pick one up at Amazon.com, and also find the Auto Pistol Box at GunSafes.com.

Prefer a shotgun for home defense? Fort Knox still has you covered with their Shotgun Safe–one of the few fully-enclosed quick-access Simplex shotgun safes. Even though it’s much larger than the pistol boxes, Fort Knox didn’t skimp on the steel. It has the same 3/16″ thick steel in the door and 10 gauge steel in the body. The safe is 9 x 5 x 45 inches and tips the scales at 36 lbs.

Check it out at a Fort Knox dealer near you if they carry it. Online, GunSafes.com stocks it.  It’s also sometimes available at Amazon.com.

V-Line Handgun Safes

V-Line Desk Mate Keyless Security Box with Quick Release Mounting Bracket

V-Line Desk Mate Keyless Security Box with Quick Release Mounting Bracket

If you’re looking to lock up a pistol in your office, two V-Line models are designed to be mounted to the underside of your desk.  The Desk Mate is designed for one pistol.

The Hide Away is bigger and could fit a couple pistols. 

Shotlock Shotgun Lock

If you want to secure a shotgun for home defense, you don’t have to enclose the entire gun.  Another option is to secure the trigger assembly and receiver with the ShotLock Shotgun Solo-Vault. It’s also a California DOJ Approved Firearms Safety Device.

Titan Gun Vault

Titan created a Simplex handgun safe with a holster inside. When you open the cover, the holster reliably presents the gun’s grip to you so that it’s easy to grab.  The Titan Gun Vault is California DOJ Approved.

Titan’s handgun safe has an innovative provision for storing ammunition separately if your state laws required it. They also sell a piggyback ammo box compartment to lock your magazine or speed loader. Opening the door unlocks both the gun and the ammo at the same time, presenting them for quick loading.

See the video below for a demonstration.

3) Best Small Gun Safe for Home

The best small gun safe for home is actually a wall safe or jewelry/home safe with a UL 768 Group I or II electronic keypad lock.

These safes start in the hundreds of dollars, as the locks alone are $80 or more.  You can also find used jewelry safes cheaper.  Home defense pistols are small, so you have a lot of flexibility as to what size used safe you can pick up.

Wall Safe, One of the Best Small Gun Safes

Electronic Keypad Wall Safe (Gardall SL4000)

An electronic keypad makes access fast for your home defense weapon.  But these UL 768 locks have the security of more possible combinations than a Simplex-style lock.  You can also use it to keep your medications away from your kids, but conveniently in your bedroom.

wall safe is easy to hide behind a picture or mirror.  A home safe can be bolted to the floor, or built into a wall or piece of furniture.  Because small safes are so portable, it’s even more important that you anchor them.  For example, this burglar stole a jewelry safe from an apartment using the victim’s desk chair.

Wall safes like the Gardall SL4000 have thinner steel than a B-Rate true safe, but are much more secure than any of the electronic handgun safes above.

Sturdy Safe just entered the small gun safe arena with their “The Cube” Pistol Safe model 2020.  These units have exterior dimensions of 24″ x 19″ x 20″.  In typical Sturdy fashion, they’re available with or without Sturdy’s style of fireproofing.  Interior dimensions change depending on fireproofing and steel thickness.

Sturdy Cube 2020 pistol safes are available with different steel thicknesses, starting at 3/16″ body and 5/16″ door.  The thickest steel currently offered is 4 gauge body (.2242″) and 3/8″ door.

Sturdy Safe The Cube Pistol Safe 2020

Interior of Cube Pistol Safe 2020

These models come standard with UL 768 Group II S&G mechanical dial locks.  Other lock options are available as well, including dual locks and electronic keypads.  Prices start at $790 without fireproofing or $990 with fireproofing.

Sturdy takes a unique approach to gun safes and fire protection.  Their products emphasize security much more than cosmetic appearance, giving you a lot of bang for the buck.  The Cube 2020 is constructed similarly to their full-size gun safes.  For more information on Sturdy and their construction, see the detailed full-size Sturdy vs. AMSEC BF gun safe review.

If you’re interested in security for valuables, a burglary rating of B-Rate or better is preferred.  Compared to a gun safe, a true safe is a much better place to store other precious items like the missus’s jewelry.  It could also get you a discount on your homeowners insurance.

True Safe makes the Best Small Gun Safe

AMSEC WS1214 B-Rate Wall Safe, available with Electronic Keypad Lock

The AMSEC WS1214 wall safe has B-Rate construction and is also available with a proper UL 768 electronic lock.

If you’re looking for a bigger general purpose safe with both burglary and fire protection, the little brother of one of the Best Gun Safes is a great choice.  The BF true safes (BF1512BF1716BF2116BF3416) have both B-Rate construction and a UL 72 Class 350 1 Hour Fire Endurance Rating.

If you want to protect your expensive DSLR digital camera and family photos from fire, get one with an appropriate Class of UL 72 rating.

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What do you think?  Leave a comment below, your thoughts are welcome.

More recommendations:  Best Gun Safe and Best Biometric Gun Safe.

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Comments

  1. good morning says:

    Thankfulness to my father who informed me about this webpage, this blog is actually amazing.

  2. Steven says:

    I’m surprised that you recommend/endorse safes with Simplex locks. A quick web search shows they have significant limitations and security concerns. At the very least, a lock with only 1,081 combinations could likely be defeated in less in 90 minutes by simply trying one combination every 10 seconds (and I think that’s a very conservative estimate). A curious child could easily achieve that in one afternoon. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.

    • Hi Steven,
      Thanks for reading, and your great comment. You’re reinforcing a very important point.

      More information about defending against methodical combination attempt attacks can be found in Number of Possible Combinations. Some suggestions are also given there to increase the security of a Simplex combination. Mounting a small gun safe 5 feet off the ground, as discussed in Guidelines for Installing Small Gun Safes, is an important precaution to limit access to children.

      As mentioned in this article in a few locations:

      Unfortunately Simplex locks generally only have one or two thousand possible combinations. Because of this, they’re not the best choices if you have unsupervised teenage children who might methodically try to enter every possible combination every day after school.

      If you do have children who might try to defeat the combination lock this way, you’re better off with suggestions in these two sections: 1) Best Pistol Safe for clever children and a limited budget and 3) Best Small Gun Safe for Home. Note that a key locking handgun safe (section 1) can be even more vulnerable to the kids finding your main or spare key.

      Ideally we’d all keep our self-defense firearms behind UL 768 Group I or II locks. Indeed, a quick-access bedroom wall safe is an easier sell to a spouse who wants to protect jewelry and/or other small valuables. The reality though is that not everyone needs or can afford that level of protection for both a full-sized gun safe, and a quick-access bedroom handgun safe.

      Due to their cost, simplicity, and reliability, Simplex style small gun safes are very popular. In many environments, like gun safes used in businesses and offices, there are no children to worry about. In cars and trucks the doors, bed, and/or toolboxes are usually locked anyway whenever the owner is not with the vehicle.

      Home circumstances vary widely from gun owners with no children, to those with limited custody or occasionally visiting grandchildren, to homeschooling parents who give constant supervision. Parents with mischievous unsupervised teenagers are probably better off finding another type of lock. On the other hand parents with either very young or adult children, or whose kids have moved out, have lower risks. Many who carry concealed use Simplex safes to store their carry guns when they get home; these safes are empty any time the parent is away from the house. Some owners employ supplemental means of controlling access to these safes, for example keeping a Simplex gun safe in a locked bedroom, closet, or drawer. Others use Simplex gun safes to store only ammunition or loaded magazines separately from firearms.

      Every situation is different, and no one knows a child better than his or her parents. A little more than a generation ago, most guns were stored in the back of a closet or on a high shelf. Today, many states have laws requiring firearms to be securely locked for storage, and some dictate specifically which devices can be used. Gun owners alone are responsible for the security and safety of their firearms. So, ultimately it’s up to the gun owner to determine what protection is called for in his/her own situation.

      Thanks again Steven,
      Jaime

  3. Steven says:

    Jaime,

    Thanks for your quick reply. I missed those details you had already provided (a tribute to how much information you have here). It’s a good point that security has to be matched to the expected threat.

    Cheers,

    Steven

  4. it seems like a deal breaker to me that the Fort Knox safe doesn’t come with a key to override WHEN, not if, you forget the combination.

  5. Durandana Boutot says:

    Thanks for this information. Obviously gun safely and safe gun safes are important to anyone who owns guns and has children. I have always tried to make sure our gun safes were the best in the industry to avoid problems. Thanks for the info! Durandana | http://www.fradonlock.com/safes/

  6. Janet Crites says:

    I’m looking to get my son a quality small gun safe that he could mount under his bed. I’m sure he’d like to have easy access in the event of an emergency too.
    Thanks, Janet

    • Hi Janet, thanks for reading. Take a look at the small gun safe recommendations section. Many of the units shown in the 2) Best Quick-Access Gun Safe for the Money section with side-opening doors would be a good for under a bed. The clam-shell door model (FTK-PB) is not the best choice for under a bed, because access would be difficult once bolted down.

      For under a bed, I would go with the biggest one that fits, especially if he carries concealed. Many who carry concealed leave their pistol in the holster when putting it away in a bedroom handgun safe. Another reason is that for home defense, it’s good to store a flashlight and other necessities in there as well.
      Best, Jaime

  7. Good articles and comments on this site.

    One thing I haven’t seen covered is the issue of moisture accumulation. This is a big problem on my larger SentrySafe. So much so that I can’t use it for weapons, even if I wanted to.

    Do any of those mentioned exhibit the same characteristics as mine???

    • Hi Dale, As you pointed out, moisture can be a big problem in gun safes. Click here for the section on dehumidifiers and desiccants.

      For the most part, gun safe moisture is more related to the air and humidity outside the gun safe than the gun safe itself. The exceptions to this are gun safe door seals and fire insulation. Door seals can help make the dehumidifier or desiccant more effective by slowing down the entrance of humid air from outside the gun safe. Regarding insulation, most types of gun safe fire insulation materials can hold a serious amount of moisture. The moisture is one reason why the fire lining offers protection against fire, but that moisture is held on the inside of the gun safe where your guns are. True safes usually protect the contents of the safe from the fire insulation moisture with a welded steel inner fire liner. Most gun safes do not. Incidentally, one advantage of Sturdy’s atypical fiberglass fire insulation is that it doesn’t use moisture to protect from fire, and so doesn’t retain as much moisture either.

      None of the small gun safes that I know of come with door seals, dehumidifiers, or desiccants. A couple small gun safes pretend to offer fire protection. However these claims are pretty bogus. For you, the attempt at fire insulation could make your moisture problem worse.

      Moisture in small gun safes is generally less of a problem than larger ones. This is due to the smaller volume, lack of moisture-retaining fire insulation, and lower temperature differential between outside and inside. If the humidity in your area is bad enough to cause moisture issues in a small gun safe, I can think of a couple ideas:
      — Use the small gun safe for only stainless steel weapons. Most carry guns are stainless to prevent moisture issues. Close body contact over time can cause corrosion and unreliability.
      — Locate the small gun safe in a less humid room in your house with a more stable temperature. The location of a handgun safe is very important for self-defense, but make the best use of what you’ve got.
      — Put your gun in a moisture-resistant case, inside the small gun safe. The traditional option is a fleece-lined suede hangun case. More modern options are a silicon-impregnated sock like a BoreStore.
      — Use a dehumidifier or window air-conditioner in that room during humid months. Small air conditioners can be picked up in classifieds or even new for less than a decent handgun safe. To save on your electric bill, dehumidifiers with humidity sensors or air conditioners with thermostats can be useful. You could also run the air conditioner only during the most humid times of the day to save money.
      — Use a partially-enclosed style like the ShotLock.
      — Improvise a door seal on your small gun safe with some foam rubber gasket material. Then add a small dehumidifier or desiccant. Due to the small area, a desiccant may be more effective than a dehumidifier, but will require periodic maintenance to bake out the moisture. Make sure the gasket doesn’t put pressure against the door lock mechanism, which could cause it to fail prematurely.
      — Build a hidden gun safe out of a piece of existing furniture that doesn’t have a humidity problem.

      With that said, if you have a moisture problem in a small un-insulated metal box like a hangun safe, your gun may rust almost as fast out in the open. You might first want to be sure your strategy for dealing with moisture will work before laying out the cash for a small gun safe. For example, you could do a test out a desiccant or suede case inside an old metal lunch box before committing money to a handgun safe you can’t use because of moisture.

  8. Patrick says:

    Jaime,

    Thanks for the informative and well written article. I was looking at the AMSEC Defense Vault for under the bed. It has what they call, a ESL5 electronic lock. Any idea if this is a reliable lock in your opinion? Thanks!

  9. kjsharks says:

    The buttons on the Fort Knox’s simplex mechanism are over drilled and the buttons tend to unevenly stick out loosely.
    Check it out:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLPi4ZC7wVE

    Go with Amsec PS1210HD or V-Line Top Draw.

    • Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention. I have two of the very same model and took a look. One of my units has an Illinois Lock Company lock with square/diamond-pushbuttons. The other has the round-pushbutton Kaba Mas lock which is on his unit. The Kaba Mas (round) are a little bit looser than the Illinois Lock Company (diamond), but both are similar. I haven’t taken mine apart to check but, by pulling on the buttons, they seem to behave similarly to his.

      With that said, I’m not sure it’s a problem. As an engineer, my starting point is the same as the video’s author — I always start with the manufacturer’s recommendations. However, some manufacturers’ recommendations have been wrong or just didn’t work in my application. Sometimes manufactures update their products and the design guidelines have to change. Fort Knox may have found that looser holes made the pushbuttons less prone to jamming and therefore more reliable. They may have found that tight holes were rubbing off the retaining shoulder and causing the buttons to fall out. Or that differences in paint thicknesses or machining burrs may have bound up buttons. Or, customers may have complained that the tight holes were leaving scratch marks on the buttons, showing the combination.

      There are also some less positive interpretations. Fort Knox may be trying to keep its options open with big holes that fit locks from different manufacturers in case of shortages. In that case the holes will be a great fit for certain locks and looser for others. Since the Kaba Mas buttons are a little looser than the Illinois Lock Company ones, this may be the case. Demand for these units has exploded as they are very poplar. Production line and vendor changeover hiccups can accompany this type of growth in any industry, and there can be running production design changes.

      I did notice that the buttons were looser than I expected when mine arrived. Since then it hasn’t bothered me much, as they don’t stick out unless I pull them. After using both hundreds of times, I can say that mine have been totally reliable. I also noticed that the slide of my stock Colt 1911A2 was looser than I expected. Of course, the looseness has made it more reliable in outdoor shoots than my friend’s custom gun with its very tight slide. I can’t say that I don’t wish my 1911A2’s slide was tighter, but it’s loose for a reason. I bought my handgun safe for reliability, so I’ll get rid of it the moment I have a problem.

      If anyone has an issue with one of these Fort Knox units caused by loose buttons, please let us know. If you’re shopping around and prefer tighter buttons, take a look at the other models like those recommended by kjsharks. Great comment.

  10. Barry K says:

    Great article, thanks. Been reading through it and clicking on the various links. I was hoping to get your opinion on the First Alert safes. It’s an electronic key pad with a key override. It’s got some fire rating, which I don’t really care about. My situation is kids in the home and I’m not impressed with a Simplex lock. This safe says it’s U.L. listed. Does that mean the lock is too? Would it meet your standards like the Gardall does? Thanks in advance for your time. http://www.gunsafes.com/First-Alert-Waterproof-Fire-Safe-w-Electronic-Lock-87-cu-ft.html

    • Hi Barry, Thanks for reading. As you mentioned, a Simplex lock isn’t appropriate for all situations. For those looking for higher security locks, the Gardall and AMSEC models were examples given which have real UL 768 rated locks.

      It looks like First Alert is being ambiguous about the UL Rating. So, something on the safe is UL Listed, and we have to figure it out. A sister model is described on First Alert’s website, “This .94 cubic foot First Alert fire safe is UL classified for 1 hour to withstand an external temperature of 1700 degrees Fahrenheit while maintaining an internal temperature of less than 350 degrees.” Given that they’re advertising the safe carries an actual UL fire rating, that is the basic description of a UL 72 Class 350 1 Hour rated Fire Safe. I couldn’t find the UL Listing for this model in the UL directory search, but that’s not uncommon. Judging by its 77 lbs. weight, it probably has poured concrete amalgamate fire insulation. So, the model appears to be a UL 72 Class 350 true Fire Safe.

      This brings us to the lock. The first clue is that it has a key override, which no models I’m aware of from recommended brands have. Adding a key override effectively reduces the security of the electronic lock, a major reason why true safes don’t have key overrides. (Some UL 768 combination dials have keys that lock the dial from turning, but a key alone can not open the safe.) Such a key override lock would need both a UL 768 (electronic lock) and UL 437 (key lock) listing to be fully UL certified, and would still be less secure than either one types separately. Given that the 2087DF’s key override is an inexpensive tubular lock type, it’s not going to be UL 437 Listed.

      So, the First Alert 2087DF model you’re looking at has very respectable fire protection. In fact, its fire protection is better than virtually all gun safes. However, it has an unlisted electronic keypad combination lock with a tubular override lock similar to those on inexpensive lock boxes. From a utility perspective, it is made for fire protection of valuables that you occasionally need access to. For example, paper certificates like stocks and bonds, passports, deeds, etc. to match the Class 350 design.

      For a quick access handgun safe, the opposite characteristics are preferable. You generally want very reliable locks with little or no fire protection. If you expect to be using the safe on a daily basis, for example for your carry gun, the lock may bite you with a failure sooner than you expect. Because the lock is custom to First Alert, it may or not be easily serviceable and replaced by a safe technician, let alone with parts “on his/her truck”.

      On the other hand, you may need a fire safe anyway and are looking to make the most of your budget. In that case, putting a couple occasionally used handguns in a fire safe to keep them away from your kids is an option. Keep in mind though that this safe is only as secure as the key lock, making it basically a lock box. Be mindful of where the keys are at all times. Also consider if an inexpensive tubular lock is really enough of a security upgrade from a Simplex lock for your situation.
      Regards, Jaime

  11. Analogous to computer security, I’d challenge some of your negative aspects of compact biometric safes. First, absolutely for families where children may have opportunities to find/play with/attack any storage type, security must be #1 priority. However, the paradox for anyone considering any firearm for home defense must be the trade-off of security 99.9999% of the time, against the rare moment when immediate access must be available. Fumbling in the dark and correctly entering a combo into the keypad under duress, as precious seconds tick by, hardly seems in line with the entire premise, i.e. having a handgun for protection. One might already have maced an intruder, broken his knee with a bat, and begun ushering one’s family out a designated emergency retreat path while the hapless gun owner has only attracted attention while noisily fumbling to open the damn secure safe.
    A sober assessment must be made to consider whether (gasp!) you live in an area where any of these risk trade-offs are even appropriate, or a total waste of time and worry. But once you make that leap, deciding you really can justify a lethal weapon in your home, perhaps it only makes sense if it is loaded, chambered, and instantly accessible if needed, at which point a biometric safe or no safe at all may be your only realistic choices.

  12. Vrxtec says:

    Please advise I am looking for a safe that will hold 5 handguns and would prefer the gun cases would fit in the safe. The size I need is about the size of a small UHaul box.
    Please share a link that I can purchase a safe without breaking the bank. My handguns are an investment however I spent about $4000 for all of them combined.
    Looking for a safe under $500.

    Thank you

  13. vann417 says:

    Any recommendations for vehicular options? I need something to store a pistol in my car for when I go to places where guns are prohibited. Also, it seems like the security cables for car safes are easily cut. Do you have a suggestion for this?

  14. LouieLouie says:

    Thanks for the well-researched and valuable information. I have a small gun safe with a Simplex lock that failed after using it for 14 years. The knob became a little sloppy for a week or so, instead of tight for turning left (to reset the buttons), and right (to open the door). Now, It just spins in a 360 without effect. Luckily, I removed the contents before the failure, as it is now locked shut. Any thoughts on this?

    • Hi Louie, Glad you emptied it before you had an issue! Your story will help some other readers: If you have any kind of lock issue, it’s always good to leave the door open on a gun safe until you fix it/get it fixed.

      Sounds like the knob or shaft is stripped. Ideally when the knob started getting sloppy but still opened, it would have been good to take out the lock and fix it or find a replacement. I would try to open it one last time with your combination. When you have to turn the knob, try pushing in/pulling out/pressing the knob sideways at the same time. If that doesn’t work, you can try to rip the knob off and see if you can turn the inside of the lock with a straight screwdriver after entering your combination. After that you’ll have to try some controlled demolition of the lock and then box. Let us know how it turns out!

  15. Beverly Long says:

    do you know anything about ‘the gun box’ ?

    • Yeah I would also like to know more about “the gun box” accessories aside, just curious how childproof the box is.

  16. safes for weapons says:

    Great. Really good post about safe.

  17. What do you think of the Shotlock Handgun Solo-Vault 200M? https://www.shotlock.com/ShotLock_Handgun.php

    I think the key lock looks too much like a wafer lock to be secure against picking. I am trying to find a good gun safe with reasonably quick access.

  18. Randy @ BraveHunters.com says:

    I have been using Fort Knox for 3 years and have no problems with them, great choice with great service, they provide the best! Sadly I think they only good with classic safe, not a biometric 🙁

  19. Kyler Brown says:

    I am trying to find a safe for some of my firearms, and this was super helpful. It’s nice to see extensive reviews, especially to ensure that I get a safe that will be effective for my needs. Fort Knox does seem like a pretty reliable service. Thanks for providing this list to me, as this certainly has helped me narrow down what type I want!

  20. Fekked says:

    So i didnt actually see a “list” of pistol safes, and after reading this entire thing, what you are saying is that i cannot possibly find an actual fire safe for a couple pistols under a cubic foot (fit under a bed or next to it without being 4 times the size of my dresser) i liked the videos showing some getting broke into etc but that still doesnt give me a short list of the best fire proof pistol safes. Even more i have to spend thousands on either amsec or sturdy to get an actual fire safe. Yes i saw the smallest amsec safe and that is way huge for a couple of pistols and mags. Hundreds of safes are certified fire proof so if they arent really fire proof how are they getting away with it? Tired of searching through hundreds of reviews that seem like they are each just selling a safes for a company. Lots of time wasted reading a review for “best fire proof pistol safe” search without even a list at the end

    • Thanks for reading. Personally, I’m not a fan of handgun safe fire protection for the reasons I mentioned above. If that’s what you’re looking for though, I’ve just gone back and tried to clarify the limitations.

      Your question is similar to Barry K’s comment above. He was looking at a true fire safe in the same size you are (0.87 cubic foot). Fire ratings are discussed in detail in another article on the site. Depending on the interior size, it takes several inches of fireproofing to achieve a true UL fire rating. Square interiors are more efficient to fireproof than long thin ones, so most models will be square-ish. As a result, the size of true fire safes will be limited by the thickness of the fire proofing needed on each side. The most common fire proofing material in fires safes is a concrete mixture, so they will also be heavy.

      After that, you’ll be in the same situation Barry was. That is, the fire safes you find will have questionable locks at the lowest price point. Fire safes of this class are generally used to secure occasionally accessed paper valuables. They’re not intended for life and death situations, like a self-defense pistol. Due to the fire proofing and testing required, even fire safes with inexpensive unrated locks often cost as much as common self-defense pistols that would go in them. This is part of the reason why I recommend you save the money, focus on security, and let the pistol burn up in a fire. After all, insurance should pay for its replacement.

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