Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Home Safe

Hi FerFal.  I’ve been reading your blog for some time and I don’t remember coming across any articles regarding safes for your home.  I have a friend who is seriously considering buying a safe for $2500 to protect his valuables in the event of theft, tornado or fire.  He plans to have it bolted to the wooden sub-floor inside his home.  I asked him why it costs so much and he said that the salesman at the safe store showed him photos of cheaper safes and how poorly they are made.  For example, he was showed cross-sections which show how cheaply the insides are put together on less expensive safes, even ones costing $1000.  He doesn’t want to mess around with an inferior safe that can be easily opened.
My friend is not rich and he has lots of other things he plans to purchase for a potential collapse.  Also, I should add that his house is in disrepair and needs a new roof, doors, etc.  Is it a good idea for someone to spend so much money on a safe, and if so, where would it rank on the priority list of things to purchase before a collapse?
Friend in the USA

SentrySafe 1.23 Cubic Feet Combination Fire-Safe, Medium Grey

Sounds like your friend has other priorities and that he could get by nicely spending much less and putting that money to better use.

I think that as important as it is to have a good safe, a) any safe can be eventually opened with common power tools b) It can be opened within seconds… when a gun is put to your head!
I know of cases where cheap little safes were smashed out of the wall with an axe and just taken and others, most often, people being forced to open the safe at gun point.
A safe has to be big enough and solid enough so that its not easily broken or carried away, yet at the same time you should have plans in case you’re forced to open it.

A possible solution that I’ve recommended often was having a small second safe, very well hidden, where you keep most of your values and the bigger one is just for a smaller amount of jewelry and cash, etc. After being forced to open it few criminals will believe you have a second safe hidden somewhere.

There was this school teacher in Argentina, he was brutally beaten during a home invasion so  he would tell where he was hiding the money. After telling about a couple spots they continue to beat him asking for more. After the criminals left and right before dying, he managed to tell his family about a gold coin hidden in a flower pot and another cash stash.


Butoeskor said...

I have experience in brute-force safe cracking.

All you need is a crowbar and a sledge. You can open the safe in 5 minutes.

If you're working with lesser tools, a Sentry safe can be opened with pair of screwdrivers, a drill (I've done it with a hand-drill, but a power drill would be better), and a hammer.

The more people working on the safe, the better.

I've only ever opened Sentry safes, seeing as those are most popular here.

You want some advice on how to keep the stuff in your safe?

Don't let it get to the point where some asshole would put a gun to your head and command you to show him the safe.

Don't let it get to the point where you leave your house and belongings unattended for enough time to expose them to break-in. If you know you're leaving, move all the real valuables somewhere really safe.

You know what a real deterrent to opening a safe is? Bullets. I don't want to get shot for something that could have nothing in it, as has happened to me 2/3 times I've cracked a safe.

millenniumfly said...

The idea to have a secondary safe with your real valuables is definitely a good idea. And I certainly agree with the previous comment that you should never let it get that far.

Don Williams said...

1) I would suggest looking at SentrySafe's model
7250 Floor safe --assuming it has enough room.
See http://www.amazon.com/SentrySafe-7250-Waterproof-Floor-Inches/dp/B000EGOOIY

2) Your friend could cut a hole in his basement floor,
dig a hole 2 feet deep and 3 feet wide, put the safe in the
middle of the hole and fill the hole with concrete.
I would suggest that he first wrap a spiral of chain link
fencing around the safe and hole to provide steel reinforcement
to the concrete. Concrete is cheap, it is heavy, no one is
going to haul off a 3 foot sphere of concrete and it would take
hours to bust it up with a noisy jackhammer.

Plus the safe is reasonably concealable if you put something heavy on top of it (book case, boxes,etc).

The bolts which fasten the top to the sides of the cylinder are about 0.5 inches thick, I believe. A thermal lance could probably cut through it but
the lance would give off a lot smoke.

What do you think, Butoeskor?

Don Williams said...

Obviously, it would also help to have a security system that could send an alarm to your cell phone.

Butoeskor said...

In general, I would only bother trying to open a safe if the following circumstances are met:

-The safe is light and mobile enough to get to a secure place, where I have the right tools and helpers for the job. (Almost all the times I've brute-forced a safe, it's been away from the original location)

-The safe immobile, but the location is remote or secure enough to brute-force it.

-Regarding the construction of the safe, I wouldn't bother with something made of a very sturdy and thick metal (Say for example 2" steel), in which the hinges are somehow concealed inside or are very thick.

The thickness of the bolts on the door (as the Amazon ad states for the SentrySafe SFW123DSB Combination Fire-Safe are "60 percent bigger than those found in traditional safes." Wow) doesn't really matter if the actual door, hinges, or case of the safe is weak.

Usually when breaking into the smaller sentries, we work the hinges first, as they snap right off the case with some leverage on a crowbar. If you've never opened a Sentry, their Fire-Safe models have a very thin outside metal case, and the inside has some sort of fire retardant foam (wouldn't want to get that crap in your eyes) that is very weak.

As soon as you get to the foam, you've pretty much hit paydirt, as any crowbar of a decent length paired with some good muscle and leverage can pry the rest of the metal case apart and get to the valuables inside.

Regarding: Don Williams' Post

I've never come across a Sentry 7250, not even in the hardware stores and Home Depots here. It's an interesting design.

First things first- If I were to find a safe in a hole in the ground, wrapped in concrete in a secret hole, that would set a big "paydirt alarm" off in my head. I would think "If someone went through the trouble to reinforce a stash like this, chances are there's something good in there."

So I guess if you do have a stash like that, make sure it's well-hidden. Try to camouflage it as well as possible. I saw an interesting setup online where a guy had hidden a safe inside a cleverly hollowed-out washing machine.

I doubt that I could easily get into a safe like the 7250 in the underground setup you mentioned. If it were just bolted down to the ground with no concrete reinforcement, I could probably do short work of the actual metal, being 12 gauge steel (which is about an eigth of an inch thick, not much).

A thermic lance would be WAY overkill. As you said, impossible to use indoors as well. An oxygen acetylene cutting torch would make VERY short work of 12 gauge steel, though. I wouldn't bother cutting through the bolts, I'd just cut through the back end of the safe, or right behind the door. I'd have to see this safe in person to formulate any real ideas though.

But anything involving a heat source like that isn't usually a great idea, unless if you're cutting the safe from whatever it's bolted onto in order to make off with it.

I'd say the 7250 in the setup you mentioned is pretty safe, if the case is that you live in an urban environment with plenty of neighbors. It would just be way too noisy and difficult to move out of there to bother. If you were in a rural environment and out for vacations, or worse, kidnapped (something I have no experience in), then it's just a matter of time before the safe is brute-forced... or you are brute-forced into giving up the combination.

Butoeskor said...


That's a great example of how easy a Sentry fire safe is to crack.

Anything bigger than that, I've never dealt with.

If I were to come across something like a Browning arms safe, I wouldn't really even know where to begin.

Don Williams said...

Thanks for the info, Butoeskor.

Don Williams said...

PS One possible weakness for the 7250 might be the combo lock/cap.

Some floor safes on Ebay have Underwriters Laboratories ratings for drill resistance, etc whereas SentrySafe does not give any UL ratings for the model 7250. However, those Ebay floor safes cost $500 to $600 so the issue may be the value of what you will be storing.

Don Williams said...

PPS also note that with the concrete embedded SentrySafe 7250 you are really sodomized if water spills into the combo lock and it becomes frozen with rust. (There is a very irate buyer on Amazon who says in his customer review that the waterproof cap ain't waterproof. As he discovered the hard way. heh heh)

Some floor safes on Ebay have a 2 inch high steel lip around the cap to prevent that but that ruins the concealability.

Butoeskor said...

Wow. That must have sucked to experience a product failure like that firsthand. I wouldn't want my valuables getting wet. He should have reclaimed damages from the company.

Also, I'm pretty sure UL ratings just deal mostly with fire safety and a couple of lock issues, they don't guarantee or spell out the integrity of the safe against break-in.

I think if people buy a Sentry, they should use it to store important papers (and other flammable things they wish to keep safe) and maybe a small sum of cash if they wish (the sum will change from person to person, for me it might be $500, for you it might be $5K, for example).

Don't put all your eggs in one basket, though. And don't put your more expensive eggs in a Sentry basket, that's for sure.

Roger said...

I did a lot of research on safes a few years ago. It's a surprisingly complex subject.

Safes are generally rated separately by burglar resistance and fire resistance. Most cheaper home safes are only fire resistant, and are meant to protect your insurance documents etc. in case of fire. That doesn't mean a schoolboy can open it in 30 seconds, but it won't slow down a serious burglar much.

Safes that combine serious burglar resistance, serious fire resistance, AND high capacity, are EXTREMELY expensive. The $2500 you mentioned won't even look at it.

However, there is an exception: floor safes. They have excellent fire resistance and pretty good burglar resistance, yet are relaively cheap for size. They are also much easier to conceal, and conceal really thoroughly.

Floor safes are cheaper because 90% of the burglar resistance and fire resistance is provided by the burial + 12" thick reinforced concrete you cast around it, all of which you do yourself. Consequently the walls are relatively thin welded plate, and all the cost is in the door. (And even that is harder to attack, because it is deeply recessed into the pit so the attacker cannot "get at it" with large tools.)

However, I wouldn't go quite as cheap as the sub-$200 Sentry 7250 mentioned before. It's door is aluminium! For a floor safe, $400 is starting to get you pretty good quality. That will get you a safe with a moderately good UL rating (1 3/4 inch carburized hardplate, relockers, Group II key + S&G combination lock.) For a little over $500, you can get the same model but big enough to fit a short-barrelled rifle stripped down. For $1000, you start to get sophisticated cash handling features designed to protect staff against torture or coercion -- i.e. the "hold a gun to his daughter's head" attack doesn't work.

Since they are designed to be buried, they are water resistant, and some are even water-proof against such-and-such depth of standing flood water.

Installation is a lot more discreet, too. With its thin walls, a floor safe is much lighter than a regular safe. If you are reasonably able-bodied, you will probably be able to bring it home, unload and install it by yourself. Just don't make it too obvious how many bucketloads of concrete you are carting into the house, and no-one need ever know you have it.

There are 3 downsides. Obviously you have to have access to the ground, so they are totally out for apartment dwellers. Also, to get the water-proofing, floor safes generally have small doors relative to the total size, so they are more suited for lots of small articles. And finally, there is a lot more labour required (from YOU) to install it: digging the hole, reinforcing and pouring concrete (probably by hand, by buckets.)