Hardening a gunbox

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steamin10
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Hardening a gunbox

Post by steamin10 » Sat Mar 24, 2018 2:48 am

With all the news about gun control , laws and the heated debates going on. I have decided to improve my gun security. Guns are highly prized by thieves for their universal appeal, and ease of conversion to hot cash. So along that line of thinking, just having something piled in the closet is about as irresponsible as it gets next to amunition in the bottom sock drawer. A gun locked away, is worthless if you need to put hands on one, but there is no excuse to expose an entire collection because you may need one for the coyote or rabbit, or even intruder. So This writing is based on the idea of quick access with tightened security of a commercial gun box.

I am going to express my thoughts on practices that any home guy can do to upgrade security for any valuables that involve a so called low level gun box. In the vein of you get what you pay for, it is true that a gun safe with an armored door and latching system is better than a closet. I am starting with the bar minimum of a gun box that can be had for about a hundred bucks at any big box store. I would put out there that I have a Mosler safe from the 40's that is concrete filled and weighs a ton, (1200 lbs actually) and is something that cant just be picked up and moved into a pickup truck. This is the first issue: If it isnt bolted to the floor and walls of your structure, it is worthless. Two guys can lay it down and carry it off and open it whenever and where ever they please. Further, any light gun box and medium safes can be broken with a good wrecking bar and long handle pry bar, just by laying it on its back and forcing the door. Much harder when access is limited by keeping it standing. Look on the net and you tube has several demonstrations that take less than 5 minutes to pry open a 'safe'. It is unlikely taht any neighbors will be aroused by any noises at that level, and 5 minutes is well under a good response time for most law enforcement. And next is the problem of modern tooling, making a $20 dollar grinder and cutoff wheel the next choice of the thief to just cut their way into a thin shelled box. So it goes without saying the more levels of protection there are, and the more secretive you are about collections and value, the better off you are. So, my focus comes about as I move my gun storage box from a closet to a more accessible (for me) area. OK, some may think I am full of beans on this idea, and want the maximum security and nothing less than a multi thousand dollar safe will provide that security, and so on. I agree, to some extent, so write your own article. Mine is based on the basic things a home guy can do to make things a bit better without spending a fotrune against a thieves loss. In reality what I can do may be well beyond the scope of many people that do not have those skills of doing things and just write checks for their desires. My check book has always been on empty and I depend on hands on sweat equity to get by. So here it goes....

I am starting with a typical gun storage box. It has the barest essentials of a door with a lock that is a round pin drum key type, and some moving toggle plates that engage the side frame. Mine was on sale for some $80 or so at Mantards, and got bolted to the closet wall in the bedroom. Well, this turns out to be a frustration in that it is turned sidewise, and for what ever reason, shoes and boxes clog the access to the door swinging open when access is needed. In the farm situation I am in, a shotgun, .22 rifle and a handgun are out and about in the house at all times, and only the uneeded arms are stored. Needless to say, my house is not child safe. We dont have small children, but no matter, the available arms are lightly hidden for quick access should a predator appear. This is of course the first hurdle, deciding how much exposure you can live with given your situation. Here a firearm is just another hammer, a tool to do a job. Nothing mystic or exceptionally dangerous about it. There is a protocol about having one about that is inviolate, and everybody knows to secure an accurate target identification. Even the neighbors know the process, and are reminded during times of stress. Getting past those basic thoughts on safety, anything hidden must be cleverly concealed so as not to provide undue access to an interloper. Having said that, the gun cabinet will be the flame to the moth of thieves as that is where they will expect a high value target to be. So hiding it in a closet will minimally restrict access, and even make it undesirable as it works out for me. So, My move is going to install the box using the dead space in the stud wall, behind the door of my computer room. this small room houses my computers desks and printers and bookshelfs and cabinet storage for paper and supplies for the rescue and office there. When the room door is open, nearly all the time, it covers this area in the corner. Previously it held a rack with about 100 vhs tapes. Now obsolete the tapes are gone, and by sinking the cabinet into the wall we limit access to the sides, give it a good bite with bolts to the stud work, and basically require anybody to tear out the wall to remove the box. By using the dimension of the dead space in the wall we shrink the front hangout to where the room door opens fully and naturally so it is out of sight and out of mind to the casual observer.

That completes the first part of this essay on the gunbox web of thoughts as it concerns my situation. The next step will be the actual modification and placement of the box in the wall. Along with the physical placement in the wall will be some things to add security to the box to make it less easy to break into. PLanned so far is some strengthening of the frame, and the lock mechanism to prevent it from being simply pried or lock drilled out with a battery drill. A layer of drywall will panel the inside for increased fire resistance should anything like that occur siince a tin box will only roast whatever is inside in short order. If it can resist 20 minutes in a house fire, the contents have a good chance of surviving. Having an unrated fire safe will not effect your fire insurance, only your peace of mind.
Big Dave, former Millwright, Electrician, Environmental conditioning, and back yard Fixxit guy. Now retired, persuing boats, trains, and broken relics.
We have enough youth, how about a fountain of Smart. My computer beat me at chess, but not kickboxing
It is not getting caught in the rain, its learning to dance in it. People saying good morning, should have to prove it.

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SteveHGraham
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by SteveHGraham » Sat Mar 24, 2018 10:28 am

I was pretty shocked to learn that a $3000 "safe" could be defeated in 3 minutes by a moron with a grinder. I have thought a lot about this issue. Safes seem like a real waste of money. Anyone who sets out to steal guns should know how to defeat safes, so I would only expect them to work against incompetent thieves and relatives.

I've been thinking that if I leave the house for an extended period, I should drive my guns over to the nearby storage facility and rent a closet for a month. You could do this a hundred times for the cost of a safe. You'd get climate control and security.

I've started to think concealment and electronics will work better than a safe. It's possible to hide things extremely well if you make an effort, and these days, it's not hard to rig your home with an alarm and cameras that send alerts and videos to the cloud or your phone.

I have no faith at all in measures to keep people out of my house. Look up "bump key." I haven't bothered to change the locks in my new home, because every high school delinquent in Florida knows how to get a key that will get him or her in. You can buy bump key sets on Amazon! I rely on electronic security, and if someone gets in while I'm here, I have a semiauto rifle in 7.62x39mm with 30-round magazines and a green laser next to the bed.
Every hard-fried egg began life sunny-side up.

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steamin10
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by steamin10 » Sat Mar 24, 2018 2:31 pm

The human bean is precisely the most dangerous part of the equation. Myself I always had big dogs in the form of Great Danes that provided a medium of resistance that gave warning whenever anything was in ear shot. I cannot handle big dogs anymore, so we have two herding dogs in the form of Shetland Sheepdogs that use their ears and brains to sound alerts. As an over watch, I have some pvc and flashlight lenses to mimic cameras, and there is another goober in the works. Casual thieves look for signs that there is something significant to protect and cameras and stickers and warnings are their guide posts to riches. If they can figure a good score they will take the risk.

On a defensive note, m y son lost his older car to a thief last year. The police not only tracked the car but arrested 11 people for various charges related to theft before one individual left the area with the car, and it and he has not been found. Our loss. In the case of fire arms, department policy is not to return them to the owner. They must be requested. This is where it gets tricky, as they must be requested by serial number, so a positive ID can be made. On the barest of excuses they can refuse any other descriptions. So it is important to record the numbers of any arms and get visual proof of their existence. I have the experience of a brazen druggy that regularly raided my tools for the pawn shop income they provided. Not only the tools but 2 electronic trail cameras. We now have a baby monitor type eyball cam in our room, that Mom Rose can tap into with her phone. Similar arrangements can be had fairly cheap. The cam is only in the $30 range. It can be hooked into a computer and live record in real time or spot time snaps. She likes to make it move and drive the cats bonkers investigating the thing.

We live in a marvelous time aided by the techy stuff available, but it still relies on outsmarting the miscreant that would defeat you, and steal your life.
Big Dave, former Millwright, Electrician, Environmental conditioning, and back yard Fixxit guy. Now retired, persuing boats, trains, and broken relics.
We have enough youth, how about a fountain of Smart. My computer beat me at chess, but not kickboxing
It is not getting caught in the rain, its learning to dance in it. People saying good morning, should have to prove it.

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BadDog
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by BadDog » Sat Mar 24, 2018 6:16 pm

No idea what your market might look like, but real safes are not all that hard to come by around here. Not the garbage nominally termed a "safe" that is less secure than your average job box, though I do use those for fast easy access to stuff that I just don't want laying about for the grandkids to find. And not the slightly better options found at stores ranging from Costco to Cabelas. They usually have tough sounding names like "Winchester" and "Buck", but are really only a mild deterrent if someone is more than slightly motivated and not in a hurry (i.e. ok against your average meth head and local trash). Some also have (supposed?) decent fire ratings, so there may be some value there, if you can trust it. But what I'm talking about is a real safe like AmSafe. I've got 2 of them from the local used sales apps. One is something like 28" x 28" x 40" tall beast waying just over 600 lbs (IIRC), and you won't be getting into it with a grinder any time today, plus too heavy to readily move, and can be anchored if you see the need, plus real air tight seals and fire safety rating you can count on. I've also got an AmSec gun safe that is (IIRC) 36x36x64" and adds something like another 250 lbs empty, including features for lights, dehumidifier, and alarm sensors, plus anchoring to the floor. The small one cost me $200, the gun safe was $500. They also have a layered approach to defeat or significantly slow any single attack method. For example, layers of concrete and steel in walls 3-4" thick. And the visible hinge is just a convenience feature for managing the ~200+ lb door, removing them completely with an O/A rig and you still have multiple 1" hardened bolts all the way around hold the door which remains air tight.

So while you can certainly make something in the category of a job box easily enough, and it will keep the scavenging grandkids at bay, plus most likely your average meth head. But if someone is capable and determined enough to bring a cordless grinder with cut-off wheel (if sound doesn't put them off) or O/A rig, and it won't make much difference.
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SteveHGraham
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by SteveHGraham » Sat Mar 24, 2018 7:54 pm

There's a couple of Youtube videos of guys opening AmSec safes with a hand drill and a locksmith's rig. Of course, they were trying to avoidl destroying the safes, so maybe they didn't use the fastest methods. There's an incredibly funny video of a guy opening a cheap AmSec pistol safe by banging on it with his fist three or four times. He was furious when it worked, because he owned it.

I looked around and saw that AmSec makes something called the BF series, which has a 3/16" thick steel door and 1 1/2" bolts all around it. I have seen videos where smaller bolts were no obstacle to ordinary criminals. I wonder about these bigger ones. A lot would depend on how they're anchored inside the door. If they can deflect, it doesn't matter how thick they are.

It's hard to believe 3/16" is a grinder deterrent. I cut a propane tank in half with a 4-1/2" grinder, and it was a quick job. It was about 2/16" thick.

Never heard of Amsafe. Are you sure your safe only weighs 600 lbs.? That's less than some safes you can get into with a grinder.

There are a number of videos "proving" how this or that safe resists prybars and grinders, but the people making the videos make and sell safes, so I don't pay any attention. I saw a video where two guys failed to get into a safe with prybars in 5 minutes, and that was considered a success, but the door was about to come off. If I were a burglar, I'd be happy to put in ten solid minutes and get it done.

Bill, I am not worried about cameras and signs drawing people to the house. I believe they drive away far more people than they will attract. Every big house has something worth stealing, and crooks know it, but as my dad could tell you from painful experience, not everyone who owns a big house has the foresight to pay for an alarm system. A nice house that doesn't have one is a crime magnet.

Anyone who sees your place will know there's good stuff there, cameras or no cameras.

I feel like I should hide some things and maybe get a reasonably tough safe for when I'm in town, to resist illegals taking a quick break from mucking the neighbors' stalls. Then I could rely on rental storage when I'm traveling. But maybe there are rental storage horror stories I haven't heard.

My neighbor has a gun ROOM with a steel door maybe 3/8" thick. I looked at it and wondered if there was steel in the walls. I didn't really understand it. My best guess is that all he has is a big door you have to go around, but I hope for his sake I'm wrong.
Every hard-fried egg began life sunny-side up.

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warmstrong1955
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by warmstrong1955 » Sun Mar 25, 2018 9:11 am

The best gun safes I have seen, are the ones you couldn’t see. ;)
Hidden in walls, and if you don’t know they are there, very unlikely you will locate them. Friend of mine has a big one that is a walk in. Another had one that the wall rotated open on bearings. Camouflaged.....and clever.

Bill
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BadDog
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by BadDog » Sun Mar 25, 2018 3:33 pm

I haven't seen one where an Amsec safe was opened easily. Not saying it can't be done, but haven't seen one. When I was looking for mine, I saw a number of really embarrassing examples of getting into some of the Buck/Winchester variety. Perhaps Amsec makes a lower end range? In any case, any really serious criminal isn't likely to waste their time targeting me, and likely more important for real world scenarios is the fire protection. Either way, I'm confident the safes I have are far better than the Costco variety at a fraction of the cost, and certainly cheaper than building one (time and/or materials), and that was my actual point.

I was guessing on the weight, they are a stone cold mother to move. Looking at their current offerings, I don't find any that match mine exactly Mine are are 20+/- years old, but they still support them. The small one was missing the shelving clips, they sent me some for free even though I wasn't the original buyer. Anyway, the safes they currently list don't match up visually to mine, but I was apparently WAY low on the weight. The big gun safe was unloaded with a my A-Frame gantry and moved into place by pallet jack, so didn't feel that heavy to me. :lol: On the smaller one, I found a much smaller example (substantially smaller in every dimension) in their BF series that they say weighs almost 500 lbs. Looks like my seat of the pants guess was WAY off. Sorry, I shouldn't put numbers on things like that if I don't feel confident I actually *know* the right value... :oops:
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BadDog
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by BadDog » Sun Mar 25, 2018 3:42 pm

I have got to get going on real tasks, but you caught my interest, so did a quick search (by no means definitive). I found one where a professional used a sort of mag-drill type feeder to drill one in a very specific place with knowledge of the model details and with a special bit. I don't think I have to worry about anyone putting that much effort into stealing my guns. That safe also looked a lot less robust than mine, more like the "Bucks", but it was of a similar size. I saw another with a little desk-top/shelf type safe that was real easy to get into. Embarrassingly, it had an Amsec name, but looks just exactly like a little HF electronic safe I keep a gun in for quick access. I don't expect it to keep out anyone but my grandkids, and it cost almost nothing at HF. So apparently they have a wide range, maybe I'll look some more later for examples to see what mine might look like to a pro...
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SteveHGraham
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by SteveHGraham » Sun Mar 25, 2018 5:25 pm

I wish everyone luck securing their guns. It looks like anything resembling real security will cost more than a nice gun collection.
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BadDog
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by BadDog » Sun Mar 25, 2018 8:16 pm

True that. And anything is better than nothing. At least around here, almost all the theft is from meth heads and similarly minimally motivated individuals. They mostly grab what they can carry and head out without spending much time, and if they wanted to actually WORK for something, they wouldn't be stealing from general middle class citizens. And for those that are working at it, I'm sure there efforts are much better expended on something where they know there is value to be had as opposed to pot-luck.
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steamin10
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by steamin10 » Sun Mar 25, 2018 9:21 pm

Steve and Bad: The points brought up in the thinking here are precisely why I brought this idea up. When I went looking for a "gun safe" I was sent reeling with the claims of security for the market prices. In my analysis a very poor trade. A bare steel box offered little protection from an average guy like me to defeat, and the cost beyond the shiny paint was prohibitive. The Mosler safe, being old and clumky, is still a piece of work. It is better than most modern safes in fire and breakin protection. But the target I am promoting here is the lowball gun box. Something that is affordable to the average home owner, and doable for the weekend mechanic to improve on a budget. It is this arena of thought, not to throw good money after bad for things that are mostly sales hype, that I target. Kiss rule.

Because of the size of the box, I have determined a wrinkle in defense that could be quite a surprise for the would be breaker. Starting with the idea, tht time is of the major importance to any raider, and effort expended, I am going to design some simple framework of 1x2 tubing to strengthen the door frame, with needed slots and pins to secure the sheet metal door. The Cabinet is being lined with concret board commonly used in shower walls, as this is more resistive to being cut with a blade than drywall, and still provide some insulation value for fire protection. Being that half of the box is in the wall, you gain that value for shield anyway. For further resitance ornamental Granit tile will be glued in at a midpoint on the side walls with RTV type adheasives, to further resist cutting of the panels through. I you have ever tried to cut granit in this manner you would know how painfully slow such an operation is when you have access, let alone buried beneath a steel skin and backed to a corner reinforcement. It should eat a blade in short order, and that costs time your raider does not support. The largest flaw is the lock and the door itself. Tumbler locks are easy to drill being mostly brass for good ones and die cast bodies for the cheap ones. Most modern safes have gone to elctronic push button locks which catch to eye, but dont really add a lot of security. It is true that the older tumbler safes were moslty defeated by using a chisel and hammer to chisel off the tumbler wheel and then drive the shaft through the back plate destroying the internals to the lock theerby releasing the bolt handle to pull the door pins. I have some thoughts on getting around this approach, so we will see how that works out.

Keep in mind that this is a diferent path than most lock boxes would be built to and theerfore a surprise to the would be breaker. I hesitate to use the word 'SAFE', because of the recognized level of security related to the word over a gun storage box. I agree most heartily that most safes are not worth the paint they wear.
Big Dave, former Millwright, Electrician, Environmental conditioning, and back yard Fixxit guy. Now retired, persuing boats, trains, and broken relics.
We have enough youth, how about a fountain of Smart. My computer beat me at chess, but not kickboxing
It is not getting caught in the rain, its learning to dance in it. People saying good morning, should have to prove it.

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BadDog
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Re: Hardening a gunbox

Post by BadDog » Sun Mar 25, 2018 11:22 pm

Sounds like a good plan, and much like the construction of my AmSec safes. Basically multiple composite layers, each subsequent layer minimally vulnerable to tools that would defeat the layer above with each layer providing support for the others (like steel over concrete over (?) over steel. And as you say, the thief may know AmSec safes and what not, but he won't know yours, so even if prepared with a library of youtube videos, he would at least have to take time to experiment with yours, at least if he hopes to access what is inside.

Relating to your comments about the door, a few points you likely already know. First, the hinges are a vulnerability if they are part of the security mechanism. So most safes that aspire to be a Safe retain the door with bolts making the hinges only a convenience to deal with the very heavy door.

You also mention the dial/tumbler vulnerability. On my gun safe, there was an internal problem with the mechanism. I have a very good and very reasonably priced locksmith that I've used on numerous occasions. He examined the lock and offered a repair but advised on replacement saying that it could fail to work at all, leaving a very expensive proposition to gain access to my guns (etc) again should that happen. Apparently the previous owner must have been accessing it daily to accumulate visible wear that was shown to me. Anyway, the locksmith acquired a quality replacement mechanism and changed out the whole thing. All that by way of mentioning that I recall documentation with the lock (from the manuf, so, grain of salt and all that) describing it's construction specifically to foil the common mechanical attacks. Basically, if attacked in such a way it would be rendered inoperable resulting in aforementioned expensive (long) process to access the contents without destroying the safe. Which is not to say that there might be faster options when the resulting safe condition is not a concern, but they do sell replacement mechanism they claim are not vulnerable to common attacks. And on a final note, my locksmith also mentioned he has an AmSec safe very similar to mine. Pretty good indorsement in my book.

Oh, and you mention push button locks too. For my safe-safes, I prefer the dial. No batteries, not much to fail, no additional potential vulnerabilities, etc. But they are slow and fiddly, especially when you fumble finger and bump it to lose the sequence on the last number. So for my minimal security fast access needs, I have a push button HF shelf type box for a handgun and dangerous meds, and a round-key lock box for stuff like bulk (practice, reloads, etc) amo that won't readily fit in my big gun case, cheap optics, and so on. Both of those were selected for some minimal security, but still having rapid access. Horses for courses...

And as you alude, not even very expensive Safes are really "safe" if time and dedication are not a factor. They are all rated in "time to defeat", either for unapproved physical access, or fire damage. You basically pay for how much protection you think you need.

Good luck!
Russ
Master Floor Sweeper

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