What is the Best Safe – 5 Things to Look for When Buying a Safe

Last Updated on November 21, 2022

What is the Best Safe to Buy?

Is the cheapest safe the best safe? Big-box stores like Costco carry large safes for under $700. But what do you get for that money? No. Cheap safes are built cheap to be sold cheap. They do not protect their content.

Check out this quick video clip that shows what you get when you buy a discount safe. Is this what you want protecting your money and collections? I took this video at my local Costco.


Finding the Best Safe Brand for You

The 5 Most Important Factors that Make the Best Safe Are:

  • Price
  • Door Thickness
  • Bolt Strength
  • Side Thickness
  • The Safe’s Weight per Cubic Volume



How Much Does the Safe Cost?

I recognize a good deal is important when buying a safe. But sometimes what appears to be a good deal isn’t because the safe won’t meet your needs. What you need will depend on what you’re putting into the safe. There is some great information about How to Choose a Safe on our Safes Sales Online website.

Sentry Fire Safe
This Safe Could Be Opened Using a Magnet

In summary of that information, if the only thing you care about is some fire protection for paperwork/photos of little value, then those big box store fire rated safes are definitely your best bet.

Your local safe locksmith, though, usually won’t carry those kind of safes because they are the cheapest safes available and offer zero protection against theft. Many are now made with plastic exterior wraps. One very common manufacture discovered that their safes that they had been building for many years, could easily be opened using just a magnet. That’s why they are so inexpensive, their main function is not to protect content but to offer you fire protection.

At our lock & safe shop we do carry a line of inexpensive home safes that are a significant step above those in the big box store. They are all metal, more secure and offer good fire ratings. But they are a little more expensive than those cheap safes. Even our inexpensive home safes won’t keep out someone trying to get it, but they will take considerably more effort.

If you have any interest in actually keeping somebody out, those big box store safes offer zero protection and you need to consider factors other than price.

When you want security to keep people out of your safe, the level of security largely determines the price. “You get what you pay for…” applies here 100%. Once you know what you want, you can then make an informed decision and compare prices from manufactures on safes that are equivalent.

How Thick Should the Safe Door Be?

In my opinion, this should be your number one concern. When a safe is attacked by a novice, it is most likely attacked through the front door. Which really doesn’t make sense because the weakest point of a well built safe is usually the sides. Smash and grabbers tend to go for the door.

By door thickness I do not mean overall door thickness! Overall door thickness is irrelevant. The two biggest components of overall door thickness are fire board and air. Most consumers aren’t aware of that and when they see a 5″ door thickness, next to a safe with a 4″ door thickness, they view the one with the 5″ thickness to be better, but this may not be the case.

What you need to consider is the metal thickness covering (protecting) the door. In order of best to worst, door thickness will either be a solid steel plate over the entire door (best), a solid steel anti-drill plate around the lock on the door (ok if non-high-valued items), or compresses pieces of sheet metal pressed together (poor).

Safe Door Pried Open

Those big-box-store gun safes are usually protected by only a thin sheet metal wrap around the fire board on the front door. They can be pried open in less than 60 seconds. I don’t know of any local locksmith offering safes like this because we care about providing you the best possible safe at the best possible price. Safes like this usually focus on the entire door thickness or a “combined” door thickness (so they state the thickness of the exterior metal and interior metal). These safes can have door wraps just 16 gauge thick, about the thickness of a penny.

Safes with anti-drill plates provide additional security to protect the safe from being drilled, but not from prying. So they’re a bit better than wraps but not by much. However, when you do see that they have an anti drill plate you will find that they are using thicker steel than those that don’t. Typically from 0.11 to 0.18 inches thick so there may be some additional added value.

If you are putting anything of real value into the safe, you want a door with a solid steel plate of at least 3/16 (0.18) to 1/4 (0.25 inches) inches. Sometimes this steel plate exists under the safe’s sheet metal wrap (for cosmetic reasons), but it needs to be there. When it is, the safe manufacture is going to tell you. Don’t assume, they will highlight it in their literature because it is a big selling feature.

Steel = Security

If you have high-valued items, look for safes with a 3/8 to 1/2 inch steel plate over the entire door! These are the most expensive safes, often carrying residential burglary ratings or TL-15 to TL-30 burglary ratings. A TL-30 rated safe is the highest rating available to the general public (i.e. not a bank vault but as close as you can actually purchase). For examples of safe ratings and what you get with them check out our How to Choose the Right Safe page.

How Thick Should the Safe Sides Be?

As mentioned earlier, the weak point of a safe is really through the side or top. These are often protected by just a sheet metal wrap. What you want to know is “how thick is the wrap?” Unlike the door, access through the side of the safe is done by cutting through the metal to create a big hole, as opposed to prying the door.

Big-box-store safes again skimp here. We’ve seen safes with sides of plastic or metal just 0.06 inches (1/16 of an inch) thick. The wrap surrounds the fire board that gives you your fire rating. If you have no valuables in the safe, this is fine, but if you want to protect anything of value, do not buy one of these safes.

For valuables, you want to look for wraps that are at least 11 gauge metal (1/8 or 0.125 inches thick). Our favorites have an 8 gauge wrap which is 0.17 inches thick.

Pro tip: When thickness is given in gauge of steel instead of millimeters or inches, the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel. 10 gauge is thicker than 12 gauge, 12 gauge is thicker than 14 gauge, etc….

TL30X6 Safe From American Security (AMSEC)

For extreme valuables, you want to upgrade to a safe that uses a concrete slurry instead of fire board to get their fire rating. The concrete is poured between the inside and the outside of the safe walls, usually 2 inches thick, and contains a composite of material (called DryLight by one manufacture) that eats through drill bits trying to penetrate it. Some burglary-rated safes and nearly all TL-15 / TL-30 safes use a cement composite.

And at the very highest level of security, you have TL-30X6 safes. That is a TL-30 rated safe on every side of the safe. If you are storing over $100,000 worth of items in safe, get a TL-30X6.

How Big Should the Safe Bolts Be?

Did you watch the big box store video above? If so, you already know the strength of a bolt is so important. In that video the entire length of the bolt is barely long enough to secure the door when locked. Underneath the bolt, it is hollow and the bolt is held in place by what appears to be a thin, narrow, aluminum rod. Do you want that to be the only thing between your valuables and a thief?

Heady Duty Long Bolt

When considering safe bolts look at the following:

    • Overall width of the bolt. The bigger the bolt, the more it distributes force when a the safe door is getting pried open. Diameters of 1 to 1.5 inches are found on burglary rated safes or when you want to protect valuables.
    • The thickness of the safe’s metal where the bolts come out is often the same thickness as the steel sheet surrounding the entire safe.

If a thickness is not available, assume it is the same as the side wall. The thicker the metal where the bolts come out, the more secure the door will be when the safe is shut (it is harder to bend and distort the metal when trying to pry open).

    • Bolt reinforcement. Some manufactures will install even thicker steel rings around bolts so that the above issue of prying open a door is even more difficult. These can range up to a 1/4 inch thick and are on the best safes.
    • Bolts should be long enough to ensure that the bolt is fully inside the door and secured to the safe when the door is locked (unlike the Costco video).

You want a bolt at least 2 3/8 inch long. The longer the better.

Bolt Guard
  • Overall Weight or Weight per Volume

Once you’ve decided on the level of security you want, which translates to the steel thickness, the flame retardant, the bolt strength, the door plate, and the size of the safe you need; you are ready to compare safes from different manufactures.

Pro Tip: Weight per unit volume will tell you which safe is built better. Just calculate the weight per cubic inch (or foot) for safes from different manufactures that are close in size. This is only accurate when you are comparing safes that are similar in size. It will mislead you if you are comparing a small safe to a large safe since volume is a function of a cubed variable and goes up a lot as safes get bigger. But for similarly sized safes it’s an excellent method.

Well Built, U-Channel Bolt Work

Why? Because it will help you determine the variables you cannot see or know. The more weight in a safe the better built the safe is. A safe manufacture might not tell you the length of the bolt, but if it is bigger/longer it will be heavier. The manufacture might not tell you how the bolts are secured within the door. The best use u-channel bolt work, cheaply made safes use a rod. The u-channel is much heavier.

When all else is equal, but one is substantially heavier, go with the heavier safe.

Hollon Safes – Why We Love the Hollon Brand?

You won’t find a better built safe anywhere at an equivalent price point.

Two charts below compares the Hollon Gun Safes to other major safe brands in the same category at similar prices. You can see from the charts that the Hollon safes are almost universally better than the competition. If you want to protect your safe’s content, Hollon is an excellent solution.

Just some of the reasons the Hollon rifle safes blow away the competition:

  • Thicker steel on the side walls than all other comparable brands
  • More weight per cubic foot of space than all other comparable brands
  • Thicker security door bolts than all other comparable gun safes
  • Thicker door steel than other brands
  • Steel reinforced top shelf to carry the weight without bowing
  • Standard electronic lock with a 1 year warranty
  • Lifetime burglary and gun safe warranty

See can see all of the Hollon safes we sell on our Buy Safes Online site. All safes are delivered curbside free of charge in the lower 48 states.

When it comes to those warehouse-brand safes, when you want a super cheap safe, super cheap is what you get. They will keep you kids out and protect from fire, and if that’s all you need, they will do. But if you want theft protection for the content that’s in that safe, you need something better.

No safe, no matter how well built and how expensive is impenetrable. Given enough time anyone can get into any safe. But time is the key. When buying a safe, consider the value of what you want to put into it, and then by a level of safe that matches that value and delays entry as long as possible for that level of features and price.

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