What is a Safe?

Put simply a safe is a secure storage box that is anchored to your building for the storage of you cash or valuables.

The proper term is 'security safe' but most often it’s shortened down to just 'safes' or 'safe'.

We may laugh at the idea of granny hiding her money under the mattress yet most of us do very little better.

We all have valuables we would hate to lose. While they may be of purely sentimental value, any amount of insurance could not compensate for the loss of handed down jewellery or medals, ornaments, collections of stamps or coins.

Valuable documents, such as passports and deeds, computer disks or cash which needs to be kept safely, should never be left lying around where the opportunist could find them, in an unlocked drawer or tucked behind the clock on the mantelpiece.

Valuable jewellery and watch collections placed in insecure, if decorative, boxes which a child could open, and cash left in pockets of clothing or tucked under a saucer in the kitchen to pay the milkman are all quickly located and easily snatched by the opportunist.

A safe will ensure these items aren't left lying around to tempt the potential burglar.

When deciding where to put your safe it is important to bear a number of points in mind.

Ideally it should be hidden, but avoid the obvious, such as fitting a wall safe behind a picture.

It can be hidden behind window curtains, for example, but must not be closer than 225mm to the edge of the opening in the wall where the window fits (that is, the reveal).

It should also be positioned where limited space would make it difficult to attack - with the swing of a sledge hammer, for example.

Depending on the type of safe you choose, you could fit one in a cellar or the attic, both places a thief may not care to venture in case he is trapped.

Freestanding safes can sometimes be fitted in a wardrobe or cupboard or under the stairs - you could even disguise one as a window seat or a television stand! - and underfloor safes should, ideally, have furniture placed over them.

There are a number of popular misconceptions about safes.

For example, an old safe, however hefty it looks, is often far from effective, constructed in materials easily overcome or penetrated with today's tools, and fitted with low security, unprotected locks.

Today's safes are built with specially developed barrier materials, layer upon layer, with the highest grades able to resist oxyacetylene torches.

The locks are designed to be more difficult to pick and are usually reinforced with steel plates.

That doesn't mean it's not possible to buy a good quality second-hand safe, but make sure it isn't pre-1945 which would be virtually useless.

Some locksmiths re-condition safes, but this is frowned upon by insurance providers and you may have difficulty in the event of a claim.

Insurance companies often prefer a specialised safe supplier / installation company over an ordinary locksmith, if you buy from a reputable company, such as a member of the Master Locksmiths Association you can be sure that the safe itself and the lock that's fitted will be up to standard.

Safes can be free-standing but must be bolted to the floor or wall, underfloor and sunk in concrete, flush fitted in brick walls, or concealed under floorboards and fitted between joists.

There are also fire safes and cabinets which, although fine for protecting valuable documents from damage in a fire, should not automatically be considered secure or able to resist forceful attacks.

Likewise a safe built for security is not necessarily resistant to fire.

Fire safes are built of several layers of material which are designed to spread and disseminate the heat.

Their resistance is usually measured in hours, something you should look for if you wish to store material such as computer disks or tapes.

They come in various forms from a simple document safe resembling a cash box, a hanging file unit or free-standing unit which can be bolted to the floor.

Other units are designed to accommodate computer disks and are often referred to as media safes.

There are basically two types of safe.

Those providing a high level of security and resistance to determined attacks and those which rely on disguise and are intended to conceal items of lower value - which, if discovered, would probably offer little resistance. Most domestic safes, except the low security hide-away types, have the capability to resist cutting, drilling or grinding tools - sledge hammers, chisels, drills or angle grinders, for example.

First decide precisely what you want the safe for.

If you are fitting a safe because your insurance company says so, then you should establish what level of insurance rating is necessary - two figures will be given, the cash rating and jewellery rating (valuables rating) and you will find most safe manufacturers are able to quote these in relation to particular models.

A cash rating of £3,000, for example, will provide a jewellery rating of £30,000.

Please see our article on insurance ratings.

Make sure that you don't exceed the cash or jewellery rating of your chosen safe.

If you are in the habit of mislaying keys, an electronic digital lock may be the answer.

With the advances in modern technology even biometric fingerprint safes are now available although this will inevitably add something to the cost of the safe.

Some Eurograde safes have a re-locking mechanism which jams the bolts in the locked position if the safe is attacked.

What type of Safes are there?

Safes come in several different types but broadly speaking we can break them down into the following:

Free Standing Safes


Free Standing safes (or Freestanding safes) are the type of safe is the most common and happens to be the type of security safe that we specialize in.

It's a square or rectangular metal box with a hinged door on the front that is bolted to the wall or floor (or sometimes both) in your home or business.

The term ‘free standing’ is something of a misnomer as the safe clearly cannot be free standing as a burglar could just pick it up and carry it off.

The service we offer is free delivery and free installation of this type of security safe.

Imagine the type of safe you see in a hotel room, this is technically a budget freestanding safe that is fixed or bolted to the fabric of the wardrobe.

The advantage of a free-standing safe, other than its accessibility, is that it is possible to take it with you if you move.

They come in sizes from two feet square right up to bank vault size. However, don't presume larger sizes are necessarily more secure.

There are several ways of installing free-standing safes but most important is to ensure that the floor on which it stands will be able to support its weight.

Don't forget it also has to be transported to its final place, so make sure your floor will also take the weight of the delivery men (say 20 stone per person!).

A concrete floor will probably be fine but you may need to reinforce a suspended timber floor.

Anchoring is usually through the base or the rear of the safe, and the most popular method of fixing the safe to a concrete floor is with an expanding anchor which is inserted into a drilled hole in the concrete, fixed with a steel bolt, which is then passed through the base of the safe and screwed into the expanding anchor.

There may be one, two or sometimes four of these fixing points (See our Bloomsbury Range which have four base and four rear fixing points)

If the floor is wooden or if fixing to joinery, a special cavity type anchor is placed in the hole.

The safe is positioned on top and then the base fix bolt is inserted through the safe into the anchor and tightened, to form a strong anchor.

Alternatively a base fix plate may be used in conjunction with countersunk screws which has a threaded boss which will align with the safe base fix hole.

Wall Safes


Wall safes are smaller shallow metal safes with a hinged door on the front that are embedded within the fabric of your wall or chimney breast.

This is the type of safe that you might see in the movies or on television where a painting is slid to one side to reveal the wall safe hidden behind.

The installation of a wall safe is far more invasive and messier as the plaster and bricks have to be removed to create a cavity large enough for the wall safe to fit into.

The wall safe is then installed into the cavity and then cemented/concreated almost flush into the wall.

Then plaster is used to bring the wall safe flush with the surrounding wall.

Finally, the area will require re-decoration.

Insurance companies are not too crazy about wall safes and the cash and valuable ratings they offer on this type of safe are quite low.

We do not install wall safes, best left to a qualified builder, but we do have a handy guide, click here

Older style Wall-safes are designed in brick sizes - two, three or four.

These are used to represent how many regular sized UK house bricks would be removed in order to install the safe.

There are many newer wall safe son the market from European countries where the walls are deeper and thicker and these safes come in larger sizes and will hold a surprising amount of small items, such as jewellery, documents and cash.

They, too, may have an insurance rating but it is normally quote low for wall safes, so check if this is appropriate for your insurance risk.

Floorboard Safes


Floorboard safes (or Floor Board safes) are shallow metal boxes, usually rectangular with a hinged door on the top that opens upwards.

This type of safe is fitted in a wooden suspended floor between two floor joists.

To install a Floorboard safe the floorboards have to be cut to expose the floor joists underneath.

The safe is then bolted between two joists just below the floorboard level.

The previously cut floorboards are then placed back over the safe to conceal it.

Again Insurance companies are particularly adverse to Floorboard safes wall safes and the cash and valuable ratings they offer on this type of safe are very low.

There should be a distance of 16 inches between the centre points of the joists - if not, you will need to nail or screw a piece of timber to them to make the gap measure 14 inches.

Then, having marked the area, use a wood chisel to chisel out ½ inch of the timber from the top of the joists for the flanges of the safe - some models don't require this and are built to match the standard floorboard thickness.

This allows the box to drop flush so that the top of the safe is level with the top of the joists, and it also allows the floorboards to fit flush with the surrounding floor.

Then mark the positions of the four coach screws through the holes provided in the safe walls.

Remove the box and drill the four starter holes - no less than ¼ inch diameter and no more than one inch deep.

Replace the box and secure it in position with the coach screws provided. Various sizes are available and the smallest will cost from around £120 or £140.

We do not install Floorboard safes, best left to a qualified carpenter.

Underfloor Safes


Underfloor safes (or Under Floor safes) are larger metal boxes that have their door on the top.

Normally the door is lifted out completely to access the safe inside but sometimes Underfloor safes have a hinged door that is supported with gas struts similar to the boot on a motorcar Underfloor safes are installed under the floor so that they are flush with the floor and hidden from view to a large extent.

Underfloor safes are installed under the floor into a block of reinforced concrete.

It’s recommended that the block is at least a cubic metre in size.

It is also necessary to use damp proofing such as a DPM (Damp Proof Membrane) in order to keep the safe dry.

Underfloor safes are by far the most involved and messy to install.

You can choose a square door safe or a round door (some round door safes have a deposit tube which is suitable for inserting cash without having to lift the entire door, and are often used by retailers who prefer not to hand the safe keys to their staff).

One thing to watch is that the people using the safe are strong enough to lift the heavy door to open it.

A gas-pump (also referred to as a strut) assisted door makes it much easier to lift out, and there are many models, often with interchangeable doors with different types of lock, number of bolts etc, and a choice in body sizes so you can choose one that gives the appropriate features. Other models offer a hinged door, but this may limit access.

Fitting an underfloor safe involves burying it in concrete, reinforced with steel mesh or metal reinforcement rods and, depending on what type of floor you have, this can be a messy business.

If you have a concrete floor already you will need to drill a hole, using a 'demolition' hammer such as a Kango or Makita, at least six inches larger and three inches deeper than the safe.

Layers of concrete are then built up around the safe, compacting each layer (each about three inches deep) with a one­ inch square steel rod.

The concrete mixture must be allowed to cure for seven days in a damp atmosphere and, to prevent rapid drying, it should be covered with polythene sheeting, sealed around the edges.

Once dry it is advisable to paint the surface with a liquid lino paint to stabilize it and reduce the risk of dirt and grit entering the safe mechanism.

While the safe is being installed, the safe door should be placed well away from the site to avoid any form of contamination.

Fill the safe itself up to the neck with crumpled newspaper to protect the interior.

The final screed of half-an-inch should be a mixture of sharp sand and cement in a 4:1 ratio.

When the installation is complete no portion of the neck or deposit tube should protrude above floor level.

We do not install Underfloor safes, best left to a qualified builder.

Gun Safes


Also known as Gunsafes, Gun Cabinets, Shotgun Cabinets are tall rectangular metal boxes used to store firearms and ammunition.

Gun Safes have a large full length hinged door on the front.

Gunsafes are bolted most often to the wall in your building. Most often here in the UK Gun Safes are used to store shotguns.

The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, means that shotgun certificate holders must keep their guns securely in a locked gun cabinet or similar secure container.

Prior to the Act over 700 shotguns were reported stolen annually and could easily have fallen into the wrong hands.

Gun safes come in various sizes and can accommodate several guns; larger units containing a lockable compartment for ammunition.

Usually of 2 to 3mm continuously welded steel, they should also have two high security locks (at least seven levers) reinforced with steel plates, be resistant to jemmy attacks and other forceful measures, and have protected hinges, preferably concealed.

They will need to be anchored to the wall and should be pre-drilled to enable easy fitting.

If coach bolts are difficult to fit - they would show on the other side of the wall - use screw bolts (10 x 80mm or ¾ inch x 3¼ inch) and self-tap their thread into soft brick or blockwork, once an 8mm pilot hole has been made.

Some manufacturers produce disguised gun cabinets which can be built into furniture or are ready made to look like a tallboy or chest of drawers.

We are pleased to say that we supply and install Gun Safes.

The following topics are not necessarily in order of importance, so without further ado:

Bigger is Better

Not always true in life but very true when it comes to buying a safe.

Most clients I speak to will say they are looking for a 'small safe, just to put a bit of jewellery in and our passports'.

Well, you know who else likes a small safe?

The burglar, that's who! The burglar, upon discovering a safe will think he has a 'score'.

He will imagine all sorts of riches inside that little safe you bought.

And because it's small, he will be able to conceive himself carrying the safe away from your home and attempting to open it at another location in his own time.

Well you might think that it's bolted down so what’s the problem? (We will cover bolting-down in more detail later, but in short, it might not be very well secured to your building).

Because it's small the burglar will think he can carry it off as it doesn't look too heavy.

All he has to do is get it off the wall, throw one of your own bathroom towels over it and carry it off.

Worse, he might spot one of your own suitcases and pop in in that along with the rest of his bounty and wander off down the street looking like he is heading to the airport for a holiday.

We don't want that to happen do we? We don't want the burglar in our home in the first place, but if he "is" there, we want him to take one look at your chunky looking safe and be completely put off.

It's our job to make the very notion of carrying away your safe seem like an impossible task.

Not least of all your burglar alarm will be ringing this whole time so his available time in your home will be too short to contemplate moving the larger safe that you purchased after reading this guide.

You might think a bigger safe is really heavy and might be too heavy for your home.

Well this would have been true a few years ago when all safes were solid steel, concrete lined monsters that you only ever really found in banks or jewellry shops.

These were what we call Traditional Safes and yes until recently you more or less had to live in a manor house or a stately home in order to have a cellar to put one in.

That's the past, modern urban crime-trends and the advent of lighter and stronger materials means that any home or business can now have a safe without having to reinforce the floor or take a wall out to get it into the building.

That small safe you were thinking of probably is around 20cm high and probably weighs in at around 5kg.

My advice is that a safe needs to be at least 25cm high (the higher the better) and the weight should be at least 20kg.

Again the bigger the better.

Most clients leave our showroom having ordered either this Size 2 model or this Size 3 model

Only as safe as the rest of your home

This is where I make a statement that might convince you that I am really not trying to sell you a safe.

What do I mean by this?

Well, if your home isn't secure to even basic standards then the very last thing you want to do is buy a safe and then fill it with all your treasured belongings.

This is especially true if you do not currently have a proper burglar alarm.

You need good locks on your doors and windows, good practice in locking them and not leaving keys lying around and a functioning burglar alarm.

The alarm will deter most burglars.

Why break into your alarmed house when there are several in the local area that don't have alarms?

It's a no brainer.

That said, he might still break into your house.

If he does and he finds your safe, chances are he won't have time to attempt to open it or remove it with that alarm ringing in his ears.

He will be thinking that he is about to be caught red handed if he doesn't get out really quickly.

The point here is that if you don't have an alarm and he does find your safe, he has all the time in the world, and we don't want that.

There is lots of advice out there on securing your home, a good place to start is the website of your local police service.

Don't Skimp

A very famous gentleman called Jeremiah Chubb (Chubb Safes) once said a very true thing, he said "the most expensive thing you can ever buy is a cheap safe", and he was right.

I deal with quite a few watch collectors.

These chaps will think nothing of buying a £30,000 watch but then want the cheapest possible safe to keep it in, makes no sense.

You realistically need to spend at least £500 or more for a decent safe.

Avoid the Mainstream

A tricky one this, hard to explain but I will try.

When you are looking on the internet for safes you will start to see the same brands and models popping up in all sorts of different online re-sellers pages.

Well this used to be fine and there are some good products on offer, trouble is they are what I call 'Mainstream'.

Everyone knows about them including the burglars.

You see, every safe has to have a vulnerability, a way of opening it if say you forgot the combination.

We call this the safe's 'exploit'.

This information until the internet came along was sacrosanct, only a few of us knew and we didn't tell anybody.

Now days this is not the case, the mainstream safes and their particular vulnerabilities are known to far too many people and this information is shared online among enthusiasts and sadly criminals alike.

For me this came to a head a few years ago when my own showroom was full of the mainstream safes as that was our main offering at the time.

A chap came in the shop and was clearly not a potential customer.

Yet he engaged me in conversation and walked to a particular safe and proceeded to tell me exactly how he had learned to defeat the locking mechanism.

I was gobsmacked I can tell you. From that day forward I sourced my safes from what I call off-piste suppliers, niche suppliers who don't sell into the mainstream.

In this way I can be sure that the exploits are not in the mainstream.

You could look at buying a safe from abroad, a brand perhaps that is not currently sale in the UK, or you could talk to me about one of the cherry picked models I have here.

Get to know your supplier

This is an easy one.

Ask questions, lots of questions.

Get some answers and phone back and ask a few more.

These people might end up being your vendor.

If you have a problem with your safe in the future it will be these people you have to call, so test them.

Be an inconvenience, see how they react. Are they patient and kind or do they become irritated as you are not proving to be an 'easy' sale.

Emergency Keys

Digital safes are the most popular and they are very convenient to use, just tap in your unique code and hey presto the safe is open.

But what happens if you forget your code?

Or if the internal batteries fail?

Well I sell safes mainly that have what we call an 'Emergency Key' also known as an 'Override Key'.

That is a key that will open the safe in such circumstances.

Normally you will get two keys and I suggest you keep these keys at another physical location away from the address where the safe is.

There are digital safes on the market that do not have such a key.

I am not saying these are to be avoided, but if there is a model that does have a key in addition to a digital keypad, and it’s in your budget I would give it proper consideration, it can be a life saver, especially if your passport is in the safe and you can't get it open with a plane to catch!

Understand your Warranty

We all understand the warranty that comes with a computer.

It's a either Return To Base Warranty or an On Site Warranty.

Well it's the same with safes but there is a massive difference that could cost you your actual safe.

So let’s look at two scenarios:

Scenario 1

You buy a safe from the thousands of online retailers, it turns up, you fix it to the wall and it goes wrong.

You can't get it open.

But hang on, the bolts or screws that are holding it to the wall or the floor are inside the safe.

They cannot be accessed unless that safe door is open and you can't open it because it's faulty!

Well, I am afraid to tell you under these circumstances, your warranty is Return to Base.

Box it up, send to the supplier being sure they will fix it or replace it.

But what’s this?

You can't can you, it won’t open!

Scenario 2

You buy your safe from someone like me, a professional Safe Supplier.

Our fitter brings the safe and installs it for you.

Any problems (which are very rare), we will come back and resolve them.

Which sounds better to you?

Proof of Installation

Sometimes safes are stolen.

Nobody wants to admit it but sometimes it happens.

If this happens to you and you claim on your insurance, your insurance company will demand to see a receipt for the professional installation of the safe.

If you fit it yourself, that won’t do.

If your mate fits it, that won’t do.

If your builder fits it, that won’t do.

You see where I am going with this one?

You need a receipt from a company that has 'Safe' or 'Safes' in it's business title for the professional installation of your safe or you can't claim.

Not only can't you claim for the safe, but you can't claim for the contents either.

We issue a certificate of Installation with every safe and we suggest you also keep a digital version for your records.

Good Installation can be More Important than the Safe itself

You can have a really good safe poorly fitted and it might get stolen whereas a lesser safe but properly fitted might not.

Nobody will tell you that apart from me because they want to sell you the most expensive safe, not the safest for your application.

Safes are bolted into your home, most often through holes in the back of the safe onto the wall.

The more holes the better as more bolts equals more tensile strength.

Our Bloomsbury 40K range have four rear fixing holes in addition to four base fixing holes, this gives you potentially two vectors of bolting strength which is excellent.

Some much more expensive safes (mainstream) only have one rear and one base fixing holes.

I think that if that one single hole happens to be a duff brick when you drill, then you’re stuffed, the safe isn't really bolted at all.

The extra holes/bolts can make all the difference.

Is it a lifetime investment?

As I have said, I have been involved in safes for a very long time.

It never ceases to amaze me that clients almost always think a safe will last a lifetime.

Let's look at this for a minute, when we buy a new TV or Washing Machine for say £400 - £500 we don't imagine for one single moment that it will last a lifetime.

But somehow it has crept into the collective mindset that a safe for a similar value will! Well it won't, or rather, it most likely won't.

Most safes, these days have digital keypads with electronic circuits and solenoids etc.

These things, just like your TV have a finite lifetime.

They will pack up eventually but the good news is, if you chose one with an Emergency Key (see above) you can carry on using your safe even long after the electronics have given up. If you do want much longer longevity then select a keylocking safe with zero electronics or a traditional 'dial' type combination (James Bond type) which hardly ever go wrong.

Location, Location, Location

Fit the safe where you want it, where you can reach it and where you will use it, that's the simple rule.

The only overriding consideration is that it is preferable if the back of the safe is on a brick wall (if possible).

If that can't be the case, and we are installing then relax, leave it to us, we have many methods we employ to achieve a good reliable fixing in your home and in your desired location.

Don't over-think it, where is best, how do I hide it etc, just find a place that you will use it.

The last thing we want is you to buy a safe and then have it fitted in such an awkward place that you don't end up using it as it's not convenient.

Having said all that, the most common place for a safe to be fitted is inside the fitted wardrobe in the Master Bedroom.

This is probably a bit too obvious and I would suggest using a secondary bedroom if available.

Burglars tend to focus on two main areas, the Master Bedroom and where the main 'tech' is found in the house.

What about my insurance company?

Well it's all a bit of a mess when it comes to Insurance 'grades' and approval.

There are so many different opinions on the ratings, so many different standards and testing houses.

My advice is quite simple, don't be dictated to by the insurance company.

They can't tell you what safe to buy any more than they can tell you what TV to buy.

My simple rule is whatever safe you plan to buy (if you indeed are seeking your insurance company's approval, some people self-insure) show it to them and get them to approve that particular safe, in writing, for your particular risk. That way you are covered.