Over the years, the safe industry and especially Liberty Safe have adopted new technologies that have changed the way we build safes. But one thing has remained constant: the use of steel in building safes. Why? Because the right gun safe steel makes safes strong and capable of standing up to burglars, natural catastrophes, and home fires. But it was not always that way.
Steel is Still a Relative Newcomer to Metals
Today, most of us associate steel with strength. But this important industrial metal is not found in nature. It is an alloy that must be created by mixing iron and carbon. The steel formulation used today has only been around since the 19th century.
The roots of steel can be traced back to the Iron Age over 4,000 years ago. It began with the discovery that iron was harder and stronger than bronze, which had been the most-used metal until that point. Iron quickly became the favored metal of the age and was used to forge stronger tools and weapons. However, the quality of the iron varied greatly depending on the way it was produced and the amount of carbon in the alloy. Too much carbon makes iron brittle and prone to cracking.
The growth of the railroad industry during the 1800s put stress on the iron industry to keep up with the demand and need for safe materials. At that time, steel was still not proven as a safe structural material and its production was not yet very efficient. But this all changed near the mid-1800s as the race was on in Europe to develop a better steel with more efficiency to drop prices. The birth of the modern steel industry was just the answer the railroad industry needed to solve the problem of iron’s brittleness and its production processes.
It was also the answer the safe industry needed, too. Thanks to Andrew Carnegie and other late 19th century capitalists, the U.S. steel industry continued to grow in efficiency and innovation.
Adoption of Steel in the Safe Industry
The steel industry has evolved to where it is today, and the safe industry has, too. In ancient times, way before the age of steel, safes were made from wood. As you can imagine, that offered very little in the way of protection from sharp tools or fire. Before steel was developed, some safes, like those in banks, were made from cast iron. But then there was the problem of the metal’s brittleness that made it possible to crack safes open through force or heating the metal.
It is only natural that steel would become the ideal metal for building strong and reliable safes. It was not until the mid- to late-1880s that steel became the top metal used in building safes.
Understanding Steel Alloys
Steel is the metal alloy you get by combining iron and carbon. The addition of carbon solves the problem of iron cracking by increasing its tensile strength. This gives the metal the ability to not crack under pressure because it has more flexibility than brittle iron or cast iron. Carbon content in steel ranges between 0.002 percent to 2.14 percent. The amount of carbon can be altered according to the purpose of the steel. For example, mild steel contains between 0.05 percent to 0.25 percent carbon and 0.4 percent manganese content. While this might not be the strongest steel, its strength can be increased through rolling and carburizing the steel.
The steel alloy can also have other metals added to enhance the already strong properties of iron. In addition to carbon, manganese, chromium, titanium, copper, nickel or tungsten are just a few of the metals that can be added to a steel alloy to make it stronger and add other properties to the steel. For example, adding chromium to steel turns it into stainless steel. This is a steel that is strong, has increased corrosion resistance, and a smooth, shiny appearance when polished. It is also one of the best types of gun safe steel.
By adding tungsten, you can raise the melting point of the steel. This helps prevent it from being cut through with a simple blow torch. Adding nickel is also another way to improve the tensile strength and flexibility of steel to prevent it from shattering under extreme pressure.
American Steel for the Most Reliable Safes
The steel used to build your safe matters very much. Unfortunately, not all steel is produced with the same standards for quality as American-made steel. When shopping for a safe, you should make sure it is made with steel made in the United States, and for a good reason: Some mass-produced safes are made using cheaper steel produced in China that contains higher levels of boron to cut costs.
Adding boron to steel can cause it to crack and makes it unreliable for use in constructing buildings, bridges, and yes, protecting your guns and valuables in your gun safe. The United States steel industry is heavily regulated. Steel makers are required to disclose what is in the steel they produce and conduct testing to monitor its strength.
Does Steel Thickness Matter?
When comparing safes, a variety of steel thicknesses are available. Along with the quality of the steel alloy, thicker gun safe steel is vital to increasing the security of your safe. The thickness of metal is measured by gauge, which can be a little confusing because a lower gauge number is thicker than a higher gauge number. A lower-quality gun safe will have a gauge between 14 to 20-gauge. A higher-quality gun safe with have a gauge of 12 or below.
The benefits of thicker gun safe steel include:
- Added fire protection
- Greater peace of mind that your firearms and valuables are better protected from fire and theft
- Increased safe body strength
Liberty Safe Takes Gun Safe Steel Seriously
When it comes to building the most secure safes, there is no room for cutting corners by using inferior steel. For Liberty Safe, only American-made steel will do for our gun safes. Liberty takes gun safe steel very seriously. And it all begins at our steel shop in our massive production facility in Payson, Utah where our safe bodies are fabricated from 20,000-pound rolls of pickled and oiled rolled steel.
Our steel shop is where we transform high-quality gun safe steel into some of the top-rated safes in the industry. Liberty uses an innovative six-station, roll-form process to build a very strong steel safe body as the steel is fed through a roll-form feeder. The steel moves from station to station and is stamped and precision-bent before being folded into a uni-body safe body.
All of Liberty’s full-sized safes feature a uni-body body that provides added security in addition to the great security provided by the strong gun safe steel. Why? Because this innovative design eliminates the need for welding corner seams and seams along the top of the safe. Reducing the number of seams and moving the seams needed for the back of the safe takes away the opportunity for thieves to pry apart the safes.
The Importance of Pickling and Oiling
Rust is an enemy of steel. Moisture, carbon scale left from the milling process, and other contaminants can lead to rust and rust. This is why the pickling and oiling of gun safe steel is important; it ensures the steel remains strong from many years to come. No one wants a rusty safe that puts their firearms and valuables at risk of being stolen. By pickling and oiling the steel that is used for Liberty’s safes, the risk of rust is greatly eliminated.
After an initial cleaning to remove surface dirt or oils, the pickling and oiling of the steel begins. The gun safe steel is rinsed with a highly alkaline cleaner that contains sodium hydroxide. This chemical process lowers the pH level of the steel’s surface to prepare it for pickling. To start the pickling process, the steel is submersed in a tank of hydrochloric acid. The acid removes any carbon scale, corrosion or rust that might have developed during the milling process. Once these contaminants are dissolved by the acid, the steel is rinsed to remove excess acid before it is again placed in a tank of alkaline cleaner.
For a final step, the gun safe steel is oiled to protect the surface from flash rust forming. The oil repels water from the surface to prevent oxidation that causes rust to form. This process keeps the surface of the steel safe throughout the manufacturing process until it is painted.
Weighing Peace of Mind Against Cost
You should expect to pay more for a safe that is made with high-quality gun safe steel. The difference you would pay between a lesser quality safe and a better quality safe could be well worth the peace of mind you will have knowing your firearms and valuables are more secure. The better the gun safe steel – including its thickness – will dictate the price you will pay.
Liberty Safe offers a wide range of safes to meet any budget; all made with high-quality gun safe steel. Our simple credit terms can increase your spending power to buy a higher quality safe without breaking your budget.