I love safes.
Own a good safe and you own a heavy metal machine whose design has been around and slowly perfected over the ages. As time goes on, safecrackers find ways to defeat the existing safes, weak point drilling, lock manipulation, pry bars, plasma cutters, explosives, etc. and the safe makers respond by constantly improving safes making the technique of the day obsolete. The myth that today’s safes can be defeated by common burglars is wrong. Even modestly priced safes will foil 99.99% of burglars and even for the best experts to defeat your safe will require extraordinary methods such as finding out your combination or actually stealing your safe and hauling it to a safe location where they can have hours to work on it.
Today’s main battle tanks, like the M1 Abrams, are also heavy metal machines that stand at the end of a long evolutionary line that includes German Tigers, British Churchills, Russian T-34’s, and French LeClercs. With each generation of tanks new weapons such as the bazooka, the shaped charge, sabot penetrators, and guided missles are developed to defeat the current tanks and tank designers design new tanks that counter them. When you see a current day main battle tank in action and are aware of the evolutionary process that produced them they inspire a quiet sense of awe.
The history and evolution embodied in today’s tanks is what makes them super trick heavy metal machines and it is the same with today’s safes. A good safe is a functional security appliance, a piece of history and the product of a long evolutionary process. There something neat about this huge lump of metal sitting in your house where the current iteration stands at the head of a long line of predecessors. Safes are just cool.
In the U.S., safe ownership is not that common. In L.A. mansions a safe or vault is on the standard checklist of vanity features like backup power generators, elevators, and floor heaters but most Americans rely on the police to provide security for their homes and the belongings kept in their homes. The mistaken but conventional wisdom is that safecrackers can get into any safe so why bother?
In Thailand, safe ownership is much more widespread. The domestics in the house create a need to protect grabbable valuables from petty theft and professional break ins create the need to protect against burglars. There’s are more people around to steal and less protection provided by the police so demand is greater among everyday people for safes. This ubiquity can be seen at the upscale malls like MBK, home stores like Homepro, and even discount outlets like BigC Extra where safes are routinely offered for sale.
These are large safes on display at a safe wholesaler in Chinatown.
These are safes on display at Homepro in Bangna.
And these are safes on display at the Index Living Mall.
The best prices on safes are in Chinatown.There is a safe district where there are about a dozen wholesalers located on one stretch of road and more located on the side streets.
Chinatown prices can be bargained down to about 60% from malls and home improvement stores prices and free delivery plus extras like free keys are included.
Safe prices are very reasonable in Thailand and cost significantly less compared to the U.S. China subsidizes their steel industry and combined with the lack of environmental regulation, China is the low cost producer for the steel intensive products such as safe cabinets. Most safes are manufactured in China shipped worldwide. Because shipping heavy items from China to Thailand is cheaper than shipping from China to the U.S. Thai safe prices are lower.
Selecting a safe is mostly a cost/benefit calculation. There is no point spending $10,000+ USD for a jewelry grade safe to protect a few thousand dollars of belongings and cash and, frankly, I doubt there are many “Ocean’s Eleven” grade safe crackers working Bangkok.
This is the front lock panel on a mid-range commercial safe that features a combination lock and two key locks to open. This is designed for a business where it takes 3 people (2 keys and the combination) to open the safe in the morning.
Like the two lock setup for your door this allows you to give one key away and still be able to control access to your safe by protecting the other key and the combination.
Some safes include a secondary safe or locking drawer inside the safe so the safe can be left open during the day and the owner can still keep some items locked up.
If you want someone to temporarily access the safe, you leave one lock unlocked and dial the combination. The person with the third key can then access the safe as long as the dial is not spun.
Safes come with a choice between electronic keypad or traditional combination locks.
I prefer the old fashioned combination locks for Thailand. The hot humid weather in Bangkok plays havoc with most electronic devices and a safe lock is not something you want to fail after a couple of years with no easy way to find someone qualified to replace it, no local source of spare parts, and no good locksmiths who can break into your safe albeit destroying the safe in the process.
Electronic keypad locks are also subject to cracking by observing the oil left on the keypad by your fingers and by the inevitable differential wear on the keys from the numbers in your combination being repeatedly keyed and the numbers not in your combination staying pristine. Reducing the possible digits in the combo makes guessing the combination plausible.
Combination locks have been around for ages and will work for decades without problems. The combinations are easily changeable and there is a certain romance to spinning a big dial to actuate the lock. Its similar to motorcycle kick starters. Sure the electric start is easier but the kick starter will always work even with a dead electrical system and it’s forever cool kicking over an old bike and having it roar to life just like Steve McQueen and James Dean.
This picture shows the construction of the door seal designed to prevent the use of pry bar to jimmy the door open.
You can also notice that the edge of the door, visible on the right of the picture is also cast to prevent jimmying.
This is a picture of the inside of the door showing the lock and the locking mechanism.
This is a mid-priced safe and lacks several security features of more expensive models.
Using a special key inserted into the back of the lock allows the owner to reset the combination by spinning the dial in a certain sequence.
Prying off the dial and punching out the lock actuates a relocker which locks the bars into place jamming the bolts closed and, even the though the lock has been punched out, the bolts won’t disengage.
The locking bars are intentionally wide to prevent drilling and the door handle is isolated from the locking bar so applying brute force to the handle (which is intentionally made from malleable metal) will do nothing but break off the handle.
The complex system of linkages connected to the handle are designed so that if the handle is removed and the circular disk is punched out, the bolts will remain engaged.
This safe lacks special hardened drill resistant plates to make drilling impossible without special bits and lacks a secondary spring loaded relocker which actuates if the lock is punched out.
The lock on this safe is also not rated by an independent agency like many locks on U.S. safes.