Moving gun safes – a few lessons learned

Some years ago I wrote an article about the safe storage of firearms, where I discussed so-called ‘gun safes’ (which are really classified as ‘Residential Security Containers’ or RSC’s rather than true ‘safes’, the latter being by definition much stronger, tougher and heavier than the former).  I haven’t changed anything I recommended in that article, but recently I’ve moved house, and had to move several gun safes around.  I’ve learned (and re-learned) a few lessons by doing so.

First is the usefulness of a so-called appliance dolly or hand truck.  I bought this model some years ago.  It’s designed specifically to move heavy, unwieldy items, with an 800-pound weight capacity, and comes with added features like a ratcheting strap and stair-climbing treads at the base.  Those features meant it wasn’t cheap, but it’s proved to be worth every penny I paid for it.  It’s served me well through three relocations (so far) and a great deal of heavy lifting for friends as well, and is still going strong with no signs of weakness or imminent failure.

Over the past couple of months it’s been used to move three safes and several other heavy objects, earning its keep and then some.  The big advantage of a dolly like this is that once one gets the weight of the item balanced above the wheels, it’s relatively easy for one or two people to keep it in equilibrium while another pulls or pushes the dolly. When you’re talking about several hundred pounds of gun safe, that makes all the difference.

However, when something’s big and heavy even a dolly doesn’t mean it’s simple to move around.  We took my old gun safe from my former residence to the house of a friend today.  It weighs about 450 pounds unloaded, according to factory specifications.  It took four of us – three adults and a teenager – to maneuver it out of one house, hoist it into the load bed of a pickup truck, unload it at the other end, and then get it up several steps and through the front door to its new home.  A few tight corners and narrow doorways made life interesting.  All of us were well and truly knackered by the time we finished.

On the other hand, due to my partial disability (incurred after I’d bought my previous gun safe), and given the fact that I expect to move at least once more (and possibly several times) during the next few years, I decided I was going to replace my large (Liberty) gun safe (capacity 24 long guns) with two smaller (Cannon) units, each rated to hold about half that number.  The wisdom of this decision showed in the ease with which the new units were moved into our new home.  Being so much smaller and lighter than the full-size safe I had before, one person could handle wheeling them around on the appliance dolly, and only two were needed to hoist them into and out of a pickup truck’s load bed.  That made life much easier.

There’s also a security benefit to having two smaller safes.  I’ve put them in different rooms, concealing them inside clothing closets.  That way, if a thief finds one, he may spend all his time trying to open it rather than look further for a second unit (at least, I hope so).  I’ve secured both safes to the floor, so it won’t be easy for an ‘opportunist burglar’ to get into them.  (Remember, if you own tools that might be useful to a burglar trying to break into your safe, secure those tools as well!  You don’t want to make his job any easier, after all.)



  1. I just moved a decent sized Browning safe. We had 3 people, and a furniture dolly. We took the door off using a pick for leverage, and stacked blocks of wood to support it as it raised off the hinges. After that, it was easy enough to lay the safe down on the dolly and roll it onto a trailer.

  2. And, if one has a safe, one needs an alarm system, preferably one that's linked to a competent 24X7 monitoring service capable off getting police to respond. Simple perimeter protection, with motion sensors in the area(s) where the safe(s) are, will help reduce the time the bad guys have to break in to the safe.

    Don't forget to secure your ammunition; at today's prices replacement can be a budget disaster, assuming sufficient quantities are available. It's certainly not a safe, but a construction job box offers a reasonable layer of protection, and loaded with several hundred pounds of lead, etc., won't be easily carried off.

    Peter, you might want to chain and padlock your heavy duty appliance dolly to something solid; it comes under the heading of "tools/equipment to make the burglar's job easier."

  3. John in Philly

    To Jesse. Yes, get that door off, it is large part of the total weight.

    To Peter. We also used the two medium instead of one large safe idea.

    And, a pneumatic tired garden cart makes a great safe dolly for moves inside and outside of the house. Ratcheting cargo straps secure the safe to the dolly, and have chocks handy. (Turn off the mental image of the safe rolling away while accelerating, we had the chocks handy.)

    Getting the safes into the basement was more interesting. Harbor Freight has a variety of electric winches, (winch, not wench). A chain hoist would have been a better choice than the electric, but the distance to the basement was greater than the lift of most of their hoists.

    Finally, when you discover the gun safes are also secure storage for other personal items, where are you going to put the third safe?

    When moving heavy objects, time spent thinking before the move, saves time spent in the emergency room.

    John in Philly

  4. Moving the RSCs before any other furniture goes in is much easier than trying to figure if 1/16th-inch clearance is enough to keep SWMBO from having caniptions.

    The problem with locking up ammo is that "some of us" would need several more RSCs. "Bulk ammo" takes on a whole other meaning when you have what other folks might consider somewhere between "enough" and "an arsenal".

    stay safe.

  5. I wouldn't use anything like a sealed box for ammo. Something lockable, with vent holes or made of plastic at my house. If the safe is using it's fire resistance I don't want the box next to it building up catastrophic pressures and possibly rupturing my fire protection.
    Safe moving companies (I'm told) have powered dollies with, basically, a small nubbed track where your stair slide is on a regular appliance dolly. Would sure like to know where I can rent one of those.

  6. Boyd…don't fear the sealed metal gov. issue ammo boxes….they're designed not to be pierced in the event of a cook-off….and 'Fireproof' should be relabeled fire resistant…not that it won't end up submerged in the basement,anyway…

  7. @Boyd, RE: ammo can locks. Easy-peasy. Tractor Supply, and similar places, have clevis pins (look in the tractor parts aisle). The latching handle on ammo cans have a 1/2" hole (which can be enlarged as much as you want) – drill through the can through the handle hole, insert clevis pin from the inside, close and latch can, put padlock through hole in clevis pin. Done.

    It won't be a large lock, and a medium to large pry bar can defeat the latching handle so consider it tamper resistant. "Snatch and grab" theft can be reduced by running a cable anchored at both ends through the lock(s).

    To increase degree of difficulty, make your own cable: create loops in a cable with swaging collars (Tractor Supply sells those also, in the same corner with cable and chain). Each ammo can padlock gets its own loop. Now the thief has to either cut each lock, or each cable loop, or wrestle with X number of ammo cans tied together.

    RE: using a job box for ammo storage & fire – your local home center (or, more probably, a construction supplier that caters to contractors) will have what's called Fire code drywall (called Type X), available in 5/8" thickness, and now, 3/4". FC drywall has a different gypsum formulation, and the paper covering is treated to increase its fire resistance. (IIRC, one layer of 5/8" FC provides a one hour fire rating, which is why building codes require it on the wall between an attached garage and the house). Trick question: what material do you think gun safe manufacturers use to create fire resistance in their gun safes?

    Line the interior of the job box with fire code drywall, using as many layers as you wish (I used 1 layer of 3/4") and then load your ammo cans. If you're really anal and OCD, rigid fibreglas insulation (which doesn't burn, unlike foam insulation) can be had in thicknesses from 1/2" to 1"; put a layer of that between the cans and drywall. Down side: it will continually shed fibreglas fibers, so the best way to use it is in a "drywall sandwich." Put the 5/8" or 3/4" FC on the outside and regular drywall (which is available in 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2" thicknesses) on the inside with the fibreglas between. Use 4" wide sheathing tape along the edges to hold the sandwich together.

    Pro tip: put a sheet of plywood over the bottom drywall layer before you put your ammo cans in – the weight of the cans will compress the drywall, reducing its effectiveness. Cover the cut drywall edges with duct tape or sheathing tape to prevent drywall dust in the box.

    I'll assume you have running water in your house, and it's under continuous pressure. Tap into the system and install a wall mount residential fire sprinkler in the room where the ammo box/gun safe(s)/etc. is. PEX piping works and is easy to run, although it does require special tools for connections. The wall mount sprinkler head isn't quite as effective as a ceiling-mounted head, but avoids the freezing problem with pipes in the attic. Pro tip: Wherever you tap into the water system, install a shutoff valve in the leg to the sprinkler head. I like ball valves because a glance tells you open or closed.

    No, that installation won't meet fussy residential fire codes (it doesn't like PEX or other plastic piping for sprinkler heads), but we're not interested in that, only in extinguishing fire in that particular room, and the PEX in this case will be protected inside the wall, except for where it connects in the basement.

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