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Choosing a Safe: Understanding Steel Alloys

It can be difficult to tell just from looking at a safe what type of metal it is made from. The strongest safes are made from steel. However, the type of steel matters, and not just its thickness. Steel is a man-made metal alloy that is formulated from iron and carbon. To add to the confusion, there are different types of steel “alloys.” Understanding which alloy is best for a safe will help you make the right choice when choosing a gun safe.

What is an Alloy?

An alloy is a metal that is combined with one or more metals to improve its properties. This is usually done by melting the metals, combining them and then allowing them to cool and solidify. By enhancing a metal with additional metals, it is possible to improve its:

  • Corrosion resistance
  • Hardness
  • Machinability
  • Strength
  • Tensile strength

Common Steel Alloys

The most common steel alloy used in metal fabrication is low carbon mild steel, which is iron mixed with carbon. Iron on its own is very strong; however, it lacks tensile strength. This means if it is placed under stress, it can snap or break instead of bending, because iron can be brittle. Adding carbon makes the iron stronger and capable of withstanding stress. When more carbon is added to the iron, the steel becomes stronger. One of the strongest alloys made from iron and a higher amount of carbon is cast iron.

Previously, bank vault doors were made of steel. Today, many banks now use cast iron doors because they are the most resistant to attempts to cut through them with acetylene torches. Today, most American gun safes are built with a basic steel alloy of iron and carbon.

Adding additional metals to the mix of iron and carbon can produce steel with various enhanced traits. Some of the most common metals that are added to steel include:

  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Nickel
  • Titanium
  • Tungsten

A higher quality safe may be built with chromium steel. By adding chromium to steel, the steel is transformed to a metal that is harder and has greater resistance to corrosion; e.g., stainless steel.

Adding tungsten to steel will raise its melting point. This can be useful in preventing burglars from successfully opening the safe with a cutting torch. Sometimes nickel is added to steel to make it tougher and more elastic to resist abuse from thieves without shattering or breaking.

When shopping for a gun safe, ask questions about what type of steel was used in building it. You should always choose a safe that has been made from strong steel for the best protection.