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What's Behind The Lock? The Different Types Of Drill Protection For Safe Locks

When you think of a movie where the thief is trying to get into the safe, what tool usually comes to mind? A drill, right? The robber has a professional drill set up, slowly eating its way through the steel door to get to the lock. While that's one method of trying to crack a safe, most thieves don't have a professional drill or the skill to use it. They do however have access to the Home Depot variety of drills and the confidence to give it their best shot. With today's gun safes, there are systems in place to make this the worst way to try and break into a safe.


Below we'll explain the two most common types of drill protection found in safes: Hardplate Steel and Relockers. While there are even deeper details to the topic, we'll stick with an overview and explain the basics of each system.


Hardplate Steel

Most gun safes have some level of hardplate steel behind the lock itself, just behind the steel of the door. A hardplate is a piece of steel that's gone through a special heating process that gives it a much harder surface. Some companies use a case-hardened steel (alloys infused to the surface) while others use steel that's been hardened all the way through. This material is where this form of lock protection starts.


• Single Plate: This is usually found in entry level safes. Even with the right bit, it'll take some time to drill through this.

• Triple Plate: Just like it sounds, this is three plates of hardened steel. The reason for putting three separate plates together is because as the drill bit tries to penetrate each of them, the layers will shake and rattle, quickly chewing the bit up. It's effective. When going through Underwriters Laboratories' testing, their professional safe crackers couldn't get through the second layer of hard plate.

• Ball Bearing Hardplate: Often found in higher end gun safes, this is a thick hardplate tightly embedded with several ball bearings. If a crook tries to drill into this, he's going to get really frustrated. Either the drill bit is going to snap, or it'll keep spinning forever on the ball bearing.


Some manufacturers put their own modifications on their hard plates. For example, Champion Safes reinforces the most logical drill points of some of their safes with diamond-embedded armor plate, really wearing down any steel bits designed for drilling steel. While these extras can certainly be effective, the principle of having hardplate steel is the same.



A relocker is a device that activates when triggered by heat or force, releasing a bolt that slams down and stops the entire door system from moving. This means it locks the door shut and the thief no longer has a chance at opening that door. This doesn't just defend against drilling, it reacts to force such as a thief trying to "punch" a lock through, and to heat like when a crook tries to torch the lock or the surrounding area. Relockers are a great line of defense because it's pretty final when it activates. The good news is, if someone sets it off, it's because they were trying to break in, and most safes have some form of lifetime warranty against attempted theft.


This little bolt...

... keeps all this from moving.

There are different types of relocker systems, the most common being the mechanical type, which is a steel bar designed to slam down and keep the door mechanism from turning. There are other types such as a glass relocker that shatters under pressure. There's even a remote relocker, where the bolt will slam down and lock the door when it's triggered from another point of the safe. Regardless of the type, it all works on the same principle, making it a big pain for would be thieves.


There are quite a few variations of these two systems, but the concepts work the same, and these systems usually work together with other door defenses to makes the door the strongest part of the safe. That's bad news for thieves, and good news for you.