How to Build a Walk-In Gun Vault (Cheaply!)

Some considerations on designing a walk-in gun vault that won’t break the bank.

posted on April 11, 2023

All the rage these days in home building is the addition of a safe room--or a walk-in vault that has a secure door and no windows. Areas such as these provide refuge from attack, whether from highwaymen or natural disaster. And there’s no better place to store your guns. Sure, if you’re millionaire you can have a vault built into your mansion that’d be the envy of Batman, but most of us are just gun owners looking for a little extra security. Here are some considerations on designing a walk-in gun vault that won’t break the bank.

Going Underground
When people think of gun vaults, many envision underground bunkers. Guns underground are good, because being ensconced in earth provides a level of protection against fire, tornados and exterior walls from being breached, but it also poses a major problem for guns: Humidity. Moisture is the enemy of firearms, and most basements and underground dwellings smell dank and musty for a reason. That’s because the earth is moist, and moisture attacks areas of lesser moisture concentration; e.g., dry places. Moisture can permeate wood, concrete and eventually eat away metal via rust. Moisture also leads to mold.

So if you do decide to build an underground vault/safe room, consult a professional first. Insist that a moisture barrier is used during construction. If concrete is poured, paint your vault’s interior with a product like UGL’s DryLok or Red Guard. Insist the builder install a drain in the floor (for use as a condensate line and to drain if there’s a flood), and at least two air vents in the walls or ceiling so air can move freely. Consider installing an inline vent fan to make sure it circulates. Even then, you’ll need to explore dehumidifying options in most parts of the country to prevent your guns from rusting like a barn nail.

If you decide on an underground vault, there are a few additional points to consider: Before any concrete is poured or metal framing is welded, make sure you’ve prepared a door frame that will accept a standard-sized vault door. Consider which way it must open and how it must be installed so it remains secure from the outside. Custom-sized doors are very expensive. Consult vault door makers such as Ft Knox or Amsec and size the door frame accordingly. Only buy a door that can also be opened from the inside.

Finally, remember that if you’re underground, you could be cut off from the you should devise a way to run power into your vault, and to communicate if necessary. This is best considered before the vault is built. With powerand a remote antennae, hard cable or wifi boosteryou can access the internet and your security cameras. This way, you can have eyes on your property even as you are waiting out the storm in your vault.

Above the Earth
Above-ground fortified vaults are not as prone to temperature/moisture disparities as those underground. Consider running central heat and air to your vault (or get a standalone unit such as a mini-split system), so your guns will stay at a constant temperature that’s desirable for long-term storage. Many HVAC systems have a dehumidifying feature. Mainly, however, by keeping your vault above ground with a quality door, your safe spot will be easier to access, and you’ll be more prone to use and enjoy it.

Of course walk-in gun vaults are best built into your house at the time of construction using cinder block, stud construction, walls fortified with rebar or all-metal construction, but retro-fitting is possible. Many builders buy prefabricated metal or concrete safe structures and drop them into the home, then build regular stud-and-sheetrock walls around them so the walk-in vault appears seamless in your house.   

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, there’re several routes you can go:
A. Identify a windowless room and fortify its walls with steel, rebar or cinder block;
B: Choose a corner of your house and build two fortified walls and a frame for a vault door:
C: Fortify a large closet. Closets are great because they rarely have windows; they commonly adjoin bedrooms or comprise dead spaces of houses; they can be easily accessed; and their entrances can be easily hidden by shelving, clothing or hidden doors. If possible, choose a closet on the ground floor due to the weight it will hold. And if you don’t have the cash or space for a steel vault door, buy a residential metal door and outfit it with a quality deadbolt or two. Consider bracing the frame on the inside with steel plating also so the door cannot be simply kicked in.

Also available are stand-alone options for walk-in gun vaults. If you have a garage with a large entrance, consider purchasing a ready-made steel shelter like those from Shelter-in-Place or many others. Prefab tornado shelters work well. Or you can build a room using cinder block and mortar. Or buy a small metal storage container, have it delivered, roll it into your garage and bolt it to the floor from the inside so the entire thing can’t be easily moved. With a cutting torch and some framing skill, you can retro-fit it for a custom vault door so it looks like something you’d show off to your buddies. Strongly consider running power to it so you can add lights.  

Once your vault type is decided, the fun part is deciding how to display/store your guns. If you don’t want them displayed at all, consider purchasing a safe to keep inside the vault. Because it’s already fortified, the safe doesn’t have to be the uber-expensive kind. Thin metal lockers will do. If you decide to display your guns in your vault, you’ll have four basic options aside from just propping them up on the walls or leaving them in cases on the floor.

First, you can fabricate your own storage solutions depending on your welding and/or carpentry skills. (Felt-lined gun racks are not hard to make from wood; plenty of templates and how-to videos exist online.) Secondly, you can have your custom design made by a local cabinet maker or metal fabricator. Just make sure you trust this person, or better yet, have him make the cabinets, and you install them. Third, you can buy modular storage solutions from niche companies such as SecureIt Gun Storage and others. They offer cool-looking solutions customizable to your particular vault size and firearm needs. Or you can search hardware stores and online for display solutions that you can customize and install yourself.

For example, simple peg board works fine if it’s anchored well. Home Depot sells it, as well as metal pegboard sheets that can be overlapped to form a modular system. Cut it to size and paint it to your liking. Buy various hooks and pegs to store your guns horizontally and vertically on your wall. I’ve seen several great-looking gun rooms that utilize wooden slats with hangers that fit into the gaps. Another modern-looking option is to buy metal grid panels for which you can also buy hooks. Typically seen at retail clothing stores, these multi-sized panels make great gun storage racks that can be screwed directly into the walls with concrete anchors or wood framing. On Amazon they are about $20 per panel. Of course, you’re only limited by space, budget and your creativity. Google “gun storage solutions” and click on the images tab for endless ideas.

A walk-in gun vault is practical; it can protect your guns and even your life. At the very least a walk-in gun vault will lend you peace of mind. If it’s done right, it might also end up being one of your favorite places in your house just to hang out in … and admire all your guns.  




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