Letter Re: Advice on Construction a Hiding Place for Precious Metals in a Home

After being scared Schumerless by the potential US economy meltdown and reading various related posts on SurvivalBlog, I finally took the plunge and purchased some junk silver coins. Since I plan to store these at home rather than a bank safe deposit box (because of potential accessibility problems), would you please recommend a strategy for storage. I’m assuming a small, somewhat hidden, safe bolted to the floor/wall would be reasonable. Any recommendations? Thanks, – Russ S.

JWR Replies: Unless you already own a large home vault–such as a gun vault–I recommend that you construct one or more secret caches in your house. If the weight is modest, you can simply hide a bag or box of silver coins under the insulation in your attic. Keep in mind that it will probably be resting on top of horizontal ceiling sheetrock, so keep the weight under 15 pounds!

To conceal up to 200 pounds of silver, you can make a Rawles “Through The Looking Glass” Wall/Door Cache. Even someone with just rudimentary skills can make one of these “between the studs” wall caches. These are simple to construct, and will go un-noticed by all but the most astute and methodical burglars. Here is how even someone inexperienced with carpentry can do so, in typical North American wood frame houses–with modern sheetrocked walls: Pick out a section of sheetrocked interior partition wall in a bedroom where a wall-mounted mirror wouldn’t look out of place. Go to your local home “Big Box” store such as Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy a vertical mirror that is at least 16 inches wide, and 4+ feet tall. (Ideally, you should get one that is the the same width as your wall’s stud interval, so that the mirror mounting screws will attached the sheetrock into the studs. Such mirrors typically come with a set of L-shaped mounting clips that attach to a wall or door with screws. Figure out where any wiring might be running through the wall. Typically it will run horizontally, about 1 foot up from the floor, parallel with your power outlets. Do not pick a section of wall that is near a light switch, since vertical wires may be running though those wall sections. Plan to mount mirror at least 6 inches above the wiring. Look for small indentations, puckers, or other signs of nails attaching the sheetrock. These will typically be centered either 18″ or 24″ apart. If you can’t spot the nails or screws you can either buy or borrow an inexpensive magnetic stud finder–a little magnet-on-a-pivot gizmo that reacts when you pass it over a nail head or drywall screw head. (A bit of judicious tapping to hear pitch changes can also be helpful.) The nails will be driven into vertical studs, and it is between two 2″x4″ studs that you will cut your cache hole. It will provide you a caching space that is about 15″ wide and 3-1/2″ deep.

Once you’ve estimated where the studs are, drill some small exploratory holes in the sheetrock, at a sharp angle. Probe inside the hole with a length of coat hanger wire to confirm where the vertical studs are located, and whether or not there are any horizontal 2″x4″ fire stop blocks. (Those are typically half way up each wall.) Then, with a power jig saw or a SawzAll, cut a hole (or holes) to provide access to the wall cache dead space. Leave at least 2 inches of sheetrock width around the hole that will be covered by the mirror. Remove any insulation from the cache area, and vacuum out the sheetrock dust. Place your valuables in the cache. If there is substantial weight, do not rest it directly on top of any wiring at the bottom of the cache. (You should first cut a support block out of 2×4 block and screw it in place with drywall screws.) Then neatly mount the mirror over the hole, measuring carefully and/or using a level so that the mirror will be mounted straight up and down. Accessing the cache will just take a few minutes to remove the mirror mounting screws. (Or about 10 seconds (rip!) with a claw hammer if you need to Get Out of Dodge in a real hurry.) If you need to access the cache frequently, you’ll find that if the screws are screwed only into sheetrock and not into studs behind, then the screw holes in the sheetrock will become enlarged and the screws will eventually loosen. If that happens, you can install anchor bolts behind most of the screws. (Remember, I mentioned leaving at least a 2 inch overlap. You will need that width of sheetrock to support the anchor bolts.) Oh, by the way, the same technique can be used to created a similar–albeit more shallow–cache inside a hollow core bedroom door. One neat trick with a door cache is to only remove the top mirror mounting brackets when you access the cache. With those removed and the door slightly open you can simply slide the mirror up to reveal the cache opening.