One of only two antique safe restorers makes his home in Brookhaven

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, December 17, 2020

It’s safe to say an Illinois transplant with a unique skill set is now happy to call Brookhaven home.

Two years ago, Chris Tull, his wife Sara and their three children, Harper, Findley and Erica, packed up everything they owned and moved from chilly Illinois to a Southwestern Mississippi city they had never even visited.

The couple was ready to move to somewhere warm, so Tull started looking at homes to rent online while Sara set about transferring from her job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development to the Brookhaven USDA office. They researched the area and the schools and were happy with what they found.

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So 60 days after they started looking, they arrived in the Homeseekers Paradise.

“It’s warmer and more hospitable,” Sara said. “The people are very nice. Everybody is easy to talk to down here.”

With a background in welding and auto body work, Tull was concerned about taking his part-time passion into a full-time job — completely restoring antique safes. The business had proven successful for him up North, but he didn’t know how it would work in a new location.

Before long, however, calls were coming in.

“We took a leap of faith,” Tull said, and dove into it full-time.

Tull got his start with safe work about 15 years ago, when he found an old safe in a warehouse while doing welding work. The owner didn’t have a combination for it and was not interested in keeping it, so he gave it to Tull. After playing around with it, he was able to get it unlocked by old-fashioned listening and manipulation. In the process of sanding off layers of black lacquer paint, he found original artwork, then a name he recognized — a rather important man to his hometown’s history. So with advice from a safe restoration expert in California, Tull set about restoring the safe to its original glory.

With the skill sets he learned in body work and painting from growing up in his dad’s auto shop, plus his years of welding experience, the patient instruction of a neighbor who taught him fine woodworking techniques and the stern dedication to his craft, Tull has made a name for himself.

He is one of only two people in the nation who does complete antique safe restorations. Therefore, his client list is diverse, and impressive.

He can’t publish the names of his clients who have entrusted him with these secure storage units, but he has had customers in each of the 48 contiguous states and at least four other countries.

Though the business can turn a nice profit, the excitement for the Tulls comes from the process.

“We like the history of it,” said Sara. “Every safe has its own story.”

Running his hand across the door of a safe that features intricate lettering and a painted hunting scene, Tull agrees.

“This artwork is unique. There’s not another one out there. Each one is hand-done,” he said. “Not only is it art, it’s also security.”

Tullson’s Hands of Time Safe & Vault Restoration can be reached at 217-520-7831 or