What Are Modern Handgun Frames Made Of?
A Brief History of the Evolution of the Pistol Frame
A firearm frame (or ‘receiver’ as it is sometimes called), is a critical part of a gun’s construction. It houses the bolt, breechblock, firing mechanism, and hammer. It is also generally threaded in the front in order to attach the barrel.1Early firearms were crude and constructed out of things like hollowed bamboo and wood. As they evolved, they would include some basic metals (such as wrought iron, bronze, and brass). In the 1800s, high-alloy steels such as nickel and chromium were introduced. In the 1940s, aluminum became a pretty respectable option for a frame how lightweight it made the gun. Stainless Steel was invented a little over a hundred years ago and almost immediately became relevant in the gun manufacturing world, however, the first widely-produced Stainless Steel frames were not introduced until the 1960s.
After centuries of using metal materials, modern frames have taken a pretty significant turn.
What Materials Are Used to Make Modern Pistol Frames?
Aluminum and Stainless Steel are still popular gun frame material options. Zytel is also used (manufactured by Kel-Tec),2though much less often. That said, polymer has become one of the more popular materials for gun frames in recent years. It is a lightweight solution that retains durability and is easy to maintain. Polymer also does not rust or corrode. Some of the polymer materials even include things like carbon blacking to prevent damage from UV.
Some popular Polymer guns that are implemented in major military, police forces, or are popular to own include (in alphabetical order):
- Beretta Model 92 – An updated version of the model adopted by the U.S. military in 1986 (to replace the 1911). Beretta also makes the APX which is worth mentioning due to its high magazine capacity (10 to 17), and its attractive appearance.
- CZ-USA P-10 – The P-10 has a great feel to its ergonomic grip and has an outstanding magazine capacity of up to 21+1 (extended base required). The magazine capacity creates extra weight which helps with recoil and overall performance.
- FNH USA FNX-45 Tactical – This gun was released slightly late for replacing the 1911 as the U.S. military standard issue sidearm, however, it can be suppressed, fires .45 ACP rounds, and is extremely reliable.
- Glock Polymer G series – Glock was one of the first brands to implement Polymer successfully (such as the Glock 17).
- Heckler & Kock USP (P8) – Although the original model of this gun were an aluminum frame, it was ultimately manufactured with a polymer frame.
- Sig Sauer P320 Compact – The P320 sports an evolved XSeries grip, it has a bunch of customizable options, and is simple to breakdown.
- Smith & Wesson M&P – The M&P is perhaps one of the best law enforcement or combat handgun designed using Polymer. Smith & Wesson also makes the Bodyguard 380, which is well known for its reliability, extreme light weight, and awesome fit as a concealed carry gun.
- Springfield Armory XD Mod. 2 – This handgun is a beautiful one to own, while also upholding high performance standards.
- Walther Arms PPQ M2 – This gun ended up being a let down in the sense that it could not replace the Glock’s polymer line in the 90s, however, it still sported better ergonomics than the G17
There are some other materials in use as well. One of the most notable and worth mentioning being glass-filled nylon. The Ruger LCP II frame uses this special nylon material and most of the properties seem to be similar to polymer.
Modern Pistols Have Come a Long Way
The modern pistol frame has come extremely far since the early days of the handgun. Materials get lighter throughout the years, while also improving durability, maintenance, and repair. And obviously, the more extreme change in recent years has been the manufacturing of plastic, “polymer” gun frames. Just a few decades ago, very few gun experts or enthusiasts would argue that gun frames today would be made out of plastic. In fact, many (if not most) police forces in the U.S. have adopted one of Glock’s infamous Polymer models (such as the Glock Polymer G series).3
It is worth mentioning that today many people are actually building their own guns using “frame kits.” There are also 3D printed options and cast mold guides, however, these types of firearms are never very reliable, have a great potential of being illegal, and are no where near as effective as the real thing.
Also be sure to check out our other article…What Are The Difference Between Nickel and Stainless Steel Gun Parts for a further understanding of the continuing evolution of gun parts and finishes.
1ATF. Firearms Guides & Importation Verification: Firearms Ammunition, Gun Control Act Definitions – Firearm. Retrieved from:https://www.atf.gov/firearms/firearms-guides-importation-verification-firearms-ammunition-gun-control-act-definitions
2Keltec Weapons. Zytel. Retrieved from: https://www.keltecweapons.com/?s=zytel
3Guns. Five Full Sized Polymer Handguns That Should Make Glock Nervous. Retrieved from: https://www.guns.com/news/review/five-full-sized-polymer-handguns-that-should-make-glock-nervous
About the Author:
Mark Doberman, The Proprietary Gun Smith
The Proprietary Gun Smith is a marksman, expert gun handler, ammunition specialist, survival guru, and lifetime gun enthusiast. He owns (or has owned) nearly every legal firearm and ballistic available, has fired nearly every gun, and regularly consults professionally in the firearm world. He has studied firearms and similar tactical lifestyle for more than 40 years. In addition to writing for ArmoryBay.com, TheProprietaryGunSmith has guest written for more than a dozen other sites and/or magazines in the industry.
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