A Look at Gun Materials and Production
Most firearms are made of steel, aluminum or plastic, or a combination of metal and plastic. Each material has natural attributes that benefit effective gun construction, including aesthetic, weight and strength. Some materials are preferable to others, specifically for their strength. In gun production, experts apply directional force to stress test the composite strength of a given material.
To evaluate the maximum force a material can withstand without permanent damage, manufacturers apply compressive force, torsional strength, and tensile strength. Gun manufacturing and testing is a precise, complex process involving careful engineering, specialized metal alloys, and extensive testing to produce a reliable gun. Let’s take a closer look at three standard gun materials and how they affect gun performance.
STEEL GUN CONSTRUCTION
Steel is the foundational material in any gun. Traditionally, gun production uses high-carbon, heat-treated steel. The heat treatment scale is quantified by the Rockwell C scale. Compression and tensile strength are important factors to test in steel construction. Recoil in the gun is absorbed by the recoil plate as force is applied to that part of the frame.
Modern steel gun construction is more efficient and cost-effective when manufactured by computerized machining centers. Because steel is so strong and versatile, it can be manipulated easily into structures and small parts using castings and machine injection molding. The weight of steel makes control and aim steadier and more efficient—but also heavier. Steel is easily finished with stainless finish alloys, nickel, and chrome plating. This makes the final gun corrosion resistant and adds a nice aesthetic.
ALUMINUM GUN CONSTRUCTION
Aluminum framing is one of the most important components in modern guns and can save 35–40% in weight compared to steel. However, aluminum-framed guns are not as durable as steel and lack steel’s tensile strength. Therefore, proper aluminum alloy selection must consider weight balance and grip width for effective ergonomics.
Aluminum is a popular alternative to steel for certain guns—certain 9mm pistols, for example—and offers a lightweight, aesthetic look and feel. Lower compression and tensile strength make aluminum frames more susceptible to stress cracking. When this occurs, repairs are unlikely. The recoil can also be greater in aluminum framed guns.
PLASTIC GUN CONSTRUCTION
Polymer plastics were originally used in gun production on non-structural components such as recoil spring guides and grips. Eventually, plastic was used in small gun components and as part of the frame. Many guns today employ polymers in frame production as popular alternatives to traditional steel. Plastic has several benefits, including its lightweight nature and damage resistance from recoil impact. Unlike steel, plastic is more comfortable in a wider temperature range. Plastic frames also allow a certain versatility in interchangeable grip panels for different hand sizes.
Unlike aluminum and steel, however, plastic has low tensile strength and can more easily fail compared to denser, more resistant metals. Its lighter weight can also compromise aim stability and recoil control, but these depend on the shooter and the specific type of gun. Overall, plastic construction is often cheaper and offers weight savings and corrosion resistance.