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plastic strength vs. steel

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by oldfool, Feb 13, 2010.

  1. oldfool

    oldfool Well-Known Member

    not looking to woobie war here
    not knocking plastic
    (doesn't happen to make my my old eyes twinkle, but that's just an old guy personal preference thing, it's not a religion, you know)

    gun makers love the phase "stronger than steel" (and in fine print, "pound for pound", hence true, but "pound for pound" does have relevance)
    methinks gunmakers most love plastic because manufacturing costs are lower, not because it is in any way inherently "better/best"

    sellers emphasize their good points, avoid statements about maybe not-so-good points, you and I would too
    so.. "lighter weight" is always part of the pitch, and generally true (even if/when a tad blocky to get the total strength back up to steel total strength), and lighter can be of very real value to end-user.. sometimes, but not always
    All the same can be said, I believe, of airweight alloy, just a matter of degree

    I like lighter for carry, same as everybody, but I also like "shootable"
    and lighter is, leastways in most cases, not always a plus for "shootable"
    If/when it comes to weight vs. shootable, I tend to favor "shootable", not always, but almost always

    tiny/light Ruger LCP, just too-convenient-to-carry, but not real "shootable"
    (not for most folks, a 7 shot derringer, some folks do get really good with 'em like a buddy of mine, after rebuilding his KelTec once or twice per high round counts, but not me... yet I oft have the LCP on me)
    Colt Goverment 380 acp, a dream to carry IWB, all steel, maybe ~23 oz, 2X weight of LCP, and 10X more shootable, and I am willing to wear it as primary and only, and oft do

    I would much prefer an all steel LCP and not care the least about the small increase in weight (but would not like the up bump sales price)
    I believe the Colt will outlast the LCP, round for round, 10:1
    sometimes it just doesn't matter, because I am not going to wear the derringer out training to hit with it like I can with the Colt... not what LCP is for, but it beats the snot out of a traditional 2-shot SA derringer or NAA micro 22

    looked at the Ruger LCR, liked trigger, liked lighter carry weight, still "feels" shootable despite plastic/weight (I do steel snubbies, too)
    but do not believe it has any hope of ever holding up to the round count that my S&W model 60 can/will (in some part because the plastic ain't near blocky enough)... but it being a CCW compromise (as all CCW ultimately is), I would not wear it out... carry a lot , shoot a little, and if I had the $$$ in pocket woulda' bought it, and would shoot a "lot" of mild 38 wadcutters for practice, and load up 38 sp for carry

    just making conversation here
    what is your take on the plastic sales pitch ?
    kindly keep it non-adversarial, just pros and cons
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2010
  2. The Lone Haranguer

    The Lone Haranguer Well-Known Member

    I suppose pound for pound it is, since it is much lighter than steel. It works well for auto pistol frames because the stresses are relatively low and in one direction. You won't find a polymer revolver frame because revolver frames are subject to stretching. (The Ruger LCR is not, strictly speaking, a polymer frame; its plastic parts are only in the grip section, which only has to take the rearward recoil thrust against your hand, and the cylinder is surrounded by aluminum alloy.)
  3. Fat Boy

    Fat Boy Well-Known Member

    I keep trying to like the polymer products, and continue to struggle getting there.

    I believe they are likely (generally speaking) as strong, or will at least hold up as well as steel. I fully understand the lighter weight, etc.

    I just feel more comfortable with steel- but I am and old guy :)
  4. Big Bill

    Big Bill Well-Known Member

    I have to disagree with you that plastic pistols aren't as shootable (durable) as all steel ones. I think Glock has proved that a lightweight polymer pistol is every bit as durable/dependable as an all steel gun.
  5. nonseven

    nonseven Well-Known Member

    Plastic does have some advantages, and contrary to popular belief the equivalent volume of plastic is more expensive than many grades of steel.

    However when processed, the injection molded plastic part will be less expensive than the equivalent metal part due to the costs involved in processing the metal.

    Some advantages of plastic:

    1. yes, some polymers are stronger than steel for their weight
    2. plastic is light weight
    3. plastic has better wear resistance and anti-galling properties in many applications than metal

    4. plastic has shock absorbing behavior that results in lower felt recoil than metal.

    5. Depending on the polymer, plastic can be extremely corrosion resistant, more so than stainless steel.

    With the proper selection and application of plastics in firearms, I think you'll find the metal parts are the ones you'll find need replacing.
  6. RETG

    RETG Well-Known Member

    Well, I'm an old guy, and I have nothing against plastic frames; although I like to say polymer frame. I also have nothing against steel or aluminum. I pick my gun on how it shoots, reliability and assumed durability.

    I do believe polymer frames have proved themselves over a course of 30+ years. Glock, H&K and other manufactures have proved they are durable and reliable.

    It won't be long before this thread turns into a hate for polymer handguns, same as the caliber wars.
  7. oldfool

    oldfool Well-Known Member

    I do believe polymer/plastic is "durable" (and that generic as the terms are, polymer is plastic)
    I do believe Gaston Glock came up with a great innovative design
    (for the 9mm cartridge of the day it was actually designed for, but will say no more about that)
    cost of manufacture is not solely about per pound cost of materials used, it is total cost of manufacture (as was rightly noted)

    anybody really believe that an all "steel" Glock or LCP or LCR would be cheaper to manufacture ?
    anybody really believe that an all "steel" Glock or LCP or LCR would perform less well ??
    (well, ok, there is no real shortage of all/mostly steel "mighty like Glock" type pistols around, by whatever other name)

    galling.. yes, SS alloys generally do gall more readily than "carbon" steels
    but I do not buy into the argument that polymer galls less
    prone to believe than polymer guns, by necessity, are not built to as tight tolerances as the good steel stuff, even though the highest stress parts are reinforced with steel and/or steel "inserts" and/or other metal alloys... not the really good stuff, the high quality guns
    (engineers, I-R-1-2, and we disagree with each other, just like all other shooters do)

    durability, for me, is a very different thing than "shootability'
    lots of "plastics" in landfills will still be there long after the metal stuff (including stainless) is long gone.. durable yes
    too many people think "water resistant" on a watch means "waterproof"
    too many people think "corrosion resistant SS" means "corrosion proof"
    not even close
    (I love blue steel, I love SS, and trying to fall in love with plastic for what it is, not for what it is not)
    own some plastic, will not be shocking if I eventually own some more before it is all said and done

    a big part of shootable is about weight, balance. muzzle flip being minimal, etc.
    easy felt in hand, not so easy defined in words
    I like light, but I think light AND shootable is a tough challenge for any gun maker, including the airweight alloy people
    Glock probably does it better (shootable polymer) than anybody in FULL size pistols, been doing it longer

    much as I do like light & small, it just might be the #1 overplayed sales pitch in firearm sales today
    (other than extra fat magnum and/or bigger/badder boom magnum, and of course, bigger/badder boomer in smaller/lighter, 50 BMG in 10 oz snubbie due any day now)

    but being a "mostly" revolver fanboy, ain't that much to look at, for me.. yet
    Ruger LCR, if I went plastic, sure would like to see that LCR in 32 H&R mag 3" 5-shooter slightly smaller frame... unless they could get 327 done in a smaller frame variant of current model, but methinks 32 H&R mag is enuff boom-n-bang out of 3" for my personal tastes
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2010
  8. James T Thomas

    James T Thomas Well-Known Member

    test of time

    When raising my two boys through the years, I have bought them both tricycles -steel, and those low wheel things -plastic.

    Now, one of those remains while the others have been destroyed by time; cracks and kids who beat the "child proof" claims. Little kids destroyed them.

    The remaining ones are a little rusty, but they live on.

    Guess which!
  9. hammerklavier

    hammerklavier Well-Known Member

    I thought I read somewhere that the plastic frames allow for less material to be used volume wise, so that you can have double stack mags paired with narrower grips.
  10. eldon519

    eldon519 Well-Known Member

    I think sometimes Glock's shootability is credited to flexing polymer when it probably is more likely attributed to the low bore axis of a striker fired pistol. Obviously they work together, but I think the geometry is the greater actor. I think some aftermarket company made alloy frames for Glocks at one point. It would be interesting to shoot one in side-by-side testing.
  11. mountaindrew

    mountaindrew Well-Known Member

    a. Polymer CAN allow for a slimmer grip because they do not require grip panels.
    I personally like this because the grip can be textured all over, not just in certain areas.

    b. Polymer is more forgivine of getting dirty, scratched, greasy, etc.
    I need this beacuse as a mechanic who carries all day aound town, a gun with prety wood grips would get ruined. The ony way to avoid that is to get polymer grip panels, and then, well, here we are back.

    c. Polymer is better in extreme temperature, ergonomiclly. It doesn'y burn you when you pick it up in the car on a hot day, or freeze you on a cold day.

    D. Totally subjective. I just like the way it feels on the hand. Its a texture thing. Polymer is never completely smooth, and the little bit of texture it does have makes me feel a little more secure in hand.
  12. BossHogg

    BossHogg Well-Known Member

    Old guy here. I have a few polymer nice guns but both have a block look. What gets me going is the steel guns. To me they have some style to them. When buying guns the eye candy effect takes hold. Plus I like to add different grips to give the gun more looks.
    I think the weight issue with hi cap mags are great but just can't get by the square look.I'm sure they are dependable and will last just not for me.
  13. REAPER4206969

    REAPER4206969 Well-Known Member

    Steel pistol frames are obsolete.
  14. oldfool

    oldfool Well-Known Member

    ain't a real long thread here, yet
    but the kind I think is very High Road
    all good comments, good points, and no flame games
    everything here better than what I said here

    thanks, guys/gals, keep it UP !

    ok, so I post slow... like I do everything
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2010
  15. oldfool

    oldfool Well-Known Member

    me like STEEL best of all, too
    but you probably did not ever get those boys/girls a "purple thang"
    a plastic Fisher-Price step stool (and it is not even "purple" so don't ask me why they all called it that)
    grandsons liked that "purple thang", all three of em', when age 2 to 6
    our great-grandchildren like it a lot too, all four of them, age 2-6

    we have both steel and plastic wheelies on the back patio
    some of 'em been there for at least 6 years (plastic)
    I do not know which will outlast the others, and don't much care
    but the Moms & ( six foot) Dads were all riding the latest new ALL steel one, and laughing like crazy, last XMAS

    but I do not leave my guns on the back patio, sun & rain, 60 months at a time, so I dunno what that means
    (except that kids are fun)

    every time "we" are blessed with a new baby, me go buy a new Chipmunk 22, same day or close to
    every one of 'em has a STEEL barrel and a PLASTIC stock (black, blue, or pink, it depends)
    call me ambivalent, I guess
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2010
  16. StarDust1

    StarDust1 Well-Known Member

    Old guy here too, polymer may be ugly, but it's stronger then steel, particularly the polymers used in modern firearms manufacturing.
    Steel bends, polymer flexes, steel oxidizes, polymer does not, steel corrodes, polymer is highly resistent to corrosion!
    If we were to bury in the ground unprotected, a Glock, or a S&W M&P frame, along side a garden variety carbon steel pistol frame, leaving them there for 100yrs, 200yrs, 300yrs and so on, the advanced polymers in the Glock & M&P are going to survive virtually unscathed.
    We'd be very fortunate to even find the remains of the steel frame...The polymer frames have a half life of about 500-750yrs...:)
  17. REAPER4206969

    REAPER4206969 Well-Known Member

  18. huntsman

    huntsman Well-Known Member

    I'd buy one but I won't buy what they're selling now.

    It doesn't matter to me if plastic is stronger than steel when I buy a gun I want something I think is a good purchase and part of that is longevity and for me that's steel.

    I guess I'm just an old guy with old beliefs.
  19. Sunray

    Sunray Well-Known Member

    Plastics and polymers aren't the same thing. Polyurethane doesn't belong on decent wooden stocks or fine furniture either.
  20. oldfool

    oldfool Well-Known Member

    If we were to bury in the ground unprotected, a Glock, or a S&W M&P frame, along side a garden variety carbon steel pistol frame, leaving them there for 100yrs, 200yrs, 300yrs and so on, the advanced polymers in the Glock & M&P are going to survive virtually unscathed.

    good points, but..
    do that to any wheelie left on the back patio 20 years too long (unburied, unless the dawgs get really bored), don't count on a whole lot of smiles when the great-grandchildren come to visit, be it STEEL or PLASTIC

    and if/when somebody digs it up out of the unprotected ground after 20 years or 100 years from now, if there ain't NO steel in in, just how hard will they have to throw it at the bad guy to make 'em stop and go elsewhere ?

    a rusty rock is at least still a rock
    and plastic is still plastic, no matter how corrosion proof, it don't make a real good rock
    no STEEL left in a plastic FRAME don't make a for a whole lot of boom-n-bang
    neither does a rusted out SS N-frame, but it might still make for a pretty good dent-in-head if thrown with enough conviction ???

    did somebody started making ZERO steel in plastic/polymer FRAME guns that shoot real ammunition whilst I was taking my nap ?
    if they did... I WANT one !

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