Home Authors Posts by Patrick Sweeney

Patrick Sweeney

Organizing For Sanity: The AR Parts Holding Template

Tired of losing springs, screws or roll pins while working on your AR? Let the AR Parts Holding Template remedy that.

Ever be in the middle of an assembly project or reassembling something after cleaning and drop a part? Sir Isaac Newton had no clue regarding the physics of small parts: The smaller and more necessary a part is, the faster it scurries to the darkest corner of your workshop to hide behind a bench leg. I’m convinced when the old neighborhood revives and someone rehabs the building my gunsmithing operation used to be in, they’ll find parts. Lots of ’em.

Other times, you’re holding a part up to the light, wondering which one is this one?

Let Edge Independent Product Developers help you with that. They make a tray they plan for use as an assembly template for your AR-15. Me, I see it as that and a great aid in keeping things straight during cleaning and rebuilds.

The template is simple: a laser-cut and laser-labeled sheet of wood bonded to a backer, so you have parts-shaped pockets. And this isn’t even the best part—they have them numbered. There’s a laminated instruction sheet in the kit that tells you what number goes with what part, but the cut slot for each makes it pretty easy to figure out.

Somebody out there is all set to be insulted. “I know my AR parts,” one will say. Yes, you do, but once you bump the table and the various springs all roll together, have fun sorting them out. There’s even a small magnet set into the board to let you keep ferrous parts from escaping, parts that you might want to keep close at hand. And there’s an inset marked “misc” for the “whatever” parts. It even comes with tweezers so you can pick the small springs up out of the slot into which they fit.

The laminated guide gives you the number code just in case you haven’t committed them to memory.

Assembling And Cleaning

The fellow who got me onto this thought it was a great idea for those who are assembling an AR-15. I agree, but it’s even better for those cleaning one. The kit comes with links to assembly instructions (not that those are difficult to find online), just in case you need some guidance.

For me, the trick is in cleaning. For that, I plan to dig into the shop and find a spray can of something polyurethane to give the board an oil and carbon-resistant finish (it may already have one, I haven’t abused it to see), so I can easily clean it once I’ve dumped grubby parts into it.

I won’t have to worry about losing this or that (it’s amazing what parts will do if you take your eyes off of them for just a second) and can keep them corralled waiting their turn.

Just to indulge in one of my pet peeves of other gun writers: Patents have been applied for. So, don’t go thinking you can horn in on this great idea. And I’ve been told there are other popular firearms models receiving the same template treatment, so you can soon have control of parts for those when cleaning or building.

There’s a magnet for small parts you don’t want to lose, and tweezers so you can pick them up.

And the best part? The Edge template is smaller, edge-to-edge, than a sheet of copy paper and thinner than a politician’s promises. This means you won’t have to work hard to find room for it in your workshop or loading and cleaning bench. In fact, you might have to work hard to find it, once you’ve slid it in-between a couple of boxes on the shelves. Now that I think about it, I might, once the polyurethane is fully cured, just paint the edges bright orange or neon green, so I’ll be able to find it on the shelf.

Online, from Edge Independent Product Developer, it goes for $45. You might think that’s a bit high, but after dropping and breaking, or dropping and losing (or spending a half-hour fishing it out of its special crevice behind your workbench) a vital part, you’ll find it money well spent.

For more information, visit EdgeProducts.bkollar.com.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Gunsmithing:

How To Properly Install A Telestock

Most ARs these days already have a telestock, but many aren’t properly assembled. Here’s how to do it right.

One of the things that we find very important in the LE Patrol rifle classes is getting rifles to fit officers. While no one would consider for a moment the idea that the standard and only issue shoe should be a size 9, the uniform jacket a 38 Regular and trousers 30L-32W, management blithely assumes that one pistol will fit them all. And one rifle, as well.

Well … no.

So, in the early days, we saw officers arrive with fixed stocks, and they’d look enviously at the one or two who had telestocks. Now, it’s rare to see a fixed stock, they’re all telestocks. And yet, not all are properly assembled. Or even tightly assembled.

The telestock has a buffer tube, a sliding stock with some sort of latch, and the tube is secured to the lower receiver by being screwed in and then locked in place with what’s called a castle nut. It also holds on to the rear plate that guides the buffer tube and holds in the takedown spring and plunger.

Here’s a quick primer on how to take a telestock apart—not doing it correctly can damage parts:

Unload and disassemble, removing the upper and lower. Remove the buffer and spring. Use a castle nut wrench to loosen the castle nut, and then spin it back far enough to clear the retaining plate. Slide the retaining plate back from the receiver, and control, remove and set aside the takedown spring. You can, if you wish, now remove the buffer tube by unscrewing it. Once it goes back a turn or two, the buffer retainer and its spring will pop loose, so control those and set them aside.

Doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Well, we can now get to the mistakes, errors and dimensional problems that crop up.

Buffer Tube

The buffer tube has to be screwed into the lower receiver hoop far enough to trap the buffer retainer, but not so far that it binds the retainer down in its tunnel. If not screwed in far enough, the buffer retainer pops out, and it and its spring get to dance with the hammer, trigger or disconnector. Soon the rifle stops working. Install it in too far, and the retainer gets bound down and doesn’t keep the buffer under control. When you open the action to disassemble for cleaning, you get a spring-launched buffer flying across the room. (Or it hits someone, who rightly objects to such treatment.)

The solution is to check the engagement. If the engagement is minimal, you can remove the buffer and spring, loosen the castle nut, turn the buffer tube in another rotation, and tighten everything back down again. If your rifle has the hoop threads cut wrong, then you’ll have to either swap tubes until you find one that works or file the lip of the tube you have to fit properly. Screw it in until it holds the retainer down. See how much too much you have (and it may even stick out of the top of the hoop as well), then remove the tube and carefully file the lip back until it’s just right.

You might even end up with an uneven—or lipped—tube, with clearance on the top for the upper receiver, and enough protrusion on the bottom to hold in the retainer.

Or you can buy a buffer tube that’s been built to provide a retaining lip and still clear the upper. PWS makes one, and it works like a champ.

The PWS buffer tube, with an extended lip to retain the buffer catch, will still clear the upper receiver.

Tipped buffer tubes are those that have been allowed to move when the castle nut has been tightened. The tube, and the stock attached to it, needs to be vertical to the bore axis, or else it will be uncomfortable or difficult to shoot. The trick here is keeping the tube vertical while you tighten the castle nut. There’s no trick, just patience.

Castle Nut

The castle nut has notches in its front and rear edges. The big notches are for the wrench that tightens or loosens it, and the small notches are for staking. The big notches go to the rear. No, I’m not kidding: I’ve seen castle nuts put on the wrong way, in part because they’re sometimes screwed on to the buffer tube (as a parts kit) at the factory just to keep them from being lost and end up being screwed on wrong. The castle nut must be torqued on with a proper wrench. (Anything else will either not provide enough torque or mar the castle nut heinously.) You can use Loctite, but this is more a vibration control, and a belt-and-suspenders approach. Don’t depend solely on torque and Loctite.

This castle nut hasn’t been staked. That’ll be changed shortly.

The castle nut has to trap the retaining plate flat against the receiver, and once in place you must stake the castle nut. That’s what the smaller notches are for. Use a spring-loaded center-punch and put the tip against the retaining plate, then close to the gap of the notch. You want to kick up a staked nib that’ll interfere with the castle nut unscrewing. You won’t do this with just one click, you’ll have to keep at it until the nib is big enough to do its job. An un-staked castle nut can loosen, and when it does, the stock gets all wobbly. If, on top of everything else, the buffer tube wasn’t screwed in far enough, it may loosen enough to free the buffer retainer, and when you go to disassemble to fix things, you get the buffer surprise. So be careful when you take the upper and lower apart—you don’t want to take a buffer in the face.

A spring-loaded center-punch is the tool you’ll need to stake your castle nut.

Another quick warning here; if you have opted for a single-point sling and are using a retaining plate with loops on it to clip the sling onto, you can’t stake it. For some reason beyond understanding, those plates are made too hard to be staked. This is the one time you will have to depend on torque and Loctite—at least until you decide to give up on single-point slings and can rebuild to a regular retaining plate. If you just have to have a single-point sling, then go with the GG&G adapter, one that clamps on. With it you don’t have to rebuild your telestock to use a single-point sling.

You just have to have a single-point sling and use the GG&G adapter. That way you won’t have to rebuild your stock assembly and then undo that work once you’re tired of the single-point sling.

Castle Nut Torquing

You might think that the vise block that fits into the magazine well is the way to hold your lower while working on the castle nut. No. That risks breaking things. Instead, lay the receiver flat on a padded bench. The pistol grip will act as your lock. When you go to loosen the nut, lay the lower receiver down on its right side. This way you will by rotating the castle nut toward the pistol grip. You can place a hand on the pistol grip and lean on it with your body weight, to keep things still. When tightening, lay it on the left side, so again, the pistol grip is in the direction you’re turning the nut. The Mil-spec limit is 40 ft-lb. That’s a lot for this, and all you need, but you still have to stake it.

The center-punch goes onto the retaining plate, adjacent to the castle nut, at a locking notch.

And you use a padded bench because the various things that stick out, like the bolt latch, or the magazine button fence, would otherwise be pressed hard against the bench top.

Once you’ve clicked the punch enough times, you’ll have a staked castle nut.

Retaining Plate

If you look at the plate, you’ll see a dished section, and on the other side that section is raised. Plates are made by stamping them out of sheet steel, and part of the stamping is to create that raised portion. The raised portion fits into the recess machined in the lower receiver. It seems obvious but I’ve seen a couple of rifles that were assembled with the raised portion out. When that happens, the retaining plate can’t stay in place; it’ll rotate, and it’ll either take the buffer tube with it or it’ll gouge the buffer tube.

This buffer tube wasn’t screwed in far enough, and the buffer retainer fell out. And when it was opened, the owner got the “buffer surprise” that can be so hazardous.

The plate also keeps the takedown spring in place. A quick look to make sure the spring was pushed fully into the tunnel on assembly is warranted. If it wasn’t, it can be bent, and the plate is tipped. Also, the spring might not have enough force to keep the plunger under control, and you might lose the rear plunger on disassembly.

This buffer retainer escaped and rattled around until it could find a way to cause problems.

Stock Swap

While this isn’t something done by Wall Street, exchange the sliding portion of the stock on the buffer tube for another one. The latch on the USGI style is a hinged lever that pulls the plunger out of the drilled locking spots. (The originals had two: open or closed. Only later did we get more, now you can get up to eight positions.) The locking plunger rides in a slot machined on the ventral fin of the buffer tube. The lever can’t move the plunger enough to permit it to leave the groove. So, to remove the slider, you have to grab the whole lever, pull it away from the slider and then slide the stock off. Install the new one the same way.

To remove the slider, you’ll have to pull down on the latch, not lever it. On the Magpul stocks, you’ll have to pull down the crosspin of the latch.

Mil-Spec Versus Commercial

The buffer tube isn’t the same for all stocks. Less so now than in the old days, there are “commercial” tubes that differ. The original-spec tubes are made from forgings, and the tube is machined. If you look closely at a mil-spec tube, you’ll see that the tops of the threads are higher than the tube body. The commercial tubes (assuming anyone makes them anymore, but you might still run into an older rifle with one) are made by extrusion.

The original buffer tubes had two locking notches: open and closed. You can get a lot more today; this is a six-position tube next to a clone of an original.

Here, a heated cylinder of aluminum is forced through a shaping die, and the tube is brought down to diameter while the ventral fin is formed. Then, the tube is threaded. The threads can’t be larger in diameter than the tube. (Well … they can, but that adds time, machinery and cost to their manufacture … so it ain’t happening.) And if you look at a commercial tube, the thread tops are the same diameter as the tube.

The threads are the same; they have to be to screw into the receiver. But the slider portion differs, and a mil-spec stock won’t fit onto a commercial tube, while a commercial stock will be a sloppy fit on a mil-spec tube. The easy way to determine? Measure it. Mil-spec tubes are a nominal 1.148 inches while commercial tubes are a nominal 1.168 inches in diameter. Either will fit a lower receiver, but they won’t permit stock swaps without tube swaps. Both use the same springs and buffer weights. Most tubes, and thus stocks, are now the mil-spec diameter. If yours has a commercial-diameter buffer tube, and you want a different slider, you’ll probably find it easier to just rebuild the whole assembly with a new mil-spec tube, to get the stock you want.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Get On Target With The AR:

The Budget EDC Pistol Buyer’s Guide

Looking for a quality EDC pistol that won’t break the bank? Here are our top carry handgun picks for below $500.

There’s a line of thought in the everyday carry field that you should not be carrying an expensive, custom pistol. Some object because it might give the DA another stick with which to beat you in the legal proceedings. Others claim that your custom 1911 (it always seems to be a 1911, in this argument) will spend years in evidence lockup, and you might not ever see it again.

Well, color me unimpressed.

To throw cold water on those, consider instead the incident itself. If it was in the parlance “a good shoot,” then the DA will do what he or she can or will do, but that’s all. And if it was a good shoot, you’ll be getting your property back. (Well, maybe not, in some jurisdictions, but that’s a life choice and real estate decision, not a pistol selection one.) And if your custom pistol has suffered somewhat in evidence, then the custom ’smith who worked on it will be glad to refresh it now that it has served you well.

EDC Pistols Get Gross

No, I encourage the use of inexpensive pistols for daily carry for an entirely different reason: sweat.

Not every inexpensive pistol has to be available in a host of options to be a smoking deal. The BRG9 Elite comes with everything you see in the case here.

I once had a customer who could rust anything, and quickly. Bart’s perspiration was so corrosive that you could see it on his carry gun. We ended up giving his carry gun a double hard-chrome plating, because we learned he could rust through the hard chrome with just one layer of plating. As I write this, it’s 82 degrees outside, with 88 percent relative humidity. You practically have to push yourself through the air, it’s so thick. A walk around the block has one dripping in sweat. That’s sweat that will drench your carry pistol.

Yes, modern coatings and finishes are much better than the high-gloss blue of the old days, but rusting a $5,000 custom pistol in a weekend of carry isn’t fun. Luckily, you can get a carry gun entirely suitable for daily use for a tenth of that, and you won’t care much if it does suffer some.

Less Can Be More

Let’s start right off the bat with Taurus and the G series. If you want a subcompact pistol, then the GX4 can be yours for under five bills—under four bills if you don’t need or want the option for mounting a red-dot sight. So, a 10- or 11-round magazine, compact size and a list price of $399? It’s hard to beat that, but Taurus does it. If you’re looking for something a little larger or that costs a bit less, then the full-sized G3 can be yours with a list price of $340.

Taurus magazines can hold an impressive amount of ammo. With one in the gun, and the spare on your belt, you’ve got close to a box of ammo on call.

Now, if your tastes run more toward the traditional, you’ll be looking for a 1911 pistol. OK, Armscor has you covered here, with a selection of sizes, finishes, capacities and even calibers, starting at $499. You can bling yours up by opting for a nickel finish, if you like flashy or want the corrosion-resistance it offers. If you’re a fan of the hi-cap striker approach, but not too keen on polymer, then the Armscor STK100 fits the need. Its aluminum frame won’t rust, and the STK100 takes Glock magazines, an item so common I expect to see them on the counter of the convenience store at my local gas station soon.

If you’re old-school and want something .45, or GI, then the Armscor 1911 series won’t hammer your wallet. And you have options in size, caliber and finish, if you’re willing to move up some in price.

If you’re looking to stick with steel magazines, then the Springfield Armory XD series is your choice. The new XDm series are the hot products from Springfield, but the XD line has been offered long enough that Springfield Armory has some real deals to offer. The current Defend Your Legacy XD series, in several sizes, offers you a 9mm pistol of 13- or 16-round magazine capacity, and the XD pistols are hell for tough. At a listed $440, you get steel magazines, grip safety, ambi mag release, striker cocking indicator and loaded chamber indicator, ultra-reliability and the option of using extended magazines to increase your XD's capacity.

The Springfield Armory XD series has been around long enough to now be affordable. You get steel magazines and many options in capacity (state law permitting, of course), and a pistol so tough it probably would shrug off hammer hits.

One of the sources of solid, dependable and inexpensive handguns of late has been Turkey. Century Arms offers the Canik line, and there you have an embarrassment of choices. If you want a full-sized pistol, then the TP9SF at a listed $399, offering 18- or 20-round extended magazines, is amazing. They have all the features you’d want in a pistol, with replaceable backstraps, an accessory rail, hi-vis sights and coming complete with a holster, spare magazine and cleaning tools, so you won’t have to buy extras just to get started. (Well, ammo, of course.) You do have to like a pistol done up in FDE, because that’s how the TP9SF rolls. Other Canik models offer basic black as a finish color. If you want something smaller than a full-sized duty pistol, then the TP9 Elite SC, a subcompact pistol and also set up for red-dot optics, will probably be in the display case next to the TP9SF and listed at $440.

The Canik pistols are an incredible value. And those who are fans of FDE can find several options in the lineup. The extra coating adds corrosion resistance as well.

Now, not all pistols have to be offered in a wide range of options in order to be a great deal. The BRG9 Elite is one such. Made by the Burgu Metal Company in Turkey, and imported by BRG-USA, it’s a duty-sized 9mm pistol. Coming in a lockable hard case with replaceable backstraps, two 16-round magazines, a mag loader and cleaning tools, the BRG9 Elite has a list price of $399.

Inexpensive guns like this BRG9 Elite can be accurate. In fact, most are—inaccurate guns don’t sell very well in today’s economy. Find what ammo yours likes and stick with it.

The selection of 9mm hi-cap pistols that retail for under four Benjamins is eye-opening to those of us who grew up with higher, relative to inflationary changes, prices in the old days. To give you a scale, if we backward calculate $400 in modern Biden dollars to when I bought my first 1911 (USGI surplus), the value then of $400 comes to $97 in 1979. I paid $189 for my 1911 back then. New pistols and revolvers cost even more than that. So, the bargain pistols of today really are bargains.

A Fistfight With Rust

One of the things that got me out of gunsmithing and into gun writing was rust. I was doing a survey of the work I had done and realized just how much of my income came from neglect. Hunting guns, rifles and shotguns that had malfunctioned during the previous hunting season, only now, weeks before Opening Day, were being brought in to be cleaned and checked. Carry guns needed the rust buffed off and the hardened oil inside chipped away. Then, there were the hunting guns that were forgotten until they had been pulled out as “pre-hunt planning” and the carry guns not discovered until they had failed to work at an all-too-rare practice session or required departmental qualification day.

The Canik TP9 Elite SC is a small gun that performs like a big gun. And if you feel the need for a red-dot optic on your pistol, the Canik can accommodate you there.

I’ll grant that the modern finishes are better than blue, and even the hard chrome Bart rusted. But since you’re paying so little, and treating your pistol so harshly, you can take an extra step and not shed a tear over it. The aluminum or polymer frame isn’t going to rust. If you want to give the slide extra protection, you can be careful and coat it with car wax. That’ll help it shed the moisture and sweat it experiences.

You could even (and this is really getting hard core) field-strip your pistol, degrease the slide and give it an application of spray paint. Now, I’d suggest this only if you lived in someplace even more humid than the Midwest, where I Iive, or if your body is as hostile to metal as Bart’s is, and need the extra rust protection. Be sure to use bits of masking tape to keep the paint out of or off of things that need to move, or need to be not covered, like your tritium night sights. And, once it has dried, be sure that you reassemble and give your carry pistol a thorough range session, just to make sure that the paint hasn’t gotten someplace it ought not to have, and your pistol still works.

The Armscor STK100, with its aluminum frame, is going to resist rust a lot better than a steel-framed pistol … and have better recoil control than a polymer-framed pistol.

Now, some might object. “Paint? You’re asking me to paint my firearm?” Well, what do you think a lot of the non-black finishes are, essentially, that you can have on your carry pistol? And, if you live in a truly awful environment, you can have paint on your pistol or you can have rust on your pistol. This is America, after all—you get to decide.

Last, and this applies to all daily carry firearms, not just the inexpensive ones, you should stop by your local computer store, or hit up Amazon, for canned air. The really big problem with daily carry isn’t the sweat, although that is a problem. It’s the lint. Lint accumulates, and once it builds up enough, it stops the small parts from working. Even expensive pistols stop working if there’s enough lint, and it doesn’t take as long as you might think for “enough” to build up. Blow the lint out before it builds up to “too much.”

The Taurus G3 is a full-sized pistol with a less-than-full-sized price tag. If the size isn’t a problem, the price might startle you.

Be Smart, Not Cheap

It’d be smart to take some of the savings you scored from going with an inexpensive carry gun and invest it in cleaning supplies and canned air. If not, it’d be most embarrassing to be standing and waiting at the pearly gates, where the bouncer is looking at you in scorn. “Lint? Really?”

Looking for inexpensive, given the harsh environment, is prudent, but taking care of your investment so it can take care of you is also prudent.

Do both.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2022 EDC special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More EDC Pistols:

Until It Shines: Using Brass Case Cleaner

How to clean your brass the easy way using brass case cleaner.

My gun club ranges have sand and silt floors. There’s also a carpet of brass on top of the sand. When I’m done shooting, I have this habit of picking up my brass, plus whatever is there that’s a caliber I might need, find useful or gotta have. A lot of that other brass is pretty grubby—some of it’s even chocolate colored.

So, I sort the brass and separate it, by caliber and cleanliness, and I end up with boxes (even buckets) of brass that’ll need more than just a run through the tumbler. The muddy stuff gets rinsed in hot water, dried and tossed in with the chocolate brass. And, once a year or so, I’ll set aside a brass-cleaning day (usually a hot summer day) to do the dirty work.

For that, I use Shooter’s Choice Brass Case Cleaner, a solution requiring a certain level of dilution (I tend to not dilute as much as the instructions call for) and then soaking or using an ultrasonic cleaner.


Once your brass is clean, drain and strain, rinse in hot water (the hotter the better) and then dry. That’s why I tend to do this in the summer. I can pour the hot, wet brass onto an old bath or beach towel and let the sunlight do the drying for me. In the midday sun, it isn’t unusual for the brass to get so hot after a couple of hours so I don’t dare touch it with my bare hands. I’ll pour them from one towel to a new, dry towel and give them another hour or so, until I’m certain they’re fully dry.

Some of you might wonder if the discolored brass is weakened. No, not if the discoloration is just a uniform brown color. If you get green crustiness and patches of it, then the corrosion has advanced to the point that the brass might be weaker. Just brown isn’t a problem.

For most brass, going into the tumbler will be enough to clean it.

Take It Easy

Can you overdo this? Yes. You’re using an acidic solution to react to the corrosion and strip it off. If you let your brass soak too long (the instructions specifically say to not do this overnight, so that’s a clue), the acidic solution could’ve worked at a scratch or gouge in the case that wouldn’t have otherwise been a problem, but now you’ve weakened it.

During the decades I’ve cleaned brass this way, I’ve never had a problem, but my idea of a “long soak” is half an hour. In an ultrasonic cleaner, you might need five minutes, or you might need more depending on the level of patina of your brass.

To get your “chocolate” brass this clean, go to chemistry … not tumbling.

Can you use this method with nickeled brass? Yes. Although, I have to wonder how you go about neglecting nickeled brass to the point where it gains a patina. The whole point of nickel is that it doesn’t do that. But if you miss a nickel case in your sorting and it ends up getting a bath, you aren’t going to ruin the case nor spoil the mix of your cleaner.

Can you clean your regular brass this way? Yes, but unless you have to etch off the patina, why go through the extra trouble? Just toss it in the tumbler. If it’s muddy, a hot water rinse, a dry and then into the tumbler is all it needs.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More Reloading Info:

5.7x28mm For EDC?

Do pistols chambered for 5.7x28mm cut it for everyday carry? Yes and no and … maybe.

Back in 1990, NATO wanted a special firearm … a personal defense weapon (PDW). This PDW was to be the modern equivalent of the M1 Carbine. Unlike the carbine, however, they wanted something that’d penetrate the soon-to-be-issued Soviet “superarmor”, something that all Warsaw Pact troops would soon be wearing when they swarmed across the Iron Curtain.

The 5.7x28mm came to us in the P90, an SMG-sized firearm familiar to all fans of the Stargate TV show. Its companion, the PS90, came with a 16-inch barrel and no selector switch. In due time, FN offered a 5.7x28mm option in the FiveseveN, a pistol chambered in the cartridge. The ammunition, however, wasn’t the anti-Soviet loading that NATO could get, but various FMJ and polymer-tipped bullets that could be had here.

All three 5.7 pistols discussed here can have a red-dot optic mounted, if you wish. Here, the FN gets some range time.

So, the question is: Is the 5.7 a suitable option as an EDC firearm and chambering? Quick answer: Yes … and no.

Pistol Potential

OK, first up are the pistols. For the longest time, we’ve had just the FN version, the FiveseveN, which is pretty marvelous. Holding 20 rounds of 5.7x28mm ammunition, and with magazine extensions adding 10 rounds available, you can have a full box of ammo plus one, in the pistol and on your belt, with just two magazines. Then, Ruger added theirs, and just recently S&W unveiled a pistol in 5.7 as well.

So, you have choices.

FN Five-SeveN Centerfire Pistol (left), Ruger-5.7 Centerfire Pistol (middle) and Smith & Wesson M&P 5.7 Centerfire Pistol (right).

Oh, and if it matters, the S&W comes standard with an extended and threaded barrel, so you can mount a suppressor, if you want to, for more giggle-worthy range practice. Plus, the S&W magazine holds 22 rounds, but you’ll have to use the included magazine loader to get it stuffed full. The FN version differs from what we expect in a pistol in that the safety is not thumb-operated, but instead a lever on the frame located for your trigger finger. Both the Ruger and S&W have a safety (ambi) in the expected thumb-actuated location. Still, you can learn the FN safety location.

But there’s a bigger problem with the 5.7 as a defensive pistol: size.

The 5.7 cartridge is long. At 1.59 inches, it’s longer than a .45 ACP or .38 Super, which means fitting it into a magazine, and the magazine into a frame, makes for a larger pistol than “normal.” And then you double-stack it to gain capacity, resulting in a full-sized-plus pistol. The thinness of the cartridge does mitigate the double-stack fattening of the grip, but not enough to make it not big. There’s no getting around it—you’re going to be packing something as big as a 1911 government model, and then some.

The 5.7 is long, longer than standard pistol cartridges. Here, you can see some standard (and not-so-standard) 5.7 loads, compared to 9mm, .40 and .45.

If you can get your hand or hands around the frame to hold and shoot it, then great. But if you can’t, it doesn’t matter if it’s the hammer of Thor—you can’t. This does limit the 5.7 to those with large-enough hands who are willing to dress around the gun. We all have to dress around the gun, but the various 5.7 pistols make that a greater task. In the past, I’ve mentioned the various 5.7x28mm pistols as an option for those who aren’t keen on recoil, but (I’m pretty sure) I’ve always been clear: You’ve got to have hands big enough.

Dollar For Dollar

Next up is the cost of ammunition. It isn’t too difficult these days to find practice ammo for a 9mm pistol at $12 for a box of 50 rounds. Granted, the better defensive ammo is going to cost more, but a box of 50 Gold Dots, for example, that runs you $30 will last you for years as carry ammo. But to practice you need to shoot, and shooting means it’s consumed. For that, $12 a box is a better deal, and it leads to more practice.

In the 5.7, practice ammo is going to run you as much as the premium defensive 9mm does—or darned close to it. The lowest-cost 40-grain FMJ I could source was $29 per box, and it went up quickly from there. And, you don’t have the option of reloading to lower practice costs. The case is a bottlenecked one, not always a problem, but while the S&W is a rotating barrel, the Ruger and the FN are both a short-distance blowback design, so case shoulders are blown forward when fired in those pistols. As a result, case life is thus short, and loading data is sparse or vague. There are a host of other problems as well. The quick answer is: No savings here.

FN was first with the FivseveN. While it’s a great pistol, it’s also the most expensive of the trio.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of cost, the prices have quite the spread. The FN lists at $ 1,409, the S&W at $699 and the Ruger at $899. In an age of a host of 9mm pistols listing for $425 to $450, those aren’t inconsequential price bumps.

Punching Above Its Weight

How about ballistics? Detractors diss the 5.7x28mm as “being an expensive .22 Magnum,” but that’s not true. The little rimfire has its published ballistics rifle velocities, and using it in a pistol chops a bunch of fps off of those figures. Out of a pistol, the .22 WMR delivers around 1,200 fps or a bit more, with a 45-grain bullet. The 5.7 can accelerate a 40-grain bullet to 1,700 to 1,800 fps, which is a significant difference.


Field reports on the 5.7 aren’t extensive. It hasn’t received anything like the acceptance of the .40 back in the early 1990s, nor the adoption of the latest-generation 9mm JHPs that we can mine for a trove of data. However, there’s one incident we can turn to—the use of a 5.7 at Fort Hood. There, 45 people were shot, 13 of whom died.

The interesting (from a ballistics viewpoint, otherwise it was horrible) aspects of the incident was that, despite all the victims being young, fit and motivated, none were able to close the distance to the shooter. In fact, the 5.7, when it struck bone, broke bones, which isn’t always something a pistol cartridge can do. As I’ve mentioned before, when a “lowly” .22 strikes the femur and breaks it, there’s something going on here we can’t necessarily explain with the various ballistic theories I’ve read. Ballistically, the 5.7 seems to punch well above its weight.

Accuracy Excel, Recoil Is Pleasant

The impressive ballistics delivered don’t come at a cost in apparent recoil. While the 5.7 in any pistol is going to be a bit “bouncy” in recoil, it doesn’t beat you up like others do. A +P load in a .45 ACP is definitely a workout to shoot. A top-end 9mm, or a +P load, while not as hard-hitting on your hands, has more bark to it, and some people find the noise more of a problem than the recoil. Some loadings of the 5.7 are snappy in noise, but none are what you’d call hard to shoot, recoil-wise.

The 5.7 doesn’t have much in the way of felt recoil, so you can shoot fast and accurately. You just must have hands big enough to reach around the grip.

In recoil, momentum seems to be a better yardstick of the impression in your hands than kinetic energy is, so we’ll use the power factor (PF) calculation here (weight times velocity). So, a vanilla-plain 9mm load (115 grains at 1,150 fps) posts a 132 PF, while an average .45 hardball load posts a 190 PF. (The top-end loads of each are considerably higher in PF.)

The 5.7? With a 40-grain bullet traveling at 1,900 fps, you’d have an 85.5 PF. So, that’s soft recoil, if you can get your hands around it.

As far as accuracy is concerned, the 5.7 is no slouch. The ammunition—and the pistols—will be more accurate than just about any shooter out there. And all can be had now with mountings for red-dot optics, so you aren’t giving that choice up.


And The Verdict Is?

So, where are we, as far as EDC for the 5.7x28mm?

We’ve got a large pistol, and for that you’ll need proper leather (or Kydex) to carry it and not be noticed. All three options weigh a few ounces less than a G17 and a half-pound less than the weight of a lightweight commander—just a bit more than half the weight of a steel government model. If you’re carrying a spare magazine (and you really ought to), you’ll have one as big as one-plus of a G17 mag or two 1911 magazines. And that’s even before you take advantage of the extra capacity extensions.

The S&W 5.7 magazine holds 22 rounds, which could be very comforting in an emergency.

I gave up on packing a full-sized government model back when Reagan was president, in favor of a more-compact, lightweight commander. I’m not sure I’d go back to that size, even for the capacity of the 5.7.

But I’m old, cranky … and like my comfort.

To sum things up: If you can hide the size and get your hands around the grip, the 5.7 offerings can be very attractive. For a lot of shooters, those are both big hurdles to overcome. And practice will be expensive, because you can’t cut costs by reloading.

But, as I’ve said many times before: This is America, and you have choices.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2023 EDC special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More 5.7x28mm Stuff:

Night Divides The Day: Choosing The Best Pistol Light

These days, nearly every handgun comes with a rail, so here are some top pistol light choices to help destroy the night.

There was a time when it simply wasn’t possible to mount a light onto your firearm. Oh, duct tape, hose clamps and an indifference to tactical fashion could get a flashlight attached to your riot gun or AR-15, but people wouldn’t have called you clever for that—not even back in the 1980s.

Now, it’s rare a pistol doesn’t have a rail for light-mounting, and the choice of lights to mount are near legion.

Streamlight TLR-1


To some, basic is boring. To others, it’s dependable. The TLR-1 isn’t new, it’s not flashy, but it works. And has worked for years. Using a pair of CR123 batteries, it generates 300 lumens of light and continues to do so for two and a half hours. If you’re simply playing the numbers game, 300 might not seem like much, but when it came out that was plenty. And it still is in a lot of circumstances and locations. Indoors, in particular, too many lumens can be a problem. If the predominant paint color on your walls at home is Navajo White, you’re not going to need, nor like, 1,000 lumens.

If, however, you do want to have enough lumen horsepower to signal the mothership, then let’s go up in power.

Streamlight TLR-9


Back in the old days, if we wanted lots of lumens, the choice was the TLR-1HL, a high-output light with 1,000 lumens. You can still have it, but a more modern and better choice is the TLR-9. A thousand lumens, but now in a sleeker package. Instead of side-by-side configuration, the “9” loads the CR123 batteries in line, so you don’t have a fat box under your pistol. This does make it a bit long, but if you want 1,000 lumens for an hour and a half, you’ll need a pair of batteries. It has a toggle/rocker switch at the rear you can reach from either side and a light lock-out feature. This lets you make sure the light doesn’t get switched on when you put it away, only to find the batteries dead some time later. (You do have to remember to unlock it when you next go to load up and carry, but Streamlight can’t do everything for you.)

Let’s take a step back and consider not all lighting options need to be focused on power, even if it means bulk.

Streamlight TLR-8

The Streamlight TLR-8 fits on the EAA P35 just fine and works like a charm.

This is a light for compact pistols, but it works on full-sized ones as well. The “8” indicates it’s the light/laser combo, and its companion non-laser model is the TLR-7. It generates 500 lumens and offers a strobe function as well. There are dual buttons on either side of your trigger guard (as mounted), and as with all lights, you’ll have to learn the touch-press-hold pattern that generates the desired function. You have the choice of red or green lasers but not in the same unit. Pick one—that’s the color you get. The TLR-7/8 uses a single battery, the common for lights CR123A battery that’s now an everyday item even in big-box hardware stores.

The Streamlight TLR-8, with its adapter plates and tools I used to install it onto and off various pistols.

One detail of the TLR-8 (and the 7) that I like is that the light comes with a set of adapter plates. You need to install one of the plates in the body of the light and then fit the light to your pistol. This permits Streamlight to make a single shell with light, battery compartment and controls; by installing a plate, you fit it to your pistol. That means they don’t have to stock a dozen inventory items to fit everything, and you can make it fit whatever pistol you have … or the next one … or the next.

The attachment isn’t fast or overly engineered. It’s a simple screw that pulls the clamp plate on the far side tight to the rail. The slot on the screw has been produced to fit a coin, so whatever pocket change you have will suffice to tighten, or check the tightness of, your TLR-8.

Lights last a long time.

Insight X2

Don’t overlook old lights. This Insight X2 may not be blinding, but it’s compact, puts out plenty of light and fits on everything (at least everything I’ve tried it on—and that’s a lot of pistols).

One of my favorite compact lights is the Insight X2, a light/laser combo. The listed light output is only 80 lumens. However, every time I fire it up, I have to ask myself, Who measured that? It punches above its specs. I hang onto it because it hasn’t quit; it’s easy-on, easy-off, fits on everything and produces plenty of light for plenty of applications. Did I mention it fits on everything? If you see an orphan tactical light, don’t pass it up just because it isn’t he newest. New is good, but old can be useful.

To show versatility, a compact light fits onto a full-sized pistol—and works. Don’t worry too much about lumens; get what fits, works and you’re comfortable with.

Money matters, so let’s not break the bank while lighting up the night, shall we?

Crimson Trace Lightguard


The Crimson Trace Lightguard series doesn’t cover a lot of pistols, only nine models, and they’re not going to get you “what SEALs use” points on your man-card, but not everyone wants to light the dark for any reason other than they have a practical need. The Lightguard series fit onto the trigger guard or accessory rail. They offer ambidextrous controls for momentary and constant-on, and the output, at 110 lumens isn’t going to be laser-like; it’ll show you what’s trying to hide in the dark. Each one comes with the batteries it uses, a pair of 1/3N cells (aka CR1/3N) and will run for an hour on those. With a list price of $90, you can have light on your pistol, even if it’s an older model (one of the nine Crimson Trace makes this for) that doesn’t have an accessory rail.


If you have to have the best, the biggest, baddest, most durable light to be had, then we know which aisle to be shopping in.

SureFire X300

The SureFire X300 Turbo fits on a lot of pistols, but boy is it big. Then again, it’s tough, so pick wisely for the pistol you use.

The big daddy of lights—in performance and price—the X300 offers you 1,000 lumens. Now, before we get to gushing over the SureFire light, we again have to consider light. And backgrounds. A thousand lumens is great if you’re checking the exterior of your house, out in the country. (Perhaps a rifle or shotguns might be a better tool …) Indoors, maybe not so much. A thousand lumens, especially if your décor tends toward the lighter colors (or white), can cause a lot of “backsplash.” That’s the excess light you’ve projected out, reflecting off light or bright surfaces and bouncing back into your eyes. Disorienting the bad guy with light is great, but not if you’re doing the same thing to yourself.

The SureFire X300 Turbo fits nicely on this XD-M Elite, but then it’s a big pistol, so a big light isn’t a big deal.

If you have a need for it, and the practice to manage it, the SureFire is king of the hill in pistol lights. It does this with two CR123A batteries, so it’s not as compact as other lights. It offers a quick-attach mount system and can be configured to fit various-sized rails. It’s waterproof to 1 meter for 30 minutes—probably longer than you can hold your breath—and it’s the epitome of solid construction.

The SureFire light uses a quick-detach system that locks in place and is fast, but you might not fit it onto every pistol out there.

The X300 has toggle levers that are easy to use and work the same on each side of the trigger guard. Those of us with longer fingers find that with some mounting setups we can use the support-hand thumb as the light control.

However, in addition to the extra bulk dictated by the dual batter power (which generates its 1,000 lumens for an hour and a quarter), you also pay for this performance in other ways. At 4 ounces in weight, the X300 is heavier than other lights. It has an extended light housing, making the SureFire itself 3 1/2 inches long. And the price is as much as double that of other lights. But if you want a light no one can speak down on, and want buckets of lumens, Surefire is your go-to.

Spot, flood, “hot,” splash, backup and practice.

Beyond The Lumens

There’s more to light than lumens. Ever wonder why some big bulbs are denoted as spotlights and others as floodlights? Think about it. A spotlight is just that, all (or almost all) of the light generated is focused into a tight circle. Add a pile of lumens to that and you have some interesting reach. With a rifle, in the outside and open, that could be good. If I’m in the country and trying to shoot a problem on the farm at night, a spotlight lets me get a good ID when aiming my rifle. If, however, I want to evenly illuminate the yard or enclosure, I use a floodlight. Weaponlights work the same way.

A “hot” center is a combo, a flood of light, but with a brighter center. You can illuminate the edges, but the bright center is the part lighting up your point of impact.

Splash is light that spills out from where you’re pointing your weaponlight. You must check your local laws, because in a lot, if not all of them, pointing a loaded firearm at someone without legal justification is a crime on your part. One or another variation of assault with a deadly weapon is the charge that’ll be listed, if it gets that far. Even if there are no charges filed, it’ll almost certainly be cause for lifting of your CPL, probably on the subject of “brandishing.” So searching while using a weaponlight as the sole tool of illumination is a fraught proposition. However, with training and practice, you can use the splash from your light to illuminate without actually sweeping someone with your muzzle. It’s not always easy, but it can be done.


Oh, and batteries? Stock up. There’s not much more discouraging than hearing something go bump in the night and when you go to see what it is, discover the battery is dead. Buying batteries one at a time is just crazy—buy in bulk. A quick check of batter costs showed me that I could get CR123s one at a time for four or five bucks each, but if I bought them by the dozen or more, they cost just $1.50 each. The bigger the bulk, the lower the unit cost, but even I take a long time to grind through 100 batteries.

We use lights at night, but not a lot of ranges let you shoot with the lights out—nor do gun clubs like night-time practice. So, you’ll be doing a lot of your practice in the daytime. Do it and learn to press the light on for what you need as you’re doing the drill you’re doing while shooting. Practice is practice, even if it’s in the daytime for getting ready for the night.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More Rifle And Pistol Lights:

Revolver Gear: The HKS Speedloader

If you carry a defensive revolver, you’re going to want an HKS speedloader.

I still remember the first time I saw an HKS speedloader in action.

I was working at The Gun Room, and the boss, Mike Karbon, found and stocked them. When we made a sale for a duty-type or defensive revolver (which were most sales back then, being next to Detroit in the 1980s), he’d say, “You’ll want a speedloader with that.” Most were dubious, as it was a new thing, and most were suspicious.

Despite all four of these looking the same, they’re for four different .38/.357 revolvers. You have to make sure you get the right one. Once you do, you’re golden.

Mike had a demo loader he’d pick up, hurling it across the shop floor to ricochet off the floor, into a corner and off a strategically placed wooden ammo crate. The customer would pick it up, and then Mike would hold it up, turn the knob and the rounds would drop free. Sale made.

Made of durable plastic (before “polymer” became a household word) and aluminum, the demo rounds in it wouldn’t chamber and should never have gotten fired, but the HKS worked.

The durability of the HKS came with some minor downsides, however. First, it was caliber and revolver specific. Caliber is understandable, as you wouldn’t expect a .38 speedloader to hold .44s or vice versa. But the cylinder diameters on various revolvers differed, and the spacing had to be just right for the rounds to drop out of the HKS and into the cylinder. As a result, we had to stock the full range just to be covered. This was despite most of our customers being Detroit PD, with most carrying .41s, .44s and .45s. Still, someone who packed a five-shot J-frame often wanted extra ammo, too, so we stocked the full line.

A quick current check turns up HKS, and the full line is even fuller. From .22 LR up to .45, I count 21 models fitting a host of revolvers, mostly S&W, Colt, Ruger and Taurus. That’s most of the wheelguns now, isn’t it?

Nothing Is Perfect

The HKS does have some minor drawbacks.

First of all, the lock and release is a rotating knob. The cylinder of your revolver must be pinned in place (a thumb or fingertips will do that with proper technique), or turning the knob just spins the cylinder. There’s no spring propulsion, so the muzzle must be pointed down to load. You need gravity, and gravity only works in one direction. Their durability means a certain amount of bulk. Loading strips, flat plastic/rubber strips that hold five or six rounds in a line, can be pocketed or carried in a flatter pouch. They aren’t as fast or secure as an HKS, but they are flatter.

Since you have to turn the knob, you have to make sure your cylinder is pinned in place. That’s not a problem, as proper technique ensures that.

Lastly, while the HKS webpage gives you info, you can’t order them. You have to go to a retailer or an online store. The simplicity of their design means that had revolvers remained as mainline defensive carry handguns, we’d be buried under Chinese clones. But HKS speedloaders (assuming you don’t get taken by copies) are made in the United States, from materials made in the United States.

It didn’t take long before Mike had to retire that HKS speedloader. Not because he broke it—word quickly spread, and he no longer had to do the demo … despite speedloaders, as a uniform item, not being on the approved-wear list. That said, Detroit PD officers didn’t care, and their shift supervisors knew that if they did an inspection and made officers take them off, the HKS pouches and loaders would be back on their officer’s belts before anyone’s first cup of coffee had gotten cold.

When something is so good that people will break the rules to use it, you know it’s good.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Speedloaders:

Just Checking: Why You Need A Case Gauge

Some mistakes you make only once.

If you want to practice more, you reload your ammo. If you want the best-possible ammo for a given competition, you reload your ammo. And, sooner or later, when vacuuming up the range, you’ll pick up a piece of brass that won’t chamber after you’ve gone to the trouble of cleaning, sizing, priming and loading it. Usually that happens in a match. Murphy’s Law and such.

That night you’ll be searching out case gauges online. Save yourself the match hassle and do it now. Case checkers are simple—a steel or aluminum block with the chamber reamed to absolute minimum chamber dimensions. These are used in rifle reloading to check the “shoulder bump,” the setting back of the shoulder you check so you have a proper headspacing setup in your reloading. You use them a bit differently for handguns.

Many people make case checkers: Just get the caliber you need … and use it. These are from EGW and Dillon.

After you’ve sorted and cleaned your brass (and checked for cracked ones as well), load your ammo. Once you have a batch or several loaded, simply spend some boring alone time dropping each loaded round into the case gauge. Then, turn the gauge over to let it fall out. If this is your match ammo, you’d be wise to also look at and touch the primer on each one to make sure it’s properly seated (not sideways, upside down or crushed) … and below flush.

If a round won’t drop completely of its own weight, it fails. If it won’t drop out of its own weight when you turn the case gauge over, it fails. Set the fails aside.

What passes is your good ammo, and you can practice or compete with it with complete confidence. What do you do with the fails? Learn. First, inspect them. Do they appear normal? Good. Keep them. The ones where the bullet caught the case mouth and crumpled the case, slipped sideways and did the same, or other case-mangling errors are discards. You might not be belling the empties enough, or you might be ham-handed in setting bullets or pulling the press handle.

Case checkers are caliber-specific. There’s no “one size fits all,” so buy the calibers you’ll be loading.

Learn what you’re doing wrong and correct it.

When you practice, take along the box of fails. If you’ve been paying attention, they won’t be many, and they’ll probably be cases that are slightly swelled at the base and won’t pass case-check. Shoot your normal practice session.

Now, pick up all your brass (and whatever else you’re in the habit of hoovering up at the gun club). Load a magazine with the fails and shoot them. If they all work, then you know your case gauge is more discriminating than your chamber. So, unless a checked round sticks halfway out of the case-checker, it’s probably still good to go. (Keep them as practice rounds anyway, not as match rounds.)

You have to learn if your chamber and the checker are in agreement. This round is just barely not-passing, but it’ll probably work fine in most pistols. Learn about yours; test-shoot the rejects.

If more than just one or two fail in your handgun, then you know the checker and your chamber are in close agreement, and anything that fails the case gauge is “end of practice” ammo only. In that case, you now pick up those empties and deposit them in the trash. You’re performing a public service to fellow club members by getting oversized brass out of circulation.

Where does this brass come from? Some is just bad brass. A quick search will uncover the names and headstamps of brass to avoid. But some of it comes from one of your own club members, who either has a grossly oversized chamber or is running his pressures too high and over-expanding brass.

Don’t let his situation become your problem. Check your ammo and make your practice good, not just malfunction-clearing afternoons.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Reloading:

Should You Be Carrying A Trauma Kit?

If you carry a gun every day, carrying a trauma kit alongside it isn’t paranoia, it’s just being prepared.

Sometimes, life ends up with someone bleeding. It doesn’t have to be from a gunshot, but if you’re carrying every day, that might be some date in your future. Then, there are all the times you’re using power equipment, or just big, sharp cutting tools. It’d suck to have to explain to the Big Guy at the pearly gates, “I was only 50 yards from my house, but I couldn’t make it in time. Guess I should’ve had some trauma gear.”

Adventure Medical Kits offers compact trauma kits that you can keep in a pocket, a bag or close at hand. The one I have close by is one of theirs with QuikClot as part of the package. In addition to the four different gauze dressing sizes, gloves tape and trauma pad, it has a packet of QuikClot—a hemostatic dressing that accelerates clotting. When you’re bleeding, the idea is to stop the bleeding as soon as possible.

This Adventure Medical Kits trauma pack is small enough to fit easily in a winter coat and not be noticed. For the warmer months, a smaller kit would be a good choice.

Yes, QuikClot risks making the wound an ugly mess, but the moment you need it you don’t have an ER doc on hand. Whatever bulky mess the QuikClot may (or may not) make, combined with the dressings you have packed into place is a problem the ER doc you’ll be seeing is equipped to deal with.

The kit I keep at hand is just a bit too big to keep in a pocket in warm weather, so I have the big (relatively, it’s not much bigger than a paperback book) kit close at hand and an even more compact one on my person.

Prepared, Not Paranoid

Yes, all this gear can add up. You’ve got your pistol and a reload, cell phone, tactical folder, flashlight, whatever backups you might be packing and all the other accouterments of daily life in the 21st century. Adding a trauma kit might seem like too much. But if you’re going to be serious about being prepared, just having the location of the nearest Level 1 Trauma Center on your cell phone isn’t enough.

You also have to keep in mind that the trauma kit isn’t like your pistol. You’ll be using your pistol only for defense of yourself, your family or those under your protection. (It seems the world at large doesn’t like ad-hoc heroes.)

It is amazing how much stuff they can pack into a vacuum-sealed package, but this is enough for many types of emergencies.

But your trauma kit works for anyone who you wish to share it with—somebody at work, somebody at a public event who is at risk and the EMT truck is minutes out. A family gathering, even if most (or all) of the family doesn’t know you carry would be a time and place, should an accident occur, where a trauma kit could be handy.

Insurance comes in many forms. You have selected one of them—a daily carry pistol, as being appropriate and desirable. As the old saying goes, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” Find a pocket. Find a kit that fits it. Pack it. Learn how to use it. Be prepared.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2022 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Be Prepared:

Signaling The Mothership: Streamlight ProTac 2.0 Review

The Streamlight ProTac HL was good, but the upgraded Streamlight ProTac 2.0 is even better.

You might be a gun writer if … you have a collection of tactical lights by the back door to choose from when taking the dogs for a walk.

One I pick up routinely is a Streamlight ProTac HL. It was a high lumen (for the time) LED light that runs on a pair of 123 cells, and it now shows its hard use. The ProTac HL is an aluminum body with a rear button and the Streamlight Ten-Tap programmable operating parameters. I just stuck with the basic, so it’s instant-on “high,” a quick second tap gets me “strobe,” and the third gets me “low.” You have two other patterns to choose from if you wish.

I’ve used this one for years. I’ve dropped it on concrete, in snow, mud and water, and more than once held it in my fist as extra support in case I might have to administer a short course of attitude adjustment. It has worked flawlessly through a carton of batteries, but it’s no more an apex illumination tool. This one still works, but Streamlight has a new and improved one for you, the ProTac 2.0.


The new Streamlight ProTac 2.0 is made the same way as my old one—machined from aluminum, so it’ll stand up to use and abuse. It also has the Ten-Tap programmable operation, so you can customize it for your needs or uses. What’s different is the output—now 2,000 lumens—and the battery is rechargeable. My old one is a “mere” 750 lumens, powerful enough to light up the street, but 2,000 lumens is powerful enough to signal the mothership on final approach.

And the 2.0 battery can be recharged. Plus, you can choose to recharge it without removing it from the ProTac or remove it and charge it that way using the provided USB cable. Having run out of juice on night excursions more than once and needing to replace the dead batteries on my return, the idea of once a week plugging the 2.0 in to top it off is very appealing.

The new ProTac 2.0 is 2,000 “light up the night” lumens and uses a rechargeable battery that you don’t even have to remove from the tube to recharge. Life is suddenly much better.

The 2.0 is, like the HL before it, moisture resistant (no one can really say “waterproof” these days, regulations won’t let them) and will survive a dunking better than you can. It’s IP67 rated, meaning it can take being submerged in 1 meter of water for longer than you can probably hold your breath.


Giving up my trusty old HL is going to be painful, but life and technology moves on. And, in the case of technology, it gets better. After all, it’s dark half the time and dark indoors in some places. The 2.0 is better—a lot better—so look for one when considering your night-time illumination needs. Soon, my trusty HL is going to get relegated to backup duty.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Tactical Lights:

Big-Block Glock: The Guncrafter Industries .50 GI Conversion

If you want your Glock to have momentum en masse, look no further than the Guncrafter Industries .50 GI conversion.

Quick question: which do you favor—kinetic energy or momentum? If you favor KE, then a 9mm +P+ with 115-grain JHPs is your measure, your option. But if you favor momentum, then something chambered in .45 is what you want. Like a .45 ACP with a 230-grain bullet at 850 fps, or a .45 Colt with a 255 grainer at 750 fps. We’re talking the equivalent of high-compression small engines versus big-block V-8s. (We won’t speak of alcohol-burning race engines at 12,000 rpm.)

But what if you want even more momentum?

How about we halve the 9mm+P+ velocity and more than double the 9mm weight? Or even exceed the .45 weight? A 300-grain JHP at 700 fps should be just the ticket. How do you get that? Here comes Guncrafter Industries to the rescue with the .50 GI.

The Guncrafter .50 GI conversion upper on a Glock G21 lower.

Massive Momentum

The .50 GI is all of that in a self-loading pistol. In this case, a Glock that left the factory in .45 ACP but somewhere along the way to me lost its .45 identity and now sports a .50 GI conversion upper.

As conversions go, this is dead-simple. Unload your .45 Glock, this being a G21. Remove the complete upper assembly and set it aside. Pick up the .50 GI upper and run it onto the frame just as you would if you were reassembling your .45. You’re done. In my case, as I mentioned, there’s no .45 upper so it’s a simple assembly job.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: Yes, it’ll work on your G20 in 10mm. Plus, the G40 and G41.

Guncrafter simply made a barrel and slide that’d accommodate the .50 GI, then added the standard Glock internals and provided a recoil spring to handle the extra slide mass and momentum generated by the .50 GI. Everything works just as you’d expect. And if you feel the need for some other kind of sights, they’re standard Glock dimensions, so swap to your heart’s content.

Now you see the benefits of proper engineering and planning. The Guncrafter slide is set up to take regular Glock sights, so you can swap in whatever ones you want or favor.

The .50 GI case uses the same rim diameter as that of the .45 ACP, so you could simply drop in or fit a .50 GI barrel to your G21 should you wish. Guncrafter makes conversion barrels for those who want to go that route. Your choices are a 4.6-inch barrel, a 5.3-inch barrel threaded 5/8-24 … and a 6-inch barrel if what you want is a bit more velocity. The case is larger in diameter to hold the .500-inch diameter bullet, while the full-up length of the .50 GI cartridge is the same as that of the .45 ACP, so converting Glocks is easy.

The .50 GI loaded round has the same length limitations as the .45 ACP, since it goes into the same magazine. This is a flat-nose 300-grain FMJ and, at 700 fps, knocks down steel and brooms pins with brio.

Just as an aside, converting 1911s isn’t so easy. The single-stack magazine simply can’t hold the .50 GI; there isn’t room side-to-side. So, to get a .50 GI 1911, you’ll have to get a custom 1911 from Guncrafter. I’ve tested those in the past, and you’re in for a treat if you spring for one. But this is about the Glock.

Since the G21 uses a double-stack magazine, fitting the .50 GI into a mag is easy. They just hold fewer rounds, but hey, that’s the not-very-great price you pay for a bigger bullet, right? Oh, and a minor detail, but one you should pay attention to: Mark your mags. If you have a Glock in .45 ACP that you’re putting your .50 GI onto, then you have Glock 45 magazines. Be sure and mark your 50 mags so you can tell them apart, because it isn’t easy otherwise.

The dedicated .50 GI Glock magazines are modified by Guncrafter, because a wider-diameter case needs a different feed lip spacing and geometry than a smaller one does (were that not the case, every magazine would be the same). Now, theoretically, you could take .45 Glock mags yourself and cut them to match the feed lips of a .50 GI mag. You have to be either extremely bored or really, really incorrectly cheap to do that. I mean, you’re going to use a thousand-dollar milling machine (the cheapest to be had) to machine $25 Glock mags, rather than buying ready-to-go modified-to-.50 GI magazines for $60? Even if you don’t screw up any mags learning how to do the cut (and you will, I have no doubt), you wouldn’t break even until you had machined your 29th magazine. And in talking with the owner of Guncrafter, Alex Zimmerman, I found out it’s more than just passing an end mill cutter over the feed lips. Nope, don’t be fooled, buying is a much better bargain.

While the Glock .50 GI conversion uses a Glock frame, the magazines are modified to properly feed .50 GI cartridges. The modified magazines hold nine rounds of .50 GI, compared to the 13 of the .45 ACP mags.

Feeding Momentum

Loading ammo, on the other hand, is easy. The .50 GI runs at much the same pressure as the .45 ACP, which means your brass will last … well, a very long time. The resizing force needed is minimal. The cases and bullets are large and easy to handle, and you’ll only lose cases by not finding them at the range or being ham-handed in loading and crushing one.

The process is the same as any other handgun cartridge, but those of you with progressive presses will find one small roadblock: the rebated rim. The rim is smaller in diameter than the case. This makes it possible to fit it to a .45 slide. If you’re in the habit of using an automatic case feeder to get empties into your press, you aren’t going to be able to do that here.

This is a problem with any rebated-rim cartridge, not just the .50 GI, and it’s a simple problem and situation: The rebated rim falls into the case mouth of the case underneath it in the feed tube and, as a result, can’t be shuttled out by the mechanism. So, you’ll have to feed the empties in by hand. It’s not a big deal, and you probably won’t be loading 5-gallon buckets of .50 GI.

The options for bullets aren’t as great as some cartridges, but you do have choices. And once you find what you (and your pistol) like, how many choices do you need?

Bullet weights that can be used range from 255 grains on the light end to 350 grains on the heavy end. Velocities are in the moderate range but, again, we’re after momentum here. A 300-grain bullet at a “mere” 700 fps generates a 210 power factor, and that’s more than a lot of .45 ACP+P loads generate.

The low operating pressure gives you more “head” room, should you want to pump up the ballistics some. It’s possible, with the proper powders and a willingness to endure recoil, to push bullets faster than you might think. The 275-grainers can be run up just over 900 fps, the 300s to the mid-800s, 325-grain bullets up to 800 fps and 350-grain bullets to 750 fps. Those range from a power factor of 255 up to 262. If you mean to thump, then those are real thumpers. As far as momentum goes, the brisk .50 GI loads are equal to a mild .44 Magnum, and that’s out of an auto-loading pistol that doesn’t have a sharp bark.


The late sci-fi author Robert Heinlein made famous the acronym TANSTAAFL: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” So, what’s the cost of the .50 GI? Aside from the conversion barrel or conversion upper?

First, there’s the brass. It’s available only from Guncrafter. As a proprietary case, Guncrafter controls who makes it for them—and makes sure only them. It can’t be made from some other case, and even if it could be, the cost of doing so would be greater than buying GI brass. At the moment, .50 GI brass from Guncrafter is $60 per hundred new empties. That’s twice what other high-performance brass would run you. Unless you’re in the habit of using your .50 GI pistol in “lost brass” matches (one where you aren’t allowed to pick up your fired cases), the initial cost really isn’t much since they’ll last through dozens of loadings.

This loading die set came from Hornady, but there are others. With low-pressure cases and tungsten-carbide sizing dies, loading is easy work.

Your bullet options will be limited, but not as much as the brass purchase. Guncrafter offers bullets as well as cases. A quick search shows a handful of other bullet providers. What you need are cast, coated, plated or jacketed bullets of .500-inch diameter, and ones short enough to fit in the case and under the cartridge-overall-length of the .45 ACP and .50 GI. This precludes some of the offerings for the various other .50 handgun cartridges.

You’re simply not going to be able to use the heavyweights you might load into a .500 S&W magnum into a .50 GI case. The weight range of usable bullets in the .50 GI is going to be 255 grains up to 350 grains. As with the brass, once you have a supply of bullets and brass, settled on a particular bullet and the powder charge to run your .50 GI, it’s like any other firearm. You get what you need, when you need it and load up as you want to shoot.

The caliber of this beast is quite clearly more than a mere .45 ACP.

Once you have the components and settled on a load, it isn’t like you’re going through the fuss of loading for benchrest. Nor do you have the R&D arcana of trying to craft .38-40 cowboy loads that actually work. Loading the .50 GI is simple.

Since the case has a .45 ACP rim, the shell-holder or press shell plate for a .45 will work. And dies? Mine are from Hornady when they made a run back a while ago. There are others who make dies, like Lee (available from Guncrafter), and since the case is straight-walled, you can opt for a tungsten carbide sizer, keeping things simple and speedy.

One place the .50 GI excels is in pin shooting. A 300-grain or heavier bullet, at 210 PF or more, brooms pins off with efficiency and speed. Be nice to the brass rats and, when they pick up brass, you’ll get your .50 GI empties back. If you want a thumper, but not one that’s also suitable as a backup to your Jurassic Park long-gun (and with recoil to match), then you need a .50 GI.

Pistolsmith Ned Christiansen with his .50 GI (correct, not a Glock) and the epic muzzle brake he built for it. Note that while there’s an empty in the air, the slide is closed and he’s back on target.

My friend and fabulous 1911 pistolsmith Ned Christiansen runs a set of .50 GI pistols on pins. One of them has a truly epic muzzle brake on it—not because he has to have it to deal with the recoil of the .50 GI (it isn’t much more than others). When you’re trying to win and stay the best, you don’t leave anything to chance.


Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On Glocks:

Carry Guns: Does Size Matter?

The pros and cons of ultra-subcompact, subcompact, compact and full-sized handguns for concealed carry.

I grew up immersed in the car culture. Brands, models and trim packages were all background information to me, as well as the relative sizes of the models. When I got old enough to drive, that information was important, because it gave me a clue as to what I could fit into. At 6 feet 4 inches, some were simply impossible. (A friend once offered to give me a lift. I took one look at the Karmann Ghia he drove and said, “Got something in a 42 long?” He didn’t get the joke until I tried to get in.)

Well, handguns come the same way, if in a different direction. There might be something too big to carry concealed. Let’s take a stroll through the racks and see what sizes we can cover, and give you a quick idea of their pros and cons.

Big revolvers used to be common. Now, they are really big, and don’t hold as many rounds as big pistols. But they can still do the job.

Ultra-Subcompact Handguns

Here reside the ultra-small guns. In the old days, that meant .22s and .25s, but today no one would risk the man-card deductions, and we see only .32s (rarely) and .380s (more common).

The examples here are the Beretta Pico and the KelTec P32 or P380. The Pico is a .380 and holds 6+1 rounds, and the KelTec is (obviously) a .32, and holds 7+1. Both are flat, light, easy to pack and meant for deep concealment. While some might use it as a main gun (often only because anything bigger would be noticed, and they work and live someplace where they absolutely cannot be found out), both of these are usually backup guns.

A KelTec P-32. Photo: Wikipedia.

I view the ultra-subcompact pistols as tertiary blasters, not the second one. Well, I did when I was packing daily at the gun shops. Now I’d be like most of you: It’s the backup when something bigger just won’t fit the daily routine.

The pros are obvious: ease of carry and ease of keeping concealed. The cons? They don’t hold much ammo, aren’t hard-hitters … and they’re tough to shoot, with small grips, tiny sights and short sight radii.

Subcompact Handguns

The difference between the ultra-subcompact and the subcompact is caliber. Subcompacts are all 9mm or .38 Special, not .380 or .32. A subcompact would be something like a Taurus GX4, and not only do you get something more in caliber, but you also get more in capacity. Subcompacts often now have 10- to 11-round magazines, where only a few years ago they would have single-stack 7-round magazines. An example there would be the Walther CCP, with eight shots but a single-stack magazine.

The Walther CCP in .380 is a single-stack carry gun that can be an ultra-subcompact or a subcompact, depending on your needs and clothing ensemble. It’s a single stack, however, so you’ll be giving up a few rounds to the wide-body subcompacts.

The modern one here, and one I have kept around, is the Springfield Armory Hellcat. They call it a micro-compact, but it’s the size I have always thought of as a subcompact pistol at 6 inches in overall length. The magazine holds 11 rounds, and you can, if your clothing choices permit, use a 13-round magazine in place of the 11-shot version.

The pros here are the bigger caliber, but subcompacts can be tough to shoot. The fatter grips of the double-stack mags make it easier, but if you’re using defensive 9mm ammo out of a pistol that tips the scales at 17 ounces, it’ll be work.

Compact Handguns

The compact category is perhaps the most commonly seen (or not seen, this is for concealed carry, after all) pistol because it offers the goldilocks option: enough size to be shootable, but not so big that it’s a hassle. It has enough rounds to be useful, but again, not so big that it makes life difficult. And it’s big enough—but not too big.

OK, let’s just get this right out front: The example of compact carry pistols is, and has been for a long time, the Glock G19. There, I said it. That they were the first does not mean they are the best, as you have to put up with the Glock trigger, but a lot of people seem to not have a problem with that. If you want a better trigger, then the Sig P365 is the same size with a better trigger. If you’re looking to get more value for money and put the savings into ammo, then the Taurus G3 is your choice here. For accuracy, nice trigger, price and availability, the Springfield Armory XDm in its compact size should be one of your top choices.

The sleeper here is the S&W M&P Compact. It’s the same more-or-less 7 inches overall, with a 15-round capacity like the others, a nice trigger and interchangeable backstraps that you can build to suit your hands.

A S&W M&P M2.0 Compact.

Since this is a popular size, the offerings make for a crowded field. And this is a historically popular category, so there have been choices since, well, pretty much forever.

One is the Colt Lightweight Commander, an alloy-framed 1911 with the slide and barrel shortened by three-quarters of an inch. The trick here, if trick there be, is that the 1911, as is the next pistol, a single-action design, and thus must be carried “cocked and locked.” That is, with the hammer back and the safety on. Holding 7+1 in .45 ACP, and 9+1 in 9mm, it was the mainstay of carry for pistoleros in the pre-Glock days. The other is the Browning Hi-Power, a 9mm holding 13+1 rounds, which has been brought into the 21st century by Springfield Armory, among others.

The pros of the compact pistols are many. They are a lot easier to shoot than the smaller guns, and many now can be had with optical sights … or be ready for one. They hold a more than useful amount of ammunition, and their slightly longer barrels (generally 3.5 inches to the sub-compacts 3-inch bore) gains you a bit more velocity. The cons are that they start to become a bit more difficult to conceal and keep concealed.

Full-Size Handguns

Now we’re up to the G17, the XDm in its full size, the Taurus G3, the Beretta (pick one, from the original 92 to the present day) and the Sig P320. All of these offer big magazines, with 16, 17 and 18 rounds or more. If you thought you were spoiled for choice in the compact category, you have an overwhelming set of options here. Because everyone who made a 9mm pistol (or 40, back in the days when that was cool) made one that was full-sized.

If you want big, then Glock can do that. This is a G21SF, and despite the “small frame” designation, it’s a big gun.

Also called “duty” sized, these have barrels more than 4.5 inches long, full-sized grips, are easy to shoot well and soft in recoil. They’re also a real bear to carry concealed. Well, the concealing part isn’t so hard; you just have to use the correct holster. What makes them hard is their weight and size, which can wear on you in the course of a day. If your comfort starts to flag, you’ll move differently, start adjusting the fit and location without realizing it … and a sharp observer will notice.

You can go even bigger, and pack a Glock, a G20 or G21, or an XDm in 10mm or .45 ACP, if you want both big bores and lots of bullets.

In the classic, this is where the 1911 enters the picture. Even if you find a model with an aluminum frame, the government-sized 1911 is going to be big and bulky. We carried them in the old days, but it was because there weren’t many other choices.

I was at the range recently, testing some firearms and doing video work, when one of the members of that club came by. In the course of talking, and within the first few minutes, he adjusted what he was wearing several times. The second time he did so I realized he was test-wearing a hard armor rig under his winter coat. That’s the sort of thing that attracts the attention of those who know, and those whom you don’t wish to know.

The classic carry gun in the compact size is a Browning Hi-Power. This—in a good holster, with a spare mag and a tactical folder—is easy to carry all day long.

So, if you’re going to pack a full-sized pistol, the first thing is to have a proper holster, and the second thing is to have a proper holster that’s comfortable to wear.

The pros are obvious: They hold lotsa bullets, they’re easy to shoot … and easy to shoot well. The cons are just as obvious, as they’re the biggest options to be had in an EDC pistol.

Revolvers for CCW

Wheelguns don’t have ultra-subcompacts, because the smallest to be had, the S&W J frame and the Taurus 605 or 856, are subcompact handguns. The J and the 605 hold five rounds, while the 856 holds six. The example here is the S&W 442, a hammerless .38 holding five shots.

Small- and medium-sized revolvers are a lot easier to carry than big revolvers. But for the size you don’t get as many rounds as a similar-package 9mm pistol holds.

If you move up to the compact, you’re in the region populated by S&W K-frames, the .357 M-19 and the Taurus 65 and 66. These hold six rounds and are the smallest you’d want to shoot in .357 Magnum. Oh, you can get smaller ones in .357, but you won’t enjoy shooting them. If you want more, you can opt for the Taurus 608, holding eight rounds of .38/.357.

And finally, the full-sized, or duty sized: that’s the S&W N-frame, in .357, .44 and .45. While I know of people who in the old days carried those, and even carried those in the 6-inch barrel versions, can we get real? You have to be dedicated to packing an EDC revolver, to manage an N-frame. Yes, it can be done. Will it be easy? Hardly.

Oh, and if you want to go light, be careful. The most obnoxious firearm I ever shot was an airweight .44 Magnum—easy to carry, but murder to shoot.

The worst range experience was shooting an airweight .44 Magnum. Yes, it carries easily and shoot small groups, but boy was it work to shoot.

You Gotta Know You

You must always keep in mind that, when it comes to EDC, it’s not simply a matter of “what size can I carry?” That depends on where you live, how hot or cold it is, what socioeconomic level you are dressing to and how “permissive” the environment might be. An ER doctor, working in scrubs, in an inner-city hospital where getting caught means finding a new job, might decide that, despite all the shortcomings, an ultra-subcompact is the only choice.

Someone working a mostly rural area, who might have to deal with not just people but wildlife, livestock and sturdy intermediate barriers could pack a 4-inch .44, and since most people wouldn’t care, not worry as much about keeping it absolutely concealed.

The Browning Hi-Power is all steel, and that seems a bit quaint in today’s world of polymer, but with magazine options from 10 to 20 rounds, you won’t lack for ammo capacity.

The rest of us are somewhere in-between and have to make choices. What worked on a cool October day might not pass on a steamy, humid August evening.

You might not—and you probably won’t—find a “one choice fits all” handgun, holster and wardrobe. Welcome to the real world.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2023 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More On CCW Handguns:

Armscor STK100 Review: Rock Island Rocks

There are a lot of Glock-like 9mm pistols out there, but among them, the all-metal Armscor STK100 stands out as something different.

The marketplace is full of 9mm pistols with capacious magazines. So, why Armscor? Why the STK100? Simple: no polymer. The STK100 not only looks like a Glock (let’s just get the “G word” right out there, shall we?), it uses Glock magazines and even has parts interchangeability with Glock pistols.

And why not?

On the subject of magazines alone, there are probably more Glock magazines extant, and made by a whole host of companies, than there are 1911 magazines. And that’s despite the 70-plus years and two World Wars head start the 1911 had.

The STK100 looks at first glance like a G17, but there are major differences. And good ones, at that.

Similar, But Different

So, the STK100 doesn’t use polymer. What does it use, then? Aluminum. And steel. The frame is a pair of aluminum shells. The shells are crafted by milling out 7075 alloy aluminum blocks, and then the two halves are bolted together with six strong fasteners. You can see the screws/bolts holding them. There are two in the grip frame, back where the backstrap would be. There are two across the accessory rail, on the dust cover. And the other two are on the front and rear of the trigger guard.

The interior is steel, a one-piece steel chassis, and you can see that by the serial number poking through the aluminum shell on the right side. This means that the STK100 runs on actual rails, not the four stamped tabs that a Glock uses as bearing surfaces.

The STK100 has all the same controls as on a Glock, so if you know how to run one of those, you’re all set here.

But Armscor didn’t simply clone the G17 in aluminum, because what’s the point? First, the grip is machined to be at the 1911 grip angle, not the Glock angle. Those who have spent time with 1911s will find that the Glock doesn’t point the same. Not that we should be indulging in point-shooting, but when you’re trying to groove in your index on the draw, different angles create problems in transitioning from one pistol to another.

Then, they aggressively machine in nonslip textures. The rear of the grip has diagonal and deep grooves to engage the fleshy part of your hand. The sides have checkerboard panels to give your fingertips purchase and the rest of your hand a grabby surface. The frontstrap has horizontal grooves, and the combination makes for an effective setup.

The backstrap has diagonal grooves to grip into the fleshy part of your hand and resist recoil movement. They work.

Additionally, when machining the frame halves, Armscor also went and added an extended tang. The stubby little nub of polymer on Glocks doesn’t always do a lot to prevent muzzle lift. There’s just no leverage there for your hand to resist the roll. Well, with the lengthened tang, the STK100 does a much better job. And the greater density of aluminum, compared to polymer, also helps here.

The G17 (which the STK100 is the clone of) is listed as weighing 22 ounces. The STK100 tips the scales (OK, it flexes the torsion bar in my electronic scale) at 28 ounces. Now, 6 ounces may not seem like much, but it’s not in the reciprocating mass of the system, and therefore acts as dead weight to resist inertia. It helps.

Also helping is the slide. The block Glock slide has been improved by Armscor. First, they rounded the edges and corners, so it isn’t so blocky, and that shaves off some weight. Then, they machined clearance slots in the slide, forward of the chamber area, to take more weight out. The top and sides get some cosmetic sculpting, and the front gets some cocking serrations on the widest part. The reduced weight means there’s less reciprocating mass and less to slam to a halt at the rear end of the cycle. With less bottoming-out weight, there’s less impulse to drive the muzzle rise component of recoil. This was noticeable in test-firing.

The sights also get upgrades. The front is the now-standard (for Glocks, anyway) blade set in an oval socket and fastened by a hex-headed screw from underneath. Anyone who has spent any time with Glocks knows that you check this first before shooting your new pistol. The tiny threads (I swear there are something like 60-70 tpi in there) can’t muster a lot of torque to tighten, so Loctite is definitely your friend here. No slam on Armscor, that’s just the design we all have to use.

The rear sight is also an optics mounting plate cover. Remove the screws, pry the plate off and you can put a Shield on the slide.

The rear sight is part of a removable plate that permits the installation of a red-dot optic. The plate, when removed, takes the rear sight with it, which to me is a small oversight, as there’s room to have the rear sight stay and still mount a red-dot. The footprint is set up for the Shield sights, and all the other red-dots that use the same screw pattern and base size and shape, which is a lot of them. I would’ve tested the STK100 with a red dot, but every single one of my red-dots of that pattern were already on something else being tested. But I did remove the plate and found the fit to be quite tight, which bodes well for having a red-dot fit and stay in place.

The sample STK100 came with a pair of KCI magazines, which are Glock clones made in Korea. I checked the fit with a fistful of Glock mags (they all fit) and Magpul and ETS mags as well. All fit, and all that were designed to drop free did so when required. I have some crusty old original Glock mags, back before American shooters made it clear they didn’t want “won’t drop” magazines. Those fit and functioned, but they wouldn’t drop free. They never were intended to, so I’m neither surprised nor disappointed.

How’s it Shoot?

Test-firing was … interesting. First up, the weight and its distribution, combined with the grip tang, does a great job of keeping muzzle rise under control. Even with the +P ammo, it wasn’t any big deal to just hammer the various steel plates, falling or otherwise.

Armscor sculpted the slide to remove weight, make it less bulky and look good. Points on all of those to Armscor. The sample gun came with two KCI made in Korea magazines, holding 17 rounds each. Standard Glock mags work because that was the plan from the start.

The STK100 right out of the box hit to the sights, and the white dot front with plain black rear worked just fine. The grip angle fit me well, but then I’ve done a lot of shooting of 1911s, so we’d expect that. In recoil, the front sight dropped right back down into the notch of the rear, so the nonslip grip texture is doing a good job of combating recoil squirm.

The one drawback, and this is something that may or may not be a problem for you, was the cold. My range days with the STK100 coincided with a cold snap (like 7 degrees overnight) and grabbing an all-aluminum grip when the temps moved up to 20 was … interesting. After a bit of handling and shooting, it warned up, but the first magazine out of the STK100 was informative.

My usual process is to do the chronograph work first, to get velocities and check basic function. Had I done the accuracy work first, the first few groups would’ve been pretty shabby. But by the time I was ready to shoot groups, the STK100 had warmed some, the sun was out and I knew what to expect. Accuracy? Really good.

Accuracy results from four, five-shot groups fired at 25 yards with sandbags as a rest. Velocity derived with a Labradar chronograph, programmed to read velocity 15 feet from the muzzle. Velocity is an average of 10 shots, fired at 20 degrees F.

So, what’s the STK100 for? If you’re looking for a lightweight carry gun, it’s not the one. The extra weight puts it in second place to other pistols. If you want a heavier-than-polymer pistol for competition, again, not the one. You can easily get an all-steel competition pistol for USPSA or IDPA that runs 40 ounces or more.

The frame is machined into a nonslip pattern, and how the pattern runs depends on where on the frame it is.

However, if you use competition as a means of staying in practice with your everyday carry gun, and you’re not necessarily a slave to “it has to be the lightest,” then the STK100 will fill the bill. A great trigger (a function of the stiffer frame assembly) and soft in recoil (weight and the tang) makes it fun to shoot in a match. And the extra ounces, while combating recoil, aren’t going to be noticed in a proper holster. And might I add, once again, if you’re not using a proper holster, you’re doing it wrong.

Disassembly? If you know how to do it to a Glock, you know how to do it to an STK100. If not, the process is easy to find.

Armscor has hit a home run with this one.


Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2022 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More Handgun Reviews:

Pass The Turkey: Canik 9mm Handgun Line Review

A review of the Turkish company Canik’s line of inexpensive and exceptional 9mm pistols.

Canik is a line of 9mm pistols being imported by Century Arms. Century, a U.S.-based company situated originally in Vermont, moved the operation down to Florida almost a couple of decades ago.

It had to be those Northern winters.

Canik pistols are manufactured in Turkey in a plant filled with modern CNC machining centers. You might think that, because a country hasn’t been seen as a long-time known manufacturing center, it can only be making low-rent products. Let me make the younger readers aware, especially those driving a Japanese car: When I was growing up, “made in Japan” was synonymous with plastic crap. Now look at how far they’ve come.

Well, when the Turks decided to get with the 21st century and make things for themselves (the Canik line is used by the Turkish military and police), they decided to do it right … so new buildings filled with new machines, making firearms that are the amalgamation of the best designs extant.

The basic Caniks, from old to new. Top is the Canik 55, middle is the TP9SA and bottom is the TP9 Elite SC. And there’s still the METE to consider.

Future Collectibles

Covering the whole line of Canik pistols—the TP9 being the current model name—would take more space than we have here. As the line evolved, and as Century Arms and Canik evolved the line to meet customer demands, they inadvertently created a wide variety of what will be, at some future time, collectibles.

The Canik line of pistols blends various features, depending on which particular model you select. Let’s start with the magazines—because all self-loading pistols are dependent on magazines.

The Canik line works with all Canik magazines, assuming you have the proper length. If you’re trying to use a flush-fit magazine from a Canik TP9 Elite subcompact in the full-sized guns, you’ll fail. But the longer magazine will work in the shorter pistol, and all models with similar length of frames will use the other magazines.

Century and Canik offer magazines, so you don’t have to worry there. Plus, the Canik line originated with magazines based on the Walther PPQ series, so if you have a source of those, go for it. (I suspect that Walther magazines will cost you more than Canik, but sometimes you score a deal.)

If you want extra capacity, it isn’t difficult to find magazines for your Canik with up to 20 rounds, and you can always go to Taylor Freelance and get bolt-on magazine extensions that’ll give you more, more, more. They make Plus-4 and Plus-9 extensions in aluminum and brass. The Plus-4 is just a new baseplate; the Plus-9 includes a replacement magazine spring, because you’ll need it.

The TP9 Elite SC is a compact carry pistol, and the modern iteration (Canik has been making pistols, and Century importing them, for a few years now) has a top plate for mounting a red-dot optic. This is a sub-compact size and holds 12 rounds in the magazine, unless you opt for an extended magazine. That makes the frame a compact size and bumps capacity up to 15 rounds.

The TP9 Elite SC comes with a 12- and 15-round magazine, holster, backstrap and lockable case, and is ready to accept a red-dot optic. All this in a sub-compact 9mm, for just over $400? That’s crazy talk.

The firing system is the one many shooters expect, a striker-fired system with a trigger-blade safety and internal safeties to prevent discharge when dropped or otherwise roughly handled. If nothing hits the trigger, there’s no bang. And when you do go to install a red-dot optic, Canik has got you covered. A small box resides in the carry case, with the tools and screws you’ll need to bolt on the optic of your choice. Well done, guys.

My second Canik is the TP9SA. The first one was an all-black 9mm when they were referring to the pistols as the “Canik 55” line, the start of the pistols that were taken right from the Walther 99 series. The TP9 is the name now, and this one has several details changed from the earliest.

Here, the striker system is still wedded to a striker-drop pressure plate in the slide. If you don’t want to leave the unloaded TP9SA with the striker cocked, press down on the decocking plate, mounted in the slide. This safely drops the striker without discharge. (Still, keep it pointed in a safe direction, if for no other reason than to maintain good habits.) This requires the slide to be worked to re-cock the striker, but you’d have to do that anyway to chamber a round.

Why do it this way? You get a better trigger for one thing. The striker system was now turned into an almost single-action or 1911-like trigger pull. You still got the trigger blade safety and the internal drop safeties, but you get a crisper trigger with a shorter reset than is on my Canik 55. (By the way, I still like the 55.)

Now, the TP9SA I have is the Desert Tan model. Here, Canik used a dye in the polymer mix to create the tan color in the frame and matched it with a Cerakote finish on the slide. The backstrap is left black, as are the controls. That’s the sort of thing that Canik and Century are very responsive to. The TP9 Elite SC has a gray/silver Cerakote slide over black. Other models offered different color options in the past, and they do now as well. How about a two-tone TP9? Or, the Signature Series TP9SFx Whiteout done in a white Cerakote with black accents?

So Many Extras

And, the TP9SA came with a pair of magazines, magazine loader, holster and holster mounts so you can choose from inside-the-waistband or outside-the-waistband carry. As a matter of fact, they all do. If you get a Canik, you get a pistol that’s ready to go right out of the box, including a lock and extra backstrap.

Every Canik comes complete—holster, magazines backstrap, carrying case you can lock, and there’s even spare magazine baseplates in there, in case you want to change those.

This leads me back to Taylor Freelance. The Canik is popular in competition (cost, great triggers, accuracy and reliability are all big selling points for competition shooters), and in addition to the magazine extensions for the Canik, Taylor can provide you with magwell funnels, weighted brass backstraps, mag-release buttons and slide-rackers.

Slide-rackers? Yes, if you’re using a Canik with a red-dot, you might want an extension on the slide to rack the slide without using the red-dot itself. It also props the pistol up off a table, for those stages where you have to start with the pistol on a table and not in a holster.

All the Canik pistols have Canik-made barrels that have, in all instances, proven accurate. This is one of those details on which competition shooters are unforgiving, and everyone, even those who only have a pistol for everyday carry, have benefited from. An accurate pistol is a must in competition; an accurate pistol barrel is also a more-reliable pistol as a result. A tighter, centered chamber means the extractor is more consistently positioned to grab the rim. And a bore with more consistent dimensions means a more-consistent combustion and bullet-bore transit time, which keeps the cycling of the pistol in a smaller window of variance. They all also have a loaded chamber indicator, a lever on the top of the slide.

Speaking of competition, that leads me to the METE. This is a full-sized Canik, but it’s set up for competition as well as duty. The two magazines it comes with have an 18- and a 20-round capacity, backstraps, optics plate on the slide and a competition-improved trigger. Unlike the slightly curved trigger of earlier Canik pistols, the METE has a flat-faced trigger. There’s still a safety in the trigger blade, but the geometry is designed so that when you bring the trigger back to fire the METE, the point of release has the pivoting trigger oriented straight down. Your trigger press is thus straight back to less-disturb your aim.

Now, the METE line is set up for competition, so you might think you have less need of aftermarket upgrades. You could be right, but the serious competition shooter won’t leave anything to chance. So, even with a METE, you might want to investigate upgrades … but one that you probably won’t be looking for is a trigger upgrade.

Cloned from Walther pistols, the Canik line already has an excellent trigger system, regardless of which model it’s in. However, and as I mentioned, serious competition shooters leave nothing to chance. As a result, you can find aftermarket trigger upgrades, whether to install yourself or pistol smith upgrades to make the trigger even nicer. However, that won’t be necessary on the METE.

So Much Value

And as if all of this wasn’t enough, the cost is entirely bearable. In fact, it’s a deal most of the time. For instance, the current version of my TP9SA, the TP9SF, in Desert tan, has an MSRP of a penny less than $400. That’s a ready-to-go pistol, with two magazines, holster and accessories, in a lockable case, for less than four bills.

If you’re looking to get a sub-compact carry gun and must have a slide ready for a red-dot sight, then the TP9 Elite SC lists for a mere $40 more than the TP9SF … and it has all the gear as well. For daily carry, target shooting, plinking or competition, it’s hard to beat the Canik combo. With Canik from Century Arms, you get accuracy, reliability, accessory availability—everything in one box—and at a reasonable price. Compare that to the big names everyone at the gun club knows and tell me there aren’t advantages to not owning the same gun everyone else at the gun club owns. 

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More Handgun Reviews:

Custom Is As Custom Does: Infinity Single Stack Review

This custom single stack Infinity 1911 in .40 S&W helps prove that one-of-a-kind never goes out of style.

This gun is perhaps one of a kind. It certainly has a unique build history.

We like to think of custom as bespoke, purpose-made dream guns, if you will. However, this one just sort of happened.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a serious and persistent competition shooter. Each year, I’d shoot at least two club matches a month, the Second Chance Pin Shoot, a couple (or more) USPSA Nationals and The Steel Challenge. I was shooting a lot, and I was winning a lot. One of the prizes (I think from a USPSA Nationals) was a certificate good for a hi-cap frame from SVI/Infinity.

Infinity single stack
The custom single stack Infinity in .40 S&W.

Well, I already had a slew of hi-cap frames. So, I put on my best smiley-face, good-guy, serious competitor look and asked the Infinity guys if they could, pretty please, do it as a single stack. In .40 caliber. Because at the time the Single Stack Nationals was getting spun up into being as a USPSA Nationals, and all the big dogs were winning it with .40s. I later found out that the big dogs were winning with .40s not because it had any inherent advantage, but because they had all been loading and shooting .38 Super and .40 ammo for so long that they either no longer had a .45, or they couldn’t find the dies and components in their loading rooms.

While talking the project over with the builder, I mentioned that I already had a basket full of SVI/Infinity parts, and I was going to build it up with those, once the frame arrived.

“What do you have?” he asked. Oh, a slide, barrel, a selection of grip safeties, some odds and ends, enough to assemble a 1911. “Forget that; box up what you have that is SVI, ship it and we’ll put in the rest.”

Well, an offer like that doesn’t come along every day, so of course I boxed up and shipped.

The fit of the slide to frame, and the barrel to slide, are exemplars of smooth and tight. And you’ll be wasting your time trying to find any looseness or wobble in the fit. Yes, it’s gold in color. That’s the TiN coating.

Have It Your Way

A few weeks later, I get an email. It seems that the build process involves more than just assembling parts; there’s a laundry list of choices I have to check off. So, I go down the list. A stainless slide, done in two-tone, with a recessed panel ahead of the rear cocking serrations. No front serrations, thank you very much, and the top done in a tri-top configuration, not a standard radius. A red fiber-optic front sight and Infinity adjustable rear.

The bushing is standard Browning, but the guide rod is as big a stainless rod as Infinity can fit in there.

The barrel would be the Infinity Classic .40 S&W AET I had sent, which was then (and probably still is) the primo barrel to have. The frame was to be a carbon steel single stack, blued, with extended dust cover and snub-nose ball-end cut on the slide to match. Underneath the barrel, there’s a full-diameter stainless steel guide rod, full-length, and it adds a nice bit of extra weight to dampen felt recoil. The barrel isn’t a bull barrel, but a bushing barrel, in part because I was expecting to run this both in IDPA as well as USPSA, and bull barrels weren’t entirely kosher at the time. (At least, that’s what I recall. Rules change and things could be different today.)

The Wilson magazines and the integrally ramped barrel ensure ultra-reliable feeding. And the Infinity AET barrel works fine with lead bullets, so practice can be inexpensive.

The barrel is integrally ramped to provide maximum case support for the .40 caliber. What we had found out back then was that the .40 could be pretty grumpy at the edges of the performance envelope. Loading the heaviest bullets, with the fastest-burning powders, to make Major (but not any more than the barest of margins) could mean blown cases.

Also, the chamber is reamed to a long-lead dimension. This is where the 180-grain (we all gave up on 200-grain bullets after blowing enough cases, it wasn’t worth the minuscule advantage) bullet is seated long, halfway between the length of the stock .40 cartridge and the 10mm length. This promotes reliable and smooth feeding and still allows the use of then dirt-cheap .40 brass. Back then, a lot of police departments had switched to .40, and you could buy once-fired brass almost by its weight as scrap metal. The rifling is further forward that it would be on a stock .40, but the longer bullet seating places the bullet up to the rifling, and so there’s no loss of accuracy.

Here you can see the long straight trigger, the big-head mag button and the VZ Grips G10 double diamond, with custom grip screws.

The front strap checkering is 30 lpi, with the top of the front strap lifted to provide a higher grip. On the back end, the Ed Brown grip safety and thumb safety are fitted perfectly. The gap (a fine line, really) of the grip safety is even all the way around its fit to the frame. The bottom curve of the thumb safety matches the curve of the frame at that point. The thumb safety positively clicks up and down, and stays down during recoil, even if my thumb isn’t riding on it.

The SVI/Infinity hammer is one option, and the recessed panel in front of the cocking serrations is another. The fit of both the thumb safety and the grip safety is superb.

To give you another idea of the attention to detail that the Infinity builders watch for, the shaft of the thumb safety, where it comes through on the right side of the frame, is fitted to be flush with the frame. The mainspring housing is flat and checkered, at 20 lpi. I didn’t opt for a magazine well funnel, as I had my own ideas as to what constituted an appropriate mag funnel and planned to take care of that myself when the time came.

Infinity single stack magwell
I didn’t have Infinity install a mag funnel, because I had my own ideas on that subject. I never got around to it, because writing crowded out competition, and so it remains as a plain magwell opening. Someday …

Topnotch Trigger

The hammer and trigger system is exemplary. First of all, the fire control parts are, for the most part, wire EDM manufactured. This is where they take a plate of pre-hardened steel and use a wire to cut the shape of the hammer (and other parts) out of the plate, to the utmost tolerances.

How good is this? If you’re old-school and you go to “tune up” the hooks of the hammer, or the nose of the sear, with a stone, you are making it worse. You’re not improving it. The Infinity trigger comes as a two-piece assembly. There’s the bow and its seat; they deliver your trigger-press pressure back to the sear. And then there’s the bow, or face, of the trigger. The two-part assembly allows Infinity to make triggers any size and shape you desire, and in colors as well. I opted for a flat-cased trigger at the long length, long enough that someone with smaller hands probably can’t reach the trigger face.

Infinity single stack trigger
The lifted front strap isn’t just a tighter curve, but it extends out into the trigger guard. This single stack Infinity is a competition gun built by competition shooters.

The grips are double-diamond VZ Grips in black G10 and secured in place by Torx-head grip screws that have been serrated around their borders.

Oh, and as one last bit of custom work: I requested a special serial number. You can do all, or most of all this, by simply jumping into the Infinity gunbuilder section on their webpage. Pick what you want; they even have photos of what is what, and when you submit it as a build, they’ll send you a price and delivery time quote. What I ended up with was essentially a tailored jacket, one that wouldn’t fit anyone else but me.

Custom? You bet. And it’s easy to tell who this one belongs to.

You might notice that the magazine that came with it (and the matching set I assembled from my 1911 magazine bin) is a Wilson Combat .45 magazine. Yes, a .45 magazine to feed .40s. Why? Because it works.

The fit of the slide to frame and barrel to slide is superb—which you’d expect from the guys at Infinity. We’re accustomed to checking the fit of a slide to frame in the 1911 by trying to wobble the slide on the frame. That’s a complete and utter waste of time here.

But the real 1911 mavens expect that and check fit a different way: We feel for the friction when the slide moves as we rack it. When slowly moving the slide back and forth on the frame, you can feel how many toolmarks might be present, how big they are and what kind of differential they have to the base dimensions.

Again, a waste of time here. The slide might as well be running on well-greased ball bearings, for all the feel of toolmarks you might try to garner. And the amateur test of trying to press down the barrel when the slide is locked in place? Pu-leeze.

Infinity Single Stack On The Range

I’d love to regale you with tales of matches entered and won with this superb bit of firearms art. Alas, soon after its arrival here, I began my career as a full-time writer, and as far as I can recall, never shot it in a Single Stack Nationals. I shot it enough to discover that it shoots one-hole groups out to 25 yards, with ammo it likes—which is pretty much everything I could feed it. It hasn’t failed to work properly at all, and on top of that, it’s a cool-looking 1911 in an understated sort of way.

Alas, it’s also semi-obsolete. The .40 has a ticking clock on it.

Infinity single stack mag
The single stack Infinity feeds .40 S&W from Wilson Combat .45 ACP mags.

Yes, the ammo companies are making ammo for it (trying to keep up, anyway) but there are no new .40 pistols being designed or made. When I had this pistol built, there was no hint, nor even a suggestion, that the .40 would go the way of Caesar, albeit more slowly. Thanks for nothing, FBI. Had I gotten it made with the replaceable breechface Infinity offers on some guns, I could simply have a 9mm breechface and barrel fitted, and motor on. (Oh, the serial number would be a small problem, but hey, what can you do?)

So here I am, with the problem of a custom gun in a cartridge that has a use-by date on it. And making it work with something else would be a lot of work. Such is life. My plan is to enjoy using it, loading for it and marveling at it, and letting my heirs worry about what to do with it when that day (long time from now, hopefully) comes.

You can simply do yours up in .45 ACP or 9mm and solve that minor problem.


Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More Handgun Reviews:

Geissele Super Duty Review: Pulling Major G-Force

A closer look at Geissele’s complete (almost) Super Duty system.

People often toss around some terms without really knowing what they mean, like “complete weapons system.” Complete means just that—everything that’s needed to run, feed, maintain and inspect a weapon. It comes from one source. That’s not easy, but Bill Geissele comes really close on that.

Bill is a nice guy and a great engineer. His start in the firearms field was making triggers. Instead of simply making the same triggers as everyone else, he made better triggers. Soon, the top shooters and the guys who go places to deal with nasty people were beating a path to his door, wanting triggers.

Then, he made scope mounts—beautifully machined, structurally rigid, essentially unbreakable scope mounts. From there, it was a straight path to complete rifles because, well, if you’re going to make the world’s best triggers and scope mounts, you might as well make everything else in between, right?

Oh, and then he went into scopes.

Geissele Super Duty feature

The Complete Rifle

The intended audience of the Super Duty is the bearded gents who go to dusty laces. As a result, the upper and lower receivers are machined from forgings. Could Bill make a better upper and lower? Almost certainly. But the powers-that-be have some firm rules, and forged receivers are one of them. So, he builds on that and installs an improved bolt-carrier group.


The carrier is made from the current best steel for that, 8620, while the bolt is made from an improved Carpenter 158, called 158+. Yes, Virginia, it is possible to make a better steel but still call it Carpenter 158 … if you go directly to Carpenter and ask them. And that’s what Bill did. He opted for a better steel for the cam pin; he decided that cold hammer-forging barrels was the only way to go, so he acquired the equipment and makes his own.

The barrel isn’t lightweight, but instead a medium-weight profile designed to handle hard use and heat, and has a 1/7 twist. The gas block is Bill’s own Super Compact Block, and the installation is, in the words of Geissele, “bomb-proof.” As in, the gas block is pressed onto the barrel with both the barrel exterior and gas block interior closely matching in size. It’s then locked in place by means of two setscrews, each nestling into recesses dimpled into the barrel. Then, it gets a cross-pin through the block and the bottom edge of the barrel itself.

Here, you see the SureFire mount and flash hider. It’s a first-class flash hider and a great mount for SureFire suppressors.

I pity anyone who thinks they’ll simply snatch the gas block off of a shot-out Geissele barrel (who knows how long that would take) to install it on another barrel. Good luck with that. It then gets a gas tube and is ready for its handguard.

Before they’re all assembled, all the internals and the barrel, as well as the SureFire flash hider/muzzle/brake/suppressor mount, are all given the Geissele Nanoweapon coating. This is a solid lubricant coating that’s available only from Geissele. It’s a matte finish black coating that you cannot rub off short of going to power equipment—and aggressive equipment at that. It has a surface hardness in the same league as synthetic diamonds. You aren’t going to wear it off cleaning, shooting or tossing it into your ultrasonic cleaner. It makes parts rust-resistant, easy to clean and slick in use.

The barrel gets a Super Modular Mk16 handguard, with M-lok slots. M-lok has won the accessory wars so far, and this is what the future portends. Until something better comes along, buy M-lok unless you have a legacy KeyMod to feed.

The Mk16, like all SuperMod handguards, use a proprietary barrel nut. This doesn’t have the flanges of a regular barrel nut, and thus there’s no problem with the gas tube touching the barrel nut. To hold the handguard on, and to keep the barrel nut in place, Geissele uses a pair of heft bolts crossway through the bottom rear of the Mk16. These pass-through grooves on the barrel nut and keep the whole package tight and properly aligned.

The handguard locks into place by means of a pair of hefty Torx-head bolts that are threaded into a steel anchor plate. You’re not depending on the strength of threads cut into aluminum here.

And the attention to detail that is Geissele is right here to be seen. Notice that the Mk16 clamping bolts pass through the aluminum handguard, but they’re threaded to a steel plate inset on the far side. The tensile strength of aluminum is half that (at best) of steel. It’s entirely possible to strip the threads of an aluminum handguard, by over-tightening the steel bolt. Geissele won’t let that happen.

Another Geissele detail is the bolt stop. Instead of the small mil-spec lever, we get a two-headed extended lever that’s plenty big without being in the way.

Building Up The Lower

The ambi selector/safety, the extended bolt stop lever, the A2 pistol grip, all on view, and all first-rate quality.

The lower gets a Geissele SSA-E X with Lightning Bow, which is a first-class two-stage trigger that has a straight bow for consistency in trigger pull. There’s a Geissele pistol grip behind that, and again, Geissele gets it right. Perhaps the one detail that I find not to my liking on modern ARs is that I’m not a fan of pistol grips that fill the upper back end of the lower receiver, but Geissele installs an A2 here (kudos, Bill). In-between is an ambidextrous selector/safety.

The end users Bill has in mind want the SopMod stock, so that’s what comes on your Super Duty. Don’t like it? It’s easy to change and there are plenty of people who’ll be happy to take it off of your hands.

On the back of the lower receiver, there’s a VLTOR B5 Systems buffer tube and SopMod stock. The B5 System assembly has a longer buffer stroke than a carbine system; this makes for a softer and less-bouncy felt recoil.

To charge the rifle, you grab a hold of the Airborne Charging handle, an ambidextrous version of the super Charging handle, but with a bit lower profile, so it’s less likely to get hung up on your gear.

The Geissele Airborne charging handle, which is an ambi handle.

Remember I mentioned optics? Well, there’s now a Geissele scope, the Super Precision, a 1-6x riflescope with a DMRR-1 reticle, allowing for quick range estimation and hold-over. The Super Precision isn’t made by Geissele. However, they told an experienced Japanese (not China, that’d be egregious, and Geissele doesn’t do egregious) optics company what they wanted, and the standards they’d test the optics to—and, knowing Bill, the penalties for failure on the part of the optics maker would be epic.

The Geissele 1-6x optic comes in a Geissele (what else?) scope mount that’s tougher than a $2 steak.

Now, to be a complete systems provider, Bill would have to offer ammunition and magazines with his rifles. When I suggested that, with a big grin, he just laughed. We agreed that maybe two decades ago it might have made sense. But now, with so many good magazines and plentiful ammo choices to be had, there’s no point.

Well, Does She Shoot?

First-class manufacturing is one thing, but the real test is in the shooting. So, I volunteered for the boring task of seeing if I could make a Geissele rifle choke.

I failed.

I had an opportunity to test the rifle not just at my gun club and its 100-yard range, but on another range with elbow room out past 500 yards … and I was able to ring steel with boring regularity as long as the wind cooperated. I can shoot, but calling the wind every time is a voodoo level of skill I haven’t yet perfectly mastered. I did manage to shoot a 500-yard group that spanned just a smidge over 2 inches, which is something I’ll be bragging about for a long time.


You can have the Super Duty as a rifle with a 16-inch barrel, or as a pistol with a 10.3-inch barrel. Again, Bill is making them for the bearded gents as well as us. Sixteen is easy for us, and 10.3 inches is what the guys who want really short blasters are accustomed to using.

And, so you know, you don’t just “buy” a Super Duty—you order it built to your specs. You pick rifle or pistol, barrel length, scope or no scope, and color. Color? Yes. Mine came in DDC (Desert Dirt Color), which I find to be a far better descriptor than FDE. You can also opt for Luna Black, Gray, 40mm Green, OD Green and Iridium. Place your order and wait. Your rifle is built to your specs, not just snatched off an inventory rack, wrapped and shipped.

I love this country.


Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

More AR-15s: