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Polymer vs Steel & Aluminum frames

Discussion in 'General Firearms Forum' started by speicher, Jul 2, 2012.

  1. speicher


    Jun 21, 2006
    In the long run, over years and years of use etc...will Polymer frames hold up better than steel/aluminum frames as a whole?

    Do you think that the Polymer frames can withstand more abuse than steel/aluminum frames...without suffering from permanent damage?
  2. Bruce M

    Bruce M

    Jan 3, 2010
    S FL
    My guess is that for a similar design with the same cartridge that an aluminum frame would be the first to fail. My other guess is that one would spend many times the cost of the gun in ammunition to cause any of the types of frames to fail.

  3. smokin762


    Apr 19, 2009
    I think everything depends on the QC of the manufacture, what kind of reputation they have and was that firearm originally designed around the material that was used to manufacture the firearm in question.

    I would think if the firearm was manufactured by Glock, SigSaur, HK and many other well known established Firearm Companies it should be good to go for a life time as long as it is properly maintained.

    Constant abuse will shorten any firearms serviceable life.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2012
  4. arclight610


    Dec 2, 2009
    All things being equal, the polymer frame should last the longest with its highest elastic modulus. The aluminum will fail the first, because of aluminum's tendency to work harden and become brittle.
  5. Shipwreck-The-Sequel

    Shipwreck-The-Sequel Beretta 92 Nut!

    May 11, 2010
    Hockey City, Texas
    When you look at the reviews of years past - 100k thru a Glock. even 200k thru a glock... (you'll have to drop in a new barrel at some point). I think polymer frames may will last longer than steel. They will outlast aluminum frames.

    Even though my fav handgun platform uses an aluminum frame (beretta 92), I will admit that polymer will go way past it in terms of rounds fired before wearing out the frame
  6. Nakanokalronin

    Nakanokalronin JMB & MTK

    May 13, 2008
    There are quite few variables out there. Steel slide - steel frame and rails, Steel slide - aluminum frame and rails, steel slide - steel rails inserted into polymer and steel slide - polymer frame and rails.

    There are also different types of polymer, steel and aluminum. Many different lock up systems and stress points so it really all depends. Caliber has something to do with it as well as round count or what type of environment the gun sees the most.

    There have been guns like the aluminum framed M9/92 that shot 168,000 rounds without a failure, but obviously that's not the norm across the board, just like every other manufacture out there no matter what the frame is made of.

    I'd say that polymer gets the nod for corrosion resistance and weight, shootability goes to steel and aluminum is somewhere in between. Then again, I'm sure anyone can find examples that are the opposite of those statements as well as the durability of each.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2012
  7. Aluminum is reputed to fail first, because (correct me if I'm wrong) it weakens a tiny, tiny bit every time it's fired and eventually fails.
    Guns like Sigs like to be run "wet", a generous amount of grease on the frame rails to keep them in optimal condition. Then again, Sigs and I believe Berettas are anodized to protect the aluminum, and once the anodizing wears off, that's when the wear to the frame continues at an increased rate.
  8. speicher


    Jun 21, 2006
    Good point. I think that the highlighted option is the best option.
  9. Decguns


    Dec 29, 2003
    When I went through an armorers course a hundred years ago, there was a section on the lifespan of pistol frames. An alloy framed Hi-Power had a service life of about 35,000 rounds while the improved M9 frame had a service life of 75,000 rounds. While the aluminum receiver of the M16 can often surpass 200,000 rds, pistols receive substantially more battering from the slide moving back & forth than the rifle. Alloy pistol frames often have their lifespan extended by inserting steel pins in high stress areas.

    The service life of the steel framed M1911 improved from about 35,000 rounds to well over 100,000 rounds as we made gains in metalurgy heading into WWII and the newer M1911A1 production. When examined closely, most steel framed pistols had developed hair line stress fractures after just 35,000 rounds, though the frame may serve well into the 100,000 range without fracturing... or maybe fracture the next round fired. They last longer than aluminum, but... they still fail.

    Polymer frames didn't have a service life estimate at the time. Shooting them seemed to have little impact on the cohesiveness of the polymer. What would tend to fail first is the holes where steel pins are inserted for the trigger and such. Holster wear and wear from inserting magazines were also taking a great toll on the plastic frames... but shooting them didn't.
  10. crazymoose

    crazymoose Nonentity

    Feb 9, 2005
    I would think the biggest thing that might wear out polymer (short of an insane round count in the 100,000+ range) is degradation from UV exposure. Then again, we're talking decades. In that regard, a good steel gun is the kind of thing that could last a century or two if well cared for and if it doesn't see thousands of rounds a month. A polymer gun exposed to a lot of sunlight will eventually degrade. But if you want a gun for hard use, day in and day out, for a couple of decades, the plastic gun is pretty ideal.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2012
  11. arclight610


    Dec 2, 2009
    Thermal degradation would be a bigger concern. Repeated heating and cooling decays polymers fast.
  12. Redstate


    May 17, 2011
    Interesting thread. arclight610, please elaborate more upon your theory of thermal degradation. Thanks.
  13. GLOCK17DB9


    Dec 30, 2011
    Troy, MI
    Polymer all the way!:whistling:
  14. hogship

    hogship It's MY Island

    Correct........Direct sunlight, and heat are bad for plastics, and so is extreme cold.

    Around these parts, the temperature swing is typically around 100 degrees from dead of winter, to summer......sometimes, more than that. Although the plastics used in firearms are much better quality than the usual plastic things you find littered outdoors, they share some basic traits. After a couple years of heat and cold, plastic packaging and milk jugs get so brittle, that they break up into pieces under foot. The same sort of temperature swings will effect poly firearms similarly......although, very few of them will ever be left outdoors in the weather.

    Last edited: Jul 2, 2012
  15. Novocaine


    Jun 10, 2004
    Steel will outlast either.
  16. fnfalman

    fnfalman Chicks Dig It

    Oct 23, 2000
    California & New Mexico, US
    So's exposure to sunlight. Co-polymerism can attentuate UV's effect on polymers but not proof it.
  17. CAcop


    Jul 21, 2002
    Not thrilled with our issue Glocks holding up. Various points on the frame have gotten worn on guns with higher than normal shooting schedules tht we have had malfunctions with them. Pin holes get loose too. I think it might have to do with .40 Glocks being designed from 9mm guns and Gaston not putting too many changes into them. Browning added a third locking lug, made the slide thick, and went to a cast frame that is a stronger frame than the original design. HK started their USP series as .40 first.

    I tend to look at Glocks as disposable guns to be honest. Which is fine because they are cheap at least for LE. I don't know if they are worth retail price at non LE pricing. Or just don't get bent if your gun doesn't last as long as you would like.
  18. Boats

    Boats Not Assimilated

    Dec 22, 2002
    Somewhere in Oregon
    Only one of the most obvious "NO" answers ever right there.
  19. s&wfan


    Dec 27, 2011
    Honestly, if you care for any modern gun made by a major manufacturer, it will have a really long active use lifespan, regardless of what they used to make the frame.
  20. speicher


    Jun 21, 2006
    It sounds like there is no clear cut "best" material. Polymers degrade quickly depending on temperature variances/sunlight exposure etc...steel can corrode, and may not hold up to the abuse/battering of recoil over a high round count...whereas polymer is known for absorbing the abuse of recoil without fracturing, when steel & aluminum has been known to fracture, especially when alot of those rounds are +P/naturally higher pressure loads (.40, .357SIG).

    I'm not sure how a steel frame semi-auto would hold up to some of the abuse/endurance tests that Glocks have been through and still came out shooting??