There is no commonly available all-plastic pistol. Even Cody Wilson’s single-shot 3D-printed Liberator pistol had a metal barrel. It could be done, the world thought GLOCK had done it, but the ATF will have your balls for breakfast if you do it. Of course there’s a farrago of excellent so-called plastic pistols with polymer frames. But I heart metal handguns.

My go-to carry guns are a Wilson EDC X9, a Smith & Wesson 642, a Smith & Wesson 686 (for open carry) and a Kahr MK9. I find metal guns much easier to shoot accurately and somehow, I dunno, reassuring. They have gravitas. Gravity, too. Yes, well, there is that . . .

Carrying a metal gun requires a serious gun belt and the right holster. Why schlep a metal gun when polymer pistols relieve much of the weight burden (penalty?) and offer more than-than-merely adequate accuracy?

Are you down with plastic fantastic or hip to heavy metal?

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93 Responses to CapArms Question of the Day: Handguns – Steel or Plastic?

    • I prefer steel over plastic, but what about aluminum? I have a Ruger J frame that I use for personal concealed carry. The only problem I have with it is that it is so light (15 oz.) that I forget that I’m carrying it, which doesn’t go well with the Post master when I go to my PO box. It’s rated for +P, and I could probably shoot thousands of non +P rounds through with no harm.
      If the Ruger was plastic, I wouldn’t have bought it!

      • No such thing a Ruger ‘J’ frame, that’s a S&W. Sounds like you have a Ruger LCR .38 Spl, which is aluminum and polymer. +P is stronger ammo, so non +P is easier on the gun. By the way, that polymer frame helps with recoil mitigation in a light weight gun. Post Office here doesn’t care if you carry.

        • So, I guess I was wrong on the “J” frame?? I thought all the smallish 5 shot revolvers were J frame. I beg to differ on the Post Office not caring about me tot’n a handgun in their domain. May I ask what you are basing that statement on. Are you thinking it’s only the ATF that cares, and not the actual Post Office it’s self??
          How about the local Sheriff’s department that gave me a notice saying it was illegal to carry in the Post Office?

        • My comment referred to where I live. It is very illegal to even have a firearm in your vehicle on PO property, let alone on you. Some Sheriff’s Dept. look the other way. Since you were only given a warning and not 5 years in jail, your SD isn’t bad. To be safe you need to park on the street and leave your weapon locked in the vehicle. By the way, you have the best functioning light weight revolver out there; it is truly the only modern sub 20 oz. revolver.

        • Thanks for the comeback, and the advice. I really like my SLR, I almost opted for the snubnose, but the 3″ barrel gave me 50% more barrel length, and, hopefully a bit more velocity.
          I bought some +P rounds to try out, was anxious to see if they would make my teeth rattle. Since I have weak hands, must be my age, I was a bit apprehensive on letting that first round go, wasn’t all that bad, used up the rest of the box.

  1. Metal is preference. I do carry plastic for daily use because its an inexpensive throwaway if I ever get in an altercation with a thug and the local constabulary keeps it. But if the SHTF I’m all set with a full metal combat tested piece.

    • Same on all counts. I also have crappy range toys that I’d be ashamed to claim as my own, and they’re almost all polymer.

  2. I have, and carry both. I’m not snobbish either way, but I sure do love me some ruger “p” series.

  3. PC Shield 9mm in the summer, Beretta 92 winter. Taurus 605ss bug when wardrobe allows. Looking at a full size m&p for winter to simplify manual of arms but it’s gotta wait until I pick up another shield and run a few hundred rounds down the pipe as a spare.

  4. Polymer. One reason is that I am 4’10”, so the real estate to carry is rather limited. However, have steel to shoot at the range, and home, if necessary, in 9mm and 45. Have shot pocket 380 steel at the range, it’s just painful.

  5. BOTH. The answer is always both. i.e. “Which gun would you get, this one or that one.” Duh, get both

  6. My EDCs are plastic, mainly due to the weight and cost issue. I don’t see a $2900 Wilson Combat EDC being significantly better, for me, than a $500 Glock 19, and if I bang it up or have it become evidence, I won’t really be terribly upset.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I haven’t seen an all-metal competitor to the Glock 43/Shield/LC9 that also doesn’t cost a fortune.

  7. No preference. I’ve had a revolver and several plastic fantastic handguns. Whatever works…not a collector,competitor or hunter.

  8. Plastic for me please. XDS 45. Its a gun I happened upon used and at the right price. I shoots it well and it carries easy.

  9. Can it be both? For carry I’m back and forth between my Shield 9mm and my 642. On the range or for home defense, however, metal rules! CZ75B matte stainless, CZ75BD Police, CZ75B Omega, CZ75 Compact D, CZ82, 5906, 5906TSW, 5904 (x2), 6906, 3913, 457, SR1911, P220, pre-Model 10 4″, 64-3 4″, 66-2 6″, Security Six 6″, Single Six, and Bearcat… so much FUN!

  10. I prefer a metal-framed, hammer-fired, 9x19mm handgun over anything else.

    For practicality’s sake though I carry tupperware.

    • I’m a “Kitchen Aid” man myself. Do you have any idea how much damage a pair of whirling beaters can do to your nuts!

  11. Both for sure, classic guns are nice in metal, but I also enjoy the poly frames.

    But for the discerning buyer, i an sure only the best solid carved Cabot meteorite 1911 will do.

  12. Plastic. I love steel. I own it, shoot it, and think its way sexier…., but I carry plastic. You may love steel (as I do), but plastic is more practical to carry. * except maybe open carry (which i don’t do)

    • I agree Jim. A carry piece, and particularly concealed carry piece, is an object made of compromises. The gun I like to shoot, the gun I want in a fight, and the gun I want to carry aren’t the same gun, and likely aren’t for most people.

      For me the closest match between the three is likely a 1911, but the realities of my injuries and lifestyle mean a G19 is more carry able, and is still something I wouldn’t mind a bit to fight with, as handguns go. If I knew there would be a fight, I wouldn’t be there, or I’d be there, but with a carbine and a bunch of friends (and plates, don’t forget your plates!).

      Oddly, I like the G19 least on the range of all my carry pistols, but it’s capacity, reliability, size and weight combine to make it a serious choice for EDC. This is why I don’t really have a favorite gun; favorite for what is the question. Even at that, favorable for what within what budget is a better question, because price does matter.

      I haven’t tried all the good choices for a fighting handgun, I haven’t even tried the top 10 best fighting handguns most likely, but I have a selection of good examples of good choices for carry and for fighting, and the holsters, spare mags, time on system, and training with each to make each really useful. To borrow from Nutnfancy: there must be a philosophy of use for such equipment. That philosophy, and it had better be yours if it is to work for you, drives the selection of such gear ultimately, and for each days dress and affairs.

      In the end, we find ourselves blessed with a dizzying array of excellent handgun options, enabling us to specialize our choices for our unique situations. However, there are at this point more great options than situations. Which is to say there is hardly a niche that doesn’t have several great options to fill it, and with so many great pistols, there are some that fit most niches.

      That said, I’d likely choose different pistols for some situations than I have now if I were able to test drive every good pistol made, but I seriously doubt it would change my opinion that the pistol currently filling that need for me is a good choice, if not the absolute best choice, for that role.

      • This sums up all sides of the question very well for me and likely most readers. Very well thought and clearly written response!

      • Good post Ardent,
        Compromise is the big factor in choosing a weapon for concealed carry. I had a Shield for a while, but because of weakness in my hands, I found it difficult to rack. I really like the reliability of a wheel gun, and after picking up a 15 oz. Ruger SLR with a 3″ barrel, and adjustable sights, and most importantly, a visible hammer that can be cocked, if desired, I decided that this was the gun for me. The rubber grips make it not unpleasant to shoot.

  13. Each handgun I’ve ever owned is for home or self defense. I go for metal in revolvers, and plastic/metal or all-metal in semi-autos. Reliability, concealability, and accuracy are my priorities.

    • “Hold a ruger super redhawk in your hand and make the choice.”

      Yeah, I *loved* mine. That sweet *BOOM*.

      Just not very practical for EDC…

  14. If the picture is supposed to be representative of your actual carry guns, that is not a Kahr PM9…it is a MK9, the former being polymer framed and the latter being metal framed.

  15. Sig 1911 Tac Ops
    Sig P226 (German)
    Browning HP mkIII Practical
    CZ 75B Omega
    CZ 2075D
    S&W 5904
    Rossi 357 snub

    vs
    H&K P30S V3
    CZ P-07
    Beretta PX4 Sub compact

    So Steel 2:1 over plastic
    and Hammers 10:0 over Strikers

  16. Always steel over plastic. But I can appreciate a good polymer frame pistol as long as the metal is the serialized part and the grip can be easily replaced. Even then, I still have a strong affinity for good solid American steel. That’s why my first pistol was a S&W 5906.

  17. Handguns – Steel or Plastic?

    Answer: yes.

    Why not both??? Sometimes, all steel handguns are the order of the day. Other times, a plastic fantastic is the way to go. Sometimes both at the same time are a great choice.

    I like to have my cake and eat it, too.

    • You’ve got me thinking uncommon. I often schlep that combo on weekends: an all steel and old school 1911 as primary, with my ubiquitous SW .380 bodyguard, polymer, built it laser and all as BUG.

      Something I’m noticing just now is that over time the weight of my loadout keeps going down while my round count keeps going up. I’d have to say that whatever arguments there may be against polymer, the very fact that it’s enabling falling weight with higher capacity and more spares is an overwhelming argument in its favor. All else being equal, and it so nearly is, what argument against could prevail?

      Note, I’m sad to say this, since aesthetically and on the range I prefer steel, but my back and hips, and my morbid fear of going black on ammo say polymer is the way.

      A bit of an aside, but I don’t like being black on ammo, in a range toy, that isn’t mine, that isn’t a very good weapon, that is supported by my EDC, and a collection of excellent weapons, and armed friends. This may be why I’m known for having a handful of rounds for just about anything that takes cartridges. It may also be why I don’t leave home without 2 guns and 4 mags. I don’t even train like I used to, preferring stockpiling ammo to shooting it at this point. Hmm, I think I’m having one of those personal breakthroughs they talk about in pop psychology: I might have Ammo Supply Dismorphia, a condition in which no matter how much ammo you have, it never seems like enough. I blame Democrats for this, I wonder if I’m entitled to compensation? If so, could it be in the form of ammunition? If only I could find a support group with others who share my condition…ASD is real people!

  18. I can assure you that if I was as special as the author and could already have an edc x9 it would truly be my edc. I still haven’t gotten to hold one as I’m in California, but since the moment I laid eyes on it, it was love at first sight.

    But since I’m not that cool, my p320c rx, g19, and emp4 are going to have to do the trick.

  19. Both, but depends on the gun. For 1911s, steel or aluminum. Colt 1873 (or earlier black powder pistols) steel, no brass. For pocket guns and EDC, fantastic plastic. My Kimber Pro Carry II with an aluminum frame weighs in at over 30 oz with 9 rounds, while my Kahr CW9 is less that 20 with 8 rounds, and that gives of swing of about 12 to 14 oz, plus the 1911 is harder to conceal. To say nothing of the fact that the replacement cost of the Kimber is over $700, while the Kahr has fallen in price to near $300.

  20. Plastic is better by almost every objective dimension. Metal feels much better and feels like it should be better in every dimension until you actually remember how inferior it is.

    I think that many of us have learned to associate the sort of heaviness and tight tolerances on physical objects with quality, so all of our subconscious tests that we have used all of our lives indicate that the metal gun is a “nice object” and the plastic gun is a “cheap object”.

    However in terms of durability against the elements and against tens of thousands of repeated rounds, in terms of weight, and in terms of cost, the plastic pistols have huge advantages, and they don’t have any disadvantages on any of the big dimensions like accuracy, rate of fire, reliability, or anything else.

    Sure, if you specifically wanted a gun with more recoil-absorbing mass, go with steel. If you want a gun that weighs between steel and plastic, and that will start to fall apart with heavy use, get aluminum. If you want the lightest weight, most durable, and cheapest gun, get plastic.

      • The original print files for the Liberator did indeed have a plastic barrel that was to be replaced with each .22 round fired. The only metal components were a brad nail IIRC for a firing pin and a rectangular block of metal to be placed inside the frame to make it detectable.

  21. I see the advantages of both. For home defense and/or open carry, all metal SIG P226 for me, for concealed carry a S&W Shield, both 9mm. I think it’s partly because I’m not sentimentally attached to the Shield, so I’m not worried if the police throw it in the evidence locker for 6 months to a couple years.

  22. Shield 9mm is light, and slim, and therefore easy to carry. Other than daily carry a range toy doesn’t have to be especially light weight.

  23. I prefer steel/hammer fired big bore handguns, but I also carry a striker-fired plastic gun when I’m feeling whimsical.

  24. For summer S&W Shield 9mm OWB. For winter Ruger P89 shoulder holster. Yea an old Ruger 89. Have had many try to buy it. They were and still a solid weapon.

  25. If it is not steel, it is not real. (I wanted to type, ‘ain’t’, but has been pointed out that shows ignorance. I am also trying to use ‘marvelous’ more, rather than typing, ‘bullshit’.)

  26. I’m not a carry guy. California is my excuse. However,…

    My most accurate handgun, by far, is a Browning Buckmark Lite Gray 5.5″ barrel, with a FastFire II red-dot. It is (nearly) all aluminum except for the steel barrel insert.

    My newest, and very accurate handgun is a steel CZ-75B. At 2.2 lbs it is heavy, but does not feel that heavy in the hand. But alas, the hooked tip broke off the extractor and it is in warranty repair. At least I did not spend a grand or two on it.

    My most reliable and hassel-free handgun is a plastic SA XD 5″ barrel. I have put about 6 rounds into a 1.25″ circle from a bench rest at 15 yds. But once it heats up with the second mag., the accuracy does go to hell; about a 4.5″ circle at 15 yds.

    Since the XD was my first handgun and I was trying to improve my accuracy and was getting frustrated, I bought a Crimson laser for it. I co-witness the laser and iron sights at about 15 yds. I was amazed to discover that by the 2nd or 3rd 10-rnd mag. the laser is waay off. At that point the laser dot must be at least 30 MOA different than the iron sights. If I don’t make any adjustments, and let the firearm cool down, the laser comes right into co-witness again.

    This may be largely an issue with plastic under-rails or XD’s, but plastic expands A LOT when it heats up. If it does not heat up uniformly it WILL warp. I guess that a metal barrel with a metal slide connected to a metal rail sub-chassis which is mounted in plastic could maintain its accuracy when hot. The XD does not use a complete metal rail sub-chassis, nor do many others. Watch out if you have one!

  27. I carried a S&W 645 under an untucked shirt OWB for years…..so everything else is light to me. I prefer and carry a 5″ 1911 now, and sometimes a S&W 49 Bodyguard in my pocket. The 5″ 1911 in condition one is what I get into action and on target more quickly and accurately from a holster than anything else I own….so why would I carry anything else? It’s a nice pistol that cost a few bucks…..and I’m not really concerned if it ends up in an evidence locker if it is the tool that; of all my handguns, gives me the best chance of surviving a situation that warrants it being brought into play. I like shooting all my guns…..and I do own one plastic FN….but only the one I’m best with get’s to be carried. Oh….and there’s an old Model 10 4″” Heavy Barrel in my nightstand.

  28. The only reason people photograph their S&Ws from that side is to hide the Hillary holes. If you can afford that Wilson you can afford some pre-lock S&Ws.

  29. Steel.

    Responding to several issues above:

    – It is possible to blue 4xx series stainless steels. It isn’t as easy as blueing chro-moly steels, obviously, but the important point to remember about stainless steels is that they’re called “stain LESS,” not “stain NEVER” steels. Their surface layers can be forced to oxidize; there are hot blueing salts that will blue 4xx series stainless steels.

    – One of the better features about steel is that you can build it up and machine it back down – ie, weld things up and machine it (or file it) back down to a different dimension than what you started with, and the new material can be as strong or stronger than the base metal. This is much more difficult to do with polymers – with polymers, once the original material has cooled, that’s pretty much it. Everything else you might try to add will likely not be bonded all that well to the original (ie, base) material.

    – Aluminum (and alloys) is wonderful stuff, but people should remember that it too has limitations, especially its tendency to work harden under deformation or strain, and thereby become brittle.

    – Steel guns can be lightened by removing/thinning material from areas where it doesn’t need to be in order to run a gun. Before someone goes hog-wild in this effort, I’d recommend putting some FEA to the problem and making sure you’re not seeing yourself up for failure.

  30. In general, I prefer metal frame. For carry, make that metal an Aluminum alloy.

    Poly is not any lighter than aluminum, or at best saves less than the weight of a single .45 acp cartridge, and aluminum or steel is far more configurable in terms of swapping out a decent set of grips than a molded chunk of plastic where you are stuck with what popped out of the mold.

  31. I’m not made of money, hate manual safeties, and prefer striker fired over DA/SA. So I carry a Glock. I’d be open to FN, S&W, and others but Glock is what I carry at work so I like to keep it simple.

  32. Whichever gets the job done. I don’t care what it’s made of as long as it does what it’s supposed to, and both types have their pros and cons. What a gun is constructed from has literally no impact on whether or not I consider buying it; it’s performance, reliability, etc., that matters, and there are great and garbage guns of all makes and models.

  33. I;m surprised no one mentioned the NAA mini 22 magnum revolver for back up. I carry one in a holster, in my pocket 24/7. It’s so light and small, I never think about it, unless I put my hand in my pocket, NO! not for “pocket pool”

  34. Stainless steel is my preferred material, but, I do carry a polymer M&P. In a possible bugout, concealment is not a concern scenario, it’s a big chunk of Ruger steel wheel gun on my side. I’m still thinking of switching to an SP101 for edc too, just haven’t made up my mind yet.

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