Earlier this year the Cody Firearms Museum was home to an exhibition called GLOCK Makes History: The Birth of the Polymer Handgun Market. The exhibit chronicled the history of polymer handguns, starting with the earliest “plastic” pistols manufactured by Heckler & Koch. The exhibit then focused on GLOCKs – the first commercially successful polymer handgun.
As curator, I handled over 40 GLOCKs — and didn’t get to fire a single one. That’s cruel punishment for a gun girl. So I went out and purchased a single-stack 9mm GLOCK 43 for my personal collection. For someone who towers over mice at 5 ft tall, it’s a perfectly sized everyday carry gun, ideal for concealment.
Working at a premier western museum, living in the cowboy town of Cody, Wyoming, I felt the need to add some western panache to my minimalist meisterwerk. Wyoming Armory, a local shop that specializes in high-end custom work on historic western firearms, had been throwing around the idea of case hardening a GLOCK. I joked that they could use my 43 to test it out. And so they did.
I’m fascinated by the case-hardening process, especially its evolution. Below is an excerpt from Oscar L. Gaddy at doublegunshop.com that addresses this lengthy history.
The process of case-hardening itself has been known for over a thousand years. It is speculated that it was known and used in China as early as the eighth century A.D.. A written description of the process of case-hardening hand files was provided by a Benedictine monk, Theophilus Presbyter, in the latter half of the ninth century indicating that the art was fairly advanced at that time.
Relatively crude case-hardening was also utilized in the manufacture of some weapons and armor during the middle ages. With the industrial revolution, case-hardening became crucially important in the manufacture of tools and machinery.
In the early part of this century, case-hardening of steel parts was still an extremely important and widespread process used in industry including the manufacture of bicycle and automobile parts. With the availability of modern alloy steels, case-hardening of steel is not so important today.
Companies like Wyoming Armory and Turnbull Restoration & Manufacturing Co. have maintained the skills needed to create case-hardened firearms, elevating the process to an art form. An art for that, once lost, is devilishly difficult to reproduce. This process is often taught through a master – apprentice relationship. If the master has no one to whom they can impart their wisdom their style may be lost.
According to Gaddy, in the 1950s, Colt found this out the hard way, when the gunmaker decided to manufacture their single-action revolvers “after a 15-year hiatus.” Colt quickly discovered that the handful of older employees who’d mastered color case-hardening were no longer around. Colt had to spend considerable time and money to recover those skills, to teach new dogs old tricks.
I admit it: a color case-hardened GLOCK is quite the Frankensteinian creation. It may seem a sacrilege to some, purists who see a case-hardened Winchester as an example of form following function. And a case-hardened GLOCK 43 as an example of anachronistic affectation.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And when Wyoming Armory offered to case-harden my GLOCK I thought, WTH. A case-hardened slide would go a long way towards prettying-up a basic black gun. While it may not be a trend that catches on, or one that gun collectors want to catch on, I think my color case-hardened GLOCK 43’s a cool fusion of the Old West and the new. A future classic? Hardly. A bit of fun? Absolutely.