Up Close and Personal – Frames

Part 6: Frames
© 2000 by John L. Marshall

The Glock did much to popularize the polymer frame, and this pistol’s frame is one of the breed. Because of the width of the magazine, the Model 30 has a rather “clunky” feel in the hand, which will not suit everyone. In fact, the newer Model 36, with its single-stack magazine, was in part an answer to this problem. The frame features molded-in checkering on the front and rear of the grips and on the front of the squared-off trigger guard. There are finger grooves in front and a vestigial thumb rest on both sides of the grip. The plastic magazine ejection button to the left rear of the trigger protrudes about a tenth of an inch and is rectangular in section. There is a cavity at the heel of the butt, which allows the magazine to be grasped with the thumb more easily should it need to be plucked out. The slide release on this example is the factory-optional extended type, but it’s still pretty small. The locking tabs for disassembly are located above the trigger on each side of the frame. The now-classic “safe action” trigger with its integral finger safety is made of plastic material. The serial number of the pistol is stamped on an in-letted steel plate on the bottom of the frame forward of the trigger guard.

The H&K USP Compact frame is quite similar to that of the Glock, also being made of a composite polymer material. Since the magazine is slimmer, so is the grip area. H&K has succeeded in packing a double action mechanism into a frame that has less depth than the Smith & Wesson offering, so as a result, the bore line is closer to the hand. This aids in controlling recoil. Controls on this pistol are placed in the traditional 1911 pistol locations, with the safety lying under the thumb when held in the right hand. The safety is reversible with an optional factory part for left-handers. In the “up” position, the safety is on safe. When pressed down, the pistol is taken off safe. When forced all the way down, the safety acts as a decocker. This is a neat and handy system. Incidentally, the safety may be applied in any condition of readiness, or even while the slide is being retracted. This is a good feature, and we’ll talk more about the benefits later. The hammer is bobbed, and protrudes only slightly from the back of the slide. The bottom of the frame forward of the trigger guard is grooved for the attachment of a laser, a light, or combination unit. H&K markets a light which will fit either the full-size USP or the Compact. The magazine release is truly ambidextrous, with levers on both sides of the pistol, just in back of the trigger. It’s activated by pressing downward, and is just as handy, if you’re a right-hander, to depress with the index finger of the right hand. If you are used to the 1911 push-in mag release, this takes little re-training. The release is in the same position, and just a slight alteration in thumb angle drops the mag. The trigger is made of a polymer material, but appears to have a metal core. It is of the traditional double action-single action design. The serial number, as with the Glock, is on a metal plate in the frame forward of the trigger guard. H&K offers a variety of firing modes and safety-decocker options for its USP-series pistols, but this one is the most popular configuration.

The Smith & Wesson 457 has an aluminum frame, anodized black. It is of fairly conventional design, deriving from the original 9mm Model 39 introduced nearly a half century ago. I think its nicest characteristic is the slimness of the grip area, only 1” in width, which makes it about as good as you can get for a concealed-carry .45 pistol. My only problem with this frame is its unusual depth, which measures .85” from the bottom of the slide to the top of the trigger cutout area. By contrast, the H&K measures only .52” in this area, and it’s also a DA/SA design. This longer depth does two things. First, it shortens the grip area below the trigger guard, necessitating a magazine with a flared finger rest to get full a purchase on the grip. Secondly, it places the bore axis higher in the hand, resulting in accentuated muzzle flip as the gun is fired. Smith has attempted to partially help this problem with a frame cutout area to the rear of the trigger guard, but it only results in a minor improvement. This pistol has more height than any of the four being examined here. The hammer is completely bobbed, fitting flush with the rear of the slide. While it can be thumb-cocked, it’s a dicey maneuver that is not recommended under stress. The magazine and slide releases are conventionally located, as per the 1911 pistol layout. The black polymer grips are very slim, and wrap around the backstrap of the pistol. The front of the frame terminates with some fairly sharp edges. It would have been simple for S&W to design the frame molds to incorporate a more rounded configuration. Likewise, the leading edge of the slide release is sharply cornered, and needs to be rounded or beveled more for carry purposes.

The Springfield V10 Ultra Compact frame is made of aluminum, left in natural matte finish to roughly match the stainless steel slide. It is of conventional 1911 compact design, and will take all accessories designed for the Colt Officer’s ACP. The grips as it comes from the factory are Hogue finger-groove wraparounds, which have been replaced on this pistol with custom checkered wood substitutions. The grip safety is of the beavertail design, and unusually comfortable in the hand. The thumb safety is extended. The mouth of the magazine well comes already beveled from the factory. The trigger on this pistol was originally of the long, lightweight “3 hole” design, but has been replaced with a Videki short aluminum trigger. The mainspring housing is stainless steel, not plastic, and has a unique wedge shape rather than a more rounded profile. It’s grooved rather than checkered. The forward edge of the frame was sharply cornered as it came from the factory, as was the slide release. A bit of custom work has rounded these areas on our sample pistol. The frame has been cut, of course, for the ramped barrel. This means that the rounds being fed from the magazine do not contact the frame at all, but strike the integral feed ramp of the barrel. Although aluminum frames which utilize a frame feed ramp area are being used by Colt, Kimber and others, the approach taken by Springfield guarantees that there will be no wear and tear in this vital location. The major components of this pistol, by the way, are made in Brazil at F.I. (Fabrica Itajuba), and the pistols are assembled and fitted in the U.S. at the Springfield facility.

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