The Firing Line Forums

Go Back   The Firing Line Forums > Hogan's Alley > Handguns: The Revolver Forum

Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old December 11, 2019, 06:13 PM   #1
Lee Enfield
Member
 
Join Date: August 14, 2014
Posts: 67
What is the Best Alloy for Various Revolver Parts?

I know that what's "best" is subjective and depends on a number of criteria such as overall weight, balance, application, etc. However, specifically to a 4" .357 magnum revolver carried or handled by the average or bigger guy who shoots regularly at the range and regardless of cost, what would be the best alloy for each part of such a revolver? I know that there are far more variables to consider, but I thought that this would be a fun thought exercise, and I am curious about seemingly random things like this.

If 4130 or 4140 carbon steel is a common one for firearms, along with 4340, then are they common simply due to really good performance while the cost is low due to economies of scale - but they may not be the best alloys due to the cost prohibitiveness of better alloys? If so, then what would be these steels or non-steel alloys? Why not say, a knife "super" steel heat treated to a much lower Rockwell hardness than typical for knives, such as Bohler M390 or a tougher blade steel like S7? Overkill or not, would it be objectively better across the board with respect to corrosion resistance, durability, etc.?

If the industry's current titanium-cobalt with steel liner offerings make for a great or excellent gun barrel material, then what about say, titanium 6.6.2 with a given tougher steel liner? Why not say, a Seawolf class nuclear submarine steel such as HY-180 steel? The aforementioned alloys are very specific examples that may not actually be ideal (or may in fact be worse!) for the application of a revolver's use, but they're used to illustrate my larger question of "Is there a superior alloy or material to construct a revolver out of?"

I understand that there are many caveats to this very broad question, but I do hope that what I'm getting at comes across to open ears. Thanks in advance for any thoughts on the inquiry - I look forward to getting my curiosity scratched a bit.

Last edited by Lee Enfield; December 11, 2019 at 06:19 PM.
Lee Enfield is offline  
Old December 12, 2019, 02:02 AM   #2
Pathfinder45
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 7, 2008
Posts: 2,883
I think it's a good question. I don't doubt that there may be some superior alloys that are seldom used when there are more usual alloys that are adequate while being more economical at the same time. For instance, lead has long been a standard component metal in bullets and the few metals that could be substituted cost more. The best replacement would likely be gold or an alloy thereof if cost were of no consideration. Yet gold makes bismuth look cheap.

But getting back to gun alloys.... One of the most pertinent questions where you can actually choose an option is whether to use Stainless Steel, which will cost more, or not. Why would you spend more? In this case, there are obvious advantages to paying extra.
Aluminum will not be as wear resistant as steel, but it weighs a lot less. You can't make the whole gun out of it, but it is adequate for many parts. Taken a step further, A great many guns today have replaced much of the metals with plastics. I like mine made of steel.
Pathfinder45 is offline  
Old December 12, 2019, 02:37 AM   #3
44 AMP
Staff
 
Join Date: March 11, 2006
Location: Upper US
Posts: 21,002
Different alloys do things differently. Sure the differences are small seeming to the regular user, but that's because the user only seen one part of the whole picture.

Not only does the alloy need to be strong enough to do the job, durably, it also has to be "flexible" meaning resilient in the right amount. Too much is bad for some things, too little is bad for others.

And added to that, it has to fit both the raw material cost and the cost of manufacture within the desired economic model.

For example, the "toughest alloy on Earth" to make the "strongest guns!" but even if the base cost of the metal is acceptable it has to be able to me cut & machined at a bearable cost. If making the gun wears out tools at 6 times the rate of normal steel that cost has to get passed on, and the public only sees the gun costing more for no "real" advantage, and so they don't sell well, and it becomes a vicious circle.

Are there better alloys than the 4point carbon steel series in common use, probably, but there isn't a more practical one, as far as I know, ...yet.
__________________
All else being equal (and it almost never is) bigger bullets tend to work better.
44 AMP is offline  
Old December 12, 2019, 03:35 AM   #4
JohnKSa
Staff
 
Join Date: February 12, 2001
Location: DFW Area
Posts: 22,876
https://www.thebalance.com/steel-grades-2340174
"According to the World Steel Association, there are over 3,500 different grades of steel, encompassing unique physical, chemical, and environmental properties."
Anyway, with a few exceptions, most gun parts are quite soft, as steel goes. Any run of the mill knife blade is a lot harder than even the hardest gun barrel. I poked around once and found that some rimfire barrels have steel that's actually softer than some of the harder bronze alloys.

I think Korth used very hard steel in some of their revolvers. At least I'm assuming that's why they had to grind the parts to shape instead of being able to use conventional milling/machining techniques.

I think it's safe to say that almost any firearm on the market could be made out of tougher/harder steel if cost/manufacturing time weren't considerations.
__________________
Do you know about the TEXAS State Rifle Association?
JohnKSa is offline  
Old December 13, 2019, 07:28 PM   #5
Ricklin
Senior Member
 
Join Date: February 22, 2008
Location: SW Washington state
Posts: 1,561
Hardness

As previously mentioned. Working the metal is key to manufacturing an item that tics all the boxes.

The material is but one cost in the equation, and it is unlikely that it is the greatest cost. Sure, it is significant.

The cost of labor may be the highest cost. That increases if it takes longer to make the item.
I once heard on a tour of the sub base up in Hood Canal that the steel from those retired nuke subs was sold to a farm equipment manufacturer. That hard steel made excellent plowshares.

And we literally beat our swords in to plowshares. Kinda cool if true, good story just the same.
__________________
ricklin
Freedom is not free
Ricklin is offline  
Old December 13, 2019, 08:36 PM   #6
Jim Watson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 25, 2001
Location: Alabama
Posts: 16,055
I had an article by Phil Lichtman giving his preferences for steel. I don't recall the alloys but 4000 Series chrome moly was not included. He was very specific on heat treatment, too. His preference for Compact guns with small cross-section parts made material strength important.

Jeff Cooper once called for a "tool steel snubby" that would last with frequent practice with heavy loads.

Chic Gaylord was of the opinion that Colt used better materials than Smith. Which might be taking it a bit far from a holster shop.

I have a pistol barrel of 17-4 PH but the maker has gone to the usual 416.

I have read cautions against taking a Featherweight 416 barrel polar bear hunting. Type 410 is said to have better low temperature properties... if you can find it.

So, yes, better materials are possible, but designs are figured for the common stuff and they do ok if not pushed beyond design limits.
Jim Watson is online now  
Old December 14, 2019, 01:31 AM   #7
Sgt127
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 13, 2002
Posts: 945
I doubt, pound for pound and, dollar for dollar, guns can be manufactured “better” than they are.

All the parts are made of the best material and heat treated to what the manufacturers believe is best. On a revolver, the hammer, trigger, hand etc are all harder than the parts they are surrounded by.

I suppose you could build a gun out of D2 tool steel with tungsten internals. But, why? I don’t think the end user would notice the difference. Except when it costs 6 times more than one made of “normal” steels and alloys.

I suppose it would be interesting to see what could be made though.
Sgt127 is offline  
Old December 16, 2019, 04:41 PM   #8
Driftwood Johnson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 3, 2014
Location: Land of the Pilgrims
Posts: 1,878
Quote:
Anyway, with a few exceptions, most gun parts are quite soft, as steel goes. Any run of the mill knife blade is a lot harder than even the hardest gun barrel. I poked around once and found that some rimfire barrels have steel that's actually softer than some of the harder bronze alloys.
Howdy

Just curious. Can anybody provide Rockwell hardness numbers for some of these parts?

Curious what a typical steel barrel might be, curious about those 'soft' rimfire barrels, curious about what is the typical hardness for lockwork parts inside a revolver.

Also, what is the hardness of a typical knife blade, for comparison?

Thanks
Driftwood Johnson is offline  
Old December 16, 2019, 06:26 PM   #9
BBarn
Senior Member
 
Join Date: December 22, 2015
Posts: 878
The steels like 4130 and 416 (stainless) used in firearms are low carbon, (about .3% and .15% respectively). Typical knife steels are in the .7% to 1.5% range.
The higher the carbon content, the higher attainable hardness (and wear resistance).

But brittleness increases with hardness. Some gun parts require low brittleness and can't be made very hard because they would fracture under the stress of firing.

I think some of the smaller components in guns could be made out of harder alloys (and some are), but it seems most parts are made from the lowest cost material that can be fabricated to meet the wear/durability and weight requirements at a low cost.

Typical knife blades are hardened to between low 50s and mid 60s (Rockwell C)

4130 and 416 steels are much softer and their hardness is typically expressed in a different hardness scale. Might be something like the low teens if converted to Rockwell C hardness.

A basic metal file isn't very effective at removing the steel from a knife blade. But the same file is quite effective at removing steel on something made from 4130 or 416.
BBarn is offline  
Old December 17, 2019, 11:18 AM   #10
Driftwood Johnson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 3, 2014
Location: Land of the Pilgrims
Posts: 1,878
Thanks for the reply.

I do understand the compromise between ductility and hardness, it is nice to see some numbers assigned.

P.S. That's why the iron and later steel frames of the Colt Single Action Army were Case Hardened. Case Hardening hardened the surface to cut down on wear, but did not affect the ductility of the metal.
Driftwood Johnson is offline  
Old December 17, 2019, 01:26 PM   #11
Jim Watson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 25, 2001
Location: Alabama
Posts: 16,055
Caspian says their slides are 37-41 Rockwell C. Receivers not specified but are usually not as hard.

Lilja says RC 24 for barrels, some brands go up to 32.
Jim Watson is online now  
Old December 17, 2019, 05:52 PM   #12
BBarn
Senior Member
 
Join Date: December 22, 2015
Posts: 878
I should have been a bit more specific about the hardness numbers. The knife blade hardness range of low 50s to mid 60s (Rockwell C) were after heat treatment. The low teens Rockwell C hardness of 4130 and 416 was before heat treatment. 4130 can be hardened into the upper 40s, and 416 into the upper 30s. The final hardness is a trade-off of desired properties.

Correctly heat treated knife blades have impressive properties. Being able to take a very keen edge, retain that edge after considerable wood cutting, and survive being bent 90 degrees without breaking is no easy task.

I believe many guns could be made from better materials... At a cost. But many guns today out live their owners with the materials currently used.
BBarn is offline  
Old December 18, 2019, 01:04 PM   #13
T. O'Heir
Senior Member
 
Join Date: February 13, 2002
Location: Canada
Posts: 11,931
There is no "best" anything.
A run of the mill knife blade needs to be tough so it won't break, but still hold an edge with repeated use. The typical chef's knife blade is hardened to 57 to 63 Rockwell. The harder it is, the less well it'll hold an edge and it'll be more prone to chipping, etc.
Firearm parts do not need to do any of that. Parts need to be tough enough to not have excessive wear when moving against each other. Most of 'em are not hardened. Think MIM. There's nothing wrong with MIM parts though.
The steels used in firearm parts must have a balance of toughness to resist wear, be relatively inexpensive and easy to machine.
__________________
Spelling and grammar count!
T. O'Heir is offline  
Old December 18, 2019, 08:49 PM   #14
MillCreek
Senior Member
 
Join Date: December 30, 2004
Location: Snohomish County, Washington USA
Posts: 321
I wonder why we don't see more titanium used in handguns. I have a couple of the 'total titanium' series from Taurus, and I wish they would bring them back.
__________________
Regards,

MillCreek
Snohomish County, Washington USA
MillCreek is offline  
Old January 3, 2020, 08:43 PM   #15
Lee Enfield
Member
 
Join Date: August 14, 2014
Posts: 67
Cabot makes guns out of a ton of exotic and random materials. Most are for decorative purposes. The materials used probably aren't the greatest for durability and reliability, and for hard use (i.e. military and law enforcement purposes). That said, they'd still need to be able to shoot for some duration and if the material was so bad that you can actual shoot the gun without serious problems, then they probably wouldn't make it with that.

Anyway, maybe I need to get more granular with my question. Below is a chart showing the various specs for AISI 4340 steel (assuming that this is the exact type of steel used in guns). Does anyone know what the ideal values are for each property?

https://i.imgur.com/AckcmMW.png
Lee Enfield is offline  
Old January 3, 2020, 08:56 PM   #16
BBarn
Senior Member
 
Join Date: December 22, 2015
Posts: 878
The best material is going to depend on the function of each part, how much it can weigh, and the desired appearance.
BBarn is offline  
Old January 3, 2020, 09:55 PM   #17
OneFreeTexan
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 15, 2002
Location: West, Texas
Posts: 204
I am confused. You mention military and law enforcement use as they are both the same and are high volume shooters.... I though most law enforcement people rarely fire their guns.

Am I wrong?
OneFreeTexan is offline  
Old January 3, 2020, 11:07 PM   #18
Lee Enfield
Member
 
Join Date: August 14, 2014
Posts: 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by OneFreeTexan View Post
I am confused. You mention military and law enforcement use as they are both the same and are high volume shooters.... I though most law enforcement people rarely fire their guns.

Am I wrong?
It gets expensive to do it and I'm not sure how often some LEOs have to go to qualify with their sidearms, but I figure the range and any live firearms training for certain LE types. But my bigger point is that I figure some of these alloys we're talking about may work for irregular use purposes, unlike with applications that see a lot more use and abuse in the field.
Lee Enfield is offline  
Old January 4, 2020, 01:49 PM   #19
44 AMP
Staff
 
Join Date: March 11, 2006
Location: Upper US
Posts: 21,002
Quote:
and for hard use (i.e. military and law enforcement purposes).
People say this all the time, kind of a stock phrase, but really, back when the military and police primarily used revolvers, the "hard use" involved wasn't shooting them, It was them being constantly carried and often in harsh environments. Getting knocked about, and exposure to the elements was the "hard" use. Being fired a lot was rare, even for police.

Many, if not most police only had once years qualification shooting. Some twice a year. Military (outside of actual combat use) a yearly qual, and often that got skipped...
__________________
All else being equal (and it almost never is) bigger bullets tend to work better.
44 AMP is offline  
Old January 4, 2020, 10:44 PM   #20
JERRYS.
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 23, 2013
Location: Alabama
Posts: 2,649
titanium is just as strong as steel and only weighs 60% of it by volume. however, it is more expensive and harder to machine.
JERRYS. is offline  
Old January 5, 2020, 01:25 AM   #21
Pathfinder45
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 7, 2008
Posts: 2,883
Quote:
titanium is just as strong as steel and only weighs 60% of it by volume. however, it is more expensive and harder to machine.
What do you mean by this? Harder? More wear resistant? More ductile? Red hardness? Corrosion resistance? What you said is a very vague factoid that means little if you don't elaborate at least a little bit. How 'bout this one: "Pound-for-pound, wood is stronger than steel." This is also true. I know Samuel Colt made revolver cylinders out of wood, too; but they were just pre-production models. Titanium is probably a great material for gun parts, as is aluminum. But which parts are suitable for which metal/alloy and for which calibers? Is titanium suitable for revolver cylinders in both 22LR and 454 Casull? Personally, I think some gun parts might best be made of S-5 tool steel, (Jack-hammer bits, anyone?), but that might be an unnecessary expense.
Light-weigh alloys, where they can be used, can be a great idea for a 22LR or even a 38special. Move up to a 44 Magnum and it's still great for holster use, as long as you don't actually shoot it.
Pathfinder45 is offline  
Old January 5, 2020, 02:21 AM   #22
44 AMP
Staff
 
Join Date: March 11, 2006
Location: Upper US
Posts: 21,002
Quote:
titanium is just as strong as steel and only weighs 60% of it by volume. however, it is more expensive and harder to machine.
Titanium also has other properties different from steel. This makes it superior to steel for some uses and inferior to steel for others.

Cost isn't the only reason you don't see all titanium guns, though it is a big one.

There's an old story, possibly a myth, from the days when good new factory rifles were in the $300 range, about a guy who approached a maker wanting a titanium bolt gun as the ultimate light weight mountain rifle.

he got told they could do it, completed rifle would be around 5lbs, and the cost would be at least $5,000. At that point the fellow decided he no longer needed it that badly...
__________________
All else being equal (and it almost never is) bigger bullets tend to work better.
44 AMP is offline  
Old January 5, 2020, 10:18 PM   #23
JohnKSa
Staff
 
Join Date: February 12, 2001
Location: DFW Area
Posts: 22,876
As I recall, there was some commentary on the elasticity of titanium being an issue for some gun parts such as barrels.
http://www.smallarmsreview.com/displ...darticles=3294
__________________
Do you know about the TEXAS State Rifle Association?
JohnKSa is offline  
Old January 5, 2020, 11:41 PM   #24
Jim Watson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 25, 2001
Location: Alabama
Posts: 16,055
There were some (nearly) all titanium rifles built. Barrel life was said to be short but once zeroed, how often will you shoot it without a trophy Kookamongan Kookaburra in the sights?
Jim Watson is online now  
Old January 6, 2020, 01:47 AM   #25
Scorch
Senior Member
 
Join Date: February 13, 2006
Location: Washington state
Posts: 13,981
Gas erosion on titanium is really bad, I have seen some titanium guns nearly destroyed in short order by gas erosion. This is why S&W and Remington titanium firearms had stainless steel barrels and the revolvers had stainless cylinders and barrel liners. Gas cutting and erosion eats them up really quickly.

Titanium is difficult to machine and much more expensive than steel, even the exotic tool steels.

Tool steels have very specific properties, such as shock resistance and abrasion resistance. I remember working with S7 tool steel back in the 70s, it was very expensive, wonderfully machinable, but has to be copper plated before heat treatment and hardened in a vacuum oven. However, it is extremely shock resistant and temperature tolerant, so they make parts that will get abused out of it. I made a knife out of S7, and it holds an edge beautifully, but it cost $75 to have it heat treated back in the 70s, so I doubt many knives are going to be sold that are made out of S7. And knives are low tech tools, some of my best knives are made out of 1095 steel, pretty basic spring steel,
__________________
Never try to educate someone who resists knowledge at all costs.
But what do I know?
Summit Arms Services
Taylor Machine
Scorch is online now  
Reply

Tags
alloy , steel

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 04:21 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
This site and contents, including all posts, Copyright © 1998-2018 S.W.A.T. Magazine
Copyright Complaints: Please direct DMCA Takedown Notices to the registered agent: thefiringline.com
Contact Us
Page generated in 0.09630 seconds with 10 queries