Aluminum’s a critical component to many industries like beverage cans, food packaging, and aerospace but one sector that’s oftentimes not spoken about is guns and gun accessories.
Aluminum’s a great material for a wide variety of gun types and military weapons, due to its versatility and strength. Compared to steel, aluminum’s also very lightweight which makes it recommended for a product like a gun which requires easy carrying. Many guns are made predominantly from aluminum and others rely on it to put together the scope, the hand-guard, buffer tube, and other components.
When manufacturing the body of a gun, you really only have two choices. There’s steel and aluminum. Stainless steel was, for a long time, chosen for guns because it was incredibly strong and had high durability. Comparatively, aluminum is almost as strong as steel and almost as durable but its biggest advantage is in weight. So when choosing between steel or aluminum for gun manufacturing, more often than not, stakeholders choose aluminum.
Aluminum used to be very expensive to work with, prior to World War II. It was difficult to find and refine the raw material. Then, advances in technology in the 1940s and 1950s however made it cheaper to find and use aluminum. In 1949, Colt released the Lightweight Commander gun, reduced in weight by 30% thanks to aluminum. The popularity of this weapon meant adapting aluminum to other gun models and types, eventually leading to many handguns and rifles manufactured from the material.
Now using aluminum for weapons and guns does come with some minor disadvantages. Aluminum frames aren’t as durable as strength and doesn’t have the tensile strength steel comes with. Also, if you’re used to handling steel weapons and you are suddenly with an aluminum weapon, you may find your balance and grip are affected. For most users, the lesser weight is preferable to using steel and having a heavier gun to contend with.
The most popular aluminum alloys used in guns are ‘6061’ and ‘7075’. ‘6061’ is otherwise known as aircraft aluminum. It is made from trace amounts of silicon, copper, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc, first manufactured in 1935. Comparatively, ‘7075’ is significantly stronger than ‘6061’, made up of large amounts of copper, manganese, chromium, and zinc. ‘7075’ has more corrosion-resistance. A lot of guns produced with ‘6061’ had difficulty adjusting to wet environments, such as jungles, rainy settings, and even in human sweat. For this reason, a lot of manufacturers switched to ‘7075’.
Some of our most famous gun types are made from aluminum. The M-16 receiver is made from ‘7075’, as is the Beretta Model 92 gun. The Colt Aircrewman has been used by the US Air Force since 1950 and is made predominantly with aluminum frames and cylinders. The .38 caliber Cobra’s only 11 ounces when fully loaded. Classic models like the UA Arms Integrated Aluminum 1911 has a composite aluminum pistol body which is up to 60% lighter than steel-based alternatives. The aforementioned 1911 is a favourite of many law enforcement agencies.
Aluminum alloys continue to be used all over the gun industry and is preferred by firearm enthusiasts all over the world. The difference in weight is a huge advantage, yes, but beyond this, there’s also the quality of the material, it’s steel-comparable strength, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness.