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Aluminum Applications in the Firearms Industry

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Aluminum may not be the first material that comes to mind when the subject of firearms comes up, but it has had significant impact on how modern guns are designed and built.  Aluminum has many advantages that make it perfect for firearms.  Gun owners know the importance of reliability and durability when it comes to how their weapons are constructed, and aluminum meets these many of these criteria.

Aluminum is familiar as a lightweight yet strong material that can be found in applications from aerospace to food and beverage.  It is prized by numerous industries for not only its relative strength and impact resistance, but also its ease in fabrication and sustainability.  In today’s market, when sustainability has real value, aluminum is a “green” material because it is durable and easy to recycle,

For these reasons and more, gun manufacturers are increasingly relying on aluminum as a primary material choice for their products.

What are the attributes that make aluminum suitable for firearms?

Aluminum has a long history of use in guns and other firearms.  The Colt Lightweight Commander, first manufactured in 1950, was one of the earliest pistols to feature an aluminum alloy frame.  Its lightweight yet durable construction was highly praised and soon other manufacturers began exploring aluminum as an option.

The ability to be both lightweight and strong was a key attribute of gun designers and manufacturers, but it’s not the only advantage offered by aluminum.  Another key factor in aluminum’s popularity is its strong corrosion resistance.  Whether a weapon is used frequently, constantly exposed to potentially corrosive materials, or it is stored for long periods of time, using a material that will maintain it’s structural and surface integrity is of primary concern.

Another consideration is a material’s machinability.  Firearms are made of many small, intricate parts, as well as larger, highly detailed components; aluminum is an ideal material for today’s precision CNC machining centers.

Which parts of a gun are likely to be made from aluminum?

Because of its excellent adaptability, aluminum can be used for a variety of different firearm parts.  First, the most important part of the gun is the frame.  This will often be made of aluminum because it is the most significant piece of the weapon and thus benefits from aluminum’s lightweight.  It helps that aluminum has a pleasant aesthetic appearance that is both easy to maintain and takes well to product coatings such as anodizing and powder coating..

A key part of assault rifles, like the M-16, is the receiver, usually divided into the upper and lower receiver.  In a smaller weapon, like a pistol or other handgun, this would just be referred to as the frame, but in larger weapons is called the receiver because it provides housing for internal action components such as the hammer, bolt and firing pin.  It features threaded interfaces for externally attaching components including the barrel, stock and trigger mechanism.  These parts will also often be made from a high strength aluminum alloy.

Another weapon component often made from aluminum is the rifle handguard.  The handguard is an attachment to the front of a firearm that encloses the barrel length.  It shields the heated barrel from contact with hands and skin during use.  Another advantage of aluminum handguards is they allows for attachments such as lights, lasers, foregrips and handstops to be added to the rifle.

Another firearm part frequently made with aluminum is a handgun’s frame and slide.  Many fully or semi-automatic pistols have an upper slide that moves during the weapon’s recoil.  These are intricate parts that are also used to house the firing pin and striker, as well as the extractor and barrel.  They must be durable enough to withstand thousands of rounds fired without any degradation in performance; only high-quality materials such as high-strength aluminum are considered.

When purchasing aluminum intended for firearms, you have many buying options, depending on the part in question.  Aluminum plate, bar, extrusions and forgings are all options depending on the severity of the application.

Which aluminum alloys are found in firearms?

The grades used for firearms most often come from the 7XXX series of aluminum alloys. These are high performance alloys that possess elevated strength and pressure resistance; two key material requirements for use in a handgun or rifle.

The most common aluminum alloy to be incorporated into firearms is 7075.  Its primary alloying agent is zinc, which results in excellent mechanical properties such as good ductility, high strength, toughness and superior fatigue resistance.  It also has increased corrosion resistance when compared to the 2000 series alloys.  This alloy is extensively found in the structural components of aircraft and has been tested under the most extreme conditions.

Two other options for aluminum alloys in firearms are 7050 and 7158.  They can also meet the high strength requirements of firearm mechanisms.  As a whole, the 7xxx series of alloys offer a high strength-to-weight ratio while still being flexible enough to be used in intricate components that are frequently found in firearms.

If you are a collector of classic firearms, you might be aware that 6061 is another aluminum that has historically been found in weapons.  The original M-16 was made from this alloy, but it was replaced by 7075, which is better able to withstand environmental stresses.

Your technical services professional

At Clinton Aluminum, we know how important it is for manufacturers to only work with the most reliable and consistent materials.  The firearms industry relies on aluminum for its versatility and durability, and manufacturers can rest easy knowing that Clinton Aluminum is ready to lend our decades of experience to every step of your procurement process.  Contact one of our friendly and knowledgeable customer service representatives today to learn more.

 

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