Tuesday, May 06, 2008



A Critical Look at the Glock 17

By Stephen Camp

Not the first polymer frame pistol made, this is the one that started the "revolution" to "plastic pistols". That they are popular is an understatement. In the early '80's the Austrian army adopted this new handgun design and soon hit the US market in a big way with the establishment of Glock, Inc, in Smyrna, GA, in '85. Since then it has remained a most popular defensive handgun in this country and fills more than a few police holsters. The largest US police agency I can think of that issues Glock handguns would be NYPD.

Traditionalists such as myself were shocked and viewed this new "thing" with a jaundiced eye. It didn't look "right"; plastic in a handgun? How could it last? Would it be safe? "Oh, this will never work or catch on," I thought.

Simply put, I was wrong.

Even among folks favoring steel and wood in handguns, some find a role for the Glock in one model or the other. I fall into this category though I freely admit I do not subscribe to the theory of "Glock Perfection" as espoused by the company. Like any other handgun, the Glock has both good and not so good points.

Glock handguns have gone through several changes since the first versions arrived on the scene and this includes their first model, the G17. The one used for this report is a current one and is factory stock; nothing has been altered.


Slide Length: 7.32"

Pistol Height: 5.43" (measured from bottom of magazine floor plate to top of fixed rear sight)

Weight: 24.79 oz. (with empty magazine in place)

Width: 1.18"

Sight Radius: 6.5"

Barrel: 4.49" with 1:10" twist (Actually, most of the European pistols described as having 1:10 are actually 1:9.84".) It is polygonal rifled. Glock calls it "hexagonal".

Action: The Glock uses a locked breech and uses what is called a "safe action". The pistol does not have a hammer. It uses a spring-loaded striker and is partially retracted when a round is chambered. Pressing the trigger fully retracts and releases the striker so the pistol can be thought of as a form of double-action-only.

Factory Standard Recoil Spring: 17 pounds

Factory Standard Striker Spring: 5 1/2 pounds

External Safety: Yes, on the trigger itself. Newer versions have an extractor with an elevated flat that is obvious visually and by feel when there is a cartridge in the chamber.

Internal Safety: Yes, striker is blocked until trigger is pressed fully rearward.

Magazine Disconnect: No

Sights: Available in fixed or adjustable as well as with night sights

Magazine Capacity: 17 rounds

Finish: Tennifer (A dark and very corrosion-resistant proprietary finish)

In the picture on the left we see the trigger position when the pistol does not have a round in the chamber. On the right there is. Note the difference in position. Though the Glock can be thought of as a DAO, the trigger pull is only about a half-inch. The factory rates it at about 5 1/2 pounds as it comes from the box. Note the fixed sights. They are made of plastic and are the familiar 3-dot variety. The front grip strap has finger grooves with checkering between and an accessory rail is visible molded in the dust cover. There have been changes to various parts within the pistol over the years as well. The Glock 17 is the first Glock pistol but 9mm versions both larger and smaller are now made.

Here you can see the raised flat on the external pivoting extractor. There is a round chambered and the extractor acts as a loaded chamber indicator. It is also easily felt in the dark. On the right we see that the extractor gets a very healthy "bite" on the 9mm case rim. The cylinder visible at the lower left below the cartridge is what blocks the striker until the trigger is pressed and it is pushed up and out of the way.

Shooting: This pistol was shot over the chronograph to provide a rather extensive list of actual 9mm velocities ranging for 9mm loads with bullets from 65 to 147 grains. Average velocities are based on 10 shots fired approximately 10 feet from the chronograph screens. Average velocities, extreme spreads, and standard deviations are in ft/sec.

Glock 17 Chronograph Results:


Average Velocity (ft/sec):

Extreme Spread (ft/sec):

Std. Deviation (ft/sec):

Aguila 65-gr. IQ




Glaser 80-gr. Silver SS +P




Hirtenberger 100-gr. JSP FL




Corbon 100-gr. Powerball +P




Federal 105-gr. PD EFMJ




Corbon 115-gr. DPX +P




Federal AE 115-gr. FMJ




Fiocchi 115-gr. FMJ




Winchester USA 115-gr. JHP




Remington 115-gr. JHP +P




PMC 115-gr. SFHP




Remington UMC 115-gr. FMJ




Federal 115-gr. JHP




Sellier & Bellot 115-gr. FMJ




Corbon 115-gr. JHP +P




Fiocchi 123-gr. FMJTC




CCI/Speer Blazer 124-gr. FMJ




Hornady 124-gr. TAP




Magtech 124-gr. GG JHP




Speer 124-gr. GDHP




Corbon 124-gr. (GDHP)+P




PMC 124-gr. SFHP




Federal 124-gr. Nyclad HP




Federal 124-gr. HydraShok




CCI/Speer 124-gr. TMJ




Corbon 125-gr. JHP +P




Winchester 127-gr. JHP +P+




Federal AE 147-gr. FMJFP




Winchester 147-gr. STHP




Remington 147-gr. GS




(GS = Golden Saber, GDHP = Gold Dot Hollow Point, SFHP = Starfire Hollow Point, SS = Safety Slug, FMJTC = Full Metal Jacket Truncated Cone, FMJFP = Full Metal Jacket Flat Point, GG = Guardian Gold, PD = Personal Defense, TAP = Tactical Action Police)

The fastest round fired was the standard pressure Aguila IQ but it also had the greatest extreme spread and standard deviation. In standard velocity loads, Remington UMC 115-gr. FMJ, Winchester USA 115-gr. JHP, Federal 115-gr. JHP were exceptionally consistent in this weight range. In the 124-gr. range, CCI/Blazer, CCI/Speer Gold Dot, and Federal HydraShok lead the way, but not by much in some cases.

In +P and +P+, Corbon 115-gr. JHP +P was scarily consistent as is Winchester RA9TA +P+ in 127-gr. The now discontinued Corbon +P 124 gr. Gold Dot load was right in there and their current 125-gr. replacement (Sierra Power Jacket Hollow Point) is as well.

None of the 147-grain loads showed any significant differences in consistency shot to shot.

Shooting groups was limited today. I only got to fire at 15 yards due to heavy winds and an influx of people showing up unexpectedly. The groups that were shot are fairly typical of what I've seen in the past with Glock 17 handguns.

The group on the left consisted of 10 shots of Sellier & Bellot 115-gr. FMJ while the one on the right is but 5 shots with Corbon's DPX +P in the same weight. The two high hits with the S&B are not from "first round flyer syndrome" but from me. Recent lots of S&B (2005) are reportedly coming with extremely hard primers that are not always detonated by Glocks and other handguns. Though this lot had no problems, I have seen this in the past with S&B and suggest that it not be carried for "serious" purposes.

There were no failures or malfunctions of any kind in today's shooting session. This is pretty much typical of Glock handguns and I suggest this is a major reason for their popularity. Ejection was positive and cases fell pretty much in the same area with cases from lighter loads landing about 5' to the right and hotter loads, a bit farther. Feeding was slick and w/o hesitation with all bullet shapes from traditional ball to truncated cone and very blunt and short JHP's.

In past shooting sessions when using the Glock 17 and 19, I experienced no accuracy problems out to about 25 yards or so. At 50 yards, I do not get quite as tight of groups with the Glock as with other handguns such as the Browning Hi Power or various 1911 pattern pistols. I do not know if this is due to mechanical accuracy potential of the Glock pistols or me and I have not tried this with the longer versions of the gun. If I can get a group of 5 or 6" with a 1911 at 50 yards from a rest, I can expect a group roughly 2 to 3" greater with the Glock. I suspect the problem is me as groups at 15 and 25 yards are distinctly comparable to those fired from other quality autos.

Those shooting copious amounts of +P ammunition will be happy to know that the Glock 17 handles these with ease. G17's are tough guns and reports of extremely high round counts with zero problems are plentiful. I know one officer who shoots his first-version Glock 17 heavily and has done so since the '80's when he bought it. He has had no problems or major parts breakage. If memory serves correctly, he replaced a broken trigger return spring. Before retiring from police service I saw lots of handguns on the firing range and did see a few broken Glocks. Usually the problem was either a broken trigger return spring or slide stop spring. (Glock suggests that the slide be released via the "slingshot" method rather than depressing the slide stop lever to avoid wearing this stamped metal part. The gun will continue to work, but it is possible to wear the catch such that it no longer holds the slide rearward when the last shot is fired.)

Here we see the cracked breech face of a Glock 19 that was fired less than 100 times with only factory ball ammunition. Glock replaced this gun free, but it serves as a reminder that nothing is perfect and that lemons can come from any manufacturer. (The replacement Glock 19 has been fired steadily with no problems whatsoever.)

Like any other make handgun, Glocks have their downside issues. "Kabooms" are one. This is a term referring to catastrophic case failure when the gun is fired. Though it has happened in 9mm, the primary caliber these events stem from seem to be .40 S&W. While it may be exaggerated, the KB's have occurred more than a few times, but I don't think all of this can be laid at Glock's doorstep. I personally witnessed two KB's with Glock 22's using Federal 180-gr. HydraShok factory ammunition. This occurred early in the ammunition's manufacture and has long since been corrected. It is true that in some calibers, Glock handguns don't provide any excess of case support, but in the original caliber, 9mm, they do fine.

Both the Glock 17 (left) and Glock 26 (right) have sufficient case support at the chamber to handle high-end 9mm loads without worry.

Glock nixes the use of cast bullets in their pistols due to the hexagonal rifling, which leads badly with some alloys and can raise pressures. When pressures exceed a certain point the weakest link in the chain breaks and this is usually the unsupported case head. I have seen badly bulged cases firing standard pressure ammunition in .40, .45 and 10mm Glocks, but have not seen it in 9mm. In the case of the 10mm, Glock replaced the barrel and the bulged case problem was alleviated.

I have shot cast bullet handloads in Glock handguns, but never more than a couple of hundred before cleaning the barrel. Though I did not notice excessive leading this does not mean that it couldn't happen rapidly; lead alloys from cast bullet makers varies. For the record I suggest shooting only jacketed ammunition in any Glock handgun, regardless of caliber.

Felt recoil was minimal with the G17. The warmer loads kicked a bit more and were "sharper" but nothing was either "bad" or hard to control. I suspect strongly that this is one reason for the 9mm's continued popularity. You get quite a bit of "oomph" for minimal recoil in a service size handgun.

The rear tang of the Glock 17 is wider than the slide and spreads the recoil impulse which results in less felt recoil for most people.

Observations and Conclusion: For me the Glock 17 feels better than any other 9mm offered by this company. For many that accolade goes to the Glock 19, but those have never felt comfortable to me. This is entirely subjective and there is no right or wrong answer; it's up to the individual.

Glock 17's have a well-deserved reputation for general ruggedness and utter reliability. Though they can be made to malfunction by limp-wristing, they normally run 100% with about any type of ammunition they're fed.

For those going into harm's way with the expectation that cleaning will not be regular and the elements harsh, the Glock has one of the most corrosion resistant finishes extant. Certainly the polymer frame won't corrode, but the steel parts are covered with tennifer, a Glock finish that is for all practical purposes rust proof.

To me, the primary weak point remains the factory sights. They are polymer and easily damaged. While it is true that they're very inexpensive and easily replaced, it is somewhat silly to put a set of sights on a pistol that can be worn to a nub in a holster that touches them or that can knocked from the gun w/o much effort. The sights on this Glock are being replaced with steel ones in the near future.

The Glock 17 can be lightly customized without much effort as Glock and other manufacturers offer various guide rods, trigger connectors, sights, springs, etc.

Mine will remain about as it is with the exception of the sights and I'll probably go with Wolff's one-piece steel recoil spring and guide. That said, the polymer guide is holding up fine.

Here is the Glock 17 fieldstripped. The recoil spring guide rod is polymer but so far, no problems. The recoil spring is a captive unit, which makes replacement require a new guide rod if one wishes to remain in factory trim. The Wolff one-piece steel guide rod requires the use of the Wolff spring and is not captive. Changing the recoil spring is simplified, but it is not as easy to install this spring and guide as is the factory unit.

Glock handguns are not so internally complex as some more modern automatics. In this picture we can see the ejector. These are bent and this is normal and the way they come from the factory. Yours should be the same and there's nothing wrong with your gun; it is supposed to be that way.

Cleaning the G17 is easy compared to some other automatics I shoot. These pistols require but a minor amount of lubrication for proper function. Take down is simple and cleaning should be a regular part of any shooter's regimen. That said, the Glock series of handguns are usually capable of shooting extreme amounts of ammunition before cleaning is necessary. I clean mine after each range session whether it is "necessary" or not. Do NOT get oil or solvent into the striker channel. This can caramelize and/or attract grit that can weaken the striker's ability to detonate primers. Keep this area clean. The hole on the underside of the slide is not there to allow us to lube this area. Speaking of primers, I suggest using only quality American-made ammo in this pistol if possible. Reliable though it is, there are some makes of ammunition having hard primers that the Glock's striker system simply does not fire with 100% reliability. In most cases this turns out to be foreign surplus ammo. I have never seen a Glock pistol in any caliber fail to fire any brand of US ammunition.

The Glock 17 is a capable, dependable pistol whether for home defense, concealed carry, or uniformed law enforcement work. Mine will be used primarily for the first two categories as well as for range shooting for fun and practice. These pistols are not forgiving. It is absolutely essential that the finger not be on the trigger until ready to fire. While this is true of all handguns, it must be remembered that the one and only external safety on the Glock is deactivated when the trigger is touched from the front. Holster selection should also be made with an eye to retaining straps and thumb breaks. They must not be able to enter the trigger guard and touch the trigger. If they do, the pistol could discharge when inserted back into the holster.

Not so beautiful to my eye as a number of other handguns, I do find the Glocks reliable and worthy of respect as defensive handguns. Light, easy to carry, and essentially corrosion-free, they possess traits high on the list for daily carry and under less than ideal conditions. They can take lots and lots of shooting and with hot ammunition, too. A serious shooter can buy a Glock 17 and go hundreds of thousands of rounds without worry. The barrels are very long-lived and there are usually no catastrophic parts failures. One might break a spring now and again but those concerned can go with the "New York" trigger springs, which supposedly alleviate this problem. (They will change both the trigger pull weight and feel.)

Not likely to replace the Hi Power, CZ, or 1911 as my favorite handguns, I do admit that I trust and recommend the Glock as a quality handgun that can be counted upon in the "dark place". Just be aware that it doesn't allow much less-than-careful use without the possibility of a negligent discharge. Negligent or not, these pistols will fire when called upon.