The Bronze 1911 pistol

I have seen guns made from bronze alloys before, but never an autoloader. Back in 1932 Colt and the Springfield Armory teamed up to test the suitability of using a die cast bronze alloy for gun parts.

Bronze 1911 Pistol
The Golden Gun

The gun is exhibited at the Springfield Armory Museum.

In 1932 Springfield Armory experimented with die casting pistol frames and slides from a high tensile corrosion resistant bronze alloy called ‘brastil.’ The resulting ‘golden gun’ represents one of the first attempts to die cast handgun components. Despite the success of the test, the project did not move beyond the experimental stage.

There is a discussion about the pistol at the 1911 Forum.

So the question remains … who is going to be the the first to build a bronze AR-15?

Thanks to Sven for the link.





Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • I’ve seen bronze lowers, but of course I can’t remember where…

    Regards,
    Albert
    The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
    PeTA: Purveyors of Stalinism

  • B Woodman

    Any advantages to bronze over steel? Or was this just an experiment to see “if it could be done”? Interesting. . . .

    • Bear Artorius

      Well, yes actually. Depending on the type and alloy, many forms of bronze have very good qualities. Manganese Bronze is stronger than 4140 steel for example.
      Bronze alloys also have advantages of:
      *Faster to manufacture if die casting. (Probably not cheaper though)
      *Good machinability.
      *Superior corrosion resistance.
      *Lower friction. Bronze is used in bearings because of its ability to have built in lubricity.
      *Easier to clean. Because of its properties, bronze guns would function far longer without being cleaned or lubricated. Cleaning would only require a dry cloth and the gun would use dry graphite as lubrication.
      *Great heat dissapation and quench resistance. Bronze will not overheat as easily as steel and it can handle being nearly red hot and dropped in water without much damage. Where steel would probably crack or become brittle after being overheated and quenched. (Remember when steel is hardened by quenching it must also be tempered by being heated to about 500°F for several hours or it will be brittle.) This also makes manufacturing faster because the heat treatment and tempering time is taken out.
      *Excellent wear resistance. Meaning longer lasting components.
      *less thermal expansion.

      I think there are only two real disadvantages.
      *Slightly heavier.
      *More expensive.
      But those can be serious deal breakers.

      Remember, the bronze age didnt end because bronze was inferior to iron. It ended because bronze was too expensive and tin required to make it had become scarce. The bronze produced at the end of the bronze age was so good, we are struggling to duplicate it today. Iron takes weeks to turn into a good steel sword. Bronze takes a few hours. A test was done where a period correct iron sword was put up against a period correct bronze sword to show that iron was better. The men who made the weapons tried to tell the people making the documentary that the iron sword would lose but they ignored them and tested them. The iron sword was nearly destroyed by the bronze one. So yeah…the iron age was from the availability of iron and the scarcity of tin. Not an inferiority of bronze to iron or even steel.
      That said, steel is so common, even in very high grades, that most of our machinery and shops are set up to handle steel almost exclusively. Whereas bronze is still an art for the few masters of it. Marine components are almost exclusively bronze because of its favorable properties.

  • Nick Pacific

    I’ve been burned one too many times on one offs and prototypical gadgetude. Let someone else be the first to commission that.
    Of course then my girlfriend will beg for one with a mirror polish. Either way my wallet is going to lose.

  • Colin

    I’ll send you some more photos of Springfield Armory when I go home. There is alot of ridiculous fireams there.

    Rifle struck by lightning
    Rifle with bullet in barrel
    Rifle with a stock gnawed to hell by a porqupine.

    One of my fav there is a M-14 that Eisenhowser was suppose to get, but it had a slight flaw and was rejected!

    • Colin, I would appreciate that.

  • anon

    We’ve moved past bronze to plastic (oops, I mean polymer). It’s cheaper and easier to work with.

    The question is: When do we get polymer uppers?

    Or maybe the question is: when do we get polymer slides with molded in steel breech blocks?

    Actually, I’m kinda surprised that the techniques used for the Nylon 66 aren’t the norm for 22’s.

  • Matt Groom

    That is a truly amazing and fascinating thing. I read in the standard catalog of Smith and Wesson that S&W actually made aluminum framed N-frames BEFORE WWII. If they had made an 8-shot Aluminum N-frame in .38/.44 or .357 Magnum in 1946, it seems likely to me that revolvers would have remained in the hands of Law Enforcement in the US for at least another decade.

    Colt apparently developed the Colt Commander 1911 with an Aluminum frame between 1949-1951 in anticipation that the military would want a lighter pistol in the future. It was built in 9mm in anticipation that the newly formed NATO would adopt that caliber as standard. It’s interesting to imagine that 9mm Colt Commanders could have seen service in the US military during the Korean War.

  • Komrad

    When society collapses bronze will be easier to make than steel. Plans for molds and the exact tin/copper ratio would make a post-apocalyptic society a wee bit safer for me and my hoard of mutants.

  • Jason Smith

    From what little research I could do with google, “Brastil” is a trade name for a particular Copper-Zinc-Silicon alloy made by Doehler Die Casting Co. and is similar to Webert Alloy by American Brass Co., and Tombasil Alloy from Ajax Metal Co.

    http://www.aimehq.org/search/docs/Volume%20137/137-33.pdf

    • Jason, great find! I tried to use google to find it out but was unsuccessful.

  • Vitor

    Spartans liked bronze.

  • Matt Groom

    @ anon

    The Kel-Tec SU-16 is made on a polymer upper and lower. So are most modern H&Ks. The Carbon-15 has a polymer upper and lower. Carbon fiber is the glass content of the plastic, but it’s still plastic. Cavalry Arms has their famous CAV-15 lowers too. I can’t think of any other uppers.

    As for “…polymer slides with molded in breech blocks” the closest thing to that is the uber-expensive FN Five Seven that has been featured in a number of posts here on the Firearms Blog. Stamped sheet metal slide with a polymer cover on top. It’s ugly plastic like a High Point, cheaply constructed like a RG, and expensive as hell like a Hammerli.

  • Nick

    Whoa.

    Let’s not compare the plastic of a Five-seveN to a Hi-Point.

    I’ve seen both (and owned one). The Five-seveN’s plastic quality is far superior.

  • Komrad

    FN Five seveNs are a new concept with a currently small market. A semi-concealable weapon that can get through body armor is not a bad idea. If any major ammunition manufacturer made 5.7mm ammo, FN would expand their line and other companies might start making 5.7mm weapons. The price would come down too. As for this brastil. It has a 85,000-95,00 pound tensile strength, and a yield strength of 65,00 to 70,000 pounds. I have no idea what that means but compared to the other brasses on the chart, that is pretty impressive. It contains 80-81.5% copper, 13.5-16% zinc, and 3.75-4.25% silicon. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, silicon is more expensive that steel and maybe more expensive that copper and is certainly more expensive than aluminum, doesn’t that make it ill suited to mass production. Maybe a few parts could be made from brastil but to mass produce something like a 1911 for a conflict as big as WWII made from a silicon bass is just unfeasible.

  • Komrad

    Here is the address for the chart. You will have to download it as a PDF. http://www.aimehq.org/search/docs/Volume%20137/137-33.pdf

  • Matt Groom

    @ Nick,
    High quality plastic is still plastic.

    @ Komrad,
    The Five-Seven is NOT semi-concealable, unless you compare it to a rifle. It is a full sized service pistol and easily bigger than my Beretta, although it weighs less. We have one at work and I have shot it extensively. It is not uncomfortable or ungainly in the hand, although I dislike the rounded magazine plate which makes accurate shooting from a bench quite difficult. It is also very light weight, but the price and the construction make it a loser in my book. If it was a $400-$500 pistol, I might consider buying one, but the $1K price tag sends it right into the rediculous catergory.

    A major ammuniton manufacturer, Fiocchi, loads all the 5.7x28mm that FN sells to the general public. Nobody else loads it, because nobody wants it. Nobody else makes guns for it, because it is an akwardly long and poor performing cartridge in it’s non-military format. Fiocchi loads their ammo very hot and with very good quality; they’re one of the largest ammo makers in the world.

    Silicon is purified sand, and it is not more expensive than Iron and certainly not more so than most grades of Steel. Copper is more expensive than both. Aluminum used to be more expensive than all of them, but the price of Aluminum has been lowered dramatically with the advent of Nuclear power, so Copper is the most expensive. Also, Brastil would be very heavy compared to something made with an Aluminum or Plastic frame.

  • Jason Smith

    Komrad,

    The link has already been posted.

    Matt & Komrad,

    One thing you are leaving out is that the purpose of the Brastil gun was NOT because the materials were cheaper, but rather that they were able to be DIECAST (as opposed to forged) for almost as much durability but at much lower production costs. The hope was that the increase in material cost would be overcome by the cheaper production costs.

    I’m not up on my 1932 material or production costs, but apparently the test was TECHNICALLY feasible, while it may or may not have been ECONOMICALLY feasible. Without more details, we will likely never know why this was not pursued at the time.

  • Komrad

    @matt
    I was comparing it to a rifle which is why I said SEMI-concealable.
    @jason
    The only knowledge I have of silicon is solar grade which is very expensive. Thank you for correcting me.

  • Ken

    From a curiosity standpoint the gun looks different. But there is a reason we are not in the bronze age anymore. “Bronze” and “die cast” in the construction doesn’t sound too durable to me. Being a machinist of 16 years bronze and its variants are easy to machine versus a steel. Under no circumstance as a designer of firearms myself would I incorporate bronze in any part of my work.

  • You rang?

  • Mu

    On the misconception “plastic is plastic”, there are now composites out there that can take temperatures over 300C, stronger and lighter than the best steel or aluminum alloys. We make rocket cases from it.
    Now, the $500/lb price is still a downer, but don’t compare today’s high tech polymers with your plastic trash bag or bakelite.

  • STEVEN THOMPSON

    COLT 1911 SEP-9-1913 BRONZE 270989