Uselton Arms Explosive-Bonded 1911s Could Be A Real Game Changer.
By Jerry L. Cannon
Photos: Steve Sunday Photography
Beauty and the Beast: These handguns are technological
marvels, yet couldn’t look more different.
An entire segment of the industry — gunsmiths, accessory makers, etc. — owe their existence to the 1911. Even the “world’s gunsmith,” Brownell’s, publishes a catalog devoted entirely to 1911’s.
I’m most enamored with the 1911 and I view it as a blank canvas — waiting for an artist’s touch. The great flat sides of the 1911 encourage this. All of this brings me to a certain “Da Vincian” element found in the Uselton Arms 1911. And there is also science behind the art, something Da Vinci himself would appreciate.
Let’s take a moment and get ourselves organized: the first part of this article will focus on serious-techno-geek stuff, while the second drools over the finished product, and the third concentrates on actually testing the ultra lightweight 1911
The Uselton Tactical Government Model isn’t pretty, but it doesn’t
need to be — it’s well equipped to be a consummate fightin’ pistol
and a likely standard bearer for how 1911s are made.
The checkered grips and textured back straps helps to stabilize the Government while shooting.
Now, are you ready to meet the most outstanding quality of the Uselton 1911? It’s something called explosive bonding. The most remarkable feature of the Uselton 1911 is the use of stainless steel and alloy, aluminum or titanium — together. And when I say together, I don’t mean one piece of aluminum laid next to a piece of steel, screwed and riveted. I mean aluminum joined to steel as if they were a single piece of metal. How is this done? Explosively!
Explosive bonding gets very technical, very fast and sets Uselton apart. If you’d like a detailed discussion on the more “technical elements” of the process, you should give Rick Uselton, President and CEO of Uselton Arms, a call and he’ll give you an earful. I’ll make an attempt at it, though!
At its most basic level, explosive bonding permanently attaches two different types of metal without changing their respective properties. In Uselton’s case, we’re talking about aluminum or titanium to stainless steel. The large mass we know as the 1911 frame is the aluminum or titanium part. The rails — and only the rails — are stainless steel. This generally produces an “Aha!” moment. This process reduces the weight by 40 to 60 percent, according to Uselton.
Even though a green fiber optic front sight might not appeal to some
1911 users, it worked well getting on target quickly.
So how does this explosive bonding work? The bonding uses heat and force or force and heat, depending on which side of the chicken and the egg debate you’re on. When materials are heated they expand. We can compare this to our feet, which get hot inside our shoes and swell — making our shoes feel tight because they didn’t expand at the same rate as our feet. Something similar happens with explosive bonding. Beyond our feet, expansion of some materials can continue at the molecular level. So when materials have expanded and become “loose,” it’s possible to press two loose materials together.
Two loose materials pressed together bond when they cool and tighten. The explosive part causes the two parts to come together quickly before either heats or cools unevenly and also adds heat, because when materials are compressed, they heat up. There’s the chicken and the egg thing again.
Uselton uses explosive bonding to bring the two materials together in a billet form, producing a lightweight frame with hardened rails. The explosion brings the two pieces together with force. In addition, explosive force creates heat and brings the pieces together with speed. Strength and durability without the extra weight is the result.
The billet is then machined into a finished frame. Examining a frame billet, you can clearly see a line referred to as the “explosive weld line.” I’m surprised it’s not called “explosive welding.”
Currently, explosive bonding is only used on 1911 frames. I did, however, examine a prototype slide featuring a steel core with an alloy wrap around the outer surface. When the bonded slide becomes available, Uselton will make a very lightweight 1911.
The Uselton Damascus Commander — or as I call it, “Art On Steel” —
features a beautiful ripple on the slide and alluring Siberian Mastodon grips.
Time To Drool
The Uselton Commander in Damascus is drop-dead gorgeous! The rippling pattern is akin to a mountain lake at dawn as the insects, birds and fish awaken to disturb the smooth water. Beyond all of the standard 1911 features, the Damascus is adorned with Mastodon grips. Dug out of the Siberian tundra, the Mastodon brings sheer beauty along with a rich, exotic history. If you at all agree with me on the notion the 1911 is the blank canvas of the gun world, then we can probably agree the Damascus is a masterpiece.
A bit unimaginative, Uselton calls their other 1911 the IA (Integrated Aluminum) Tactical Government Model. The IA Tactical Government SOCOM model isn’t a piece of art — it’s a tool. If you were to open my desk drawer, you’d likely find the SOCOM swimming around with pens, screwdrivers, nuts, bolts and a couple of paperclips.
The SOCOM comes standard with all of the popular 1911 features: low profile Bo-Mar-style sights, frame checkering, beavertail, lowered ejection port and a fitted barrel. The SOCOM also features a rail, and the whole package is wrapped in Cerakote.
A close-up of the elegant slide reveals an equally beautiful trigger!
Testing The Beast
I didn’t shoot the Damascus — just like I didn’t shoot La Joconde — so I can’t tell you how it performs, only how it looks. On the other hand, I shot the SOCOM ,and liked it. It’s a challenge to write something new about the 1911, but this is exactly what writers get paid to do.
So, I aligned the sights and pressed the trigger. The bullet struck the point of aim and the SOCOM cycled. Repeat. At this point I’d love to say I fired 10,000 rounds through the SOCOM, but I didn’t. The current political climate has made getting ammunition … hum … a challenge.
This SOCOM is a factory demonstration gun, fitted with adjustable sights and a green fiber optic front sight, which amply demonstrates the extent of features available from Uselton. The SOCOM ran flawlessly, and I would feel comfortable carrying it. To get a better feel for the SOCOM, I slipped it into a Blade-Tech Kevlar IWB holster and just carried it around. And carried it around. The government length is big, but fortunately so am I, so it worked out well.
Did I notice the weight? Frankly, no. After wearing a full duty belt everyday, anything feels lighter. But I thought the Government felt about the same as my duty-issue plastic wonder gun. Hey, but wait! My plastic wonder gun is much lighter than a run-of-the-mill 1911. Therefore, if the SOCOM felt about the same, then it must be lighter and also felt better to carry. Some tortured logic, eh?
The slightly darker portion of the frame reveals the explosively bonded
steel rails to the lighter aluminum frame. Photo: Uselton Arms.
Why does all of this matter? People like lightweight firearms — especially people who carry their firearms a lot. And also for people who carry a lot of other stuff, including their firearms. Weight is truly an issue.
The Uselton 1911 combines the lightweight aluminum components with the strength and durability of stainless steel. Although aluminum firearm components have been around for about 50 years, it’s still softer than steel and is subject to more wear. Something had to be done and Uselton did it.
Even as the 1911 design is over 100 years old, it’s still a highly regarded design and has an untold number of followers. Combining old and new technology was completely logical and innovative, making the Uselton 1911 a sight to behold. Uselton is an up-and-coming company to look out for.
I wonder what platform they will explosively bond next?
For more info: http://useltonarmsinc.com/