Steel-Framed Handguns: Are They Outdated?

Let’s face it, thanks to the late Gaston Glock, we live in a world where the polymer handgun rules. Polymer is, after all, extremely durable while also being lighter and less expensive than steel. Does that mean steel or alloy-framed handguns are obsolete? Recent offerings by several major firearms manufacturers seem to indicate otherwise. We’ll address those firearms, but let’s first discuss the advantages steel or alloy offers over polymer.

Beretta 92XI SAO Tactical pistol
The Beretta 92 Series has been around for a long time. But the new models, like this 92XI SAO Tactical still feature a steel frame. (

Why Steel?

Steel-framed handguns were the norm until relatively recently. Man-portable firearms have been around for over 500 years, just a little longer than the Beretta company. Heckler & Koch introduced the first polymer-framed handgun, the VP70, in 1970, though Glock popularized polymer guns a decade and a half later. So, the history and know-how are there.

While polymer has more than proven itself, steel offers some advantages, based on a given handgun’s purpose. Steel-framed guns are heavier, offering reduced felt recoil and muzzle rise. This is particularly attractive to competition shooters who measure success in hundredths of seconds. And to offer an anecdote, a good friend of mine prefers big steel handguns because she says she shoots them better. Range data bears this out.

Smith & Wesson CSX pistol
Smith & Wesson’s aluminum-framed CSX offers a surprisingly light weight thanks to modern metallurgy. (

A knock against steel guns is that they can rust. That is absolutely true, but modern coatings and finishes can drastically reduce the risk of rusting. And it’s not like polymer-framed guns don’t have steel slides and barrels. Properly maintaining your guns, steel or polymer-framed, takes care of rust. Steel and alloy guns are also very durable. Not that polymer isn’t, but hard metal is hard metal.

Polymer is noticeably lighter than steel, but some alloys have created surprisingly light firearms that are easily carried, like the Smith & Wesson CSX, which we’ll address shortly. But sometimes I carry a big honking handgun, like my Beretta 92 FS, just because I want to. I’ve found that a quality modern holster mitigates some of that weight. My steel-framed Beretta is no more uncomfortable than any other full-sized handgun. Your mileage may vary, but it doesn’t bother me.

The Metal Resurgence

People still want steel and alloy guns. The continued popularity of steel-framed stalwarts like the Colt 1911, Beretta 92, Walther PPK, and IWI Jericho 941 shows that the demand never went away. Seriously, how many companies make 1911s? The market is there. And gunmakers like Walther, Beretta, Sig Sauer, and Smith & Wesson wouldn’t be introducing new metal-framed handguns if their customers weren’t interested.

So, let’s look briefly at those recent offerings. I wouldn’t say that metal-framed handguns are enjoying a Renaissance, but I think there’s evidence for a resurgence. Because sometimes there’s just nothing like cold steel. Or aluminum alloy. You get it.

Beretta 80X Cheetah pistol
The Beretta 80X Cheetah updates the old steel-framed 80 series, this time with an aluminum frame. (

Recent Metal-Framed Handguns

We all know about the 1911 (in all its incarnations), the PPK, and the older Beretta 92 designs, so we’ll skip those. And if you don’t know about IWI’s CZ-75-based Jericho 941, well, shame on you. Suffice it to say that they’re still big sellers, and their owners love them. But more recent offerings deserve your attention.

Beretta 92X Series

The 92X is the next evolution of the M9, which was built on the Model 92. The 92X series features better ergonomics, grips, sights, and controls. Beretta did not change the steel frame. My Beretta 92 FS is among my softest-shooting handguns. That means it’s also a gun I shoot very accurately. The steel frame has a lot to do with that. As far as I can see, there is no reason to change.

Beretta 80X

The 80X revives the old steel-framed 80 Series, also known as the “Cheetah.” The 80X keeps that moniker but offers a lighter, aluminum-framed pistol with improved ergonomics. The softer shooting .380 cartridge, combined with the frame, makes this a nice, durable pistol.

FN Hi-Power pistol
FN’s new Hi-Power updates one of John Browning’s classic steel designs. (

FN Hi-Power

FN recently reintroduced the upgraded Browning Hi-Power with improved ergonomics, capacity, and finish. The Hi-Power is one of John Moses Browning’s greatest achievements, including the solid steel frame. FN kept that feature with good reason. You’re unlikely to find a softer shooting 9mm handgun.

Sig Sauer P320 AXG Series

Sig expanded its popular P320 Series by adding the metal-framed AXG line. Sig doesn’t specify exactly which metal, so I’m going with some kind of steel or aluminum alloy. The AXG Carry model weighs in at 31 ounces, which is 9 ounces less than the steel-framed Hi-Power. A shorter slide accounts for some of that, but the alloy contributes as well. Plus, if the AXG was steel, Sig would say so.

Sig Sauer P320 AXG Carry pistol
The Sig P320 AXG line offers metal-framed options for the P320 pistol, like this AXG Carry. (

Smith & Wesson CSX

The Smith & Wesson CSX features an aluminum alloy frame for concealed carriers who want a metal-framed sidearm. Despite the metal, the CSX only weighs 19.5 ounces, showing how far handgun metallurgy has come.

Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 Metal

First, Smith & Wesson needs to do something about this gun’s name. It doesn’t work for me. But a metal-framed version of the proven M&P pistol is a good thing for gun owners. Like the Sig AXG, this is probably some kind of steel or aluminum alloy since S&W would specify if it was steel. The 30-ounce weight also indicates an alloy. But alloys have come a long way. Steel purists may scoff, and I get that, but alloy frames are not necessarily a downside anymore.

Springfield Armory SA-35 pistol
The Springfield Armory SA-35 is a modern take on a classic steel-framed handgun. (

Springfield Armory SA-35

Another modern take on the classic Browning Hi-Power, Springfield Armory’s SA-35 has been well-received. Like FN, Springfield kept the steel frame and improved the ergonomics and capacity in what looks like a nice gun. Unlike FN, the SA-35 looks more like the original, and Springfield doesn’t charge a premium price.

Walther PDP Steel Frame Series

Walther expanded their flagship PDP line to include steel-framed options for the Compact, Full Size, and Match Full Size handguns. The steel adds substantial weight for recoil control and improved accuracy. Walther looks to be all-in on steel, and if any company can be said to be pushing the steel resurgence, it’s Walther.

Walther PDP Steel Frame pistol
Walther includes a steel-framed option with their flagship PDP line. (

Walther Q4 and Q5 Steel Frames

Walther’s Q series represents their premium handgun line, including the Q5 Match competition pistols. They mimic the PDP’s ergonomics with improved triggers and slides. There’s even an updated PPQ M2 steel-framed gun.

So, are steel-framed handguns outdated?

I think the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” Top firearm manufacturers offer lots of quality steel or other metal-framed options. As noted, Walther seems to have not only jumped on the train but started driving it. These companies wouldn’t offer these guns if the gun-buying public didn’t want them. Personally, I want a Walther PDP Steel Frame and an updated Hi-Power so badly I can taste it.

Walther Q5 Match Steel pistol
Walther seems to be leading the steel resurgence with offerings like this Q5 Match Steel handgun. (

Don’t get me wrong, I have many polymer-framed pistols, and I love them. But steel and wood have always softened my heart, and I have a place for those guns too. Metal-framed handguns still have a seat at the table. If nothing else, they have a little more personality than polymer guns, but I don’t think they are limited to that. It’s all about what you want in a firearm. Many companies, to their credit, understand that and provide those options.

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

Sign Up for Newsletter

Let us know what topics you would be interested:
© 2024 GunMag Warehouse. All Rights Reserved.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap