Glock 26, Left side

From time to time, a company produces a product or products that fundamentally change the market, products that are so innovative and effective that everything else is suddenly left in the dust.  These transformative products often change manufacturing methods, and change our understanding of what is possible and desirable.  Apple has done it over decades in computers and consumer electronics, and in the world of firearms Glock has done it too.

Glock 26, Right Side

This handgun is my daily carry weapon, a Glock 26 in 9mm.  Its magazine capacity is 10 rounds.  It is 6.5″ long, 5″ high and about 1″ wide.  I’ve added only two aftermarket accessories: a Laser Lyte rear sight laser and Pearce Grip magazine extensions.  More about them later.  I have been carrying a Glock 26 since 1995, and in a way, I have Bill Clinton to thank.

The Clinton gun ban went into effect in 1994.  Among its provisions was a ban on newly manufactured magazines of greater capacity than ten rounds.  Glock quickly saw the potential market created by that foolish law and by the rapid proliferation of shall-issue concealed carry laws being passed by the states and scaled down its then smallest handgun—the G19 (15 round capacity; production began in 1988) creating the “baby Glock,” as it has become known.  Many other manufacturers quickly began producing similarly sized weapons.  Any 9mm Glock magazine of 15, 17 or greater capacity will fit the G26, but of course, larger magazines alter the balance of the little handgun, usually for the worst.

The history of Glock handguns is as unusual as the weapons. Gaston Glock, maker of various plastic goods, was visited by two Austrian military officers interested in his knifes and shovels.  While there, they bemoaned the fact that the Austrian military could not find a handgun that met their specifications.  Glock said, in essence: “I can build one,” which the officers found funny.  How could a maker of plastic goods with no firearm experience build a military-grade weapon?

Glock, who had never designed or manufactured a firearm, started with a clean sheet of paper and no preconceptions. He produced drawings, built prototypes and fired the resulting weapons left-handed so if they blew up, he could still draw with his right hand.  The eventual result, which went into production in 1981, was the Glock 17, a 17 round 9mm pistol unlike anything ever made.  Glock got the Austrian military contract, and today, around 2000 American police departments issue Glocks.

In 1985, Glock established a factory in Smyrna, GA to serve the American market, and Glock took that market by storm.  My experience was typical.  In those days, most police agencies carried .357 magnum revolvers, though a few had been experimenting with double action 9mm pistols on the assumption they were like revolvers—they aren’t.  Police chiefs were very much afraid of cocked and locked model 1911 pistols.  In addition, semiautomatic pistols of that era had significant reliability problems, and one commonly had to invest hundreds in gunsmithing in addition to the purchase price in order to have a pistol that was accurate and reliable.  Many of the features that are now factory-standard on semiautos such as beveled magazine wells and enlarged ejection ports were a direct result of those early days of experimentation.

Additional historical information on Glocks can be found herehere and here. 

There was a significant problem that could not be ignored, however: revolvers are hard to shoot accurately and the national hit ratio for officer-involved shootings was only about 25%.  Fully 75% of the bullets officers fired—at gunfight-in-a-telephone-booth ranges—missed.  Along came Glock with a lightweight, large capacity handgun, simple to use, with three internal, progressive safeties.  Above all, it shared one characteristic with revolvers: pull the trigger–no manual safety–and the weapon will fire.  This, as well as a unique trigger that was substantially lighter and of shorter travel than revolvers, immediately opened the police market.

Right out of the box, the Glock 17 had the features shooters of an earlier day paid hundreds to obtain.  It was reliable, accurate, and virtually indestructible.  Recoil is mild because the axis of the bore is low in relation to the hand.  Add the fact that the polymer frame actually helps to diminish felt recoil, its reasonable price, the ease with which the handgun can be taught, and the fact that Glocks just feel and work right, and police sales quickly took off.

Safeties:  Notice that there is no manual safety mechanism on the left side of the weapon, only the magazine release and slide stop.  The first safety is the small lever protruding forward from the bottom of the trigger.  Unless that lever is fully retracted, the trigger will not move and the weapon can’t be fired.  It is stiff enough to avoid accidental movement yet easily purposely depressed, and is well protected by the trigger guard.  As the trigger is pulled, two additional safeties—the drop safety and firing pin safety are disengaged and the handgun will fire.

In transition training from .357 revolvers to the full-sized Glock 22 in .40 Smith and Wesson caliber, we were told that if we lost our grip on the gun to just let it fly, and many officers earned the title “gunflinger” before the training was done.  Many new Glocks flew down our indoor range, bouncing merrily off the concrete floor—with no damage and no discharges.  That is not something I’d care to repeat with virtually any other weapon.

Extractor/Loaded Chamber Indicator

The polymer frame allows large magazine capacities without an outsized grip, and Generation 4 Glocks have the ability to switch backstraps, customizing grip size and shape to some degree.  Another well-thought-out feature is designing the extractor to also function as a loaded chamber indicator.  Notice how it protrudes slightly from the slide in the photo above.  This can be felt; one need not look to be sure the chamber is loaded.

There are two additional methods of ensuring a loaded chamber.  Notice the sliver of silver (the nickel plated brass of a cartridge in this case) immediately in front of the extractor in the right side photo of the G26 below.  That’s the rim of a cartridge.  Brass cartridges in their natural color are also visible.  The alternate method is what is commonly known as a “pinch check.”

Pinch Check Hand Position

Notice the position of the thumb and first two fingers in the photo above.  The side of the first finger is against the rear sight.  Keeping the trigger finger in register—out of the trigger guard and in contact with the frame—place the hand as illustrated and merely squeeze inward with the thumb—pushing back with the fingers–enough to slightly open the breech.  Be sure that it goes completely back into battery, perhaps even rapping the back of the slide forward with the palm of a hand; most semiautomatic pistols will not fire if the slide is not fully forward/closed/in battery.

ALWAYS BE SURE THE TRIGGER FINGER IS IN REGISTER!  A pinch check can easily be done without holding the weapon with the strong hand, which may or may not be easier for the individual shooter.  Muzzle awareness is also important when handling any firearm.  It is particularly easy to point the muzzle of a short-barreled pistol at unintended targets.

Disassembly: Another advantage of the Glock design is the ease with which it is disassembled and reassembled for normal cleaning.  The design incorporates only 34 parts and is not held together with conventional screws.  An armorer can reduce a Glock to all 34 parts with only a common punchpin.

On both sides of the frame just forward of the trigger is the spring-loaded takedown lever.  Ensuring the pistol is unloaded, pull the trigger.  Then use the same technique required for the pinch check (if right-handed, doing it with the right hand is usually easiest) and retract the slide about ¼ inch, holding it open.  Pull down and hold the take down lever—it might take a few tries to get the hang of it; it’s not hard, but equal pressure and movement must be applied to both sides of the lever on both sides of the frame—and the slide will easily travel forward completely off the frame.  Push forward on the back of the recoil spring assembly and remove it.  Push the barrel slightly forward through the slide and lift it up and out.  For normal cleaning and oiling, this is as far as the weapon need be taken down.

Disassembled For Cleaning

Most Glock owners are amazed how light the frame assembly is; most of the weight of a Glock is in the slide and barrel.  In fact, the slide rides only on four short sections of steel slide rail, which reduces friction and no doubt helps to make the weapon more reliable.

Reassembly:  Reassembling the weapon is even more simple.  Replace the barrel and recoil spring.  Guide the slide onto the front slide rails and then rear slide rails and push the slide completely to the rear and release it.  I recommend pulling the trigger, cycling the slide fully again, and pulling the trigger again to be absolutely certain the weapon is correctly assembled and working properly, but unless you somehow entirely miss the rear slide rails, it’s not easy to improperly assemble a Glock.

By the way, the proper way to charge (load) a semiautomatic pistol is to insert the magazine, smartly cycle the slide to chamber a round (trigger finger in register!)—don’t worry, you can’t generate more force than firing the weapon will cause; you won’t hurt the gun—remove the magazine and add one round.  Reseat the magazine, always slapping smartly upward with the palm to ensure it is fully seated. Glocks do not have magazine disconnects.  If there is a round in the chamber, the weapon will fire even if the magazine is not inserted.

Glock sights are made of polymer, which bothers some people, but in all the years I’ve carried various models of Glock, I’ve never had a problem with them and have always found them to be easy to see.  However, as I’ve gotten older, and as lasers have become smaller and less expensive, I’ve become a fan.  The Laser Lyte rear sight laser is a particularly clever design, which replaces entirely the rear sight.  Amazingly small, it resembles a rear sight with two little Mickey Mouse ears.

Seen from the rear, the batteries are housed in the left module, which also houses the activation switch.  Mostly because of its size, one must actually intend to turn the laser on; I’ve never accidently activated it, but if I did, it has a five minute auto-off feature.  It’s possible to activate it with the shooting thumb, but easier to do it with the off hand.  The first push of the button activates a green LED in the rear sight similar to a tritium night sight, however, my older eyes don’t see that very well.  The second push of the button activates the laser housed in the right Mickey module.  The sight is programmable for a steady state or pulsing mode.  In daylight, the pulsing mode is generally easier to see for most people, however at ranges greater than fifteen yards, most people will not be able to see the laser dot at all, particularly in bright sunlight.  In any kind of darker situation–even an indoor range–the dot is visible at much greater ranges.  This is not an issue limited to this sight; all red laser sights are affected.  Green lasers are available and somewhat better in this, but are considerably more expensive.

This forward view illustrates the simplicity of the design.  The battery compartment is accessed by the knurled knob, which unscrews.  I learned early on to check the tightness of the knob whenever I holster the weapon.  If it backs out too far, the laser will not activate, and friction between the sight, holster, clothing, etc. might cause that to happen.  The laser window is slightly recessed, and adjusting the position of the sight on the slide, and aiming the laser is easily done.

The MSRP is currently $153.95, but I’ve seen them $20.00 or more cheaper.  It even includes a punch and full instructions for installation.

I was initially worried that the violent pounding of the moving slide would render the sight unreliable.  I’ve had it for more than a year and have fired hundreds of rounds.  It remains unaffected, maintaining its point of aim and brightness. 

The sight is an elegant answer to an old question: “what do you do when the laser battery goes dead when you need it?”  You simply use the iron sights.  In this case, one adjusts the iron sight first, securing the single allen screw with a bit of blue Locktite, then aims the laser.  For most shooters, the batteries will easily last two years, but just to be sure, I always replace them yearly when I change the batteries in my home smoke detectors.

For additional information regarding laser use, you might want to visit an earlier article I wrote on laser employment.  It goes into a bit more detail.

Glocks come from the factory with a magazine loading tool, a barrel brush and rod and one spare magazine.  The G26, with two magazines and a round in the chamber, provides 21 rounds.

The Pearce Grip magazine extension adds about 5/8″ in height to the weapon, but provides enough purchase for the little finger.  Mrs. Manor also carries a Glock 26, and while her hand is small enough to do without an extension, she prefers them as well.  Many female and some male shooters may find the weapon fits them without a magazine extension, but at $9.95, it’s a cheap and easy way to make the grip completely comfortable.

Shooting The Glock: I’ve found Glocks to be as reliable as it is possible to make a semiautomatic pistol, which is quite reliable indeed.  I cannot remember the last time I had to clear a malfunction (that’s the correct term; a “jam” cannot be cleared in the field and requires tools to restore the weapon to firing condition).  All of my Glocks have not been the least bit ammunition sensitive, feeding and firing any brand and cartridge configuration I’ve tried.

Glock triggers are consistent and easy to master.  Firearm purists, brought up in a time of deeply blued steel and polished walnut sometimes disdain the “plastic” feel of Glocks, but firing a few magazines through one usually suffices to convince most of their accuracy and utility.

The Glock trigger mechanism is different than many semiauto designs.  Glocks employ a striker, which is best thought of as a large and heavy spring-loaded firing pin.  There is no internal–or external–hammer.  When the striker is released, it travels a short distance directly into the primer, firing the cartridge with much reduced lock time compared to a hammer-fired weapon.  It’s a simple and effective system that also reduces the number of moving parts.

One neat Glock trick that aids in long-range accuracy is known as “catching the link.”  When firing a round, hold the trigger fully back—do not release it as the slide cycles.  Then gently allow it to move forward only until a “click” is felt and heard.  The cycling of the slide has cocked the striker, and a much shorter and lighter trigger pull will fire the weapon.  It’s sort of like the double action system of revolvers, but not quite.  One must use the technique for each and every round fired.

Accuracy at handgun ranges is on a par with any well-made combat handgun.  This is not a target pistol, but is more than accurate enough for its purpose.  When Mrs. Manor and I last shot qualification to renew our concealed carry licenses, the course of fire was 50 rounds from 3-15 yards.  I fired a perfect score and Mrs. Manor fired only a single point less, beating all of the other shooters in the class (all men, and all shooting weapons with longer barrels) by significant margins.  She is indeed a good and experienced shot, but Glocks are easy to shoot well.

The military origins of the pistol are evident.  It’s easy to take down and reassemble, has few moving parts, and is rugged and reliable.  Another interesting feature is its “tenifer” finish, which is virtually impervious to damage and wear.  In fact, even with years of daily carry, about the only part that ever shows any real wear is the black painted slide release lever.

Glocks originally imported to the US had magazines without steel inserts, so they did not drop free of the magazine well when the magazine release was pressed.  This is a good feature in a military issue handgun, preventing lost magazines in the field, particularly at night, but American shooters demand drop free magazines, and all American-made Glocks have this feature.  Factory Glock magazines currently sell for around $25.00.

Lightweight, compact with substantial magazine capacity, reliable, accurate, simple to operate and easy to maintain, it’s hard to imagine a better weapon for daily concealed carry.  For those preferring larger calibers in essentially the same compact size, Glock makes models in .40 S&W, .45 GAP and .45 ACP.

There are surely a wide variety of excellent compact handguns available, but I’ve not seen anything that would actually be an improvement on the G26.  It doesn’t have the same sinuous feel and old world beauty of the Browning Hi-Power, but it does precisely what it’s designed to do and does it very well indeed.