Category Archives: Guns/Gear/Advancements

FN 15 Combat Tactical FDE P-LOK

It’s not the fanciest AR-15 on the block, but if you’re looking for a solid and reliable performer, take a close look at FN America’s FN 15 Combat Tactical FDE P-LOK. The gun isn’t hard on the eyes, either. That tri-gold-brown tone grows on you, especially after a few range sessions.

Visit my detailed review at of the gun at Shooting Illustrated if you want a full breakdown on its performance. I’m confident I’d uncover a pet load that prints MOA groups, at least, with more time behind the trigger.

That’s not the primary mission of the FN 15 Combat Tactical though, a fact confirmed by the 16-inch barrel. FN America’s label of Combat Trigger is deceiving, too. It’s not the gritty-and-creepy mess the name inadvertently implies. Crisp and responsive in all the right ways is an apt description.

Below is a compilation of the photos/time lapses/slider videos I took during my short loaner time. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the best ones weren’t used with the gun’s review. Leave a comment and let me know if you agree.

I’ll admit the videos I post on my modest YouTube channel, Fear and Loading, aren’t standard fare or overly exciting. They are designed to give an up-close-and-fast look at details. Armed with that info hopefully viewers can make a more informed purchasing decision. Plus, there’s the fact I’m an old-school reporter who started at a time when “photogenic” wasn’t in the job description. I’m much more comfortable doing reviews like the one for at Shooting Illustrated—where I can avoid getting in front of the camera.

I used a similar approach with my Ruger 10/22 Target Lite review. I’ll leave the screen time to others, and let my writing, photography and three decades of experience do the talking, thank you.


How Long Will Polymer Handguns Last

On Feb. 28, 1935, DuPont scientist Wallace Carothers made a discovery that forever altered the composition of everyday items. His Nylon 66 fibers were busy brushing teeth nationwide by 1938, although he committed suicide in 1937 and never witnessed his contribution’s contribution to dental hygiene. His masterpiece gained even more sex appeal in 1940, when the less-expensive alternative replaced silk in women’s stockings, giving budget-strapped gals the ability to bait sailors with polymer-coated gams. There are those who claim synthetic-framed guns aren’t even shore-leave alluring, but there’s no denying the lineage.

Nylon 66’s ability to mix with different compounds—each imparting a different characteristic or color—saw the substance pressed into deadly serious duty during World War II as tire reinforcement, rope, flak vests, parachutes and more. Then mystery brews evolved, and the derivatives today serve as car heat shields, permanently lubricated nylon bolts and much more.

More than 30 years ago the material was introduced in firearm frames. There’s still a lot of misinformation about the materials and quirks of synthetic guns, so I asked a few experts to share their knowledge.

Two Basic Brews

It all can be boiled down to two basic brews. DuPont holds the patent for Nylon 66 (Zytel). Nylon 6 (trade name Perlon, Capron and others) was developed in 1938 by a different process to avoid intellectual property infringement, but it still exhibits many of the same characteristics. There are significant differences, however. The latter melts at 428 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to 509 degrees. Nylon 66 weathers exposure to damaging sunlight better than the easier pigmented Nylon 6, but the latter loses color faster. The molecular structures may be widely known, but the secrecy surrounding Coca Cola’s original formula pales in comparison to the security surrounding the firearm industry’s polymer additives.

Even when everything else is equal, there are other variables manufacturers tailor for unique looks and performance. Final gloss changes when molded at a different heat, for example. Add a 30-percent glass-fiber filling and strength increases by up to 200 percent. Unfortunately, the resulting material is extremely abrasive, potentially wearing out factory molds prematurely and galling gunmetal—unless you’ve found the kind of secret sauce that works, it’ easy to understand the need for secrecy.

Polymer Wear-In?

Heat from the firearm being shot is another facet manufacturers must consider. “Polymer frames are manufactured under tremendous heat and pressure during the injection-mold process, and subsequent after-the-fact applied heat will cause minor resting of the material,” according to Dave Borges, CEO and co-founder of Polymer80—a producer of polymer AR-15 uppers and lowers. “In terms of a pistol frame, the tip of the barrel is where specific heat is applied, although the barrel is not touching the frame. This heat is predictable and therefore the injection mold is designed to manufacture the frame with the ultimate relaxation of the material in mind…It does not impact performance or accuracy.” It takes 500 to 1,000 rounds for a handgun’s polymer to “relax.”

Despite the challenges, Remington first introduced shooters to synthetics back in 1959 with the unimaginatively named Nylon 66 Autoloader. The stocks were made of Zytel and the rifles digested .22 rimfire. The last Nylon 66 was produced in 1985, with a total of 987,949 made.

Heckler & Koch’s 1970 introduction of the polymer-framed, blowback-operated VP70 chambered in 9 mm really started the revolution. The reception was lukewarm, though, and sales limped along until production ended in 1989.
Meanwhile, Gaston Glock pressed his engineering knowledge into service in 1982 to create the recoil-operated Glock 17. It won an Austrian military 9 mm handgun contract, other countries followed suit and in 1986 “plastic guns” invaded America.

Keeping the Secret

Our efforts to uncover the recipe proved fruitless. Chad Dyer, marketing manager for Springfield Armory said, “The XD/XDM frames are a ‘filled’ polymer, but it is a proprietary process and composition.” Borges even apologetically begged off a photo request with, “Unfortunately, we can’t do that. Our producer keeps everything top secret and it would be a breach of contract to take pictures. Sorry…”

There were, however, discoveries. Some surmise color is a lifespan concern, but Dyer explained, “None of the color options we offer negatively affect the strength of the frame.” Borges issued a more blanket statement with, “Colorants don’t impact the longevity or rigidity.”

How Long Will Polymer Handguns Last

We still don’t precisely know, but all the experts agree prolonged exposure to UV radiation (usually sunlight) will degrade the frame after many years. For an instant disaster, however, Borges cautioned, “Acetone is the single most potent chemical that will nearly destroy any polymer components. While gunsmiths use it for cleaning metal components, you shouldn’t even get a drop of it near polymers.”

It may not have the same sex appeal as the world’s first nylons, but modern shooters should find a different kind of appeal in Dyer’s proclamation that, “The polymer frame will last virtually forever, including the rear frame rails on the XD/XDM line, as they are self-lubricating and virtually wear free. I have never seen the rear frame rails wear to an unserviceable condition,” he said.

Custom Holster Trends

Photo by Guy J. Sagi

When Galco Gunleather opened its doors in 1969, it was known as The Famous Jackass Leather Company, long before the arrival of today’s custom holster trends. The name changed, but that mule-stubbornness remained and helped the company survive and thrive through 46 years that weren’t always gun friendly.

To say the Phoenix, AZ-based company is flourishing today is understatement. “We’ve expanded twice in the last few years,” Galco Media and Public Relations Manager Mike Barham said. “In 2012, we completed an expansion of our manufacturing facility here in Phoenix, essentially doubling the size of our production floor, as well as expanding areas available for R&D and other departments. In 2014, we completed construction of a 26,000-square-foot distribution center adjacent to our manufacturing facility.” The firm employs 200.

New Kids on the Block

CrossBreed Holsters was born 10 years ago out of frustration with existing offerings. “After collecting his proverbial ‘box of holsters,’ Mark  [Craighead] decided to create a design of his own, incorporating the best features of other holsters and discarding the non-functional elements,” according to his wife, Carol Craighead, who took over the reins of the company after her husband’s death. “In doing so, Mark had handcrafted a new breed of holsters.” The company now employs 35 and boasts a catalog that includes 25 holsters in 325 configurations.

Nate Johnson co-founded of N82 (pronounced Nate Squared) Tactical only six years ago, but demand for the company’s 150 SKUs is so brisk that its nine employees moved into a 12,500-square-foot building in June of 2014. Part of the secret in thriving the custom holster trends, according to him, is offering something different. “Unfortunately, what we have seen is that many of the new IWB holster manufacturers are making the same holster that was developed years ago,” he said. “That’s why our holsters have gained so much popularity. We develop a completely different design than had ever been offered.”

Comfort Holsters has only been around two years, but company President Chris Tedder said demand for the six models it offers has increased every month and, “We’ve seen a five-fold increase over last year’s orders.” To keep up, “We’ve hired new staff almost every month this year.”

You’d be sorely mistaken if the staggering statistics convince you the days of timeless, custom leatherwork from a single craftsman are relics of the past. They’re alive and well, as evidenced by six-year-old Dragon Leatherworks. Dennis Badurina owns the company, and he’s married to only other employee. “A true mom-and-pop” firm, he modestly states. “We are a niche player in the market.”

His products are the kind of striking art it’s a shame to conceal, produced from exotic leather that includes Cape buffalo, python, ostrich and crocodile. You won’t find anything from Dragon Leatherworks in a big-box store, although it’s being picked up by more and more “Guntry Clubs,” as he calls them, including the Scottsdale (Arizona) Gun Club. He’s experienced a 20-percent increase in demand for his carry holsters in the last year.

Latest Custom Holster Trends

With the number of people who now hold permits to carry concealed at a record level—roughly 11 million—the marketplace has changed dramatically since Galco Gunleather opened its doors. “IWB holsters now outsell belt holsters, and everything else for us,” Barham said. “The KingTuk IWB, no question….has been our best-selling holster for about the last five years or so.”  

Craighead confirms the trend. “Inside the waistband continues to be the most popular and is our largest selling product,” she said. “Our most popular holsters continue to be the SuperTuck and the MiniTuck….they are the company’s flagship brands.”

“With smaller guns more popular than ever, people want smaller holsters,” Tedder notes. “We try to make every holster with the smallest footprint possible—even our dual-clip model.”

Badurina has seen an increase in demand for models easily converted for both inside and outside the waistband carry, although his lineup bucks the overall trend. “We’ve had greater growth in outside the waistband [sales],” he said. It’s understandable you don’t want to hide that kind of craftsmanship, all the time, anyway.

As for making the right decision when it’s time to buy, shop around, try it on, and ask someone who uses the holster regularly. Johnson’s final word of advice is a good one, though. “The only suggestion that I would make would be for customers—whether new to concealed carry or not—to do business with U.S. manufacturers who make high-quality products, stand behind their products and have a good reputation in the industry.”