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Friday, September 25, 2009

Lone Wolf Distributor's  Glock 23 Barrel
09/30/09-accuracy update at the bottom of this page*

The Glock series of pistols is probably the most modified platform since the 1911-A1. Aftermarket parts abound for it and perhaps one of the most sensible mods for reloaders, is to replace the OEM polygonal barrel.

In mid-June, I ordered a Glock 23 replacement barrel from Lone Wolf Distributors, hereinafter referred to as LWD. This barrel is the conventionally-rifled, direct replacement for the factory component in .40 S&W caliber. I use lead lead bullets for my bulk reloads and I do carry the 23 off duty, so I needed a barrel that would handle the full spectrum of loads and do it well. I also wanted the barrel 'blind marked' so the cartoon Wolfy-Thing didn't show and I wanted the black oxide finish.

The chambers of aftermarket barrels run considerably tighter than the 0.432+ usually found in Glock .40 caliber barrels. Internet reviews of LWD's chambers indicate that  some users have found them too tight for best reliability with reloads; right about 0.425”.

This led me to request that LWD open my chamber mouth a couple of thousandths, as I have done when ordering 1911 barrels from Bar-Sto, etc. This concept is lost on LWD, who insisted that I send dummy rounds of the reload I intended to use. Huh? Cutting a chamber for one reload is an exercise in futility. What happens when you have to (or simply want to) change bullets, dies etc.? You've got a chamber for something you no longer use- that's what. I finally gave up on trying to explain this and just sent a set of dummy loads.  In total, it took about three months for delivery of the barrel.

The barrel itself was perfectly finished; the flat black oxide finish was deep, consistent and looks entirely at-home in a G23's slide. I'd probably have taken a photo of it but I was just too anxious to shoot it. Dan Shepard, LWD's resident gunsmith, did an exceptional job on the chamber reaming, which finished at 0.427”. He also nailed the most important aspect of getting SWC's to feed, which is adding a radius where the top of the feed ramp meets the chamber.  The fact is that I tweaked the dummy loads I sent LWD, so they were about 0.002” fatter than my regular reloads.

These are 'drop-in' barrels and the LWD did just that. If anything it's a tad looser than the factory tube in my 2009 G23. This combination easily digested its first 100 rounds of Missouri Bullet Company's 170 grain SWC reloads and an assortment of jacketed factory loads. The LWD barrel prints somewhat to the right at 25 yards from this particular gun. My intention was to zero the gun with the LWD barrel at 50 yards once its accuracy was confirmed. Then another G23 came into the picture...

Like myself, Peggi has gotten past her gag reflex with Glocks; we are sixgun & 1911 people. She'd shot my G23 occasionally- and well enough to make it clear that she needed one of her own. While trolling the Summit Gun Broker site, I noticed that he had some used, 2nd generation G23's at a decent price. I contacted Mark at Summit and  Peg soon had her own Glock. Hers is a 1998 gun and it provided another test bed for the LWD barrel. Just like the first outing, there were no malfunction regardless of the load. Peggi's G23 also shoots right to the sights with the LWD barrel...go figure.

For the accuracy check, I plugged the LWD back into my '09 G23. This little gun has proved exceptionally accurate with the OEM barrel, printing 50-yard groups that rival all but match-grade pistols. I fired the LWD equipped G23  for accuracy at 50 yards, using my tailgate as a bench and my range bag as a rest. I expected that the groups would be 5-6 inches right of the bullseye.

What I didn't expect was that there wouldn't be any 'groups' at all. 2-3 shots of five would get in or near the 5 ½” bull, but the rest would string out laterally to the right- sometimes as much as a foot! I tried reloads, Golden Sabers and UMC 165 grain ball and UMC 180 grain JHP's. The only thing consistent about the exercise was that this barrel, in this gun, wouldn't shoot worth a damn. Average 'groups' were 14” or more. By comparison, the last Auto Ordinance 1911 I had came with a lousy chatter-marked barrel, loose bushing, wrong link and poor lower barrel support. It still grouped around 8” at 50 yards.

To deem this 'disconcerting' would be an understatement. LWD markets these as “Drop-In Match Barrels” and classic definition for 'match accuracy' with pistols has long been two inches for ten shots, at 50 yards. That's from purpose-built target guns of course; but combat pistols still often surprise with their accuracy, as this G23 has proven using the OEM barrel:

This group (which includes one more, about an inch and a half off the edge of the envelope) came from a typical 0.433” Glock chamber- so chamber dimensions are not the LWD barrel's problem. No, something else is wrong here so I grabbed a set of micrometers and compared the three G23 barrels I had on hand. The dimensions are listed below.

A: Width of barrel locking block at breechface
B: Height of barrel locking block at front, under slide recess
C: Muzzle diameter
D: Chamber diameter at entry point
E: Width of lower locking lug

2009 G23
2009 LWD

Using measurements taken from two Glock 23 barrels manufactured 11 years apart, the LWD barrel checks 0.002-0.003 undersized for width in the barrel locking block and lower lug. Since these dimensions control lateral supported during firing, I'm guessing that might have something to do with this barrel's tendency to string horizontally.

I had another G23 on hand and it was only fair to try the barrel in that gun, as well.

The 50-yard exercise was repeated with Peggi's 1998 G23, using the 170 grain SWC reload. In this gun, the LWD barrel produced nice, round, centered groups- about a foot in diameter. Three in a row. Just to check myself, I grabbed my 2009 G23 out of the bag and fired 5 rounds of the same ammo using the OEM barrel. The result was four rounds in 4 ½ inches, with a fifth opening the group to 6 inches. The contrast was stark and so is the truth. This LWD barrel shoots less than half as well as the factory tube, in either of the Glocks I tested with it.

I'll keep the barrel & here's why. I have long contended that Glock, who will never admit there was a chamber-support problem in the first place, made subtle changes to mitigate this problem. You take a look and decide for yourself.

The LWD will replace '98 G23 barrel on the left.  It provides ample chamber support, it shoots to the sights in Peg's gun and its accuracy deficiencies won't matter much inside 25 yards- where most of her familiarization work with it will occur. 

I've also identified two areas where it can stand improvement. There's a slight burr inside the muzzle, which can be felt as a rough, sharp edge when running a fingernail along the  end of the rifling there. I'll recrown it and see if that helps. I've also noted that there is almost no 'leade' into the rifling, which is a gradual ramp (for lack of a better term) that gives the bullet a polite introduction to the lands. This is apparent by running a tightly-patched cleaning jag into the bore from the chamber, which takes a hard bump to get it stated into the rifling. It may be that a little throating will also improve the LWD barrel's accuracy- but I suspect that its undersized exterior and lug dimensions will prevent it from ever living up to its 'Match' billing. 

Am I busting Lone Wolf's chops here? Only a little. They have a tremendous variety of items in stock and their prices are competitive. Their customer service is excellent and they remained polite throughout my dealings with them. J.R and Dan Shepard are good folks and I would certainly do business with them again.

Are their Glock barrels 'accurate'? This one sure wasn't. If you're a hose-monster who slings ammo downrange at 15 yards, you'll scarcely notice. If you're an accuracy buff who's been corrupted by old Bullseye and PPC shooters, my suggestion is that you shop elsewhere. There are other 'match barrels available and- your factory barrel deserves a hard look.

It just might be more accurate than the barrel you're trying to replace it with.

*- The 'burr' in the muzzle was sharp enough that you could not only feel it with a fingernail, you would leave visible shavings after dragging your nail across it.

Using a fine silicon Dremel stone I had previously recut to 45 degrees, I hand-turned it in the muzzle until a bright chamfer appeared around its circumference, encompassing both the muzzle and the ends of the lands. I followed this by wrapping the same stone in 400 emery cloth and repeating the process until the crown was both bright and smooth, when again subjected to the 'fingernail' test.
J.R. Shepard of LWD acknowledged the burred crown as a QC issue and I'm sure LWD would have recrowned and refinished this barrel, if I hadn't done it myself.

I shot the gun again at 50 yards. Excluding called fliers and/or taking the best three of five (Sarge's 'before coffee' accuracy exception) while using my bulk reloads, LWD's barrel is now making groups of 3 1/2 to 4 inches at 50 yards. Later in the day and with more time to concentrate, I fired four more groups with the re-crowned LWD G23 barrel in the 2009 pistol.
What you see below is entirely representative of those groups- including the shot that went 1 1/2" off the paper, to the right from the top bullethole. I'll eat that one and write it off to 53 year-old eyes and forgotten eyeglasses. The other four shots are within 3 1/2 inches, which is pretty damn good with range-mongrel brass, me 'on the handle' and waning light. FWIW, Lone Wolf's barrels will shoot lead semi-wadcutters just fine.

This acceptable accuracy for a combat pistol. It will make a safe, accurate barrel for my wife's G23- plenty good enough for 50 yard work on silhouettes when she's ready.

When I get the barrel cleaned up again, I'll post a couple of pics of Dan's excellent work on the critical juncture of barrel-to-feed ramp. This barrel is still running 100% with SWC reloads, which I could never get to work with reliability in .40 caliber XD's. This degree of reliability, from an aftermarket barrel with 0.006 tighter chamber dimensions than OEM, is certainly worthy of honorable mention.

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