The Glock Model G17 Pistol

By Chuck Hawks

G 17
Illustration courtesy of Glock, Inc.

Gaston Glock ushered in the modern era of polymer framed pistols with his storied Model 17 9x19 caliber service pistol. The Model 17 proved to be extremely durable, reliable, weather resistant (even more than a stainless steel gun), and pleasant to shoot. It has a very high designed magazine capacity of 17 cartridges, and a 4.49" barrel. The same basic design has been morphed into an entire line of pistols, including full size, compact, and sub compact models in calibers 9x19, .357 SIG, .40 S&W, 10mm Auto, and .45 ACP. The Model G17 is the standard size service pistol in 9x19 caliber.

The seminal Glock 17 was designed in response to an Austrian Ministry of Defense requirement for a new and completely modern service pistol. They circulated a list of criteria that any pistol submitted must meet. Some of these requirements are most interesting and give insight into the parameters that the G17 was designed to meet.

  • The magazine must have a capacity of at least 8 rounds.
  • The pistol must be suitable for one handed firing with either the right or left hand.
  • The pistol must be absolutely safe under all circumstances, including passing a drop test from a height of 2 meters onto a steel plate.
  • It must be possible to maintain, field strip, and clean the pistol without the use of tools.
  • The pistol must not have more than 58 components. (The G17 has only 35.)
  • All parts must be interchangeable without any adjustment.
  • The pistol must pass a stringent 15,000 round firing test as well as a proof test at the completion of the 15,000 round test.
  • When the pistol is handled properly the user must not be endangered by case ejection.

The Glock 17 met all criteria and scored the highest of all the pistols submitted for testing, which included models from Heckler & Koch, SIG-Sauer, Beretta, FN, and Steyr. The Austrian Governments initial order was for 25,000 G-17 pistols. Subsequently NATO accepted the Glock 17 for use, and the rest is history.

The G17 has a polymer receiver with molded-in steel slide rails. The slide is machined (not stamped) from solid steel, and most of the internal parts are also steel.

The slide, barrel (inside and out), and most other major steel parts are Tenifer coated, a process which gives them an incredibly hard surface (almost as hard as an industrial diamond) and is more rust resistant than stainless steel. Tenifer meets or exceeds all stainless steel specifications. Some of the small steel parts are Parkerized, and the slide rails are chrome steel. Glock pistols, due to their polymer plastic receiver and Tenifer-coated steel parts, are more resistant to corrosion than any other pistol. This makes them ideal for daily carry, especially in harsh environments.

The essence of the Glock 17 design is simplicity and ease of operation. It is a hammerless, striker-fired, short recoil operated, autoloading pistol with a unique "Safe Action" mechanism.

The BATF classifies the Glock Safe Action mechanism as "double action only" (DAO), but that is not technically correct. On a Glock, the slide must first be racked to partially compress the striker (or firing pin) spring and set the trigger before the pistol can be fired. (The slide of any semi-auto pistol is normally "racked," or pulled all the way back and allowed to snap forward, after a loaded magazine has been inserted in order to carry a cartridge into the chamber.) After the slide has been racked and the trigger set, the standard G17 trigger pull feels somewhat like a two stage, single action military trigger.

The trigger's rather long rearward travel disconnects the automatic safeties and completes the compression of the already partially cocked striker spring. Near the end of the trigger's rearward stroke the end of the trigger bar contacts the downward angled slope of the trigger connector. This angled surface forces the trigger bar down as it continues rearward and it carries with it the cruciform sear, which slips off of the striker (firing pin) tang, allowing the striker to be carried forward by the powerful striker spring, discharging the pistol.

Unlike a real double action pistol, if a cartridge does not fire and the slide is not cycled or manually racked, a second pull on the trigger accomplishes nothing, not even a "click." Unlike a DAO trigger, the G17 trigger does not reset itself. In this it is like a single action trigger. Also unlike a DAO pistol, when the slide is at battery (fully forward) and the trigger has not been pulled, the striker spring is not relaxed; indeed, it is mostly (but not entirely) compressed. The Glock 17's Safe Action is neither double action or single action, it is a new type of mechanism.

The Glock Safe Action incorporates three separate safety mechanisms, all of which are automatically activated when the slide is at battery. There is a trigger block safety, a small blade protruding from the front surface of the trigger, which prevents the rearward movement of the trigger unless it is depressed. There is an internal firing pin safety (similar to a Colt Series 80 pistol) that blocks the forward movement of the firing pin until the trigger is pulled all the way to the rear. And there is an internal drop safety that locks the sear and prevents release of the striker until the trigger is pulled fully to the rear.

The Glock 17 pistol is among the safest ever designed, and no user action is required to render it safe. All that is required is that most basic of proper gun handling procedures: keep your finger off the trigger until you intend to shoot the gun.

The G17 is available with five different trigger pull weights. In the standard Glock trigger mechanism, it is the angle of the ramp on the trigger connector that primarily determines the trigger pull weight. The greater the angle, the greater the pull weight. Glock trigger connectors are manufactured with three different angles, and all three connectors fit any Glock pistol.

The "long slide" G17L, Glock's competition pistol, comes with a "target" trigger connector that is supposed to require 3.5 pounds of force to actuate. This "3.5 pound" trigger connector actually provides about a 5 pound trigger pull in the pistols I have measured. This is the best stock Glock trigger, and the target connector can be substituted for the standard connector in other Glock models. (Glock refuses, purely as a matter of company policy, to sell target connectors separately, so this is one part that must be purchased from the after market.)

The standard G17 trigger is supposed to have a "5 pound" trigger connector. This connector has a ramp set at a 90 degree angle and actually results in about a 7 pound trigger pull by my measurement. It is the connector usually (but not always) found in civilian G17 pistols.

Initially at the request of Florida's Miami PD, but subsequently adopted for most police service triggers, is the 8 pound connector. This trigger connector has a 105 degree ramp. It is hard to hold a relatively lightweight service pistol like a Glock, which weighs less than two pounds fully loaded, steady against such a heavy trigger pull.

And then there is the infamous "New York" trigger, developed at the request of the New York State Police, which is supposed to emulate the heavy trigger pull of a double action revolver. These use extra heavy trigger springs in conjunction with a standard "5 pound" trigger connector. There are actually two different springs for New York triggers. One is supposed to add about 3 pounds to the pull weight, and the other adds about 5 pounds to the pull weight. When combined with the standard trigger connector these wretched New York triggers have a pull of about 10 to 12 pounds, or more.

New York triggers should be avoided like the plague. If I were a New York police officer I would consider this ultra heavy trigger both dangerous and insulting--a clear indication that the civil authorities consider their police officers to be incompetent with firearms.

G17 barrels are hammer forged and use hexagonal rifling. In other words, the inside of a finished barrel is hexagonal in shape with a right hand twist of one turn in 9.84 inches. If you look inside of a fired Glock 17 barrel the pattern in the powder residue looks much like that in a Marlin Micro-Groove barrel, with 12 longitudinal rub streaks inside of the barrel.

Glock 17 magazines are made of steel lined polymer, with steel feed lips and steel springs. (They will, buy the way, also fit in the smaller G19 and G26 model pistols.) There are two vertical rows of little numbered holes in the back panel of each Glock double stack magazine through which one can see how many cartridges remain. Single stack magazines have a single row of holes. The polymer magazine follower trips the slide stop after the last round is fired, locking back the slide for convenient reloading.

Glock 17 pistols have only two controls, besides the trigger, and those are conventionally located. There is no hammer and no manual safety to worry about; there is only a magazine release and a slide release. The magazine release is a rectangular plastic button on the left side of the pistol grip behind the lower loop of the trigger guard. The slide release is also on the left side of the pistol, a flat metal lever directly below the slide and above the left hand grip panel. The uninitiated might mistake it for a frame mounted safety. That is it, G17 pistols have no other controls that must be manipulated. And, by design, nothing sticks out of the pistol to catch on clothing.

The extractor, located on the right side of the slide immediately behind the ejection port, also serves as a loaded chamber indicator. The shooter needs only to touch the right side of the slide to know whether the chamber is loaded, even in total darkness. If there is a cartridge in the chamber, the extractor is elevated slightly above its recess and can be felt. If the chamber is empty, the extractor sits flush in its grove, and the side of the slide behind the ejection port feels smooth.

Standard G17 sights are of the patridge type. The large, square faced front blade has a big white dot on its face. A white line outlines the square notch rear sight, which is mounted in a dovetail notch at the rear of the frame. There is also an optional version of the rear sight that is adjustable for windage and elevation. These are highly visible, low profile combat sights, not target sights. Glock pistols are also available with tritium night sights. There are rails in the frame below the barrel for attaching accessories such as a night light or laser sight.

Glock 17 pistols have several fundamental design advantages over most of their competition. For one, the grip angle is ergonomic, similar to that of the classic German Luger pistol that was famous for its good pointing qualities.

The Glock's polymer frame tends to minimize the effect of recoil by flexing slightly with each shot; G17 pistols are known as "soft" shooters. Another advantage is the Glock's low bore axis. This minimizes muzzle flip and speeds recovery after a shot has been fired; it also tends to minimize perceived recoil. G17's have very well balanced slides. When a pistol is fired the slide must have enough rearward momentum for proper function even with light loads. The trick is to keep it from slamming back so hard with maximum loads that it adds unnecessarily to the effect of recoil. Glock achieved an unusually good balance in this area.

The Glock Safe Action trigger mechanism makes it possible to take full advantage of the inherent low recoil and muzzle flip of the Glock 17 pistol. After the initial long (approximately 2/5") trigger stroke has been completed and the end of the trigger bar has contacted the trigger connector's angled ramp, the Glock trigger requires only about 1/8" additional rearward movement to fire the pistol. And, the trigger only needs about 1/8" of forward travel to reset for the next shot. Once a G17 shooter has learned proper trigger control, double taps can be achieved faster than with almost any other pistol.

The result of these design subtleties is that Glock 17 pistols have very good practical accuracy. They are not intrinsically more accurate than other high quality service style automatic pistols. Good practical accuracy means that they are easy to shoot accurately. This is particularly important when the shooter is under pressure.

The G17 was and is a revolutionary pistol that incorporated many design innovations. Suffice to say that the competition has "sincerely flattered" Gaston Glock by copying the polymer frame and various other design concepts of his pistols. The Glock 17 was the world's first commercially successful polymer framed pistol, but today the great majority of handgun manufacturers are also producing polymer framed pistols. Many have copied other Glock innovations as well. The list includes (but is not limited to) such established names as H&K, SIG-Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, and Walther. Some of them, such the S&W Sigma series, are such blatant clones of inferior quality that Glock has been forced to defend their patent rights in court.

G17 pistols have become famous for surviving outrageous endurance and torture tests. Thousands of American police departments have tested Glock pistols against all comers and adopted the Glock. Because they are very strong, high quality pistols they have survived many tests with "proof" loads. Glock pistols have been buried in mud, frozen in blocks of ice, submerged for extended periods in salt water, thrown from speeding cars, fired underwater, and dropped from helicopters, to emerge functioning perfectly. They have shot thousands of rapid fire test rounds without cleaning or any sort of maintenance, as fast as fresh magazines could be slammed home. Sometimes the pistols became too hot to hold and had to be tossed into a bucket of water to cool; the testers then shook off the water and continued firing without a bobble. If there were some sort of prize for the foolish tests to which pistols have been subjected and survived, Glock would surely be the winner.

The subject of this review is the Glock Model 17. The Glock 17 is chambered for the seminal 9x19 (9mm Luger) cartridge. The double stack magazine capacity is 17 cartridges. 10 round "Brady Bill" magazines were supplied with G17s sold in the U.S.A. before that unfortunate piece of misguided legislation expired.

The Glock 17 has a barrel 4.49 inches long and weighs 22.04 ounces without a magazine. According to Peter Alan Kasler's authoritative book Glock - The New Wave in Combat Handguns, which every Glock owner should have, a G17 with a fully loaded magazine and a round in the chamber weighs 31.41 ounces. That is about 2.5 ounces less than an empty Beretta 92F. Its length is 7.32 inches, its height is 5.43 inches, and its width is 1.18 inches. The sight radius is 6.5 inches.

The G17 has been widely adopted for police use, and is one of the world's standard military pistols. A small cottage industry has grown up around Glock pistols in the U.S., manufacturing and selling replacement parts to "improve" one aspect of the pistol or another. Most of these are a snare and a delusion. Glocks are high quality pistols as shipped from the factory, and they are certainly among the toughest and most reliable pistols ever developed. With very few exceptions, there is nowhere to go but down when substituting after market parts for Glock parts. My suggestion is to stick with genuine Glock parts, including magazines, in any G17 pistol.

The results of test firing a Glock 17 are reviewed below. This pistol was purchased new "off the shelf." It is unmodified except for the substitution of a "target" trigger connector. The actual trigger pull weight of this G17 is about 5 pounds--what a stock Glock trigger is alleged to be.

The Glock 17 was originally designed as a military pistol and the standard height fixed rear sight is regulated for a longer range than most civilian shooters will find desirable. Replacement non-adjustable rear sights are available from Glock. There is a lower rear sight, and two higher rear sights. There is also the option of an adjustable rear sight, which is very desirable on any pistol. The G17 reviewed had the standard fixed rear sight and tended to shoot about 4" over the point of aim at 25 yards with Winchester/USA ammunition.

Three kinds of factory loaded ammunition were fired, Cor-Bon 115 grain JHP (+P), Fiocchi 123 grain FMJ (allegedly NATO spec.), and Winchester/USA "White Box" 115 grain FMJ. All of these loads functioned correctly.

Guns and Shooting Online staffer Jim Fleck, an experienced handgunner, and I did the actual shooting reported here. We shot over sandbags from a shooting bench at a distance of 25 yards.

The G17 produced the smallest groups with Winchester/USA ammunition, of which we had a plentiful supply and did the most shooting. The 5 shot groups averaged 3 3/16 inches. The smallest 5 shot group measured 2 7/8 inches. Two 10 shot groups averaged 3 inches. The hot Cor-Bon ammo shot groups about an inch larger. The Fiocchi was all over the paper (typical of my experience with this ammunition). We found no practical difference in the accuracy of the G17 and a compact G19 we also had along with us.

We took the opportunity to chronograph all three types of 9mm ammunition in the G17. The instrumental velocity was measured 10 feet from the muzzle. Test strings were five shots.

Cor-Bon 115 grain +P ammo averaged 1352 fps. Italian Fiocchi 123 grain factory loads (supposedly NATO spec.) averaged 1209 fps. The Winchester/USA "White Box" 115 grain load averaged 1182 fps.

Since Jim and I are both Glock owners, we were not surprised that there were no malfunctions of any kind during our testing. Malfunctions with Glock pistols are rare.

The most common type of Glock 17 malfunction is a "stovepipe" jam (failure to completely eject the fired case). This is usually caused by the shooter "limp wristing" the gun (not holding it rigidly against the force of recoil). This is an operator error rather than a pistol malfunction per se. Because the slide of G17 pistols is so well balanced, they will sometimes fail to fully eject or fail to feed if the shooter lets the gun "fly up" on recoil. Failure to provide enough resistance to recoil can allow the recoil spring to overcome the (reduced) momentum imparted to the rearward traveling slide and cause it to return forward prematurely. The slide may then fail to pick up a new cartridge from the magazine, or trap the empty case before it can completely clear the ejection port.

Because I learned to shoot with a .357 Magnum revolver, which requires more control than any 9mm pistol, I have never had that problem. Glock pistols have gained their reputation for near flawless reliability the old fashioned way: they earned it.

The full size Glock 17 is a fine pistol. I know of no better autoloading service pistol for military, police, or personal protection purposes.

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Copyright 2003, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.