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Glock kB! FAQ v1.35

Examining the catastrophic failures in a popular pistol

Catastrophic Glock Failure
  1. What is a kB!?
  2. What causes a kB!?
  3. Which Glock models are affected?
  4. Why does a kB! occur in these Glock models?
  5. Do kB!s occur in other guns or just Glocks?
  6. What is the relationship between reloads and kB!s?
  7. What can I do to prevent a kB!?
  8. If I insist on reloading for my .40-something Glock anyway, what can I do to minimize the chance of a kB!?

  1. What is a kB!?
    Coined by firearms journalist Dean Speir, kB! is shorthand for "kaBOOM!," which is the written representation of what happens when one has a catastrophic explosive event in one's Glock. (See also Sidebar Addendum.)
Model 30 kB!
  1. What causes a kB!?
    Catastrophic failures may be caused by a variety of problems, but in general a kB! is as a result of a case failure. The case failure occurs when pressure inside the cartridge increases to the point that it cannot be contained by the case and the material of the case fails, allowing hot gases to escape from the ruptured case web at damagingly high velocities. The resulting uncontained forces can blow the magazine out of the gun, destroy the locking block, cause the tip of the trigger to be snipped off, ruin the trigger bar, rupture the barrel, peel the forward edge of the slide at the ejection port up, and do other nasty things. In general, Glocks tend to contain case failures fairly well, but under some circumstances they can cause injury as well as damage to one's gun. At least one Federal LEO has been injured in a kB! involving a Glock 21 and a Winchester factory overcharge. Additionally, there is some evidence of there being another cause of a kB!… a barrel failure caused by improper metallurgy.
Model 20 cracked receiver
  1. Which Glock models are affected?
    Speir has documented many instances of kB!s, all of them in the Models 20 and 30-something Glock (.40 S&W, 10mm and .45 ACP). And since the introduction of the Models 30-through-36, there have been incidents of kB!s in the 357 SIG (Models 31, 32 and 33) and the .45 ACP (Models 30 and 36) pistols as well… all with reloaded or remanufactured rounds by most accounts.

    And until February 2004. Speir had no (as in zero!) confirmed cases of Glock kB!s in the 9 x 19mm (Models 17, 17L, 18, 19, 26 and 34, although there has been one such reasonably detailed anecdotal report), or the .380 ACP/9 X 17mm (Models 25 and 28). Then came the following from Todd Louis Green:
    At the S&W IDPA Winter Championship this past Saturday (28 February) I personally saw a Glock Model 34 with its barrel split top from bottom all the way through the breech. The kB! occurred in front of many witnesses. The shooter was using factory PMC practice ammo.

    I had my Canon D10 with me but felt it would have appeared unprofessional to ask for some photos or try to get contact info for the owner.

    Anyway, that's the first 9 x 19mm Glock kB! I've ever seen, and with factory ammo no less!
    And that is the first confirmed… a second source reported this as well… 9 x 19mm Glock kB!. And in January 2005, a second one has been reported as well.
  2. Why do kB!s occur in these Glock models?
    Reports compiled by Speir from various independent laboratories are inconclusive as to one single cause for the catastrophic failures.

    There do, however, appear to be several contributing factors which collectively may induce catastrophic case failures:

    • Firing out of battery. Most Glocks will do this to some degree, especially those improperly maintained.
    • Significantly overpressure rounds. These occur mostly in homemade reloads or in commercially remanufactured ammunition, but have occurred in factory ammunition as well.
Unsupported chamber
  • Lack of full case support in the critical area over the feed ramp of all large caliber (.40 S&W, 10mm, .45 ACP) Glock pistols. [See Annotation #5]

    Ostensibly as a measure to promote feed reliability, Glock chamber mouths are slightly oversized. One can test this by removing the barrel from the Glock, dropping a factory round into the chamber, and observing that there is brass exposed at the six o'clock position. Take a fired case and note that there is a slight engraving if not actual bulge around the case web, which is most pronounced in the area of the case which, upon firing, was in the six-o'clock position.
  • Use of personally reloaded or commercially remanufactured ammunition utilizing cartridge cases of indeterminable generation. Unlike most rifle handloaders, those who reload for handguns do not as a habit segment their fired cases by generation, and each time a case is re-sized for reloading, the brass "works" and weakens through enbrittlement.

    kB!s have been documented with factory ammunition, but most of them occur with either commercial or homemade reloads.
USP40 catastrophic failure in Indiana, Spring 1994
  1. Do kB!s occur in other guns or just in Glocks?
    kB!s do, of course, occur in other guns, but no one appears to be keeping accurate statistics for most of them. Many 1911-style handguns have partially unsupported case mouths, and numerous case separations have occurred in these guns. Early .38 Super barrels were particularly susceptible, and the critical observer may have noticed the predilection among USPSA .38 Super competitors for full beards in an attempt to cloak the vestiages of what came to be known as "super face."

    Respected firearms author Frank James, in 1994, documented a number of kB!s in HK USP .40 pistols, which do have fully supported chambers. (Also see this!)
  1. What is the relationship between reloads and kB!s?
    Most kB!s occur with commercially remanufactured or personally reloaded ammunition.
Blown and deformed .45 ACP cases
Successive re-sizing and firing of a case result in eventual weakening of the brass, increasing the probability of case failure. The partially unsupported chamber in the Glock exacerbates this problem.

"Hard crimping" or overseating of bullets, particularly in the .40 S&W, can cause dramatic increases in pressure almost to the same degree as a propellant overcharge. [See Annotation #3] Either alone or in combination with a weakened case, these factors can result in a kB!

Some people have also postulated a relationship between the use of cast lead bullets and kB!, arguing that buildup of lead in the chamber can lead to pressure buildups as well. The jury seems to be out on this one as a direct causation, but lead build-up will sometimes cause a round to not fully chamber, and as Glocks can discharge with the action not completely locked up ("out of battery," [see Annotation #4]), this can lead to a catastrophic failure.
  1. What can I do to prevent a kB!?
    • Shoot only new factory ammunition out of your Glock. This is what Glock, Inc. recommends, as do several members of Glock-L. Shooting reloads voids your factory warranty.
Glock Model 22 kB! with an after-market 357 SIG barrel
  • Install a barrel with a fully supported chamber. Custom barrel makers include Bar-Sto Precision Machine and…
      …but as can be seen in the adjacent image, even this is not fool-proof if a Glock shooter is determined to over-charge a round!
  • Avoid wherever possible .40 S&W ammunition manufactured by Federal Cartridge Company prior to November 1995. For related data, see Annotation #2, a part of this FAQ.
  • At an October 1996 G.S.S.F. match on Long Island, one competitor with a Model 22 had simply switched to a .40 S&W Sigma barrel which he averred not only better allowed him to shoot lead because of the conventional rifling, but that the fully supported Sigma chamber significantly decreased the opportunities for a kB!

    Note: This procedure is neither recommended nor authorized by Glock, Inc. or Glock Ges.m.b.H.
blown case from a Model 20
  1. If I insist on reloading for my 357 SIG or .40-something Glock, what can I do to minimize the chances of a kB!?
    • Install a custom barrel. See 7B.
    • Keep careful track of your brass. Load "Major Power Factor" loads only in new brass. Don't use range pickups. Don't shoot "hot loads" from used brass. Discard used brass sooner than you would normally.
    • Use calipers or case gauges to keep your reloads within spec. Check for excessive bulging in the case web and make sure your bullets are seated to the correct length. Also check for excessive case thinning or bulging.
USP40 catastrophic failure in Indiana, Spring 1994
  • The propellant AA#5 [See Annotation #1] has been identified in a disproportionate number of kB!s, not only in Glocks but USP40s with barrels which do provide full case support. A number of Glock-L members have reported kB!s involving this propellant. It is not clear whether these kB!s are the fault of the propellant or the reloader, but it is clear that they are occurring in disproportionate numbers. As early as Fall '92 a source inside Glock, Inc. told Speir on background: "A lot of the blown up Models 22 and 23 we've been seeing has involved Accurate Arms #5… and damned if we know why."

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