Sunday, January 7, 2018

Review: Tricking out the Phoenix Arms HP22A


A Simple Tool But a Snowflake Nightmare Weapon

The Phoenix Arms HP22A is an inexpensive .22LR semiautomatic pistol that is long on fun and cheap on the wallet. It's made in the land of fruits and nuts in Ontario, just outside Los Angeles. This is a Saturday Night Special:  A cheap, potentially lethal killing machine, the nightmare of snowflake suburban soccer moms, metrosexual urban Euro-worshippers, and Hillary voters.

It's also a bargain plinker.

Gun snobs shelling out big bucks for their never-to-be-concealed-carry Filipino-made 1911s, polymer-framed Glocks, Sigs, HKs, and so on usually look down their nose at cheap zinc-alloy pistols. Of course, Walther's PPK/S also uses zinc alloy for its slide, but hey, it's a Walther, right? You don't hear too many people bitching about that.

Anyhow, I've put at least 1,500 2,000 3,000 rounds through my two HP22As, one named Feinstein (nickel-colored), and the other named Pelosi (blackish blued) with nary a hiccup. Most of the encountered problems were due to my inexperience in take down and reassembly. Like most morons who complain about Ruger Mark IIIs being hard to put back together, I initially thought the HP22A was almost impossible until I went through the drill a couple times; the secret is using your finger to hold down the recoil spring, locking the slide back, and ensuring proper fitment between the barrel and part #251 - the take-down lever.


Parts is Parts

Parts for the HP22A are inexpensive, and Phoenix Arms has incredibly fast shipping. You can get nearly every part for your pistol with the exception of the frame and slide (although I did find one vendor selling used slides). You're obviously going to want to get an extra set of recoil springs in order to change one out during at least 500- to 1000-round intervals. Being clumsy, I mangled one just learning reassembly.

Here's a list of spare parts recommended by a few folks on the 'net and the 'tube:

Firing Pin Spring - #221
Firing Pin - #204
Rear Plate Screw - #254
Safety - #208
Recoil Springs - #220
Extractor Spring - #226
Extractor Pin - #215
Extractor - #203
.22 LR Extended Magazine - #260
.22 LR Extended Mag Base - #271 

The parts aren't going to cost you an arm and a leg.

Some parts that may need to be replaced more often include the recoil spring (#220), firing pin (#204), and extractor (#215).

Some Springs and Pins Dimensions

For your information, here are the dimensions of a number of springs and pins I have on hand. I have not seen this info published anywhere on the web by anyone, so I hope this helps a fellow HP22A owner looking for a quick fix in a pinch. From what I have read on-line, earlier versions of the HP22 using solid pins, with roll pins now used extensively; there are exceptions, notably the extractor pin.

#220, recoil spring; 2.36"/60mm long, .29"/7.4mm round, using wire .02"/.6mm thick
#221, firing pin spring, .65"/16.7mm long, .08"/2mm round (tiny!)
#226, extractor spring, .19"/5mm long, .11"/2.9mm round (tiny!)
#227, strut spring, note: larger on one end; large end is .27"/6.8mm round, small end is .21"/5.4mm round, 1.5"/38.4mm long, using wire .04"/1mm thick
#229, rear sight spring, .18"/4.5mm long, .19"/4.9mm round, using wire .1"/.4mm thick

#213, trigger pivot pin, stainless roll pin, .62"/15.9mm long, .06"/1.7mm thick

#215, extractor pin, stainless solid pin, rounded ends, .34"/8.6mm long, .06"/1.6mm thick
#216, sear pin, stainless roll pin, .5"/12.7mm long, .1"/2.6mm thick
#218, hammer ping, blued roll pin, .62"/15.8mm long, .16"/4.2mm round

Having the original measurements on hand can be beneficial in finding compatible springs, especially if you carry around a pair of digital calipers (LOL!). For example, many folks report that Ace/TruValue hardware stores carry Hillman's #125 compression spring (#540 374, SKU 08236 12513), which matches the dimensions of part #220, the recoil spring. I ran across a box of matching springs a mile away at a discount/liquidation store, and snagged 8 of 'em for $0.50 each. Now I can easily afford to change out the recoil spring every 500 rounds:

Simple tools on hand may also be used to tinker with this mouse gun. For example, the firing pin is changed out by removing a tiny hex head screw (part #254, which requires a Torx T5) accessed on the firing pin plate on the rear of the slide. You can then pull the plate, then pull out the firing pin and its spring. I initially thought there might be a problem with Pelosi, as a blank rimfire cartridge showed no firm strike when dry firing, but at the range there were no FTFs or light strikes.

The spare safety plate (part #208) is a good investment for less than a Lincoln. You'll want to clip and modify your original safety plate so you can drop your mag and lock the slide back at the range (the multiple safeties on this pistol are a necessary evil due to its host state, but are easily defeated; if you ever have to send your pistol back to the mother ship, install the unmodified safety to protect your warranty). There are many, many 'tube vids on this modification. I didn't bother with most of the mods, just the mag mod, and only on Pelosi. I left Feinstein alone, as, unlike the many morons bitching about the HP22A's safeties, I had no problem whatsoever using the pistol (performing its 'battery of arms').

Here's what the magazine modification to the safety plate looks like. Compare it to your original plate and you'll see what I mean. The modification, a simple snip and then perhaps a rounding (like the one pictured here) of the middle left below the letter 'S' will allow you to drop the magazine without manipulating the slide (not firing pin) safety. The metal corner in an unmodified plate impedes pressing the magazine release button while the plate is in 'Fire' mode (e.g., pushed downwards):

You may not have to worry about changing out your extractor, but it's nice to have a spare on hand. You can test your extractor by using a spent round in the chamber, racking the slide, then slowly pulling the slide back. If the round pulls out straight, your extractor is fine. If the round is crooked, you may need to either touch up or replace your extractor (there's a 'tube vid on this issue).

More magazines are always welcome, and if you buy just a pistol, you'll get a flat-plate mag. The extended mag base adds a welcome purchase for an extra finger. Changing the plate is easy using just a toothpick poked into the plate's hole - a much easier swap than a Ruger Mark III's magazine! (well, not really, as dis- and reassembly of the Ruger mag isn't difficult either).

 Appropriate Ammo is Apropos

Phoenix recommends .22LR rated at 1050 to 1150 fps. While the HP22A will happily run CCI mini-mags (1,235 fps), my personal opinion is that you're asking for trouble. Hell, even a couple folks on the 'tube have demonstrated that the Walther PPK/S slide is not immune to high-velocity ammo issues.

I'm in the process of testing various rimfire .22LRs, but so far Aguila Super Extra (1,129 fps) and CCI Standard Velocity (1,070 fps) work reliably. I also found great results with some ammo with a bit more 'punch': Fiocchi 1,575-round bulk .22LR (#22FFHVCR, according to the manufacturer catalog), which comes in a nice Plano box:

I don't recommend cheap bulk ammo, but may explore some alternatives. Whatever you do, don't buy from Cabela's (they'll charge you state tax and also censor any negative reviews), and don't buy Federal bulk 325-round .22LR - awful stuff!

I did try CCI's Quiet lead round nose (710 fps), but of course it wouldn't cycle. Hell, you could even shoot a .22 short in the HP22A, but then the pistol is basically a single-shot weapon - LOL!

Potential Problems

The HP22A is manufactured using (AFAIK), Zamak 3, a zinc alloy. The receiver (frame), barrel, and slide are metal-injection molded (?), then roughly finished and polished. Critical parts of the pistol are steel, such as the barrel sleeve, chamber face, extractor face, etc. This is a good thing! However, out of the box, your HP22A may feel 'gritty' and dirty (I have to wonder about water shortage affecting the production line, or perhaps Phoenix Arms uses a dry finishing lubricant, such as Ezoxx?). This was the case with Pelosi, but Feinstein seemed to have had a surprisingly better fit and finish.

At any rate I highly recommend a thorough cleaning before heading out to the range with any new, out-of-the-box pistol. And don't use too much lube. You'll get a good idea of where to apply oil on the receiver and slide after a break-in of a hundred rounds or so. These wear spots showed up better on Pelosi than Feinstein due to the 'bluing' (if you can call it that - since the pistol is mostly Zamak, my guess it's more like a chemical dip), but you'll still be able to tell on the nickel-colored variant.

The majority of folks experiencing a problem with the HP22A have an issue with the magazine well cracking after several thousand rounds. Reports are that this could happen sooner or later, and has even happened to shooters using only recommended rimfire loads. Here is the purported problem area:

When you take down your HP22A, look down into the mag well from the top and you'll see just how thin the wall is - i wish Phoenix had beefed up this area. One fellow also posted online pics of a cracked slide, but that's only one report out of thousands of owners, and a cracked mag well has only been reported by a half-dozen folks online. At any rate, Phoenix has a lifetime warranty for owners, and at less than $140, the HP22A is in the throwaway price range. Personally, I'm not worried.


Out of the box, Feinstein was dead-on accurate. On the other hand, Pelosi shot low and to the left (which is to be expected from that skank). You'll need a sturdy screwdriver to adjust windage, but the rear sight is click-adjustable. To move the point of impact to the left, turn the screw clockwise, and so on. I was quite pleased with the plinking accuracy:

Here's a target from 45 feet at a local indoor range, using Fiocchi HVCP, CCI SV, and Aguila SE:

Interestingly, Feinstein has a better sight picture, as there is good contrast between the front and rear sights. Pelosi not only required windage adjustment, but also a dab of fluorescent lime-green paint on the front sight - which made a remarkable improvement on the sight picture for these old and tired eyes. More on paint next!

Touchup Upgrades

For Pelosi's front sight, I went to Wally World (which also sells really nice metal ammo cans for $8) and bought a "Painters" pen in lime green acrylic. One or two careful dabs followed by some hair dryer action from the wife's bathroom drawer sped up the drying process.

 I also bought an oil-based Sharpie pen in white. You'll find both pens in the fabric/craft section of your local Wally World.  Next, I rooted around in the wife's drawer for a decent red nail polish, ending up with a Sally Hansen Miracle Gel in #470, "Red Eye" (most likely from CVS).

The HP22A's fire/safe switch lettering is nearly invisible on the pistol unless you're in full sunlight. And at my age, I need all the help I can get. The letters are stamped onto the safety, and provide a depression for coloring, but even a sharpened toothpick was too thick to apply, so I took the Sharpie and just swabbed over the entire word "SAFE," then wiped the excess, leaving the letters nicely colored in - work quickly!

The nail polish had a sloppy brush, but again I swabbed 'ol 'Red Eye' over the word 'FIRE' and wiped the excess. I like the results. YMMV.

This makes the frame safety switch a lot easier to read in dim light. Curiously, only the slide/firing pin block safety has a daub of red paint. I took the Sharpie and daubed a dot of white to mark the indented safety position on the slide (which is actually the ass end of the sight adjustment screw!).

I like the results, and I don't think these touchups would void your warranty if performed on an unmodified safety plate.

Accessorizing Your Arm

There's a billion-dollar industry aimed at accessorizing weapons. Everything from garments to concealed carry goodies and third-party parts. The Ruger Mark series of pistols is a good example. There's really no such market for the HP22A, aside from some grips (I'm currently waiting on a nice walnut grip for Feinstein), but there are a few goodies that can enhance your enjoyment and use of the HP22A. These won't break the bank and are, like the pistol, a bargain.

Get a Grip

The standard plastic grips are adequate, but like the extended mag, more finger purchase is better on a compact pistol. There are several grip options available for the HP22A. One is to go to that awful, evil auction place on the Internet and sort through the plethora of graphic grip tape overlays, or plastic grips in different colors, such as a nice Zombie lime green. You may also be surprised to find one or more craftsman at work and offering traditional grips, such as these in walnut for less than $30:

I like the wood grips as they beef up the width of the pistol's grip, yet still allow storage in the range bag, pocket holster, or concealed carrier (see below).  Of course, these grips also work, with the added benefit of scaring the beejeezus out of snowflakes:

How about some rattle-can bling? Since the grips are about $6, you can do a quick spray job on a spare set to see if you like the result (be advised: consult with a friend who is experienced in auto body repair first if you want a professional job; i don't give a romeo alpha, so i did two coats with cheap Wally World 'sunflower yellow,' allowing a week of dry time in low-humidity between coats; i'm also careful to use a CLP, not harmful solvents when cleaning):

Another option is to improve handling, and so I highly recommend the Hogue Handall Jr. Small rubber grip for about $7 on Amazon.

One tip: stick the grip under your armpit for a few minutes or hit it with a hair dryer to soften it up before sliding it onto your HP22A. No oil or lubrication is required. I simply worked my grip up until it just cleared the mag plate area. The result is a much 'grippier' pistol - very nice!

Another accessory is for transport and/or concealment. For a low-cost alternative, I recommend the UTG Discreet Sub-compact Handgun case - about $10 or less on Amazon.

You'll be able to store your pistol with an extended mag in place, along with another extended mag inside the case. Speed strips or small Altoids tins will allow you to also store some extra ammo.
If you want to splurge $14, order Phoenix Arm's custom-molded locking case for the HP22A. Add your own cleaning tools or dig a little deeper and get the $8 cleaning kit made for the case. Note that this case has room for an HP22A with an extended mag, an extra extended mag, and also a spare barrel, including the 5-inch version. I did not purchase a 5-inch barrel; as I think it doesn't really add too much accuracy and looks funky, but works well - just a slight improvement on accuracy. I recommend sticking with the standard barrel, and did get a spare 3-inch barrel for Feinstein.
And here's my Zombie Remediation Kit, outfitted with a Spyderco USN H1 filet knife:


My current carry weapon is either a North American Arms Sidewinder with five rounds of .22 mag in a Desantis Nemisis, or a Kel-Tec P-32 w/7+1 rounds of Fiocchi 71-grain FMJ in a Grovtec pocket holster. Down here in the near Tropics, it's shorts and flip-flops most of the year, so belt, hip, inside waistband or ankle holsters are out of the picture. The Sidewinder  and P-32 are perfect, and at respectively six and 10 ounces loaded, aren't going to make me look like a hip-hop gangsta with droopy drawers.

Alas, the HP22A is kinda heavy for pocket carry. But it is possible when wearing belted cargo shorts. BTW, never, ever carry any gun in your pocket without protection, even if it's a mammy-made piece of leather folded in half with stitching.

One pocket holster that seems to work well with the HP22A is made in Naples, Fla. - the SM-1 Sticky holster. The holster stays put in your pocket, but the HP22A easily extracts with no snags. You can also store the SM-1 on top your HP22A while inside the UTG case.

There are other pocket holsters, such as those from Uncle Mike's but I haven't tried them.

Oh, and here's a slick little cleaning kit from Ruger that you can plop into your range bag when you "Go plinking away the day with your HP22A!"

And here's an even cheaper kit I found at Wally World - less than $8:

So there you have it: My experience so far with the HP22A. These pistols are cheap enough that for the price of a Ruger SR22, base Ruger Mark IV or Walther PPK/S you can have several, including one as a spare in case two need to be sent back to Phoenix for any repair. Does the HP22A compare to a Buckmark or Smith & Wesson 41? Hardly. But all these guns all fire the same cheap ammo, and the HP22A can be almost as accurate at short range. Is it a target shooter? Nope, but there can be a challenge in point shooting, and it's a great plinker for practice on the cheap. I like my pistols, especially with a few embellishments.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Kel-Tec P-32 vs North American Arms Guardian 32ACP

Comparison and Range Report - P-32 vs  Guardian .32 ACP

I'm a lucky dog. I have access to an indoor range open 365 days a year about two minutes from the casa. Down here in the near Tropics it's important to have comfortable and convenient concealed carry.

But this means I've had to do a bit of purchase, testing and evaluation of different revolvers and pistols. For my needs, pocket carry is the way to go - I don't like something attached to my hip or any bulk on the body. I also don't need a pistol that is going to drag my shorts over my butt and down to my ankles.

I like the NAA Sidewinder - it's a great revolver, and in my opinion, perfectly satisfactory when chambered in .22 mag. But I recently caught the mouse gun bug, and just acquired a North American Arms Guardian .32 ACP, along with a Kel-Tec P-32. The .32 ACP in FMJ has a bit more punch, and center fire cartridges have a somewhat more reliable reputation in properly functioning firearms.

The P-32 and Guardian are, to the best of my knowledge, the only currently manufactured and marketed .32 ACP pistols (update: Colt's Model 1903 "General Officer's Pistol" is now offered by U.S. Armament  ) - I missed out on buying a new-in-the-box Beretta or Sig Sauer, so these are the pistols I purchased. Here are some of my observations and experiences after running 150 rounds of Fiocchi .32ACP FMJ (redbox) through each of these guns.

The Guardian

Manufactured using a magnetic stainless, the Guardian is a hefty little chunk monkey. The slide does not lock back. It weighs in over 3/4 of a pound with a flat-plate mag and no ammo:

The Guardian in .32ACP is slightly smaller than the P-32:
The main difference is in barrel/slide length:
The Guardian comes in a locking metal box. A signed envelope contains a spent cartridge from the factory. I do not know how many rounds are tested though the pistol before the pistol is put on the
The sights are pretty small. No, let's make that tiny small. So I daubed the front sight with Testors Fluorescent Yellow (1177TT). I also found Fluorescent Orange (1173TT) - both 1/4 oz bottles for $1.79 each at a local craft store:
 At the range I experienced three last-round stove pipes - this is a 'feature' of the design and to be expected. I would prefer that either happen all the time or not at all, but that's not the case with this pistol. I also had a failure-to-extract, where the extractor would not let go of the spent shell. I had to remove the mag, then punch the casing down through the mag well.

The Guardian and the P-32 are double-action only. The Guardian has a hefty trigger pull, similar to a Smith rimfire revolver, although not as smooth. I also ended up with a small blister on the underside of my trigger finger. This is not a range pistol for target shooting - but you do need to practice to get familiar with your gun!

Accuracy was good. In other words, I was able to hit the point of aim with no need for 'Kentucky windage.' Here is a point-shooting target from 10 feet, with the gun held at the mid-section:
 The last 10 rounds of the 150 rounds at 10 fteet:

Next up is the P-32.

The Kel-Tec P-32

The P-32 is a lightweight pistol. Like the Guardian, it can take 6+1 rounds and does not have a safety (the Guardian has an optional ILS available). The P-32 comes in a large plastic gun box with foam (much like the metal box for the Guardian). You also get a trigger lock (useless if you don't have kids, but a good idea for storing your pistol if there are underage family or visitors).

First off, the P-32 has a locking slide feature and last-round hold open, which some folks consider essential - i don't, but that's OK... It's a nice feature:

The P-32 registers at a half pound on the scale with an unloaded flat-plate mag:
The P-32 also has, like the Guardian, a small front sight. So a daub of Testors helped me a lot:

The P-32 was fairly accurate in point-shooting at 10 feet:
 In fact, the P-32 was so accurate for my needs that the last 10 rounds of the 150 rounds were shot at 15 feet instead of 10 for the Guardian:

 I experienced no failures with the P-32. The trigger pull seemed a little bit lighter (i don't have a trigger scale), but this time I did the smart thing and brought a band-aid to protect my finger. After two boxes, there was a very slight amount of abrasion further up the side of my trigger finger - but not enough to blister like I experienced when shooting the Guardian.

And just in time for hot weather: a Nickel Boron-treated P-32:

 Interestingly, while Kel-Tec's NiB finish on the slide and barrel are great and will be quite welcome during the hot and humid summers down here in the near Tropics, a much superior finish and product is available through another Florida vendor:

This is a pricey upgrade, but well worth it in my opinion. This particular P-32, beside benefiting from a very nice, slick NiB finish to its slide and barrel, now also sports a hard-chrome extractor assembly, stainless clip, hex screw pins instead of nylon, and not shown, a hard-chrome assembly/take-down pin (on the other side).

Trigger Upgrade

Another thing you can do to upgrade your P-32 is to add an RTK Sweet Spot trigger. Keep in mind that this is a one-way trip for your P-32's original trigger: You'll need to snip out the trigger to access its pin, then pull the pin *down* in order to remove the carcass, trigger spring and trigger pivot. The RTK trigger, on the other hand, is easy to install, and its holding pin drops *down* from the top of the trigger - no force required! A very nice way to go - I wish Kel-Tec would buy the rights or contract for this trigger arrangement:

And here's my Fail Zero-enhanced P-32 with its RTK trigger (in gray, *not* milled). Pictured are all the tools I used: a brass/poly hammer, roll-pin punch (because I have screw pins on this P-32), blue loctite, nippers to cut away the original plastic trigger, a hook tool for hammer spring removal/assembly, small gunsmith block, hex key (small) for screw pins, hex key for trigger adjustment, and finally, a set of snap caps - handy for testing:

I had purchased the stainless Guardian for its rust-resistance, but now I can confidently carry my new P-32 through this summer season with some confidence! And out of the box, these pistols are deadly at 15 ft. (i keep getting folks coming over to my lane to see what i'm shooting when i use a P-32, which kinda says something?):


The P-32 is a winner in my book.

Especially in light of the fact that at the 175-round mark, the Guardian threw its entire extractor assembly into the ether at the range. That's right - the extractor, extractor plunger, and plunger spring were GONE!

I'd love to know how the extractor assembly is press fit into the slide - it would interesting to see a video on a repair. I'm going to guess that my experience is a rare one? Anyhow, here's the assembly, but without any detail:
See the circled area? Yep, that's right - the extractor assembly is NOT pinned! It is a press-fit design! I've looked, but can't really find any similar design (although I'm sure other pistols have used such a design).

NAA has *excellent* customer service, as I was initially able to talk with a very nice woman on the phone who conferred with an NAA gunsmith, and then immediately send a FedEx overnight label for free shipping back for repair. The Guardian returned home after less than two weeks after being sent off for repair. I received a FedEx signature-required package:

Interestingly, NAA used the same box i shipped the pistol for the return box (it's a good box):
Inside was a sheet of paper, my original wrapping material, and of course, the pistol in a brown envelope with my name on it:
Here's what was replaced. I was surprised by the replacement of the hammer spring and hammer spring follower (32006/32007, but part #18 and #19 in the above diagram):
There was no charge for shipping both ways or the repair. Oh, and besides the polish to the ramp and chamber crown, NAA was good enough to repair a nick I put into the top of the barrel right after I bought the pistol - that's nice! I'm hoping that this will be the last time i'll need to send the pistol back.

The problematic area was the press fit of the extractor plunger, seen here in shadow next to the extractor:

I'm still not quite sure how the plunger, held under spring pressure, interacts with the extractor, but I'm happy to report that a 100-round range session showed the pistol to operate normally. There were no failures to feed, no failures to eject, and only a few last-round stove pipes. In fact, if anything, the pistol now shoots even more accurately! I also found the trigger a bit smoother and easier to pull:
Thank you, NAA! You've made me a happy camper! BTW, I highly recommend using the extended magazines if you're going to pump rounds out at the range. It makes the session a lot easier and provides a better grip in sweaty hands.

Accuracy with the Guardian isn't too bad, as you can see at 15 ft using Fiocchi FMJ. But with certain magazines, such as the pinky extension, i'm getting FTF due to magazine drops. This is disappointing, but can be alleviated thru a different grip or mag:

Some Additions

By the way, some small modifications can help increase handling comfort with these pistols For example, a modified Pearce mag extension on the P-32, and a shortened small Hogue rubber grip on the Guardian make both easier to hold:
Oh, I also found an extended mag kit for the Guardian at the Cheaper-Than-Jesus sporting goods web site. I though, "Great! I'll order two for the extra two mags for my Guardian!" The kits were $25 each. So guess what?
Yep, each 'kit' came with *two* extended mag springs, extensions, etc. Oh well, I guess I'll have spares!