Friday, March 2, 2018

Review: 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: Beretta has continued making its Tomcat 3032 .32ACP auto, and Colt's Model 1903 and outrageously priced "General Officer's Pistol" is now offered by U.S. Armament  update2: just scored a made-in-the-USA Beretta Inox 2032 Tomcat today (5/4/18); update3: scored yet another NIB Tomcat again! (6/29/18)) - 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 17-4 ph stainless, the Guardian is a hefty little chunk monkey. This pistol's fixed barrel, blowback design means the slide does not lock back, and there is no last-round-hold-open (unless you count its unique last-round stovepipe 'feature' - more on that later); nor is there a slide lock. 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
market:
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:

Takedown for a cleaning prior to its initial range session was easy: simply press the knurled button on the right side of the slide, then lift off the slide with a slightly backwards then forwards and up motion. Replacing the slide is the reverse, helped by a slight pull on the trigger to move the hammer.

At the range I experienced three last-round stove pipes - according to NAA, this is a 'feature' of its design and to be expected. I would prefer that this 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. This may have been an indication of an upcoming failure (read on).

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!

Tip: Do not over-lube this pistol or run it 'wet'; you'll get a spray of lube in your eyes (hopefully you are prudent and use eye protection while shooting). Do not ask me how I know this.

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, as it can take 6+1 rounds and does not have a safety (the Guardian does has an optional insipid 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:

And another view:

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?):

Conclusions

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?

update: thanks to a fellow NAA forum member, ADP3, here's the info on the extractor:
the Guardian extractor is not press fit.  There is a notch at the rear of the extractor that a spring loaded plunger engages and holds in the slide.  Walther was using this method in 1929 when they introduced the PP.  It's quite common and usually works quite well.   I've never seen an extractor disengage from the slide like you experienced.  If NAA fixed yours it's not likely to happen again.
For a video on a similar extractor, search for 'PP slide service' - apparently this type of assembly was common in the late 1920s with Walther semiautos!

Here's the assembly, but without any detail:
See the circled area? Yep, that's right - the extractor assembly is NOT pinned!

On the other hand, Kel-Tec's P-32 Gen 2 extractor design is brilliant, IMHO, and reduces slide strip down, firing pin and spring assembly, and extractor assembly down to a single #10 Torx Plus screw, eliminating a traditional coiled extractor spring, pinned extractor assembly, and firing pin retention plate/screw or pin. The end of the Torx screw fits into a machined valley on the firing pin, retaining it.

This make the task of deep-cleaning your P-32's slide, firing pin and extractor very easy.

On the other hand, it's nearly impossible on the Guardian without the proper tooling and experience (I've seen no published instructions or videos on servicing the Guardian, unlike the plethora of information available about the P-32, although I suppose if you follow instructions for maintaining a Walther PP extractor you could use the same technique. I'm not going to try).

As far as the missing extractor assembly: 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 assembly of the extractor plunger, seen here in shadow next to the extractor:

And as I now understand it the plunger, held under spring pressure, is held by a notch on the extractor. 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!

Update: I wanted to sell my NAA Guardian .32ACP due to a lucky find of two Beretta 3032 INOX Tomcats. However, I think I'd miss this little pistol, so I'm going to give it another chance. The good thing is that NAA has a lifetime warranty regardless of owner, so if I ever do sell it, the new owner would be in good hands. That's good customer service! Taurus is the only other manufacturer offering this type of unconditional warranty to my knowledge.

2nd Update: Well, it happened again! This time it only took a single box of Fiocchi redbox and the entire assembly was gone! However, I called NAA, and the kind woman on the end of the phone popped the three requisite parts in the mail to me.  

Inserting the extractor assembly is easy:

1. insert the long spring (32002-5-3) longitudinally into the slide

2. insert the extractor plunger (32002-5-2) into the spring with the notch facing inwards

3. push the extractor (32002-5-1) into its slot in the proper orientation, then push hard to compress the extractor plunger and spring - the extractor's internal notch will 'click' into a depression

I did notice that the plunger looked a bit different and seemed to be seated differently. Compare the previous photo of the plunger and extractor as returned from factory service with how the new assembly looks now after installation:

I'm going to give this pistol one more chance. If the extractor fails again, it will go back to NAA again. 

UPDATE: Pistol went through another 200 rounds with no problem. But I sold it for a number of reasons: not fun to shoot; slide bite if you're not careful; terrible abrasion of trigger finger in less than 25 rounds at range; dropping pinky extension magazines; unreliable feeds; heavy weight compared to the P-32; older design with expensive parts and accessories; wood grips loosening after installation (never had this problem before on any pistol, btw)... in its favor: pistol was accurate for its small-carry size; great customer service from NAA; good on-line forum with other NAA users; small size; stainless parts; easily replaced firing pin and extractor assembly.

2 comments:

  1. A very nice write up. Enjoyed the read. I've kinda gone the same way. Instead of the Guardian, I bought a LWSeecamp .32. Very nice shooter but very picky on ammo. It's very small (the smallest production .32 I think). After buying that, I recently got the Kel-Tec .32 which I carry the most of anything. Just a factory standard but in gray. Also a very nice shooter. I was surprised by it really for shooting as nice as it does because of the weight (or lack therein).
    I saw this post from the NAA site.
    GogTheHammer

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