Handgun Frames Explained

Small Fish, Steel Fish, Big Fish, Plastic Fish

This article is apart of our Comprehensive Guide to Handguns. If you’re new to firearms in general, or just to handguns, be sure to checkout the other parts of this guide listed at the end!

Handgun Sizes

When it comes to handgun sizes you have four common sizes with some hybrids thrown into the mix, those four sizes being: Micro, Subcompact, Compact (or Midsize), and Full Size (or Standard).
You also have two different kinds of magazines; single stack and double stack. There is a third, called a 1.5 stack, which is found with the Sig Sauer P365 and Springfield Armory Hellcat. The type of magazine can affect the width of the firearm greatly.

Required Definition: Muzzle Rise
Muzzle Rise is apart of the recoil impulse that happens when the bullet leaves the barrel and the slide begins to cycle rearward towards you to eject the spent casing. Muzzle Rise determines how fast you’re able to get back on target for a follow-up shot. It can be mitigated through proper recoil management techniques.

To explain each frame size, let’s start from the easiest to shoot, to the hardest to shoot.

Full Size/Compact:

 In terms of shooting the Compact and Full Size are going to be tied. Full Sized handguns are easier to shoot for people that wear L-XL gloves, while Compact Size handguns are easier to shoot for those that wear S-L sized gloves. The reason for this is due to the amount of surface area a good firing grip is able to cover. Smaller hands are able to cover more surface area on compact sized handguns compared to full sized handguns.

Between the two sizes, Compact handguns are going to be easier to conceal. It’s not as tall, and height is one of, if not the most important factor when considering a firearm for carry purposes.

Why Surface Area Coverage Matters:

The gun will recoil in the path of least resistance; if your hand doesn’t cover a large area on the left sized of the firearm, the gun may recoil to the left versus straight back. If all of the possible surface area is covered as evenly as possible, it will recoil as straight back as humanly possible. This makes it easier for the gun to handle.


 Subcompacts are going to be more difficult to shoot than both Full Sized and Compact Sized handguns; they’re smaller and tend to let fingers dangle off the bottom of the frame.

Whereas they are easier to conceal in comparison, Subcompact handguns are going to be harder to draw from concealment due to the shorter grip size; this can be overcome with practice however.


To make things clear, Micro sized handguns are not designed for women. They are not designed for new shooters, and they are most definitely not, at all, the best choice for new gun owners. If the gun clerk is trying to push these on you; immediately walk out. They are trying to make a fast sale to make quick cash.

Micro sized handguns are the hardest to shoot, they require a lot of skill, and a lot of time to become proficient with. Avoid these firearms unless you absolutely, positively need the most concealable package possible.

Side Note: Micro Sized handguns are ideal for “back-up” guns due to their size and weight.

Typical Measurements:

JustPews believes that the main measurement for determining the size class of a firearm is the firearm’s height; bear that in mind when looking at how company’s label a firearm’s size.

Full SizeHeight: Over 5.3″ | Length: Over 7.5″

CompactHeight: 5.0″-5.3″ | Length: 7.0″-7.5″

SubcompactHeight: 4.2″-4.9″ | Length: 6.0″-6.8″

MicroHeight: Smaller than 4.2″ | Length: Smaller than 6.0″

Size Comparisons

(Size Compared to Next Largest)

To do your own comparisons visit HandgunHero

Frame Materials

Handgun frames come in one of three frame materials; Steel, Alloy (Aluminum), or Polymer. These different frame materials can greatly affect how the gun handles in your hand; from how the firearm recoils to how you take care of the firearm.


Steel is the heaviest frame material out of the three with many of the Full Size guns weighing in at or over 40 ounces. Steel Framed handguns are very tame to shoot, the weight keeps the muzzle down during recoil, but it directs all of the recoil into the palm of your hand. This benefits you as a shooter since it’s the densest part of your hand, however, some people don’t like how it feels to shoot steel framed handguns.

Steel Framed handguns are prone to rust; naturally. To prevent this be sure to keep your firearm well lubricated; especially areas where you see the finish wearing off such as the barrel.

These frames can also be troublesome to carry for new carriers. To properly carry a steel framed handgun you will need a good holster & belt, emphasis on the belt, combination to prevent pant sagging & fatigue.


Alloy, or Aluminum Frames are the middle ground between Steel and Polymer. They have a recoil impulse similar to Steel Framed handguns, but they can weigh within an ounce of two of polymer framed handguns. Expect a little less muzzle rise than with a polymer framed handgun and less of the recoil going into your palm compared to steel frames.

Alloy Famed handguns can corrode, not rust; follow the same maintenance requirements of Steel Framed handguns.

A lot of people love alloy frames since they offer nearly the same recoil impulse of  steel frame, while offering the weight of a polymer frame. Carrying an alloy framed handgun won’t require the same effort as a steel frame, but about the same as a polymer frame.


Polymer Framed handguns are the lightest of the three frame materials and tend to be carry favorites for this reason. Recoil wise you will experience more muzzle rise on recoil compared to the other two, however, the frame will flex under recoil. This flex isn’t a bad or dangerous thing. It absorbs some of the recoil as it goes towards your hand, which sends less into your palm compared to steel or aluminum frames.

Polymer Framed handguns don’t require as much attention of maintenance as Alloy or Steel Framed handguns. Minus springs, you will only apply lubricant to the slide 90% of the time.

Important Note: The sample gun for steel frames does not have an accessory rail, if you add one on it brings the weight up to 36oz.

Which You Should Buy

Which combination you should buy entirely depends on what your mission, or task is for the handgun in question. What a collector wants will vary greatly from what a person wants for defensive purposes, so, let’s tailor a response for each category of buyer, well… the primary categories.


JustPews doesn’t really dabble into the collector’s world. For handguns though, you can’t go wrong with the Glock 17, the Heckler & Koch USP, the Beretta 92FS, or a 1911 (brand doesn’t really matter). Each of these guns hold some historical value for the gun world.


If you never plan on carrying a firearm for defensive purposes but want to enjoy a new hobby, JustPews recommends picking up either a compact, or full size handgun based on your hand size. These will be the best to learn how to shoot on and, if you desire, can be used for home defense if you put a weapon light on it.


Carrying a firearm for defensive purposes is an gigantic undertaking and it can be overwhelming (don’t worry, we’ll be making a guide for you soon).
Regardless of body size, JustPews recommends getting a Polymer Framed, Compact Sized handgun. These will be light to carry, they’re great for beginner’s to learn how to shoot on, and they produce an important data point for concealed carry; whether you can carry something larger, or if you need to downsize.

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Tired of scouring the internet for all the answers you’re looking for in regards to handguns? JustPews put together this comprehensive beginner’s guide just for you! Checkout the other parts to get headed in the right direction towards your first purchase!