…and they are both called Kel-Tec CNC.
I’ve owned 4 Kel-Tecs, a P3AT, a P-11 and two Sub Rifle 2000’s. Over the years I’ve given Kel-Tec a lot of ink, and a lot of support, demonstrating my Kel-Tecs to perfect strangers at the range almost every time I break one out to practice with it. Their firearms design is nothing short of revolutionary, but that is where the good ends.
Regrettably, I do not recommend their firearms from now on.
I have no problem with the very compact 9mm P-11. It shoots reliably, swallows any and all Europellets I feed it, and did I mention it’s compact? A good carry gun? Yes.
I have two Sub Rifle 2000s, one in Europellet and one in 40 Short & Weak. Both function well, after almost total disassembly to clean metal and plastic dust, etc out of them (Kel-Tec has NEVER shipped me a clean firearm) but the front sight on the 40 was mounted a degree and a half off vertical, so I have to use all the lateral adjustment in the sight to send ‘em downrange and hit that proverbial doodlysquat. These compact pistol-caliber carbines do their job well, once the operator is used to the long and heavy trigger pull, easily the heaviest single-action trigger pull I have ever experienced. Their use of magazines from the major lines of service pistols is nothing short of brilliant.
Finally, I had a fine P3AT. It was fine until it kaboomed on me this Spring, most likely the fault of a double-charged round. I was lucky to get away with a minor scratch as my only injury. I sent the pistol back to the factory for repairs, owning up to the (not known to me at the time) no-no of using some purchased reloads.
After the learning curve of shipping a firearm back to a manufacturer, I waited for Kel-Tec to say they had received it, but got no such notification until I had sent two emails and waited almost a month. Finally, a short email informed me that my gun was awaiting repairs. At no time did they ever refer to it by it’s serial number or give me an ETIC (Estimated Time in Commission). I found that strange. If that was strange, how strange is it for them to not notify me that they were returning the gun to me 9 weeks later? I got no notice there, either. How long does it take to write a short email? It’s summer, and I might have been out of town and unable to receive the gun.
After signing for the package at my door, I eagerly opened it up to find a rebuilt (probably new) P3AT (with my old serial number), but one which seemed to have come from another planet, a planet where function means nothing. Here are the problems I immediately noticed:
- The pistol’s firing pin, a free-floating design, was jammed in the fire position. Had I totally trusted Kel-Tec, and inserted a loaded magazine and chambered a round, the weapon would have fired with no finger on the trigger, and continued to fire until it was empty. The accompanying work sheet with the gun stated that it had been test-fired, and I fail to understand how the normal clearing after such a test could have failed to notice the stuck firing pin.
- The new magazine supplied with the firearm fits poorly, due in part to the pistol's grip end-cap fitting poorly, and the possible malformation of the magazine catch. The magazine has to be wiggled around a bit and pressure applied to the opposite end of the magazine release to get it to seat and hold the magazine properly. Since the weapon has no means of holding the slide back, this makes reloading it unsafe in a combat environment where reloading should be done by feel while you use your eyes to scan for the enemy.
- The plastic frame of the pistol had numerous sharp edges, an easily-addressed problem, but one that has left the painted frame quite ugly after I remedied this issue with light sanding. The frame is painted OD Green, but the plastic is a very light tan, so I have an ugly gun now.
Back to issue #1: At my workbench, I set about to disassemble the pistol to address the firing pin issue. Disassembly is normally accomplished by using the rim of a spent hull to hook the action-retaining pin out of it’s hole, withdrawing it and sliding the slide forward and off the frame. The only problem was that the round-headed action-retaining pin was installed into this new gun in a slightly raised dimple which is meant to retain it, and retain it firmly. I don’t recall that dimple in my old one. Now a slim flat-bladed screwdriver must be used to move the pin enough to grasp it and finish withdrawing it. So much for field-stripping without tools, eh?
OK, the slide sits on my bench now, so I take a wooden dowel and push on the stuck firing pin. Nothing. I lightly tap on the dowel. The firing pin indents the end of the dowel, but the dowel does not move it. I go to a brass drift, and finally, tap hard enough to dislodge the stuck firing pin, and it moves back into it’s channel. Next, I rinse everything off in a stream of PTFE lubricant, and reassemble the pistol. Dry-firing results in the firing pin getting stuck, again.
Now I disassemble the slide, an easy job. One small hex-head screw holds the flat extractor spring in place, and the screw is overlength enough so that it also retains the firing pin in it’s channel by means of a cutout area near the fat end of the firing pin. With the screw removed, I begin to check the travel of the pin. It seems to stick at both ends. I remove it from the channel. It is a new pin, and it has marks on it’s bluing confirming it has been sticking at both ends, the bolt-face end AND the hammer-strike end. I get out a jeweler’s loupe, and examine it. The hammer-strike end looks a tiny bit mushroomed, and I confirm this by putting it back into the slide and striking a light tap on it with the brass drift. It is now stuck again. I drift it loose again, and thoroughly clean the firing pin channel in the slide. Out of it comes the usual Kel-Tec detrius, plus some rust. I continue to use solvents and q-tips to swab out the channel until I get no more crud out of it, then try to refit the pin. It still sticks.
At this point, most would have given up and returned the pistol for more work, but I know about these sort of back-and forth conflicts, and know they can end badly, plus I want to put my little belly gun back into commission since it’s now warm enough hereabouts to wear lightweight summer clothing. The light bulb goes on in my head, and I break out a palm sander and a sheet of fine sandpaper. I practice twirling the firing pin in my fingers until I can get the fingers to do smooth revolutions with the pin. Switching on the palm sander, I twirl the pin, lightly touching the vibrating sander's pad, and carefully remove some material from each end of the pin, testing the pin several times for effect, until I had gotten the pin to actually float freely. Clean and reassemble. I’ve never heard of this method of finish-machining before, and will take credit for inventing it!
The next step will be test-firing at the range, with both magazines. It seems the one old magazine I had from the pre-kaboom days fits better, but there is still an issue with seating it positively.
At this point, I only feel confident enough to carry this weapon as an unreloadable seven-shooter, but at the range session, I need to get some practice in because I need to be able to knock down any potential assailant with the first magazine.
I now don't have the trust in the P3AT to carry it as a primary, engage any opponent, defense weapon. I used to have that confidence. The difference for me is in how Kel-Tec does their work at their factory nowadays, but since I have very little information about that, I won’t speculate as to what has gone wrong there. Something has, though, and it’s enough for me to change my mind about this formerly-reliable maker of carry guns. I now do not recommend buying anything recently built by Kel-Tec.
Too bad for them, I was considering springing for their new wunder-rifle, the RFB, but if the gun maker can't send out a mouse gun in good enough shape to shoot, how the HELL are they ever going to get a complex bullpup-action main battle rifle to work properly?