by Adam Heggenstaller - Thursday, August 18, 2011
The steamy swamps of central Florida may be the last place you'd expect to find a gun manufacturer, but it is here, amidst the black water and the alligators, that Diamondback Firearms calls home. Diamondback arrived on the pocket-pistol scene about two years ago with the DB380, following it up with the DB9 earlier this year. We traveled to Diamondback headquarters in Cocoa, FL, to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the company turns out little handguns that are becoming big hits with CCW holders.
Diamondback's story has a beginning that would seem unlikely in any other locale. In 1989 Bobby Fleckinger founded Diamondback Airboats, building prop-powered watercraft to transport search-and-rescue teams, law enforcement officers, tourists and gator hunters over the swampland. The company would grow into one of the largest airboat manufacturers in the United States, and Fleckinger seized the opportunity to expand the CNC-machining capabilities of his business to enter other markets—namely firearms.
At first Diamondback Machining produced parts such as AR upper receivers for other firearms companies, but Fleckinger soon made plans to manufacture complete guns under the Diamondback name. He hired Brad Thomas, a native Floridian with a background in firearms engineering, to lead the project. Thomas developed the DB380, with its patent-pending Zero-Energy striker firing system, and Diamondback Firearms was born.
Slides for Diamondback pistols start as solid, 4140 steel billets that skilled CNC-machine operators turn into precisely crafted components. Fleckinger and Thomas are adamant about tight tolerances, crediting both the capability of the machines and the expertise of their employees for producing quality parts.
A single CNC machine mills the serrations, forms the profile and cuts the ejection port, rails, rear-sight dovetail and other aspects of the slide. What was once an amorphous hunk of metal becomes a nearly finished slide in about 15 minutes. It will get a mil-spec manganese-phosphate or nickel-boron surface treatment before heading to the assembly line.
Barrels are produced much the same way, with a CNC machine shaping the exterior from a rifled 4140 steel blank, as well as forming the barrel hood, feed ramp and locking block, and cutting the chamber. Each barrel is meticulously measured to ensure critical dimensions are up to spec.
Slides and barrels are combined with 37 other components like polymer frames, triggers, strikers and sights during assembly. Appropriate for a pocket pistol, the DB380 weighs less than 9 ounces when fully assembled, and the DB9 weighs just 11 ounces.
Making sure all those parts work together properly is the final step of production. Each pistol is proofed and test-fired after assembly to check function. Note the red-tipped proof rounds topping each magazine.
Diamondback Firearms currently produces its DB380 and DB9 pistols in a 10,000-square-foot facility with 33 employees. It plans to add another 13,000 square feet of factory space later this year. The expansion will allow Diamondback to manufacture other handgun designs that are now in the prototype stage, including full-size pistols. Much like the gators that crawl through the company's backyard, Diamondback can't help but grow.
To see how the Diamondback DB380 performed in testing, read Handgun Editor Dick Williams' column in the September 2011 issue of Shooting Illustrated.
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