III. Firearm Information by Type

C. Semi-Automatic Pistols

2. Models and Manufacturers

q. SIG-Sauer

2. Model Information
by Mike Cavanaugh (cavan@mhv.net)
(Last updated October 25, 1996)

Summary: This portion of the rec.guns FAQ is an overview of Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft (SIG®) and J.P. Sauer and Son's fine semi-automatic handguns. SIG-Sauer® handguns, imported into the U.S.A. by the American company SIGARMS, have earned a well-deserved reputation for quality and reliability which is highly valued by civilian, military, and law-enforcement shooters.

Currently Available SIG-Sauer Handguns
Model: P220 P225 P226 P228 P229 P230 P239
Caliber(s): .45 ACP
.38 Super
9mm 9mm
.357 SIG®
9mm .40S&W
.357 SIG
.380 ACP
.32 ACP
.357 SIG
Length, overall:7.79" 7.08" 7.71" 7.08"7.08" 6.61" 6.65"
Height, overall:5.63" 5.15"5.47" 5.35"5.35" 4.68" 5.1"
Width, overall:1.37" 1.34"1.45" 1.46"1.46" 1.22" 1.24"
Barrel length:4.41" 3.86"4.41" 3.86"3.86" 3.6"3.6
Rifling twist: (1 in ...) 15.74"
9.84" 9.84" 9.84" 15.00"
9.84" 9.84"
Rifling grooves66 66 6 6 6
Sight base:6.29"5.71" 6.29" 5.71" 5.71"4.72" 5.2"
Weight, ex. mag (oz)25.7 (.45)
26.5 (.38)
26.126.5 26.127.54 16.2/20.8 25.2
Weight, empty mag (oz)2.4 (.45)
2.9 (.38)
2.8 3.4 3.03.0 1.4/1.8 2.3
Trigger pull (lbs)
Double Action/Single Action
Muzzle energy
370 (.45)
398 (.38)
368 368 (9mm)
510 (.357)
368 390 (.40)
368 (9mm)
510 (.357)
190 (.380)
? (.32)
368 (9mm)
510 (.357)
390 (.40)
Magazine capacity 7/8 (.45)
9 (.38)
8 15/20 13 12 (.40)
13 (9mm)
12 (.357)
8 (.32)
8 (9mm)
7 (.357)
7 (.40)
The function principle of all the SIG-Sauer firearms (except P230) is mechanically-locked, recoil-operated semi-automatics. The P230's function principle is straight blowback, fixed barrel.

SIG-Sauer Safeties

SIG-Sauer makes some of the safest handguns in the world. Both external (or ``active'' or ``affirmative'') and internal (or ``passive'') safety mechanisms work together to ensure that gun fires only when the shooter pulls the trigger. A clear understanding of the safety mechanisms is essential, but it should be remembered that no physical device can make up for a careless or distracted shooter. The SIG-Sauers have exactly one external safety:

The Decocking Lever
All currently available SIG-Sauer handguns (except for double-action only variants) have a decocking lever on the left side of the frame. Pressing down on the decocking lever will safely lower the hammer. Once lowered, the next shot may be fired with a heavy double-action trigger pull. Internal safeties prevent accidental discharges during the decocking procedure, no matter how forcefully the decocking lever is pressed. The owner's manual that comes with SIG-Sauer handguns as well as many SIGARMS advertisements in gun magazines contain a warning to only and always use the decocking lever to safely lower the hammer.

This is incredibly important from a safety standpoint and bears reiteration: only and always use the decocking lever. Hammers should never be lowered by manually lowering the hammer while pulling the trigger. Lowering the hammer in this manner is dangerous in itself and prevents the full application of the pistol's safety features. Accidental discharges are a frequent, indeed likely, consequence of manually lowering the hammer.

I have found that often right handed shooters are unable to press down on the decocking lever without shifting their grip on the gun slightly. Such shooters may prefer to use the thumb of their support hand for this purpose.

None of the modern SIG-Sauer handguns have any other type of external safety - no grip safeties on the backstrap (like the Colt 1911), no trigger safeties (like the Glock and Smith & Wesson Sigma), no frame mounted thumb safeties (like the Colt 1911 or Ruger Mark II), no slide mounted thumb safeties (like the Walther PP, PPK, and PPK/S or Beretta 92F), no magazine safeties (like the Browning High Power and many, but not all, Smith & Wesson semi-autos).

All modern SIG-Sauer handguns share a number of internal safeties, which work in concert to assure the gun does not fire unless the trigger is pulled. They are detailed below, along with a short hands-on exercise demonstrating their function. First time readers, or those without a SIG-Sauer and manual handy may wish to skip over the exercise. All exercises are to be done with unloaded firearms; do not attempt them (or handle the gun in any way) if you do not know how to determine if the firearm is loaded. I have scrupulously used the terminology used in the SIG-Sauer owner's manual; if you are unfamiliar with a part mentioned here, look it up on the exploded diagram at the back of your manual.

Safety Intercept Notch
If the gun is dropped directly onto the hammer while the hammer is in either the single-action or double-action position, the safety intercept notch on the hammer is engaged by the sear, and prevents the hammer from contacting the firing pin. Decocking (using the decocking lever) lowers the hammer to the safety intercept notch, completely out of contact with the firing pin.

To demonstrate the function of the safety intercept notch, unload and decock your SIG-Sauer and apply moderate thumb pressure to the hammer. Observe that the hammer is not free to travel forward to contact the firing pin since the sear has engaged the safety intercept notch.

Firing Pin Safety
Located within the slide, a firing pin safety blocks forward motion of the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled. When the trigger is pulled, the (unfortunately named) "safety lever" pivots upward and disengages the firing pin safety.

To demonstrate the function of the firing pin safety, unload and field strip your SIG-Sauer as described in the manual, separating the barrel from the slide. Place the slide upside down on a table in front of you. Press on the rounded end of the firing pin where it emerges from the breech block and observe that the firing pin does not emerge from breech face. Repeat, this time while pressing downward on the firing pin safety, and observe the firing pin protruding from the breech block. Lastly, examine the frame and locate the stamped steel safety lever located just forward of the hammer. The safety lever pivots upward and disengages the firing pin safety when the gun is fired. Since SIG-Sauers should not be dry fired when field stripped, cock and hold the hammer back while pulling the trigger. Observe the safety lever pivoting upward.

Protruding just above the right grip panel, the disconnector is part of the trigger bar. When the slide is out of battery (ie: not locked fully forward) the slide presses the disconnector downward and the trigger is literally 'disconnected' from the sear. This prevents the SIG-Sauer handguns from firing unless the slide is fully in battery - a very good thing since a cartridge fired out-of-battery lacks support around the brass cartridge case and is likely to burst, possibly injuring the shooter.

To demonstrate the function of the disconnector, unload and field strip your SIG-Sauer as described in the manual. Locate the rounded top of the disconnector just above the right grip panel. Using your thumb to press downward on the disconnector (as the slide would do when it is out of battery) pull the trigger. The trigger pulls easily, the hammer does not move. Lastly, note the rounded cutout in the right slide rail which permits the disconnector to move upward only when the slide is in battery.

Hammer Reset Spring
Perhaps the least commonly understood safety feature employed by P220s manufactured in or after 1994 (serial numbers above G219166), as well as all P225, P226, P228, P229, and P239 models. The hammer reset spring is a small spring attached to rear of the hammer and concealed by the plastic hammer stop. The spring actually pulls the hammer away from the firing pin. If the hammer is lowered incorrectly by using the thumb and trigger (and an accidental discharge does not immediately result), the hammer reset spring will pull the hammer away from the firing pin back to the safety intercept notch.

To demonstrate the function of the hammer reset spring, dry fire an assembled and unloaded gun and hold the trigger back. Press the hammer forward until it contacts the firing pin. When the hammer is released, the hammer reset spring pulls the hammer back to the safety intercept notch. Release the trigger, and again press forward on the hammer. The safety intercept notch prevents the hammer from moving forward and contacting the firing pin.

Thus, a hammer reset spring is essentially unnecessary if the user only and always uses the decocking lever to lower the hammer. Are P230s and pre-1994 P220s any less safe for lacking a hammer reset spring? Only if the decocker is not used! I have what I believe to be a valid report of an accidental discharge resulting from a blow to the hammer of a pre-1994 P220 which was not properly decocked using the decocking lever. My conclusion is that under some circumstances, the firing pin safety alone may be insufficient to prevent an A.D. if a pre-1994 P220 is improperly decocked. Again, this applies only to pre-1994 P220s which lack the hammer reset spring and were improperly decocked without using the decocking lever. One last time: only and always use the decocking lever!

Impact Safety
Unlike the four safeties described above, the impact safety is not currently implemented on any SIG-Sauer handgun, and only of interest to the true student of SIG minutia. Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft, Germany was awarded US Patent 4,011,678 on Mar. 15, 1977 for a ``Safety System for Firearm.'' The impact safety is similar in design to (and coexists with) the firing pin safety, inasmuch as it is a spring-loaded plunger in the slide that prevents forward travel of the firing pin under certain circumstances. Whereas the firing pin safety normally blocks the firing pin, the impact safety normally permits the firing pin to move forward. The impact safety only blocks the firing pin when the gun is dropped in such a way that inertia carries it into the path of the firing pin against the tension of the impact safety spring. This redundant safety was thought to supplement the firing pin safety. Again, the impact safety cannot be found on any commercially available SIG-Sauer.

Model Descriptions

The 9mm version of the SIG-Sauer P220 was adopted by the Swiss military in 1975 and designated the Pistole 75. The oldest of the SIG-Sauer handguns, the P220 is most commonly available in the USA chambered for the .45 ACP. For .45 aficionados, the P220 offers an an excellent alternative to 1911-style single action implementations of handguns of that caliber.

The P220 was first imported into the USA in 1975 as the Browning BDA (Browning Double Action) in calibers 9mm, .38 Super, and .45 ACP. Interarms and other importers brought in small numbers, until the American SIGARMS corporation of Tyson's Corners Virginia became the sole importers of the entire SIG-Sauer line. SIGARMS moved to their current location in Exeter, New Hampshire in 1990.(The Gun Digest Book of 9mm Handguns ISBN 0-910676-97-6)

Even with the heel-mounted European-style magazine release, the .45 ACP Browning BDA was the very first double-action/single-action .45 ACP semi-auto to enjoy any U.S. commercial success. In 1986, SIGARMS began distributing P220s in calibers .45 ACP and .38 Super with American-style magazine releases mounted on the frame just behind the trigger guard. A Double-Action only variant of the P220 is available.

One of the unique design aspects of the SIG-Sauer P220 (and the subsequent P225, P226, P228, P229, and P239) is the way in which the squared-off chamber end of the barrel fits into a rectangular cutout in the slide to achieve barrel/slide lockup. When the gun is fired, both the barrel and the slide are locked together and recoil backward as one unit for about a tenth of an inch. Then, after the bullet has left the muzzle and the gas pressure inside the barrel has dropped, the ramped locking lug on the barrel strikes the sturdy steel locking insert and travels downward, and the barrel and slide unlock. This method of lockup is somewhat different from the classic John Browning 1911 swinging-link design, and has been widely adopted by Glock, Ruger, and many others.

In 1994, SIGARMS modified the P220s .45 ACP magazine to enlarge the magazine capacity from seven to eight rounds. There are no external changes to the magazine, only a redesigned magazine follower. The redesigned follower may be added to existing magazines without any additional changes.

In 1975 SIG-Sauer developed the P225 as a compact version of the 9mm P220 to meet the requirements of German police organizations. As part of the sweeping police reorganizations that followed the 1972 Black September terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, the West Germans set standards for police-issue handguns. Their criteria were: 9mm chambering, a magazine capacity of at least 8 rounds, and dimensions just slightly smaller than the P220. The P220 in 9mm was shortened, sacrificing one round of its 9 round magazine capacity, and dubbed the P225. The P225 was the first SIG-Sauer handgun with a hammer reset spring. A Double-Action only variant of the P225 is available.

The West Germans deemed the SIG-Sauer P225 acceptable and designated it the P6. The Heckler and Koch Polizei Selbstlade Pistole (PSP) was accepted as the P7, and the Walther entrant as the P5. The Walther P5 and H&K P7 (and the later P9) are marketed in the USA under those West German government designations. (Small Arms of the World - ISBN 0-88029-601-1)

The P225 (a.k.a. P6) positioned the magazine release in the place Americans have come to expect, on the left side of the frame where the trigger guard meets the grip panels. The P225 is easy to distinguish at a glance from the P220 and P226 by the shape of the trigger guard: the forward part of the guard is nearly vertical and the guard itself is very squarish. What doomed the P225 to a life of relative obscurity in the USA was its magazine capacity. Its single column magazine held only eight rounds. As high-capacity "wondernine" 9mm semi-autos gained favor in the 1980's, the P225 was left behind.

Like all semi-automatic handguns which contain the magazine within the grip of the gun, the magazine width sets a lower bound on the overall width of the grip. One advantage of the single column magazine is that the overall grip size of the P225 is smaller than that of the double column P226, P228, or P229. Lately, SIGARMS has attempted to revive the P225 as a higher-caliber alternative to the P230 for women and individuals with small hands. ("Which Pistol? Make Hers a SIG" - Gila May-Hayes - SIGARMS Handgunning)

SIG's first 9mm high-capacity double column semi-automatic. The P226 was submitted as a replacement for the Colt .45 M1911A in the nearly decade long US Military struggle to move to a high capacity semi-automatic. For the duration of the selection process the Army designated the P226 (and all other submitted guns) the "XM9" (eXperimental M9). When the selection process was finally over in 1985, the Beretta 92F and the SIG P226 were deemed acceptable, but the SIG was rejected for cost and spare part availability reasons. The cost difference was not large - just $15 per gun - but the 320,000 gun, $76 million contract necessitated economy. (In January 1995, Beretta USA celebrated their tenth year of supplying the US Armed Forces with their excellent, reliable M9.)

The SIG P228 has become SIGARMS' best-selling 9mm, and its popularity has doubtlessly dented sales of the P226 - and that really is a shame. Some shooters who have used both guns like the concealability of the P228, but prefer shooting the longer-slide P226.

A Double Action only variant of the P226 is available. Installation of a DAO hammer and removal of the decocking lever can be done by any qualified SIG armorer. Wisely, the "SIG DA P226" retains the external hammer spur, often a requirement for holsters with retention devices. If you cock the hammer on a SIG DA P226, the hammer will simply fall harmlessly to the intercept notch.

New for 1996 is the P226 chambered for .357 SIG. Like the P229, the .357 SIG P226 has a one-piece stainless steel slide construction. It is not possible to convert a 9mm P226 to .357 SIG, nor may a P226 chambered for .357 SIG be converted to 9mm. The .357 SIG P226 uses different magazines than the .357 SIG P229.

A hybrid of the full-sized P226 and the smaller P225 which combines all the best features of each. The P228 has a double column magazine like the P226 and the reduced dimensions of the P225. Magazines made for the P228 hold 13 rounds, but note that the P228 can accept the 15 round P226 magazines, although they hang slightly below the grip of the P228. A Double Action only variant of the P228 is available.

Observers will note that the trigger guard on the P228 is more rounded than those of the P220, P225, and P226, which have a pronounced "hook" to them. Suits me fine, since that hook seems to invite novice shooters to place the index finger of their weak hand on the trigger guard, which I discourage.

On April 23, 1992 the US Army accepted the SIG P228 as the M11 Compact Pistol. (SIGARMS Quarterly Volume 4) During Army reliability tests conducted at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in January 1992, only a single malfunction was experienced in 15,000 rounds among the three P228s submitted for testing. Equipped with SIGLITE night sights, "U.S. M11" is stamped on the right side of the frame, and the serial number appears only on the frame, not on both frame and slide as with the civilian P228. The M11 is available to military police, flight crews, those with hands too small for the larger M9 (Beretta 92F) and those who prefer it, based on availability. According to Gun Week (November 1, 1996) a second multi-year major purchase contract for the M11 was awarded to SIGARMS by the US Army Armament and Chemical Acquisition and Logistics Activity (ACALA) to be issued to Navy air crews and Naval investigators.

"Previewed" at the 1991 Shot Show and "officially announced" at the 1992 show, the P229 is the long-awaited .40S&W addition to the SIG-Sauer product line. Most P229s have a black stainless-steel slide and black anodized aluminum frame, but an ornately engraved "unblackened" version is available and is designated the P229 SL. A Double-Action only variant is available.

Although the same size as the P228, the P229 required several design changes in order to withstand the more powerful .40S&W cartridge. The P229 employs a powerful recoil spring, resulting in considerably more force required to manually draw back the slide. Most importantly, the P229 incorporates a significant change in the slide construction. The P229 slide is machined out of a single block of stainless steel. The slides of the rest of the SIG handguns (except the P230) are made from sheet steel which is bent into a 'U' shape over a mandrel and then has the breech block pinned into it. The P229 owes most of its increased weight over the P228 to the heavier, more rugged slide. The P229 can be distinguished at a glance from the other SIG-Sauers by the height of the grooves on the slide: on the P229 the grooves are only half the height of the slide.

Rumors circulated in rec.guns in early 1994 that SIG was about to introduce a 9mm version of the P229. Many people were puzzled by the rumor, uncertain what a 9mm version of the P229 would have to offer over the equally-sized P228. Did SIG believe that the machined-slide construction of the P229 rendered the P228 design obsolete?

Speculation ended in the summer of 1994 when SIG introduced the P229 in a new, proprietary caliber, the .357 SIG®. The new .357 SIG is a .40S&W round, necked down to accommodate a 9mm sized bullet. Federal manufactures one .357 SIG load, using a 125gr. bullet at 1,352 feet per second. (in either JHP or FMJFP bullet configurations). By early reports, the .357 SIG is an impressive round, achieving near-.357 Magnum performance. The new P229 in .357 SIG is squarely aimed at the law-enforcement market and several police agencies are already evaluating it. (American Rifleman, May 1994)

SIGARMS sells a conversion kit to convert .40S&W P229 to .357 SIG. A replacement barrel is all that is required, the guns use identical magazines. It will cost approximately $150. SIGARMS offers no conversion of the 9mm P229 to any other caliber.

Bar-Sto Precision Machine (Phone: (619) 367-2747) is supposed to be currently shipping .357 SIG and .40 S&W barrels for P229s. Bar-Sto sells a 9mm barrel for .40 S&W P229. I was greatly surprised by this, thinking that a slide sized for .40 S&W cartridges would not properly or reliably extract 9mm cases. They claim it does; I have no first hand information.

In late 1994, a 9mm version of the P229 was introduced with considerably less fanfare than the .357 SIG version. The main advantage of the 9mm P229 over the P228 seems to be the single-piece slide design and that the P229 is made in New Hampshire, rather than imported from Germany.

In celebration of their relocation to New Hampshire, SIGARMS offered a 50 gun limited edition P229 "New Hampshire Commemorative" engraved with the state motto "Live Free or Die" on the high-polish slide. If you can find a seller, expect to pay $2000-$3000!

An excellent .380 caliber (a.k.a. .380 ACP, 9×17, 9mm kurz, 9mm Corto) handgun, the P230 was introduced in 1974 as a companion piece to the P220. It is thought by many to be superior to other "pocket pistols" on the market. If you normally carry a full-sized SIG-Sauer, the P230 makes an excellent off-duty, backup, or "warm-weather" gun. The controls are similar, although the P230 does have the European (heel mounted) magazine release.

Unlike the rest of the SIG handguns, the P230 is a fixed barrel blowback design. The recoil spring surrounds the barrel, eliminating the need for a recoil spring guide rod. Until 1996, the P230 was offered exclusively in the Double Action/Single Action configuration.

Note the 25% weight increase when you choose the stainless P230 SL over the blued P230! The difference in weight is not because stainless steel is significantly heavier than blued, but because the blued steel model has an anodized aluminum frame (just like the P220, P225, P226, P228, P229, and P239) while the stainless version has a stainless steel frame. Indeed, the P230 SL is the only steel-framed SIG-Sauer.

While some prefer the balance of the P230 SL and the recoil dampening that accrues from a heavier gun, I feel that the prime reason for carrying a .380 ACP handgun is convenience. The P230 SL is so heavy, that one might just as well carry one of its full sized brethren. At the same time, I prefer to use stainless steel SIG magazines in the P230, as I find them marginally easier to inspect for cleanliness than the blue steel version.

My P230 manual lists "7.65mm Browning (.32)" as a P230 chambering, though I've yet to see one. In 1996, SIGARMS began importing the .32 ACP version of the P230, as well as offering double-action-only version of the .380 ACP P230 and P230 SL.

Like all modern SIG-Sauers, pressing downward on the decocking lever safely lowers the hammer to the safety intercept notch where it is safely held out of contact with the firing pin. Unlike the other SIGs though, the safety intercept notch positions the hammer almost halfway between the firing pin and the single action hammer position. The hammer just does not look fully "down", and some novice users become concerned that the gun is unsafe and "half-cocked." Such users might be tempted to use the trigger and a thumb to fully lower the hammer so the gun becomes "decocked all the way." This is an unsafe practice, and users are again reminded to only and always use the decocking lever. Lowering the hammer past the safety intercept notch defeats one of the gun's three internal safeties and (since the vast majority of P230s lack a hammer reset spring) leaves only the firing pin safety to prevent an accidental discharge arising from a blow to the hammer.

All of the P230 and P230 SLs I had seen until recently had exactly twelve grooves cut into either side of the rear of slide to help the shooter grip the slide when drawing it back to load or unload the gun. Just recently I was surprised to see a photo of a P230 with twenty five much more narrow grooves. I assume it was a fairly old P230.

11/10/95 -- Reports have begun to come in about a new SIG-Sauer handgun, the P239, expected to debut in early '96. It is alleged to be a 9mm, single column magazine gun with a seven round capacity, built on a P230-sized frame. Stay tuned!

11/21/95 -- The January '96 issue of Shooting Times and the February '96 issue of Combat Handguns (both of which hit newsstands in November '95) have articles on the P239. As described therein, the P239 is indeed a small 9mm, with a single column magazine holding eight rounds. The black anodized aluminum frame is somewhat larger than the P230 and smaller than the P229.

The P239 is an interesting hybrid of the P229 and P230 designs. Like the P229, the P239 slide is manufactured in New Hampshire from a single piece of blackened stainless steel (with half-height gripping grooves), rather than the pinned-in breech block design of the P220, P225, P226, and P228. The P239 has an American-style magazine release, rather than the heel-mounted magazine release of the P230. Like the P230, the P239 has a "swept forward" trigger guard rather than the somewhat more rectangular guard of the P229. Like the P230, the P239 magazines have a finger rest at the bottom. Unlike any of the the other SIG-Sauer handguns, the hammer of the P239 lacks a spur, presumably for a snag-free draw from concealment.

The U.S. Congress' passage of the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill banned civilian sales of magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds. Barring a possible repeal, the era of the double column high-capacity semi-auto would seem to be passing. Simply put, SIG-Sauer was not represented in the compact single-column 9mm market that the Crime Bill so strongly favors. At first brush, the P239 looks likes a good entry in this niche.

1/16/96 -- The February '96 issue of Guns Magazine had a cover story by Massad Ayoob about the P239. Ayoob evaluated both a single action/double action and a double action only model and was generally impressed with its design, reliability, and accuracy. He praised the P239's lack of sharp edges, particularly in comparison to the P220 which "was infamous for the sharp edges on the hammer for most of its existence" - (a fact I wasn't aware of -- have other readers noticed this?).

Most interestingly, Ayoob writes that the P239 will be available in .357 SIG in spring of '96, and 40 S&W by the fall.

The legendary SIG P210, long unavailable in the USA except for the used market, is again being imported into the USA by SIGARMS. The 9mm P210-6 has an eight round magazine and an optional .22 LR conversion unit. Save your pennies, because prices for a new P210 start at $2,300! You'll no doubt want the .22LR conversion kit for your new P210; that adds $600. Amazingly, SIGARMS describes the P210 sales as "brisk"! Emmanual Baechler, a rec.guns contributor from Switzerland, informs me that the SIG P-210 is still being manufactured and marketed in Europe and is widely available in Swiss gun stores.

As for the used market, a sampling of a few issues of Shotgun News and Gun List reveals prices ranging from $1000-$3000, depending (as used guns always do) on rarity, age, and condition.

The P210 has a long, mostly European, history. Available in a variety of calibers - 9mm, 7.65mmP (.30 Luger), and .22 LR - it was never a cheap firearm. The P210 was adopted by the Swiss military in 1949, and designated the Pistole 49. As such, it predates the SIG and J.P. Sauer and Sons collaboration and is more properly referred to as a "SIG" rather than a "SIG-Sauer".

In design, the SIG P210 differs greatly from the modern SIG-Sauers. A few differences:

There are five P210 variations:

The Suppressed SIG-Sauer
Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft (SIG) of Neuhausen am Rheinfall was issued US Patent 5,136,924 on Aug. 11, 1992 for a ``Silencer For Firearms''.

You can order a copy of the seven page patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for three dollars. I do not know if the Suppressed SIG-Sauer is imported into the U.S.A. for civilian or law enforcement purchase, or even if they were manufactured in any large quantity at all. The patent abstract is reproduced below:

``Abstract: A silencer for use with pistols with a fixed or tilting barrel. The design configuration is such that the sighting line is retained when the silencer is fitted. Handleability of the weapon is not seriously adversely affected by the design configuration and the lightweight structure.''

Observations: A glance at the picture above seems to show a P229 (note the half-height gripping grooves on the slide) specially modified to accept the suppressor. Just aft of the solid firing pin retaining pin common to this model a thumb safety which blocks the firing pin seems to have been added. It seems to be in a fairly awkward position - it must be difficult to manipulate with the strong hand while holding the gun. The decocking lever remains in the usual place on the left side of the frame.

The chief advantage of this design is that the silencer is attached to the aluminum frame of the gun rather than the barrel. This allows for proper unlocking, extraction, and reloading when fired.

SIG-Sauer Design Philosophy

One strength of the SIG-Sauer product line is that all of the guns share the same operating features: double-action/single-action with decockers. If you carry a P229, it's easy enough to switch to a P230 - no new safeties to fiddle with. Glock's great success with their Safe Action® design is also owed to this strategy - one sound and simple design offered in a variety of calibers.

Smith & Wesson semi-automatics offer a counterexample. S&W offered so many different models of their third-generation semi-automatics that their dealers had to be supplied with little slide rules to match up the model numbers to the caliber, action, and safety features! S&W is still trying to recover market share and credibility from their "gun of the week" phase when every passing day seemed to offer a new model or variant. (By the looks of their new 9mm and .40S&W Sigma semi-automatic, they're well on their way.)

SIG-Sauer Finishes

The SIG-Sauer P220, P225, P226, and P228 guns are available in blued, nickel, or SIG's K-Kote® finish. I'm partial to the nickel finish - I like the contrast of the shiny nickel slide with the black anodized aluminum frame. My Glock-shooting friends deride my flashy P228 as a "pimp gun", but I like the two-tone look!

Equally attractive looking is K-Kote, SIG's dark non-reflective matte-black finish. Beware: recently many owners have reported that newer SIGs have had the K-Kote finish rapidly wear off from nothing more than routine handling and holster wear! Enough reports have come in that, as it stands now, I do not recommend K-Kote.

Once the K-Kote has worn off, SIGARMS will reapply it for around $50, but be aware that various other companies refinish guns as well. In particular, Robar, Inc. (Phone: (602) 581-2648)) offers their proprietary "NP3" finish. NP3 is applied to all of the steel parts of the guns (except springs), not to the the aluminum frame which is left anodized black. NP3 looks much like SIG-Sauer nickel finish and is imbued with teflon for lubricity. It is easy to clean; unburnt powder comes off very easily with a bit of solvent.

In addition to NP3 finish, Robar offers a durable finish similar to SIGARMS' K-Kote; I don't have any direct experience with it but have heard it to be excellent.

The SIG-Sauer P230, as noted above, is available only in blued steel or stainless steel configurations (P230 SL). The SIG-Sauer P229, as noted above, is available only in "blackened" or nickeled stainless. The P239 is available only in "blackened" stainless.

SIG-Sauer Sights

SIG-Sauers come with "bar sights": the rear sight has a white marking just below the notch and the front sight is marked with a white bead. Lining up the front and rear sight is easy, just form an unbroken vertical white line with the front and rear sight markings. For users who prefer the Three-Dot sights, they are available for all SIG-Sauer guns except the P230.

SIGARMS also sells all of their guns (except the P230) with their SIGLITE® (Trijicon) tritium night sights already installed. SIGLITE sights employ tiny amounts of radioactive tritium gas to produce a three-dot sight that glows fairly brightly in no- or low-light conditions. While a competent gunsmith could replace the standard sights with aftermarket tritium sights, SIGLITE sights add only $60-$80 (US) to the purchase price of the gun, and the owner is assured that the gun is reasonably well sighted in. I am told there are gunsmiths who will install night sights on the P230 after carefully drilling holes in the sights or by replacing them entirely. This is not a simple process, since the front sight on the P230 is an integral part of the slide. The rest of the SIG guns have both front and rear sights mounted in dovetail grooves, installing new sights involves only in sliding the old ones out and the new ones in.

SIG-Sauer Sight Adjustments

All SIG-Sauer firearms are test fired for accuracy at the factory and are shipped with the test target. Out of the box, one may expect the gun to shoot reasonably close to the point of aim. Once the user has become thoroughly familiar with the gun and has developed good groups, the shooter may wish to move the sights. No amount of sight adjustment will improve a poor shooter: do NOT mess with the sights until groups are shot consistently.

SIG-Sauer handguns are drift adjustable for windage. The rear sight may be drifted left or right in the dovetail in which it rests. Use a wooden dowel to prevent marring the slide, and tap the rear sight left or right. The only way to adjust for elevation is to purchase shorter or taller front or rear sights.

SIGARMS sells a sight pusher to precisely adjust or remove front and rear sights. At around $100, it's an expensive addition to your shooting bag.

SIG-Sauers and Left Handed Shooters

All SIG-Sauers (except the P230) have an external slide catch lever located on the left side which may not be reversed. All non-Double Action Only SIG-Sauers have the decocking lever on the left side which may not be reversed. Most left handed shooters use the tip of their trigger finger to depress the decocking lever. A lucky and coordinated few are flexible enough to use their index finger between the second and third joint to depress the lever downward.

The magazine release button on all SIG-Sauers (except, of course, those with European, heel-mounted magazine releases) may be switched to the right side of the frame. Shipping the gun to SIGARMS is strongly recommended, as incorrect reassembly may render the gun unable to retain a magazine. Further mucking about often damages the frame beyond repair; and SIGARMS does not replace the serial-numbered frames.

SIG-Sauer Grips

All SIG-Sauer guns come with serviceable and tough plastic grips. Many shooters prefer a grip with a non-skid "rubber" feel. I use Hogue Grips (Phone: 1-800-GET-GRIP) on my P220 and P228 and like them very much. Warning: Unlike the factory grips, they've only got a cutout on the left grip for the magazine release, so don't buy them if you are left handed and have switched the magazine release button to the right.

Others shooters prefer wooden grips: SIGARMS sells walnut grips and Hogue sells various exotic wooden grips. I haven't used either.

Whichever style and brand you choose, shoot the gun a lot to make sure it still functions reliably. Some grips can interfere with proper functioning of the gun by, say, rubbing against the mainspring reducing the power of the hammer strike, possibly causing misfires. I've had no problems with the rubber Hogues.

Whenever you remove the grips, make sure you use an appropriately sized screwdriver to remove the grip screws. Using an incorrect width or length screwdriver blade will wear the screw slot or gouge the grip panels leaving what armorers call "idiot marks." The correct tool for the grip screws on all SIG-Sauers is a "#17 Hollow-Ground screwdriver" (Stock Number 080-451-017) available from Brownells (Phone: (515) 623-5401.) At $6.62, it's comparable in price to a few successive sets of grip screws and far less hassle to obtain. While you have the grip panels removed, take care not to remove, nick, damage, or otherwise molest the decocker spring (double-action/single-action models only) or trigger bar spring normally concealed by the grips.

I and several others have observed that the SIG-Sauer grip screw heads tend to corrode rapidly from exposure to perspiration (see ``Care and Cleaning'', below). One solution: TJ's Custom Guns manufactures replacement stainless steel Allen-headed grip screws for P220/P225/P230 and P226/P228/P229 which come highly recommended. They may be purchased directly from TJ's (909) 923-4422 or from Brownells for $10.85 (Brownells' Stock Numbers: For P220/P225/P230: #876-050-220 (blackened) #876-051-220 (unblackened). For P220/P225/P230 #876-050-225 (blackened) #876-051-225 (unblackened)). Each set comes with an Allen wrench.

The SIG-Sauer Short Trigger

SIGARMS sells a "short" trigger for their double column guns which reduces the distance between the backstrap and the front of the trigger. It is ideal for those with small hands who find themselves stretching to reach the trigger, or shifting their grip on the gun so that the backstrap rests more on the thumb than on the web between thumb and index finger.

The smooth, non-serrated short trigger (part number 260206) is designed for use on any of the SIG-Sauer double column guns - the P226, P228, and (is standard equipment on the) P229. It costs about $35. Installation is relatively easy.

SIG-Sauer Proofmarkings
Proofmark Letterings

European firearms manufacturing tends to be more heavily regulated than the U.S. industry: governments often set standards on the amount of pressure gun barrels are required to withstand before bursting. Special extra-hot "proof loads" are fired through all guns to indicate their ability to withstand regular pressure loads over long periods of time. This is often done in government-operated "proof houses". When a firearm has been so tested, the proof house marks it by stamping one or more symbols onto the gun. On most SIG-Sauers, the symbols are placed on the underside of the slide just forward of the front of the frame, or near the P230's ejection port.

German manufactured SIG-Sauers typically come with three proof marks. The first is an ornamental crown with an N beneath it to indicate it was proofed with smokeless (nitrocellulose) powder. (The crown-N may also be stamped on the frame following the serial number.) The second proofmark looks (to me anyway) like a "squished 8-legged 2-pincered bug". This is the proof mark for the Kiel, Germany proofhouse. (``It's an oak leaf,'' according to an informed source.) Lastly, the proof house adds a two letter code to indicate the year the gun was proofed. The table at right shows the letter to digit mapping. For example: a SIG-Sauer stamped KB was proofed in 1991. One stamped JJ was proofed in '88.

American-made SIG-Sauers, namely the P229 and P239, are proofed by SIGARMS to SAAMI specifications at the factory. Once proofed, a circle-'P' emblem is stamped into the lower lug of the barrel.

Can I Dry Fire my SIG-Sauer?

Dry firing is the simulated shooting of an unloaded firearm for the purpose of helping the practitioner master fundamental shooting skills like trigger squeeze and sight picture without the distraction of recoil or the necessity of traveling to a shooting range.

Dry firing is an acceptable and excellent training technique taught at SIGARMS' own law-enforcement only school, the SIGARMS Academy. If you are going to engage in huge amounts of dry firing, (like dry firing while watching hours of television) then snap caps or empty cartridge cases are recommended. For the vast majority of users who dry fire only to improve their shooting and not to do strength training on their index fingers, this will be an unnecessary precaution. (Private communication with SIGARMS Academy instructor.)

Care and Cleaning

SIG-Sauers are extremely durable firearms which require only reasonable maintenance to keep them functioning. In the November 1994 issue of Shooting Times, Wiley Clapp reported excellent results from a 10,000 round torture test he performed on a .45 ACP P220, cleaning it only every thousand rounds.

Despite this, I recommend cleaning all guns every time they are fired; especially those that are carried for self-protection. When carried on the person, weekly inspection and cleaning is in order - just being carried around exposes your gun to dirt, clothing lint, and salty perspiration. Do not store your gun for long periods in a holster, as moisture and leather tanning chemicals may damage the finish.

Field strip as detailed in your manual and clean and lubricate each of the three main parts: frame, barrel, and slide. SIGARMS discourages further disassembly except by Armorers, but you may wish to remove the grips to clean the frame areas they conceal. Be sure to use the right-sized screwdriver to remove the grip screws, and while the grips are removed, do not remove, nick, damage, or otherwise molest the decocker spring or trigger bar spring normally concealed by the grips. Carefully note their position in case they are somehow knocked loose while the grip panels are removed.


Presumably for liability reasons SIGARMS does not explicitly endorse the use of +P or +P+ ammunition; I'm certainly not about to do so! I will say I have put hot Cor-Bon® +P 115gr 9mm rounds through my P228 without difficulty.

In the long run, it is probably unwise to feed any firearm a steady diet of hotter-than-necessary ammunition. The best analogy is to an automobile: if you always drove your car at one hundred miles per hour, wouldn't you expect it to wear out faster? Similarly, once you've established that your chosen self-defense ammunition feeds reliably in your gun, why accelerate the wear on it unnecessarily?

As far as practice ammunition goes, I've had never had any problems with any factory ammunition I've put through any of my SIG-Sauers. Following the purchase of any handgun, it's a good idea to buy an array of different ammunition with a variety of bullet shapes to see which, if any, fail to function in the gun. This is good information to know with any semi-automatic firearm.

Other References

As a SIG-Sauer owner and aficionado, I've always been struck by the lack of books about these great guns. There's no good standard reference for information about these guns, no single place one could go for information about them.

Finally, Duncan Long has written a book about them: The SIG Handguns (ISBN 0-87947-096-8 $16.95 + $4.50 shipping. Delta Press Ltd. Phone 1-800-852-4445 or (501) 862-4984). Topics include: history, model information, aiming systems, accessories, care & cleaning, and a list of "useful" other books and videos.

It's not perfect. With a large typeface and only 126 pages, it is too short despite being well-padded with full page pictures which most readers will recognize as SIGARMS advertisements commonly found in shooting magazines. It spends a lot of time on grips, holsters, and how laser sights, flashlights, scopes, and other doodads can be attached to the guns. It has parts diagrams for the P220, P230, and P210, but not the P225, P226, P228, and P229. (Long's book predates the new P239.) (NB: I am more impressed by some of Long's other writings, particularly The L'il .30 Cal. Carbine.)

Summary: it isn't the best value for your money, not well proofread, not as complete as, say, Kassler's Glock: The New Wave in Combat Handguns. But it will probably become mandatory reading for interested SIG-Sauer owners.

For the less literary-minded, Pistolsmith Bill Wilson has produced a SIG-Sauer edition of his How to Shoot and Maintain video series ( $20 + $4.50 shipping. Delta Press Ltd. Phone 1-800-852-4445 or (501) 862-4984). Each video in the series contains identical standard topics: gun safety, how a semi-auto functions, shooting fundamentals, general gun cleaning, and a interminable sales pitch for Wilson's Ultima Lube® lubricant. The information unique to the SIG edition is fairly sparse and occasionally inaccurate (a P228 is misidentified as a "P226 Compact"). The P230 is entirely ignored.

Summary: the video is aimed squarely at the novice shooter and first-time gun owner, who is probably far better off seeking qualified instruction rather than a somewhat sketchy video largely devoted to a lubricant infomercial.

Das grosse Buch der SIG-Pistolen

I've recently found a fantastic book about SIG and SIG-Sauer firearms: "Das grosse Buch der SIG-Pistolen". One slight drawback is that the text is in German! I'm trying to assemble a translation for my own personal use - if you read the language and would like to help, drop me some mail! The author is Lorenz Vetter, and I purchased it from Harrison Carol (Phone: (408) 663-6486) for $95. The book is 240 pages long, and while it is filled with hundreds of pictures, it really makes me wish I had paid better attention in my high school German class!

SIGARMS' Address

For information regarding SIG-Sauer firearms, service, repair, or to order a catalog contact SIGARMS:

   SIGARMS, Inc.               Phone: (603) 772-2302
   Corporate Park              FAX:   (603) 772-9082
   Exeter, NH 03833

SIGARMS maintains a token presence on the World Wide Web at http://www.sigarms.com/

Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft is on the Web as well at http://www.sig.ch/

Please note: every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained within, but the author disclaims any responsibility for the use of this information. Comments and corrections are always welcome. I am not, nor have I ever been, an employee of SIG or SIGARMS; nor did they collaborate in the creation of this document. Redistribution of this document is permitted as long as appropriate credit is given to the author and Tactical Handgun Training.

Disclaimer: I have no financial relationship with Bar-Sto, Brownells, Harrison Carol, Cor-Bon, Delta Press, Hogue, Duncan Long, Robar, or Bill Wilson other than (in some cases) as a customer.

About the Author: Mike Cavanaugh is Head of Civilian Instruction at Tactical Handgun Training in Kingston, NY. He is a Certified SIGARMS Armorer as well as a Senior Level Oleoresin Capsicum Instructor, NRA Certified Law Enforcement Firearms Instructor, NRA Life Member, and New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, IALEFI member, and Garand Collectors Association member.

© Mike Cavanaugh (cavan@mhv.net) 1997
Tactical Handgun Training
PO Box 1817
Kingston, NY 12401
(914) 339-3440