By Jason Wong
Gemini Technologies, Inc. – known as Gemtech to most consumers and enthusiasts – manufactures high quality suppressors for the NFA enthusiast, law enforcement, and military markets. Small Arms Review had an opportunity to sit down with Dr. Phil Dater and Kel Whelan of Gemtech to discuss new products, developments within the suppressor industry, and common misconceptions regarding suppressors.
SAR: What are your most popular suppressors being sold?
Kel: In the consumer market, we’re very happy with the Outback II. It’s a 22 caliber suppressor intended to be used on virtually any .22LR rifle or pistol. As a rimfire suppressor, the Outback II is constructed out of aluminum and is designed to be used as a dry suppressor without the introduction of any grease, oil, or water. There are other .22 caliber suppressors on the market, but we believe the Outback II offers the consumer the best possible combination of size, sound reduction, and cost. We’ve built the Outback II with a titanium thread insert to address consumer concerns of the aluminum to steel interface between barrel and suppressor.
SAR: Why do you use the titanium insert on the Outback II model?
Phil: Thread inserts are not truly necessary. Assuming the barrel is threaded correctly, there is no problem with steel to aluminum contact. We use ring gauges to measure male threads and plug gauges to measure female threads to ensure that all threads have been cut properly.
Aluminum threads on a suppressor are surprisingly strong and durable as long as quality high strength aluminum alloys are used. Gemtech has sold thousands of Outback suppressors and has received only two units needing repair to the threads. In both cases, the threads were still safe and met ANSI standards. Nevertheless, we replaced the rear mount on both units at no charge to the consumer. Occasionally we receive a request for the internals of an Outback I suppressor to be upgraded to the newer specifications. During the rebuild process, we examine the threads for indications of wear and unsafe conditions. Although the anodizing may have worn off these older models, in all cases the threads passed the gauge tests, and met ANSI specifications.
Several of our competitors install steel thread inserts into their suppressors, claiming that the aluminum threads could be worn out to the point of being unsafe. One of the issues with stainless steel suppressor threads is that if your threads are a little tight on a steel barrel, the threads will gall and make removal of the suppressor difficult. We decided to use titanium, which is a little more forgiving and offers less opportunity for galling to occur. Titanium costs a little more, but it provides a better product for the consumer.
SAR: Tell us about your center fire rifle suppressors.
Kel: Within the consumer and military markets, we’re seeing increased sales of the Halo suppressor intended for .223 caliber rifles. The Halo is a high efficiency suppressor rated for fully automatic fire with a patented mounting system. The mounting system allows the suppressor to be installed on any standard NATO specification flash hider without the use of tools, and without any modification to the weapon. Most modern battle rifles, including the M16, employ the standard 22mm NATO flash hider, allowing the Halo to be utilized on a wide variety of .223 caliber rifles.
In terms of modularity, the suppressor can be transferred from rifle to rifle without modification or installation of proprietary flash hiders. For the commercial market, the consumer can purchase a single suppressor for use on multiple .223 caliber rifles, assuming the flash hider on each rifle is of proper size, fit, and alignment. This allows the consumer more flexibility in the recreational use of the suppressor. In addition, the consumer is not forced to purchase and install proprietary mounts or flash hiders for installation of the suppressor.
Installation of a proprietary mount limits the use of the suppressor to rifles with the proper mount. The Halo suppressor eliminates this limitation and removes the need for a designated rifle for use of the suppressor. Within the military market, it may be difficult or impossible for deployed soldiers to have a rifle properly modified to allow proper installation of a proprietary suppressor mount. The Halo overcomes this obstacle by allowing any soldier to use the suppressor on any weapon with a standard mil-spec flash hider.
SAR: Who are your military end users, and how are they using Gemtech products?
Phil: Although we refuse to specifically identify our government clients to respect their privacy, our products are used by government and military entities both domestic and abroad.
In 1996, Gemtech was one of only two companies that submitted a complete bid on the Special Operations Peculiar Modification (SOPMOD) military contract for suppressors. Although our submission met the requirements of the contract, the contract was awarded to the other bidder, allowing Gemtech to focus on the commercial and law enforcement market. Five years later, the Global War on Terror resulted in thousands of law enforcement officers being mobilized into the Reserves or National Guard. These soldiers were already familiar with our products and often recognize that there are other suppressors available on the market. This has certainly helped in increasing sales to government entities.
SAR: Where do you see the suppressor industry in ten years?
Phil: The industry itself is growing, and sales of suppressors are up. The consumer market is growing, and suppressors are becoming more commonplace. The ATF is making that easier – turn around times for approved NFA transfers are down, and more retail gun stores are stocking suppressors. There will be a consumer market in the future.
Kel: I see a widening gulf between consumer suppressors and military suppressors. I think a lot of people may want the “cool guy” suppressor used by Special Operation units, but the military suppressor may only be three inches long, and doesn’t provide great sound reduction. For the Special Operations soldier, it’s a lifesaver. The suppressor can be used in confined areas, and its use may be mission specific.
In contrast, the commercial market is going to demand an effective and quiet suppressor. It will be difficult to address both markets effectively, but I also think there will be great opportunities. Gemtech is committed to staying firmly in the commercial market, while also addressing the need of our government clients. Unlike the NFA enthusiast, our government clients often engage dangerous people in dangerous situations. Gemtech is committed to providing the best possible products to those that rely upon our products while risking their lives on the job.
I also predict that in the next five to ten years, we’ll see bigger companies enter the market. I also predict that we’ll see buyouts and mergers of current suppressor manufacturers. We’ll see companies that provide a complete package of gun and accessories, including the suppressor. The days of paying high prices for an accessory will end within the next 5 or 10 years, with the suppressor becoming just another accessory to the firearm. Suppressors will be built onto the firearm, with an increasing number of proprietary mounting systems. It doesn’t make sense for a firearm manufacturer to build an $800 battle rifle, and place an $800 suppressor on the barrel. The prices of suppressors will inevitably come down, will become more available, and will be made by an increasing number of manufacturers. It’ll take some time to sort out the industry. We’ll see some manufacturers exit the market, and new manufacturers enter the market.
SAR: What are your recommendations on cleaning suppressors?
Phil: I don’t recommend cleaning them at all. Our demo units are never cleaned, and I don’t think I have ever cleaned my personal suppressors in almost 30 years of shooting. There were some early designs that used packing material, and I’ve replaced the internal material within those suppressors. On the modern suppressors that utilize baffles, there is no need to clean them. Several of our older mounting systems need routine maintenance to remain functional, but the latest mounts utilized on the Halo, G5 and HVT suppressors require no maintenance.
I jokingly comment that you need to clean a suppressor about as often as you clean the muffler on your car. Suppressors do have a life, and at some point the performance will gradually deteriorate. We have a suppressor returned by a customer that documented 250,000 rounds through the unit. The suppressor is made entirely of aluminum components, was used exclusively on a submachine gun, and was operated dry throughout the suppressor’s lifecycle. The suppressor was still operational, was still hearing safe, but was not performing optimally. When a suppressor stops performing properly, we can rebuild the interior components to original specifications. My current recommendation is to never clean the suppressor, other than using compressed air to flush out any residual particles of unburned powder that may be trapped within.
Kel: There is a new crop of consumers that want to take care of their gear. The concern is legitimate, but it’s mostly unnecessary. How many rounds are going to be fired by the consumer? If a consumer is shooting a large amount of ammunition, the barrel will eventually be worn out, and will need to be replaced. The suppressor is no different.
I also think it’s unrealistic for consumers to ask if a suppressor is “full-auto rated” without addressing whether the host weapon is also “full-auto rated.” Could a customer fire 100,000 rounds of surplus tracer through our suppressors? Sure. It could be done, but the rifle may also need to be rebuilt. The barrel and gas system may be burnt out and need to be replaced. A suppressor is no different.
Gemtech’s suppressors are probably more durable than most people think. Our suppressors are engineered to provide a long lifespan. I think most shooters will get a lifetime of use from a small .22 caliber suppressor, even if not cleaned. A high volume shooter that fires 200,000 rounds of ammo through a suppressor can certainly afford to spend $100 to have the suppressor rebuilt.
Phil: Let me also add that there is nothing that we have found that will dissolve carbon deposits within a suppressor. I tried several techniques, including acids, and nothing worked to strip the carbon deposits. There really isn’t anything that can take off the carbon short of scrubbing with an abrasive material. If the end user feels compulsive enough to clean their suppressors, we recommend use of Ed’s Red. The recipe can be found on the Internet. We use a similar formula at Gemtech to clean all our guns, but it really isn’t going to do much good to clean a suppressor.
I’ve have tried almost all of the water based solutions available on the market, frequently combining their use with an ultrasonic cleaner. To date, nothing has worked to remove the carbon build up. In addition, water based solutions damage aluminum. Use of a water based solution may not fully drain from the suppressor, and can damage the aluminum interior of the suppressor, possibly to the point of becoming dangerous.
Center rifle suppressors made from steel also face problems if water based solvents are used. Frequently, center fire suppressors do not drain and dry completely. When water based cleaning solution mixes with oxides formed during combustion of the propellant, it is possible for nitrogen based acids to form and damage the steel interior of a suppressor. More harm is done by cleaning suppressors, than from actual use.
With regards to mounting systems, some mounts requires maintenance. I advise consumers not to clean our suppressors, but when a suppressor mount has moving parts, be compulsive about cleaning the moving parts within the mount.
SAR: What future products does Gemtech plan on offering to the consumer market?
Kel: We have an active R&D program, coming up with new concepts and new ideas. We’re working with government agencies to develop new products to stay on the forefront of the suppressor industry. We’re taking cues from government and military agencies, but also from the commercial market. There is a healthy NFA market in the United States, and the consumer has input into what sells. As a result, the consumer is a guiding force on what we’re designing and manufacturing. If we identify a specific and sufficient need for a new product, we’re willing to design and make that product.
Phil: Several years ago, we had an older suppressor model – the MK9k. We stopped manufacturing that model, and did not list it in our catalog. We received a call from a client that wanted a new MK9k suppressor, and I had to explain that it was no longer manufactured. The client asked if Gemtech would be willing to make more MK9k suppressors if a large order was placed and demand were created. I agreed. Two months later, a large order for MK9k suppressors arrived. Recognizing the civilian demand, we placed the MK9k back into production, and the MK9k is again listed in our catalog. The MK9k suppressor is heavier and longer than our Raptor model, but the performance is comparable. Nevertheless, some of our clients prefer it over other suppressors that we offer.
SAR: Can you comment on your refusal to offer sound reduction measurements within your catalog?
Phil: While we do not publicize sound level results, we do sound measurements on every suppressor model we offer for sale. Sound measurements of the same suppressor will vary from day to day, depending on varying atmospheric conditions, including ambient temperature, humidity, the type of ammunition used, and the acoustic impedance of the air. A cold and dry environment will produce different results than a hot and humid environment. As a result, it is misleading to claim that a suppressor can perform a specific sound reduction when consumers will be using the product in a variety of environments that may or may not duplicate the environment encountered during testing. Further, to compare two different suppressors, they must be measured at the same time, same location and conditions, and with the same ammunition and testing protocol.
Let me also note that in my experience, I have learned that one or two decibels is meaningless – you can’t hear that, and the deviation between shots will easily exceed two decibels. I personally don’t believe that anyone can hear a 1 decibel difference. Most people can hear the difference between 3 decibels, but sounds with less than 3 decibels of differentiation become very hard to distinguish. It may be that some people can hear a 1 decibel difference. There may be some people that have phenomenal hearing and a great sense of perception, but on a whole, I think its nonsense. Suppressors that are performing within 1 or 2 decibels of each other are essentially performing identically due to the environment and the shooters hearing perception.
SAR: We sincerely thank you for your time and for providing readers of SAR with your most interesting comments and insights.
Phil: You’re welcome.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V10N3 (December 2006)|