Boberg XR9-L Review

Last week I posted a review of a very much not-forgotten pistol over at – a brand new Boberg XR9-L.  It doesn’t have any historical significance yet, but it’s a pretty interesting mechanical design, so I figured I should cross-post the video of it here:

The backwards magazine feed will immediately suggest a similarity to the English Mars pistol of the very early 1900s, and the two guns do share some features (mainly the claws to pull cartridges backwards from the magazine). The Boberg, however, is a short-recoil, rotating barrel design where the Mars was a long-recoil action with a 4-lug rotating bolt. Feed issues are the Achilles’ heel of both guns, though. It sheds some light on the ammunition problems faced by Gabbett-Fairfax with the Mars when I see the cartridge separations in the Boberg…

I had the chance to speak to Arne Boberg at the SHOT show earlier this year, and he seemed to be a pretty cool guy. I didn’t have the chance to get him outside the confines of a booth being swarmed by interested potential customers, though. However, Kevin at Crucible Arms had the opportunity to drop in on the Boberg factory to interview Mr. Boberg on video. Turns out he’s been building guns since he was 14 (and that first one looks pretty slick to me for being made by an 8th-grader):

I do think the Boberg deserves a place in any comprehensive collection of mechanically interesting firearms, although I can’t quite bring myself to trust it as a carry gun (and I don’t have the thousand dollars to drop on one either – that would be a non-trivial chunk of my Chauchat!). The interview video suggests that a .45 ACP version will be released in December, and that has me drooling right through my reservations about the ammo sensitivity…


  1. Sounds very Rube Goldberg-ish… any very ‘busy’ – as you said a lot of ‘stuff’ goin’ on at once – easy to have a malfunction if just one tiny thing somehow gets out of time…which brings us to the question…WHY??? Nice exposition of the inner workin’s but some closeups wouldda been nice…always good work, Ian. This sounmds much like the Webley -Fosberry – another pistol that was an answer lookin’ for a question…

    CB in FL

  2. That man Boberg has one amazing part of him, this being his technical curiosity and dedication to uniqueness. He takes chance on things to go wrong due to complexity, but he does it anyway. To own his gun should be a matter of prestige.
    Thanks for bringing more detail info about this design!

  3. I’ve been loosely following the Boberg for a couple of years now. It is one of the few ‘innovative’ firearms that has made it to some level of production in recent years. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of a .45 version. Even though it may not be my carry gun, I’d like to get one because I feel they will become fairly rare in the future like the Semmerling. Also, it looks really neat.

    Ian, I hope you get your Chauchat some day. That is a firearm whose name I’d like to see cleared. I’m pretty sure most of the problems came from the poor design of the magazine and the poor manufacture of the firearm. The actual design of the firearm looks sound. It would be neat to see what a closed design magazine would do to reliability.

  4. It is hard it imagine a more complex yet reliable design than the Winchester 94. Complex firearms can be reliable such as the Frommer Stop. Complexity is not a path to doom; cost and market niche are usually the deciding factor. This is a really neat weapon but if I were buying a pocket 9mm I would pick a baby Glock because of reliability and cost. I wish them well and I hope they can price their weapon to a level where the average shooter can afford it.

  5. I’d think if you have $1200 or so to buy a specific carry weapon because you want maximum ballistics from a minimal package you also have the money to find the right ammo for it; as long as there is at least one brand it works with reliably that’s not a fatal flaw to me. Either way, a 9 mm smaller than a PPK with 4″ barrel ballistics is pretty impressive.

  6. Excellent second look. I’d be much more interested in this as a carry piece if there were some way to ensure ammunition reliability across the board to the same level as the more established competitors. Everybody’s always looking for something smaller and more concealable yet still decent in other respects. It’s on the radar, but time will tell as with all things. Nothing beats personal testing, though, and if I have the opportunity and the scratch to pick one up, I’ve got to at least try it.

  7. I’m always amazed at how reliable machine guns are that extract the cartridge from the belt before chambering. There is so much going on in such a minute amount of time, plus tolerance stack-ups. But somehow, they work. I guess it was only a matter of time before someone applied that concept to a handgun.

  8. Ian, thanks for sharing the pistol and your take on it.
    Perhaps there is something to be said for a bottle of loctite, open on the bench beside the reloading press.

    Hat off to Mr Boberg.
    The ultra compact, full power concealed carry pistol is is a subject I’ve been thinking about on and off for about six or seven years now (I’m sure several hundred other people have been too). I don’t have so much as a good schematic to show for my thinking, but Mr Boberg has a the guns in production, that is some achievement. If he is managing to cover the costs of his investment, that is an even bigger achievement – one which I’m sure that only a very small minority of the pistols which have gone onto the market have ever done.

    This is my first viewing of the Boberg’s innards, and my initial thoughts.

    short of using an entirely new cartridge case, which like the Dardick case, is strong enough to withstand firing without full support from a chamber (or a gyrojet round) we’re left with either tolerating the width of a revolver, or going for some sort of reciprocating rammer or reciprocating barrel.

    Boberg’s specimen of the penetration of bullets into plywood from the longer barrel of one of his pistols, is good, but does not tell the whole story. at the limits of compact gun size, a Boberg or Schwarzloze style gun will still have a useable barrel length when a gun using a conventional Browning slide has the bullet nose of a loaded round poking out of the muzzle – and for any practical barrel length, a Boberg or schwarzlose will be giving less muzzle flash and less blast for a given loading.

    A moving barrel (blow forward) appeals to me from the point of view of achieving a very low bore line without mincing the web of the firing hand, however it results in a much sharper recoil than pistols using a rearward moving slide
    (and sharper even than an equal weight and barrel length revolver firing the same load).

    I’ve toyed with ideas for coordinating a forward moving barrel coupled to a greater mass moving rearward, variously using gas pressure (complicated and dirty), compound toggles (nasty) and racks and pinions (nastier still, some of Gabbett Fairfax’ patents have such things – which should be warning enough that “here be monsters”).

    Boberg has sensibly gone for a modified Browning slide, which soaks up and spreads out the recoil impulse, and which due to its mass, smooths out the whole cycle of firing, ejecting, feeding and locking up again.

    The slide also forms a very strong and safe structure which must fracture a lot of metal before it can come off the back of the gun to hit the firer.

    One of the compromises inherrent in using a slide with a barrel which comes back as far Boberg’s, is the need for a cartridge lifter – this innevitably takes up room under the rear of the slide, forcing the bore line to be slightly higher above the hand than it already is (to avoid being bitten by the recoiling slide), hence the torque. There really is no free lunch with such compact guns.

    The tongs are a nice idea. I’ve played with the idea of a Mosin – Nagant style cartridge depressor in a magazine and tongs which just lift each round into the feed path, I didn’t get very far with that idea, and the kinetic bullet puller effect that you’re seeing with the Boberg, hadn’t even occurred to me, and it should have, as bullets running forward is a big enough problem in light revolvers firing heavy bullet loads – and even in double barrel big game rifles (dunce’s cap for me!).

    the Nambu style recoil spring is a very nice idea- it keeps the spring out of the way of barrel heat, and from interfering with a low bore axis.

    I’m very impressed.

    Thanks again.

  9. Give me a head’s up if you get hold of the .45ACP version for testing. I wouldn’t want to miss that. I’m wondering how that skinny, offset recoil spring will scale up to .45 power. And I’d be real disappointed if my preferred loads didn’t work in it. (Who am I kidding? I can’t afford one of these anyway.)

    • I’m late to this party, but thought I should dispel a very common misconception about the “recoil” spring. The trick is in understanding that that “skinny” spring is not a recoil spring at all. All recoil management is handled between the unlock block and the rotating barrel. The spring is really only a slide return spring, and that’s it.

  10. This is beautiful and expensive weapon.

    Why would the fact that cheap, poorly crimped ammunition works poorly in it be a negative?

    You don’t buy a fine weapon to shoot junk ammunition through it – at least I don’t.

    A great innovation IMO!

  11. Having recently purchased a Kimber Solo that is American made, around the same size, requires “quality” ammunition and is also considered expensive, I would have no problem with spending a little more for a weapon that was equally concealable, had a longer barrel, a lighter (6 pound trigger) and was dependable/reliable with the manufacturer’s published list of acceptable ammo. I would gladly trade in my Solo 40% less than I paid for it for such a pistol because it met 4 important characteristics, 1. reliability,2. pocketability, 3. accuracy, and 4. shootability (less perceived recoil and ability to quickly reacquire the target)

    After being fed 400 rounds of the higher priced “quality ammo” required by the manufacturer my Solo had to be returned for FTE’s and jamming. The Boberg XR-9 S or L may be more expensive (around $200) than the Kimber Solo, but if they worked as advertised I’m in.

  12. Thank for the review Ian.

    Having now spent some time with a Boberg XR9-L I feel comfortable in saying that it is a sound pistol that will (with the right ammo…or more correctly, withOUT the wrong ammo) function w/o issue. All the benefits that Boberg promises are there (compact size, nice trigger, great accuracy, mild recoil, higher velocity and an extra round in the magazine) and I have yet to experience a problem that would lead me to doubt the dependability of the gun in a defensive situation.

    While I probably cannot convince you to revisit this gun, it would be worth your while to delve deeper into the finer points that actually seem to make the XR9 less prone to failure than subcompacts using a Browing-type design. Indeed, the simple fact that the XR9 can function (theoretically forever) without the slide return spring should pique the interest of any engineering minded gun enthusiast.

  13. These guns are exceptionally cool, uimpressive small package, and a mechanical wonder. The selling points vs the high price are not strong. An additional 200 FPS and gentler recoil, sure, very nice total package! I like this gun, a lot, i like the idea, the fact he broke all tradition with it, did it himself, and the gun is just all around awesome. I’d own one myself, but the money tree in my yard is out of season. I’d also want another gun for a backup because he has more part then a cuckoo clock and, looking at the gif operating schematic elsewhere, in operation it seems to dare itself to jam! Read up some on them and one reviewer had two stovepipes in 200 rounds. With TWO extractors you’d think this would be unlikely, apparently it isn’t…Another fellow had the main spring break, twice. To their credit, the article pointed Mr Boberg and Co were very interested in fixing the problem. I surely know nothing compared to Mr Boberg but maybe the answer is a two piece main spring like Glock and so many others, a shielded/shrouded spring (why worry about wright at this point!) of larger diameter, or at least an AK47 style multi strand spring! The analysis blamed the spring manufacturer (problem traced to a break on the parting line where the springs are cut). I hope the gun succeeds since it is so cool and innovative but how? The number one problem is the price point and the one most in need of fixing,fast. Reliability will always be an issue with such a complex gun but even those issues can probably be fixed compared to problem #1. Mr Boberg has made the MG34 already now its time for the MG42 model to roll out…For the company to survive I can’t imagine another way. If i were him i’d switch to a cast lower receiver (customer will not care esp if they have to cease production instead!), field test to death again and add inserts if needed and get the price to $600-700 tops…otherwise the economics of it, are bound to catch up- and this amazing little gun will become just another footnote in firearms history.

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