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Nines Are the Hot Hand: Beretta Nano Review

by G&A Staff   |  December 1st, 2011 19

Beretta characterizes its 9mm Nano as the “ultimate evolution of the micro-compact carry pistol.” The company’s first-ever striker-fired pistol is officially called the BU-9 Nano. It’s small, sleek and thin, weighing just a hair over 17 ounces. With an overall length of 5.6 inches and a width of .9 inch, it’s easy to see why the name “Nano” (referring to “nanotechnology,” or the science of the tiny) was chosen. If that concept isn’t yet embedded in your techspeak,  “BU” is the now-official abbreviation for “Beretta USA,” and the “9” is to differentiate this introductory model from other planned chamberings.

The design utilizes a removable, serialized steel subchassis that can easily be swapped into replaceable complete grip frames to accommodate different hand sizes, simple to disassemble and maintain. The development goals for the Nano were ease of use and concealment. Its size and snag-free design make it easy to carry and access.

Nuts and Bolts
To accommodate right- or left-hand use, the Nano’s magazine-release button is readily reversed. The lightweight, thermoplastic frame assembly employs fiberglass-reinforced technopolymer. The low-profile, dovetail-mounted white-dot front and rear sights are finger-adjustable (or replaceable) with a supplied 1.5mm hex wrench, no gunsmith’s sight-pusher required.

At its core the Nano is a cam-ramp, tilt-barrel, recoil-operated semiauto that John Browning would recognize instantly. When it’s fired, its recoil energy causes the barrel and slide assembly to move to the rear. After a short distance, the barrel is forced down and stopped by the operation of the barrel cam and disconnect pin interface. The slide continues its rearward travel under inertia, extracting the fired case from the barrel and kicking it out through the ejection port.

The recoil spring then pushes the slide forward, feeding the next cartridge from the magazine into the barrel chamber. Continued forward movement causes the barrel cam to raise the barrel into its locked position in the slide and engage the striker with the cocking lever. The slide is designed to remain open after the last cartridge has been fired.

Safety Features
Small as it is, this pistol is loaded with transparent, self-engaging and original-design safety features. Unique to the Nano is a built-in recessed striker deactivation button that allows you to deactivate the internal striker mechanism prior to disassembly. This means you can disassemble the pistol without pulling the trigger, which is de rigueur on many other popular modern striker-fired designs and has caused many unexpected kabooms among careless operators who can’t seem to remember to remove a loaded magazine before clearing the chamber.

Also, an automatic striker block prevents forward movement of the striker unless the trigger is completely pulled to the rear. The Nano’s trigger drop safety, built into the trigger itself, stops the trigger from traveling reward through inertia should the gun be dropped onto a hard surface. But when the trigger is deliberately pulled with your finger wrapped around it, the trigger drop safety is instantly deactivated.

Beretta also considers the slide catch (which holds the slide open after the last round is fired) to be a safety because it allows the user to immediately determine that the pistol does not have a round in the chamber or in the magazine. Moreover, the Nano’s slide catch is completely internal and snag free. When the slide locks open, the only
way to close it is to pull it rearward and release it, either with a new full magazine in place or no magazine in the gun at all. The only way to lock the slide open if it is closed is by putting an empty magazine in the gun. Yes, that’s right. There is no external slide-catch release lever on the Nano (I told you it was sleek and thin).

On the operational side, when the Nano’s DAO-type trigger is pulled, the trigger bar rotates the cocking lever to the rear and the cocking lever pushes the striker against the striker spring. Just before full trigger travel is reached, the cocking lever pushes the striker block out of engagement and frees the striker. The striker is then shot fully forward to impact the primer under inertia. Afterward, the striker return spring rebounds the striker to a neutral position, allowing the striker block to again be automatically activated when the trigger is released. Safe, safe, safe.

The Nano’s single-column rapid-reload magazine with ultra-concealment flat basepad has a six-round capacity not only for our review-sample 9x19mm version, but also in the coming 9x21mm IMI and .40 S&W versions. Plus (and a big plus it is), this pistol does not have a magazine-disconnect safety. It can be fired anytime a cartridge is in the chamber, so it can be used in emergency situations, even in the case of a lost magazine.

Cheers, Beretta. I’ve never understood why other manufacturers intentionally choose to make a mere club out of a fully functional pistol with a round in the chamber. And I’ve already mentioned that the magazine-release button is reversible for ease of access, whatever your dominant hand. (I did mention that, didn’t I? No matter. I’ll probably mention it again.)
I also love those interchangeable, adjustable three-dot low-profile sights, which offer remarkably quick target acquisition for a pistol of this size and can be readily swapped for different loads having different points of impact.

The only thing we manly men users of the Nano will need to remember (unlike the scores of female shooters who will flock to this gun) is that, when tightening the tiny set screws that hold the sights, we must grasp the hex wrench by the short end to avoid overtightening and stripping the driver out of the set-screw heads. Been there, done that.

Ergonomic and Modular Features
The Nano’s corrosion-impervious fiberglass-reinforced technopolymer grip frame/lower unit has a naturally grasp-able shape. The near-1911 grip angle allows for quick, positive sight alignment and target acquisition. The rear upper part of the grip is contoured for a snug fit and protection from slide bite. Both the front and rear gripstraps feature checkered surfaces to help ensure a firm hold. Overall, the pistol’s rounded, snag-free surfaces ensure trouble-free holster insertion and extraction.

The internal chassis of the Nano is its only serialized part, meaning that it’s the only part of the gun that’s legally a “firearm.” Everything else is swappable and switchable, and can be exchanged or customized without affecting the serialized part. But if you go screwing around inside the chassis, trying to fiddle with the trigger pull or something, you’ll void the warranty.

Fieldstripping and more I mentioned earlier that John Browning would instantly recognize the Nano’s operational mechanism. However, even he might be scratching his head for a while trying to figure out how to take the dang thing apart without reference to its clearly written and perfectly illustrated owner’s manual. (The Nano’s manual may be the best I’ve seen in terms of clarity and useful detail, and that’s from a guy who generally never even glances at one until after he’s done something to screw up a gun.)

The Nano is designed for quick fieldstripping while avoiding what may charitably be termed “unintentional disassembly.” And reassembly is easy and basically intuitive, because improper assembly of parts is prevented by the distinctive design.
There are some nonintuitive aspects and some unfamiliar pieces if all you’ve ever been used to is 1911s or other recoil-operated autoloaders—including nearly all other Beretta models as well. So I’ll spend a little more time than I usually would on the “boring” topic of disassembly, mainly to stress the importance of having the manual at hand on your first attempt.

First remove the magazine and clear the chamber. Depress the striker deactivation button (bet you never heard of that part before) with a small punch or the tip of a ballpoint pen. Maybe you could find it or figure that out without the pictures in the manual, maybe not. If the striker was cocked, you’ll hear a click as it releases.

Next, rotate the disassembly pin about a quarter turn counterclockwise to disengage (that’s the slotted screw-head on the right side of the frame above the trigger, except it’s not a screw). Move the slide forward and remove it from the frame. The recoil-spring assembly can now be lifted out of the slide. Tilt the barrel by grasping the cam lug, and remove the barrel from the slide. That’s it for routine maintenance. Real simple, after you’ve done it once.

Reassemble by reversing the process. Note that if the slide is released when under spring pressure and the disassembly pin is not in the Locked position, the slide can launch off the frame and act as a projectile. Make sure the screw-slot is perfectly horizontal before you install the slide assembly on the frame, then turn the slot back to vertical before you release your grasp on the slide. Retract the slide and visually confirm that the spring-loaded disassembly pin has returned to the Locked position. Done.

Removing the Nano’s internal chassis from its grip frame for more detailed maintenance or to switch to an alternate grip size are somewhat more complex tasks. Same if you want to reverse the magazine release from right-hand to left-hand operation. They’re still easy for anyone without 10 thumbs or crossed eyes, but you’ll definitely need the manual and its pictures at hand. There are some small parts to remove, replace and keep track of, and you’ll need a small punch, so I’m not going to detail those procedures. I will say that the concepts of switchable grip frames and reversible mag buttons are among the coolest things about this little gun.

Shots Fired
I put our review-sample Nano through its paces almost as soon as I opened the box. I fired a series of groups and reviewed ballistics with six 9mm personal protection loads commonly used in small-size concealed carry autos (see chart).
How did it shoot? Accurately and reliably, no malfunctions or cycling failures with any load from the very outset. For a point-and-shoot, close-up life-crisis pistol, I’ve always figured that being able to dump a full magazine into a coffee saucer shooting unsupported at about 25 feet in a hurry was more than good enough. The Nano beat that standard handily.

How did it handle? Very comfortably. The recoil-spring tension was less stiff than many other small 9mms, making the slide easily operable even for slightly built shooters, without diminishing reliability. The grip fit my hand, and I didn’t notice the lack of an external slide-release lever or any manual safeties.

In fact, I’m happy the Nano doesn’t have any. The utterly sleek, projection-free profile and side surfaces make it ideal for inside-the-waistband or inside-the-pocket concealed carry holsters. About the only thing I do wish for is a slight finger-projection buttpad for the magazine, to give my shortest finger something to do except dangle there when I’m shooting. The smaller the gun, the more you appreciate all your fingers being able to get hold of it. But the Nano was not bad in that regard at all, better than nearly all other flat-buttpad mini-9mm magazines.”

The Beretta Nano is a welcome addition to the crowd of micro 9mms on the market. And when its $475 MSRP gets translated into real-world street prices, it’s going to carve out a big chunk of that market for itself.

The author found the Nano surprisingly tractable with high-performance 9mm loads.

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