Thursday, November 29, 2012

Palette's Product Reviews: the Handi-Racker

The Handi-Racker first came to my attention courtesy of Say Uncle, who got it from Everyday No Days Off, who got it from Average Joe's Handgun Reviews.  The Handi-Racker is, essentially, a chunk of machined plastic that fits over the slide of a semi-auto pistol so that people with weak hand strength can employ a mechanical advantage when racking the slide.

Naturally, the comment sections of those articles are filled with the obligatory "Hurr durr this is dumb you won't have time to use it during a gunfight" nonsense. To this I say: Hey morons, you are missing the point of this tool. 

While you certainly could use this to rack the slide in a self-defense situation, if you carry with a loaded chamber and safety on, you won't need to. Instead, the point of this is to enable people with arthritis, low grip strength, or other physical ailments to rack the slide from hammer down position after cleaning it.

In other words, you use this at home in a non-stress situation, because it is a freaking tool. You keep it with your brushes and wrenches, because it is a tool.


Anyway, my mother has precisely the problem the Handi-Racker was made to solve, due to rheumatoid arthritis in her hands. She can, with difficulty, load a round into the chamber of her PMR-30 if the striker has already been cocked, but if the striker is fully down she lacks the strength -- yes, even using the hip-method endorsed by Kathy Jackson of Cornered Cat -- to rack the slide. This meant that the Handi-Racker would be the perfect tool for her.

A video of what the Handi-Racker is and how it works.

I emailed the gentleman who makes the Handi-Racker -- a gunsmith from Iowa named Chris McAninch -- explaining that I was a reviewer and that I wanted to buy his product, but I didn't know which size racker would fit the PMR-30. Mr. McAninch promptly replied that if I bought one and reviewed it, he'd send me the other two for free.

That was two days ago. Today I received it in the mail. I give McAninch massive points for quick shipping, as I am the impatient sort.

I retrieved my mom's PMR-30 and after I unloaded it I began experimenting with the Handi-Racker. It may come as a surprise to folks that, even though the PMR is a full-size pistol, its .22WMR barrel is tiny and therefore needs the small (blue) racker.*

About the worst thing I can say about the Handi-Racker is that the plastic sides strike me as being too slick to get a decent grip.* Like many other reviewers, I would recommend some way of increasing grip surface area, either by the addition of grip tape or by taking a Dremel or soldering iron to it and stippling/carving channels into it.

Here is the best thing I can say: It works for my 73-year-old arthritic mother. Prior to this, my mother could rack the slide with the striker already back, but when the striker was down she couldn't get it to budge. With the use of the Handi-Racker, she was able to completely rack the slide.

Some of you, no doubt, are saying "This puts the user in danger of being shot."  I will concede that this is a possibility IF the user is racking the slide with a full magazine. The manual of arms which I taught my mother goes like this:

  1. We begin with the chamber being verifiably unloaded. This is not an unreasonable assumption, as if it were loaded mom would be able to rack the slide in the normal fashion and eject the bullet. If she cannot, then the striker must be down, and as this is a semi-auto, the chamber must perforce be empty. 
  2. Remove the magazine. 
  3. Use the Handi-Racker to rack the slide. 
  4. Engage safety (Because, weirdly, the safety on the PMR-30 will not engage when the striker is down on an empty chamber. I do not know why this is so.)
  5. Insert magazine into pistol. 
  6. Rack the slide again, this time without the Handi-Racker. With the striker already back, this is much easier. 
  7. The gun is now in Condition One and is ready to be holstered. 

In Conclusion: It does what it says it does. An excellent product, I would recommend this to everyone who has trouble racking the slide of their semi-auto pistol. 

The Handi-Racker normally retails for $24.99 but may be bought for an introductory price of $19.99, with $7 shipping. It is 100% American-made, and your purchase supports a small business.

Obligatory FTC disclaimer:  as stated above, I bought one and got the other two for free. I was not paid to give a good review. 

* EDITED TO ADD:  I just got off the phone with McAninch after a terse  "Erin, If you have a minute. Please call me" email. My immediate response was "Oh crap, I've offended him in some way" and when I called him I was worried about what I could have possibly done wrong.

As it turns out, I (and all of the other reviewers) have been using the Handi-Racker improperly.  As McAninch explained over the phone, the Handi-Racker is meant to be placed against a wall or a table, with the operator's hand simply holding the plastic in place on top of the gun. This affords the following benefits:

  1. No one's hands or fingers go in front of the muzzle. 
  2. Users can utilize their full body weight to rack the slide. 
  3. The Handi-Racker can be used to safely load and unload the pistol, provided one is mindful of Rule #4
As soon as he told me this, I immediately went "WELL DERP" because now it is blindingly obvious that's how it should be used.  I did however take him to task for a poor photograph -- a white chunk of plastic against a white background does not illustrate the point well.  Hopefully, this explanation and a new photograph will eliminate further confusion.

With this in mind, I must amend my earlier statement and say that given the length of the PMR-30 barrel, it is now the large (black and yellow) racker which must be used. It wiggles a bit on the slide, but since we are using linear force to hold it in place rather than lateral, that is much less of an issue. 

I must also amend my rating: 
The Handi-Racker is now an A+ product. 


  1. Interesting.

    Btw, many pistol safeties can not be engaged unless the action is cocked. That's pretty common. (It's not universal though as some designs do allow the safety to be applied if the action is uncocked. Never assume and always check)


  2. Awesome! Once again, Erin Palette furthers the idea that normal people buy guns in ways no "tactical guru" can.

  3. But I'm still unclear as to why this is. Can you explain it to me in simple to understand terms?

  4. If nothing else, I've got the "Little old lady" review niche locked down. ;)

  5. Article amended after a phone conversation with McAninch 

  6. Looks at the amended post.  That makes sense.  And a better package illustration would help.

    That fits in with your original estimation Erin,  it's a workbench tool.  So having it mounted on a table or the like makes sense.

    And physical difficulty with racking the slide is not that uncommon.  I knew someone mid-twenties without any infirmity in her arms who had difficulty racking any slide with a spring stronger than a full frame 1911.

    This is a tool that has a purpose, and can be used without violating any of the four rules.

    The whole point of firearms is to enable people to go beyond their physical limitations.

  7. An outstanding review!  I have had people ask me why in some old photos I'm wearing a glove on one hand. I have one weapon with magazines that just tore the heck out of my hand when I first got them.  So the glove.  As it got broken in a little and my hand got stronger, I was fairly new to shooting, I didn't need it.  You nailed it.  It's a tool.  Use what  you can to learn what  you must.  And I second Kathy's guidance, it's the best out there.

  8.  One reason is that, mechanically, there is no real reason to design a safety that can be engaged when the weapon (pistol or rifle or shotgun) is uncocked. If the weapon is not cocked, it cannot fire, and a manual safety is not really needed at that point. Conversely,  if the weapon does have a manual safety, obviously you want to be able to apply the safety while the weapon is cocked. That's the whole point.

    A side benefit of only being able to apply the safety when the weapon is cocked is that, for those designs, if you can NOT apply the safety, you then realize the weapon is not actually cocked (and, most likely) you forget to chamber a round in the first place.

    Some safeties, like the thumb safety on the 1911, actually prevent you from working the action totally when the safety is applied. If the safety is "ON" the pistol is essentially locked and you can't chamber or unload a round without first removing the safety. Again, this makes it obvious as to the weapon status.

    There are designs that allow the user to load or unload the chamber when the safety is engaged. The theory is that this is safer as having the safety engaged can prevent an accidental discharge if the finger enters the trigger guard while loading/unloading the weapon.  (I'm not an engineer, but I believe that it is slightly more complicated or requires more parts to design it this way as opposed to having a safety that can only be applied when the weapon is cocked.)

    This is my general understanding. If anyone has better info, please share.


  9. oFr years I woud stop by my grandmoters house on Friday night and clean her Bauer .25 after she fired a clip into a phone book.I would then clean the pistol and re-chamber a round for her- her arthritis was terrible. I was so happy when she bought a tilt barrel Beratta.  I still had to clean the gun every week when she fired it, but knew if she ever needed more than one magazine that she could chamber the first round herself.

  10. "Some safeties, like the thumb safety on the 1911, actually prevent you
    from working the action totally when the safety is applied. If the
    safety is "ON" the pistol is essentially locked and you can't chamber or
    unload a round without first removing the safety. Again, this makes it
    obvious as to the weapon status

    Er, not quite in the case of the 1911: the safety being on only tells you that the hammer is back. The status of the chamber is still an open question - it may or may not have a round loaded.


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