The Lionheart LH9 is not too new to the market, but it’s popularity in recent years seems to have thinned out. Some pistols make a huge first impression on the market, do very well for a while, and then without warning, all the enthusiasm and media attention just ceases. Sales on these pistols never stopped, but the YouTube and gun-writing community has all but ignored this pistol in recent years. There have been no updates on round counts or integrity over time with extended usage. I had been interested in this pistol design for years, ever since it came out, when I still lived in Washington State only about a half hour away from where they were assembled in Redmond, Washington. The Lionheart LH9 parts are all made by the company producing the K-5 for the Korean military, S&T Motiv. When the parts get to the US, they are assembled, finished, treated with Froglube, and packaged by the guys at Lionheart. These pistols are not quite the same as the DP-51/K-5 pistols that the military gets though. The point was that these pistols are better quality than what the military gets, but with the same outstanding performance and service life.
D.J. MacLean, the founder of Lionheart Industries has had experience in quality engineering, manufacturing, and design since he was very young. With a father who started numerous manufacturing companies, he grew up knowing the importance of good quality manufacturing. D.J. received his degree in Mechanical Engineering and through the years started dozens of small companies with consumer products he designed, manufactured, and distributed. These branded products ended up getting sold to bigger companies such as Leatherman Tool. As a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt he has worked with several large companies that include Ingersoll-Rand, Boeing, NASA, and Northrup Grumman and helped fix their engineering and manufacturing processes.
The desire to start Lionheart Industries began because of a connection to Daewoo through a salesman at his former company, PocketToolX. Originally, the first trip to Korea was to bid on surplus M1 Garand military rifles that the Korean government had locked up since the early 50’s. Basically, due to the political decisions made higher up in our government, the import requests for these surplus guns was denied. While on the trip, D.J.’s bidding partner, S&T Motiv (formerly Daewoo) agreed to produce D.J.’s upgraded variation of the Daewoo DP-51 pistol specifically for American consumers, through Lionheart. D.J. agreed with the condition that these pistols would be designed and manufactured under his direct scrutiny and design improvements. It was from this that D.J. started Lionheart Industries, which has given the old DP-51/K-5 pistols a well-deserved rebirth and modernization. With all of his experience in engineering and manufacturing tight-tolerance quality products, D.J. has ushered in a new standard for how firearms can and should be made, let alone how the companies should be run.
Lionheart aims to put the customer first and to pay attention to the details. Continual improvement is the focus of the Lionheart method, and customer feedback goes straight into the product.
The Lionheart LH9 is basically an upgraded and modernized DP-51 or K-5 pistol. Lionheart added a Cerakote finish to all metal surfaces, a new hammer design, new and wider slide serrations for the front and rear of the slide, wavy anti-glare lines on the top of the slide, heat-resistant polymer grip panels, and even tightened the tolerances of certain parts being produced for more precision and consistency. Also note that the parts for the Lionheart are 100% interchangeable with the Daewoo DP-51/K-5 pistols. They have Novak sights as a standard with their current models from the factory. I caught one of their earlier versions that still had the fixed 3 dot sights, which is more suitable for one-handed manipulations.
The slide, frame, and barrel are all forged to offer the longest service life possible. The slide is made of 4140 Chromoly steel, which isn’t known to be the toughest steel in the world, but it is a pretty standard metal that is used for barrels and high pressure impact parts. The barrel is made of 4150 Chromoly steel, which is slightly stronger than the 4140 used on the slide, but tends to perform better as a barrel steel due to its incredible heat and pressure/friction tolerance. The frame is made of 7075-T6 Aluminum alloy, which is one of the highest quality Aluminum alloys, with a strength comparable to steel but without the weight, resulting in this pistol coming in at only 25.9 oz. All of these components are made very well with quality machining and the Cerakote is very well applied and wears very nice. The parts on the Lionheart LH9 and the older Daewoo pistols are completely interchangeable as well. If you are looking for a holster for these pistols, these pistols will fit most S&W 5906 holsters due to them being so close in size and design. I know that Alien Gear holsters are one of the only ones who have holsters specifically for the Lionheart LH9. The 59 series magazines also work in the Daewoo and Lionheart pistols. Some people have reported issues with getting the slide to lock back on the last round, but I have had only success with my MecGar 17 round magazine.
The Lionheart LH9 somes in roughly the size of the Glock 19 with a height of just about 5″ with the 13 round flush fitting magazine in. With the 15/17 round magazine in, this pistol will come in at the height of an M&P/Glock17, which is pretty much on par with our expectations on size. The length of the pistol comes in at about the same length as the Glock19 as well, which again makes this pistol a nice versatile design. The 4.1″ barrel, I feel, is perfect for a duty pistol or a multipurpose pistol. Today, our defense ammo is calibrated, and made to work optimally out of a 4″ barrel.
The Lionheart LH9 sports a grip that is shaped curiously similar to the Beretta 92-series of pistols. The front and rear serrations do as they are supposed to and prevent side to side movement in the hand. The polymer grip panels that they use have big diamonds that help give you a secure hold. The diamonds seem to make the grip feel fatter than it really is though, which is a little off-putting, but not enough to cause concern. The texturing on the grip panels is subtle and seem to work without all the consequence of paying for aftermarket grips or having sore hands after shooting. You do not feel the texturing of the diamonds grabbing onto you, but you also notice that the pistol doesn’t really move very much in your grip, and it feels very secure.
The Lionheart LH9 has a very nice set of controls that many manufacturers would do well to pay attention to. There are only three controls on this pistol and they are all perfectly sized for efficient usage. To start of, the magazine release is almost the perfect size and shape for what it is supposed to accomplish. It is small, but in a very accessible area and is shaped in such a way that it is not using any more area than it needs in order to prevent accidental ejection of the magazine. The slide stop is an interesting part of the control triangle that the pistol has. The slide stop seems to be barely holding the slide back, to the point that it sends the slide home after firmly seating a magazine into the pistol. I personally don’t see this as being a bad thing since that is where I typically like the slide to go when I am putting in a loaded magazine, but others may feel differently. The last control is the ambidextrous safety, which I also have grown fond of. Like most people, i found myself not really into the idea of adopting this foreign idea of how a safety should function on a pistol. After running several different guns with similar characteristics, namely DA/SA and such, I began to respect the way their safety design saves space while keeping the safety well within reach. I don’t see a problem with the way the safety works and I actually like how simple and easy to use it is. I like to use the safety as a shelf to rest my thumb during firing, like on a 1911, and it works very well for that purpose. Overall I find the triangle of controls to be very intuitive and easy to adjust to. I actually didn’t need to do much to adjust to it and run it well.
My sights are the original sights on the older models of the Lionheart LH9, that you would also find on the DP-51 and K-5 pistols. I like these sights because they allow more versatility than the Novak sights, which have become standard on all models now. I like the 3 dot sights for the classic pistol sight picture, but I have no problems with the Novak sight picture, which uses a blacked out rear sight and only the front sight has a white dot. That method is fast, but I only wish it was not on novak sights. I also enjoy the fact that with these older style sights, I have the ability to conduct one-handed manipulations, unlike with the Novak sights. Now i understand that the Novak sights do give you a slightly longer sight radius, but I am not convinced that it is enough to make a notable difference in ones ability to hit their target competently. But that is just my two cents on the whole subject.
The trigger is advertised to have a 6 lb single action trigger pull. I found the trigger to be about that. The wall is very stiff on mine. There is zero creep or mush in this trigger. I know that the double action is rated at 10 lb but I don’t see it ever being used since the only safe thing to do is use the double action plus+. That being said, it is probably the smoothest double action trigger I have felt. You may find that the triggers between each Lionheart pistol, lot to lot, is very consistent in trigger pull characteristics, much like everyone’s favorite Glock pistol. The reason for this is because Lionheart makes sure the tolerances on the components being made for their pistols are much tighter.
The trigger system on the Lionheart LH9 is the big identifying feature of the whole gun. Lionheart calls there trigger system the Double Action Plus+. Basically, the system never goes into true double action mode unless a round fails to go off and you have to attempt another strike on the primer to be sure. The trigger is in single action mode the whole time, but with the ability to manually push the hammer back up to make the trigger go all the way forward as if it is in double action mode. Basically the manual of arms to put this pistol into Double Action Plus+ mode is to charge a round into the pistol and push the hammer forward until it clicks home, which is how you decock it. It doesn’t take much force to send the hammer back up with your finger. The hammer has two safeties to prevent a discharge when decocking it this way. First is the firing pin safety, which can only be deactivated by pulling the trigger, and then there is the fact that there is a block on the hammer that prevents it from going all the way to touching the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled. This system is very safe and at no point did I feel that it was problematic or risky to use.
Shooting the Lionheart LH9 is not unlike shooting a Beretta M9, but with a better……everything. The only reason I use an M9 for comparison is because that is what it feels like I am holding. This is just talking about the grip and how it is very similar to the Beretta grip. It just feels like a more compact version with sturdy grip panels and with slightly better contouring that welcomes the shooter under the trigger guard and the beavertail to eliminate the “inflated 2×4” feeling that the M9 gives us.
When manipulating the Double Action Plus+ trigger, you will immediately notice that everything about the entire travel is exacting with little deviation or slack. At the right poundage, without any creep, the trigger travels to the single action stage with enthusiasm. From this point there is little remaining travel until you meet the wall before the break. The wall is pretty solid and you will get absolutely no creep out of it. The trigger face is wide and flat, giving better leverage and affording you a better amount of force on the trigger with less effort. When the shot breaks, it is almost always a surprise and usually this is the reason you can shoot well with it. The sights being easy to pick up and smaller helps in being slightly more precise. The reset on the trigger has previously been described as being as short as a Sig Short Reset, and I would have to agree with that, except the takeup to get back to the wall again is shorter.
The recoil on the Lionheart LH9 is subjective as usual, but there is one thing I can offer in explanation. When I first got this pistol, the recoil was more than it is after only 500 rounds. This is nothing new, but some pistols have sharper recoil in the beginning, until they wear in a little. This is not to say that you can limp-wrist this pistol and be back on by the next shot, but if you get a proper firm grip and hold it, it will be easy to control and bring back on target. But as I always advise, shoot at least a thousand rounds through your gun before judging the recoil and your ability to shoot it effectively.
This is a subject that Lionheart, I feel, takes very seriously. When you call the number for their customer service center, someone always picks up. The person picking up never seems to be inconvenienced by your call and is willing to answer even the most basic of questions you may have. I have a reputation for calling manufacturers a lot and asking some weird and sometimes complex questions in order to understand the product better, and usually it is a challenge to get consistent answers with them. When I called Lionheart about certain things such as the sights, magazine options, etc. they were all on the same page and even offered outside options, just to make sure I got what I was looking for. The feeling I got from them was that they were very passionate about their products and how they can help improve our experience with their product. I never felt like I was being rushed to get off the phone and I didn’t get the feeling that the people on the other side of the phone were getting impatient or bored, no matter how long we were on the phone. I don’t know about you, but I find this kind of service to be refreshing and appreciated after being blown off by big manufacturers who try to avoid warranty promises.
Thanks to Lionheart, we have a rebirth or reintroduction of the DP-51 to the market in a modern and Americanized fashion. The Lionheart LH9 is easy to shoot and has the feel of a well broken in pistol with new springs and a new attitude. Now as far as the kit you get with the pistol, I feel that everything is really cool for the most part. Getting a tough nylon case, a cleaning kit, and a nicely put together instruction manual that folds out, like a huge map to the operation of the gun. The only two things I think is kind of odd for the price you are paying($750) is the fact that you get one magazine with the pistol instead of two. I get that they are providing many other things with the gun as well, but I feel that the value of the gun should decrease slightly when you are given only one magazine. The only gun I have that does that is the Kahr CM9, and that is so that their $650 gun can come down to under $400, along with other changes of course. I know this is petty, but I also want to point out the fact that I am not a fan of having my gun factory-treated with Froglube. I know some people love the stuff, but with my volume of shooting and my standards of cleaning, it did not perform to those standards. But, that being said, I like that they give their customers a head start and have them ready out of the box for the range. Other than those two gripes, I like the gun and don’t really mind having to get another couple magazines elsewhere. I got a 17 round magazine from MecGar for $20 that functions flawlessly, so I can’t complain too much.
Overall, I feel that the Lionheart LH9 is a good performer and deserves a good amount of attention. Lionheart did a good job bringing this design back into the American market in a way that caters to the average American shooter. The top-notch customer service, the quality of the pistols and the package deal you get, and the performance you experience with this pistol puts the Lionheart in a class of its own. I do not see any other pistols being a good comparison to this design since it is too unique and no other system that I know of are even close to the design of the trigger system that these pistols use. I am glad that I finally got one of these pistols. It was well worth the investment and I will be reporting, on the progress of this pistol as the round count grows.
David served in the USMC for a few years, deployed twice and got wounded. Retired and moved to Alaska. Has a passion for reviewing and testing guns and gear of all kinds. Enjoys working to dispel myths and show that you can train and practice in a realistic, safe, and practical way.
Photos by author.