I'll admit to occasionally being surprised, but when I saw a headline over at Forgotten Weapons about a Savage revolver, I scratched my head just a little. I couldn't recall any revolver made by Savage; autoloaders yes, and of course rifles, but a revolver?
Turns out that the Savage Model 101 isn't really a revolver at all; it just looks like one. The ‘cylinder’ is fixed to the barrel, and the entire assembly pivots out from the frame to access the single chamber for loading and unloading. In this regard it’s very similar to the Colt Camp Perry Model, with the exception of the ‘cylinder’ - on the Colt, they removed the unused material and made the ‘cylinder’ the same width as the frame. (They did, however, flute the thing so that, from a distance and directly from the side, it could be a little difficult to tell the difference.)
Have a look at the video Ian made of his time with the Model 101. I'm not sure just why, but I want one!
I'm always looking for good revolver holsters. It seems we get the short end of the stick from everyone! This week, however, there are a couple of new holsters I'd like to bring to your attention, as they both offer something unique.
The first is the DeSantis Ammo Nemesis. It's a synthetic pocket holster for a small revolver (J-frame, possibly a Detective Special.) The outside of the holster has a very grippy rubber covering, which should help keep it in the pocket as opposed to coming out with the gun.
The neat little feature is a small pocket in the 'wing' under the grip. The pocket will hold a SpeedStrip or a TuffStrip for easy access. This isn't the first time I've seen that feature, of course, but it is the first time I've seen it in a decent yet affordable ($25 MSRP) holster.
There have been quite a few of these offered for autoloaders, but they don't work well in that format. An auto is reloaded with the support hand, and having the spare ammo on the other side of the body, in a pocket, means that no matter how you elect to handle the situation you'll be slow and fumble-prone. With a revolver, however, if you reload with your strong hand (as I've advocated here and in my books) the spare ammunition is right where it needs to be - accessible to your strong hand.
The ammo pouch, combined with the tacky material, should be perfect for getting the holster off the gun as it's drawn. I'm going to get one to try for myself!
Instead of the traditional bellyband construction of an elastic pocket sewn into an elastic band, the Crossbreed Modular Bellyband uses an elastic band with a large strip of Velcro. The holster bodies are made of Kydex and have Velcro on the back side; they simply stick onto the band in any position and at any attitude you wish.
Since the holsters are fairly rigid the gun draws easily yet is securely held. The gun can be re-holstered with one hand, something no other bellyband can claim, and the Kydex makes clearing the covering garment on the draw easier, as fabric slides easily over the plastic rather than being grabbed by the elastic cloth of the typical bellyband.
It's a great idea, and I have no doubt that the execution - like that of all Crossbreed products - is perfect. If you need truly deep concealment and don't like the telltale belt loops of most 'tuckable' holsters on the market, or you just like the concealability and versatility of a bellyband design, give the new Crossbreed Modular Bellyband a serious look.
As you may know, the United Kingdom banned possession of handguns for the general populace some time back. This action was precipitated by a spree killing at a school in Scotland, and in an incredibly strong knee-jerk reaction the UK simply declared handguns to be illegal. Confiscation and destruction followed; the loss of many historical artifacts resulted.
No wonder! The video in question is him firing one of the Colt 1877 Bulldog Gatling Gun reproductions (which I covered in my SHOT Show 2012 report last year!) Neat video, neat gun, and I wish I could afford one.
I was torn as to the topic of my final blog post of 2012. It needed to be topical, but I'm a little burnt out on the politics of gun control which currently dominate the shooting world. Not that it's unimportant, mind you, only that I've adopted a "wait and see" attitude: wait until Congress reconvenes and then see what it is we'll have to fight. I'm resigned to the fact that we will most certainly need to fight some kind of draconian gun control bill, but that's tomorrow.
Today, I want something a little lighter, something which illuminates some forgotten corner of firearms history. How about another one of those crazy gun combo things - you know, like the gun knife or the gun cane or the gun hat. How about a gun….flashlight!
From Gizmodo comes the story of the gun flashlight, a combination of a seven-shot .22 Short revolver and a battery operated torch (as Piers Morgan, the Brit ex-pat gun grabber we all love to hate, might call it.) (See how I worked current events into this seemingly unrelated story? That's the kind of scintillating writing that you can only find on my blog! Well, maybe a few others. OK, anybody could have done it. I'll just go sulk in the corner.)
Apologies for the digression. This circa 1920 contraption was supposedly made for security guards and night watchmen who presumably had need to illuminate things while simultaneously pointing a gun everywhere they looked. Today we recognize this for the very bad idea it was, but have we made any progress?
Only technologically. We have the same thing today, only the gun part is bigger and the flashlight part is a whole lot smaller. Think about this: if you were to attach a 'tactical illuminator' to the rail of your pistol, you’d have exactly same thing. More efficient, certainly, but the concept is the same. And, I dare say, just as silly for the majority of users.
(Don’t get me wrong - there is a place for the weapon-mounted light, but not on a handgun in the possession of someone who isn’t intimately familiar with both its application and its risks. In other words, it’s not a general purpose tool.)
On that note, I hope you enjoy your New Year's celebration this evening, and remember to do it safely! I'll see you on Wednesday with another exciting episode!
When I was visiting with Massad Ayoob up at Firearms Academy of Seattle last spring, he mentioned that he was doing an article for GUNS Magazine about the hammerless S&W J-frames, and asked me for some opinions. Gail Pepin took some pictures, and today you can see the results over at GUNS Magazine.
I'm gratified to see the defensive shooting world coming to some of these same realizations. While there are some folks out there who are still stuck with outdated beliefs, like the .45ACP being the "ultimate" defensive cartridge despite the lack of corroborating objective data, the movers and shakers in this business have long since moved on. Even some of the old guard have evolved to the realization that the 9mm cartridge and the modern striker-fired (MSF) pistol are the most efficient way to deal with criminal attacks, and now recommend that combination.
There was a time, more than a decade ago, when I espoused the .357 Magnum as the ultimate self defense cartridge. Even then, though, the data was a little hazy as to its effectiveness versus the .38 Special +P. After talking with a lot of people who'd actually had to shoot bad guys with those cartridges, I discovered that they all fired about the same number of rounds to get the bad guy to hit the pavement. It came down to a simple equation: if I'm going to need to fire x-number of shots regardless of the cartridge, wouldn't it be better to get those rounds into the bad guy as quickly as possible? Why was I putting up with the reduced controllability of the Magnum when the Special (with proper loads, of course) would do the same job?
That question caused me to switch to the .38 Special +P for carry, and today all of my revolvers are sighted in for that round - none of them are sighted for Magnums. I went through the same evolution with the 1911 versus the 9mm. Remember that I started out with the 1911 and the .45ACP for my autoloading needs, but quickly shifted to the 9mm and then almost as quickly adopted the MSF pistol (the Glock 19, specifically.) When I carry an autoloader, it's a compact 9mm loaded with Speer Gold Dot +P rounds.
Today, luckily, the choice has been made easier; the study that Greg Ellifritz did, for instance, puts better numbers to my informal research and gives a much better picture of the overall performance of the common self defense cartridges. I believe it to be the best data we have on a very difficult-to-quantify subject, and you should read the linked article. (It's important to actually read what Greg wrote; if you just look at the charts, you'll be missing some very important information.)
Back to Rob's article: he makes some specific gun recommendations, most of which I agree with. I'll add, based on my own experience, the Steyr M9 and C9 series, which we've owned for nearly a decade now and have proven to be very reliable. However, since ours have the Steyr trapezoidal sights I'll add the caveat that the recommendation stands only if the gun is ordered with the optional night sights, which are of a conventional post-and-notch arrangement. The trapezoid sights, with which I was initially enamored, have shown themselves to be less efficient and usable than the standard variety. (I'm not big on night sights generally, but on this gun they're the only way to get a conventional sight picture.) That being said, I think my next gun will be the new Caracal, which I like even more than the Steyr.
You'll note that Rob also recommends small revolvers for carry. The revolver shares some surprising characteristics with the MSF pistol, including efficiency (no controls other than the trigger to manipulate in order to shoot) and reliability. Of course, as he points out, there are compromises: the reduced capacity and the harder-to-master double action trigger. Still, the MSF pistol can really be considered the ultimate evolution of the revolver, which is why they're both the best choices today!
The Truth About Guns alerted me last week to the new Taurus ad campaign. It’s the gun industry version of the sappy and vaguely patriotic campaign commercial, complete with an insipid soundtrack and earnest voice-over by the candidate. Well produced, but it’s going to take more than glitzy PR nonsense for me to take Taurus seriously as a defensive handgun maker.
Instead of telling us how they’re going to be great, I’d be more impressed if they just went out and did it. As much as I admire Jessie Duff, her presence doesn’t tell me anything about whether the guns actually work. I am, however, keeping an open mind. With me, it's all about the quality: if their guns get better, I'll recommend them. If not, I'll continue to tell people to stay away from them for any serious use.
Over the last year or so I've become acquainted with the work of engraver Weldon Lister. It started when one of my clients sent a gun to him to be engraved, and we've been corresponding off-and-on since. Every so often he sends me pictures of his work, some of which I've posted on this site's Facebook page. I find his style quite attractive, as he understands how engraving should match the style of the gun being engraved, and particularly appreciate his deft handling of color and tone.
He recently sent me pictures of this gun, but I didn't get the story behind it until it was featured as the Gun Of The Week on the Blue Book of Gun Values website:
You can read a nice review of my book, the Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver, over at the Sigspace blog. (And no, the name isn't what you think it is.)
Ian at Forgotten Weapons (one of the coolest gun blogs going) has started a new blog: GunLab. In his words, it's about "firearms design, engineering, and fabrication." He's decided that his ultimate goal is to build reproductions of some odd and rare guns, and to that end he's started taking classes to become a machinist. GunLab will chronicle his journey, and along the way look at how guns are invented and produced. If it's half as good as Forgotten Weapons, it's going to be terrific.
Very often an autoloader fails to function as a result of design. The reciprocation of the slide is governed by a combination of spring pressure, cartridge power, and system friction. The parameters inside which that system operates are actually pretty narrow, and it's a testament to both design and care of manufacture that today's modern autoloading pistols work as well as they do - which is to say, generally very well. Short of a non-externally-caused catastrophic parts failure (which is quite rare for either autos or revolvers), today's autoloading pistols are fairly reliable. Still, design-induced failures will occasionally occur.
The revolver, being powered by the operator and a very mature technology to boot, doesn't usually suffer failures directly related to its design. It is a very fault tolerant system, and given a modicum of maintenance (including attention paid to screws) it will continue to operate under relatively harsh conditions.
The major exception is the S&W internal locking mechanism, which has been reported to self-engage in some cases. I've written about this on numerous occasions; some people opine that it isn't an issue, but I've collected many first-person accounts of inadvertent activation of the lock that renders the gun useless. It's sufficiently common that I recommend not using a revolver so equipped for self defense.
Ruger's revolvers do have a pronounced false reset in their trigger system, causing many users to short-stroke their triggers and momentarily tie up the gun. This is, as I've mentioned, more a training issue than a design flaw, but occurs more often with their guns than any other. Design flaw? You could make the case either way, so I'll mention it here.
The propensity for Colt revolvers to break firing pins might be considered a design flaw, and I'd probably agree with that assessment, but the problem is easily avoided by the use of snap-caps during dry fire.
Save for the aforementioned Colt firing pin issue, parts failures in revolvers are very rare. Other than things like hammer spurs being broken from impact or cylinders being blown apart by faulty handloads, broken parts are few and far between. The only major exception that occurs to me is the hammer block safety in very recent Smith & Wesson "J" frame revolvers (those with external hammers only - the shrouded hammer Centennial series does not have that part.) This part is relatively thin and S&W decided to make it with the MIM (metal injection molding) process.
I’ve written previously about my opinions of MIM parts (I'm OK with them), but this particular part was a very bad engineering choice. Long, thin objects are not good candidates for MIM production, and S&W engineers should have known that. They break with some frequency and can tie up the gun. Again, the Centennials don't have that part and as a result are preferred for a defensive arm.
That's it for my more-or-less comprehensive look at revolver malfunctions. Maintain your revolver properly, feed it reasonably decent ammunition, and it is quite unlikely to ever fail you!
There are really only two "malfunctions" that can be attributed to shooter technique, and they're both easily avoided.
The first is a failure to properly reset the trigger. This is especially common with autoloader shooters who pick up a Ruger revolver: used to resetting the trigger until they hear or feel a "click", they do the same on their revolver and...the trigger locks up! The trigger won't compress until it's allowed to travel all the way forward, to its rest position, and then the trigger stroke may be restarted.
This is simply a case of bad habits. The correct way to use a revolver's double action trigger is to let the trigger return completely before commencing another shot. There is no such thing as "riding the sear" or "catching the link" with a revolver; trying to do so will simply cause the gun to not function in the expected manner. It's a user problem, not a revolver problem.
The second user induced malfunction is a case caught under the extractor (star). This is generally attributable to bad reloading technique. The muzzle of the gun really needs to be vertical when the ejection stroke is started, and the ejector should be operated one time only. Violating either of these dramatically raises the chance of a case being jammed under the star and tying up the whole gun.
This isn't to say it's impossible to happen with the right technique, only that making sure the muzzle is vertical and slapping the ejector rod once dramatically lowers the chances of it happening. This is why I teach the reloading method I do: it guarantees that the muzzle is going to be completely vertical when the ejector is pushed, which is the key to avoiding this dreaded jam.
On Wednesday I'll look at the final type of revolver malfunctions: mechanical or design failures.
In the first installment we looked at revolver malfunctions caused by ammunition. (I've edited that entry to consider dirty ammunition, which can also cause stoppages. I recommend that you go back and re-read it for that discussion.) It's important to note that ammunition failures are not the fault of the revolver and they're not unique to the revolver (they happen to autoloaders too.) They do, however, account for the majority of revolver failures and thus must be understood and dealt with.
The autoloader shooter who gleefully points at an ammunition-induced stoppage as "proof" that "revolvers break too" is not terribly discerning, for these are common malfunctions which can occur to any gun (including rifles and shotguns.) I used to try to educate such people, but now I just shake my head and go about my business. (Sometimes, in a fit of enlightened self-interest, I suggest that they buy my book. It may not help them, but it sure makes me feel good!)
Today we're going to consider the second most common cause of revolver malfunctions: user maintenance. I've often said that the revolver is quite tolerant of neglect compared to the autoloader, and it is; a revolver that sits in a nightstand for several decades will usually function enough to discharge the rounds in its cylinder, while an autoloader similarly treated usually will not. However, if the user performs maintenance poorly the revolver can suffer premature failures, ones that its fault-tolerant design would otherwise shrug off.
The major maintenance issue is simply making sure the gun stays reasonably clean. Far too many people spend inordinate amounts of time getting the last little speck of dirt out of the barrel - an objective which is both difficult to meet and of no importance. It's better instead to settle for "good enough" in terms of barrel cleanliness, and spend the freed time attending to other parts of the gun. (I should point out that if the barrel is leaded, time should be spent to remove all traces of the lead fouling. That is something which cannot be allowed to remain, as the lead will build up again when fired. If you do not shoot lead bullets, this will not be an issue.)
The cylinder window in the frame should be thoroughly cleaned, as should the underside of the extractor (star) and the recess into which it fits.
The lubricants used on the gun can have a dramatic affect on function when the gun is stored for any length of time. Never, EVER use WD-40 on any gun! The stuff dries to a sticky goo in short order, and can gum up any gun - even a revolver. I've lost count of the number of revolvers I've opened up that had the telltale WD-40 shellac, and there's no reason for it. DON'T USE WD-40 ON YOUR GUNS!
Finally, part of maintenance is checking the gun's physical and mechanical condition. Check all screws and firmly tighten any loose ones. On S&W and Colt revolvers, check that the ejector rod is tight; this is especially important for S&W guns, as even a slight loosening can bind the cylinder very tightly. On a Colt, it's usually more of a nuisance. If a S&W rod is found loose, it's best to drop into the local gunsmith and have him tighten it with the special tool made for the purpose; a pliers will simply mar the ejector rod and may even deform it enough to require replacement. While you're there, make sure he puts some thread locker on it (either LocTite #222 Low-Yield or Vibra-Tite VC-3; I strongly favor the latter.) That's also a good idea for the screws.
A timing problem that results in the gun being unshootable is, I believe, a user maintenance issue because it's both predictable and preventable. The revolver should be checked frequently for proper timing; if you don't know how to do so, there are many resources online that will give you instructions. (I keep promising myself that I'll make a video of the procedure, and someday I will, but in the interim I'll suggest that you let Google show you the way.) I've written many times that Colt revolvers are more sensitive to timing errors, and Colt owners need to be more vigilant and precise about this than owners of other revolvers. If there is a timing issue, get it fixed immediately instead of shooting it!
Next Monday we'll look at malfunctions initiated by the shooter while the gun is in use. There aren't many.
I received an email last week, a sort of complaint that I don't write much about revolvers any longer. Well, I wrote an entire book - isn't that enough?? OK, OK, you win - let's talk about revolver malfunctions.
I've mentioned before, in more than one venue, that the revolver typically will have a longer mean time between failure than an autoloader (we're talking unique failures, which automatically discounts those due to ammunition problems - which can affect either platform equally.)
The usual response from the uninitiated is "well, I've seen revolvers fail too!" I've tackled this specific inanity before, but suffice it to say that there is a heapin' helpin' of confirmation bias at work in that type of statement. It's a grade school playground argument.
Still, there are failures that can happen to a revolver and it's important to understand what they are and how they can be prevented.
The possible failures can be classified in roughly decreasing order of frequency: 1) ammunition irregularities, 2) maintenance related problems, 3) user-initiated malfunctions, and 4) actual mechanical or design failures.
The last category, save for one specific case, is frankly quite rare with revolvers. Design and functional failures are more common with autoloaders, which is really my point: revolver malfunctions are avoidable to a greater degree than autoloader malfunctions.
Let's start at the top: ammunition failures usually boil down to high primers and squib loads, and both are almost always the result of handloaded ammunition. That isn't to say that they can't happen with factory ammo, only that I've personally never seen the case where they were. (I'm not going to talk about catastrophic over-pressure failures, those where the gun is destroyed, as they go well beyond “malfunction”!)
High primers can jam the cylinder rotation by taking up the small area between the case head and the breechface, and usually require a good "whack" to get the cylinder open. A high primer on an unfired round can be avoided by checking the ammunition before use (simply open the box and run your finger down the rows; a high primer can be easily felt.)
Those that occur after firing are usually the result of a too-light load. The primer is usually forced backwards out of the primer pocket by the pressure in the case, but normally the recoil of the cartridge against the breechface reseats the primer and allows it to pass. Light loads often will not generate enough recoil to do so.
Squib loads are the bane of revolvers and autos alike, as they can result in severe damage to the gun. A squib is a load with an insufficient (or non-existent) powder charge, which is insufficient to drive the bullet out of the barrel. Squib loads are always a possibility with any ammo, though I've never seen one that wasn't the result of handloading.
A squib which pushes the bullet into the bore but not clear of the muzzle is a danger if a full-power round is fired behind it. The least that will happen is a bulged (ruined) barrel; the worst is a catastrophic cylinder failure. Bullets lodged in the barrel occur most often with jacketed bullets and very light loads; jacketed slugs offer more frictional resistance than do plain lead, and need to be loaded to higher velocities to reliably clear the barrel. Jacketed bullets should never be used with light loads.
When the squib is the result of no powder at all the bullet often ends up stuck in the forcing cone with part of it still in the cylinder. This is actually the preferred squib, as the gun won't fire another round because the cylinder won't turn! This type of squib is easily rectified by tapping the slug back into the cylinder with a cleaning rod, then opening the cylinder and clearing the chamber.
Ammunition which does not burn completely, leaving powder flakes in the barrel and cylinder, can (and often will) cause a stoppage. The unburnt flakes can get under the extractor star, which keeps it from fully retracting. The effect is much like a high primer and is dealt with similarly. Unlike the high primer, this problem will recur immediately unless the extractor is cleaned, and repeatedly until the ammunition problem is sorted out.
If you’re a handloader, you should pay attention to your powder and be vigilant for unburned flakes. Sometimes this is a function of an insufficient crimp, so make sure that the rounds are firmly crimped. Some powders, however, just don’t work well in the low-density loads typically encountered with large revolver cases. The solution is to pick a powder that gives a higher load density or doesn’t mind low densities. This often means a slightly slower-burning powder, thought not always.
For instance, I’ve found that Hodgdon Universal Clays is a superb, clean-burning powder for the 9mm Luger cartridge (or any autoloading cartridge, actually) but will not burn completely in a standard-pressure .38 Special. (Don’t even bother with the .44 Special!) For that reason I switched to Alliant Red Dot for the Specials, which burns far more cleanly in the bigger cases. In fact, I’ve found all of the “Dot” powders to be very clean.
On Wednesday we'll look at user and maintenance failures.
One of the most common compliments I get about my Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver regards the pictures. People tell me that they appreciate the photography, and I'm happy that they noticed - I went to a lot of effort to make sure that the photos supported the text, that the reader could look at them and get the point easily. Apparently, the goal was met!
My publisher, Gun Digest Books, was so taken with them that they've put up a gallery on their site featuring 20 of the photos from the book. If you haven't yet gotten your copy (you haven't?!?!?), here's a taste of what you'll see.
I got an email recently from a reader who asked about .38 Special accuracy when fired in a .357-length chamber. There is, as he noted, a lot of speculation on the topic: some saying they're less accurate, some saying it doesn't matter, and others saying that there is no way we'll ever know for sure.
I'm not at all convinced about that last one, but the first two opinions are both correct - under some circumstances. Some years ago I experimented with this, and what I found comes under the heading of "it depends."
The concern is that the unrestrained jump of the bullet from the shorter Special case causes instability and thus inaccuracy. A Magnum chamber is longer from the rim seat (the area at the back of the cylinder where the rim makes contact) to the chamber throat (the narrow area at the front of the cylinder that guides the projectile into the barrel.) When a Special cartridge is inserted into the longer chamber, the bullet has to travel a distance (called "jump") before it reaches the narrower throat. In this distance, it's thought, the bullet can yaw slightly.
I've done up this little graphic (greatly exaggerated and not to scale) to illustrate the situation:
Notice the area between the bullet and where the chamber mouth begins - that's the freebore area where the bullet's travel is unrestrained and, according to theory, starts to wobble to the detriment of accuracy.
A number of years back I did some experimenting by loading the same bullets in .357 Magnum and .38 Special cases, and adjusting the velocity so they matched. I found that sometimes the Specials did show a loss of accuracy, while at other times they didn't. (I had one case where accuracy with Specials actually improved.) Why the variance? If the bullet jump is responsible for accuracy degradation it should be consistent, and it certainly wasn't.
The answer is that the freebore is only part of the equation.
As I've written before, one of the most important contributors to accuracy in a revolver (and the MOST important when shooting lead bullets) is the chamber throat. Assuming that the bore diameter is correct, a throat which fits the bullet precisely will deliver greater accuracy than one which is oversized (or undersized to a great degree.)
If the throat is larger than the bullet diameter - say, .001" or better - accuracy drops off. If the throat and bullet match, accuracy will generally be at its best. If the throat is slightly (up to .001") smaller than bullet diameter, jacketed bullets will usually show a falloff in accuracy but lead bullets usually won't, at least not to the same degree. (More testing is needed in this area, however, as I don't have enough data points with smaller-than-bullet throats to reach a definite conclusion.)
When the throat diameter was the same as the bullet diameter, there was generally little to no difference in accuracy between the long and short. When the throat diameter was larger, however, the Specials were usually less accurate than the longer cases. Someone doing the same experiment but not taking into account throat/bullet diameter matching would probably reach different conclusions, which I believe is the source of the varying opinions and the reader's confusion.
More experimentation should be done, however, to eliminate other variables such as the angle of the transition between chamber and throat and any surface irregularities in that area.
I also would expect the same dynamics to apply to larger calibers such as the .44 Magnum and Special, though I have no experimental data to prove my supposition. -=[ Grant ]=-
Not sure how I found this civil war blog (Uncle? Tam? Someone else?), but it has a great article on Moore’s Patent Revolver - the first revolver with a swing-out cylinder (though not quite of the kind we're used to.)
It's also interesting in that it was one of the many guns which violated Rollin White's bored-through cylinder patent. History buffs may recall that White was a Colt employee who first presented his idea to allow a revolver cylinder to chamber metallic cartridges to his boss, Colonel Colt. Colt rejected it out of hand. White knew he was onto something, and left Colt to market his patent.
Messieurs Smith and Wesson, enterprising and astute gentlemen that they were, knew a good thing when they saw it and licensed White's patent. This agreement was really the foundation of their new handgun company, and they used it to produce their first revolver - the Model 1. That patent made Smith and Wesson rich, allowed them to grow like crazy relative to Colt, and should have made White rich too. It would have, if he'd bothered to consider the fine print.
You see, the licensing agreement required White to pursue all litigation against infringers himself. Moore, like many others, used White's patent without license - and White was obligated to go after his revolver and his company. White would sue, win, and then Smith & Wesson would somehow end up acquiring the infringing guns - which they would sell themselves. (I've never read the licensing agreement, so I can't be sure exactly how that transpired, but Moore's case isn't the only example.)
Ironically, Moore's company survived and was purchased by White's old employer, Colt, in 1870. More ironically, while Moore survived White's fortune didn't; his defense of his patent cost him nearly everything he made in royalties.
I'm thinking of a writing a firearms industry soap opera: "As The Cylinder Turns."
- Not sure where I got this, but it's pretty interesting: a three-barrel revolver. What will people think of next?!? (<--that’s humor, people.)
- Seems that Kim Rhode, ace Olympic shotgunner and ambassador for the shooting sports, has a blog. Hope she finds time to post more often. (Who knew she was a fan of bacon-wrapped meatloaf?)
- Speaking of Kim: I'm still a little miffed that they removed her original event - women's double trap - from the Olympics, but left the men's division. Why? No one knows for sure, but likely because some of them uppity females were beatin' the menfolk. There are lots of countries represented on the Olympic Committee, not all of them known for their enlightened attitudes regarding a woman’s place in society.
- An article in The Economist (a magazine which often displays a raw anti-American bias, yet is revered by Americans who somehow consider themselves unbiased for having read it) talks about gun ownership in the U.S. It states that while gun sales are way up, the number of households owning guns has declined steadily since 1973 - the implication that guns are being purchased only by those evil "gun nuts." Their position doesn't square with my observations, and I've yet to find any corroboration for it. Can anyone comment authoritatively on their claim?
Over the weekend Rob Pincus - never one to shy away from a firestorm (I was going to say another kind of storm, but this is a family-friendly blog) - posted a video on YouTube. In it, he details the failure of yet another compact 1911-pattern pistol and expresses his disdain for the breed in general.
The online response was immediate and predictable. Many people agreed with Rob, but a very vocal portion of the shooting public disagreed vehemently. I don't have a problem with the disagreement, mind you (Rob and I discovered some time ago that we share the same feelings about the 1911 pistol, which is probably why we get along), but I do have a problem with the nonsensical responses given by those who disagree. Here are a couple of the most annoying, and they apply not just to the present discussion but all discussions about guns, cars, or darned near anything else on the planet.
More to the point, they apply to the kinds of responses I receive when I talk about the virtues of the revolver versus an autoloader as a defensive tool; I've heard these same arguments to my opinions, gotten them in emails, and seen them plastered over the 'net. That's probably why they're annoying.
1) "My is perfectly reliable, so your opinion is baseless/stupid/meaningless." Aside from the issues with making claims about an entire population based on a single data point, there are a couple of problems with this statement. First, the two sides may not agree on the definition of "reliable". I've proposed one such definition, but not everyone agrees.
I had a fellow once who told me his particular AR-15, a brand for which I don't care, was "completely reliable". I picked it up, inserted a magazine of fresh factory 55gn ball ammunition, and it failed to feed the fourth round. "Oh, it doesn't run with Federal ammo. That stuff is crap, and everyone knows it." Really? Seriously? If an AR-15 can't feed SAAMI-spec ball ammo (XM193 in this case), it's not reliable - period. The owner disagreed, his definition of "reliable" obviously divergent from my own.
The more interesting facet of this argument is that partisans frequently have selective memories. This is closely related to the phenomenon of confirmation bias: a person simply forgets those data points which disagree with his/her position. I've watched, more than once, a shooter clear a malfunction and promptly forget that he had one. When later he claims that his gun is perfectly reliable, and then is reminded of the incident(s), he can't/won't acknowledge that they ever happened. I don't watch much television, but one of my favorite lines from a TV show comes from "House": "everyone lies." Perhaps not intentionally, but they do.
I was in a class some years ago with a guy who had a malfunctioning Para-Ordnance. (This is not a shock to me, as I've never seen a reliable Para. Please, don't write and tell me about how Todd Jarrett's Paras are so reliable that he made a YouTube vid; he's a sponsored shooter, and both he and his handlers have a vested interest in making sure those "demos" go without a hitch.) A couple of weeks later he was on a forum talking about the class, and mentioned that his Para ran without a hitch. Funny, what I remember was picking up the live rounds that he was ejecting every few minutes!
Remember that there is a difference between extrapolation (from one to many) and representation (one of the many.) Picking a single example to illustrate a broader concept that has statistical validity, as this video does, is not the same as using a single example as the basis for a self-referential supposition. The former has data behind it; the latter has no data other than itself.
2) "All guns can fail." This is a particular favorite of mine, because it combines a lack of understanding of both engineering and statistics with a dollop of third-grade playground bravado. This statement attempts to get people to focus not on evidence, but on speculation; sadly, it works - as any political candidate can attest. If all devices can fail, then logically it doesn't matter which one you own, correct? If all cars break, why bother to look at repair statistics? Of course it matters, except when the partisans and fanboys get to talking - then the logic just flies out the window.
Yes, all mechanical devices can potentially fail. That's not the point. The point is that some devices fail more than others, and we can chart and often predict those failures based on past experience.
(I hear a variation of this when I talk about revolvers: "I've seen revolvers break too!" So have I - probably an order of magnitude more often than the person writing/talking. The difference is that for every mechanical failure I've seen on a revolver, I've seen hundreds on autoloaders. There is a difference which cannot be wished away.)
What might break is a very different thing that what actually does. When we look at failures, patterns emerge that help us make both buying and engineering decisions. Smith & Wesson, for instance, looked at failures of their Model 29 .44 Magnum and made running engineering changes that dramatically improved the longevity and reliability of that gun. They couldn't have done so had they not looked at the pattern of failures that field experience had provided.
Availing ourselves of field data, from people who have seen more of it than us, is one way we can make good decisions. Striking out at the messenger because the message disagrees with some silly loyalty one has developed makes no sense at all.
(Oh, BTW - I do have some experience with short-barreled 1911s in the form of two Detonics CombatMasters, which some day I'll sell to one of those rabid 1911 fanboys. And laugh all the way to the bank.)
(Editor's Note: I'll admit to knowing nothing about blackpowder arms, so this article from Ed was quite enlightening! If you've thought about getting a cap-and-ball revolver but weren't sure about how to use it, Ed's article will tell you everything you need to know!)
Handling Cap & Ball Revolvers By C.E. "Ed" Harris
Learning to shoot a cap & ball revolver requires common sense and attention to detail, but these guns are effective and satisfying. Safety, reliability and accuracy of a black powder revolver all depend on care exercised in loading. Doing this correctly requires 2 or 3 minutes. It cannot be done hurriedly. Think of your cap & ball revolver as being little different from a modern one, except that it has its own reloading press attached. If you give it the combined attention you do in shooting, plus reloading ammunition, AND at the same time, you will be OK.
Dry each chamber thoroughly prior to loading and ensure the nipples are clear of oil or debris. This is done by "snapping caps" on each nipple, and observing the disturbance of a leaf, paper or other light material near the muzzle. In a hunting situation when you don't want to risk scaring game, dry the chambers thoroughly with patches. Use a straight copper wire to clear each channel. Hold the cylinder up to the light and ensure you can see daylight through each flash channel, then degrease the chambers with a light volatile solvent such as Outer's Crud Cutter or Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber and dry with patches. When this is done, the revolver will be sure-fire.
If despite your best efforts, a chamber has misfired, clear the flash channel with a wire, re-cap it and try again. If this doesn't work, the safest way to clear a misfire in a cap & ball revolver is to carefully pry caps from all nipples with a small screwdriver, while wearing safety glasses and pointing the muzzle in a safe direction. Then remove the cylinder. Unscrew the offending nipple and carefully pick out the powder with a copper wire or other nonferrous object until you can freely insert a 5/32" diameter straight punch into the chamber until it solidly contacts the base of the ball or bullet. Then carefully tap out the ball from behind.
Round balls are still the best choice for general use in either light or heavy loads. They are extremely easy to cast, accurate, and effective for small game. A round ball attains 900-1000 f.p.s. in a full load and is a better killer and more accurate than the slower conicals. I don't use the conical bullets in cap & ball revolvers, because they offer no advantage in game killing power or accuracy. The 200 and 250-gr. Lee R.E.A.L., H&G #130BB or Saeco 131, cast soft, are better options for heavier bullets in the .44 and .45 revolvers. The Lee R.E.A.L. is also available in the .36 caliber, and can be used in cap & ball revolvers of that bore size with the same charges used for round balls.
I recommend a starting load of 20 grs. of FFFg or the same volume of Pyrodex P in the .44 cap & ball revolvers and 16 grs. on the .36 cals. Then work up the load as needed to get best accuracy. Best target accuracy is usually obtained with 18-20 grs. in the .36 cal., and 20-25 grs. in the .44. Full service charges are 24grs. in the .36, 28 grs. in the brass frame .44s, and 35 grs. in the steel frames.
A wadcutter bullet like the R.E.A.L. is sized and pre- lubricated like a conventional bullet, eliminating the need to apply grease over the ball. I lubricate REAL bullets for my Old Army in a .454" sizer, and use a .450-.451" for the replicas. You can either use your favorite black powder lube, or do simply tumble the bullets in Lee Liquid Alox.
Firm compression of the charge is necessary for best accuracy. With charges less than 20 grains bulk measure in the .44 replicas or 25 grains in the Ruger Old Army, the stroke of the loading lever is inadequate to compress the charge unless a wad or filler is used. I thumb an Ox Yoke wad over the powder as I load each chamber. This also avoids the risk of an inadvertent double-charge or seating a ball with no powder under it. The wad also avoids spilling powder from adjacent chambers when seating the ball or bullet, keeps the bore cleaner and improves accuracy too.
If you cannot feel the charge compress slightly before the end of the rammer stroke, you may need to also pour a bit of Farina, Cream of Wheat or corn meal to take up the empty space in the chambers. I dispense mine from a catsup bottle. Cream of Wheat or Farina do not cake in wet weather, but do not compress, so the amount needed must be carefully determined, to leave enough room for seating the ball. Corn meal compresses and is more forgiving if you use a bit too much.
Hodgdon Pyrodex is more difficult to ignite than black powder, so it is doubly essential that the charge be fully compressed to eliminate all airspace, otherwise hangfires or misfires may occur. "Hot" caps such as CCI give the best results with Pyrodex. With black powder, failure to compress the charge results in lower velocities, greater velocity variation and vertical stringing.
Seating a wad over the powder, combined with a tight fitting ball or bullet positively prevents "flashovers", but applying lubricant over round balls is essential to keep the cylinder from binding due to fouling. It also aids accuracy, reduces leading and makes the gun easier to clean afterwards. I use either Lee Case Lube or Hodgdon SpitBall, with no particular preference to either, both work well.
Its OK to load and cap all six chambers when target shooting at a range, when the revolver will be fired immediately. In the field never load more than FIVE chambers. Always carry the hammer down on the EMPTY one for safety! The substantial hammer notches between the chambers of the Ruger Old Army are much better than the puny "pins" on original Colts, but Sturm, Ruger cautions to load 5 only, and I agree with their advice.
Black powder folklore says pure lead is a must for bullets. It is best, if you can get it, but certainly not essential. I routinely use backstop scrap from .38 wadcutter and .22 rimfire bullets, 8 BHN, containing 1.5% antimony and 0.3% tin. I expect a good load to group 2" at 25 yards. My best ones do better.
With black powder, a consistent bore condition is critical for accuracy. Serious black powder competitors dry brush the bore and chambers when they reload. An effective lube such as Hodgdon Spit-Ball combined with Ox-Yoke Wonder Wads also helps you shoot longer before needing to clean. Using Hodgdon Pyrodex rather than black also helps. I have found that when using Pyrodex I can fire 60 continuous shots or more without brushing and the last group is as good as the first.
The top black powder competitors buy as much of one lot of powder as they can safely (and legally) store and work up their most accurate loads with it. Once they find an accurate load, they measure velocities, but only to provide a working baseline. They emphasize that it does no good whatever to measure velocities while working up a load unless groups are concurrently shot on paper, because uniform velocity does not guarantee accuracy. Velocity measurement is most valuable after an accurate load has been found, because it defines a measurable parameter and gives at least some chance of being able to approximate the same good results.
Pyrodex is more consistent from batch to batch than black powder, and I prefer it for target loads because it seems more consistently accurate and produces less fouling. It is also more readily available in some areas than black powder because it can be shipped and stored under the same regulations which apply to smokeless propellant. Pyrodex is NOT noncorrosive, and requires the same attention to cleaning that black powder does. The cleaning methods and materials which work with black powder are also effective with Pyrodex, and vice-versa.
Cleaning a black powder gun isn't the drudgery you have heard about. There are plenty of easy-to-use black powder cleaners for those who shun water. If you don't want to mix your own "Ed's Red" and want a store bought product, you can get fine results cleaning black powder guns with any of the various "waterless hand cleaners" sold in hardware and auto parts stores. These have an appearance and consistency like mayonnaise and are an emulsion of petroleum distillates, water, soap and lanolin, occasionally with surfactants or anti-oxidants added.
Never use brands which contain pumice or other abrasives! Brands such as "Go-Jo" or "Goop" sell for about $2 per 14-oz. can, and work extremely well.
To clean the revolver, remove the cylinder and unscrew the nipples. This enables the wire core of a bore brush to clear the nipple threads so the bristles will reach clear to the bottom of the chambers. Scrub the chambers well with hand cleaner on the brush. Then pack each chamber with paper towel, patches or tissue and use a 2" long, 5/32" punch to push the packing out. This leaves the chambers bright, clean, and lightly lubricated to prevent rust.
Scrub the bore with a bore brush and hand cleaner and wipe dry with patches. Use a toothbrush similarly to scrub the frame crevices and nipple seats. Wipe the exterior dry with a rag, lightly oil the cylinder pin, gas ring and ratchet, place a drop or two in the hammer pivot and reassemble. This cleaning method is effective with both black powder and Pyrodex and is quick and easy.
Use the waterless hand cleaner while at the range to clean your hands after a shooting session. It also makes a good expedient lubricant over round balls.
So, who says cap & ball revolvers are too much trouble? If you try it my way, you'll be convinced that they do most sporting jobs as well as a modern cartridge gun!
Good if it brings new thinking and new dedication, bad if it scuttles existing industry relationships. From what I hear, there's been some of the latter - and aside from their formation of a new shooting team with Jessie Harrison, we've yet to see much of the former.
The TTAG piece is something of a coincidence because just a couple of days ago I was looking at the traffic reports for this site, including the search terms which bring people here. A HUGE percentage of the people who come here from Google do so because of a search about Taurus guns. My piece "Why I don't work on Taurus revolvers" has become the single most-read page on this site.
In fact, if you Google "Taurus gun reviews", this site is #6 in the result. Same for "Taurus revolvers". "Are Taurus revolvers any good" has me in the #2 spot, and "Taurus revolver reviews" puts me in first place!
This shocked me, because when I wrote that piece I wasn't thinking about search rankings - just addressing the very real issues of Taurus quality and why it's not worth my client's money for me to work on the things. The comments on that blog entry are a mix of "I think they're great and you're an idiot" to "you're right and I'll never spend another dime on one of their products."
We don't really know what Google's algorithms for search results are, but one speculation is that they adjust over time to reflect (among a whole host of other things) those sites that are the most often visited for any given search term. If that's true, Taurus definitely has an image problem in the marketplace - an image problem that isn't wholly undeserved.
It should be clear, based on my comments over a long period of time, that I have something of a love-hate relationship with Taurus. I like some of the unique things they do (except the freaking Judge line, of course), but I'm continually let down by their random quality control and indifferent engineering. Their revolvers are probably the best thing they make - I've heard very little other than horror stories about their autoloaders - but even those need serious attention if they're going to be considered in the same league with Ruger and Smith & Wesson.
I hope Kresser can make headway at Taurus, as I'd like to someday be able to brag about having one in my holster.
(Never heard of the Model 1897 75mm cannon, an artillery piece so advanced that they justifiably considered it to be a state secret? Or the first high velocity smokeless powder rifle round, the 8x50mmR, aka "8mm Lebel"? Or how about the first autoloading rifle adopted by any military - the A6 Meunier? Or perhaps the first autoloading rifle to be in general service in any military - the Model 1917 RSC? Yes, all French. The toadying, indolent France of today is nothing like the truculent, innovative France of the early 20th century. Not everything ballistically innovative has come out of Utah or Springfield, and it would do us well to remember that.)
I've held - though never fired - both models, and must say that I was impressed with both the workmanship and design (given the vintage, of course.) I was particularly intrigued by the 1892, as its makers managed to construct a modern double action revolver with a surprisingly small number of very well made parts. The script engraving is, to my eye, quite fetching and makes them almost decorative.
The Model 1892 is fairly common, with nice examples selling for around $250-300. The Model 1873 is much scarcer, with very good specimens fetching north of eight bills. Very neat guns!
I think I've made my feelings clear regarding the concept (if not the execution) of the Taurus Judge/S&W Governor revolvers. As self defense guns, which is how they're marketed, they make no sense for a wide variety of valid reasons. What's amazing to me is that people will say "that's all true, but I think they still have a place for snakes and carjackers."
I've talked about the former already. A large portion of my family lives and ranches in rattlesnake country, and I spend time there on a regular basis. I can tell you for a fact that a) the preferred snake gun is a .45 Colt using CCI shotshells, and has been for decades; and b) it's rarely used - only if a snake is found in a yard, around a house, or in a work area where the chance of encounter is extremely high. People who live in snake country already know these things and visitors to snake country have no business shooting snakes, so the Judge doesn’t make sense. (Even with the amount of time I spend in snake country, I not only have a never shot a snake I don't even bother to carry snake loads. If I see a snake, I just put distance between us and have done so many times.**)
The carjacking scenario is just as silly. Aside from the fact that very few have practiced deploying any gun - let alone a Judge - in the confines of an automobile, what makes this gun any better than any other gun for the purpose? Trolling some of the less sophisticated gun forums will reveal comments like "a .410 shotshell to the face would make any carjacker think twice." Umm, yeah, a .22LR would do the same thing. Just about any gun would make just about anyone "think twice." What's the point, again?
The consensus of Judge fans seem to think that the close ranges of a carjacking scenario are ideally suited to the .410 shotshell, but their reasoning is missing. Do they believe that the shotshell will make it easier to hit their assailant? At that distance it's no more sure than a single, more effective, projectile launcher. Will it have more immediate effect? Unlikely, since it has less penetration than a single projectile. No matter how I look at it, I cannot find a rationale for the .410 from a revolver making a better anti-carjacking round than any other, but it's one of the most common justifications for the things.
I've practiced the use of a handgun from inside a car, and I can't see where a Judge/Governor would especially useful. Yet the concept inexplicably lives.
(My anti-carjacking strategy? I drive a vehicle that no one in their right mind would ever want to carjack, and I keep the doors locked. From my research those two things eliminate more than 99% of the potential threats. For the remaining 1%, I have a non-shotshell-firing handgun with which I practice regularly and realistically.)
-=[ Grant ]=-
** - true story: my wife and I were at one time considering buying some property in a very rural part of south-central Washington state, which is rattlesnake country. We were looking at an old homestead which was along - we didn't know this at the time - "Rattlesnake Creek". We were tramping around, looking at an overgrown corral area, when I spotted something on the ground. It was green, spotted, and looked for all the world like one of those plastic inflatable snakes one sees in carnival midways. I thought it was a discarded childrens' toy when I noticed its head move. I was perhaps three feet away at this point, uncomfortably close, and slowly backed away. It was a green rattlesnake!
I'd never seen one of that color, and this one seemed content to stay where he was. He was fully stretched out, not coiling or hissing or rattling, even though he knew I was there. He didn't mind me, and so I didn't mind him. I squatted down to get a closer look while at the same time motioning to my wife to freeze where she was. After a while I got tired of staring at a snake who wasn't doing anything, so I went on my merry way. The snake, for his part, slithered off to do whatever it is green rattlesnakes do.
When I got home I checked out a herpetology site from one of Washington's universities. It turns out the snake I saw was a very uncommon subspecies of the North Pacific Rattlesnake, and is noted for a peculiarly non-aggressive behavioral trait: it tends to stay motionless until a threat has passed, the snake equivalent, I suppose, of ostrich behavior. This lack of a self-defense initiative would tend to explain why they're rare.
Over the weekend I came up with a topic for today's blog. Unfortunately I didn't write it down at the time, and have now forgotten what it was! Trust me on this - it was great.
I did want to comment on this, however: a couple of weeks ago, The Firearm Blog did a review of a Taurus .454 Casull model that sports a ported 2" barrel. They've got video of the gun being shot, which leads me to wonder why they didn't try a rapid fire sequence? Heck, I tried it with a very similar gun - a Ruger Alaskan in .454 - and I lived to tell the tale. My elbows hurt for a month afterward, but I did it! (No, I'm not doing it again. I may have a crazy streak, but I'm not stupid.)
I hope everyone enjoyed my little SHOT Show recap last week. Between recovering from a nasty cold (which I picked up in Vegas) and being a bit tired of talking guns, this morning is going to be all linky, no thinky.
-- Over at the Geek With A Gun blog, there is a discussion about my recent post on safety rules. He doesn't entirely agree with me, which is okay - the important thing is that he's THINKING about the rules and their effect on those who hear them, rather than doing the knee-jerk "the four rules are immutable" routine. The more people who understand that any rule which requires people to pretend something is doomed to failure, the better off we'll all be.
-- As you may know, I've become a fan of the Forgotten Weapons blog. This morning I checked my RSS feed to find that they have an article on the Hotchkiss Revolving Cannon! (Hey, it's a revolver - it's topical for this blog!)
-- There was an interesting article published in TheJury Expert, which is the journal of the American Society of Trial Consultants, back in September of 2009. In it, Glenn Meyer did a little test on the effect of firearm appearance on the opinions of a mock jury. The results were a little surprising.
In the last installment I bemoaned the current fad of attaching AR-15 buttstocks to anything that doesn't move. I'd like to have the adjustability, mind you, but without the wobble and general unsightliness of the AR stock. I was passing by the ATI booth, and found that in addition to their AR-style collapsible stocks (they're big in that market), they also make a more traditional looking collapsing stock that incorporates both a cheekrest and a very thick recoil absorbing pad.
Called the Akita, they have models to fit a wide variety of guns - including my beloved Ithaca Model 37 in 20 gauge! Comes in black, earthtones, or a faux woodgrain finish. It will give me the adjustability my short arms need without the Mall Ninja look I despise, and i think I'll be buying one or two!
Notice how the cheekrest covers the extended portion of the Akita stock.
If I had to pick the biggest crowd pleaser of this show, I'd have to say it was the new Colt Model 1877 'Bulldog' Gatling gun. Colt is now making replicas (technically, I suppose, it's simply a long production hiatus) of the smallest production Gatling gun. Fully functional and authentic in every way, they're limiting the first run of these beauties to 50; ironically, that's almost three times the number that were originally produced!
I had a good chat with John Buhay, the man in charge of the program (and the person who assembles every one of them.) They went back to the original Colt blueprints, but those proved to be incomplete and in places actually inaccurate. It was necessary to find one of the existing originals, take it apart, and reverse engineer some of the parts. Getting their first prototype to work took a year and a half! The result, though, is that the parts of the new guns will interchange with the originals. That's testament to his team's desire to make them exactly like Colt did originally.
Well, not exactly! The new guns have far better finishing than the originals could ever hope to have, and they're stronger too. The majority of the gun is produced from brass castings, and by using more aluminum in the alloy and less of the original lead they were able to dramatically increase the strength and wear resistance of the brass. These guns are stronger, and will last longer, than the originals.
It takes 200 man-hours to make one Bulldog. The main casting, of brass, weighs in at 110 lbs. After machining away everything that doesn't look like a Gatling, they end up with a part that weighs 40 lbs! After all the machining is done the parts are polished and assembled. The polishing is amazing - not a flat spot or radius change anywhere, and it reflects like a mirror. Gorgeous!
The MSRP is $50,000, and I'm told virtually all of the first run are spoken for. Given that an original recently sold for over $300k, I'd say it's something of a bargain!
The business end of the Colt 1877 ‘Bulldog’ Gatling gun. Technically, it’s a revolver - right?
It’s a small world! I was in the press room one day waiting for a podcast interview when I noticed the fellow on the other side of the table had a badge indicating he was from my neck of the woods. We started talking, and it turns out that his company produces a product that has become a staple of hunters here in the Northwest: The Target Book For North American Game. It's a largish book of targets to help the hunter understand ballistics, trajectories, sight-in distances, and aiming points for a wide range of animals.
The targets cover 95 different cartridges and their trajectories, showing how to aim and sight in to reach a specified "kill zone" with that cartridge. American Hunter magazine once called it "ballistics for dummies", and the creators are proud of that appellation! They wanted a product that would help the average hunter take advantage of ballistics without having to dive into the technicalities, and The Target Book does just that.
You can get it at Cabela's, Sportsman's Warehouse, and Wholesale Sports or directly from the publisher: Percentage Tags, Inc. in Salem, OR.
I'll end this SHOT Show review with something surprising. If you've hung around here for more than a couple of minutes you know that I'm not a huge fan of the 1911, so it takes something really special to get me to even look at one. At SHOT I found the booth of Cabot Guns, and I've got to admit that their guns are special.
I had a long talk with Ray Rozic, the fellow in charge of their operation, and he showed me their products inside and out. He's a tool and die maker, and the parent company's major business is doing super high precision machining for the aerospace and medical fields. There is more than enough talent there to build anything to any tolerances desired, and we spent a lot of time talking about metrology (the science of measurement), heat treating, tolerance stacking, and a lot of other technical trivia. In just a few moments I realized that I was in the presence of someone who not only knows what precision is, but is capable of delivering it. He also enjoys showing off what his team can do!
The quality of machining on their guns is stunning. I actually had to break out a magnifying glass to examine the detail work on the National Standard model he handed me; it was that good. The breechface, for example, is smooth - not a bump or blemish on it. Slide to frame fit was perfect, as was the barrel lockup, and with zero lube on the rails the slide cycled like it was running on linear bearings. The barrel bushing (their own design) is perfectly fitted and even tiny details, like a reversing radius on the disconnector slot in the slide, have been given attention and are done to perfection. Flats are flat, the rounded surfaces have no flat spots or changes in the radius, and the trigger breaks crisply and cleanly. That's just the beginning.
This kind of quality doesn't come cheap; this particular gun sells for $5,950.00, but given the level of workmanship I saw I think it's a fair price. It's gorgeous, and people who I trust tell me they shoot superbly.
If I were ever to purchase a new 1911, Cabot is the one I'd buy.
Yes, I’m using a magnifying glass on this 1911. The machining is that good. Photo by Tom Walls.
Ray Rozic of Cabot filling me in on one of the details I observed. Photo by Tom Walls.
I hope you've enjoyed my SHOT Show Spectacular this week. But wait, there’s more! Tune in tomorrow for a special Saturday edition of The Revolver Liberation Alliance, where I'm going to be talking about the food I chose to sample on my trip to and from Sin CIty.
One of the booths I wanted to visit was Elzetta. I've mentioned before that my flashlight of choice is their ZFL-M60 with a (discontinued) Malkoff MC-E module. This combination gives 500 lumens (!!) of pure flood light, enough to light up a room no matter which direction it's pointed. The beam is so soft that it has no hotspot and thus produces no glare when pointed at anything short of a mirror. It is, I contend, the ideal personal defense light.
The Elzetta light is also incredibly tough, more so than any other light I've owned. Here's a ridiculously over-the-top torture test between an Elzetta and a Surefire:
Having had (and witnessed) various Surefire failures, I can only say "that's why I carry an Elzetta!" If there's a tougher light on the market, I'd like to see it. This picture shows the light from the video (on left), along with the light that drove all the nails into the 2x4 on which it rests. Yes, it still works!
As I mentioned, the MC-E module was discontinued some time ago. This left a huge gap in the market, as there was no high quality flashlight with a flood beam available. This left me unable to wholeheartedly recommend any light when asked, as I truly feel the flood beam is a necessity in indoor environments. Turns out that Malkoff listened, and I learned that the Elzetta light can be had with the Malkoff M60F module: 235 honest lumens with a very floody beam! It's not as pure a flood as my MC-E, but it's better than anything else on the market and the modified beam will probably be more versatile for more people. Elzettas are made in the U.S. and come from a fanatical company that takes their products seriously. Highly recommended.
There was an entirely new line of revolvers unveiled at SHOT, from a company called Sarsilmaz out of Turkey. I talked at length with their chief engineer, Mr. Oner Ozylimaz, and he told me that they made use of forged stainless frames, barrels and cylinders, but use MIM (metal injection molding) for most everything else - including, oddly, the cylinder crane. This gives the guns a two-tone appearance, as the MIM crane is black set against the stainless of the major parts.
The guns bear a superficial resemblance to the medium-frame Taurus, but I was unable to get him to let me look inside of one. The guns are all in .38/.357, are approximately of “K/L” frame size, and have rounded butts. Barrel lengths range from approximately 3" to 6", with all but the shortest having LPA adjustable sights curiously mounted on a plate that's screwed to the topstrap. The 3"-ish model had a simple drift-adjustable rear sight that I found oddly appealing. The guns are of roughly Rossi quality, both in terms of finish and action.
The guns themselves weren't all that exciting, though if properly priced they may be a solid alternative to brands like Rossi and Charter Arms. What IS exciting is that a company outside of the U.S. decided that the revolver market was lucrative enough to justify the engineering and tooling costs (MIM molds aren't cheap) for a new line of guns. I don't think I'll own a Sarsilmaz, but I'm glad they're here!
Ithaca shotguns, if you didn't know, are a particular favorite of mine. Their Model 37 is a classic, an icon in the shotgun world. If you've never handled one you should; if you're used to Remington or (worse) Mossberg pumps, the Ithaca will make you smile the first time you operate the slide! Their actions are smooth, light, and are usually a cure for the person who has a tendency to short-stroke other pump guns.
Ithaca has gone through several owners and a couple of shutdowns over the last decade, but for the last few years has been making a comeback. Not only are they producing a full line of the traditional Model 37 in 12 and 20 gauges, this year they introduced an absolutely darling 28 gauge version - which none of their forebears, including the original Ithaca, ever did. It's made on a special small frame, and is light and very quick-handling. Fans of the '28' will want one, and I'm told they're being produced one at a time in their Custom Shop. The workmanship shows!
That's not the only new thing: they're now producing an over/under of their own design, which looks quite nice. (I'm not an O/U guy, it must be said, but the workmanship was solid.) They've also brought back an old favorite, the single shot single barrel Trap model. They've also spun off their home defense and police shotguns into an allied entity called Ithaca Tactical, and have quite a line of tough-looking door breachers and similar accessories to help them regain some of the police market they once dominated.
One product of Ithaca Tactical was sitting quietly on a back table but wasn't officially introduced: the Ithaca Tactical AR-15. This was the year of the AR-15 at SHOT, as you couldn't look in any direction without seeing some company declaring that they make the "best" AR-15 clones. The Ithaca version is at least different, being fully machined in their factory from aluminum billet instead of built on outsourced castings. Another AR is probably what the market doesn't need, but apparently they feel they need for one if Ithaca Tactical is to compete. OK, then.
I'm very big on keeping my knives sharp, and for the last decade or so have been using the Lansky system to do so. It's able to produce a decent edge, but I've never been happy with the quality of Lansky's components. I've looked at other sharpeners, but have never found anything that is as quick and easy as the Lansky - until this show!
Wicked Edge is a relatively new company out of Santa Fe, and their sharpening system combines easy operation with a wide range of quality stone, ceramic, and diamond hones, along with leather strops for a really polished edge. Pharmacist Tommy had with him a knife that he'd tried (with his Lansky) to get to a decent edge, without success. The Wicked Edge had no problem handling the odd shape and size of the blade, and in a few minutes it was shaving sharp (as proven by Tommy’s suddenly smooth forearms.) He's sold, and so am I. I'm going to order one as soon as I recover from the monetary impact of this trip!
Check back tomorrow, because there's more to tell!
I'll start today with what I didn't see: any big introductions from the major revolver manufacturers. Smith & Wesson had a couple of Performance Center variants (I'd not seen the Model 647 Varminter before), Ruger was showing the previously announced four-inch SP101 in .38/.357 and .22LR (the smallbore having vastly improved sights), while Colt didn’t show any double action revolvers - and probably won't any time soon.
I had a great chat with Brent Turchi, the head of Colt's Custom Shop. He said that new revolvers weren't in the cards for at least a few years yet, and if they ever do release a new wheelgun it will probably be something like a King Cobra or Anaconda, or possibly a lightweight concealed carry piece based on the SFVI/Magnum Carry action. It’s all just speculation at this point, he emphasized.
The Python is gone for good, he said - too expensive to make, and they no longer have the skilled workforce to do so even if they could justify it economically. In fact, the people who today work repairing Pythons are nearing retirement, and when they go a lot of knowledge and skill will go with them. On the plus side, 2011 was a very good year for Colt as they were able to sell tons of 1911s. Of course.
The big handgun news at SHOT was the official U.S. introduction of the Caracal pistol. This is a new polymer striker fired pistol made in (of all places) the United Arab Emirates. Apparently the UAE has decided that even their large oil reserves won't last forever, and have decided to get into manufacturing firearms. Their first products are full-size (think Glock 17) and compact (Glock 19-ish) pistols in 9mm (.40 S&W versions will come later this year.) The Caracal is the brainchild of Wilhelm Bubits, former Glock employee and designer of the Steyr M series of pistols. His new design borrows some elements from the Steyr, but most of it is new.
I first heard about the Caracal when Rob Pincus went to Italy last year and found a couple of his students armed with this unknown handgun. Apparently it's been sold in Italy and a few other places for almost two years, and the reports he got from those students were glowing. The guns were used hard during the three days of intense training, and there were no failures. That says a lot about the design.
The Caracal is unusual in that everything inside the gun is modular. The fire control group in the frame, as well as the striker assembly in the slide, are modules that are quickly and easily removed for service, and just as easily replaced. The bore axis is very low, approaching that of an HK P7, while the slide mass has been reduced. The result, I'm told from those who have fired them, is reduced recoil impulse and muzzle rise.
Ergonomics, even for my small hands, are superb. The Caracal fits me better than either the Glock or the Steyr, and I can even hit the magazine release without too much contortion! The trigger is very smooth, very linear (once you get past take-up, of course) and has a nice, jar-free letoff. It's very impressive.
What is also impressive is the construction quality. The machining, inside and out, is superb - the underside of their slide makes a Glock look like a gravel road. Everything is polished, there are no tool marks, and even the plastic castings are perfectly clean. This is top-notch quality, an amazing feat for a young company.
Caracal was all over Vegas; all of the buses for the convention had Caracal banners on their sides, their booth was large and set up for doing lots of business, and their marketing materials were big-league. The folks behind Caracal have invested a ton of money into both the product and the marketing, and it's obvious that they intend to be a big player in this business. If the product holds up to its promise, I think they will be. (Oddly enough, despite seemingly being on top of every little detail they still haven’t gotten their USA website up - even though the URL is printed on all their materials!)
I'm impressed with the gun, and so was nearly everyone I talked to who'd seen it. I think this might be one of the top autoloading pistol choices for defensive shooting, particularly when the sub-compact versions come out later this year. Caracal is worth watching.
Early last year I embarked on something of an experiment: carrying my gun not on my belt, as I've done for more years than I can remember, but in my front pocket. Exclusively.
I've carried in a pocket holster from time to time, usually when wearing a suit, so I'm not at all unfamiliar with the concept. I've never done so as my default method, and I wanted to see what it was like. What kinds of problems would I encounter?
My constant companion was one of a pair of pretty much identical, save for color, S&W Airweight Cenennials: a blued Model 042 and the dull silver-gray 642. Both of these are stock guns, meaning that I've done nothing to either one. (No, really!) I tried several holsters, and found that most of them really weren't terribly well thought out. I ended up using a cheap, cheesy, but serviceable Uncle Mike's pocket holster for the vast majority of the time. I carried my spare ammunition in Bianchi Speedstrips.
Why did I do this? For some time now I've been talking about the concept of congruency: that students should train with the guns that they'll actually be using to defend themselves, and further that instructors should be using the guns their students will be using. The problem, of course, is that people generally don't do that, and as a result instructors allow themselves to believe that their students really do conceal full-sized Government Models in their workaday world -- because that's what they bring to class. It's a delusional feedback loop.
In reality, most of the people I talk to who are carrying medium- to full-sized autoloaders in class sheepishly admit that during the week they tote a compact auto or a five-shot revolver in their front pocket, because that's what they can easily get away with in their place of employment. As a fraternity, instructors are not doing a very good job of getting past this deception; I don't think they really want to know. Classes are structured to artificially favor the larger autoloading pistols, because that's what usually shows up on the belts of students. The students, for their part, feel compelled to "up gun" for the class so that they can perform well and save face. The loop intensifies.
What the instructor carries every day is irrelevant; it's what the student carries that needs to be the primary consideration in curriculum design. I decided that I wasn't living up to my own criticisms, and resolved to spend the majority of 2011 carrying not what I like to carry, but what an awful lot of people who look to me for advice and guidance are going to be carrying. (No, I didn't make the "I carry a 'J' frame as a backup, so that counts" rationalization. This was to be my primary, and only, carry piece. Just like everyone else.)
Save for one instructor's conference, where I used a Glock because a) I hadn't had any serious autoloader trigger time in a couple of years and b) had no one to negatively influence, I carried and taught with those compact revolvers for the year.
I liked (actually loved) the ease with which I could dress around the gun. I liked that I could carry in sweatpants in the same place and manner of my street clothes. I liked that wether I wore a suit or work pants, my gun was in the same place all the time. I learned a lot about deploying the gun from that carry position, from the difficulty accessing it at speed to the occasional instances of the holster and gun coming out as a unit. I came away with some very specific ideas on how a pocket holster for a revolver should be made and marveled that almost none of the holster makers have figured this out yet. (Then again, it’s hard to find really well designed revolver belt holsters, a lament that I made in my book.)
Did I ever feel under gunned? No. I remain unconvinced that it’s necessary to carry a 51 rounds of ammunition just to survive a criminal attack, an idea that has great support amongst certain segments of the training industry. (I'm still looking for all those cases in which someone involved in a private sector defensive shooting incident was injured or killed because their gun didn't contain enough bullets. Haven't found any yet, though I keep asking people to forward them to me.)
At the end of the experiment, I'm finding it very difficult to return to my belt-mounted carry pieces. I'm actually happy about that, because I think I've now got a solid understanding of the limitations (and the freedoms) that my students experience. Suppositions have been replaced by evidence.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to decide between blue or plain aluminum for today.
Doc Wesson and Mark Vandenberg over at the Gun Rights Radio Network did a sorta-formal review of my book last week, and they just put a recording of that broadcast up on their site. Have a listen; the whole podcast is fun, but if you’re pressed for time they start talking about me at the 42:00 mark.
Before that they interview Alex Haddox, the man whose voice was made for broadcasting, who does the Practical Defense Podcast. If you’ve never listened you should, as he has one of the better podcasts on the topic. He too has a new book out called "Practical Home Security", and it sounds interesting enough that I'm going to order a copy for myself.
My new book - the Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver - is getting terrific reviews. Besides the traditional dead tree version, it's also available on the Kindle, Nook, and Sony ebook readers - and coming very soon to the iPad!
This being a holiday week, I'm going to refrain from any major articles. Black Friday, however, will feature an interesting piece by Ed Harris! If you're tired of shopping, be sure to check in for his exploration of a load that most of us know nothing about.
If you live near a Gander Mountain store, listen up! They're building Gander Mountain Academies into many of their stores, and you need to check them out. They haven't gotten a lot of press yet, but the GMAs are state-of-the-art shooting facilities unlike any others. Combining both live fire and computer simulation ranges, they provide a shooting experience that very few places can. These are major investments, and they show that Gander Mountain is serious about firearms training.
All of their locations can be video conferenced together, which is (to the best of my knowledge) the first time any shooting facility has done so. The great thing is that they can have a senior instructor in one location who can watch people in all other locations, and provide two-way feedback on what they're doing and how to correct errors. This is going to give people across the country far greater access to top-flight instructors than has ever been seen in this field.
The first such class is going to be with Rob Pincus, who will be teaching Dynamic Defensive Handgun on December 17th and 18th. If you've got a Gander Mountain Academy near you, take advantage of this opportunity to be at the leading edge of shooting education!
Have you gotten your copy of the Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver yet? It's my new book dealing with all aspects of owning and shooting the double action revolver, and it's getting rave reviews. Even my lawyer said that he didn't expect a gun book to be this good! Get a copy now for yourself, and be sure to pick one up for each of your shooting friends. (Remember: orders over $25 at Amazon ship for free! There’s also a Kindle version!)
It's odd, really. This is the time of year that I pine for the long days of summer that are sure to come, and in the heat of that season I wish the early darkenings of winter would get here sooner. I guess I'm just never happy with the here and now!
The whole zombie schtick has long since jumped the shark, and my thoughts on the utility of a .410 shotgun revolver are well known. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that someone would combine the two, and likewise it won’t be a difficult task to figure out what I think of the thing. (Thanks to Tam for ruining my breakfast with this news.)
Trying to catch up with emails, snail mails, parts orders, and everything else around the shop isn't being helped lately. You may remember that my wife decided I needed someone to keep my company during work hours, so she brought in Shop Kat. Turns out that SK is a girl, which we learned when she finally grew up enough to go into heat. When that happened I decided to take her in for a little surgical modification, but as it happens that can't be done until she's out of heat. I thought that if I kept a close eye on her during her infrequent and short outings during that time things would be under control, as I'd seen no stray cats in the neighborhood. You can guess what happened next.
I now have a pile (seven, to be precise) balls of fur who are about six weeks old. They're constantly underfoot, seem to think everything exists for their own amusement, and are generally making the shop difficult to work in. I wear an apron while I work and they seem particularly amused by the parts of it that they can reach. Anyone want a free kitten (or two?)
I've got a couple of interesting articles by Ed Harris which I'm going to run on coming Fridays in place of the Friday Surprise. Ed's got some great stuff and addresses areas of the shooting world that aren't in my normal purview. I think you'll find them interesting.
In the next month I'll be working on my teaching schedule for 2012. If you'd like to book a class now's the time to start the process!
Of course I'll be teaching my flagship Revolver Doctrine course; if you liked my book, you'll love this class! I take you through the revolver, showing you how to shoot it, reload it, manipulate it with one hand, and more. It's a one-day class that can be held on nearly any range, and doesn't require drawing from a holster. It's a great introduction for anyone who is new to the revolver, regardless of their past shooting experience.
I'm also available to teach Combat Focus Shooting classes, both one- and two-day. CFS teaches you the most efficient ways to defeat a threat, ways that work with what your body does naturally. CFS classes are open to revolvers and autoloaders (much as I hate to admit it, I do know how to run an auto. Let's just keep that between the two of us, OK?)
A great combination is what I call the Defensive Revolver Weekend, which combines Revolver Doctrine on the first day and Combat Focus Shooting on the second. RD teaches you how to operate the revolver, while CFS teaches you how to use it to protect you or those you love. This is a great way to take these classes, as there is some overlap which is eliminated when they're back-to-back. The result is that we get in more material than we would if the classes were separated. (This combined version of Revolver Doctrine does require drawing from a holster.)
I’m available for classes all over the western U.S. How do you go about booking a class? It's easier than you might think, and you can train for free just by hosting at your local range! Email me for the details.
Looking even further ahead, I'm considering teaching a master class on Colt revolver gunsmithing. This wouldn't happen until at least 2013, but I'd like to throw out some feelers now to see if anyone might be interested. If so, drop me a note; if I have enough interest, I'll develop the course tailored to your interests.
Well, I think that's enough for one Monday. I'm going to return some emails then go do battle with some very intimidating kittens!
My new book, the "Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver", is now shipping from Amazon!
BotR, for short, is a general guide to the world of the double action revolver. It covers all kinds of things a revolver shooter needs to know: how to fit the gun to the hand, caliber selection, mastering trigger control, sight picture and alignment, customization, reloading, one hand manipulation, and a whole lot more!
It's even got a foreword by "the man" himself, Massad Ayoob!
It's a one-stop source of information on living with the double action revolver. Perfect for the person who's just started shooting and has picked a revolver, or for the autoloader shooter who wants (or needs) to know how to run a wheelgun.
A personal item: I hate this whole getting older thing. This last week I stacked our winter's firewood supply in the woodshed - all five cords - and managed to do some soft tissue damage to my right elbow. The last time I remember doing this was about five years ago, when I was doing a lot of hammering during a kitchen remodel. My wife, however, tells me I did the same thing last year when I stacked wood for the winter. That's another part of getting older I can't stand: the memory lapses!
Anyhow, my elbow is quite painful and I'm none too happy about it.
Last month a Colt Paterson revolver sold at auction, setting a new record for the price of a single American firearm: $977,500. Yes, you read that right - within spitting distance of a cool million. Somehow the S&W I'm carrying at the moment seems tawdry in comparison.
For those who have asked, the Kindle version of my book is available NOW!
Just as I was going to press with today's blog post, The Firearm Blog put up news of a new rifle: Advanced Armament Corporation's "Honey Badger", a subsonic .30 caliber rifle built on the AR platform. Tacticool rifles are getting common enough to bore me to tears, but I'm glad they named it what they did because it gives me the opportunity to link to one of my favorite YouTube vids: the (famous) "Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger"!
Every so often I get an email asking about the feasibility of building a multi-caliber revolver along the lines of a Phillips & Rogers Medusa. There have been several attempts to build and market such a revolver over the years, and none of them succeeded. The Medusa was probably the most successful of the efforts, and even it wasn't.
Aside from the general silliness of the concept (you can't get .38 Special during the Zombie Apocalypse, but you can get 9mm Largo?!?), I've always been leery of a chamber that would handle such a wide range of dimensions and pressures. Ed Harris, of course, has first-hand experience and was able to she a lot of light on the question. During his tenure as an engineer at Ruger they were working on just such a project:
"At that time the company was also building 9mm revolvers for the French police, and .380/200 British revolvers for India, as well with experimenting with a hybrid chamber for a government customer who wanted the ability to use 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Largo or .38 Super, with clips, or .38 Special +P without the clips.
This pipe dream did not work out, because when using fast-burning powders with soft bullets, including most JHP designs for 9mm, the bullet base may upset to conform to the .379" diameter chamber mouth [editorial note: the space just prior to the chamber throat, which is exposed with shooting the shorter cartridges], resulting in a steep pressure rise of over 10,000 psi as the upset bullet base had to squeeze down again as it transitioned into the smaller diameter ball seat in the front end of the cylinder. While the result was not dangerous when firing lower powered ammunition such as .38 S&W or .380/200 British, it was more interesting with 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Federal, and .38 Super.
Worst offender was US Treasury Olin Q4070 +P+ load which has 110-gr. JHP hollowbased bullet, same as current Winchester 110-gr. component bullet and most JHP +P+ 9mm. FMJ bullets usually OK. Problems with case splits [when] firing .38 Special +P and +P+ when chamber enlarged enough in back to accept 9x19mm. With good brass cases just came out looking 3 months pregnant."
So, there you have it. The multi-caliber revolver concept is just a Bad Idea.
Speaking of unsafe, Ed passed along information about their unauthorized experiments with the then-new 9mm Federal round, which was a 9mm rimmed cartridge made to fit the a version of the Charter Arms Pit Bull revolver. (You’d think Federal would be smarter than that, but...) Anyhow, Ed tells of their fun with a "non-approved" use, and finally we have part of the answer as to why the 9mm Federal disappeared as quickly as it arrived:
"Had some India Ordnance Factory revolvers in .380/200, copies of No. 2 Enfield which were provided as government furnished material on India contract. When 9mm Federal ammo arrived Roy Melcher was curious as to whether rounds would enter .38 S&W chamber and we didn't have any US made guns, so tried in the ROF No.2. Thanks to good range safety procedure they put it in proof box. Blew cylinder apart on first shot. Told Federal. They were NOT happy. They went on to take apart a bunch more .38 S&Ws of various makes and killed the project shortly afterward."
Ed really needs to write a book about his time at Ruger. He's got a lot more good material where this came from. -=[ Grant ]=-
Omari Broussard talks about 'cool' techniques over at his blog this morning, and I agree with him.
About four or five years ago I took some heat from other instructors over the term 'Walter Mitty Training', which I used to describe techniques and courses that weren't grounded in reality. It's the kind of training one takes to pretend to be someone else (or somewhere else), because preparing for plausible scenarios just isn't a whole lot of fun.
Truth be told, I'd class most of the 'tactical' training out there as Walter Mitty or very close to it. There's a big difference between performing a tightly choreographed obscure skill after making ready, and trying to decide between fries and onion rings when you're unexpectedly forced to defend yourself.
Context. Plausibility. Two words that are absent from far too much training.
As I see it, the only compelling reason to use autoloading cartridges in revolvers is because they require moonclips, making for blazing fast reloads. I suppose there might be some argument for the fellow who owns a .40 autoloader and wants a revolver to play with without the bother of stocking two kinds of ammunition, but really: how many of those people are out there?
The claim that it can be used as a backup to an autoloader and thus benefits from sharing ammunition doesn't compute: if you need the backup, it's probably because you ran out of ammunition for your primary gun. If that's the case, what are you sharing ammo with? It didn't make a lot of sense a couple of years ago when it was announced, and hasn't gained much in the intervening time.
Jeff Quinn over at GunBlast did a review of a special edition Ruger GP100. The Wiley Clapp edition features non-standard dovetailed sights, an interesting matte stainless finish, and - hold still my beating heart! - a return to the original GP100 grips with inserts, dolled up for this gun.
(One of the dumbest decisions to come from Ruger’s management lately was replacing their perfectly usable grips with the execrable Hogue Monogrip. Glad to see they didn't throw away the molds!)
I'm not sure about the claim that the gun is "built for defense" - I'd have done things a bit differently and I see at least two important features missing - but it's a nice treatment of the old warhorse and an indication that Ruger still takes their revolvers seriously. Just wish they'd do so more often!
Everyone, it seems, has their name on a gun lately. The Firearm Blog tells us that Mossberg recently brought out the Thunder Ranch Model 500 shotgun. Supposedly designed by Clint Smith, it features a shorter stock (12-3/4" length of pull) and a stand-off door breaching muzzle. In fact, very little other than the aforementioned muzzle and the much-appreciated shorter stock. And that huge TR logo with the expected higher price.
Seriously, a door breacher on a defensive shotgun? Someone has finally jumped the shark, but I can't decide whether it's Clint or Mossberg.
(It's my considered opinion that the perfect home defense pump shotgun would be an Ithaca Model 37 Defense in 20ga with a few minor enhancements. The Ithaca is the smoothest, easiest-cycling pump I've used and is a joy to shoot. You listening, Ithaca?)
One of the most popular items on this site is the little essay "Why I Don't Work on Taurus Revolvers". It generates a lot of commentary (and more than a little hate mail) because it points out the obvious: to produce a gun that sells for less than the competition, something has to give. If that something isn't on the outside, it's got to be on the inside. This is a simple fact of economic life.
Over the years I've tested several randomly chosen Taurus revolvers and generally found them to be seriously wanting in some important aspect. For instance, the model 445 (which was produced for a very short time, discontinued, and is apparently coming back) that I procured suffered from several serious issues, including a persistent ignition problem which required a huge amount of work to correct. Other examples showed other problems, including timing issues and accuracy woes.
Despite all that, I've said many times that if Taurus ever got their act together that they'd give Smith & Wesson a serious run for their money. I can't yet say that's happening, but a recent outing with a Taurus 856 shows definite promise. My first exposure to this model, shortly after its introduction, was not a pleasant one - the gun was out of time from the factory, sufficiently so that it was unsafe to shoot. That gun annoyed me to no end as I've been pining for a small-frame six-shot .38 Special revolver since the demise of the great Colt Detective Special (and the later Magnum Carry.) This is a category for which no examples other than the Taurus exist, and to have it prove to be a dog is a little like giving a glass of salt water to a man who is dying of thirst.
This most recent example, I'm happy to report, was much better. Not only was it in time, it also sported a decent double action trigger (for a small frame factory gun, you understand.) It shot to point of aim, was pretty accurate, and was generally pleasant to shoot.
All is not wine and roses, however, as the stock sights are awful. In fairness to Taurus this is not a situation unique to them, as many (if not most) of their competition's offerings suffer similarly. (I'm an advocate of the concept of using the sights when you need to, and under that philosophy if you need to use your sights you probably need good ones.) That's a problem which can be rectified by a good gunsmith but I'm hoping for the day when it doesn't need to be.
Am I changing my stand about working on Taurus revolvers? I won't go that far, as one gun does not a sample make, but for the first time in years I was impressed with a Taurus product. They've always had potential, and perhaps now they're starting to live up to it. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.
That's right, I've finally written my first book, and it's a doozy. With 240 pages and over 200 illustrations (all mine, except for the cover photo) it's a general guide to the world of the double action revolver. It covers all kinds of things a revolver shooter needs to know: how to fit the gun to the hand, caliber selection, mastering trigger control, sight picture and alignment, customization, reloading, one hand manipulation, and a whole lot more!
It's even got a foreword by "the man" himself, Massad Ayoob!
It's a one-stop source of information on living with the double action revolver. Perfect for the person who's just started shooting and has picked a revolver, or for the autoloader shooter who wants (or needs) to know how to run a wheelgun. It's currently up for pre-order at Amazon, and they'll be shipping by November 10th. It's a big book, so it's not exactly a stocking stuffer, but it would make a great gift for anyone you know who likes revolvers. Heck, you could even treat yourself and buy a copy for your personal library!
An email came in last week asking just that question. The answer is a little more involved than you might think, because there are some variables involved that simply don't exist with the same action in an autoloader.
There are at least a half-dozen different ways that I've used to reload a revolver, and I've seen variations which exceed that number. Each technique has strong and weak points, and it's up to the shooter to decide of they fit his/her situation. For instance, it's possible to shave corners in technique which decrease the time required for the reload, but which increase the chance of failure (case under extractor jam, speedloader release binding, debris under the extractor, un-ejected case, and so on.)
There's also a big difference between using speedloaders and moonclips. The moonclips in and of themselves aren't all that much faster than, say, a Comp III or an SL Variant speedloader, but their all-in-one nature allows the shooter to cut those aforementioned corners without the associated risks. In my experience, using moonclips will shave .4 to perhaps .6 seconds off of the average person's reload times. In competition, that's a huge bonus over the length of a match. In self defense? I personally wouldn't carry a moonclip revolver for self defense, my rationale having been well documented in this blog and elsewhere.
All that being said, if you want to see what's possible when all the conditions are perfect (talented shooter, moonclipped gun, and lots of practice), check out the famous Jerry Miculek video:
Back here on earth, I'll share with you my personal experience. When I was shooting competition very regularly and thus "in shape", my average time with Comp II speedloaders was something in the 2.8 second range. A Comp II loader would typically cut that by only a tenth or so (I found the much larger Comp III to be harder to handle in my tiny mitts, which reduced their speed advantage over the Comp II. Most people do a little better than that.) When the stars were aligned and I was having a good day I could do noticeably better, having hit 2.5 seconds in competition more than once.
My considered opinion is that anything under three seconds using speedloaders is pretty darned good; most people can't do that with an autoloader!
My very fastest reload using speedloaders, and one which to this day I can scarcely believe, happened during a Steel Challenge-type match about a decade ago. I'd missed one target before I got to the stop plate, which means I had no room for error. If you've shot SC type matches you know what happened next: I missed the stop plate! I could tell as the shot broke that it wasn't going to be a hit (again, steel shooters know that feeling) and immediately started a reload. I hit the stop plate with round #7.
The guy holding the timer, who'd himself switched from revolvers to autoloaders some months prior, looked at the timer and said "If I could do that I'd still be shooting the wheelgun!" There on the display were my seven shots, and the split between #6 and #7 was 1.98 seconds. The gun was a Dan Wesson Model 15-2, the speedloader was a well-worn Safariland Comp II, and the bullet was a LaserCast 158gn SWC.
I don't remember it seeming all that fast; I do recall it seeming to be effortless. Never before or since, no matter how much I practiced, was I able to recreate the occurrence. In fact I haven't even come close, which leads me to consider the possibility that it might have been some sort of timer malfunction. If not, it shows what is possible under the right conditions.
I saw one again the other day: an after-action review of a "snubby" shooting class. I think I'm missing the boat.
A snubnose revolver is fundamentally no different in operation than a non-snubnose revolver. It will have increased recoil, a shorter sight radius, and generally be a little harder to efficiently reload than a larger wheelgun, but that isn't sufficient difference to drop them into their own special class. Apparently some disagree, because the snubby classes are a rapidly growing subset of the training business.
This tailoring of classes to fit a specific demographic is all the rage these days. Actually, that sentence is a little generous; it's more the tailoring of the title of the class to fit a specific demographic. My general rule of thumb is that a class whose enrollment focuses on a factor external to the skills being taught is probably more marketing than anything else.
That having been said, I might someday decide to compromise my beliefs and promote a snubnose class of my own. Should that happen, I promise to feel slightly guilty on my way to the bank.
Over the last few months I've gotten several emails about light primer strikes -- and attendant misfires -- with the S&W 686SSR revolver.
The 686SSR is from Smith & Wesson's "Pro" line, which sits between the semi-customs of the Performance Center and the run-of-the-mill production items. The 686SSR has, among other features, a 'bossed' mainspring (which looks suspiciously like a Wolff 'Power Rib' spring.) The idea behind the spring design is twofold: first, reduce the spring force at the beginning of tension, making for a trigger which feels more progressive; second, preserve the mainspring arch at reduced spring weight.
The second point probably deserves an explanation. A common method of lightening the hammer spring on a S&W is to shorten the strain screw slightly. When done with a standard flat mainspring the arch is reduced, which often leads to interference between the grip screw and the spring. Having a higher arch, which the ribbed springs provide, allows for full grip screw clearance even at reduced trigger weights.
The problem is that even with the so-called 'full power' ribbed springs misfires occasionally happen. This seems to be due to the slightly lessened spring force at the beginning of hammer travel, which is also the end of the hammer travel -- when ignition occurs. This is exacerbated by the new California-compliant firing pins that S&W uses, which are shorter and lighter than the old versions. This presumably allows the gun to pass California's drop test, as I can fathom no other reason for the part to exist.
The short firing pin can easily be replaced by an extra-length version from Cylinder & Slide or Apex Tactical. This usually solves these kinds of ignition issues, though thorough testing needs to be done with any individual gun to verify reliability.
I've been chided just a bit for ignoring the growing field of revolver competition. It's not that I dislike competition, it's just that it's not my focus these days; self defense topics are what I'm most interested in and tend to write about.
Every so often I work on a gun that I personally want, and this is one of them.
Three-inch GP100s are a little uncommon in the typical stainless, but the blued versions are downright scarce. The owner of this gun wanted something special, and I think he got it!
We started with a Super Action Job, which took the DA pull down to a reliable 9.5 lbs and the single action to 3 lbs. The muzzle was recrowned, the chambers were chamfered for more efficient reloading, and the trigger was rounded and polished smooth (with the sides finished in a contrasting satin sheen.) The back edges of the trigger were radiused to prevent pinching; a trigger stop was installed, which I adjusted to .010" of overtravel in single action.
The hammer spur was dehorned and rounded, and the sides of the hammer were finished to match the sides of the trigger.
The entire gun was dehorned (all sharp edges and corners removed) and finished in my Black Pearl blue. When it came out of the bluing tanks, a Gemini Custom fiber optic front sight was pinned into the front barrel, and to complete the two-tone look a stainless ejector rod was substituted for the blued part. The rod was satin finished to match the trigger and hammer.
To tell the truth, I didn't want to send it back to its owner. My personal stainless version seems so sterile in comparison!
Speculation abounds, and without the gun in hand that's all we can do. There is, however, one likely cause that has historical precedent.
S&W has over the years experienced cases of incipient cracks of the frame boss underneath the barrel in several models, the 442 Airweight Centennial being perhaps the best-known example. The cause has usually been attributed to over-torqued barrels. Whether that is the case here remains to be seen.
There could have been other flaws in construction or materials, or the ammo used may have exceeded the design parameters of the frame (more precisely, the gun's design parameters didn't encompass the entire range of projectile energies allowed under SAAMI specifications.) However, the kind of damage shown would be consistent with a catastrophic failure at the point described.
Sorry for not having a post on Monday. If you tried to check in, you probably found that the site was down. My hosting company, Dreamhost, experienced a system-wide outage on Monday which took down all of their client sites as well as their own. My site came back up, sporadically, sometime Monday afternoon. It wasn't until Tuesday night, however, that I could actually get access to upload anything. Everything seems to be back to normal (knock on wood.)
First things first: On Monday I taped an interview with Doc Wesson for the Gun Nation Podcast. He'll be playing it tonight on a LIVE streaming podcast episode he's calling "The Wheel Of Love". It starts at 9:pm EDT, and you can listen live at this link. He'll even be taking call-ins (which gives me an idea...)
Yesterday Breda over at The Breda Fallacy posted a little rant about lightweight snubnose revolvers for women. Tam picked it up this morning. I read both and agreed with pretty much everything they said, but I had this odd feeling I'd read it all before. Oh, now I remember! That's because I've written the same thing. More than once.More than twice. Great minds? Well, I don't know that I can claim to have one, but they certainly do. (If you listen to the Gun Nation podcast tonight, you'll probably hear me tell Doc that the snubnose revolver is an 'expert's weapon', not something for a beginner.)
In a previous life I dealt with police reports on a fairly regular basis, and I was always amused at the language and syntax in the writing. One Deputy, who was forever on 'the outs' with his supervisors for not playing the game, was once reprimanded for using the phrase "I watched him...” instead of the more official-sounding "I observed as the suspect..." This memory came back when I read a Miami Herald article about a Florida Highway Patrol firearms instructor who was shot in the derriere by her supervisor. The official report was that the supervisor was 'inspecting' the weapon, which is apparently FHP-speak for "screwing around with". Were I in charge I'd be sorely tempted to allow Trooper Mellow Scheetz ('Mellow'? Seriously?) a penalty kick at her supervisor's privates, just to bring home the lesson, then do some remedial safety training that doesn’t allow for the “but I thought it was unloaded!” defense.
That's it for today. Be sure to check out the podcast this evening!
A Bad Idea is not magically transformed into a Good Idea simply by virtue of a rise in the MSRP.
When reports of a Smith & Wesson .410/.45 revolver began making the rounds on Monday, my initial reaction was great skepticism. Then it was confirmed by a trustworthy source, and finally showed up on S&W's website. It’s real. Unfortunately.
If truth in advertising laws had any teeth, they would require this thing to be called The Brawndo.
I received a bunch of emails from last week's story on the reintroduction of the Dan Wesson Model 715 by CZ-USA.
Some of them centered around the gun's MSRP, which is reported as being $1200. If the gun is of superb quality, that's not an unreasonable figure. Think of it this way: Freedom Arms has no trouble selling their high-end single actions, and the S&W Performance Center - despite putting out some embarrassingly bad examples - seems to sell all of the expensive revolvers they can produce.
If the new DW is of sufficient quality, the price should not be a barrier except to those who've grown accustomed to the cheap used examples that still abound in the market. A new DW would thus have to be substantially better than the best Monson guns available to justify their price tag. I'm not sure CZ is up to the task.
Another email came from someone who contacted CZ for more details. CZ reportedly said that they're making only 500 of these models, and that they couldn't make any more because they didn't have the blueprints!
The former Serva crew certainly had the plans, and if CZ-USA didn't get them in their acquisition of DW it would be a stupendous blunder. I suspect the truth is a little more pedestrian: CZ still has the former owner's run of 715 frames, which they realized could generate more revenue being sold than scrapped. If the writer of the email is correct in that they're only making 500 guns, this would tend to support my theory.
It wouldn't be the first time. When CZ-USA acquired DW from Bob Serva’s company they trotted out a few large frame models in the odd .460 Rowland chambering - coincidentally, the same chambering that Serva himself had hyped. CZ promised that other calibers would follow but the entire line quietly disappeared.
At the time I suggested the only guns CZ-USA had were those that were in process at the time of the acquisition, and that no others were likely to be made. The passing years seem to have validated that opinion, and I suspect the same thing is being done with this limited run of the 715.
All that aside there is still an opening in the market for a good quality double action revolver, and with the appropriate amount of work the DW could fill that space. As I've said before: it will take some re-engineering of certain parts of the gun, flawless construction quality, and a company that displays a solid commitment to the product.
So far CZ-USA has shown us all but three of those attributes.
I’m actually anxious to eat crow on this, as I'd love to see Karl Lewis' great design back on the market. I sincerely hope CZ-USA steps up to the plate and proves me wrong, but we now have a half-decade of history which suggests they're not going to.
Gosh, thanks for the tremendous response! I managed to divert a few more copies, so everyone who responded should get one.
Exactly a year ago I mentioned that I'd just finished a project with Rob Pincus, but I couldn't yet talk about it. Today I reveal all!
We collaborated on a DVD in his renowned "Personal Firearm Defense" series. Titled - what else? - "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", it features Rob and yours truly talking about and demonstrating a variety of issues related to the revolver in self defense. It turned out great!
The DVD has been released through the NRA's Personal Defense DVD Collection, and perhaps one other venue as well. I hope to have them for sale here at grantcunningham.com after the first of the year.
I managed to snag some extra copies for myself. I'm going to give a few lucky readers of my blog a chance to get their own copy for FREE! All you need to do is answer this question:What present does Ralphie Parker wish for?The first twelve (get it?) people to email the answer will get their very own copy of "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", autographed by me. (Just remember that comments here on the blog don't count - you have to email me in order to get in on this deal!)Good luck!
-=[ Grant ]=-
P.S.: Those who know me, or have seen pictures of me, may be surprised that I'm not wearing my glasses in this DVD. The director's first question when setting up the lighting was "do you need those glasses for anything?" "Well, only if I want to see..." Apparently that wasn’t sufficiently important, and I ended up spending two days thinking "don't squint at the camera, don't squint at the camera!" Such is the price of stardom, I’m told.
Got an email recently from a fellow who noticed that CZ-USA is once again illustrating new Dan Wesson 715 revolvers on their site. As you may recall, this is an old story; you can read it here, here, and here.
When CZ-USA acquired Dan Wesson in 2005, the first thing they did was promise that revolvers would be an important part of their business. They even showed a prototype "new 715" at SHOT that season. Time passed and nothing more came of the 'new' 715, though they continued to show the prototype.
Fast forward to what is nearly 2011 and they're once again promising revolvers 'any day now'. Pardon my cynicism, but I'm not about to believe anything until I see the guns on dealer's shelves. Even then, if they're not perfect - and I do mean perfect in every way - they'll be too little, too late. CZ-USA dropped the ball, and it'll take a lot more than empty promises to get me back into their court.
Over the years I've gotten a number of inquiries that sound something like this: "I was reading a forum about Rugers locking the trigger when shooting fast. What's with that - any truth?"
This is a question that comes up often enough that I've actually written a boilerplate answer that I paste into my email replies. I think it's worth discussing here.
First, the wording of the question (and the complaint that engenders the question) implies that the gun is somehow at fault. It's not! It's an operator issue, pure and simple: the shooter is not letting the trigger reset fully before commencing another cycle. If the trigger is reset all the way forward, the problem doesn't occur. It matters not how quickly the gun is fired as long as the trigger is properly reset.
If the trigger isn't reset on a S&W revolver, the common sequence is the cylinder rotating to the next live round but the hammer not being activated. This is called a 'short stroke' and results in a skipped round. The trigger then has to be reset and pulled again to get another round under the hammer and fire. If the same thing is done on a Ruger, the trigger locks in the forward position, not advancing the cylinder or firing a round, until - again! - the trigger is allowed to reset.
The net result with both systems is the same: if the shooter wants another shot, he/she must let the trigger reset fully before commencing another pull. The only difference is that the S&W will skip a round and the Ruger won't. The cause and remedy are the same with both guns; only the symptoms are different.
(It's possible Ruger designed their action specifically to avoid the S&W 'short stroke' issue. Perhaps Ed Harris will read this and chime in as to the design philosophy behind the Ruger's lockwork.)
That having been said, there is a difference between the way that Ruger approaches the trigger reset sequence and the way that S&W does it, and it does have a small influence on shooter behavior. As the Ruger resets, at one point it transmits a unique and very discernible "click" through the trigger. At the point the 'click' happens, the cylinder bolt - the little thing at the bottom of the frame that pops up to lock the cylinder - hasn't yet reset, which means the cylinder is still locked and the trigger isn't yet be able to unlock it. The hand, which rotates the cylinder and is attached to the trigger, is trying to rotate something that's held solid. It's a little like trying to turn a doorknob that's locked, and that's what the shooter feels through the trigger.
Again, it doesn't matter how fast the trigger is operated as long as the operator allows the trigger to reset completely. This seems to be a particular issue with shooters who have a lot of experience with autoloading pistols, where it's commonly taught to feel for a click denoting trigger reset and immediately commence another trigger press. It works with autoloaders, but not with revolvers. (This is yet another example of autopistol techniques being inappropriately applied to revolver shooting, hence my saying: a revolver IS NOT a low-capacity autoloader!)
When I do action work on the Ruger guns I do some things to reduce that false reset indication. It's not possible to make it go away completely, but I can reduce it enough (and change the initiation point just a bit) that most shooters no longer notice.
Still, it's worth remembering that the Ruger 'problem' is only a problem if the shooter doesn't understand the idea of trigger reset. S&W has a problem too, but for some reason it's not a bone of contention to the same extent as Ruger's behavior. Both are a consequence of inadequately experienced shooters, not any design fault with the guns.
Last February I brought you the news that Bobby McEachern at Bobby Mac's had unearthed some NOS (new old stock) SL Variant speedloaders. Apparently Bobby has had his ear to the ground in Europe, because he now brings us news that the Variants are back in production!
He's carrying the whole line - 5, 6, and 7 shot - for 'J' through 'N' frame guns. The SL Variant is unique for a couple of reasons: first, the spacing of the rounds can be adjusted to precisely fit the gun you're using, and second because each round is individually spring-propelled into the waiting chamber. They're fast and easy to use.
I've been hoarding my stash of them for the last couple of years, in fear that should I lose or break one I'd never find another. That fear is gone! Head on over to Bobby's place and check 'em out.
One of the features that Chiappa touts about the Rhino are the roller bearings used in the action. The Rhino has four such bearings, two each on the hammer spring lever and the return lever:
The picture shows the back (underside) of the two parts, because the rollers are not visible when installed in the gun. (Please refer to pictures from previous episodes showing these parts installed in the Rhino.)
Each lever has a captured roller bearing on which an arm of the mainspring rides. The other roller on each is on an open pin, and the rollers are easily removed. (They're also easy to lose when installing the parts in the gun, unless they've been greased ahead of time and thus stuck to their pins as they're assembled.)
The mainspring rollers ride along the surface of the wire torsion mainspring. As the parts move they slide up and down the mainspring; if the rollers weren't there this sliding would a source of significant friction. This approach isn't completely successful, however, due largely to how the rollers are constructed.
Because the surface of the rollers is flat the mainspring can ride from side to side. At virtually no time does the mainspring not rub on the sides that contain the rollers, and this means friction. If the roller bearings are designed to reduce friction, they are only partially successful.
There is another potential downside to this design. Though I had no problems in testing, there exists the possibility - however remote - that the mainspring could "jump the tracks" and come off the roller. If that happened the gun would be non functional until disassembled. This is not dissimilar to a rare condition faced by the trigger return spring in the small frame Dan Wesson revolvers, which on occasion would slip off its saddle on the trigger, tying up the gun. Again, I haven't seen or heard of any problem, but having experience with a revolver which on occasion does exhibit such a weakness I'd prefer that Chiappa err on the side of prevention.
The solution found for the Dan Wesson may be useful in the Rhino: make the part with a groove in which the mainspring can ride. This would ensure that the mainspring is always following the most friction-free path, and would make it much less likely that the mainspring could be forced off track.
The other two rollers transmit the mainspring power to other operating parts. The hammer spring lever's roller rides in a slot on the hammer (clearly visible in earlier pictures.) The roller bearing is always pushing on the side of that slot to power the hammer, and sliding back and forth as the hammer moves. Were it not for the roller bearing, this sliding - under the full force of the mainspring - would make the gun much more difficult than it already is to cock in either single or double action.
The other roller, on the return lever, pulls the lifting lever (hand) back to the rest position as the trigger is released. This force is transmitted back through the action, working against the leverage of the parts, to reset the entire lockwork. Excess friction at this point could cause the trigger to stick during reset, and that's what the roller is designed to prevent.
Given their importance to the design, I was surprised to find that the machining quality wasn't as good as the rest of the gun. The operating surfaces of the bearings were surprisingly rough and no doubt generated more friction than they probably should. In addition the bearings were quite sloppy on their pivots, which raises the possibility of backlash and attendant friction losses. This sloppiness also contributes to the mainspring friction problem detailed above, as the rollers get pushed to one side and create a trough in which the mainspring rides.
Closely fitted bearings with perfectly smooth surfaces should result in small but noticeable changes to the operating effort that the Rhino requires, as well as helping to smooth the very gritty trigger return the gun exhibits. Though I haven't analyzed this from a strength of materials standpoint, replacement bearings carefully made from impregnated bronze might be an excellent choice to improve the Rhino's function.
I hope this teardown of the Chiappa Arms Rhino revolver has been useful to you! If you haven't listened to my ProArms Podcast interview about the Rhino pop over to their site and listen - there's a lot to say about my shooting experience with this unusual revolver. If you're a United States Concealed Carry Association member, check out my review in the next issue of Concealed Carry Magazine. (Not a member? You should be!)
I recently recorded an interview for the ProArms Podcast, and it's been released. The first half is the ProArms gang discussing the Rhino, and the second half is my discussion with Gail Pepin about the gun. If you've been waiting to find out what I really thought about the Rhino, have a listen!
First let's take a look at the assembled action for some perspective:
The mainspring serves two functions. Through the Hammer Spring Lever, it powers the hammer to fire the rounds, and through the Return Lever it resets the trigger and all the internal mechanisms. This is not different conceptually than the single spring used in a traditional "V"-spring Colt, or the single coil spring used in the Ruger Redhawk - though it is substantially more complicated than either of those.
The Hammer Spring Lever and the Return Lever share a common pivot pin, and the mainspring is held under tension between them. The mainspring forces the Hammer Spring Lever to rotate counter-clockwise, while it simultaneously applies force to the Return Lever in a clockwise direction. Taking out the unnecessary parts for clarity, we can get a better look at how the Return Lever functions:
The Return Lever's force is clockwise, and as a result is always trying to pull the Lifting Lever (what everyone else calls a 'hand') downward. The Lifting Lever has a hook shape at its bottom end, which curls around a projection on the underside of the Return Lever. The Interlink Lever has a projection on its left end, which also has a peg on the underside. This peg fits into a hole in the Lifting Lever.
The Cylinder Stop Lever projects up through the frame and engages the notches on the cylinder, locking it in place so that the chamber is aligned with the barrel. As the trigger is operated, the Interlink Lever rotates clockwise; a rounded projection on its right side fits into a semi-circular recess in the Cylinder Stop Lever. As the projection moves downward it pulls the Cylinder Stop Lever with it, releasing the cylinder so that it can turn.
The Interlink Lever, connected to the Lifting Lever through the hidden pin on its backside, also transmits its clockwise rotation to the Lifting Lever, causing it to rise. The Lifting Lever has a finger that projects through the frame (in a more-or-less conventional fashion), engaging the unlocked cylinder and rotating it.
As the trigger completes its travel and the gun has fired, the shooter relaxes pressure on the trigger. The Return Lever - now under a fully tensioned mainspring - rotates clockwise, the projection on its right side engaging the large "C" on the Lifting Lever and pulling it back down to the rest position. The Lifting Lever pushes the Interlink Lever downward (counter-clockwise), which in turn pushes the trigger back to its home position.
If your head isn't swimming yet you may have a future as a Rhino gunsmith!
The mechanism is full of friction points, and the only way this guns works as well as it does is because of how those friction points are handled. In the final installment of this series, we'll look at what makes all this complication possible: the Rhino's unique roller bearing system.
As I mentioned last time, the Rhino's double action is a little more conventional - but not a whole lot!
First, we need to take a look at the left side of the hammer. It sits against the inside of the frame, and without seeing it you won't be able to grasp what's happening.
The 'hammer sear' is referred to by other makers as a 'double action strut'. In most revolvers a sear protrusion on the trigger sits under this piece, and when the trigger is pulled that protrusion lifts the strut upward, which rotates the hammer back. At some point the trigger extension slips out from under the strut, and the hammer falls. When the trigger is released, the strut (which is spring loaded) allows the trigger protrusion to slip back under the strut. The Rhino’s hammer sear does serves the same task in the same way.
(One thing about the Rhino’s hammer sear I found a little concerning: every other revolver manufacturer makes this part significantly larger and thicker, as well as orienting it to the sear extension at a nearly vertical angle of incidence. In the Rhino the part is smaller, thinner, and the force applied to it puts significant upward strain on the part’s bend. Given the generally good construction and material choice in the rest of the gun I suspect it’s not going to be a problem, but it does give one pause when considering what it’s asked to do!)
Anyhow, back to the action...
The operation on the Rhino is similar to what I’ve described, except the extension isn't on the trigger. Just as in single action, the trigger connects to the interlink lever via the connecting rod and the interlink lever is doing the actual work. Other than that, the operation is fairly close to what we're used to.
(I've removed the mainspring and some of the Rhino's parts so that you can see this a little more clearly.)
With the trigger partway pulled, you can see that the hammer is being pushed back. In the red circle (yeah, I know - it’s a poor excuse for a circle) you can see the extension of the interlink lever reaching back behind the hammer to engage the hammer sear. The hammer spring lever, which is usually under tension from the mainspring, wants to rotate counter-clockwise; a pin with a roller bearing rides in the wide slot milled in the hammer (previous picture), which gives the hammer it desire for forward movement. As the hammer is pushed back by the interlink lever, it rotates the hammer spring lever clockwise, against the mainspring tension.
The hammer is now back as far as it is going in double action, and is about to slip off the protrusion on the interlink lever.
The hammer starts to fall.....
...and hits the firing pin, igniting the round. The trigger is now ready to reset; where does it get the spring power to do so? We'll look at that next time, along with the hand - the two are linked together, and I can't talk about one without going into detail about the other!
One of the things that struck me when I first opened the Rhino is that the trigger doesn't directly do anything. In every other double action revolver the trigger directly contacts the hammer in both single and double action, but not the Rhino!
In a traditional revolver's single action the sear (which is usually a pointed projection on the trigger) drops into some sort of notch on the hammer. When the trigger is pulled, the sear slips out of the hammer notch, allowing the hammer to be propelled by the mainspring and fire the cartridge. This system has persisted with only minor change for over a century. It's a simple, robust method that's easy to make and easy to maintain.
It's not nearly so simple on the Rhino.
Take a good look at the pictures, because this gets very complicated very quickly!
The Rhino is cocked, as we learned last time, by pulling back the external hammer, which pushes the cocking lever down, which pushes the hammer spring lever down against the tension of the mainspring. The hammer spring lever draws the hammer back.
At this point, the long extension on the front (right) side of the hammer slips past the spring-loaded single action lever (aka 'sear'); the single action lever springs back (counter-clockwise), trapping the hammer in the cocked position.
When the trigger is pulled, it pushes on the connecting rod which is connected to the interlink lever. (These are all official Chiappa part names!) The interlink lever and the single action lever share a common pivot point, and are separated by a phosphor bronze washer (not seen in these pics.) As the interlink lever rotates clockwise, a small pin on it contacts the downward-pointing extension on the single action lever, pushing the extension and causing the sear surface to rotate upwards and slip off the hammer extension. The hammer is now free to rotate clockwise, propelled by the mainspring through the hammer spring lever, which brings the top of the hammer into contact with the frame-mounted firing pin.
It's an extremely complicated way to approach the function, though those familiar with high-end rifle triggers, which typically use a series of levers to do the same task, will recognize what the Rhino is doing. Those more familiar with handguns will be left staring at the pictures, scratching their heads, and saying "what the ****?" (It very much reminds me of the operation of a Hermle chiming clock, a mechanism with which I am intimately familiar. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that is good or bad.)
In the next installment we'll have a peek at how double action works. It's a little more conventional, but still unique.
Whew! What a week I had! I’m actually glad it's Monday, as I might finally be able to catch my breath!
I spent a few days last week helping to teach a Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development (CFSID) course in Washington (as in 'state', as in WA.) We had a great group, all of whom were there to learn how to teach progressive, reality-based shooting in both the public and private sectors. Rob Pincus was the lead instructor, and I had the pleasure of interacting with three other Combat Focus instructors who were also there to help out. Teaching something is the best way to learn the subject, thus teaching how to teach makes one a better teacher. (Seems almost circular, doesn't it?)
One of the take-aways from this session was a new way of looking at the concept of precision in combat. You'll be hearing more about this as I flesh out my thoughts.
Speaking of Combat Focus Shooting, I've received a number of emails showing interest in booking classes for next year. Some of them have been from sunny or very scenic locations out of state, which is much appreciated, but I'm also looking to do more courses here in Oregon. If you'd like to see either Combat Focus Shooting or my Revolver Doctrine class come to your town, let me know - perhaps you could be the one to host it!
Here's something to consider: host a Revolver Doctrine class on a Saturday, followed immediately by a Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting class on Sunday. The former teaches you how to run your revolver properly, while the latter shows you how to use it efficiently to protect yourself. It's a great one-two combination!
If you're interested, email me for the details. (Remember that while I love teaching in Oregon, I will travel in the Western states to hold classes.)
Last week was particularly full because I was working feverishly to finish my Chiappa Rhino review for Concealed Carry Magazine. Deadline was Sunday, and I managed to slip in under the wire. The review turned out to be very long - over 3600 words - and I'm concerned that it will need to be heavily edited to fit into the magazine's allotted space. (Lots of pics, too.) My editor at CCM, Kathy Jackson, has her work cut out for her!
I'll be posting the next installment of the blog's series covering the technical features of the Rhino on Wednesday. Coincidentally, I'll be recording an interview about the Rhino with the ProArms Podcast folks that day. I'll certainly let you know when that gets released.
One of last week's frustrations was my outgoing mail server. It stopped accepting my login name and password, thus no mail went out for about four days. Qwest's technical support (the pride of Bangalore) was of no use: "I'm sorry that you're not happy with your service, Mr. Cunningham. First I'd like you to turn off your computer and turn it back on again." I swear that if you called them instead of dialing 911, they'd respond to your request for an ambulance by telling you to turn your computer off!
I tried valiantly to get them to escalate my call to someone who wasn't translating a script from Hindi to falsely accented Southern American English. I failed. The problem finally resolved itself sometime Saturday. For that I am grateful, even if a bit puzzled.
On a personal note, I'm very happy that tomorrow evening all of the campaign advertisements will cease. (How do you tell when a politician is lying? When his lips are moving!)
As it happens, it is. The "hammer" that you see isn't a hammer at all. Since the gun fires from the bottom chamber of the cylinder, the hammer is buried deep within the frame. Since the hammer is inaccessible, to cock it for single action requires that something reach down into the works. That something is called the cocking lever, and it's connected to the thing that looks like a hammer but isn’t - but which, confusingly, is called the external hammer.
To cock the gun, the external hammer is pulled back; it pushes the cocking lever down, which certainly looks like it’s connected to the internal hammer - but it's not! The cocking lever actually works by forcing a piece called the hammer spring lever down. The hammer spring lever in turn rotates the hammer back, thereby cocking the gun. When the gun is cocked, a spring on the external hammer returns it to the rest position, pulling the cocking lever back up with it while the other parts stay in the cocked position. A red flag on the left top of the frame (which was cleverly not shown in the first picture) is pushed up by the hand (which they call a ‘lifting lever’ ) to let the user know the gun is cocked. You can see that part if you look carefully for the red line just under and to the right of the external hammer.
When the Rhino is cocked, the external hammer is held in the forward position under spring pressure. To decock the gun, it is pulled back and held while the trigger is pulled. Then the user allows the external hammer to slowly and carefully return to the rest position.
What's interesting is that the key to this whole operation is the cocking lever. If one wants to render his/her Rhino double action only, it's a simple matter of removing the sideplate and pulling out the cocking lever:
It simply lifts out of the works. The sideplate is replaced, and the gun is now DAO. The external hammer can still be manipulated (remember that it has its own spring to keep it in the forward position), but since there is nothing connecting it to any other part of the gun it performs no function. Actually, that's not quite true - since the rear sight is a notch machined into the external hammer, it still serves as the rear sight.
Next time we'll take a look at the Rhino's very different single action sear (bet you can’t spot it) and how it works. It’s anything but straightforward!
By now everyone knows about the Rhino's unique hexagonal cylinder, but it's unusual in more ways than the shape. The extractor (star or ratchet, depending on the maker) on the Rhino is quite different in execution than any S&W, Colt, Ruger, Dan Wesson, or Taurus.
The orthodox method of making an extractor is to cut half circles to accept the cartridges, and mill cam surfaces in the center so that the hand can rotate the cylinder. The extractor does double duty, as it were.
Those cam surfaces are responsible for both rotating the cylinder and locking it in a precise position when the gun fires. The extractor must stay in perfect relation to each chamber if barrel-chamber alignment is to be maintained. If the extractor rotates even slightly relative to the cylinder, the chambers won't come to the exact position for every shot, and in severe cases an out-of-time condition can be caused.
The common method of maintaining that alignment was to insert a couple of steel pins (very small pins!) into the web between opposite chambers, and drill the extractor arms to fit over those holes. That requires precise machining and fitting, two things which have become cost prohibitive.
In recent years S&W has approached the problem by simply machining the outline of the extractor, and the cylinder recess into which it fits, into something resembling a square. This is not an entirely satisfactory approach, as there is significant play between the two pieces. Ironically, that's what the machining is supposed to prevent!
Because of this sloppy fit, modern Smiths must be timed with fired casings in the chambers, which immobilizes the extractor. The downside is that if live ammo is undersized, the extractor is free to rotate and the problems come back.
Chiappa decided on a very expensive method to obtain barrel/chamber alignment. They took the alignment pin idea, and instead of using them to fix the extractor they inserted four more, and use those as cams to rotate the cylinder! The extractor is drilled to simply fit over the pins, and serves only to push empties out of the gun.
(This concept of separation of function will show up later when I detail how the double- and single-action sears work.)
Chiappa's method has the advantage of taking all extractor movement out of the equation. The disadvantages include a) they are not easily adjusted if chamber/barrel alignment is off, and b) the system is very expensive to produce.
The first disadvantage is evident in the gun I'm reviewing: two of the chambers are ever-so-slightly off, and a correction will not be easy. Keep in mind that the amount of discrepancy is very small, and doesn't apparently affect the accuracy of the gun to a great degree, but the error does exist. The first gun, which I sent back because of a very heavy trigger, did not have the error.
The second disadvantage doesn't seem to concern them, as we saw in the previous article on their breechface insert. Again, the machining is quite well done, despite the slight error noted.
If properly done, this design would make for very precise and repeatable chamber indexing, but if extreme care isn’t taken in execution that pursuit of perfection can result in a permanent deficiency. This is not unlike Colt versus S&W cylinder locking: the more precise Colt requires more care in manufacture and maintenance, while the sloppier S&W mechanism makes for a more tolerant system. Both have advantages and disadvantages that the gun designer balances to get the desired performance characteristics.
In the next installment we'll dive into the internals, starting with the hammer that isn’t a hammer - and you might be amazed at what it takes to render the gun double action only.
I've gotten the hint! People have reminded me that I've been neglectful in posting pictures. I remembered this as I was packing a gun up for shipment today, and decided you might like to see it. I stepped out the door, threw down a piece of corrugated aluminum, and took this quick snapshot.
The Model 13 with the heavy 3" barrel is one of my very favorite Smiths, and yet I've never owned one. This one came in with a gorgeous original finish, which the owner wanted changed to a Black Pearl finish. I talked him out of it (and cost myself some revenue), but it would have been a shame to destroy this beautiful, very shiny factory blue. There is a very small spot of holster wear at the front of the muzzle, but other than that it is nearly flawless.
The gun did receive a Super Action Job, along with chamfering the chambers and converting the gun to DAO. I had no problem with the conversion, as simply replacing the hammer - a common "K" frame part - is all that it would take to return the gun to a stock appearance.
Today I’m starting my promised technical evaluation of the new Chiappa Arms Rhino revolver. This will be strictly an analysis of how the gun is constructed and how it functions; my full shooting review, including my evaluation of its suitability for self defense, will appear in an upcoming issue of Concealed Carry Magazine. (The review will be a must-read for anyone interested in the Rhino; I’ll be covering some aspects of the gun that you’re not likely to find anywhere else. If you’ve been thinking about joining the USCCA and getting their superb magazine, now would be a good time!)
I received the Rhino some weeks ago, but had to return it and request another. There was a serious issue with the action on the first gun, as it had a pull that I estimated at 17 lbs. (I say estimated because my digital gauge only goes to 12 lbs, and it pegged out before the trigger even started to move!) An email to someone who I know had also gotten a Rhino for evaluation said that his example definitely didn't display that behavior. I concluded that the problem wasn't one of design but rather of production, and gave them a second chance.
The replacement arrived last week and is much better. I’m not holding it against the gun, as I’ve had out-of-the-box S&W and Ruger revolvers that displayed the same issue. In fact, I just recently sent a brand-new GP100 back to the factory for just that problem!
From a technical standpoint the Rhino is very interesting. The lockwork is complicated and very unusual, but that’s not all. The gun contains many examples of a decidedly unusual approach to building a revolver.
I’ll start my technical evaluation by saying that the engineering on the Rhino is typically Italian, and I mean that in a good way (as opposed to "typically British", which people usually take to mean the opposite. With good reason, I might add.) Having owned and worked on Italian cars and motorcycles I've grown used to how the Italians approach an engineering challenge, and while one can always find things to complain about, there are also things that make you smile and think “now THAT''S neat!" The Rhino is like that.
Take, for instance, the way the frame is constructed. The entire gun is made from an aluminum alloy, like a S&W Airweight. The breechface area of such guns, where the firing pin protrudes and the cylinder locks into place, is often subject to excessive wear (see my article at the Personal Defense Network for a discussion.) In brief, the relatively soft aluminum wears prematurely, leading to headspacing, endshake, and cylinder lockup problems in guns that see a lot of use.
Chiappa came up with an interesting solution: make the breechface removable, and construct it from steel! Their breechface (red arrow) is polished smooth, nicely blued, and fits into the frame very precisely. It hangs off to each side of the frame, serving as the cartridge shields as well, and is quite thick - on the order of .300”.
The machining necessary to do this definitely adds to the cost of producing the Rhino, but it's a good way of ensuring that an aluminum gun will have a very long service life. I was surprised that they bothered, because no one else does and nobody would have thought twice if they hadn’t.
Next time we’ll take a look at their unique extractor star and the unintended consequences of precision.
A recent email asked my help with a problem. The writer, who had purchased a new gun to compete in the IDPA revolver class, had taken the strain screw out of his S&W 686 and shortened it to reduce the trigger pull weight. When he put his grips back on, he found that the grip screw wouldn't go through the frame, and he could see that the mainspring was now blocking the screw's path.
He asked why this happened, and what could be done about the problem.
When the strain screw is shortened, the mainspring arch is changed. The strain screw is very close to the bottom of the spring, near the pivot point where the spring contacts the frame, and has tremendous leverage. Because of that leverage, small changes in the screw's length make big changes in the amount of arch the spring exhibits. This in turn lowers the pull weight.
The problem is that the grip screws are all positioned on an assumption of the mainspring remaining in the stock position. As the arch of the spring is decreased, it moves toward the muzzle of the gun and ultimately intrudes on the path of the grip screw. This is why reduced rate mainsprings are produced by Wolff (and one or two others.) These springs are designed to have a reduced weight while maintaining a close-to-stock arch profile.
The solution to this problem is to get a reduced power mainspring and a new strain screw (which will need fitting to achieve the desired pull weight.)
Changing the function of any part in a mechanism can have undesired side effects, and it is best to proceed cautiously unless you know with certainty the outcome.
Watch the video, and you’ll see that as the gun recoils from the first round, a second round is ignited. The barrel is nearly vertical when the second shot fires, raising all sorts of concerns about its eventual landing place.
The various comments made (not just on The Firearm Blog) indicate a lack of familiarity with the forces at play.
If one observes new shooters closely, it's very common to see them release the trigger immediately after the sear breaks. This is particularly true where the reset force significantly exceeds the pull weight, as it does on most S&W revolvers in single action (especially the X-frame .500.) The strong rebound spring quickly, almost instantaneously, sends the inexperienced trigger finger back into the battery position.
As the trigger/finger reach full reset, the recoil has caused the muzzle of the gun to arc backwards toward the shooter's face. The shooter, who has not expected this level of violent reaction to the cartridge firing, finds that the hand does not have a firm enough grip on the gun. The hand muscles - all of them - instinctively tighten to maintain a grip and control the gun.
The problem, of course, is that as those muscles tighten so do those of the trigger finger, which is now sitting on a trigger that has reset and produced a gun that is in battery. The hand squeezes and the trigger is forced back, firing the gun again.
It's not a gun problem, and having a longer trigger travel or a heavier trigger as some suggest won't prevent this from happening. What would prevent it is proper instruction from a teacher who understands the whole issue, and is smart enough to do a couple of things: first, have the shooter dry fire the gun so that he/she understands what the trigger is going to do. Second, put only one round into the gun until the shooter is comfortable with the recoil/muzzle blast/trigger control.
The most important thing to take away from this is that it is a predictable, and therefore preventable, occurrence - assuming that the person in charge has the knowledge base necessary to do so. Some time back I took heat for having the temerity to suggest that a good shooting coach needs to have a passing familiarity with physiology, psychology, physics, and engineering. This incident illustrates why that opinion remains unshaken.
Someone sent me this link to a tale of a Ruger Redhawk whose barrel had parted company from the frame. It's an old story; not this particular occurrence, but the problem in general.
Seems that a certain Canadian manufacturer of simulated munitions now has some competition. I've always disliked the existing company's elitist insistence on only selling to police and military buyers, and Speer, the maker of the new product, looks to change that. Their new product, Force On Force, will be sold not just to the public sector but to "professional instructors" as well. They've even got portable enclosed shoothouses available! Cool stuff from a solid, responsible AMERICAN company. (Thanks to Fear & Loading for the tip!)
DPMS was apparently the prime sponsor for a match called the "Tri-Gun Challenge", which was recently cancelled. What's interesting isn't the match, but rather why it isn't going to happen this year. The range on which it was to be held was slapped with an order prohibiting the firing of handguns on the property. When the range/club was founded 30 years ago, they allowed all kinds of guns to be shot. In 1995 they were issued a conditional use permit for a trap and rifle range, and their neighbors apparently are alleging that the shooting of handguns violates that permit!
This is hardly unusual. My wife and I belonged to a gun club a few years back, a club which had been in existence since 1952. The conditional use permit under which we operated stated that no camping was allowed. Once a year, however, the Boy Scouts used the club facilities for a two day shooting party, with a sleepover the intervening night. The kids camped out in the classroom, but a couple of the den mothers brought camping trailers (for obvious reasons.) One particularly nosy neighbor, a recent transplant from another state, spotted the trailers and notified the county. We were hit with a similar order for violating the CUP.
People with an irrational fear of guns will always find a way to cause problems. Don't believe for an instant that because we won in the Supreme Court, the gun prohibitionists have been defeated.
My latest article for the Personal Defense Network has just been posted! This time I detail a malfunction drill for the revolver.
It's fair to say that severe malfunctions with a revolver are much less common than with autoloaders. Balancing that out is that fact that the malfunctions that can occur are often more serious, in that they can tie up the gun enough to make it non-functional for the duration.
In the past I've mentioned that I don't spend much time on the various gun forums ('fora', to be excruciatingly correct.) My free time is too precious to spend wading through such drivel as "my instructor can beat up your instructor" or "the .45 is so powerful it knocks people off their feet!" The only time, in fact, that I look at a forum is when I'm eating breakfast or lunch and have nothing better to read.
It was at lunch last week that I came across one of my personal favorites: the statement that stacking (increase in trigger pressure toward the end of the stroke) is a function of the mainspring used. It's usually stated in the form "don't buy a revolver with coil springs - it causes stacking. Buy leaf spring actions to avoid stacking."
Hogwash, and what's more it's easily illustrated to be such.
S&W revolvers, particularly the 'N' frames, are known for having pretty linear trigger pulls. They use leaf springs. Colt revolvers such as the Python and Detective Special use leaf springs as well, yet are (in)famous for their stacking triggers.
On the other hand, the GP100 has a relatively linear trigger, similar in travel to an 'N' frame Smith. It uses a coil spring. Wait a minute, though - the earlier Ruger "Six" series (Speed-Six, Service-Six, etc.), despite having a very similar action design, stack noticeably.
Simple. The type of spring, coil or leaf, has very little to do with the amount of stacking in a trigger. The real culprit is the geometry of the double action sear. The stacking on a Python, for instance, can be eliminated by changing the geometry of the sear surfaces. The Ruger "Sixes" can likewise be modified to produce a linear pull through the simple expedient of reshaping certain parts of the sear. If stacking were caused by the spring alone, this kind of modification wouldn’t be possible.
Of course this doesn't address the implicit assertion that stacking is bad and linear is good. Some folks prefer their triggers to stack and seek out those guns that do. The one thing they don't have to consider is the type of spring!
When the locks first came out there were a few reported cases of locks self-engaging. The wisdom of the internet held that the locks were just fine, that S&W would never knowingly introduce something that would put people at risk, that the reports were fabricated, and so on.
As time wore on it became apparent that the issue was real, but seemed to mostly happen with lightweight guns shooting heavy recoiling loads. Then I started getting reports of lightweight guns shooting normal loads experiencing the problem, followed by the "big boomers" and hunting loads. Most recently I've heard first-person accounts of steel guns (all J-frames, so far) shooting sane cartridges having their locks self-engage.
I've collected enough of these accounts over the last several years that I simply won't carry a S&W with a lock. The incidents are numerous enough, and the consequences dire enough, that I simply don't trust the mechanism. I recommend that all my clients seriously consider carrying a non-lock gun; if you tuned in last week you found that my usual carry revolver was a Ruger, partly because they don’t have such a mechanism.
(Just for the record: I have no financial stake in this debate, as liability issues demand that I do not deactivate a safety device - no matter how questionable - from a gun. I'm not making any money by suggesting that you carry a S&W sans lock.)
I get many emails asking what I carry on a daily basis. While my choices are mine alone, and aren't meant to be prescriptive for you, why I choose certain items may be of some help to you.
As most probably already know (or, from the picture above, have managed to guess) I generally carry a revolver. Not 100% of the time, mind you; there are instances when I carry an autoloader, and have done so for many years. A careful analysis of the likely risk of the environment determines what type of handgun I carry. Most of the time the risk profile favors the revolver, so that's what I carry. When I do carry an auto, it's virtually always a Glock 19.
Over the years I've carried many different revolvers. My favorite remains the Colt Detective Special for its combination of size and capacity. As I've lamented many times, it's a shame that the ultra compact 6-shot revolver is now a thing of the past. There is nothing on the market which has that combination of attributes.
I still occasionally carry a Colt, and sometimes I'll be found toting a S&W Model 42 or 642. The lightweight 5-shooters are great for pocket carry, and though I have belt holsters I rarely carry them that way. One of my favorite carry methods is a "belly band" holster worn so that the gun is under the armpit - much like a shoulder holster. With a dress shirt and tie on it is completely concealed.
Those are the exceptions, however. The majority of the time you'll find me carrying a Ruger SP101 or GP100 in a belt holster. The reason is simple: the Ruger guns simply have fewer failure points than any other revolver. There are no screws to back out, no extractor rods to come loose, they rarely develop timing problems, and firing pin breakages are virtually unknown. (I LocTite all screws and extractor rods on all revolvers as a general procedure, but sometimes even that doesn't work.) WIth a bit of work the Ruger's triggers are as good as can be found anywhere, and their reputation for strength is unmatched. The guns simply run, and in my mind that's A Good Thing.
Shooting Illustrated recently posted an article about how to shoot a snub-nose revolver. I’ve generally found that shooting a snubby is exactly like shooting any other double action revolver, save for the shorter sight radius, but apparently I’m now in the minority. (That, or I just don’t know how to sell articles and classes effectively.)
The author suggests dry firing for 20 days as a good way to learn trigger control. Unfortunately, he never tells you just how to achieve said control, let alone what it is, asserting that dry fire will magically take care of those little details. You should already know my feelings on this subject.
On Friday and Saturday I did my annual duty at a local high school's all-night graduation party. For several years I've volunteered as part of their security detail, making sure the kids stay safe from both internal and external threats. (This, despite having no children of my own! How did I get talked into this?) It starts every year at about 10:pm and goes until breakfast the next morning.
I usually get a long nap Friday afternoon before the event, but this year I couldn't do it. Not in the sense that I didn't have time, but because I just couldn't fall asleep in the middle of the day! The net result is that I ended up going 24+ hours without sleep, and I'm just not used to that kind of thing! After it was over I crawled into bed and dropped right off to sleep. Saturday was essentially toast.
Sunday I worked my way up to The English Pit range in Vancouver USA to help out at a Combat Focus Shooting/Advanced Pistol Handling class with Rob Pincus. Jeff Varner, one of my fellow Combat Focus instructors, hosted the course at what is his home range. Great class.
After class Randy, the club's owner, brought out his Mateba Unica 6. Rob thought the Unica to be mythical, but here is a picture of him shooting the .44 Magnum beast as Randy looks on in amusement:
(I have another pic of Rob which is far more embarrassing. I'm keeping that one in my files as "insurance"!)
Non-related note: the best arrangement of the tune "It Might As Well Be Spring" is on the 1961 Stan Kenton "Adventures in Jazz" album. I don't have the liner notes handy, but I believe it's a Gene Roland arrangement.
The Firearm Blog alerts us to a company called Lightfield Less Lethal that is now selling rubber buckshot rounds for the Taurus Judge. (I'm sure someone will point out that a Judge loaded with .410 birdshot is already "less lethal" and thus has no need for this product. Can't say that I disagree all that much, either.)
I'm concerned that the Judge is already selling to people who profess to "not wanting to kill someone", but have a desire to protect themselves. (I've heard that phrase so many times regarding this gun that I've become numb to the stupidity of the statement.) We've been working hard over the last several decades to eradicate the concept of the warning shot, and along comes Lightfield with products intended to just "scare them off." (Read the company's statement at the link.)
Given the market segment which appears to be buying these guns, it's only a matter of time before Lightfield is sued because their "less lethal" ammo killed someone. No matter how you rationalize or justify the use of these things, to the legal establishment discharging a gun is still lethal force even if Lightfield doesn't understand the concept.
I lean toward the timing theory because of my own observations. I've not yet been able to take an LCR apart, but I have handled quite a few. In this admittedly small sample I've noticed that the gun's timing is later than normal, meaning that the cylinder locks up very close to the point that the sear releases. Since I've not been on the inside of the gun I can't tell whether it's a design or assembly error, but it stands in stark contrast to the way Rugers usually time.
In a typical SP101 or GP100, the cylinder reaches lockup considerably ahead of the sear release. Timing problems with Ruger revolvers are unusual compared to a S&W or a Colt, which makes those LCRs that I've seen definitely stand out. It would not be outside the realm of possibility to get one that is actually out of time, perhaps enough to cause this kind of a failure.
With such a radical new design it's always prudent to proceed cautiously. My recommendation to those considering an LCR is to buy it in person, and check the timing before completing the transaction.
Over the years, a number of 4x4 vehicles have come under fire for being "prone" to rollover accidents: the Suzuki Samurai. The Jeep CJ. The Ford Explorer. The Isuzu Trooper. While the government probes their safety and juries award inflated damages, one pertinent fact is conveniently ignored: a four-wheel-drive isn't a family sedan, and can't be driven like one. The results are predictable.
Guess what? The same relationship exists between the autoloader and the revolver.
In the last couple of decades, the revolver has become the red-headed stepchild of the shooting world. Since autoloaders became the dominant handgun platform, the necessary skills to efficiently run a revolver have fallen by the wayside. Many instructors, particularly in police service, have little to no experience with the wheelgun. This lack of familiarity has led to the wholesale adoption of handling and shooting techniques that work fine with autos, but don't work so well with revolvers.
Last week I linked to a little problem that Robb Allen experienced, and used the phrase which serves as today's title. The thumbs-forward grip that works very well on the autopistol is simply out of place on a revolver, as Robb painfully discovered. Robb's singed thumb is the perfect illustration of my contention: the auto and the revolver are different tools, and need to be handled differently.
Autoloader techniques imposed on the wheelgun lead to reduced efficiency, and sometimes more. For instance, trying to emulate the reloading techniques of the autoloader - shooting hand staying gripped on the gun while the support hand does the reloading - forces the revolver shooter to perform a complex, fine motor skill with the hand least suited to do so.
That's not all, though; leaving the cylinder unsupported can result in crane damage during the reload cycle, particularly on the newer light alloy guns. It's much better instead to use a reloading method that is designed from the ground up to work around both the shooter's and the revolver's weaknesses. (One such method, and the one I espouse because it has the fewest operational weaknesses, is the Universal Revolver Reload.)
It's time that firearms training reflected the strengths and weaknesses of the revolver, instead of assuming it's just like an autoloader "except for that round part." I'll have more to say on this in the coming months.
Having trouble coming up with anything to say today - a consequence of working too hard combined with some sort of illness (nothing serious, just annoying.)
I'll simply suggest that you first read this little tale from Robb Allen over at Sharp As A Marble, then repeat the following until you attain enlightenment: "the revolver is not a low-capacity autoloader...the revolver is not a low-capacity autoloader...the revolver is not a low-capacity autoloader..."
MY WEEKEND: It's not often I get to be a student these days, but it's important for any instructor to do so now and again. Last week I got an invitation from Jeff Varner, one of ICE Training's certified Combat Focus instructors, to sit in on his class in Vancouver. Unfortunately I had to cut out a bit early due to a prior commitment, but I enjoyed the class nonetheless. Thanks, Jeff, for the invite!
DRAW FAST, HOLSTER SLOW:Tam alerts us to a ND that happened at a Todd Green class. In his commendable reporting of the incident, Todd says "Never be in a rush to holster your pistol. We all know it, we say it, we teach it. Not all of us do it." So true.
As instructors it's easy for us to forget that reinforcement, and sometimes enforcement, are necessary parts of our job. Especially when we're dealing with "advanced" students, we tend to go easy on the reinforcement of fundamentals for fear that we'll be resented for belittling their ability or experience. We have to resist that tendency, and we need to do so consistently. When warranted, enforcement (up to and including ejection from class) has to happen.
The only instructor I've ever seen who is absolutely consistent in this regard is Georges Rahbani (TBRIYNHO.) Even in his advanced rifle classes, which are invitation only and have stringent prerequisites, you will hear "safety on" and "finger in register" (index, if you prefer) commands at the end of a string of fire. He never wastes an opportunity for reinforcement at any level of training or ability.
When Georges encounters failures to heed commands or instruction, he has a way of bringing the point home to the student: he/she has to publicly deposit a dollar bill into a pot. (The students have a friendly shoot-off at the end of class to win the pot.) This has a non-confrontational, yet still very chastening, effect on both the offending person and the rest of the students; I've seen it work on countless occasions. I don't know where the idea comes from, but I'm giving Georges the credit.
THE PROBLEM WITH ELECTRONIC SCALES: I recently sat down to work up a new .308 load. I turned on my RCBS electronic scale, waited a couple of minutes, and starting weighing charges. Much to my surprise, the weight of the charges thrown by my powder measure increased each time! I'd forgotten that electronic scales need protracted warmup periods before accuracy and repeatability can be expected. After a half-hour of warmup, it settled down and gave correct readings. Word to the wise: keep your mechanical scales around to double check the electronic ones, or buy a set of check weights.
"The inexplicable success of the Taurus Judge still depresses the hell out of me. Taurus keeps cranking out new versions, each more grotesque, hideous and nonsensical than the last, and people KEEP BUYING THE GODDAMN THINGS. Just another sign that our culture is doomed, I suppose."
(The opinions of the contributor do not necessarily reflect the views of the Management of this blog. Then again, they just might.)
A LITTLE BIRDIE TOLD ME - Frankly, I've never found much of a use for Twitter - until last week, when I started following tweets related to the SHOT Show. It was one of those 140-character messages that lead me to these:
They're from a company in Turkey called, appropriately enough, handmadegrips.com. The grips are of ebony, while the designs are inlaid metal and mother-of-pearl. While they may not be something you'd want to carry on a daily basis, you have to admire the superb craftsmanship. They'd be great for a presentation piece, or perhaps to commemorate an important milestone. Prices are incredibly reasonable, bordering on a steal.
HUH?? - I'm not quite sure what to make of these. (Now it could be that I've been married too long, but if my memory is correct and my supposition of the target market is accurate, they should have a fur lining...)
NOW THIS I CAN GET BEHIND - I don't own any Magpul products, but their new iPhone case may be my first. Unfortunately it only fits the 3g/3GS, not my Original iPhone, but I've been meaning to upgrade anyhow. As Caleb over at Gun Nuts Media says, "now that there’s an iPhone case that makes hippies cry, I’m all in."
LAUNCH PARTY - The Personal Defense Network held an official launch party at SHOT, and from what I'm hearing the industry response was terrific. If you haven't seen it yet, head on over and check it out. (Hey, join in the new forums while you're there!)
SOMETHING YOU WON'T SEE ANYWHERE ELSE - I conned Gila Hayes into visiting the Chiappa booth, and she managed to get this great shot of the Rhino's open cylinder:
This gives a much better perspective on the cylinder's shape. Note the crane lock sticking down from the topstrap, where the barrel would be on a normal revolver. Also note the unusual design of the ratchet.
(The Chiappa folks wouldn't let Gila dry fire or even handle the gun; the female person holding it is a Chiappa employee. One is left to wonder why an anonymous blogger got to play with it, while a well-known trainer and author - a person who's held highly visible positions in the industry for years - got the cold shoulder?)
The 2010 SHOT Show is just getting started. I've compiled some of the more interesting (to me) tidbits about Day One from around the 'net:
S&W GOES TO THE DARK SIDE: I'm surprised that there's not more noise about the new Bodyguard .38. It's a real departure for S&W, having a cylinder that rotates clockwise like a Colt, an integral laser sight, and an ambidextrous cylinder release. There's a good picture of it at Massad Ayoob's blog.
A DARN SIGHT BETTER: S&W has introduced a version of the 640, one of my favorite guns, with very prominent tritium sights. While I'm relatively agnostic with regards to glow-in-the-dark feature, the large front and deep rear blades sights should erase one of the Centennial's few criticisms. Again, a good pic from Gunblast. (Are my eyes deceiving me, or is there no internal lock??!)
FLYWEIGHT SHOTGUN: Mossberg has introduced the Model 510, which is a very scaled-down pump shotgun chambered in .410 and 20 gauge. According to Mas Ayoob, it "weighs only five pounds, if that." As you may recall I'm a big fan of the 20 gauge, and I'll be interested in taking a look at this. (Mas' picture makes it look tiny, but the guy holding it isn't exactly a lightweight...)
UH-OH: It wasn't all milk and honey for S&W. The FBI arrested 21 people at SHOT, including a S&W sales exec, for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The indictments were handed down on December 11, but only unsealed yesterday. (Interesting choice of timing and venue, don't you think?) Note the second line of the Reuters story: "21 arrested at Las Vegas gun show" Naaah, no message being sent to the masses there...
COLT OPENS THE DOOR??: Check out this little tidbit, courtesy of Massad Ayoob:
"A Colt exec told me that rumors of a new double action revolver from this fabled old company are false…for now. He indicated, however, that both plans and equipment are in place for this to happen, somewhere down the road."
This doesn't sound like the Python is coming back, but it's intriguing nonetheless.
THEY'RE BA-AACK!: The ProArms Podcast gang has returned from a forced hiatus. The servers at Podbean, which had been handling their podcast feed, went south in December leaving ProArms high and dry. It took them some time to get back, but they have a new site (www.proarmspodcast.com) and they're also available on iTunes. You can listen to the stream on their site, or subscribe to the feed - whichever you're most comfortable with.
The newest episode features interviews with two attorneys. One of them, Brian Hallaq, is an acquaintance; he's an interesting guy who went from being an antigunner to owning Norpoint, a range facility just north of Seattle. Definitely worth a listen!
SHOT SHOW OPENS TOMORROW: I only wish I were there! The ProArms team is, and they promise updates on their site. Jeff Quinn over at Gunblast always has good coverage of the show (with lots of pictures), while Outdoor Channel has Rob Pincus there with a video crew. Rob tells me that they plan to have online coverage of the show, as will Down Range TV. Fear and Loading is already there spending money on beer, and The Firearm Blog is trying to crash the best SHOT parties. There are lots of others, of course, but just these should give you enough news to satisfy your curiosity!
TARGET RICH ENVIRONMENT: I'm amazed that people still buy targets these days. There are tons of downloadable and printable targets out there, and here's a good collection of some of my favorites. (If you haven't tried "rimfire tactical" shooting, you're missing out on a lot of fun. Scroll to the bottom of their site for targets for this emerging discipline. The targets have instructions printed on them; try "Know Your Limits" with iron sights!)
Ruger let slip this week that the GP100 and Blackhawk will now be available chambered in .327 Federal Magnum. The GP100 will carry 7 rounds with a 4" barrel, and the Blackhawk will chamber 8 rounds behind a 5.5" tube. This is welcome news for people who, like me, see the .327 Magnum as not fitting its originally advertised role.
The first chambering of the .327 was in the SP101, as Ruger & Federal were touting it as a self-defense cartridge. The theory was that one could get the "stopping power" of a Magnum cartridge but with less recoil than the .357. My testing suggested that any recoil difference was negligible, while serious doubts remained about the round's effectiveness against an attacker. I didn't consider it a good tradeoff, and said so in print more than once.
I also said that I thought it would be great for hunting predators and other medium game, and I still believe this is where it will find a niche. The .327 offers a significant boost in power over the .32 H&R Magnum, which should measurably increase the effective range of the caliber. The longer barrels and adjustable sights of the GP and Blackhawk will bring it into the hunting field; all that remains is for Marlin to chamber their 1894 lever gun in .327!
HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2010 is finally here, and I'm still surprised about that. Back in 1979 the twenty-first century looked sooooooo far away that I thought I'd never see it. Here we are in the second decade already; where did the last ten years go? (So, this is what it's like to age....)
I took a four-day weekend for the New Year, though it wasn't really time off: I spent the time doing work around the farm, to the screaming protest of my muscles and joints. This brief respite reminded me that it's been many years since my last vacation (which, as it happens, I spent in a shooting class), and I think it's high time for another. I say so every year, but this time I'm going to do it. Of course, I say that every year too!
S&W GOES PRO: Remember a year or so ago, when I wrote about a limited run of no-lock Model 642? At the time S&W claimed that they'd "found" a stash of pre-lock frames and decided to put them together for sale. Apparently they were popular enough that the company has managed to "find" some more NOS frames, as they've brought out a couple of new editions: the "Pro" series 442 and 642. They're just like the non-Pro models, except they have no locks and have cylinders cut for moonclips. There are a whole lot of questions one could pose about the decision to bring these to market, but I'm glad to see them all the same.
(I do wish they'd get consistent with their naming conventions: they have the 642 PowerPort Pro Series revolver, which has a ported barrel AND a lock, but no moonclip capability. The only thing these models have in common is a matte black finish, which harkens me back to the days of selling high end camera gear: you could get many cameras in either chrome or black finish, the black models inevitably referred to as "professional". At least they're not calling them 'tactical'!)
SPEAKING OF MOON CLIPS: I get several queries per month regarding moonclips for a carry revolver, and I recommend to all that they be limited to range use. Yes, they are faster to reload (the margin depending on the cartridge) - but I don't believe that outweighs the fragility of the clips themselves, as even a small bend will tie up the gun. (There's always someone who writes back "well, I've carried moonclips in my pocket for years and have never had a problem!" I'm sure that's true, just as I'm sure that someone, somewhere has a perfectly reliable Colt All American 2000. I'm not willing to bet my little pink bottom on either one, however.)
MORE SMITH NEWS: The regular Model 642, along with the 637 and 638, will now be available with 2-1/2" fully lugged barrels instead of the 1-7/8" tubes. I always liked the .357 version of the Model 640 for its slightly longer barrel, and am glad to see it come to some other models. That little extra weight up front helps with control on the lightweight frames, as well as providing longer extractor travel. (Sadly, they are still afflicted with the silly lock.)
WELCOME TO OREGON: This holiday season saw three groups of people lost in the Oregon woods - thanks to an over-reliance on GPS navigation. This should serve as a cautionary tale: ceding your health and safety to something (or someone else) is an invitation to disaster. Take responsibility for yourself; make sure your brain is always engaged. You'll notice that these are consistent themes here at The Revolver Liberation Alliance, and they have application well beyond protecting yourself from human predators. (Oh, and buy a decent map when venturing out of the confines of the suburbs.)
THAT TIME OF THE YEAR: I hope everyone had a great (as in safe and happy) Christmas weekend. I hope you'll accept my sincere wishes for a happy New Year - may 2010 be a darn sight better than 2009!
HERE WE GO AGAIN: Maryville, TN has had a couple of accidental shooting deaths in the past weeks. Both incidents involved guns that (brace yourselves) people thought "were unloaded." The Maryville Police Chief, one Tony Crisp, concludes that people just weren't pretending hard enough:
"Treat a gun as always being a loaded gun," he said. "Once you cleared it, check it again."
A more nonsensical statement I cannot imagine! I hope that you will save me the trouble of tearing it apart by seeing for yourself the logic failures therein. How much better it would have been had he taken the opportunity to do some real education by saying something like: "never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you're not willing to shoot. Don't let anyone around you do so, either."
SOMEONE ELSE FOR A CHANGE: A couple years back I made an offhand remark about Charter Arms guns. That one little sentence generated a ton of hate mail, including some from Charter's president/owner and their largest distributor. Well, M.D. Creekmore over at thesurvivalistblog.net made a more pointed statement regarding Charter's "quality", and he too heard from Charter's owner. It's in the comments; scroll to the bottom.
Uncle has resurrected, for the umpteenth time, the "Gospel of John Browning." Like a certain cult popular in Hollywood, fans of the bottom feeder keep trying to convince others to join their weird little group. Luckily, there is a Holy Book which you can use to defend yourself against their evil blandishments.
Many years ago I came across an obscure part of Scripture that deals with this subject. I was able to get it translated from the ancient Hebrew in which it was written, and here are some of the more relevant portions:
"In the beginning, the universe was without form; the Lord made the earth in the shape of the sphere, that is to be round, for the Lord looks upon roundness with great favor."
"The Lord said to Adam and Eve, lo I give you the cycle of seasons, so that you mayest understand that one thing must follow another, in their natural order. Do not doest in the Spring that which is meant for the Autumn, for nature which I hath given to you shall always complete a circle. The earth doth not shuttle back and forth, nor the moon travel to-and-fro, for reciprocation is an abomination before the Lord."
We learn of the birth of His Ballistic Holiness:
"...and she named her son Shmuel, that is Samuel, which means 'he would be destined a prophet'. And the Lord would listen to Samuel, and shower him with great favor. As the boy did grow he became known as Samuel the Colt, for he was exceedingly fast and lithe, with graceful manner and of great wisdom."
The people were in need of deliverance from the evil around them, and from that need sprang The Gift:
..."and the people, needing protection from their pursuers, looked to the Lord. The Lord said, I will give Shmuel, who you call Sam, the gift of invention and artistry. From him will come the means of your rescue, which you should never forget nor abandon; for the Lord wishes you to have only the best."
Of course, people never recognize a good thing even when it stares them in the face. From that flows what has become known as the Browning Apostasy, and the punishment which results:
"And Shmuel asked Yonaton, that is the same as John, how the detestable thing came to be, and Yonaton answered 'I threw these parts into the fire, and it sprang whole from the flames as you see it here, save for the grip safety which was added by the mob.' And the Lord knew that Yonaton was lying, and vowed to punish him."
"The Lord said to Yonaton, 'you hath committed an abomination unto the Lord, and from now on you will be cursed. Your followers, though they be many, will fight amongst themselves in vain; they will revile each other, none of them seeing the truth, for their eyes will be blinded by their lust for their own kind. Your devices will be functional but not accurate, or accurate but not functional, but never both at the same time, thus always serving to you and your followers as a sign of your transgression. Some will try to bring peace to your camps, that is to marry function and accuracy, but their attempts will be thwarted by my wrath, which will become known in latter days as 'KahBoom'."
"And the Lord said to Shmuel, yours too will be many, and they will be entrusted with serving as a light unto the world. They will be mocked and ridiculed by those whose devices are either functional or accurate, but never both at the same time, whilst yours will continue to be functional and accurate, each at the same time, and fairer to look upon as well. Whilst I made man and woman, you will make them equal; for the world is not flat, neither should your gun be."
With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!
Regular readers know that, despite my (occasionally) bombastic promotion of the wheelgun, I'm the first to admit that it is not the perfect tool for all jobs. The revolver's suitability for self defense depends on the nature of the threat one expects to encounter.
The revolver's greatest weakness is its limited capacity, while its greatest virtue is its resistance to externally induced failures.
It is something of a trend among today's fashionable criminals to attack in multiples, i.e. more than one assailant. If each of the assailants is committed to the success of the attack, especially if each of them will have to be shot more than once, the revolver may in fact be at a disadvantage. Remembering that there is no such thing as a magic bullet, if you have three assailants and only five rounds you may have some hard choices to make.
This scenario often plays out during home invasion robberies. In these types of incidents, a revolver for home defense may be sub-optimal; a high capacity autoloader may be a better choice.
While many may scoff at the idea of more than a single attacker, or believe the old saw "shoot the leader, the rest will run", this is a very real risk. This is particularly the case in areas with substantial gang activity (which is just about everywhere these days.) If you keep a revolver for home defense, this is a possibility you need to consider.
On the other hand, most assaults are still of the good ol' one-on-one variety, and those outside of the home tend to fit this profile. These are personal crimes, and the action tends to be close in, fast, and violent - conditions in which the revolver, being the quintessential reactive tool, shines. It is quick into action and is less likely to experience functional failure in a close fight; there is no slide to be pushed out of battery, or slowed to induce a jam.
That isn't to say an autoloader is useless in that environment, only that it requires a bit more management. Gabe Suarez is at the leading edge of teaching close-in handgun deployment, and he's developed techniques to keep autos running in tight conditions. A revolver, though, is largely immune to the mechanical difficulties of fighting "in the hole", and remains a viable choice for that reason.
Is that a reasonable tradeoff for capacity? I think so.
The Firearms Blog reports that KBP, the Russian arms maker, has introduced a "tactical" version of their MTs 225 revolving shotgun. (Basically, they took their standard sporting arm and added a folding stock.) You can make what you will of the revolving shotgun concept, but I liken it to the various revolving rifles which have come and gone: this is a good idea, why?
Ghisoni is the owner and chief designer at Macchine Termo Ballistica in Pavia, Italy. The company is better known by its acronym MATEBA, the brand under which the MTR8, 2006M, and Unica 6 revolvers were all sold. I do not yet know if they Rhino will carry the Mateba brand.
(A quick rant: the people who use 'Mateba' as a synonym or replacement for the model 'Unica' annoy the heck out of me. Mateba is the brand, Unica is the model. It's like referring to Word, Excel, or PowerPoint as simply "Microsoft." Yes, it's petty, but I'm complicated. Ask my wife.)
The Rhino looks like an interesting gun, and is certainly the most practical of Ghisoni's designs. Don't get me wrong, I like the MTR8 and would love to own one, but it's hardly a practical gun:
The Rhino, on the other hand, might be a viable carry piece. We'll just have to wait and see!
I'm currently working on a special project based on a Ruger GP100. One of the client's desires is for custom grips made to his specifications. This is where I'm hitting a dead end!
I've spent countless hours looking, with no results, for a custom gripmaker who will work with the GP100. This is why I'm asking my readers, who are some of the most savvy gun enthusiasts around, for help.
The client wants true customs with top notch fit and finish. This automatically disqualifies all of the mass producers, as well as places like Eagle and Ahrends. Since he wants grips made to his desires, the "pattern makers" like Spegel are out, as well.
Are you aware of a custom gripmaker who is not widely known, and perhaps isn't even on anyone's radar? The ideal candidate MUST:
1) Produce first-class work - nothing less. 2) Be able to make grips for the GP100. 3) Understand the unique needs of concealment ("combat") grips. 4) Be able to produce a grip to fit the client's desires/hands.
Beyond that, someone who works in non-traditional materials (micarta, stabilized spalted wood, etc.) would be most welcome. The client isn't set on any specific material; as long as it complements the gun, he'll consider it.
Price is not a concern, as long as it isn't significantly out of line for work of the caliber required. The client knows what first tier work is (this is not his first custom gun), and is willing to pay appropriately.
Now, understand that I've been looking for a while; if the person appears in the first 10 or 15 pages of a Google search for "custom revolver grips", I've probably already contacted him/her. Yes, I've heard of the smaller custom shops like Herrett's, and have contacted countless makers who list Rugers - just to find that they only do grips for Cowboy shooters using guns such as the Vaquero. So, before you send that email, please re-read the criteria above and be sure that your candidate can meet all of them.
As an incentive, the person who supplies information leading me to the right maker will get his/her choice of any shirt in my CafePress store collection! For the gripmaker, in addition to becoming a customer I'll do my best to get his/her name in front of a much larger audience. It's a win for me, the client, the gripmaker, and you!
If you go to a car show featuring hotrods from the '50s and '60s, a common sight will be a pair fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. They're always carefully chosen to complement the paint color, and I've even seen fastidious owners arranging the dice "just so" to get the proper look. Fuzzy dice are an accepted, and expected, part of the decor.
Take those same fuzzy dice, run over to the Tour de France, and hang them from Lance Armstrong's bicycle. No matter what color dice you pick - to go with his jersey or the bike's paint - they'll just look silly. Fuzzy dice on a racing bike? Preposterous!
Yet, objectively, the function of the dice has not changed. That is, they really have no function. They don't do anything, they serve no architectural or mechanical purpose, they simply have mass and occupy space. They derive whatever value they possess from the context in which they occur, but that value is not intrinsic; it exists only because the context allows it to exist. Think of it as Second Life with mag wheels.
Once taken out of the expected setting, stripped of the value of that context, the reality of the fuzzy dice becomes apparent. Understand this: whether on a '57 BelAir or Lance's Trek Madone SL, fuzzy dice are silly. In the former case, we don't see them as silly because we've been conditioned to accept them in that environment. In the latter, if every Tour de France competitor were to carry them for a few years - perhaps a decade or more - they would become part of that context too. They'd still be silly.
The same is true for the tacticool accessories Tam questions. (A bit of a correction: the device hanging at the muzzle isn't strictly a white light - it's a combination light and laser.) We're accustomed to seeing lights, lasers, and milspec red dot scopes attached to autopistols. In the gun rags, in the movies, and especially in video games, we're told that "serious" guns carry these things. Tough guys, warriors and operators, have these on their guns. Thus the context is constructed, such that we no longer objectively analyze the value of those things.
Putting them on a revolver takes them out of context. (After all, "operators" don't carry revolvers!) Once out of context their true worth becomes easier to evaluate, and laughter is the result.
This whole idea of context is particularly important to those of us interested in the concept of self defense. There are a lot of instructors out there who teach what can only be termed range tricks. In class, the instructor's reputation and manner of delivery combine to create a reality distortion field that even Steve Jobs would envy; in that context even the silliest ideas sound valuable. They may be useless and even counter productive, but if the student can't evaluate them outside of their context that reality will be hidden.
The same thing happens with people who get their firearms training from Hollywood - what I've heard called the "Mel Gibson School of Firearms". In the movies, the good guy always orders the bad guy to drop his weapon. The good guy gives the bad guy a chance to redeem himself, to straighten out his horrible life and repent for his sins. Naturally the bad guy doesn't take that opportunity, wheels around to shoot the good guy, at which point our hero drops him neatly with a single shot. Roll credits.
Inside the context of the movie script, this seems perfectly plausible. Through repetition the scene is burned into our subconscious, to the point that we start to accept it as normal. Unless we learn to force ourselves to evaluate the behavior outside of the theater we may find ourselves repeating it.
This apparently happened to a certified good guy up in Washington a few years ago, who faced a gunman in a mall. From all reports, it seems the good guy drew his legally carried gun, then challenged the bad guy to drop his. Life isn't like a movie, and the rampaging gunman simply shot him - five times, paralyzing him permanently.
It's important to develop both the ability to look at things objectively and critically, and the judgement to recognize when it's necessary to do so. I'd say that anything dealing with defensive firearms needs such evaluation.
Getting a late start today, and that means I'm already behind for the week. Sheesh - where does the time go?
Tam talks about the checkering on her gun. While this would seem to be an issue limited to autoloaders, sharp edges on the trigger and frame (particularly inside the cylinder window) have the same effect for wheelgunners. When people ask "what's the best modification I can do to my revolver?", I usually say round the trigger and dehorn the gun. It makes shooting much less of a chore.
Every so often a client will send me one of the S&W Scandium guns for work, and I'm always reminded of how much I dislike shooting the little beasts. Even with standard pressure Specials, the recoil gets to me very quickly. I can't imagine actually shooting one with Magnum loads, and I intend to never find out!
For me it's merely discomfort, but for others the experience could prove more serious.
I constantly encounter women who've been sold those guns, because the sales clerk wrongly assumed that "light" was synonymous with "best for the little lady." This weekend I ran into yet another such case: a thin, older lady. She wanted to know if the Magnum rounds the shop had sold her with the gun would be good for her to shoot! (My immediate thought was "only if you use them on the idiot who sold you this thing!", but I held my tongue.) I cautioned her that the combination of those rounds with her very thin, somewhat frail build could result in permanent nerve damage to her hands. I hope she got the message.
The best recommendation I have for such cases is a box of the 125gn Federal Nyclad standard-pressure Specials.
Serendipity...I wrote last week about a 2" Model 15 I'd recently worked on, and since then I've run into several of the things. The latest was yesterday, when buddy Jim Jacobe opened a case and said "weren't you just talking about how much you liked these?" I swear, if I wrote about a .577 Tranter he'd pull one out of his safe to show me...
Now it's time for me to get some work done. Happy Monday!
It appears that our spell of excessively hot weather has ended. Last week the digital thermometer at our house recorded a high of 111 degrees. (Yes, that's in the shade - who'd be stupid enough to go out into the sun on a day like that?) We set an all-time record for consecutive days over 90 degrees (9 and counting.) I'm just looking forward to being able to spend a full day (more or less) in the shop.
I'm pleased to note that QC at Ruger is improving - the last couple of SP101s I've seen, of recent production, are much improved over those of years past. Gail Pepin at the ProArms Podcast tells me that she's visited the plant recently, and their production floor has changed considerably. She credits their new emphasis on 'lean manufacturing', with its attendant focus on reducing waste and rework, for the quality bump.
The Firearms Blog also brings us happy news of Winchester's reprise of the Model 92 Takedown. I'd be tempted if they'd make it in .357 Magnum...
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to go to work!
I hope everyone enjoyed their Independence Day holiday! I've been burning the candle at both ends lately, so I took a long weekend, during which I managed to overexpose myself to the sun. (The weekend was hot by Oregon standards - we hit 100 degrees at our house on Friday, and only slightly cooler on Thursday & Saturday.) What's that line - "feel the burn?"
Since it was so warm, I drank a huge amount of water. Having been in the ER more than once for severe dehydration (and accompanying heat exhaustion), I'm a little more attentive to this detail than most. For several years, my choice of liquid container has been the classic Nalgene bottle - the translucent white variety, made of #2 HDPE, free of those nasty plasticizers currently suspected of causing cancer. A side benefit is that HDPE is flexible, making it more suitable to hard use than the much more rigid clear varieties. This proved beneficial this weekend, when I ran over my Nalgene with a tractor. Smashed it nearly flat, and collapsed the bottom inward. I managed to squeeze the walls back into roughly cylindrical form, but wasn't able to fix the floor. I filled it with water, threw it in the freezer, and in a couple of hours the expanding ice did the trick! Good as new (more or less), and none the worse for wear.
I just wish they'd make the things in "earth colors" - OD, coyote tan, etc. Nalgene, are you listening?
The S&W "J" frame is a generally reliable piece, but lately I've gotten reports of ignition issues with newer examples. S&W has transitioned to a new firing pin, which is much lighter and much shorter than the previous varieties. (This may be their solution to the drop testing standards in California.) They seem to be the source of the problem.To insure reliability, I replace all those I encounter with the Cylinder & Slide Extra Length firing pin. Highly recommended, and an easy "do it yourself" modification for those so inclined.
The supply chain is finally starting to recover; AR-15 rifles are becoming a common sight in the stores again, and I'm receiving reports of ammo shelves being restocked. Shortages of certain products (most notably .380ACP ammunition) can be expected to continue for the next few months, but by and large we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
One of the great advantages of the double action revolver is that the mechanism makes dry firing easy. Unlike the majority of autoloaders, you don't have to break your grip to operate the slide or recock the hammer; just maintain your grip and pull the trigger, over and over. As a result, I suspect most revolvers are dry fired with greater frequency than most autos.
Various pundits have opined over the years that it is perfectly safe to dry fire any modern gun without regard to mechanical consequences. Some have even gone so far as to claim snap caps to be some sort of conspiracy against dry fire!
In my experience, that point of view is a bit misguided. I recommend the use of snap caps for any extensive dry fire practice, and with good reason: I have to fix the guns that break!
The problems involve broken firing pins, both hammer mounted and the in-frame variety. I do occasionally see broken pins that, upon investigation, would seem to have been caused by dry fire practice. Colt revolvers are probably the worst offenders; their firing pins tend to be harder than those of other makes, and subsequently a tad more brittle. I've seen many broken pins in Pythons and Detective Specials, and more than a few in the other models. If you have a Colt, I consider snap caps an absolute must.
Smith & Wesson revolvers seem to be a bit better in this regard, as I've not seen the number of broken pins that I have with the Colt products. They will occasionally break, however, and as a result I do recommend the use of snap caps if one is planning to do a significant amount of dry firing.
I've never seen a broken Ruger firing pin (though now that I've put this in print I'll no doubt hear about a rash of them!) However, snap caps seem to reduce peening of the back side of the firing pin, which serves to maintain ignition reliability. I don't consider their use as important as for their competition, but I believe them to be a good long-term care strategy.
I recently received an email asking about the feasibility of mounting a light on a revolver. The writer was concerned about clearing his house at night and being forced to shoot one-handed with a separate flashlight. Would it be possible, he asked, to somehow mount a light to his wheelgun, to approximate those that are widely mounted on autoloaders?
That's a tough one to answer, because it's really two questions in one: can it be done, and should it be done.
I'll address the feasibility portion first: yes, it can be done, though the approach varies a bit with the make/model. In all cases, their are some limitations - mainly, the light has to clear the ejector rod as it swings away from the frame. The larger the light, the smaller the gun, and/or the more closely the light is mounted to the bore axis or to the cylinder, the more likely it is to interfere with proper cylinder opening.
The best choice is to make provision to mount the light in a forward position, in front of the ejector rod. This is the approach taken by S&W in their 327 TRR8:
The problem with this is that it makes activating the light on a momentary basis from a firing grip difficult (if not impossible.) One is left with the necessity to turn the light on and leave it on if one wants to shoot with a two-handed grip.
To provide a platform on which the light can be mounted, a short section of Picatinny rail can be attached (via screws) to the barrel's underlug. If the particular gun doesn't have an underlug, the barrel itself can be carefully drilled & tapped to accept the rail - only, of course, if the barrel is of a bull (heavy) configuration. There are also some clamp-on solutions available.
The other half of the question is "should you?" I'll put on my Tactical Tommy hat here, and say that I think it's a bad idea except in very specific circumstances.
For a gun to be used in an ensconced position the attached light has merit. All you're required to do is wait, and the light is nothing but a shooting aid: confirm the target, and allow a clear sight picture.
Using it to check your house, on the move, is another matter entirely. In this case, the light takes on multiple functions: navigation, search, identification, and (in the worst case) shooting aid. The trouble is that if it's attached to your gun, then you have a loaded weapon pointing in all sorts of directions that proper safety habits say it shouldn't!
A loaded gun is not a tool for navigation or searching, and using it as such is (in my opinion) irresponsible. Think of it this way: would you be pointing your gun in all directions and places in the daylight? I would hope that the answer would be 'no.' If that's the case, why would you deem it acceptable to do so in the dark?
The light on the handgun is a limited-use device. Don't try to make it into something it shouldn't be.
I'm gratified - and somewhat surprised - at the tremendous response to last week's post "Risk assessment, or lack thereof." One of the difficulties I've found with this whole blog adventure is predicting what will resonate with my readers. In some cases I've been deliberatively provocative in order to get people to think outside of their comfort zone, while in others I've tried to deliver solid technical information not readily available in the swamp that is the internet.
On occasion (as with the article under consideration) I worry about whether I'm talking over my audience, that the subject might be a bit too abstract. I'm happy to find that my readers are significantly more discerning than average.
One complaint about the Bianchi SpeedStrips is that they're not available in calibers other than .38/.357. I'm surprised that, until tipped off by a reader, I didn't know about Quick Strips from Tuff Products. They appear to be a clone of the Bianchi product, but are available in a wide range of calibers. Check 'em out.
You may have heard that the U.S. Attorney General called (not surprisingly) for reinstating the infamous Assault Weapons Ban. What was surprising was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's adamant refusal to consider such legislation. Mr. Obama's administration may find their road tougher sledding than they'd originally anticipated. All the better for us!
A while back I wrote about the iPhone/iTouch ballistics application iSnipe. While it worked well, it was pretty basic; as I explained to the author, it needed some features added to enhance utility for the serious long-range shooter.
It didn't take long for competition to appear: Ballistic FTE has everything I ever wanted, and then some. It is superb in every respect; you must see the target recording function! It even has a calculator to help with rangefinding (mil-dot) reticle use. Ballistic FTE is a bargain at $9.99.
I've written about this before, but it's getting worse. All across this country are people standing behind gun counters who need to be taught that women are people, too.
I've lost track of the number of times I've run into a woman who was sold (as opposed to deciding to buy) a revolver for self defense. Now it should be pretty clear to even the densest web denizen that this is a revolver-friendly blog, so it should not come as a shock that I think revolvers are a great tool.
They are not necessarily, however, the right tool. As I mentioned last week, the revolver is the easiest gun in the world to shoot, but the most difficult gun to shoot well. That long, heavy (in stock configuration) trigger requires a certain amount of hand strength, without which the gun cannot be fired.
Herein lies the problem: the female of the species, in general, tends to have less strength in her digits than does the male. It's not unusual, therefore, to find a woman saddled with a brand-new revolver on which she cannot manipulate the trigger. I've seen countless numbers of women who actually have to use two fingers to get the trigger moving!
It's not so much a matter of gun fit (though that enters into the equation far too often), but simply the trigger offering more resistance than a slim finger is capable of overcoming. In reality most women would really be better served with the shorter, lighter trigger action of an autoloading pistol, but the wisdom of the gunstore commando is that autoloaders are just "too complicated for the little lady."
Hey, Bubba, I've got news for you: women actually drive cars these days! Yes, automobiles, with their myriad switches and levers and pedals and buttons. Women have no problem figuring those things out, yet you think they can't handle the concept of a slide stop lever?
The usual rejoinder is that women don't have the upper body strength to manipulate the slide of an autoloader. This is fact turned on it's side to bolster a flawed assumption; yes, women tend not to have our arm strength, but that deficiency can be rendered immaterial through proper technique. It's a simple matter, and nearly any female (and a more enlightened male) firearms instructor can teach it inside of thirty seconds.
This whole issue wouldn't bother me so much - and I wouldn't be writing about it again - but the inferiority attitude is so pervasive that some women are themselves buying into the notion that they're not "capable" of handling an autoloader. I've actually had students to whom I've taught the autoloader manipulation techniques (and who've shot very well with one) go out and end up with a revolver. Not because they wanted one, mind you, but because some dolt behind a counter convinced her that it was all she could handle.
Mind you, I'm not some new-age "sensitive man". I'm as big a neanderthal as the next guy; I believe that women and men are different, and you can thank your favorite deity for the difference! I'm just tired of people assuming that my wife, sisters, nieces, and mother are so stupid that they can't handle a simple mechanical device. I'm annoyed that they are doing their level best to indoctrinate women to this nonsensical point of view, and I'm appalled that it actually seems to be gaining some traction among women themselves!
I don't have a prescription for this problem, other than to continue to educate every person - man or woman - I run across. If that means I repeat myself every so often, I'm willing to do so. I hope you'll forgive me!
Yes, revolvers are wonderful, but they're not for everyone. We need to help people to make intelligent decisions, and if that means they choose a self-shucker, so be it. Heretical? No, just realistic.
A recent SHOT show write-up, regarding the new Ruger LCR revolver, contained the (sadly common) comment that the gun would be perfect for "non-dedicated personnel."
I hereby give public notice that I am officially tired of reading excrement like that.
The snub-nosed, double-action revolver is the easiest gun in the world to shoot, but It is the hardest gun to shoot well. Mastering the double action pull takes time, dedication, and practice; that's just a fact of life. The nice, light, short trigger pulls on autoloaders are much easier to become proficient with, which is part of the reason they are popular.
Let's look at what happens when the "non-dedicated" person buys a double action revolver. Because he (or she) is "non-dedicated", he's not going to put in the range time to thoroughly learn how to shoot the gun to a good standard of accuracy, which means his target hit potential is quite low (but the innocent bystander hit potential is quite high.) If it has a short barrel the small sight radius compounds the accuracy issue, and those lightweight models make the gun difficult to control in recoil. Does this sound like the gun for an inexperienced shooter? Not me!
If that wasn't bad enough, if the "non-dedicated" person doesn't become proficient with that heavy double action trigger pull, he reverts to doing what he sees in the movies: cocking the gun to single action. Comes a deadly encounter and we end up with a poorly trained individual whose adrenal gland is going into extra innings, holding a cocked gun with a very light, very short trigger action. This doesn't sound like a Good Idea to me! (Of course, this doesn't apply to the LCR or the S&W Centennial, neither of which can be cocked.)
In terms of administrative handling, I'd agree that the revolver is certainly more suited to this type of person. When talking In terms of hitting the target, though, it just isn't. In my mind, the non-dedicated person is better served by a gun that is easier to shoot well. Learning a slightly more complex manual of arms is a small price to pay to ensure that projectiles aren't flung over half the county.
The revolver, particularly the short-barrelled variety, and especially with a lightweight frame, is a gun for serious shooters. A pox on those who would insist otherwise!
A long-time client called me a while back, and told me that he'd just acquired one of the Smith & Wesson Model 25 "Lew Horton" editions with the 3" barrel. He wasn't happy with the gun, and asked me to do a makeover.
If you've hung out here for long, you know that I love 3" barrels. I don't know why, exactly, except that I like 'em. This gun is no exception, and to say I was excited about the prospects would be an understatement.
I've actually written about this gun once before - it had the worst double action trigger I've felt on a factory gun in a long, long time. He wanted that fixed, and the gun converted to DAO. (It's an IDPA/carry gun for him, so he sees no need for single action capability.) The gun came replete with sharp edges, so sharp that I sliced open my left forefinger when I first handled it! Those needed to go as well. He also wasn't happy with the stock S&W sights, for which the gun had already received warranty repair - the first rear sight actually broke in two when shooting! Finally, he wanted general competition-friend modifications that would also be usable "on the street."
I started by getting rid of all the sharp edges, on all surfaces. The gun then went to the bluing shop for my Black Pearl finish. (This particular gun has the very hardest barrel steel I've ever encountered, and it caused no end of headaches in refinishing. The result is that this gun has a little more shine to it than any other Black Pearl finish I've done.)
Speaking of the barrel, the crown was both crooked and rough. The hard barrel, with its thin walls, made a normal crown out of the question. I made a very, very small crown, just enough to correct the problems.
The rear sight was replaced with one of Hamilton Bowen's superb Rough Country units, and the front carries a gold bead sight from SDM Fabricating. The result is a fast-acquisition sight picture, useful for both competition and defense.
Of course the gun received a Super Action Job, along with chamfering the chambers. The trigger was reworked to the modern, thin S&W style, rounded and polished smooth for comfortable double action work. The DAO conversion required bobbing the hammer, and on this gun I tried a new style: a kind of "scalloped" hammer. I've already decided that the next one needs a bit of modification (the bottom scallop is too deep to balance the top), but I'm pleased with the result and the way in which it offsets the cylinder-heavy profile of the gun. The trigger weight dropped from 15 lbs. to 9 lbs., and is of course smooth in both pull & reset.
Finally, we needed some decent concealment grips. They're made of a very nice walnut in a "boot" style by Don Collins, with some specific modifications to his basic design (to better fit my client's hands.)
The result: a more "special" Special Edition. (My client reads this blog, and hasn't seen the gun yet. To him I say: don't worry, it's coming back to you this week, but I couldn't wait to show it off!)
A reader asked me to comment on successfully shooting lead bullets in revolvers. It seems that he's been getting indifferent accuracy coupled with severe leading, and would like to know the "secret" to using lead in his gun.
I thought I'd covered this topic once before, but a thorough search of the archives failed to turn up the expected article. Guess I'll have to do this from scratch!
Please note that I'm not a "hardcore" cast bullet shooter. I don't cast my own, which means that I'm dependent on commercial sources for my projectiles. As a result, it's taken me longer to learn this stuff than it would have otherwise. Thus I'm no expert; but Ed Harris, who sometimes checks in here at the RLA, is - hopefully he'll see fit to comment. (Ed, if I get anything wrong please drop me a note - I'll make your response into it's own post.)
The first thing to understand is that your lead bullets need to fit the chamber throats of your gun. If, for example, your throats measure .358", your bullets should be no smaller than .358, and no bigger than .001" over that measurement. Smaller bullets won't be as accurate, and will let the erosive combustion gases blow past the bullet causing severe leading around the forcing cone.
(Many bullet makers will size their products to your preference; if they don't make that service obvious, just ask. A surprising number are happy to oblige, usually at no extra cost.)
The forcing cone of your gun must also be in good condition; roughness in that area will result in leading at that point.
Assuming that the gun part of the equation is in good shape, and the bullets are of correct size, the hardness of the bullet becomes the critical issue. Most bullet makers advertise really hard bullets as being the "cure" for leading. It sort of stands to reason, doesn't it? A harder lead won't smear as much as it goes down the barrel, and will leave less residue - right?
Guess what - it isn't true. In fact, it's completely off base!
Think about this: you probably have a .22 rifle hanging around. Most .22 LR bullets are plain lubricated lead - very soft lead, no less. Compared to your average hard cast bullet, a .22 slug is almost like butter - soft as can be. Yet I'll bet that if you looked at the bore of your rifle, you probably won't see much leading - if any at all. My .22 rifles will fire a thousand or so rounds between cleanings, and I've never seen lead in my bores despite the bullet traveling at 1,200 fps.
What's the reason? Obturation.
A bullet, under great pressure from the expanding gases behind it, grows in size to fit whatever hole (chamber throat, barrel bore) it is being shoved into. This phenomenon is called obturation. As the bullet obturates it seals the hole, and keeps the gases where they belong until the bullet actually exits the barrel.
If the bullet doesn't obturate, the very hot gases will rush past while it is in the bore. The lead where the gases pass is melted and deposited on the barrel's walls - producing leading. This kind of leading is the most difficult to remove, as it really "sticks" to the bore - as if it's been soldered there. In fact, it has!
It follows that we need to make sure that they bullet obturates in our bore. In order for a bullet to obturate, the metal used needs to be soft enough to deform easily under the amount of pressure being applied to it. If the bullet is too hard, it won't obturate and there will be no sealing.
So, the bullet has to be soft enough to obturate. Why not just make all bullets out of super soft pure lead - won't that cure the problem? No, it won't; a bullet that's too soft will also cause leading, as it won't be strong enough to maintain the necessary seal in the bore. It also won't be resistant to the heat generated by the friction of travel down the bore. Both result in lead left in the barrel.
The bullet has to be hard, but not too hard; soft, but not too soft! The variable is the amount of pressure generated by the firing cartridge.
The higher the pressure, the harder the bullet needs to be to resist excess deformation - but remember that it has to be soft enough to obturate properly. A mild .38 Special target load needs a softer bullet than a fire-breathing .357 Magnum in order to obturate; putting a too-hard bullet in a mild cartridge is as much a problem as a too-soft slug in a hot one.
Bullet hardness is rated on the Brinell (BHN) scale. Pure lead is 5 BHN; "hard cast" bullets can be close to 30 BHN. Somewhere in that range is the ideal bullet for any given cartridge; how do we find it?
As it happens, there is a way to determine the optimum bullet hardness. First, you need to know the amount of pressure your load develops. That's easy - your loading manual will have that information. (Pressure is listed in either CUP or PSI; they are slightly different, but for this particular question either will be close enough to get the answer we need.)
There are two formula: one for the ideal hardness, one for the maximum hardness.
Ideal hardness in BHN = Pressure / 1,920 Maximum BHN = Pressure / 1,422
Let's say it's a .38 Special using 4.5 grains of Hodgdon Universal Clays and a 158 grain SWC bullet. The pressure for this load is 16,700. Our formulae look like this:
Big difference! If I buy bullets of 21 BHN for my Magnum, and use them in the light Special loads, they won't obturate properly and I'm likely to get leading.
Guess what? That's exactly what happened! It wasn't until I bought some bullets of a nice 10 BHN for my Special loads that my leading problem was solved. As I said at the beginning, it doesn't seem logical that softer bullets leave less residue behind - that is, until you understand the physics behind the problem.
With this information you can now go bullet shopping with confidence. You'll probably find that purveyors of "cowboy" bullets are your best choice to get the alloy hardness that you need to keep the lead where it belongs: on the target, not in your barrel!
I recently received an email asking my thoughts on Taylor Throating - the procedure where a reamer removes the rifling for roughly a half-inch past the forcing cone, and the edges of the lands are chamfered to match. The concept is to make an area that allows the bullet to 'stabilize' after jumping the barrel gap, but before entering the rifling.
Taylor Throating is somewhat controversial, with some holding it to be the greatest thing since peanut butter, while others claim that it is pure snake oil. In the interest of full disclosure, I don't offer the service - even though I've invested in the equipment - simply because I remain agnostic regarding its value.
Reports of miraculous results seem not to have occurred under controlled conditions. By that, I mean tested on a gun without any changes other than the throating. The glowing reports tend to be from those who had a lot of other work done at the same time, including timing and forcing cone changes. It's hard to say if the positive reports are in fact due to the throating, to other work, or to something subconscious on the part of the shooter doing the testing.
I've experimented with Taylor Throating on a properly maintained Dan Wesson .357, using several 6" barrels, and shot by two different people (one of whom was your author); the results were inconclusive. When a barrel with just the throating was tested, there was a slight increase in accuracy - but it was not consistent, nor large, enough to rule out normal shooter performance variation. A barrel prepped with a proper crown and an 11 degree forcing cone (as pioneered by Ron Power) achieved a definite positive result, roughly equal to what is said to be expected by some Taylor advocates.
My preliminary opinion, based on my admittedly limited experience with the technique, is that a proper forcing cone and a perfect crown still produce the most noticeable accuracy improvement. Of course, this is assuming that the gun is in perfect condition (timing, cylinder/barrel alignment, etc.) to begin with.
There are a couple of specific conditions where Taylor Throating might prove useful as a salvage technique: when the barrel/cylinder alignment is just a hair off in the vertical axis, or where there is a noticeable constriction in the area where the barrel screws into the frame. In those cases accuracy changes in excess of what would normally be expected have been reported, and may be legitimate. There are also some indications that it may extend the useful life of a severely worn barrel, where replacement is difficult or economically unwarranted.
Some specific downsides have been identified, however. If the throated area is even a tiny amount bigger than the chamber throats (or the bullet diameter), lead bullets will suffer "blow by" and gas cutting - severely leading the barrel, and definitely decreasing accuracy.
In the end, it's your choice. I'm not ready to call it a fraud, but neither do I see a definite positive benefit to having it done. When I come up with solid evidence on either side, you can bet I'll report it here!
A client recently sent me a brand new S&W Model 25 for some work. As part of my normal checkout routine, I measured the trigger pulls. In single action, it was a nice and crisp 3-1/2 lbs. In double action, it....pegged my digital force gauge!
I had to get out the old mechanical unit to read the trigger pull of nearly 15lbs. Holy Sore Forefinger, Batman! Not only that, but the trigger return feels like a mile of bad gravel road. (Since I live on a mile of bad gravel road, I am something of an authority on the topic.)
Oh, did I mention that this was one of S&W's "Special Edition" Lew Horton models? That's right - S&W apparently doesn't feel that handing them close to a grand for one of their revolvers entitles you to a decent trigger. On the other hand, perhaps I should look at it as a perverse form of job security...
It sometimes amuses me how often one hears the same question, with only slight variations. One that I've heard over the years goes something like this: "Is it true that the GP100 isn't very accurate?" Personally, I've not noticed that any of mine are, but there is more to this story.
Assuming that the gun is "in spec" with regards to its construction (forcing cone, crown, chamber/barrel alignment, etc.) it should shoot quite well. Many GP owners, however, continue to complain about the accuracy of their individual example in the absence of those identifiable deficiencies. It so happens that there is a design defect in certain models of the GP100 that will definitely reduce the precision of the gun: the sights.
Owners of fixed-sight Rugers are generally much happier with the accuracy of the GP than those who have the adjustable sights, and I can't say I blame them. The first problem is Ruger's rear sight: it stinks, to put it bluntly. Don't get me wrong, the rear sight picture isn't bad (in fact I prefer it to Smith & Wesson's); the problem is that the Ruger rear sight often won't hold zero all that well.
It starts with a body which has a very loose fit in the frame's sight channel. It continues with universally sloppy fit on the sight pivot pin - the pin that holds the sight onto the gun, allowing the body to pivot up and down for elevation changes. The elevation screw, likewise, has a lot of "wiggle" in it, and the windage screw is often not any better. The net result is a sight that can't be relied upon to stay where it's set from shot to shot.
The rear sight isn't the only problem, just the biggest one. The interchangeable front sight often shows deficiencies of it's own. It is investment cast (like the rest of the gun), but without subsequent machining the edges and serrations remain quite indistinct. The sight picture isn't all that crisp, making a sure hold on target a bit like driving a well-worn 1951 GMC 2-1/2 ton flatbed farm truck. (For those who've never had the pleasure, imagine going down the street having to constantly move the steering wheel a half-turn in each direction just to maintain something like a straight line. Now try it in the rain. At night. Get the idea?)
I've seen more than a few front sights which also weren't secure in the dovetails, causing them to wobble a bit, and there are quite a few that don't have parallel sides. (Or worse, lack a straight top!)
The fixed-sight GP100 doesn't have any of these problems, which explains why their owners tend to be more satisfied with that model's performance.
There are solutions. The best is to replace the rear sight with the terrific Rough Country sight from Bowen Classic Arms. It fits precisely, and the opposing screws that adjust windage and elevation also serve as lockdowns for those adjustments. (If you've ever adjusted the rear sight on a FAL rifle, you know the concept.) The Rough Country sights have the easy change capability of an adjustable sight, but once locked down are as rugged as a fixed sight. There is nothing better on the market, period. Absolutely the best.
The Rough Country sight has a superb sight picture, and is available with a plain black blade, a white outline blade, an "express" (shallow "V") blade, and a blank blade - so that your friendly gunsmith can provide the notch that you feel is best.
The front sight can also be replaced with a Bowen unit. The Bowen front blade is precisely made, with perfect dovetails and parallel sides. It comes as a "blank" - it must be machined to shape and height, then blued, before it is of any use. It is an expensive part, and the additional machining adds to the cost, but if you're looking for the absolute best GP100 sight picture it is the way to go.
Outfitted with decent sights the GP100 really comes into its own, easily keeping up with the best from the competition. If you've not been happy with the way your GP100 shoots, take a hard look at those sights - my bet is you'll find they aren't terribly great!
So, you've got snazzy new grips on your 'heater'! Have you checked them to make sure that they won't get in the way of the operation of the gun?
It's surprising how many revolver grips, even from respected manufacturers, interfere with the use of speedloaders. Sometimes they even obstruct the ejection of fired cases!
Check your grips with your preferred loaders; make sure that they don't bind or affect the release of the rounds into the chambers. If they do, you can usually take some material off the grips with sandpaper or a sanding drum on a Dremel. If you don't want to go that route, you'll need to look for grips that don't have the problem.
Either way, check speedloader use with your grips - it's an important part of being revolver-savvy!
As long as I'm doing the link-love bit, over at Michael Bane's place there is something of a brouhaha regarding his assessment of the new Ruger SR9 pistol. Read the first part, then read Michael's response. (Be sure to read the comments on each - that's where the fireworks happen.)
One of the commenters has invoked Massad Ayoob's name as some sort of "proof" that Michael's opinions are "wrong." In the interest of full disclosure, I know Mas Ayoob on a personal basis, and I've done work for Bane. I've read their reviews, and what it comes down to is that they are both opinionated people with very definite tastes and preferences in firearms. That they have different points of view with regard to this particular gun is simply evidence that nothing appeals to everyone. I trust them both, and my feeling is that it's sad they couldn't find a new, innovative Ruger revolver to disagree about!
I've gotten a number of inquiries over the past few months regarding ignition troubles in otherwise stock revolvers.
As ammunition prices continue their climb, many enthusiasts find their budgets strained. In order to continue shooting, those who do not reload their own ammo have been looking at less expensive options for feeding their guns. Brands like Fiocchi and Sellier & Bellot ("S&B"), brands that didn't have many takers a couple of years ago, are now being featured at many sporting goods outlets.
For the most part there is nothing wrong, from a quality control standpoint, with this ammunition. It must be remembered, though, that many foreign ammunition companies do not have the range of cartridge components that we do. Since much (if not most) of their production is often military contract, they are known use the same components for their commercial products - said components to include primers.
Military specifications, regardless of country, usually require a certain level of slam-fire resistance, which necessitates heavier primer cups. Those thicker, harder primers can be more difficult to ignite in firearms that expect to see a "civilian" (more sensitive) primer. It's no wonder, then, that ignition problems with Fiocchi and S&B ammunition are being seen; it's not that the ammo is "bad", but rather that the components used are intended for guns with more robust firing systems!
If you're using foreign ammunition, and your stock firearm is proving to be a bit unreliable, don't blame the gun. Try some "normal" (read: American produced) ammo - I'll bet it returns to 100% function.
(You say that using U.S. ammunition will cut into your shooting activities because of the cost? Well, it's time to learn how to reload your own - it's easy, fun, and economical!)
I got an email the other day, asking in effect "why just revolvers?" I dashed off an answer (with so many emails demanding a response, it's hard to write essays for each one.) I always feel that I haven't done the subject justice, so here is yet more about why I choose the round gun over the flat one.
Why revolvers? Because I like them! I like their lines, their reliability, their accuracy, their power; I like their history, and that they are prototypically "American" firearms. (I like lever action rifles for that same reason.)
I like revolvers because they can be made to fit the hand in a way a slab-sided pistol never can. I like them because of their almost Zen-like operation: the cylinder goes 'round, the gun discharges, and when the operator wishes, the process is repeated. I like them because you can see what's happening; because they are easy to load and unload.
I did not come to these opinions quickly or easily, you understand. When I was a kid, all the other kids wanted a Colt "Peacemaker" and a Winchester '94. Not me - I looked in the Sears catalog (yes, they carried guns when I was a kid) and dreamed of owning a .45 auto and an M1 carbine. I was definitely a contrarian from the start!
It wasn't until my advanced years that the lure of the revolver affected my soul. (Though, as I've related in past posts, it was more of a challenge to my ballistic manhood than an intellectual appreciation. Introspection came later.)
Oh, the best thing about revolvers? They aren't made of plastic!
It occurs to me that not everyone who stumbles into my little corner of the internet necessarily knows whether he or she needs my services. I receive quite a number of emails that essentially ask "should I have a trigger job done on my revolver?"
(I am aware that asking a gunsmith that question is tantamount to requesting that the fox guard the henhouse. Still, I'd like to take a crack - hopefully a fairly objective one - at the topic.)
There are a lot of factors involved in this decision. Are you happy with the action of the gun as it is? Do you have a frame of reference to really know if you're happy with it? Are you able to tell the difference? Is your experience level such that you can take advantage of the results?
Believe it or not, it's the second of those questions - having a frame of reference - that is the most important. Without it, the others can't be addressed in any meaningful way. Simply put, have you had the opportunity to handle (and preferably shoot) a revolver whose action has been tuned by a good gunsmith? I don't mean a factory "custom" gun - I mean a real custom from someone who knows their stuff. The difference can be like night and day, and until you have one in your hands everything might seem good.
It's a little like eating a great steak; if all you've ever had is hamburger, you can't imagine how good a steak is. Once you've had the steak, though, the hamburger is far less satisfying than it used to be. Your ability to judge has been expanded by your experiences, and the same is true with the action on your revolver.
True story: I was at the gun counter of a large outdoor retailer one day, and they had just gotten in a then-new S&W "Performance Center" wheelgun. (If memory serves, it was a 627.) I'm always interested in what's coming out of the P.C., so I asked to see it. Right away I noticed serious shortcomings in the fit and finish, but when I pulled the trigger I was taken aback: the double action quite literally felt like someone had stuck a playing card in a bicycle's spokes! I shook my head as I handed the specimen back to the clerk.
Before he could put it away, however, someone else came to the counter and asked to see it. This fellow and his buddy gushed enthusiastically as they looked the gun over, finally pulling the trigger. The guy holding the gun said "man, you have got to feel this trigger - it's like butter!" The second fellow tried it and concurred that it was the "best trigger I've ever felt - boy, you sure get what you pay for with a Smith & Wesson!"
Propriety forbade me from educating them and possibly ruining a sale for the store, but the incident serves to illustrate that some people perhaps don't know that there can be something better. (In some cases, a whole lot better!)
Once you have a standard - a frame of reference - against which you can judge, you can then answer the first question: are you happy with what you have now? You may in fact be quite happy; your gun may be good enough for the task at hand, even if it isn't the very best. For instance, my wife and I have gotten along for many years - quite happily, I might add - with a plain old RCA 21" television. (Yes, a twenty-one-inch!) Your children probably have better televisions in their bedrooms, but for us it is good enough. We don't watch much TV, rarely play a movie (we own exactly 3 DVDs), and thus for our use it is perfectly fine. On the other hand, someone who likes to watch lots of sporting events, or is a movie buff, would find it annoyingly limited.
Can you appreciate - and take advantage of - a highly tuned action? Can you tell the difference between what you have now and what it could be? This isn't as silly a question as you might believe.
Case in point: I'm not much of an oenophile. I can count the number of bottles of wine I've drank in my 40-plus-years on one hand, with fingers left over. (Yep, I'm a lightweight.) I have, however, tasted some very expensive and special wines at various functions over the years, and therefore have the necessary frame of reference. On me, though, the differences between a good wine and "Two Buck Chuck" are lost. I simply can't appreciate the difference, and what's more I don't care because I don't drink enough wine to enable me to care!
The same is true with revolvers. Many people, some of them very good shooters, really can't feel a difference between a factory action and a tuned one. One day at the range I handed my personal Colt Detective Special to a fellow who had been shooting a bone-stock example. They were like night and day - the factory one stacked horribly, was rough as a gravel road, and weighed in at roughly 12 pounds. Mine? Buttery smooth, no stacking, and broke right at 9 lbs. This fellow, however, couldn't tell the difference - he handed it back with an apologetic look and said that he was sorry, but it didn't feel any better to him!
As you might surmise, I was a bit disheartened. But it illustrated to me that not everyone cares about this stuff as much as I do, and it would be unconscionable of me to talk them into something that they really don't need - at least, not right now.
The foregoing is a long-winded way of saying that if you don't know there is a difference, can't feel the difference, or don't care about the difference, don't feel pressured to spend money - with me or anyone else. Whether it comes from shooting magazines, gunstore commandoes, or even my website, don't buy what you know in your heart you can't use. Spend the money on ammunition instead, and enjoy yourself.
(Boy, I hope I haven't talked myself out of a job!)
First, I'd like to thank everyone for reading this series, and for the terrific emails I've been getting. I'm gratified that many of you share my interest in good looking revolvers, and in what garners that appellation for each of us.
While not exactly part of the series, I'd like to take some time to convey my thoughts with regard to customization, and the kinds of work that adds to, or detracts from, the look of a wheelgun.
To start, I consider very carefully what I do to a revolver before taking file (or anything else) to metal. I think the project through; how will my work affect not only how the gun functions, but how it looks? In some cases the work helps (or at least doesn't hurt) the aesthetics of the gun, while in other cases it looks horrid.
For instance, let's take the act of bobbing a hammer. Not only does the result have to work correctly, but it has to serve the same visual function as that which it replaces. For the Colt and S&W guns, I've come up with two different approaches to the problem, which I believe look good on their respective marques. (Can you believe that I don't have a single picture to show? I've been quite negligent in documenting my own work!) Both are different than what most others do, and both are harmonious with the overall design of the guns.
In the case of the Ruger revolvers, I haven't yet hit on just the "right" modification. I do a lot of them, and have come up with something that isn't too bad, but it's no different than any number of people already have done - and I'm not really happy with the look. I've recently gone to the extent of scanning a Ruger hammer in to Photoshop so that I can "play" with the design - which I hope will lead me to the nirvana I seek. Wish me luck, as there isn't a lot to work with in their existing design!
Sometimes clients ask me to do things which I believe in my heart will look awful. A common request of late is to mill flats on the sides of barrels, ostensibly to shed weight. (I think the real motivation is a desire to make it look "modern" and "custom" and - dare I say? - "racy.") Sadly, in every example I've seen - and I've seen a LOT of them - the look is at odds with the rest of the gun. (Remember the concept of unity we discussed in Part 3?) Consequently I shrink from the prospect of doing them, and gently steer the client to something else. (In some cases I've sent the most intractable to another gunsmith, rather than be the proximate cause of yet another ugly gun!)
Are there instances where that type of embellishment might be appropriate to the overall design, and where I might consent to doing the job? Perhaps - but off the top of my head, I can't think of one. (Save, perhaps, for the already-blocky Dan Wesson heavy barrel shrouds - but I think there is a better approach to that particular assignment.)
This is where the marketing and customer relations parts of my head chime in, no doubt in concert with a few readers: "it's your job to do what the client wants, not what you want!" Yes, that's true - but the selfish part of me wants to ensure that a decade from now, people won't be referring to my work as "butchery." I confess to giving in to my selfish side, though in this case I believe that it is in the best interests of the client to not butcher his/her gun!
On down the line the deliberations go, each part of the work carefully considered both on its own merits, and in tandem with the other parts of the design. It has to work well, and it has to look good; I can't bring myself to do either separately. Perhaps I'll never become a huge gunsmithing conglomerate with such an attitude, but at the end of the day I can look back at what I've done, and smile with the knowledge that I've contributed - in a small way - to making the world just a bit better looking.
Life is too short to shoot - or to make - ugly guns. We'll leave that to the autoloader brigade!
The latest argument from the "experts" delves into Colt advertising history. Way back when, Colt's advertisements stated that their small revolvers were suitable for use with the .38-44 "Heavy Duty" round, which was the predecessor to the .357 Magnum - but in a Special-length case.
When the Magnum was introduced, the .38-44 went away. It wasn't until many years later that the more hotly loaded .38 Special +P made its appearance. It wasn't a throwback, however - it was still lighter than the .38-44. (Think of the +P as being between the regular .38 Special and the .38-44 in terms of power, and you won't be terribly far off.)
The "experts" quickly point out that the .38-44 is far more powerful than the .38 +P, and the fact that Colt advertised the use of .38-44 ammo in their guns is some sort of “proof“ that Colt's last factory recommendations for proper loadings are somehow “wrong.“ They conclude from all of this that using unlimited amounts of +P ammunition in small frame Colts is perfectly fine.
Such opinions, aside from flying counter to those of the people who actually designed and constructed the gun, ignore certain realities of the times involved.
Yes, Colt did say in print ads that their guns were rated for the .38-44 round. It doesn't say that the guns wouldn't experience increased wear, however, nor did it say that they could use that load regularly! When one examines the ads, it is obvious Colt was saying the guns wouldn't suffer catastrophic failure from firing those rounds, and not that there would be no long-term consequences from doing so. There is a difference!
It's important to remember that, at the time, a) there were a huge number of trained Colt gunsmiths; b) Colt was producing, and had available, parts for all of the guns (including the frames); c) shipping restrictions, as in sending guns back to the factory, were non-existent making factory service far more affordable.
Finally, there was a different gun culture in existence. Today we think nothing of shooting a hundred rounds just in a quick trip to the range, but back then it just wasn't like that. A Colt revolver, even in police service, might only see a hundred rounds a year. Outside of that, it was extremely common - perhaps the norm - to buy a new revolver and a box of ammunition, and a decade or two later still have more than half that box of ammo!
Handguns just weren't shot all that much back then. Handgun hunting was virtually unknown, handgun sports (outside of regulation bullseye) didn't exist, and handgun shooting as recreation wasn't common. Handguns simply weren't used as frequently, and under those conditions the very occasional cylinder of .38-44 rounds wasn't going to hurt anything.
That's why Colt makes the 3,000 round recommendation for the use of +P ammunition in their recent production revolvers. 3,000 rounds doesn't sound like a lot to us, but even a police officer back in those days wouldn't expect to shoot that much in his entire career.
Once you consider all of the facts, it becomes clear that there is no contradiction between what Colt said then and what they say now. Times have changed, and their recommendations have changed as well.
The challenge of revolver design today is in how to bring the aesthetics up to date, to allow (or take advantage of) advances in material and manufacturing technology, while simultaneously maintaining the essence of just what a revolver is. At first blush this seems like an impossible task: make a modern looking traditional firearm. Some would say that it's akin to fitting a muzzle loader with LaserGrips!
I disagree. I think that the essence of the revolver isn't a traditional look, but rather a familiar operation; of simplicity, not complication. Don't get me wrong - I like a traditional revolver as much as anyone, but for me it's always about how the gun WORKS. I don't shoot, carry, compete with, train with, and work on revolvers because I'm a nostalgic Luddite; I'm a thoroughly forward-looking Luddite!
Heretical? Some might say so. Inconsistent? I don't see it. At the end of the day, it's the cylinder (and the way that it works) that makes the revolver, regardless of what the packaging looks like.
Let's take a look at efforts to modernize the wheelgun.
One of the more successful changes in the look of the revolver was the introduction of the Colt Python (which we've already covered) back in 1955. The lugged barrel, still debated (and despised) by some, was a real departure in revolver design.
Smith & Wesson has had their share of "pushing the envelope" designs too. Some of their more recent efforts are styling disasters, but they haven't all been - take the groundbreaking "hammerless" Centennial series, first introduced in 1952.
Photo courtesy of www.snubnose.info The Centennial, with its fully enclosed hammer, was a sleeker, more modern approach to the small frame revolver. The design is much more forward looking than its "Bodyguard" stablemate; unlike some designs has aged very well and is still in production. Note the back end of the gun, where the hammer would normally be - the way that it comes down to integrate the rear sight and the top of the grip is so simple, yet so effective. Great design, and can truly be called a "modern classic."
Sometimes a design needs an iteration (or two...or three) before it really hits its stride. Take a look at the original Dan Wesson design:
Dan Wesson photos courtesy of www.notpurfect.com
The DW was an exciting revolver when first introduced in the late '60s. Combining modern materials and revolutionary features, it was sadly lacking in the appearance department. Karl Lewis, though one of the greatest firearms designers in American history, was not terribly adept at making his guns look as good as they worked, and the original DW design was proof.
Where to start? The ugly barrel retaining nut, the inelegant matching of the "L" shaped barrel shroud and the frame, the ungainly front sight, the the use of a traditional barrel shape on an otherwise modern frame all combined to make a look that can only be described as "horrendous."
A few years later, with some work on both the engineering and aesthetics, the DW Model 15 finally hit the mark:
The square-slab lugged barrel with vented rib (they learned from Colt!) finally combined to serve as a perfect match for the frame. It had a sort of industrial look to it that still looks good today. Even on this 6" example, it is visually balanced - a tough thing to do with a heavy barrel, but the DW pulls it off.
Ruger went through the same kind of evolution, but it took a little longer. Their original double action design was, like the Dan Wesson, groundbreaking in many engineering ways - modern materials, production methods, and the elimination of screws. These were combined to make the "Six" Series (Speed-, Security-, and Service-Six models):
Photo courtesy of www.landro.no
Now understand that I'm a big fan of the Sixes, but let's face it - they were pretty ugly. The barrel just didn't mesh well with the squarish frame (note the steep drop from the top of the frame to the barrel shank.) It looks for all the world like one of those cheap .22 revolvers from the various German makers that were common here in the '60s. The inelegant hammer spur didn't help matters, either.
They did significantly better with the GP100 - the lugged barrel balances the heavy frame much better - but the barrel still doesn't quite match the lines of the frame:
Photo courtesy of www.ruger.com They kept at it, and finally hit a home run with the SP101 - a thoroughly modern design, in both construction and aesthetics. It is, in my humble estimation, the best attempt at a modern appearance of all of the currently available revolvers.
Photo courtesy of www.ruger.com The barrel was a radical departure in profile; no longer constrained to rather simple combinations of basic geometric shapes, the SP101 barrel is instead a sensuous "S" curve, which mates to the lines of the frame exceptionally well. The barrel's "rib" fits right to the top of the frame, and the recoil shield is sculpted on the right side. It seems to grow from the frame wall, rather than being merely attached to it in the manner of the older Sixes. The ugly hammer spur remains, but it doesn't seem so bad on this gun - probably because the rest of the design works so well. (Yeah, the grips stink, but one can at least replace the cheesy plastic panels with aftermarket wood or micarta.)
How about really pushing the envelope? How about setting out to produce a radically different revolver? There have been attempts - the original Mateba designs, the MTR8 (and later 2006M and Unica) certainly tried:
Photo courtesy of www.worldguns.ru
These, however, were attempts to change the very nature of what a revolver is; how about if we take the accepted design envelope, and simply...update it? That, folks, brings us to the very radical, yet still familiar, Manurhin MR 93:
Photo courtesy of www.army-discount.com
The barrel shroud is square in profile, which compliments the distinctly angular frame. The cylinder - now something of a round peg in a square hole - is brought into the design with its squarish fluting. The recoil shield flares into the frame, in an extreme update of the SP101 we saw above. The triggerguard features the same sort of updating (though I could live without the faddish hook on the front.) Even the hammer spur was simplified, angled, and minimized to fit the overall theme. The very European grips complete the package by bringing the otherwise austere gun back to its roots - rounded so that the hand can comfortably grasp them, and wood to warm up what could have otherwise been a very cold appearance.
Remember what I said a while back about the difference between what you like and what you can appreciate? This is it. You may not like it; you may think it blasphemous. You may not wish to own it. All of that is fine and very normal; but you have to admire the elements, how they hold together and compliment each other, and how the design is unified, even if you wouldn't want it in your safe. The eye moves through and around the design very well, and even the choice of materials is "correct" from an aesthetic viewpoint.
Back on August 29 I wrote that this part of the series might put off more than a few of you. Here it comes: I think it's one of the best revolver designs ever. Yes, I'm serious. It pushes the envelope, but skillfully uses all of the design criteria we've learned about in this series. It is thoroughly, unabashedly modern, but manages to retain the essence of what a revolver is. All of the design elements work so well together, and the design as a whole is striking - but not in the way the Mateba MTR8 is. At its heart it is still that traditional machine we all appreciate, even if its clothing is of a different era.
You don't like it? That's fine! Don't ignore it, though, for how it looks can teach us much about revolver design, and may even help us identify just what it is we do (and don't) like.
I hope this series has exposed you to ideas and concepts that you might not have otherwise considered. If it has done so, I will have succeeded in my original aim to expand our wheelgun horizons. I welcome your comments!
Next week, the Epilogue: how I approach customization in relation to revolver aesthetics, and why I've chosen not to do certain things.
As promised in the last installment, today we'll be taking a look at one iconic revolver and discover how it follows the design principles we've explored.
The Colt Python easily makes just about everyone's "top 5 revolvers" list. Much of its popularity is due to its gilt-edged accuracy and superb out-of-box action (though, of course, it can always be better. This has been an obvious plug.) However, it's drop-dead-gorgeous looks are no doubt a huge part of the reputation it enjoys.
So "right" is the look of the Python that S&W paid it the honor (though they'll deny it) of copying the distinctive barrel profile in their "L" frame guns. They couldn't get the rest of the gun, though, and that's sad - because, as we'll see, the Python's appearance is a function of the whole gun. (Before you shoot off that hate email, understand that the 686 series are pretty good looking guns in their own right; it's just that they don't achieve the high level of design excellence that the Python does. Keep reading, and hopefully you'll begin to understand why.)
We're using a typical 4-inch Python as our example, since it is not only the most common, but also the best looking of the various Python incarnations.
What do we see when we look at the Python?
The first principle we learned about is proportion - the relationship of elements to each other, and of the whole design, in all measurable aspects.The 4-inch version is near ideal; the barrel, which often looks skinny on other guns, has sufficient volume to hold its own against the cylinder and frame; in fact, one gets the feeling that if the barrel were to be compressed lengthwise, its width would grow proportionally to end up the same dimension as the cylinder. The trigger and triggerguard are perfectly proportioned to each other, and the combination to the frame. Note the hammer tang; having a large pad for easy cocking could have made the hammer proportionally too large for the rest of the design. Through judicious thinning and shaping, the designers made a hammer that complimented the design rather than stood apart from it.
Closely related to proportion, we learned, is the concept of balance, or of visual equilibrium. Here again the Python design simply shines. The Python's gripframe, often criticized for flaring too much, gives needed visual balance to the heavy lugged barrel and frame. The gun has a visual center of balance right in the center of the gun. Contributing to this is the barrel's vent rib; were that top rib solid, it wouldn't look as balanced as it does. Take, for example, the S&W copy: Without the vents in the barrel, it simply looks front heavy compared to the Colt original; there is a feeling that it will tip forward, while the Python doesn't. (That huge front sight ramp doesn't help, either.)
Eye movement in the Python design is almost classic. If we start at the muzzle, the lines of the barrel - repeating between the lug, the central portion, and the rib - serve to draw the eye toward the cylinder. Once there, the pointed ends of the flutes send the gaze to the cylinder release, whose shape directs the eye to the hammer tang. This is were the design shows a particular genius: the gentle curve and overall shape of the hammer directs the eye in a clockwise spiral to the grips, where their shape sends the gaze to the trigger. The strongly curved trigger - much more curved than on any other brand of revolver - is a sort of "ski jump" that propels the eye back to the barrel.
Note especially the cut of the frame under the barrel down to the triggerguard, and compare it to the S&W. Note how the Python has just a bit of an angular cut with just a hint of curvature, which serves to visually lighten the gun and give it a "flying" feeling. It also serves to help redirect the eye from the trigger back to the muzzle; the S&W, in contrast, looks "blocky", far less graceful, and stops the eye dead at that point. Design is often about such "minor" details!
Which brings us to emphasis, or design elements that arrest the eye without causing visual fixation. It is a design touch that causes the gaze to linger, rather than stop. It's terribly easy for the eye to leave a revolver at the hammer or muzzle, because those are points to which the eye tends to be sent by the barrel and cylinder combination. That gorgeous Python hammer hammer begs to be looked at, but it isn't so overwhelming that the viewer's gaze ends at that point; it serves to slow the eye down, then redirect the gaze to the next element. Were it larger or smaller, it wouldn't serve the same purpose. It is a perfect example of design emphasis, as is the thumb latch that slows the eye down just enough to make sure it doesn't miss the hammer spur.
The front sight shape - and the barrel vents - tend to keep that from happening at the front. If we look back at the S&W picture, you'll notice that the front sight ramp tends to serve as a launch point unto itself, sending the eye right off the front sight into space. On the Python, the sight is enough to stop the eye from taking off into the hinterlands, but not so much that it becomes a stopping or launching point on its own. The vents are a point of contrast, being quite angular in comparison to the smooth curves of the rest of the revolver. That contrast is just enough to catch the eye, but not enough to look out of place or in conflict with the rest of the design elements. (As we'll see in the next part of this series, making a contrast without creating visual dichotomy is a tough task - and not always achieved.)
Finally, when we look at the Python we see an overall unity, the feeling that every element is working to support the overall design. Achieving unity starts with the finish (which is a point of emphasis all by itself.) That deep, glassy "Royal Blue" finish for which the Python is famed is a strong component that ties together all of the elements. It's not the only unifying feature, however!
The shape of the thumb latch repeats the shape of the cylinder flutes, which themselves appear to be continuous from the barrel lug. (So good is that combination, when you look at the gun as a whole it almost seems to be one solid piece of steel from the muzzle to the end of that latch.) Note too how the barrel cross-section matches the frame contours where the barrel is attached, and how the contour of the frame under the hammer is reminiscent of the curve of the triggerguard. (Take a look at the S&W; note how that same curve is much shallower, and doesn't really recall that of any other part of the frame.) Even the points where the triggerguard meet the frame are identical front and rear, which augments that feeling of cohesion.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. One must look at revolver design not just as a series of parts, but also at how those parts work together to produce a design at which the eye can't seem to stop looking. The Colt Python is, in that regard, the ne plus ultra of revolvers.
In the next installment, we'll look at designs gone awry, and find out why some guns are just plain ugly. Until then, always remember: life is too short to carry (or shoot) an ugly gun! -=[ Grant ]=-
A gentleman wrote in asking about small backup revolvers - that is, a revolver to carry as a backup to a primary revolver.
I know that many people carry their primary gun on their hip, with a lightweight (aluminum, titanium, scandium) wheelgun in an ankle holster, and I know a couple of folks who carry a S&W "J" frame in a front pants pocket as a second gun.
This is not what the writer had in mind, though. He was thinking of a very small (smaller than a "J" frame) "subcompact" revolver for a second gun, in the same way that there are subcompact autoloaders (Seecamp, Kel-Tec, etc.) to serve as backups to a larger autoloader. Sadly, the market in this case is pretty limited.
The only one that comes quickly to mind is the North American Arms "Mini" revolver in .22LR and .22WMR. (The Magnum, of course, would be a better choice than the Long Rifle, ballistically speaking.) The trouble with these guns is that 1) I've never seen one that could be even charitably referred to as reliable, and 2) they are harder than heck to even keep on an IDPA target at 7 feet, let alone be assured of a solid hit in the vitals.
Beyond that there are only the much larger S&W "J" frame guns (and the Taurus equivalents, though I'm not wild about them.) However, there may be a "blast from the past" that is worth considering: the Colt Pocket Positive. Never heard of it? Well, you're in for a treat!
The Pocket Positive was nothing more than a scaled-down "D" frame (Detective Special, etc.) After all, the "D" frame was just a scaled down "E" frame (Official Police, etc.) so why not go even smaller? The Pocket Positive was a tiny little gun - considerably smaller than even a "J" frame. (A cylinder on the Colt measures 1.240", while the "J" frame comes in at 1.310". What really makes the difference, though, is the frame - the Pocket Positive is a tiny, almost jewel-like gun, noticeably smaller than the popular "J".) The action is, as noted, of normal Colt design, and should smooth up as nicely as its bigger brothers.
The Pocket Positive was most commonly chambered in the .32 Colt Police round, aka the .32 S&W Long. Now the .32 S&W round isn't terribly powerful, of course, but neither is the .32ACP - a cartridge used and praised in the backup role for many years. The .32 revolver round has a significantly heavier bullet, so it should have better penetration than the .32ACP - always a good thing when shooting a "mousegun." Ammunition is still being made, though the factory offerings are limited to lead round nose.
Pocket Positives have not yet captured the collecting world's imagination, and are still available at reasonable prices. I picked one up a while back for $150, and it's been sitting in my "to do" pile awaiting some spare time. I think I'll dig that out and put it back into working order; I think it may be the answer to the need for a good backup revolver!
(Now if only someone would reintroduce it in titanium...)
In Part 2, we looked at the ideas of proportion and balance as they relate to revolver design. Today, let's look at some more concepts of good design.
Movement seems like an odd concept for an inanimate object, but it doesn't really deal with the object itself - movement instead refers to the path your eyes follow as you look at the gun.
Movement is important to control in a design, because a designer doesn't want the viewer's eyes to fixate on on detail to the exclusion of the rest, nor to keep moving off of the design into space. Both can (and do) happen!
Movement can be directed by edges and lines, by shapes, and the skilled use of color and texture. For instance, a natural line on a revolver is the barrel; it naturally directs the eyes back to the cylinder, where the flutes further direct the eye along the frame. The same movement happens in reverse. However, that movement needs to be arrested at some point, so that the eye doesn't wander off the design into open space at either end of the design. At the barrel end, the front sight serves to arrest a redirect the eye back along the barrel; at the other end, the hammer can do the same thing.
Those points of focus or interruption comprise the principle of emphasis. Points of emphasis are those which most strongly draw the viewers attention. There is usually a main point of emphasis, though there may be smaller points in other parts of the design. The eye should linger on a point of emphasis, then continue through the design. The idea is to hold the viewer's interest without causing fixation.
Emphasis can be achieved with repetition of color, shape, or texture; through contrast, again of color, shape, or texture; a change in scale or proportion; a position in a strategic location; or through intricacy, or the details of an element. The front sight is a good example of emphasis due to location, while a checkered cylinder release can be an example of intricacy.
Finally, all of the design principles should have as their end goal in unity of design. Unity is the feeling of harmony between all parts of the design; it should create a sense of completeness, of wholeness, of a solidity in the design. There should be a sense that all of the parts are working together to achieve a common result.
Consistency is the watchword of unity, but that doesn't mean that there can't be a contrast - perish the thought! As we learned in the discussion about emphasis, there needs to be some contrast in a design; unity is not to be confused with sameness!
However, contrast for emphasis is a one thing, while contrast that disturbs the unity is quite another. Contrast that supports the function or underlying concept of the design is not the same as contrast for contrast's sake. For instance, a matte part where the others are polished; a checkered part where the others are flat; a round part where others are square, are all examples of contrast for emphasis. Combining all of those contrasts in one part, however, produces disharmony, as does using all of those types of contrast willy-nilly across the whole design. The former promotes unity, the latter does not!
Unity is obvious, and perhaps the first thing we see when looking at a revolver. In a small canvas like a revolver, attention to unity is extremely important. As we'll see later in this series, it isn't always followed!
There is nothing like learning through example, so in the next installment we'll take a look at one iconic revolver from the perspective of these principles.
As I mentioned in Part 1, there are some recognized design principles that are universal. Let's look at some of them.
Proportion is the relationship, in terms of size and scale, among the various parts of a design, and of each element to the design as a whole. Proportion is about measurements: length, width, etc. and how those measurements compare to
Remember that a revolver is a three-dimensional object: proportion is not just about length or width, but also volume. If we were to increase the barrel diameter of a revolver, even a small amount, its proportion to the rest of the gun would change dramatically - possibly more so than a simple increase in length. One could also alter the proportion my using visual tricks to make a part look more "3D" and increasing its visual volume - even if the part is essentially unchanged in physical size!
Proportion also applies to every part on the gun. If we were to increase the size of a hammer spur or triggerguard, it would change the proportions and alter the design. Maybe it would be better, maybe not - but each element has to be judged not just on how it relates to each other element, but how it relates to the entire object. Proportion is all about relationships!
Balance, on the other hand, is the concept of visual equilibrium. When balance is not present, the whole design looks as if it will "fall over" in some direction (if not literally) Achieving visual balance can be done symmetrically, where the elements are arranged equally on each side of an imaginary balance point, or asymmetrically, where the elements on each side of that point are arranged non-identically so that the whole looks balanced.
The latter is kind of a hard concept; imagine a teeter-totter. Balance is made when we have two children of equal size on each end of the beam (symmetrical), but could also be made with one really fat and two really skinny kids on opposite ends, of of one fat and one skinny kid, with the fat kid closer to the balance point and the skinny child at the end of the beam. These are examples of an asymmetrical balance, and the same principles apply to design balance.
The interesting thing is that balance is variable, because it relies on a visual fulcrum for your eyes to focus on, and can be very complicated, because there might be more than one balance point. Let's take an example of varying barrel lengths; radical changes in barrel length might change the visual balance of the gun depending on where your eye finds a fulcrum. In a good design, there might be several such points for your eye to rest on, resulting in good balance with a variety of barrel lengths.
What kinds of things can serve as visual balance points? The cylinder, the triggerguard, the cylinder latch, the recoil shield, and so on. Anything that can serve as a reference point on which to "arrange" other objects is a fulcrum.
Understand that this is distinctly different than physical balance, and it is important to separate the concepts. A great example is the Colt Python; while there are small visual changes in the earliest guns to the latest, the design was essentially unchanged from start to finish. An early 4" example has the same visual balance to a late model, yet the physical balance changed dramatically - because the lug on the earliest models was hollow, giving a distinct rearward weight bias. So, the guns had the same visual balance, but very different physical balances.
Next time, we'll examine some more concepts of design as applied to the revolver!
What makes one revolver look better than another? Have you ever stopped to think about the design cues that make the difference between a classic and an eminently forgettable gun?
In this series, I'm going to relate my opinions and prejudices regarding revolver design, primarily (though not exclusively) from the standpoint of factory guns. All of the concepts, however, are equally applicable (perhaps "especially applicable") to custom guns.
One thing to keep in mind as you read that these are my opinions, nothing more. I don't claim to be a design guru like, say, Jonathan Ive. What I can claim is to be a casual student of industrial design, and of art in the larger sense. (Growing up with a mother who was an accomplished artist and designer assured that I would understand such things, even if I wasn't terribly creative myself! I guess that's the best description of a critic.)
There exist well accepted design concepts, but that isn't to say that good design is carved in stone; if it were, we could just program robots to spit out our stuff and get some extra sleep! It is in the combination of design elements, with the occasional surprise or personal interpretation, that keeps the process of designing from becoming formulaic.
Some of what is people consider "good design" is really quality of execution. A great design, badly executed, is crap; a less grand design, but well executed, can be superb. Sometimes learning to recognize quality is a necessary prerequisite to appreciating good design.
(Engraving is a good example; I've been to gun shows where there was a good cross section of engraving quality. Invariably those guns with the most coverage get the most attention, but to the trained eye their lack of quality detracts from what might have been a great work of art. In my view, bad engraving is worse than no engraving.)
Finally, remember that 'popular' isn't necessarily the same as 'good'. I dare say that there are far more Velvet Elvii floating around this world than works of Rembrandt, but that hardly makes them equivalent!
Stacking is defined as an increase in trigger pull weight toward the end of the trigger's rearward travel. Some people like it, some don't, and different guns have varying amounts of it. What causes it?
Some people come up with odd explanations. I recently got an email asking about stacking; the writer had read "on the internet" that stacking was caused by the type of spring - coil or leaf - used in the action. It's a simplistic answer, and it's not terribly accurate.
An "L" frame S&W uses a leaf spring, and has little to no stacking; a Colt uses a leaf spring, and has lots of stack. A Dan Wesson uses a coil spring and it's trigger stacks horribly, where a Ruger GP-100 uses a coil spring and stacks very little.
The cause of stacking isn't the spring itself; the biggest determinant is the geometry of the double-action mechanism. In general, guns using a design where the hammer strut does double duty as the double action sear (Colt and Dan Wesson) will display lots of stacking, while those that use a separate strut and sear arrangement (S&W, Ruger) will display less.
(Some nomenclature: a sear is any pair of surfaces from which the hammer is released; a strut is the pivoting piece on the hammer, which the trigger pushes on in order to start the hammer moving backward. In some guns, the trigger pushes on the strut, and at some point the sears come into contact and the strut leaves contact with the trigger; after some additional hammer movement, the sears slip out of engagement and allow the hammer to fall. The other design is where the strut actually pushes the hammer all the way back, at which point it slips off of the trigger and releases the hammer.)
This isn't a guarantee, though, because there are still a number of angles between surfaces and pivots that can introduce stacking into the mechanism. It is possible to design either system to have the characteristics of the other, though in practice it doesn't happen all that often.
That's how it all stacks up! (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun.) -=[ Grant ]=-
Much as it pains me to admit this, my eyesight is degrading with distressing rapidity. No, it's nothing out of the ordinary, nor is it anything serious - it's just that I'm getting older!
I'm close enough to the big "five-oh" to count the years left on one hand (with fingers left over), and the closer it gets the further out I need to hold the restaurant menu. Oh, yes, my prescription is current - but after wearing bifocals for the better part of the last decade, I'm now told I need trifocals. The indignity!
Sound familiar? It should, given the number of questions I field about sight options. Consistently, the two most common queries concern fiber optic front sights, and the "Big Dot" from XS Sight Systems (or whatever they're calling themselves this week.)
I have some personal experience with the fiber optic inserts, and frankly I'm not terribly impressed. Aside from their fragility (the encased ones are somewhat better in that regard), they don't really help the sight visibility all that much. Yes, their neon glow does attract the eye, but if your eyesight is like mine the resulting sight picture isn't all that crisp. The bright fiber tends to "bloom" - that is, it looks larger than it really is and develops a fuzzy corona. This makes precise shot alignment more difficult; it's very much like when someone turns on the bedroom lights in the middle of the night, and your eyes struggle to adjust to the situation - everything seems to be "flared." Squinting helps, but wasn't that what you were trying to avoid in the first place?
The "Big Dot" sights are another matter. The Big Dot is just what its name says: a very large, round front sight. The idea is to make the sight so big that even Mr. Magoo couldn't miss it. While I've never owned a set personally, I've test fired guns that carried them, and I've found the sights are so large that they just can't be shot all that accurately. Their sight picture (particularly with the companion "express" v-notch rear sights) is just too coarse for good shot placement.
I'm not alone in my opinion of the Big Dot; I've installed several of them on client's guns, and they have all elected to switch back to the original sights. If that isn't enough of a non-endorsement, I've watched one of the best handgun shooters I know - a police officer who has been a state IPSC and PPC champ - struggle to keep in the A-zone at 15 yards with the things, when at that distance he usually shoots single, ragged holes. Most people who aren't as good as he is do far worse. As you might guess, he doesn't like them either.
What works for those of us who are pushing 50 (or dragging it, as the case may be)? Well, for quite some time I've been told to simply use a wide rear sight notch - one big enough to have roughly one-third to one-half a sight-width of light on either side of the front sight. (I must admit that a very good friend has been preaching the widened rear sight for the past several years. Frankly, though he is one of the best instructors I've ever met and a phenomenal shot, I thought he was nuts. As the front sight got harder and harder to see, however, I grudgingly made room for the idea that he might be right.)
Recently one of my clients asked that I widen the rear notch on his sight to give "lots of light on either side." I did so, making the space on each side of the front sight appear to be roughly 1/3 of blade width. Surprisingly, it was definitely easier to shoot the resulting gun. It focused sharper and much cleaner, and the sights aligned a lot faster. It was a definite increase in shootability compared to my own guns.
Of course, now I need to find time to do the same to all of my sights.... -=[ Grant ]=-
Spent part of last Tuesday at the range, schmoozing with A Famous Gun Writer Who Wishes To Remain Anonymous (hereafter referred to as "AFGWWWTRA".) We tested a few guns, talked about revolvers - the kinds of things you'd expect a gunsmith and a gun writer to do on a range.
AFGWWWTRA happened to have a Ruger Alaskan model in .454 Casull that was being evaluated. Since I hadn't yet gotten the chance to shoot one, I really wanted to see what it was like with full-house loads. I elected to shoot a couple of cylinders worth while AFGWWWTRA took pictures of the whole debacle. (AFGWWWTRA, it turns out, is easily amused by masochistic idiots. I'm sure it was meant as a compliment.)
The first cylinder was fired, sedately, in single action from the 25-yard bench. At that point I was thinking "heck, that wasn't bad. I wonder what it'd be like in rapid fire?" The second cylinder full, standing from about 7 yards, was fired as quickly as I could get the gun back on target between shots.
Just to retain my machismo cred, here I am in the midst of that sequence, the mighty .454 loads in full fireball-producing glory:
Courtesy of AFGWWWTRA Note the flash from the round just fired, and yet the gun is back on target and the hammer is about to drop again. Yes, I am just that damn good! (I must be - I tell myself so all the time!) -=[ Grant ]=-
This is a term used by tool & die makers to indicate unobtainable levels of (perceived) precision. Why do I bring this up?
Last week, I was advising a reader on selecting pin gages for use in measuring chamber throats. The discussion revolved around which gages to buy, and whether or not he needed both plus- and minus-tolerance gages (no, in case you're wondering.) He was concerned about their variance of .0002" (that's 2/10,000th of an inch, or 1/20th of the thickness of an average human hair. In machinist parlance, that would be "2 tenths.") As I explained to him, in practice it's not really possible to measure to that level.
As I thought about my answers to his questions, I flashed back to a conversation related to the posts I've made about measuring tools. A fellow who identified himself as a gunsmith contacted me to argue about my advocacy of quality measuring tools. "I don't need any of them overpriced tools - I use [insert name of well known retailer of low end Chinese tools here], and I can measure down to a ten-thousandth!" I asked him if what he was measuring was under the same environmental conditions as the calibration on his micrometer, and he replied "my mic reads to a tenth - it don't need to be calibrated!"
When a measuring instrument is calibrated - that is, checked against known standards and certified as to accuracy - the environmental conditions of that calibration are recorded. The calibration is really only valid for those same conditions; if the temperature goes up or down, that accuracy is not guaranteed.
How much different does a change in temperature make? I did a little experiment. I got out my Grade 2 Brown & Sharpe gage blocks, and picked out the .125" block. (The tolerance for Grade 2 blocks is +/- .000002", or two-milliionths of an inch.) On the calibration certificate, it gives you the deviation from the nominal dimension in millionths of an inch for each block. In the case of my .125" block, it has no variance - in other words, it is guaranteed to measure .125000" at 68 degrees F. Coincidentally, that is the temperature that my shop generally maintains outside of the coldest winter and warmest summer months.
After checking the temperature, I pulled out my best Etalon (Swiss) micrometer and the .125 block. I handled the mic with gloves while I secured it in its stand; the block was handled with insulated tweezers (yes, there are such things.) I measured the block under these conditions, and not surprisingly it measured .1250" on the nose.
I took the block out of the micrometer, and held the non-measuring surfaces between by thumb and forefinger for about a minute, then remeasured. Guess what? Just that small amount of heat had caused the gage to grow to a bit more than .1251" (a typical mic only measures to a ten-thousandth, and this fell just between the .1251" and .1252" marks.) Had I held on to it longer, it would have grown a bit more. Had I held the mic in my hand while measuring, it too would have been "off."
That's why they're called "bullshit tenths" - because, without knowing exactly the temperature of both the micrometer and work, and at what temperature the micrometer was last calibrated, you really don't know to the ten-thousandth of an inch how big that part really is. In other words, until you've met all of the above, you can't measure to a ten-thousandth of an inch, no matter how optimistic you are!
Since pin gages are usually held in the hand, as is the piece to be measured, it would not be possible to get closer than several ten-thousandths. Factor in the other environmental variables, it's clear that a) the gages are more accurate than they need to be for the job asked of them; b) you can't measure to the limit of the gages, so you don't need both the plus and minus coverage; and c) worrying about their allowed +/- .0002" isn't at all productive. Save your stomach lining for more important things.
If you're here, it's probably because you like (or at least appreciate) our friend the revolver. My feelings, of course, are well known: I believe the revolver to be the single greatest firearm that one could ever hope to own. I believe that people who shoot revolvers demonstrate themselves to be of above average intelligence, more refined sensibilities, and generally better looking than those who do not. (I exaggerate, of course. Except in my own case, where these things are certainly true. I tell my wife so every day.)
However, even in my zeal I cannot recommend the revolver to every single person; it is not the best choice for everyone or every circumstance. I've said this before, and I'll probably being saying it again and again as time goes on.
I particularly cringe whenever I see some fellow buying (or hear someone recommending) that the revolver is always the "best choice" for a woman, hinting that women are incapable of operating a semiauto properly. Sometimes the revolver is the best choice for a female, just as it sometimes is for a male - though not always, and not even most of the time!
Not being a woman, I've been at a loss to explain my discomfort in any terms other than "that seems stupid to me." Luckily, over at the View From the Porch, Tam does a good (and concise) job of explaining just why.
In response to Monday's blog post about .22 accuracy, a couple of readers asked about the loads that had proven to be accurate in the Dan Wesson .22LR Model 15-2.
Before I answer, you need to keep in mind that your individual DW may not like the same ammunition mine does. With that understanding, my DW likes the Remington Match Target (subsonic, LRN bullet) and the Remington "Golden Bullet" bulk pack. Of the 23 different rounds I tested in the gun, these two came out on top in their respective categories (target ammunition and hunting ammunition.)
This is quite surprising to me, as Remington rimfire ammo is not generally held in high regard by experienced rimfire shooters. It is often criticized for lack of accuracy and consistency, but in this gun those two loads work extremely well. The "Golden Bullet" also exhibits excellent terminal effects on small game (ground squirrels) as well as being accurate.
Oddly, the Federal Gold Medal Match - a terrific load that shoots well in just about everything - doesn't do well in this gun. Why? Who knows? That's the joy and mystery of the rimfire addiction!
I've been shooting a lot of .22LR on a recreational basis lately, and am reminded how fickle this round can be.
Many people seem to be unaware that you can't put just any old .22 round into a gun - be it rifle, pistol, or revolver - and expect it to function correctly, let alone hit where it is aimed!
It is not unusual to find that any given .22 firearm will not function with certain ammunition. I've seen guns that didn't have enough firing pin energy to detonate certain brands of ammunition; autoloaders that wouldn't load and eject certain bullet shapes or velocities; and guns that would shoot tight groups with some ammo but shotgun-like patterns with everything else.
This would all be a lot easier if it were predictable by gun brand and/or model - sadly, it just isn't. You can take two identical guns and one will shoot incredibly accurately with a specific round, while the other gun throws them every which way; I've seen it happen with a pair of Ruger 10/22 rifles.
Some guns are more picky than others regarding their ammunition preferences. The Dan Wesson Model 15-2 in .357 is renowned for its accuracy, but the same gun in .22 is regarded as very inaccurate. I suspect that this reputation has more to do with ammunition that with any fault of the gun. I have one, and had to test many different .22 rounds before I found a couple that it would shoot well. The difference wasn't minor, either! With most ammunition it will shoot 3- to 4-inch groups at 25 yards; with its preferred ammunition, it will quite literally put a cylinder full into one ragged hole at the same distance. There seems to be no middle ground with this gun!
Bullet velocity also plays a role. Generally, it is assumed that the higher velocity rounds don't shoot as well as their slower brethren - but not always! My personal Marlin 39A, for instance, has a surprising preference for the hyper-velocity Quik-Shok round, which is widely considered to be a very inaccurate load.
The moral of the story is that you have to test - and sometimes test again, and keep testing - until you find the round(s) that shoot and function well in your individual guns. When you find that/those loads, buy a case (or two or three...!)
Those who have highly polished guns - Royal Blue, nickel plate, or bright stainless - often ask about the best way to keep these fine finishes looking good.
My recommendation: Selvyt. It's not a paste or a wax, it's a cloth - a pure cotton, non-impregnated cloth that jewelers have been using for many decades to give the finishing touches to highly polished gold, silver, and platinum.
The Selvyt cloth is simply a specially woven cotton that has a unique nap. That's it, there is nothing more! The process used to make the Selvyt results in what can only be compared to a cross between fine velvet and chamois. The result is hundreds of thousands of miniature "brushes" on the surface that gently polish without harming the finish in any manner whatsoever.
Selvyt's special cloth also suspends any dust or microscopic grit inside the nap, so that it doesn't contact the surface being polished. This is in stark contrast to chamois, which seems prone to scratching if someone even mentions the word "dust" in the vicinity in which it is being used! (I'm exaggerating, of course.)
The Selvyt is especially good for the Colt "Ultimate Stainless" finish, which is notoriously soft. The Selvyt brings back the high shine without harming the surface of the steel; it's really remarkable.
When the Selvyt gets dirty - and it will - just wash like any other cotton fabric. It will come out of the dryer like new, ready for more use! I've had one of mine for more than a decade, washed several times, and its performance is unchanged.
So good is the Selvyt that Purdy - the makers of hyper-expensive shotguns - sells them under their own name for polishing their fine pieces. If that isn't an endorsement, I don't know what is!
You can find it at many jewelers, any jewelry supply house, many silversmiths, and (of course) online. Be careful - you want the genuine Selvyt cloth, made in England (there are pretenders out there.) Selvyt also makes an impregnated cloth for tarnish protection on silver; you do not want that model! Ask for the plain, un-impregnated, original Selvyt cloth.
The Selvyt comes in several sizes, from 5x5" on up. I like the 14x14" size, which will probably set you back around $10 or $12 these days (I haven't had to buy one in years, so no hate mail if I'm wrong!) It may seem like a lot for a small piece of cloth, but it's worth every penny.
This is an expansion on an email I replied to recently. A loyal reader noted that my name had been brought up on one of the forums (sadly, he couldn't remember which one) regarding my blog article on measuring chamber throats.
Apparently, the gist of the discussion was that the forum's "expert" (every forum has one) opined that I was full of it for suggesting that throats couldn't be measured accurately with a caliper. What's more, someone expressed the thought that a caliper would show an out-of-round condition, whereas a pin gage wouldn't, and therefore anyone who didn't use a caliper didn't know what he/she was doing.
Sheesh! Let's start from the top.
A caliper - whether vernier, dial, or digital - is most assuredly not a precision measurement tool. Feel free to ask any tool & die maker the question: "how accurate is a caliper?" I have yet to meet one who would trust a caliper for anything less than 2/1,000ths of an inch (.002") For reference, this is the difference between measuring, say, .357" and .359". On a good day (meaning a very experienced operator) with good equipment (meaning not a Harbor Freight special) one might be able to do a bit better, but most people aren't all that experienced, and most do not possess the top-quality equipment necessary.
This is actually extremely easy to test: take a caliper to a local tool & die shop, and ask the owner if he'll let you measure his certified, calibrated toolroom gage blocks. If he lets you (he probably won't), you'll probably find that getting to within .002" with any consistency is not possible. I have a set of said blocks, and I can't do much better - even though I'm experienced, and have top-end Swiss Etalon calipers with which to work!
There's a reason watchmakers measure parts that must be fitted to incredibly close tolerances with micrometers, and not calipers. The same goes for precision machinists. Do I need to keep flogging this deceased equine?
(I haven't even touched on the need to hold the calipers perfectly perpendicular to the axis of the bore, and to get the jaws as close to centered on the inside surface as possible. It's darned difficult to do under the absolute best toolroom conditions, let alone at a kitchen table! Errors multiply under less-than-ideal conditions.)
Let's tackle the second criticism: that one can't measure an out-of-round condition with a pin gage, therefore the best way to do it is with a caliper. By now, the answer should be obvious: if a hole is, say, .002" out of round, and the measuring system can't get within that range to begin with, it follows that one can't measure the condition because it's within the amount of "slop" already present!
In other words, if a caliper indicates that the hole isn't round, we can't trust it because we don't know if what we're seeing is real or simply the result of the errors inherent in the device. Conversely, the absence of a round error doesn't mean that the throat is round - because it may be within the normal error of the caliper being used! (This is why one does not use imprecise instruments when one expects a precise result.)
The exception is if the condition is sufficiently severe that it exceeds the error of the tool - but if it's that far out, it can be easily spotted with the pin gage anyhow. While we can't measure an out-of-round condition with a pin gage, we can certainly identify that an out-of-round condition exists, and elect to measure it with more accurate means.
Now I'd like to expand on the recommendation in my earlier article. The reason I suggested using calibrated pin gages for measurement is because they're cheap (a set to cover, say, the range of a .357 cylinder costs less than $20), readily available, and last forever. There are other tools that can be used, but all are much more expensive and require occasional testing & recalibration, as well as a certain amount of technique.
The best choice is a "tri-mic", made by various companies, which measures holes at 3 points spaced 120 degrees apart. This is extremely accurate - the most accurate way to measure a hole - but that accuracy comes with a price tag of several hundred dollars for the least expensive example. That's why I didn't recommend them, though in hindsight I should have at least acknowledged that they exist.
Bottom line: there is no substitute for knowledge, experience, and the proper quality tools when one is doing precision work.
I hope this puts the matter to rest - though I somehow doubt it!
John Linebaugh is a custom revolver maker who specializes in caliber conversions on Ruger single actions. Not just any conversions, mind you - he is the originator of the fire-breathing .475 Linebaugh and .500 Linebaugh cartridges.
John first became famous for his modified revolvers that would should heavy .45 Colt loads (250 grain bullets at 1,700 fps.) His work with those heavy loads lead him to develop the .475 Linebaugh and the mighty .500 Linebaugh: 435 grains traveling at 1,300 fps!
Now I just know that some wag is reading this and saying "So? The .500 S&W shoots those slugs faster!" You bet it does, Pilgrim - at insanely high chamber pressures, in guns that are big enough to qualify as crew-served weapons. The Linebaugh cartridges do this at moderate pressures, and in guns based on nice, relatively lightweight Ruger Bisley frames.
John has a new website that, sadly, isn't linked to his old site and doesn't yet show up in the search engines. Here it is - be sure to bookmark it:
So, you're in the market for a S&W 625, and you're torn between the "standard" 625 and the Jerry Miculek edition 625. Which to choose?
Well, you have to decide whether the "niceties" - such as the Miculek grips, interchangeable front sights, and the serrated trigger - are worth the extra money. There are some internal differences, though, which you may want to consider.
The Miculek edition is a little unusual, in that it uses a mix of MIM (metal injection molding) and forged parts. As you may know, S&W has been using MIM technology for several years now, and overall it's been a successful transition. However, in order to get the serrated trigger that Jerry specifies, they decided that to use one of their "old fashioned" forged parts.
There are a couple of problems with this. First, the interface of the forged trigger and MIM cylinder stop makes the trigger feel a bit rough at the very beginning of the trigger stroke - and it's difficult to get rid of this feeling. Second, the MIM hammer is given a flash chrome treatment to match the chromed finish of the trigger. Unfortunately, chrome applied to an MIM part doesn't seem to stick as well as it does to a forged part, and I've seen several where the chrome started flaking from the sear surfaces! As you might imagine, this makes the action quality degrade quickly, and the problem can only be fixed by replacing the hammer assembly with a non-chromed version, as comes on the "plain" 625.
Of the 625JM models I've worked on, all of them came in with a request to remove the trigger face serrations - one of the major features that Jerry insists on! It seems that serrated triggers, as much as he likes them, do not fit well with everyone.
Once the hammer has been replaced and the trigger face smoothed, you're left with the JM grips and an interchangeable front sight - and the grips are widely available as an accessory. I guess the whole thing boils down to this: how important are those interchangeable front sights?
To a person, every one of the JM model owners I've talked with said that if they knew ahead of time that they were going to put in the money for custom work anyhow, they'd have bought the "plain" 625 and saved themselves a few dollars. I agree!
A common complaint about the old-style Colt Detective Special is the unshrouded ejector rod. Many people believe that the exposed ejector rod is a liability; should it get bent during a struggle, the theory goes, it will tie up the gun and make it inoperable.
Many folks have experienced this problem with a Smith & Wesson. Since their ejector rods are locked at the front and rotate about the front latch pin, any small amount of runout (deviation from true) will impose an inordinate amount of friction to the system. This usually manifests itself as an action that locks up, being completely useless in double action (and often in single action as well.)
The unshrouded Colts, however, are a different matter. Since the ejector rod doesn't have any function other than the ejection of spent casings, even a large amount of runout has no effect on the action. In fact, you would have to bend the ejector rod to the point that it actually hits the underside of the barrel before you would encounter a problem! Because of the plasticity of steel, about the only way you could do that would be on purpose, with the cylinder open - I honestly cannot conceive of any accidental way to get it into such a sorry state.
I would be remiss if I didn't address the effect of small bends on the ejection process; a relatively modest bend in a Colt ejector rod can cause the ejector to stick in the cylinder, so that the ratchet (ejector star) is stuck in the extended position. This isn't as much of a problem as you might think - just shove the ratchet back into the cylinder and the gun is usually ready to be reloaded.
Every gun has strong and weak points in its design, but in the case of the unshrouded Colts the exposed ejector isn't one of them!
I hear the advice all the time: "buy a stainless gun, because they won't rust." This kind of comment is what prompted General Norman Schwarzkopf to say "bovine scatology!"
Yes, stainless will in fact rust under the right conditions. What are those conditions? Generally, if you get moisture trapped in a place where it doesn't evaporate normally (say, under a grip panel or inside the action), you have a situation that is ideal for corrosion. The situation is worse in very corrosive (salt water, perspiration) or very humid conditions.
That's not the only thing; even if the frame of your gun is stainless, there will be some parts in the action that aren't, or are made of a much less resistant stainless. It's not unusual to find springs, some screws, cylinder parts, and more that are made of plain carbon steel. These are just as susceptible to rust as they would be in a blued gun.
I see quite a number of stainless guns that have corrosion. One commonality of those I've encountered is that, since the rust is usually hidden (and less likely to be found because of the belief that stainless "doesn't rust) it usually does more damage. Stainless corrosion tends to be deeper, leaving surface pitting that is more serious than it might be on a blued gun.
If you live in a harsh environment - near the ocean, or in a very humid climate - or if you perspire heavily, you should treat your stainless gun more like a blued equivalent. Take the grips off every time you clean the gun and look for any signs of corrosion; use gun oil on the entire surface of the gun; clean the bore immediately after shooting; take the sideplate off occasionally and lubricate the interior; and always remember that the term is "stainLESS", not "stainFREE"! -=[ Grant ]=-
Someone recently asked me what gunsmith(s) I admired or respected, or that I would allow to work on my own guns. I gave him a few names, and thought you might be interested as well!
My first entry in this occasional series is Hamilton Bowen. Bowen is perhaps the gunsmith that the rest of us aspire to be; he combines technical ability, commitment to quality, and a definite style that is hard to define but easy to recognize. Bowen does it all - sophisticated caliber conversions, unusual high-tech customization, and superb restorations.
Bowen has been building superior revolvers for many years, and his work has become well known from appearances in various gun magazines. His fame doesn't stop there, however - he also wrote what is the definitive book on the subject, titled simply "The Custom Revolver." If you're into revolvers, this is a book that you simply must own. (You can buy it through my Amazon store here.)
Hamilton Bowen is truly the "gunsmith's gunsmith." I'd love to have him work on one of my guns!
Well, it's more precise to say that it's time for someone else to make double-action revolvers!
With Colt out of the revolver business, Taurus showing no signs of moving past the low end of the market, Dan Wesson functionally deceased, and Smith & Wesson producing mere shadows of their former greatness, it's time for someone else to step up to the plate. It's time for someone to take over the badly-served upper end of the revolver market.
It's time for Freedom Arms to branch out from making the best single actions to making the best double actions.
Why Freedom Arms? Because they've already proven their ability to make a high-grade revolver. They're used to producing and selling high-end guns, and they know how to make those guns both superbly accurate and incredibly durable. They have a well-regarded brand name, and an established dealer network.
They have everything it would take to introduce a top-flight double action revolver.
It is, admittedly, a small market. The best of anything is always a small market. That doesn't seem to stop Rolls Royce or Patek Philippe, and I don't think it would stop Freedom Arms. There are a lot of people who would have purchased Pythons were they still being made to their former standards, and those would be Freedom Arms' customers.
A client who works for a public agency in California contacted me with a problem. As you may know, California has pretty strict ideas about what constitutes a carcinogen. Management in his agency won't let him use any lubricants that contain "substances known to the state of California to cause cancer." That, ladies and gentlemen, excludes most anti-wear and anti-corrosion additives!
After some consultation with experts, I was able to come up with a recommendation. In general, if you need a "clean" lubricant with good protection against wear and corrosion, look no further than lubes made for the food service industry!
They have to be non-toxic and non-staining, and since food production often involves contact with acids and liquids, they have to be very resistant to those substances as well. They also typically perform very well in colder temperatures and almost invariably are superb at corrosion resistance.
If you've read my article on lubricants, you know I'm a big fan of Lubriplate's SFL series of greases, which are designed and approved for food service. Another good choice is their FGL series, which is a bit easier to get in the small quantities shooters use. If you prefer an oil, their FMO-AW series of oils (available in a wide variety of viscosities down to 5W) are a superb choice.
These products should also be fantastic choices for those who have allergic reactions to the additives present in other oils and greases.
In this case, I recommended the FGL grade 00 grease to my client. This is a very light, almost fluid grease with superb anti-wear and anti-corrosion properties. It should pass muster with even the most strict requirements that he has to meet!
The lure of a personalized and decorated weapon is centuries old. Embellished swords and knives from the 17th and 18th centuries are well known; before that, soldiers in high standing had their armor decorated. Some of the earliest firearms in existence are lavishly treated, with inlays and fine woods.
Today many people desire to have their favorite guns engraved. But where to start? There are so many engraving styles, not to mention engravers, and asking someone to recommend an engraver without any criteria is a little like asking them to recommend a band without first deciding what kind of music you want!
I've recommended to many clients that they start by studying the art of weapon engraving. With just a bit of research on your part, you will quickly learn the difference between various engraving styles as well as between quality engraving and the firearms equivalent of the "Velvet Elvis."
If you're like most people, you'll be drawn to a specific engraving style. Once you've identified what you like, you can then start looking at the work of the engraver. Every engraver has a specialty; while they may do many different styles, sometimes quite well, they'll generally do their best work in one particular style.
How do you get this education? I've found one book to be incredibly useful: "Steel Canvas" by R. L. Wilson. (Yes, I know all about his shady business dealings - but the book is superbly done, perhaps the most accessible of all books on the subject.) This large-format coffee table book is a bargain at about $30. In it, you'll see the very best examples of all the styles from many well known engravers current and past. This one book will help you identify the style you like most, and will show you the best examples so that you can judge for yourself if the engraver you've chosen is any good.
I can't recommend this book enough. Even if you don't have any intention of having an engraved gun produced, you should get it just for the superb photographs of "best quality" firearms. Of all the gun books I own, this is the one I thumb through most often!
Look at it this way: to get a good engraving job will cost you time and money (quality engravers don't work cheaply or quickly.) Spending just a fraction of that cost, and a few pleasurable days looking at stunning photos, is a very small investment that will repay itself for years to come! -=[ Grant ]=-
An often misunderstood aspect of revolver construction is the idea of endshake. Endshake is nothing more than the amount of back-and-forth movement (or front-to-back, if you prefer) that the cylinder is allowed to make.
Measuring endshake is easy: using a set of feeler gages, the cylinder is pushed forward and the barrel/cylinder gap is measured. Then, the cylinder is forced backward as far as it will go, and the gap measured again; the difference between the measurements is the endshake. (When making the second measurement, it is important to push the cylinder all the way back - even past any cylinder latch resistance.)
How much is acceptable? That varies depending on the gun; Colts are the most stringent, and need to have no more than .003" of endshake for "factory level" condition. A S&W is generally allowed a bit more leeway.
The amount of endshake any given gun will experience will vary a bit over the life of the gun. As the cylinder pushed backward by the force of the firing round, the ratchet (aka "ejector star") ultimately hits the rear of the frame opening, which stops the cylinder movement. With each round fired, the ratchet/star is slightly deformed, and the frame is very slightly stretched. Over a long period of time, this results in more space between the ratchet/star and the frame, which increases the endshake.
As the endshake increases, the amount of "free run" the cylinder has will increase the battering effect against the frame, resulting in even more wear - which increases the endshake, and the cycle repeats itself, getting progressively worse.
Why should endshake be a concern? Under the best of conditions, the revolver cylinder would have zero movement. Of course, that rarely happens in the real world; some endshake is inevitable. As endshake increases, though, several things happen: first, the impact on the frame, and frame stretching, increases; this can, in extreme cases, result in the frame becoming unsuitable for use.
The immediate effects can be more visible. In a Colt revolver, excessive endshake results in increased hand wear, which causes the timing to fail prematurely; in extreme cases, it can also cause bolt (the little "pop up" half-moon shaped piece in the bottom of the frame window) to wear to the point of replacement. In a Smith & Wesson (and to a slightly lesser extent Ruger), excess endshake manifests itself as an inconsistent trigger pull which gets worse as the endshake increases. These guns can also experience increased bolt wear, though not nearly to the degree of the more closely-fitted Colt.
(Interestingly, the Dan Wesson guns are very robust in terms of their endshake handing; the spring-loading bearing detent at the rear of the frame locates the cylinder at the forward-most position every time, and also serves to absorb a bit of the recoil force of the cylinder.)
An excessive amount of endshake can also affect accuracy. Not only does it change the relationship between the chamber and the forcing cone with every shot (and not necessarily consistently), but it also changes the barrel/cylinder gap; both can have a negative effect on the accuracy of the gun/load combination.
Setting the endshake to as close to zero as possible results in increased frame and ratchet/star life, better action quality in S&W guns, extended service intervals on Colts, and better accuracy on all guns. That's why it is one of the first things I check on any revolver that comes in to my shop!
Sorry to be late today, but my cable internet connection has been experiencing spotty outages lately. For the money I pay, you'd think they'd give me better uptime than this!
GRRRRRR! But I digress...
Anyhow, today's topic once again comes from that fountain of firearms misinformation, the local gun store. A fellow is looking at several guns, and asks to see a Ruger SP101. The clerk tells him that for concealed carry (ostensibly the prospect's use), a revolver is "just no good. Too hard to hide the cylinder."
"Odd," I think to myself - "I've been doing it quite successfully for some time now. In fact, I'm doing so right in front of your face!" I did not, of course, say that out loud. I wanted to, but I didn't. At least, I don't remember doing so.
That, however, seems to be the common perception. Many people think that a revolver just has to be more difficult to conceal, because the cylinder is so much thicker than an autoloader's slide. I'm here to tell you that it is just not the case!
The cylinder really isn't a big problem to hide. Yes, it sticks out from the body a bit more, but it really isn't all that much a concern. Why? Because it's a gradual bulge - there are no sharp edges to give away a profile under a garment. What's at or below the beltline just doesn't seem to make much of a difference; it's what sticks up above the belt that makes a gun difficult to hide!
An autoloader, for instance, presents a very angular profile above the belt. The top of the slide, where the rear sight is, comes to a sharp point relative to a revolver. What's more, that point sits farther above the belt than does the rear sight of a revolver. These two factors combine to make the back corner of the autoloader stick out more prominently than a revolver, and consequently more difficult to hide under a piece of cloth.
Of course, the disparity doesn't end there! The other end of the gun - in this case, the lower back corner of the magazine well - is (again) a sharp angle relative to the rest of the gun. Even an autoloader with a very rounded grip shape tends to come up higher - and stick out the back more - than a round-butt revolver. Again, this makes the auto more difficult to hide than our blessed companion, the double-action revolver.
Now I'm sure that some will argue with me; some will, in their misguided zeal to promote the self-shucking handgun, insist that I am being "partisan." To them I say: OF COURSE I AM! What the heck did you expect from someone whose blog is titled "The Revolver Liberation Alliance"??
(Of course, none of that negates the fact that I am right!)
It's surprising how little attention is given to the back of a revolver's trigger. I recently came across a gun that had been worked on by another gunsmith (more on this in a future blog post), and one aspect of the gun illustrated the limited understanding of revolver shooting by many 'smiths.
The face of the trigger had been polished smooth, but done in such a way that the sides tapered to meet the back, leaving an untouched knife edge. For anyone with more meat on their bones than Nicole Richie, manipulating the trigger results in a very nasty "pinch" as the sharp edge traps flesh against the frame.
So, what should the trigger look like? The back edges of a proper double action trigger should be slightly rounded and polished, to prevent pinching. The larger the radius of the back edge, the less chance the trigger will trap flesh. This allows the shooter to concentrate on the act of shooting, not on avoiding pain.
This is similar to the "biting" problem that many shooters experience on a 1911 with the standard grip safety. On that gun, for some reason, everyone "knows" about the situation, and beavertail safeties are expected equipment. Sadly, this same level of knowledge has not yet filtered down to the revolver-buying public - perhaps this will help spread the word!
The internet forums sporadically ignite with a common debate: what "J" frame is the best?
The disagreement seems to center around the fans of the exposed hammer models (who hold out the dream of needing to make a "precise, long range" single action shot) and those of the enclosed hammer Centennial models (who opine that the lack of entry points for dirt outweighs ever needing single action capability.)
I'm not going to talk about tactics, but there is one salient point that is missed in the crossfire: the Centennial models simply have better actions!
The enclosed hammer Centennial models have slightly different sear geometry than do the exposed hammer models, which gives them a pull that is more even - more linear - than the models with hammer spurs. For the savvy shooter it's a noticeable difference, making the Centennial a bit easier to shoot well.
The Centennials also have one less part than the other models: since they have no exposed hammer, they don't have (nor do they need) the hammer-block safety common to all other "J" frames. That part, which is quite long and rides in a close-fitting slot machined into the sideplate, is difficult to make perfectly smooth. Even in the best-case scenario, it will always add just a bit of friction to the action. Not having the part to begin with gives the Centennial a "leg up" in action feel.
(In fact, at one point in time a common part of an "action job" was to remove this safety, in the same way that some "gunsmiths" would remove the firing pin block on a Colt Series 80 autopistol. Today we know better!)
So, if your criteria is action quality, the choice is clear: the enclosed hammer Centennial series is your best bet!
If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked that question...!
On every forum, in my daily email, and in the phone calls I receive is a common query: "of the guns available at a dealer, which one should I buy?" These folks are looking for some guidance beyond the simple choice of caliber and barrel length - this is more along the lines of "who makes the 'best' revolver?"
The answer I give? Ruger. This, from an admitted revolver snob who's known for working on Colt Pythons!
The GP-100 and SP-101, which are the most popular models, are mature designs. Their design is simple and rugged, and their construction has not changed due to fashion or cost-cutting.
The actions respond nicely to gunsmithing work; a well tuned Ruger can have a buttery-smooth, perfectly linear double action pull that will rival any of its competitors. The SP-101, in particular, has an action that is many people feel is more "shootable" than its nearest competitor, the S&W "J" frame.
Speaking of the SP-101, it has another advantage over its competition: superb sights. The rear fixed notch is wide and deep compared to other guns, giving the little SP a much nicer sight picture.
The GP and SP guns, because of their stud grip frames, have trigger reaches that fit people with small hands very well; the GP-100, fitted with the "compact" Ruger grip, has a shorter trigger reach than a S&W "L" frame! This is great news for those of us with smaller-than-average mitts.
The downsides? Fit and finish on Ruger revolvers is not up to the level of, say, older S&W guns. (Of course, new S&W's aren't up to the old S&W's either, so that's hardly a condemnation!) Rugers have lots of sharp edges, and their finishes are not terribly pretty - but, if you're having custom work done anyhow, these are things that can be easily rectified.
Rugers don't get the credit they deserve; if you don't like the new MIM-internal lock S&W models, and want something of better pedigree than the Taurus line, take a hard look at Ruger. You might be surprised! -=[ Grant ]=-
I've been following such stories of gun blow-ups for several years, and in the cases I've run across a huge percentage - a majority by far - have been the result of ammo reloaded on a Dillon RL550b press.
No, I don't think the RL550b is inherently dangerous, nor do I believe that it should be blamed; blame always rests with the person doing the work. However, that particular machine does make it easier for a momentary lapse of concentration to result in a catastrophic failure, because it doesn't auto-index. Relying on the human being to remember whether or not he/she advanced the shellplate makes it far too easy to end up with either double charges or squibs. I've documented this happening with relatively new reloaders, and with very well experienced reloaders.
If you own an RL550b, you need to make absolutely sure that you are not distracted when reloading; this means no radio, television, screaming children, or talkative friends in the room when you are operating that press. (This is good practice regardless of the press you're using, but absolutely imperative with the 550b.)
Reloading is generally safe and rewarding - as long as you supply the appropriate vigilance! -=[ Grant ]=-
This thread at GlockTalk seemed oddly familiar to me. People routinely ask about the lifespan of a particular gun, while at the same time suggesting that somehow the guns of yesteryear would last longer under use than today's offerings. I'm not sure that this is the case.
Let's jump back to, say, 1935 or so. Someone has just bought a new .38 Special revolver (take your pick of quality makers) and a box of ammunition - a box that might last them for a decade or more!
What I've managed to decipher from the "old folks" I've talked with is that they just didn't shoot guns all that much. There weren't a lot of competitive shooting events back then, and even those that existed demanded less ammunition in a year than a typical IDPA match consumes in a weekend. A box of handgun ammo (50 rounds) per year was considered a "lot" of shooting by many of these folks; at that rate, our mythical revolver would be considered to have been heavily used, having only seen a total of 3500 rounds!
Flash forward to 2006, and a certain maker says that their gun has an "expected lifespan" of 6,000 rounds. Doesn't sound like much to us, but it may be two or three (or possibly ten) times the number of rounds that guns sold in 1935 would expect to see over their lifetime.
Perspective, people. There is a lot to complain about in the craftsmanship (or lack of same) coming out most of today's manufacturers, but one generally can't fault the durability of the guns. There are exceptions, of course, but in the aggregate I suspect that your average GP-100 will last longer than the folks of 1935 could even imagine.
Heard about "MIM" parts? MIM is an injection molding process for metal parts, and it has been revolutionizing many industries. In the revolver business, both Smith & Wesson and Taurus have made use of MIM parts. Like any new process, however, there are those who decry the new technology; some gunsmiths spread the misinformation that MIM parts can't be worked on, and refuse to take in guns using MIM parts. Adding fuel to the fire are a few well-publicized parts breakages, most notably with 1911 autopistol sears.
Is there something inherently wrong with MIM parts? No, but the story is a bit more complex than that.
I have some experience with MIM parts in revolvers; I'm not at all averse to the use of MIM parts, where appropriate. Note those last two words!
MIM is just another metalworking method, like forging and casting. Like those well-established metalworking methods, it has strengths and weaknesses. Far too few engineers apparently understand them.
First off, a steel MIM part can be treated like any other steel part; it can be welded, soldered, blued, hardened, and tempered. This is important to understand, as there is a perception out there that the parts are not "real" steel. They are!
The advantages of an MIM part do not generally include raw cost; the material is expensive, and the molds are horrendously expensive. The benefits come in the area of post-fabrication. The MIM part, as noted, can be heat treated - the benefit is that they don't need to be, as the hardness of the part can be engineered in when the part is made. The parts come out ready to use; no additional surface finishing is generally needed. Finally, the parts can be made in shapes that would be extremely expensive or nearly impossible to economically machine.
The downsides? Cost, as already noted. Additionally, the tolerances for an MIM part generally need to be larger; it's hard to hold them to .001" in all dimensions (though they're getting better all the time.) Another problem is that the technology doesn't work all that well for parts that are more than about 3/8" thick (again, this gets better on an almost monthly basis), nor on stressed parts that are very thin.
There are other, less obvious pros and cons of MIM parts, but you get the idea - MIM, like anything else, is a balancing act.
Now here's the part that those of you who aren't fond of MIM should understand: the problem isn't with the technology, but with the engineering behind the part itself.
As noted, MIM on a per-part basis is pretty expensive, but since they can be engineered with specific traits they can eliminate some expensive secondary operations - hardening, for example. Here's the problem: let's say that you are building 1911 sears, and MIM seems a good method for producing them. You decide that the sear has to have a certain hardness (so that it doesn't wear), and since the surface finish is good "as produced" you think you're home free.
The trouble is that the MIM part is the same hardness all the way through, since that's how it was engineered. This is great for reducing sear face wear, but with hardness comes brittleness - and that thin edge is quite brittle. What you need is a surface hardening of some sort for wear resistance, with the underlying material left softer for strength. You COULD do that with an MIM part, but if you did you'd negate one of the primary benefits of the method: the elimination of secondary operations. So the company chooses to continue to use the MIM part as designed, and which is a poor choice for the application. No wonder some people don't like them!
The bottom line: if you have trouble with MIM parts, it's not the part's fault - it's the fault of the engineers in the company that designed the part. (Frankly, I wouldn't want to buy an entire gun from a company that botched the engineering that badly, regardless of whether or not I replaced the parts in question. I'm funny that way!)
Forgive my deviation from revolver centrism, but a recent rifle class in which I assisted brought to mind a topic which is just not understood amongst gun owners: "reliability."
What is "reliable"? You'll hear all kinds of definitions, all kinds of criteria. My definition is deceptively simple: the next time you pull the trigger, the gun will function perfectly. That means zero, zilch, nada, nyet failures. Every single time, regardless of how many rounds you've just shot. Not just "bang", but feed, fire, eject, and feed again.
Sounds like I'm easy to please, right? You'd be surprised at how few guns actually do perform to this standard. I expect a reliable gun to do this after a full weekend of shooting, regardless of the number of rounds I've shot, as well as right after cleaning. Every single time, without exception.
Note that I don't specify any particular number of rounds, because I've encountered instances where reliability was defined by some arbitrary round count, such as 500 - and when the gun crapped out on the 501st round, it was still deemed to be reliable since it had met the number! Sorry, not in my book.
One test I've heard (for autoloading rifles) is "six magazines of duty loads, fired as quickly as you can change magazines." Sounds great, right? I've seen an AR-15 which would only pass such a test one time, yet the owner decided it was reliable because it met the test criteria! The fact that it couldn't perform the feat again did not dissuade him in his opinion.
The only caveats are that 1) the gun be maintained according to the maker's recommendations and 2) fed ammunition which conforms to industry standards for that caliber. Anything else - such as the ever-popular mud wrestling test, making it into a popsicle, and other such activities - can be considered the ballistic equivalent of a Harlem Globetrotters game: entertaining to watch, but no indicator of an ability to win the NBA finals.
I've seen more than one gun which happily ate a magazine of ammo after being dropped into a mud puddle, but couldn't be counted on to function perfectly at any unannounced time. Mind you, it malfunctioned maybe once every 400 or so rounds, but sooner or later it would fail. Reliable? Not by my definition.
You'll run into many people who will tell you that this is "no big deal - I've got lots of guns that will do that." At the risk of offending someone - believe me, it's not my intention - I will quote Hugh Laurie, playing the namesake character in the TV series 'House': "everyone lies."
When I say "every time you pull the trigger", I mean EVERYTIME. When I say zero failures, I mean ZERO. One fellow of my acquaintance is known locally for his promotion of a particular gun, which he insists is "absolutely reliable." This is a fellow with a good reputation, someone that other people consider honest and, presumably, look up to. Trouble is, he lies - I've seen his gun fail, and I know others who have witnessed it too. Yet, he continues to insist that his gun is "perfectly reliable." In one class, I met someone with an HK 91, supposedly the epitome of functionality; of course, the owner insisted it was "reliable". It suffered a FTF the first day, and an FTE the second. The owner continued to refer to it as "reliable".
If your gun will not function with ammunition that meets industry-standard specs, then it is unreliable. I had an encounter with a gunstore commando a while back; he was going to loan his "custom built" AR-15 to another employee. He gushed that his pride and joy was the most reliable gun he had ever seen - then, almost in the same breath, told the other fellow not to shoot Winchester ammunition in it, as "it won't feed Winchester all of the time." Even if it functioned 100% with everything else (though I doubt it), that it wouldn't work with one specific brand means that it simply wasn't reliable. (Back to revolvers - if your wheelgun won't fire every brand of ammunition in its caliber with zero misfires, it's not reliable!
My favorite rifle instructor, Georges Rahbani, always says that you are only as good as you are on demand - the same goes for your gun! -=[ Grant ]=-
I had an interesting email recently. The writer said that he'd contacted a number of gunsmiths to inquire about action work. In every case, he said, all he could get out of them was "we can make it lighter." Occasionally I'll get an inquiry from the other side of this phenomenon - someone whose only question is "how light can you make it?" Why this fixation on pull weight? I believe it's because people just haven't been properly educated!
If you've read my essay on "What makes a good trigger?", you already know about the factors that go into a quality action job. (If you haven't read it, go ahead and do so now; I'll wait.)
Back already? OK!
When having action work done, there are three competing performance criteria: weight, reliability, and return.
Weight is self explanatory, and is what most people relate to. I've covered this in the article referenced above, so I won't go into more explanation - except to say that weight isn't the only thing you should consider, and if that's all your gunsmith can talk about you might want to re-think having him work on your gun!
The second performance criteria is reliability. When I speak of reliability, I mean the expectation that the gun will ignite primers from all common ammunition 100% of the time in both single and double action. That means even the hardest primers being made (currently CCI Magnum primers) will light off every time that the hammer falls; anything else is less reliable. A gun that fires off Federal primers all the time, Winchester most of the time, and CCI Magnums about half the time isn't reliable; it may be acceptable for the use that the gun will be put to, but it is not reliable. (As it turns out, the more reliable the ignition, the more accurate the gun will be. There are a number of reasons for this, which I'll go into in a later article.)
Finally, there is return, or the action of the trigger resetting itself. In the article I referenced above, I talked about the qualities of trigger return - but there is more to consider. One way of lightening the overall pull weight of the action is to reduce the spring tension that powers the trigger return. This can introduce a couple of undesired side effects; first, the return spring tension can be so low that the trigger "sticks" and doesn't return (most prevalent on guns where the quality of the trigger return, in terms of smoothness, isn't understood or is ignored.)
The second side effect is that the return speed is lowered. This results in the shooter being able to "outrun" the trigger, shooting faster than the trigger will reset itself. This can cause premature cycling of the cylinder (the cylinder rotating without the hammer being cocked and dropped) or action locking (requiring the shooter to stop his/her pull, let the action reset, and then restarting the pull - most common on Rugers.) In a competition, these side effects can lose points - in a self-defense scenario, they might cause you to lose something more precious!
Here's the "kicker": when getting action work done, you get to choose any two of the three performance criteria, but not all three. For instance, if you want light pull weight and good reliability, you're going to sacrifice return. If you want light pull and good return, you're going to sacrifice reliability. If you want reliability and fast trigger reset, you're going to have to learn to deal with heavier pull weights!
There is no free lunch, and there isn't a gunsmith in the world who can repeal the laws of physics; you get any 2, but not all 3 in the same gun. You have to make the decision as to what is best for your intended use!
Let me illustrate: I am starting work on a Ruger SP-101 that is to be shot by an older lady. She only shoots reloads that her husband makes for her, and only at the range (this is not a defensive or competition piece.)
The primary concern is ease of cocking the gun in single action; it won't be used in double action at all. So, the criteria that is important in this case is action weight; we don't care all that much about return (other than it actually do so - the speed isn't a consideration), and since the fellow can load the ammunition to shoot in this specific gun (he will use whatever primers necessary to make the gun run), reliability is not a concern. This is a great example of tuning the action to fit the use!
For a defensive gun, reliability is the first consideration, with return second. For a competition gun, say for ICORE or USPSA (or even IDPA), the speed of the action reset is paramount - followed by a light pull weight. The competitor will usually select or reload ammunition to suit the gun, which makes reliability (in the sense that I use the term) less a concern.
If all a gunsmith can talk about is how light he can make the action, he's ignoring fully two-thirds of of action performance. This is a two-way street, though - its not just gunsmiths who don't understand this stuff! Shooters raised on the typical gun rag articles never learn about this either, because all most writers know how to discuss is pull weight.
When I get an inquiry from someone whose only question is "how light", I try to educate him or her to make more informed choices. I hope I've been able to do that here!
Well, the guns are certainly real, in the sense that they were made by Colt. What's not real, though, is they way they came from the factory!
With the prices of collectible Colts going well north of a grand, some unscrupulous sellers have taken to faking the rarer, and more valuable, variations. The most commonly faked is certainly the 3" Python.
A number of years ago, Colt sold off their remaindered barrels to companies such as Numrich Gun Parts. Amongst the prizes were a number of 3" barrels - brand new, mind you - for the Python.
When prices started their ascent a few years ago, some enterprising people took more common 4" Pythons, stuck the 3" barrels on them, and sold them as the far rarer variant. It didn't take someone long to figure out that one way to overcome buyer resistance was to include a Colt box that had the 3" label on the end - of course, the label is a complete forgery, but enough to fool most people into parting with far more money than they should.
Well, the more astute buyers soon wised up to this scam, and started demanding factory letters to prove the provenance of the piece in question. In today's digital world, faking a Colt letter is as easy as faking the box label - so now there are 3" Colt Pythons running around with "original" boxes and "factory letters" to calm even the most jittery buyer!
It's gotten bad enough that I now recommend anyone contemplating the purchase of a 3" Python to call Colt and order their own factory letter. If the seller shows any reticence to letting you do this, you've probably just saved yourself a whole bunch of money!
(I have been approached by a number of people over the past few years to swap barrels on Pythons - replacing a stock barrel with a 3" tube to be supplied by the client. In each case, I've told the caller that I'd be happy to do so, but I would be stamping and indication under the grip panels that the gun was not original. Not too surprisingly, none have taken me up on my offer. I will not be a party - knowingly or otherwise - to fleecing Colt buyers!)
Many people ask me where to get finger grooved grips for various guns (often for the Colt Python, but the Ruger GP-100 seems to be a common request as well.) Personally, I usually try to talk them out of that style grip, and I'd like to share my reasoning.
First, the grooves rarely fit any given person perfectly; for my hands, for instance, every grooved grip I've ever tried required me to spread my fingers to an uncomfortable degree. If I didn't, my fingers would wind up on top of the separating ridges, making shooting far less comfortable and secure! Women, who often have hands that are significantly smaller than their male counterparts, are particularly sensitive to this problem.
Second, anytime you add spacing between your fingers the combined strength of your grip is reduced. You simply grip harder with your fingers together than apart. There's a reason that hammers don't have finger grooves!
Third, having grooves on your grips slows down your acquisition and draw. No less a personage than Jerry Miculek, in a television interview, eschewed finger groove grips. As he put it, "no one gets a perfect grip out of the holster every time." A smooth, non-grooved grip allows you to get a workable grip immediately, where a grooved model requires that you get perfect finger placement from the outset. That is not what you want on a self-defense firearm!
I could point out that another revolver shooter who was "pretty good" was Bill Jordan, and you'll note that the grips he designed and used don't have finger grooves.
It's possible that if one is accustomed to holding a revolver in a light target-shooters grip, finger grooves may help in control. (I don't, I don't know anyone who does, and it's not what most trainers teach today.) Outside of that, I think they are an abomination and suggest that you not use them!
There is a huge amount of misinformation regarding revolver accuracy. Folks, assuming that you have a gun in proper repair - timing, lockup, chamber-to-bore alignment - the most important factor in accuracy is the chamber throat dimension.
What is the chamber throat? It is the slightly constricted opening in the chamber, just in front of the cartridge mouth, that the bullet passes through on its way into the forcing cone. The throat gives the bullet its first stabilizing guidance, and many people better than I have demonstrated that it is critical to good accuracy - perhaps more than the bore itself!
The best accuracy is obtained when the bullet diameter and the throat diameter are exactly the same; in the case of lead bullets, it can be up to .001" smaller than the bullet diameter with good results. If the throat is larger than the bullet, then the bullet sort of wallows through the throat and never does get that initial guidance. Accuracy will suffer.
It is therefore important to serious shooters to know what their throat diameters actually measure. Now, I took heat from some internet experts recently when I stated that one cannot get proper measurements of throat diameters using calipers - dial, vernier, or digital. One fellow wrote me that he'd been doing it for years with nothing more than a cheap dial caliper, and the readings were always "nuts on!" While I don't wish to argue with anyone, let me relate a little test I did.
I took a cylinder that happened to be on my workbench - a S&W Model 60 "J" frame cylinder - and measured its throats with calipers, then with a set of certified pin gages. There were three different calipers - a vernier, a dial, and a digital electronic - all of Swiss origin. The Swiss make the finest calipers on the face of the earth, and substantially better than the Chinese tools most stores sell. In addition, I've been measuring very precise watch and clock parts since I was a teenager, and have more experience using quality measuring devices than the vast majority of people you are likely to meet. In other words, I know what I'm doing and I've got the best tools to use!
I started by checking the throats from several angles, to eliminate the possibility that they were oval instead of cylindrical. Since this is a brand-new cylinder, the readings were identical, showing that the throats were indeed machined correctly.
What did I find? The vernier caliper indicated the throat diameter was .355+", the dial caliper showed .3560", and the digital read .3555". Now for the moment of truth: the certified pin gages, which are the most accurate method of determining a bore size, proved that the bore was in fact .3585" ! That is between .0025" and .003" discrepancy!
Precision machinists will quickly tell you that a caliper - even the best, like I have - are only good to a "couple of thousandths" (.002"), and not reliable at all for inside measurements under a couple of inches. (Frankly, I was surprised that I got as close as I did!) The verdict? One simply cannot measure throats precisely with a caliper, even using the best that money can buy - they aren't sufficiently accurate.
(It should not come as a surprise that I'm not a big fan of calipers; I don't use them for anything remotely critical. I consider them to be "ballpark" instruments at best, and rely on best-quality Swiss micrometers for about 90% of my work. What does your gunsmith use??)
As previously mentioned, I acquired one of the recently imported FN "Barracuda" revolvers, and am in the midst of determining what to do to improve the action. I have to make a living, too, so this isn't on the top of my priority list....be patient!
In the meantime, I have managed to develop some information about the lineage of this gun. Some less-informed sellers have been insisting that the Barracuda was made in Belgium, and that the very similar Astra was either a rip-off or a licensed copy. To quote one internet 'expert': "The FN Barracuda was the only revolver FN ever made. They were made a little over 20 years ago and dropped as they never sold as FN thought they would. They are not Astra's nor are they copies, they are entirly FN made."
Trouble is, that is a complete untruth. If you have a Barracuda, pull the grips off; on the left side of the grip frame, next to the mainspring adjustment ring, you'll see the gun's proof marks. You'll note that the proof marks are all from Eibar, Spain - there are no FN Herstal or Liege (or any other Belgian) proof marks on the gun.
Serendipitously, I also have a cross-check: I recently came into possession of an Astra-badged version of this gun. Guess what? Same Spanish proof marks, in the same spots, as the FN version.
Conclusion: The FN Barracuda revolver was definitely NOT produced in Belgium, and was definitely NOT made by FN. It was in fact made in Spain by Astra, for it is their proof marks that adorn the gun. I hope this settles the controversy once and for all!
Occasionally someone will call or email: "I'm looking for a good gunsmith - do you work on Taurus revolvers?" When I politely inform the person that I do not, the result is often indignance, as if to say "how dare you decline to work on my fine possession! You have insulted me, suh!" (Delivered in the best antebellum manner, of course.)
Taurus revolvers possess many positive traits: they're available in a wide variety of calibers and configurations, they are usually fairly reliable, and they are priced right. Unfortunately, it's that last bit that gets me into trouble.
You see, the most expensive part of building a handgun, particularly a revolver, is the finishing work. You can't automate the polishing process, and Taurus revolvers are generally very well polished and finished. Given their low price point, this means that finishing is a large percentage of the purchase price. This means that they have to skimp somewhere, and the place that they do is in parts fitting.
Taurus guns have parts that simply do not fit as tightly - as precisely - as some other manufacturers. Yes, you can do a shadetree action job, maybe swap springs, and improve the action - but it will never be truly 'great' without rebuilding the gun.
I've purchased a couple of Taurus revolvers (Taurii??) to work on, to evaluate. While I like the guns (the now-discontinued model 445 is really neat, and I carry it occasionally) the effort to put a truly world-class action job on one results in huge labor costs.
Look at it this way: if you want a top-end wheelgun you have to pay for fitting parts at some point. With a Taurus, it doesn't happen at the time of purchase; it can only occur in the gunsmith's hands, which drives the cost up considerably. Like the folks who commissioned custom Norinco 1911s about a decade ago, what you end up with is a really expensive $300 gun that no one wants to buy.
I have a finite amount of time to spend, and I’d rather spend it working on revolvers that will actually see an increase in value after quality work has been done. That may sound arrogant, but I suspect their owners share my point of view. That value increase just won't happen with a Taurus, because after all is said and done it'll still be a Taurus: a good gun for the money you spend, just not a good candidate for customization.
Poor Dan Wesson. The marque, famed for their switch-barrel revolvers, has suffered through more inept management regimes than your average banana republic (no, not the clothing chain!) Today you can ask ten random shooters about the company, and almost none will know that Dan Wesson is still in business. Their innovative revolvers - the work of the incomparable Karl Lewis - are no longer found on dealer's shelves.
How did we get to this sad state of affairs? To understand, we need to go back to the beginning of the Third Dynasty....
At the time, Dan Wesson was located in Palmer, MA. Production had reached new lows in both quality and quantity, and their strongest market - handgun silhouette shooters - were tiring of their on-again, off again production history. Despite some interesting introductions (a line of fixed-barrel guns and a true small frame concealed carry piece, dubbed the "Lil' Dan",) the company was forced into bankruptcy.
Into our story steps a fellow by the name of Bob Serva, who bought the company and moved it to Norwich, NY.
The problems surfaced almost immediately. The machinery included in the purchase was found to be "worn out", and supposedly incapable of making quality guns. (The irony of that statement will be revealed later.) You'd think that someone would have scrutinized a little thing like that out before writing a check, but no matter - the company invested in some new equipment, and then spent quite a long time resetting the new shop to produce guns.
Let's stop for a moment and review the revolver market at that point in history. Colt, stung by their association with certain anti-gun political elements and fresh out of bankruptcy, had all but abandoned the revolver market - and really didn't seem to care. Ruger was selling lots of guns, but their line was limited and had precious little to offer either competitors or the growing concealed carry market. Taurus was moving up in the market, but suffering from a reputation for having quality control problems (a perception which persists to this day.) The market leader, Smith&Wesson, had problems of their own: an apparently effective grassroots boycott, a persistent rumor that they were a hair's breadth away from bankrupcty, and being put up for sale by their British owners.
The market was in turmoil; it was ripe for a quality product, particularly one with unique features not available anywhere else. With all the competitors preoccupied with their own problems, market share was there for the taking - and Dan Wesson was in a good position to grab some. They had a line of revolvers that was strong, accurate as all get-out, and far more versatile than anything the competition had to offer. In addition, they had the Lil' Dan, which with some attention could easily address the burgeoning demand for concealed carry guns, and a fanatical (though shrinking daily) customer base. (I oughtta know - I'm one of those crazies who loves his Dan Wessons!)
So, with a brand new acquisition, new machinery, and a market ripe for the picking what did the owner of Dan Wesson do?
Right - he introduced a line of 1911 pistols!
The introduction of the 1911 guns seemed to take the wind out of revolver production. During this time, Dan Wesson made only one run of frames for the world's most popular revolver caliber, the .357 Magnum. Quality was so poor that I personally had to return a gun - ordered in for a special client - because the sideplate gap approached .006" in places! The action was awful, and the hammer and trigger had been slapped into the gun with no finish work whatsoever. The production manager apologized profusely, and hand-selected a replacement - which was only marginally better. This is when I learned that all of the frames had been made in a single run in the first year of the company's revived production, and most (if not all) apparently suffered from this egregious fault.
Remember the irony I alluded to? Even the much-maligned Palmer guns - the worst of the lot, made on that "worn out" machinery - had sideplates that fit correctly!
To their credit, they did try - sort of. Dan Wesson placed small black-and-white advertisements in relatively inconspicuous places in the gun magazines. The ads were pitiful: poor design, bad graphics, and too much room taken up with religious symbolism. (Before the hate mail comes in, understand that I have no problem with religious symbols in the right place and at the right time. An advertisement for a firearm in a gun magazine is neither the time nor the place.) The average small-town "nickel shopper" advertisement looks more professional than anything Dan Wesson was able to insert into glossy national magazines.
Magazines weren't the only marketing avenue, however. Recognizing the power of the internet, they put up a website - but it would be a couple of years before they bothered to procure their own domain name, instead using the site under the domain name of their ISP. The site was horridly designed, didn't work on anything other than a 17" monitor, and didn't even have much information. (Hey, I know their product line, and if it was difficult for me to figure out what was what, imagine what a new customer would go through!) They didn't understand what a website was really for: I saw a listing of various new grips that were available, but no pictures. An email to the company netted the information that the pictures were only available in their printed catalog, for which they charged $5! That's what we call "behind the times."
Things weren't much better with industry relations. Gunwriters, love 'em or hate 'em, are how the general public learns of, and forms opinions about, new products. I've heard first-hand stories of Dan Wesson management personally making multiple promises of test-and-evaluation samples to individual writers, but never delivering. With behavior like that, it's no wonder that Dan Wesson remained in a publicity rut.
Once the 1911s started rolling off the assembly line, revolvers took a definite back seat - way back. Parts became hard to get; Brownells even dumped the line, rumored to be tired of non-delivery. What little "innovation" centered around odd and useless chamberings. (Yep, I'm sure that the .460 Rowland - aka .451 Detonics Magnum rebadged to assuage someone's ego - was a big seller. I'm being facetious, in case you missed it.)
I suppose the argument for the switch to 1911 production was because revolvers "weren't selling very well." Of course, given the poor management of the whole mess, one would expect sales problems!
In my mind, the only saving grace during this period were some of Dan Wesson's employees. The aforementioned production manager was pleasant, honest, and seemed genuinely saddened that revolvers had been relegated to the back burner; the gal who essentially ran (and still runs) their parts and customer service operation has always been efficient and helpful (and has something of a following on the internet forums!)
That brings us more or less to the present. Roughly a year and a half ago, CZ-USA somehow acquired Dan Wesson and Mr. Serva took a job with the parent company. (He has since left CZ-USA.) So far, CZ doesn't seem to be all that interested in Dan Wesson revolvers - their website didn't even mention revolvers until just recently, and it's taken them over a year just to make their first .357 gun. Supposedly they are busy doing "market research", which to me means they still don't have a clue what to do with the wheelguns.
CZ, if you're reading this, here's some free advice:
1) Concentrate on building up to a standard, not down to a price. Saying you make high quality products, but not actually delivering high quality, doesn't count. If you need proof that this works, look at the company who took you main market from you: Freedom Arms. (If you need still more examples, Google "Tom Peters". Heck, Google him anyway - you need all the help you can get.)
2) What sells best? Historically, it's been mid-size guns in .357 Magnum. Start there; make 'em better than anything else on the market. Hunting guns in common calibers should be next (the .445 SuperMag, as neat as it is, isn't a common caliber.) You need a concealed carry piece; the market is crying for a good, small 6-shot .357 to fill the shoes of the late and much missed Colt Magnum Carry.
3) "Quality" means some attention needs to be given to the double action lockwork. They aren't smooth or consistent enough, they stack horribly, and their trigger return is sluggish. Spend some engineering money and fix those traits, and don't for a minute think that you can slide by with what you've got now.
4) Forget locks and MIM parts; make them the way the market wants them to be made, not the way some politician deems they should. (There's a big backlash against the built-in locks of your competitors; ignore this at your peril.)
5) You need a presence in competition; be visible in IHMSA, ICORE, USPSA, Steel Challenge, and IDPA. Revolver divisions are attracting more and more shooters; fInd people to sponsor, at all levels of ability. (Quantity counts in this game.)
6) You need actual marketing: proper advertising, editorial content, and a strong web presence. (Your current website doesn't cut it; if you plan to keep the Dan Wesson name, you need to establish a separate domain for it. You'll notice that the Mercedes website is separate from the Chrysler website for a reason.)
7) You'd better come up with an innovative dealer program. No matter how much you advertise, if it isn't on the dealer's shelves - and the dealers don't actively support you - you've lost a sale. (Hint: kiss up to the retail salespeople, not the boss. The guy sitting at the desk in the back room isn't who's selling the things.)
8) Don't ignore the growing women's market, but understand that pink grips and shiny finishes aren't what they want. They are sharp, savvy consumers who have different buying patterns and criteria than men. You need to learn what those are and supply products and services to match. (You have one huge advantage that no one else has, and it has never been exploited by any of the previous ownership. If you can't figure it out on your own, give me a call.)
9) Finally: if you're not going to do it right, don't do it at all - sell the revolver division to someone who will. Dan Wesson and Karl Lewis deserve it, and the legions of Dan Wesson enthusiasts deserve it. Don't let us down. -=[ Grant ]=-
A new toy just arrived at the shop: an FN 'Barracuda' revolver in .357!
The Barracuda was FN's only foray into the revolver market; they were produced for a few years during the 80's. Various "authorities" say the gun was made by Astra and marketed by FN, others hold that it was made by FN and later licensed to Astra. Frankly, from my examination of the construction techniques and general build quality, I'd venture to say that it was made by Astra - and that's not bad, as Astra is a good manufacturer in their own right. A small quantity of new-in-box specimens were recently unearthed and brought into the country.
The gun has a 3-inch barrel and fixed sights, the rear having a slightly unusual profile reminiscent of the Dan Wesson Model 14 - sort of "humpbacked." Surprise: the barrel is pinned and the chambers are recessed, just like Smith & Wessons of days past. Another S&W-like detail are the four screws holding one the sideplate, with a fifth screw in front of the triggerguard. The cylinder yoke is held in with a push-button arrangement, very similar to Korth practice. Size is somewhere between a "K" and an "L" frame, and uses "L" frame speedloaders (not "K" frame, as is usually reported.)
The grips, of very nice walnut, show a definite resemblance to the checkered wood grips Colt supplied with Detective Specials in the 1980's. The grips are well-fitted to the gun; my only complaint is that they're a bit shallow (front-to-back) for my tastes. Trigger reach, even for my small hands, is quite comfortable for a "service" sized arm.
One thing I could do without is the hooked triggerguard, but it does lend an interesting profile to the piece. I'm also not a big fan of the serrated trigger (Jerry Miculek notwithstanding), though I'll admit this one is less painful than most of its breed.
Fit & finish is pretty good, but the interior is quite crude - on a par with Rossi arms, at least in terms of parts fitting. Metallurgy, though, appears to be better than expected.
The action is fairly smooth for a factory gun, but not very consistent in its travel. Single action breaks with almost no creep and just a touch of overtravel; double action has near zero overtravel, similar to a Colt action. One nice touch is the user-adjustable pull weight; on my sample, double action weight could be varied from approximately 11-1/2 pounds down to 9-3/4 pounds. I might add that my analysis and measurements were done with the gun "as is", from the box - the action is bone dry, and I expect things to improve considerably with a little lubrication.
After I get the chance to range test it, I'll be getting into the internals to see what can be done to improve this gun.
Unfortunately I didn't find out about these in time to snag one from the distributor, so I had to content myself with paying retail. (Ugh. I feel so violated!) Still, for the $300 it cost, it really is a good deal - and with only 400 imported, it's not likely that another will show up next to you on the firing line!
Pictures and an in-depth test will follow in a few weeks. Stay tuned!
Many people talk about the Colt Detective Special using the term "generation." I get emails asking which "generation" is best or which should be purchased. I recently got a nasty email from a potential client who asked if I could work on a certain "generation"; when I replied that I wasn't sure what he meant by 'third generation', he decided that I wasn't qualified to work on his guns because I "obviously don't know anything about Colts!"
Folks, here's Fact #1: The Colt factory, the people who made them, do not refer to any of the "D" frame guns by "generation." If you ask, they'll tell you that generations are something "the collectors invented" (their exact words!)
Fact #2: there is a lot of controversy, but not a lot of consensus, regarding the various incarnations of the Detective Special and into what "generation" any given one falls.
Some hold that there is a generation change between the square-butt (long) and round-butt (long) in 1933, but not when the "C" frame was changed to the "D" frame in 1947; some that the change from plastic stocks to wood stocks in the mid-50s was a generation, but the reintroduction (after a seven-year absence) in 1993 wasn't.
Like Colt, I prefer to refer to any given gun by its production date. This information is readily available through the Proofhouse site, and is a sure way to prevent miscommunication!
Many people have been following the situation with the North Carolina Dep't of Corrections and their self-destructing S&W revolvers. If you haven't,here's a link to the story.
These pictures of one such occurrence have been floating around the net:
I've been exchanging emails with C.E. "Ed" Harris, who many will remember from his days as the head of Q.C. at Ruger - when they experienced a similar problem. Here's what he had to say:
"Old problem rearing its ugly head again, not really a new problem. A troublesome sporadic one when people forget about good shop practices and get sloppy.
Stress corrosion cracking is generally caused by contamination by solvents or cutting fluids too high in chlorides. Over-torquing barrels barrels creates a stress rise at the root of the thread which makes the problem worse. Microscopic examination of the failed barrels would be obvious to a competent engineer, especially familiar to those with aerospace or nuclear power systems experience.
Ruger had a short run of this back in the 1980s when they first starting making stainless magnums. I saw a few dozen guns come back when I worked there. All were traced to one guy on night shift who was over-torquing barrels on Redhawks which didn't quite line up, instead of taking a pass off the front of the frame on a Blanchard grinder as he should have done. He also used a wrong, slippery high sulphur thread lubricant intended for chrome-moly instead of the anti-seize compound used with SS.
This condition is aggravated by tight fit of barrel threads, such as when using a class 3A, combined with high stress, high temperature, and high barrel torque. Ruger fixed their problem by changing to a looser 2A fit on the barrel threads and assembling barrels to the frames using a Loctite product to cement them solidly while reducing stress on the threads and positively preventing any seepage of cleaning solvents into the barrel threads after they left the factory."
If true, this wouldn't be the first time S&W has over-torqued a barrel: the Model 442 Airweight Centennials, particularly in nickel finish, are somewhat notorious for frame cracks under the barrel. A phone conversation with a S&W representative confirmed to me that the cracked frames were caused by barrels that had been screwed in "too tightly."
However, there's always the possibility of user error, such as the use of certain products that contain chlorine compounds (brand name removed for obvious reasons):
"Use of [lubricants containing chlorine compounds] "could" do it, as could any number of other cleaners, especially if used with an ultrasonic which enhances thread penetration." There are certain "miracle" gun lubricant products out there that contain chlorine compounds, and have become popular amongst the more "martial" crowd. In addition, ultrasonic cleaners have been very popular at many police agencies over the last decade or so.
Well, I got an email from one of the employees at the agency, and he claims that they use Hoppes bore cleaner, and that they do not have an ultrasonic!
So we're back to the first possibility. Given Ed's expertise, I suspect that his analysis is the correct one.
There is an assertion that comes up with surprising frequency, particularly in the internet age where everyone is an expert: the Colt Python (and all other Colt revolvers) are "delicate", "go out of time easily", or "not as strong/durable as a S&W."
Let's start with the construction: a Colt revolver, for any given frame size, is as strong as any gun with that frame size. Their metallurgy is absolutely the best, and their forged construction is of superior quality. They are superbly made, and their longevity is a testimony to that fact. You are never compromising when you choose a Colt!
How about the charge of "delicate" or "goes out of time easily"? In my work, I see a lot of Colts; I shoot them extensively myself. With proper maintenance, I've seen no tendency for any Colt to go out of time. Yet, the rumors persist!
Why do such opinions exist if there wasn't some basis to them? Is there some amount of truth? I think I can answer that!
Let's start with some facts: Colt revolvers have actions which are very refined. Their operating surfaces are very small, and are precisely adjusted to make the guns work properly. Setting them up properly is not a job for someone who isn't intimately familiar with their workings, and the gunsmith who works on them had better be accustomed to working at narrow tolerances, on small parts, under magnification.
Colt's design and construction is unique; it uses the hand (the "pawl" which rotates the cylinder) and the bolt (the stop at the bottom of the frame opening) to hold the cylinder perfectly still when the gun fires. The action is designed so that the hand - which is the easiest part to replace - will take the majority of the wear, and is expected to be changed when wear exceeds a specific point.
This is considered normal maintenance in a Colt revolver, which is not the case with any other brand. To get their famous "bank vault" cylinder locking and attendant accuracy, you have to accept a certain amount of maintenance; it goes with ownership of such a fine instrument.
I've often made the statement that a Colt is like a Ferrari; to get the gilt-edged performance, you have to accept that they will require more maintenance than a Ford pickup. Unlike gun owners, however, folks who own Italy's finest don't complain that they are more "delicate" than an F-150!
I truly think that the negative reputation that Colts have in some quarters is because their owners - unschooled in the uniqueness of the Colt action - apply the same standards of condition that they would to their more pedestrian S&W guns.
What standards? A Colt, when the trigger is pulled and held back, should have absolutely no cylinder rotation. None, zip, zilch - absolutely no movement at all! Not a little, not a bit, not a smidgen - zero movement. A S&W, on the other hand, normally has a bit of rotational play - which is considered absolutely normal and fine.
There's another measurement to consider: at rest, a Colt cylinder should move front-to-back no more than .003" (that's 3/1,000 of an inch.) This is - in the absolute worst case - about half of the allowable S&W movement!
Now, let's say a S&W owner, used to their looser standards of cylinder lockup, buys a Colt. He goes and shoots it a bit, and the hand (which probably has a bit of wear already, as he bought it used) is approaching the normal replacement interval. He checks his gun, and finds that the cylinder has just the slightest amount of movement when the trigger is back, and half of his S&W's longitudinal travel. Heck, he thinks, it's still a lot tighter than his Smith so it must be fine to keep shooting it.
WRONG! It's at this point that he should stop shooting, and take it to an experienced Colt gunsmith to have the action adjusted. Of course, he doesn't do this - he keeps shooting. The cylinder beats harder against the frame, compresses the ratchet (ejector), causing the hand to wear even faster, and the combination of the two leads to a worn bolt. If left unchecked, the worn bolt can do damage to the rebound lever. When it finally starts spitting lead and misfiring, he takes it in and finds to his astonishment that he's facing a $400 (or more!) repair bill, and perhaps a 6 month wait to find a new ratchet.
Of course, he'll now fire up his computer and declare to anyone who will listen that Colts are "delicate" and "go out of time easily" and are "hard to get parts for." That, folks, appears to be the true origin of these fallacies.
Colts do require more routine maintenance, and a more involved owner; that's a fact. But, as long as the maintenance is performed properly, a Colt will happily digest thousands upon thousands of rounds without complaint. The owners who take care of them will be rewarded with a gun that is a delight to shoot, wonderfully accurate, and visually unmatched. Those who don't will sell them off at a loss and complain on the internet.
I sincerely hope that you will choose to be the first type of Colt owner. If, however, you are the second, please drop me a note - I'm always in the market for Colt revolvers at fire-sale prices!
Lots of people ask me about speedloaders - as in "what speedloader should I buy?"
Well, there are really only a couple of choices these days: Safariland and HKS. (The superb SL Variant models are no longer imported, the Maxfires don't - at least in my mind - qualify for the "speed" part of the name, and the Australian "Jet" loaders are close enough to the Safariland Comp III that we'll consider them the same.)
Personally, unless I'm using a gun for which they don't have a model, I use only Safariland speedloaders. Here's why.
First, they're simply a whole lot faster to use. Not only are they faster to release their payload, they hold the rounds in a solid, fairly rigid package. That rigidity makes it faster to align the bullets with the chambers than the "floppy" HKS style. This is an important, and often overlooked, advantage.
Second, they're more secure. Over the years I've listened to people bad-mouth the Safariland speedloaders, with the statement that they release their rounds too easily - when in a pocket or dropped, the story usually goes.
I've been carrying Safarilands on my person for about 10 years now, and I've never had a single round released when I didn't want it to. They won't, unless you forcibly jam an object into the release button which is in the middle of the rounds. I've had more than one HKS let go while in the speedloader pouch, let alone my pocket!
Dropping? When this argument comes up I pull out the oldest, most used Comp II that I have. (It's been used for practice for a decade, and I stopped counting when it reached 5.000 reload cycles. I keep it loaded with dummy rounds - regular bullet, case, but no primers- for practice.) I drop it on the floor or ground, then pick it up and throw it on the ground; if there's a wall nearby, I'll either kick it or throw it into the wall. I've done this little demo hundreds of times, and I've never had a round fall out.
However, the only way to get this kind of performance and reliability is to load the things correctly! Safariland doesn't help their case, as they sell competition "loading blocks" that force you into loading the things improperly.
Most people will put the rounds into the speedloader, then turn it face-down onto a table so that they can push on the button to lock the rounds. This is almost guaranteed to leave a round (or two or three) that isn't fully seated, and when the speedloader is dropped it/they fall out. No wonder people think they don't work well!
The key is to hold the speedloader BULLETS UP, and push the button up while simultaneously turning it to the right. You'll feel the rounds "lock in", and they won't come out until you want them to!
UPDATE: I've now seen several guns whose cranes (yokes) have been bent apparently due to the side loading forces of Maxfire speedloaders. I strongly recommend that you not use Maxfires!