It's been several years since Speer introduced their Gold Dot Short Barrel Personal Protection 38 Special +P loading. It looked good on paper, and the Gold Dot line has a superb reputation for performance, but many of us prefer to carry well-tested ammunition. Let someone else be the guinea pig!
Sporadic reports have come in that the Gold Dot load is "working"; Massad Ayoob told me that he's heard around the country that people are "satisfied" with the performance. Still, I'd not been able to run down anything more specific.
That is, until yesterday, when one of my clients called. He's a higher-up in a large metropolitan police department and a long-time revolver carrier. He indicates that his department has had several shootings with the Speer load, and that he personally knows two of the officers who have used it. His verdict? The load performs as advertised - very effective at stopping violent action.
He notes, based on his agency's long experience with the famous 158gn +P loads from various makers, that the new Speer 135gn appears to be very similar in terms of terminal effect. "No complaints", was his succinct summation.
If you've hung around here for any length of time, you've noticed that on Mondays and Wednesdays I try to keep the blog somewhat on the topic of firearms, preferably on revolvers.
Today is not going to be one of those days.
Why? I was so busy over the weekend I didn't even get a chance to think about the blog, let alone write anything! Well, that - and the fact that my elbow hurts like heck!
As you may recall, I'm suffering from a very painful occurrence of tendonitis in my right elbow. So painful, in fact, that it hurts to type! As I mentioned last week I took it fairly easy for several days, and was feeling vast improvement until I did something so innocuous that I am startled at the outcome. It involved a Junkyard Dog.
As it happens I live equidistant from the knife companies of Kershaw and Benchmade (and, by extension, the firms of Gerber, Leatherman, and Lone Wolf Knives. I guess you could call this "Edged Alley"!) Over the years I've bought many Benchmade knives, and generally avoided the Kershaw brand. Kershaw just didn't have the quality of blade that I desire in my knives, and despite having met Pete Kershaw himself I was never persuaded to carry one of his products.
When Kershaw moved a lot of their production from overseas to right here in my own stompin' grounds they got my interest, but not enough to make me want to put one of their products in my pocket every day. It was when I found that they were transitioning from the use of cheap 440A and 440C steels to Sandvik steels that I became truly interested.
(Bear with me - this does eventually get back to my tendonitis!)
I have quite a bit of experience with Sandvik blades, particularly with their 12C27 steel as used in the famous Swedish Mora knives. It is, in my estimation, one of the better 'all around' steels that one could use on a general purpose knife. It holds an edge well, is very resistant to breakage, and is easy to sharpen. The fact that there were almost no folders made out of that superb yet underrated steel annoyed me greatly, and I was left to console myself with my Moras.
It was when I found out that Kershaw had gone to Sandvik steel (13C26, a very close relative of 12C27) that I decided I had to have one. The Junkyard Dog II had gotten rave reviews over at Bladeforums, so I decided that I was to get one.
(Luckily my wife intervened, and got one for me as a gift, thus saving me from the guilt of buying it for myself!)
It arrived at the end of last week, and from the start I was smitten with it. Fit and finish is quite good, easily up to the Benchmades that I own, and at the price point it is astounding. I haven't gotten a chance to resharpen the edge and really test it yet (any factory edge is downright primitive compared to what a few minutes with a set of stones can achieve), but I expect great things.
The trouble is that the blade is really quite heavy, and flicking it open delivers a solid "whack" to one's muscles. I was absentmindedly doing that while watching television the other night: opening and closing it repeatedly, just because it's fun to do. After about a half-hour of such foolishness I found that my elbow was as sore as it ever was, and then some!
So now you have, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story."
In last week's article, I mentioned that there was an ancient religious principle that can help keep you safe from firearms accidents. Allow me to digress for just a moment to give you the necessary background.
As you may know, Orthodox Jews have a rather rigorous set of rules that they follow. According to their tradition, there are 613 commandments in the Torah (their Bible, which consists of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.) Imagine trying to keep track of, let alone follow, 613 commandments!
To make the job easier and to prevent the unintentional transgression of a commandment, they have a concept called gezeirah, which is explained as "building a fence around the Torah." This idea, which goes back roughly 800 years, refers to the additional precepts that one should follow to avoid even coming close to violating a commandment itself. They supply a sort of early warning system; if you know that you've broken the lesser rule, you know that you're in danger of violating the more sacred one.
Now I'm not saying that everyone should run out and become Orthodox Jews (you'd have to give up Saturday morning cartoons and pepperoni pizza, for starters), but the concept of a "fence" around a core set of rules is as good for keeping us physically safe as it is for safeguarding their spiritual well-being.
So, if our overriding precepts are the Three Commandments of Gun Safety:
Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.
Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.
Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.
What kinds of rules might constitute our "fence"? Well, they might include the "Seven Rules of Dry-Fire":
- Select the proper time and place (alone, no distractions, safe backstop). - Remove all live ammunition from your training area (including those in your own gun and the gun that you will use for dry fire). - Go into “practice mode” state of mind. Say out loud: “This is practice time, I am going to practice now.” - Perform practice. - When practice is over, go into “reality mode.” Say out loud: “Practice is over, this is real.” - Put the gun into the condition in which it is normally kept. - Put the gun away immediately (secured).
The NRA has a poster of 10 or 12 firearms rules that could constitute another fence, and I'm sure you'll find more. Some may be very general, others may be specific to the range you're using or the particular shooting activity in which you're participating.
These additional rules don't relieve you of the need for always following the Three Commandments, and are never to be considered any exception to any of them. They are a supplement. They provide one extra guard, one extra layer of security, before you're put into a situation where the "fail-safe" of the Commandments is all that stands between you and grievous injury. They set up an attitude, a frame of mind, that makes an accident all the less likely.
For instance, I have my own fence: my shop is a sterile area, meaning that there is no live ammunition in the shop area proper. (Need I mention that there are no exceptions?) I still follow the Three Commandments, mind you, but following the rule of no live ammo in the shop area makes the constant handling lots of guns even safer.
Now go and sin - ballistically speaking - no more!
As I promised, here are some more reloading accouterment that I've been playing with this year.
I finally got tired of my haphazard brass organization and decided to do something about it. At Wal-Mart I bought some Sterilite 6-quart plastic containers, which just happened to fit neatly on the shelves in my reloading room. Into the containers went all of my brass, and wonder of wonders - I can see what's in the box! (I have, of course, labeled them as well.)
Big plus: I can see how much of each I have; no more digging through cardboard boxes! They've really made dealing with brass much more pleasant.
Here's an idea that someone gave me (though for the life of me I can't remember who it was.) At my local pet emporium I purchased this cat feeder, which has now been turned into a self-feeding bullet dispenser!
Much better than a tray/bin/overturned box for those long reloading sessions. Cost: $4.95. I'm looking for Dillon to have them made up in blue plastic, with a price tag of $19.95. (I'm kidding, I'm kidding! Sheesh, lighten up!)
Some months back I reported that I was experimenting with new bullets and powder. I'd been using the Rainier Ballistics plated bullets for some time, but could never get acceptable accuracy from them. (This is, as I was to learn, not an uncommon complaint with the product.) When my stock finally got low enough, I started looking around for a better but affordable "bulk" bullet for general use and gun testing.
I came across a polymer-coated lead bullet put out by Master Blasters, and gave them a try. I've gone through about 5,000 now, and am fairly happy with them. They are a definite step up accuracy-wise from the Rainier, though they're by no means a top-flight match slug. (For occasions when I need better accuracy, and can shoot lead, I continue to rely on the superb bullets put out by LaserCast - still the ones to beat, in my book.) They are, however, reasonably priced and the company is fairly quick to ship.
Along with the new bullets, I changed my "everyday" powder. I'd used Hodgdon Universal Clays for years in 9mm, .45 ACP, and .38 Special +P loads. It is a great powder for those uses - extremely clean (the cleanest I've used), and good accuracy. When I started loading standard pressure loads in .38 Special and .44 Special, however, a problem cropped up: Universal doesn't like light loads! Once the loading density falls to a certain point, unburned powder grains become a certainty. They really foul up a cylinder, and always find their way under the extractor!
I searched for a powder that would burn cleanly and completely, even with relatively mild loads. I ended up with Alliant Red Dot, and it has performed very well. It's a bit sootier than Universal, but burns completely in all loads - even very light .44 Specials. I've used Blue Dot for years in Magnum cartridges, and was impressed by it; the Red Dot is just as impressive. (I'm not a fan of Alliant Bullseye, which I've always found far too dirty, but the "Dot" line is really quite nice. The fact that you can readily identify it in the powder measure - they really do have red flakes and blue flakes mixed in - is a nice bonus!)
A reader alerted me to this thread over at GlockTalk, where a debate about the first of Jeff Cooper's "Four Rules of Gun Safety" is raging. Specifically, the argument centers on the allowable "exceptions" to Rule #1: "All guns are always loaded" (or, alternatively, "Treat all guns as if they were loaded." Cooper himself said "All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.” That comes directly from an article he wrote in 2003.)
I feel entitled to comment, inasmuch as the observance of said rule by gunsmiths has been invoked as one of the "exceptions." I take exception to that exception, and in fact take exception to the very notion of exceptions! Allow me to explain, and perhaps start some exceptional controversy of my own.
To be blunt: I don't like Rule #1. In fact, I believe that it is not just unnecessary, but that it actually sets people up to have accidents. I don't believe it makes anyone safer - I contend that it has the opposite effect.
It boils down to this: people do stupid things with guns that they perceive are unloaded. (Re-read that line, focusing on the word "perceive.") Once people have convinced themselves that a gun is unloaded, they treat it differently. That is where accidents occur.
The trouble with Rule #1 is that it encourages such shoddy behavior.
Follow me here: "treat all guns as if they were loaded" tacitly admits that there are, in fact, two states for a firearm - loaded and unloaded. If there were not an unloaded state, it would not be necessary to admonish someone to treat a gun "as if" it were in the loaded state, would it? If unloaded guns did not exist, the statement would make no sense. Therefore, the phrase itself establishes that there exists such a thing as an unloaded gun. Clear so far?
While Rule #1 logically admits that there is such a thing as an unloaded gun, it asks us to pretend that it doesn't really exist. This is important, as the rule only makes sense if the state of being 'unloaded' exists, but it implores us to make believe that such a state doesn't really exist. This situation is called cognitive dissonance: holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. It's a state of mind that humans don't tolerate all that well.
If one accepts the fallacy that an unloaded state doesn't exist, it becomes clear in the mind that the remaining three rules apply only to loaded guns. After all, the first rule says that there is no such thing as an unloaded gun; therefore, the other three rules can apply only to loaded guns, because - remember! - unloaded guns "don't exist."
Here's where that cognitive dissonance thing comes back to bite us. The human mind cannot maintain two contradictory concepts ("there is such a thing as an unloaded gun, but it doesn't exist because all guns are always loaded") without resolving them in some fashion. The way that most (if not all) people apparently resolve this is to apply the rules to all guns, unless they've convinced themselves that the gun in question isn't loaded.
In other words, to resolve the logical conflict that Rule #1 establishes, the mind translates it to say "treat all guns as if they are loaded, unless you've verified that they aren't." The other three rules are tossed right out the window, because they obviously don't apply to unloaded guns! A statement that everyone knows is untrue, which this is, will simply be ignored.
See how this comes about? If not, re-read the preceding paragraphs.
That, gentle readers, is the crux of the problem! The sad side of Rule #1 is that it implies once you've verified a gun is unloaded, the rest of the rules don't apply to it; you may handle it differently. That's when the accidents come, and is why I say that people do stupid things with guns that they think are unloaded.
Proof? Easy: it is axiomatic that all gun accidents occur with unloaded guns. Those are guns that people had convinced themselves were not in the loaded state, and therefore didn't fall under the rest of the rules. No matter what the experience or training level of the person involved, "I thought it was unloaded" is the first excuse out of their mouths when something bad happens.
Need more? Here's an interactive proof: go into any gun store, and watch as customers (and often the counter clerks) sweep muzzles over everyone in the store. Now complain to a clerk about the shoddy practice; I guarantee the first thing you'll hear from his or her mouth is "don't worry, it's not loaded."
Still not convinced? Ask Massad Ayoob to tell you the tragic story of a well regarded and highly experienced competition shooter who accidentally killed his wife - with an "unloaded" gun, of course. My contention is that he followed Rule #1 like most people, but that its logical failings caused him to treat the gun differently because he was sure it was unloaded. The result was sadly inevitable.
This is why the forum debate runs so many pages, and ultimately devolves into the attitude "of course, Rule #1 doesn't apply to experienced shooters, who understand what the exceptions are." I'm sorry, folks, but I believe that any safety rule that implies or encourages "exceptions" - experienced operator or no - is a "rule" that should be thrown out.
One of the best shooting instructors I know - Georges Rahbani - has done just that. He acknowledged the problem and dealt with the issue by eliminating what I'll call "Traditional Rule #1" from his curriculum. Instead, he teaches that any and all guns, loaded or unloaded, are treated to the same standards, which he calls The Three Commandments of Gun Safety:
Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.
Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.
Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.
There are no exceptions, and thus less chance for the accidents that usually result from them.
The big difference between his rules and Cooper’s is that if you forget everything except the first one, you’ll still be safe. With Cooper’s rules, if you forget all the others accidents will still happen and people will still get hurt. The goal of gun rules should be to prevent injury or death, to the shooter or others; if one follows these rules, whether the gun is loaded or not, it will reduce that risk to the lowest probability.
As you might guess, in my line of work the chances of a negligent discharge are somewhat higher than usual. Consequently, my interest in the safety rules is higher than usual! The online debate mentions that gunsmiths must, out of necessity, violate the Traditional Rule #1 and thus don't need to follow the other rules.
Not in MY shop, bunky!
I follow the Three Rules as codified above. I don't point a gun (any assembly capable of igniting a cartridge) at anything I'm not willing to shoot. That means, in my case, a solid concrete wall in the back of my hillside shop. Because of that, I know what my target is, and what the backstop is. Finally, I don't put my finger into the triggerguard until my sights are on target (the gun is pointing at that backstop.) Yes, all the time and every time; I'm rather fond of my various body parts, and desire to retain them in full operating condition!
I think that's enough pot-stirring for one day. Next time, we'll see how an ancient religious principle can help to reinforce the constant observance of the safety rules.
This last year I've been using a number of new reloading tools and components. I'm generally one to "stick with what works", but that doesn't stop me from looking for something better!
Late last year I bought a new Hornady Lock-n-Load progressive press (known as the "LnL AP".) This is a five-station auto-indexing press with a motorized casefeeder. I bought it after becoming disenchanted with my Dillon and Lee presses - though I can always find something to like about any press, I'd prefer to have all my favorite things in one press which means I can never stop looking!
(Just so you know where I'm coming from, I've often bemoaned the lack of a true high-grade reloading press. No, Dillon fans, "Big Blue" isn't it! If you've ever used a Star Universal, you'll understand. If you haven't, well, go back and read my recent article Do you need a trigger job, and substitute "press" for "trigger" - the rest of it is the same!
You may well ask why I don't use a Star if I'm so hot on them. Well, it's because they're out of business and there are precious few parts and accessories available on the secondary market.)
Back to the topic....the LnL AP uses the Hornady bayonet-mount die system, in which the dies are put into adaptor sleeves and adjusted, then simply popped in and out of the toolhead where and when needed. Frankly, when this came out I thought it was the biggest gimmick I'd yet seen. Using the press for a year has convinced me otherwise. It is incredibly handy!
For instance, I often have the press set up for loading .38/.357. It's not at all uncommon to need to prep a few pieces of brass to test actions or extractors or some such thing. I can just pop the needed die out of the toolhead, then pop it into the single stage press (which I've fitted with the Hornady adaptor and adjusted so that the presses have exactly the same die position.)
It also makes doing in-press changes easier on a progressive press. For instance, I can have a die adjusted for .38 Special, and a die adjusted for .357, and simply swap them in/out where needed. The same goes for the powder measure; I can decide to put it in a different place on the toolhead to accommodate production changes or simply to experiment. You can't believe how useful the system is until you've used it - and once you have, you don't want to ever give it up!
I've come to the conclusion that if one is a SERIOUS handloader - that is, reloading for numerous cartridges and constantly experimenting - the LnL AP is the most flexible and most efficient choice in a progressive press. As I said, I've owned Lee and Dillon presses too, and while they both have their strong and weak points the Hornady is just in a different class. Great piece of gear.
Over the years I've used a number of reloading dies, and no one set has had everything I wanted. I've gotten to the point that my die sets are now pieced together with the dies that I like best, not what a manufacturer has decided to give me.
In handgun sizing dies, I prefer (in order) RCBS, Lee, and Dillon. I love the Dillon's spring-loaded decapping pin, but hate their low profile, hex-shaped bodies. (Great when permanently mounted in a toolhead, rotten if you frequently remove/replace/adjust them.) The RCBS is much better in the handling department, worse for the decapping pin; the Lee's decapper likewise is awful, but at least their body is tall enough to get a grasp on - even if it is smooth and a bit prone to slippage in one's fingers.
(I should take this opportunity to say that Lee's lock rings suck. Then again, so do Dillon's, Lyman's, RCBS's, and Redding's, though admittedly not as much. All of my dies, regardless of make, have for years worn Hornady lock rings, and the first thing I do with any new die is to ditch its lock ring and give it Hornady ring.)
I've recently started using the Lyman "M" series expander die, as opposed to the expander plug in the powder station. It sizes most of the case to just a hair under bullet diameter, then has a slight "step" to bell the mouth so that the bullet isn't scraped when seating. This is said to promote straighter bullet seating, and in that regard I believe it does. For me, though, the great part is that the cases seem to "grab" onto the bullet when you insert it into the mouth. Unlike with a plain flare, the bullet won't tip as the case starts moving into the die. You can even put a pullet into the case mouth and advance between die stations with no tipping! This is another product that I thought might be "more show than go", but I've grown to just love the thing.
While we're talking about seating, I think the best seating die is Hornady's, and no one else is even close. Their sliding bullet collar is a great idea for helping to straighten bullets as the case goes into the die, and their seating adjustment is very precise. All of my seating dies - handgun and rifle - are now from Hornady.
I don't crimp in the seating die, preferring to do that as a separate step. I've used Lee's Factory Crimp dies in the past, no matter what other dies they were with or what press they were on. I've been very pleased with their smoothness and ready adjustability, but this year I started using the Redding Profile Crimp die for .38/.357. It puts a taper crimp on the case, then a roll crimp at the very end. It is of top quality, like all of Redding's products, and produces the most consistent, best-looking crimps of any die I've ever used. I'm hooked.
The major thing I dislike about the Hornady press (and Dillon's, for that matter) are the primer tubes. I much prefer the Lee tray loading primer feed, but of course I can't use that on the LnL AP! I've found a solution in the form of a neat little tool from Midway called the Vibra-Prime. It's a battery operated collator that fills the primer tubes for you! Now to be fair, Dillon has a bench-mounted device that does the same thing, taking about 2 minutes per tube and costing around $200. The Vibra-Prime was about $30, and does the job in roughly 20 seconds. Hmmm...no contest there!
Sadly, I'm told that Midway has discontinued the device because of "poor sales." If you're tired of loading primer tubes one-by-one, call Midway and tell them you'd like to see the Vibra-Prime reintroduced!
That's about it for the hardware side. I'll write soon about the software (bullets and powder) I've been using this year - I've made some changes there as well.
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.
Before Honda, before Kawasaki, Yamaha or Suzuki, motorcycle racing was dominated by the great Italian marques. Legendary companies like Gilera, Moto Morini, and MV Augusta held consecutive world titles, some of which would stand for years. All of these makers had their adherents, but the undeniable "big boy" of Italian motorcycle racing was Moto Guzzi.
The company was formed when three friends - Carlo Guzzi, Girogio Parodi, and Giovanni Ravelli - were serving in the Italian Army during World War I. Part of a flying unit, they had complimentary skills: Guzzi was a talented, though as yet amateur, engineer; Ravelli was an up-and-coming name in racing before the war; and Parodi, like his successful father, had demonstrated business acumen. The three agreed to pool their talents and form a company to make motorcycles. Ravelli, sadly, was killed only days after the war was finished, but Guzzi and Parodi soldiered on to form the company they'd all dreamed about.
Guzzi designed the machines and Parodi (whose father financed the enterprise) handled the business aspects of the fledgling firm. They knew that the key to commercial success was a reputation in racing, and thanks to their combined skill they were almost immediately successful at both. Only four months after their first prototypes were completed, company rider Gino Finzi picked up first place at the prestigious Targa Florio - a win that surprised the industry.
The company rapidly expanded their pool of engineering talent, and they would flex their muscle by making amazing motorcycles: a magnesium-cased, supercharged 250cc; a 4-cylinder supercharged 500cc in 1930; and a 3-cylinder supercharged 500cc machine in 1940. Despite these advances, their racing reputation would be made with their more pedestrian - but wonderfully engineered - single cylinder twin-cam motorcycles.
Those bikes quickly came to dominate the 250cc and 500cc classes, racking up win after win. In 1934 they cemented their hold on the top 500cc class with their introduction of the two-cylinder 500cc bicilindrica, which allowed them a spectacular win in both the 250cc and 500cc classes at the Isle of Man TT race in 1935. in 1953 they entered the hotly contested 350cc class, again with a twin-cam single, and won every World Championship until 1957.
By the mid-50s, though, they were losing ground in the "top dog" 500cc class. The twin-cam singles were decidedly out of date, while the bicilindrica had been inexplicably killed off in 1951. Guzzi needed a new bike that could not just take on the increasingly successful Gilera and upstart MV Augusta designs, but would rule over them.
Chief designer Giulio Carcano put his considerable talent to work, and what emerged in 1955 stunned the world: a water cooled, 500cc V-8 motorcycle. With dual overhead cams and a separate carburetor for each cylinder, this audacious design pumped out a then-unheard-of 72hp at a scarcely believable 12,000 rpm. Guzzi was ready.
Sadly the tire, brake and suspension technology of the day weren't up to the demands of the magnificent engine, and the otto cylindri never achieved the success intended. Moto Guzzi retired from racing entirely at the end of the 1957 season, and the bike was shelved. This didn't stop it from leaving a stumbling block for its rivals, though - in its short 2-season career it set several lap speed records which would end up standing for more than two decades, a parting shot to those who would succeed them.
Today only two authentic examples remain, both in the possession of the Guzzi company in the picturesque Italian town of Mandello del Lario. They occasionally fire one up for a demonstration run on their test track behind the factory. The sound of the engine is unmistakable, and reminds us that there was a time when Italy did, in fact, rule the world - or at least a small part of it.
In the Gunsmithing pages of this site, I endorse the practice of rendering defensive revolvers double action only (DAO.) Many people ask why, and I thought I'd give you my thoughts on the matter.
Let's start with the usual argument for retaining single action capability, which I call the "Walter Mitty scenario": the mythical need for making precise long range head shots. Let's face it, folks - this just never happens in real life!
However, let's say that you're having a Jack Bauer kind of day and are now facing just this scenario. Mightn't that be just a tad bit stressful? Wouldn't that make you even more nervous, knowing that you'll be trying the toughest possible handgun shot under the worst possible conditions? With all that adrenaline now flowing through your system, is this really the time that you want a light, short trigger pull that is very easy to accidentally release? Not me, bunky!
This is the reason for DAO: light single action triggers are great on the calm shooting range, but pose a liability risk for unintentional discharges under stress. As Massad Ayoob says, single action triggers are great shooting tools, but lousy threat management tools.
Now I I know what you're thinking: "OK, but I promise I'll never use it!" I'm sure you mean that sincerely, but It's been well established over the decades that people tend to do in combat what they do in training.
It's human nature to practice what we're already good at, and to do that which is easiest for us. At the range, it's not uncommon to watch someone shoot a revolver at, say 50 feet and become disenchanted with their groups. At that point, they usually switch to the easier pull of the single action, and shoot that way. This imprints their subconscious to use single action when they are unsure of their abilities, and this may be what they revert to under stress.
Once that act of thumbing back the hammer has become habit, another problem crops up: the Hollywood-inspired (and reinforced) act of cocking the gun to show the bad guy that you "really mean it!" I'll refer you back to the second paragraph, with emphasis.
(Yes, I know you'll promise not to do that either. But if you've told your subconscious that cocking the hammer is accepted shooting technique, do you think it'll ask your conscious mind for permission when the time comes - especially if decades of TV and movies has told it otherwise? Of course not! "Besides", your subconscious thinks, "if Tyne Daly can do it, why can't I?")
Removing the SA capability eliminates the chances of any of this happening. (If you make the conscious decision to carry a gun with SA capability, I recommend that you attend the Lethal Force Institute's "LFI-1" class, where you will learn how to defend that choice - and counter any false claims that may arise from it - in court.)
From a gunsmithing perspective, I've found that eliminating the SA capability can, on some guns (Colt and Dan Wesson), give a bit more leeway in terms of honing the double action. Without the need to worry about the single action sear, the double action can be tuned far more radically than is otherwise possible. In S&W and Ruger guns, reducing the DA pull to the barest minimum (as some request) will result in an unconscionably light SA pull - often below 32 ounces. Eliminating the SA notches means that this ceases to be a worry.
Speaking for myself, I didn't start to shoot DA well until I'd gotten rid of the SA capability completely. True story: one day (many years ago), shortly after transitioning to shooting only revolvers, I was participating in a match (Bianchi type.) I was having trouble with missing those little round steel plates they use for one stage, and it was making me madder and madder. At one point the buzzer sounded, and I drew the gun (a Python) and cocked it for each plate. I downed all of them, but my happiness was shattered by a taunting voice of a 1911 partisan that said "hey, Grant, I've got a gun that does all that for me!"
After that I removed the SA from my revolvers and started shooting DA exclusively. It wasn't long before I was beating the guys (including the loudmouth in question) who were shooting 1911s with crisp single action triggers. It can be done!
If you have any doubt as to how accurately a double action can be shot, go watch your local PPC match - there's one just about everywhere in the country. You'll see lots of folks shooting DAO revolvers at up to 50 yards and producing groups that can be covered by your hand. That should be good enough for any defensive use, and you too can do it with just a bit of practice!
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!
I may have mentioned that I spent a period of time in the early 80s as a commercial photographer. Honestly, I didn't make it all that far; though a good technician, I wasn't creative enough on demand to sustain a career. I did learn a lot, though, and I took some of those lessons and put them to good use in other areas of my life.
One of those lessons - and one of the most important - came in the form of an article written by Ben Helprin. I have a copy of this hanging above my workbench, where it serves to inspire me. I don't know that I'm yet at the "master" stage of revolversmithing, but I work every day to get a little closer to that ideal.
While obviously photography-centric, this is a profound article for which you will no doubt find applications in your own life. Enjoy!
-=[ Grant ]=-
Expert or Master - What's the Difference?
by Ben Helprin
At the top of every craft, there are masters and experts. The difference between the two was defined by Will Connall (master photographer, photography teacher, and former head of photography at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California) this way:
"Let me", he said, "use the exacting art of platemaking as an example." (Platemakers are the skilled craftsmen who produce printing plates for books and magazines.) "If you ask an expert how he produces the negative for a fine plate, he'll answer: "that's easy. First I choose the correct size glass plate for the negative I want. Then, I compute the surface area of the plate and, holding it absolutely level, I pour exactly one ounce of emulsion for every 40 square inches of surface precisely onto the center of the plate. Then I rock the glass side-to-side and front-to-back, exactly the same amount each way, to spread the emulsion evenly. When the plate is dry, I load it into the copy camera, adjust my lights so that the original art work is absolutely evenly illuminated and, with the level of illumination that I use, expose the plate for 20 seconds. I develop the plate for precisely five minutes, process it normally, the end up with a perfect negative for reproduction.
"Now," said Connall, "let's ask a master the same question. He'd reply: Oh, that's easy. First I choose the correct size glass for the negative. Then, I compute the surface area of the glass and, holding it exactly level, I pour one ounce of emulsion for every 40 square inches of surface exactly onto the center of the plate. Well, no, that's really not true. Sometimes I use more than an ounce of emulsion per square inch. Sometimes less. It depends on the original copy. And sometimes I don't pour the emulsion exactly on center. I'll swirl it across to get a different spread. That also depends on the copy. Anyway, after I pour the emulsion, I rock the plate side-to-side and front-to-back, exactly the same each way, to spread the emulsion evenly. But sometimes, of course, I don't want the emulsion spread evenly. Again, it depends on the copy. I might want to rock the plate more to one side to get the emulsion heavier there, or rock it more to the front...anyway, I rock it, dry it, load it in the camera, and light the copy exactly evenly - unless of course I want to slightly shade a corner to knock it down, or highlight a portion of the copy to lighten it up. I'm not sure exactly how I'll light it until I do it. But after it's lit, I give it a 20-second exposure. Well, not always 20 seconds...."
And so it goes. Each step of the master's procedure depends, not on a set series of exacting rules, but on the interrelationship of the medium, the copy, and the desired final product.
What does this have to do with photography? Well to begin with, it doesn't mean that you can forget technique or be sloppy in your execution of it. As Will Connall noted, every master had first to be an expert. Without that initial perfection of technique, they could never advance to the master's stage.
Will's apocryphal examples were, however, meant to point out that technique is by no means the be-all and end-all of photography. Technique is the base from which you build. But the product itself, the photograph, must go beyond set rules of technique or composition, or anything else that says "this, and only this, is the correct way of producing a photograph."
Look at the work of master photographer Ansel Adams and compare it to the thousands of technical experts who attempt to imitate him. The large majority of Adams' imitators do not understand expressive content, they understand only technique. The do not trust their inner feelings, the trust only a rigorous set of technical rules.
A creative photograph is a very unique personal statement, and the technical aspects of that statement must depend on what you, as an artist, want to say. Thus, the perfect exposure isn't always one the reproduces the tonalities of a scene in exactly the same manner they originally appeared, but one that reproduces them in exactly the manner you want them to appear. Nor is the perfect print the one that always exactly matches the contrast of the paper to the density range of the negative, but the one that exactly matches paper and film to the contrast as seen by your inner eye. As Paul Klee said, "the purpose of art is not to reflect the visible, but to make visible."
So, look at your recent photographs. Are they technically perfect? If not, you still have a lot of work to do to reach the "Expert" stage. On the other hand, if your work is technically perfect and perfectly boring, if it is indistinguishable from everyone else's technically perfect work, then you have a lot of even harder work to reach the Master's stage.
Xavier Thoughts chronicles the story of an elderly gentleman who, using his gun, confronted a burglar in his home. The outcome was that the perp got sent to jail. Great, right? Well, maybe not. This may get ugly when the inevitable civil suit is filed.
You see, the perp was injured because the homeowner fired an unaimed "warning shot" which fragmented and struck the intruder. As if that wasn't bad enough in these litigious times, the gentleman couldn't help running his mouth on television, which didn't do any good in terms of his legal defense.
I'll leave the analysis to Xavier, who does a much better job than your humble correspondent. I will, however, leave you with this thought: this is exactly why I strongly encourage anyone who even contemplates keeping a firearm for self-defense to take Judicious Use of Deadly Force from Massad Ayoob at the Lethal Force Institute. Had this fellow done so, he wouldn't have left himself open for what will probably be a whale of a civil lawsuit.
I admit up front that I'm not a professional firearms/tactics instructor. I do some assistant teaching now and again, but I'm no Clint Smith. However, I have been a student, I have been involved in the teaching side of things, and I am a general all-around busybody. As it happens, those are better qualifications than some "instructors" I've met!
Here's my two cents worth: avoid "checklist" shooting classes. What do I mean by "checklist" classes? Those where the instructor provides a long list of the things that you will (ostensibly) learn in his/her class, implicitly (or explicitly) inviting you to compare how many things he teaches versus how many things another instructor does. It's a variation of the "mine is bigger than yours" game played by adolescents of all ages.
This topic came to mind recently when I read a review of a "tactical carbine" class someone had taken. The student - gushing with praise over how great the class was - had a long list of things that the class had "learned" over two whole days. My assistant teaching experience happens to be in that type of rifle class, and I know for a fact that there is no way to adequately cover even half of his long list in a single two day class. Note the term "adequately."
Just getting proper explanations (lecture portions) of the techniques he listed would take a couple of days, let alone a single repetition of each technique by each student. (A single repetition, you understand, doesn't even begin to develop a skill.) In this case, the sheer quantity of techniques presented would have necessitated a "demonstration only" type of curriculum for many of the techniques. Heck, just doing a proper sight-in procedure with a dozen (or more) students will take a good portion of a day, and sight-in was one of the things he listed!
Beyond that, even those things that were actually treated to live fire would not have allowed time for any feedback from the "instructor." Without feedback, without critique, how do you know how you've done - and how to increase your skill? Isn't that why we train in the first place?
The student who runs his finger down a checklist (see why I use the term?) of things he "learned" in a class will come away impressed - but no more capable. There is a difference between developing a skill (which is what you should be doing in a shooting class) and simply being exposed to the topic (which is undoubtedly the experience of this fellow.) Sadly there are some, both teachers and students, who don't know the difference.
It's that old quality vs. quantity equation all over again. In the immediate area we have a couple of shooting schools; one is of the checklist variety, while the other is more concerned about what their students actually retain. The former trades on quantity, while the latter is concerned with quality. Guess which one I recommend when locals ask me where to train?
When you're shopping for schooling, what you really want to know is if the teacher covers his/her material thoroughly, and is concerned that the students actually make progress - not how many items are on the checklist. It make take a little more effort to find such a school, but your effort will be rewarded.
Unless, of course, you just want to compare your checklist against your buddy's. In that case, there are lots of places that can take your money, and they're a lot easier to find!
Lately I've been hearing from people who've decided against attending training courses because of the cost of ammunition. If I may, I think that this is a shortsighted attitude!
Yes, ammo prices are the highest they've ever been. Yes, the number of rounds necessary to complete a decent shooting class is a significantly higher expense than it used to be. It's still worth it, and it's a bargain that you should take advantage of.
If you plan to carry a handgun, or if you keep a shotgun for home defense, training - proper training - may make the difference between a successful outcome and a tragedy. Isn't that worth the few extra dollars that the necessary ammunition is going to cost? I sure think it is!
By the time you add up travel, lodging, registration fees, meals, and incidentals, that little extra the ammo costs really isn't a big deal. Spend the money - it's important to you, and to your loved ones, that you not miss that class!
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 ]=-
Every reloader has his or her favorite powders. When I first started reloading handgun cartridges, I used what everyone around me used - which I found weren't always the best choices for my needs. After experimenting with lots of powders, I settled on a few favorites.
As a general rule I prefer flaked powders over ball (spherical) powders. I've found that they meter more consistently in a wide variety of measures, and they seem to burn a bit cleaner than their ball equivalents - this may have something to do with the graphite coating all ball powders appear to use.
For all-around use in a wide variety of pistol cartridges I really like Hodgdon Universal Clays. It is extremely clean (the cleanest I've yet used) and is useful in a large number of calibers. My only complaint is that is isn't suitable for light loads in spacious cases, because it often fails to burn fully. This results in lots of unburned powder flakes that always seem to end up under the extractor. I'd like to find an equivalent powder that is more suitable for light loads, but haven't found it yet.
For magnum cartridges, I like Alliant Blue Dot. It is very consistent, burns cleanly, and gives superb velocities. I've used it in the .357 Magnum, the .44 Magnum, the fire-breathing .445 SuperMag, and the obscure .451 Detonics Magnum. In each case it performed superbly. So pleased am I with Blue Dot that one of these days I plan to try some of the other "Dot" powders.
Though I've tried lots of others, these are the ones I keep coming back to. There's nothing like "old friends" that you can count on!
In last Monday's post I mentioned that the Ruger Mini-14 demands factory magazines to work reliably. That statement may have given a bit of a wrong impression.
The point I was trying to make, and apparently didn't, is that the only reliable Minis I have seen were using factory magazines. I have actually encountered many examples that wouldn't run, and changing to factory mags made them work properly. All is not perfect in Ruger-land, though - in my experience, there is still a large percentage of Mini-14s that are not reliable, even with factory magazines.
The other side of the coin is that I have never seen a reliable Mini using aftermarket mags. Ever. Aftermarket Mini-14 magazines consistently cause Minis - every one I've ever seen - to choke.
Bottom line: factory mags alone will not ensure that any given Mini will run well. However, using non-Ruger magazines is a virtual guarantee that you will have trouble making the thing work properly. (I won't even get into their renowned lack of accuracy, but that isn't the fault of the magazines!)
I hope this clarifies things a bit. (Oh, by the way - the cheapest I've been able to find Ruger factory 20-round mags is $55.00. That's three times the cost of good quality AR-15 mags. Wow!) -=[ 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.
At first, I wasn't going to comment on the sad crime perpetrated on the campus of Virginia Tech this week. I figured that everyone, everywhere, was going to do so (with varying degrees of erudition and insight.) I decided there wasn't anything I could add. Until...
Listening to the news on the radio, I heard an interview with two students who said that they were in "the room where he was shooting." According to these people, students and faculty were hiding under and behind anything in the room that they felt would provide them some protection, or flat on the floor in the absence of same.
It's what they said next that prompted me to comment: as the gunman shot, he naturally ran out of ammunition, and had to stop to refill his magazines. After taking the time to refill then reload his weapon, he continued his unfettered spree.
He was out of ammunition, and had stopped to reload - why didn't someone, anyone, in the room take that golden opportunity to tackle the murderer? At that point the criminal couldn't shoot anyone, and the risk even to the person who would choose that course of action would have been relatively minor compared to letting him get his firearm back up and running.
The answer is as obvious as it is sad: our society has fully inculcated the victimhood and helplessness mentalities into the last several generations of people. They didn't do anything because they have been taught their entire lives to rely on someone - anyone - else for their safety and well being.
This is what the nanny state has given us. This is what our Founding Fathers, I think, understood when they listed the natural right to keep and bear arms in their Constitution: yes, it's about the ability to resist tyrannical governments. More importantly, though, is the choice inherent in the right.
You see, it's not the exercise of the right in and of itself that matters; it's the existence of the choice to exercise the right that is so very important. Even if one chooses not to exercise the right, in making the choice one has experienced the self-actualization that leads to great inner strength and a heightened sense of self-worth. The very personal decision - no matter what the decision itself is - is what makes for citizens who are self reliant, who can think for themselves, and cannot be corralled like sheep.
When the "transaction cost" of the individual choice is raised - when the ability to decide for oneself is restricted or controlled in any manner - the choice is made not by the individual, but by someone else. The benefits of making the decision are denied the individual, and he/she learns (bit by bit) how to be a subject rather than a sovereign individual. Given long enough, an entire people is conditioned to be subordinate themselves to authority figures; when the "badge" of "authority" is the firearm, the people will prostrate themselves to anyone who wields one. Even a crazed killer.
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!
This article in the Tennessean newspaper explores the "phenomenon" of women who choose to carry a gun for their own protection. It's an interesting read, and when I saw it I was reminded of my own wife's journey to self-empowerment (in the ballistic sense.)
I'm of the belief that women should always be proactive with regards to their own safety. Sadly, our current society has inculcated a fear of weapons into the collective conscious of the female half of the population. It takes real fortitude for a lady to swim against that tide and arm herself, and I salute those who choose to do so.
Drawing from my own wife's experience I've formed some very specific opinions on the topic of introducing women to shooting. Guys, if there is a woman in your life who has decided to travel down the road of self protection, I offer you Grant's Rules For Helping Ladies Who Want To Shoot.
1) Don't try to teach her yourself. Aside from passing on bad habits that you have (I don't care if you did qualify as "expert" when you were in the Army), it's difficult to impart what you do right no matter how sincere your desire to help.
Women learn differently than men; precious few men understand this, and even fewer understand how to teach to it. It's not uncommon for women to become extremely frustrated under these conditions, and give up entirely. It may not happen until the lessons are over - you may never know of the damage you've done. Let someone else - someone who is experienced teaching women - do this for you. It doesn't mean you're any less of a man, and it just might save you some grief.
2) Rule #1 is increased by a factor of 10 if she is your GF or wife! Ignore this at your peril! I am not kidding!
3) If possible, get her to a women's only class that is actually taught by a female instructor. (If you're on the west coast, I highly recommend that you take advantage of the women's only classes taught by Gila Hayes at the Firearms Academy of Seattle. She's tops. Seriously.)
4) Don't pick her gun for her. So many times a woman, bowing to the desires of the man who proffers her shooting advice (solicited or otherwise), ends up with a lightweight titanium or scandium revolver that is incredibly ill-suited for her physical makeup. The recoil is brutal (hey, even I don't like shooting them), and their stock triggers can be difficult for petite forefingers to actuate. Yes, you could send it to me and have that problem eased, but let her decide if it is right for her!
(Listen, if you've read my blog for any length of time you know that I'm a rabid proponent of the revolver for personal protection. As far as I'm concerned, there isn't a problem extant that a good revolver can't solve. Even so, I acknowledge an autoloader is often the better choice for a woman.) The very best thing you can do is curb your own opinions and take her to a gun range that rents guns, where she can pick her own way through the models. If she picks an autoloader, it won't hurt my feelings. (Not for long, anyhow.) The important thing is that it be her own choice.
Following these simple rules will result in an excited new shooter and harmony at home (where appropriate.) -=[ Grant ]=-
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 ]=-
A regular reader sent me a note that, essentially, asked if I weren't a little daffy for talking about (promoting) other gunsmiths.
Quick answer: I don't think so.
In any endeavor, there are people who stand out from the crowd, whose peers agree are worthy of recognition and serve as inspirations to others. Gunsmithing is no exception, and those who do high grade work deserve a bit of fanfare.
The tone of the email suggested that I would be cutting my own throat (in an economic sense) by giving another gunsmith free publicity. While it's a possibility, I suppose, I'm not all that worried; after all, I refer people to other gunsmiths on a regular basis when I can't provide what they seek. In the case of Hamilton Bowen, if someone needs the kind of service he specializes in I'm happy to make a connection for them!
In what can sometimes be a contentious, egotistical business maybe I can do my part to civilize things, if only a little bit. Call it my small contribution to the field! -=[ 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.
You know, I had a pretty darned good childhood. I grew up on a small farm, outside a small town (I remember when the town passed the 1500 resident milestone) that was nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Range.
After chores were finished and if there were no other pressing jobs to be done (like hauling hay), I got to do what I wanted. I could go down to our pond and fish, or take off with my friends Dan and/or Tom for an overnight camping trip - all with very little administrative (parental) hand-wringing. Even a two-day trip up the river and into the woods wasn't out of the question, though such an outing did prompt some worrying from my mother.
Not a bad way to grow up!
Living as I do in suburbia, I long for the time when we would run into the forest with little more than a small tent, a blanket, a sheath knife, maybe a couple cans of baked beans, and a fishing pole. (If we planned our trip into a particular area that we knew contained several small caves, we didn't even bother with the tent.) Woodcraft, such as shelter building and fire making, was an expected part of any well-balanced upbringing. I miss those days.
I have found a way to keep the hunger for simpler times at bay: I curl up with Nessmuk.
What is a Nessmuk? Properly, the question is phrased "Who is Nessmuk?"
Nessmuk was in normal existence one George Washington Sears. Sears was a slight, asthmatic individual who was born in 1821 in Massachusetts, and spent much of his life - at least, that portion when he wasn't working just to finance his next adventure - in a canoe or on a boat or in the woods.
He was able to combine his love of the outdoors and his considerable talent as a writer by having narratives of his adventures published in Forest and Stream magazine.
He wrote two books, Woodcraft and Camping, which are still in print - combined into one volume titled Woodcraft and Camping (no surprise there, right?!?) It is still available to this day, which must be some sort of record in the publishing business. (Another book, called Adirondack Letters, is a compilation of his articles in Forest and Stream.)
Woodcraft and Camping is not a thick book, nor is it solely a "how to" manual. It is the collected wisdom and insights of a man who lived just to be able to commune with nature. Nessmuk wrote in a beautiful, lyrical style that makes the reader salivate with the desire to get out into the wilderness.
At only $6.95, I believe it to be one of the greatest bargains - as well as one of the "must haves" - in outdoor literature. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who enjoys living in and exploring the wilderness, or even just dreaming about it!
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 ]=-
That was my dear, departed father's question whenever I was found to have done something that wasn't all that bright. Of course, any self-respecting 10-year-old knows how to answer: look at the ground, shuffle your feet, and say (sotto voce) "I dunno."
Unfortunately, once you become of age and start asking yourself the same question that tried-and-true answer know longer works. As luck would have it, sometimes it takes a while before you ask. Sometimes, it takes years. The great part about this delay is that it allows you to once again say "I dunno!"
This is a story about just such an event.
Here in Oregon we're blessed with some phenomenal scenery. From our gorgeous Pacific Coastline to the high desert east of the Cascades (a treasure unto themselves), there is something here for every taste. One of the most visited natural wonders is Multnomah Falls, located just a short 45-minute drive from downtown Portland.
The spectacular waterfall - the second-highest year-round fall in North America - is fed by a spring way up on Larch Mountain. In fact, it's not the only falls served by that spring: there are several other (much smaller, of course) falls that the water travels over before reaching the "big one."
(From the U.S. Forest Service website.)
Multnomah Falls is 620 feet high - a straight drop of 542 feet, then a bit of a pool, then another drop of a mere 69 feet. A footbridge spans the small canyon over the top of the smaller section, and leads to a trail which snakes its way up the side of the mountain to a viewpoint at the top. There, safely contained behind fences and guardrails, one can look over the incredibly scenic Columbia River Gorge.
However, back in 1982 there were no such amenities at the top - just a small sign that warned visitors (those hardy enough to make the steep climb) to stay on the trail. That didn't stop my buddy Ed and me from doing something stupid, however!
A quick digression: Ed and I were aspiring photographers who spent our days selling Nikons and other assorted high end gear to people who also aspired to be photographers. Most of them, however, would never put themselves on the line for "that shot"; we, on the other hand, continually stick our various body parts in harm's way just to get pictures that no one else would dare.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we found ourselves in the middle of that cold little river at the edge of Multnomah Falls!
I decided that I wanted a different shot of the falls - one that no one else would take. So we lugged our 35 pounds of gear (per person, you understand) up the trail and sloshed out into the water.
I walked to the edge of the falls, where I found a couple of rocks between which I could wedge my Pentax KX-Motor camera on its Bogen Monopod and shoot at a low enough shutter speed to capture the movement of the water. I framed the scene to show the water going over the edge on its way to the bottom (542 feet below my, umm, feet) as well as a glimpse of the river and gorge, and made 3 exposures.
Once I developed the film, into my archives the negatives went - to be resurrected here for the first time in a quarter century:
Looking at this shot today sends chills down my spine. It was foolhardy in the extreme; I was literally leaning out over the edge of the falls to take the picture, knee-deep in cold water, just a slip away from certain death. I was either invincible or ignorant - I'll leave it to you to determine which.
It shouldn't surprise you to learn that this wasn't the first - nor was it the last - stupid thing we did in the name of photographic immortality. My wife, one would think, would be used to this sort of thing - yet when I told her the story (several years later), she asked "what the hell were you thinking?!?" Need I tell you my answer?
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!
I know you've always wondered: how does a jet-setting gunsmith work with all of those adoring fans hanging around? Well, I hate to disappoint you, but unless you count an overindulged rabbit, no one is hanging around waiting for me to pay them any attention!
Tyler, the spoiled rabbit
Since my shop isn't open to the public, I get to dress and arrange my environment as suits me. I usually work in sweatpants and a sweatshirt (rarely matching), over which goes my little green grocer's apron.
(You read that correctly; I have two old-fasioned green cotton grocer's aprons, which I acquired when I worked in a grocery store during high school. How long ago was that? Well, let's just say the White House refrigerators were stocked with Billy Beer!)
My shop has no windows, so I'm forced to entertain myself as best I can. I usually do so by playing music at somewhat louder-than-normal volume. One might think this would be a rock-n-roll custom, but not usually - I've been known to play Scottish dance reels, Aaron Copland, Baroque trumpet concertos, and Red Rodney at the same transducer-destroying level. (Eclectic? Hey, I was a music performance minor in college - I'm allowed!)
So if you call and I don't answer the phone, it's because I can't hear it over the noise of the shop equipment. That's my story and I'm sticking to it! -=[ Grant ]=-
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!)