FRIDAY SURPRISE: This is end, my only friend, the end.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll remember that I've been following the demise of Kodachrome film with some interest. In June of '09 came the news that Kodak had stopped producing the stuff, and in August we learned that the last roll produced by Kodak had been processed at the sole remaining Kodachrome processor. We also learned that they would be closing that service at the end of the year.

Yesterday, December 30th 2010, the last roll of Kodachrome was processed and the machines were turned off for good. The complex chemicals necessary to take a roll of Kodachrome from exposed film to vibrant transparency are no longer made, and it's not possible to do the process in one's basement. Kodachrome is dead.

Non-photographers, or those who have come up solely in the digital age, may not understand the wistfulness of this subject. That's partly because Kodachrome's attributes can't yet be duplicated in digital. My 24mp SLR can beat the resolution, but it can't match the color depth, unique tonal rendition, or the enlargability of the image (a transparency gets grainy as it's enlarged, while a digital image loses resolution.) Many people have tried to duplicate the Kodachrome look in Photoshop, but no one has succeeded. Someday maybe, but for now that look is gone.

Lest you think I'm pining for the old days, think again. I never shot a lot of Kodachrome, because it didn't match the way that I saw my subjects. I was always looking for subtle tonal transitions, accurate color reproduction, and wide luminance ranges - all the things that Kodachrome couldn't deliver. (Digital has trouble doing so too, but that’s another topic entirely.) That doesn't mean I didn't shoot the occasional roll (or ten or twenty) when I wanted that look, but it wasn't often I did.

What bothers me about the death of Kodachrome isn't how it looked, but its accessibility over time. One can go to the Library of Congress and peer at many Kodachrome transparencies made nearly seventy years ago, and they're as vibrant today as they were then:

Digital images, being composed of ones and zeros, won't degrade over time, but the media on which they're stored will. More importantly, our ability to read that media may deteriorate faster than anything.
Computerworld ran this great 2009 story of the difficulty of reading lunar images stored on tape a scant 40 years ago. What happens in the latter part of our century, when the hard drives and DVDs that are common today can't be read - because the technology has changed?

With a Kodachrome, all you have to do is look at it. That's what makes it special, and why its disappearance - as well as that of all the other analog imaging media - is so concerning to future history.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Attitude Change, 2010 Edition.

I've been actively interested in the topic of self defense training since the early 90s. Over the last decade, particularly in the last five years, a lot of my original opinions regarding self defense have changed. This isn't because I'm wishy-washy and unable to hold on to an opinion (just ask my wife!) Rather, such change is brought about by being exposed to new information, or because new research alters original assumptions.

As this year winds down, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at just a few of the things about which I've changed my mind in the last decade.

- The value of competitive shooting: back in the mid '90s I was part of a local group looking to advance our defensive skills through "tactical" competition. We tried rules, targets and procedures from USPSA, IDPA (as soon as it was formed), and even early versions of what would become The Polite Society rules. All of them had serious flaws, and we ultimately tried to develop our own rules and even specialized targets. By about 2000 we'd abandoned the effort altogether, and I shot my last "tactical" match of any sort in 2002. At the time I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but it just didn't seem that it was possible to get actual training value out of a game. Eight years later I'm better able to articulate the "why" than I was back then, as I learn more about both actual defensive encounters and how the mind reacts to them. Today I tell my students that competition may be a fun hobby, but there are serious scientific and practical reasons why it's neither training nor good preparation for self defense. Some gaming adherents react with predictable vitriol, but I've developed a sufficiently thick skin.

- The .357 Magnum as a defensive cartridge: at one time I was a huge proponent of the .357 as a "manstopper". I stopped carrying the load in 2004 or so because I came to the realization that all handgun cartridges are relatively weak, and expecting a single shot to reliably stop a determined attacker was sheer folly. From this came the realization of what ends fights: rapid, multiple, combat accurate hits on target. It was clear to me that I could not deliver that kind of performance given the recoil of a Magnum cartridge, and elected to give up sheer power in favor of controllability and recoil recovery.

- Night sights: all my friends had them, and I too was once convinced they were the be-all and end-all of defensive shooting. Oddly it took me some time to realize a simple fact: if there was enough light to positively identify my target, there was enough to get a visual alignment of the gun (using the sights or otherwise.) If there wasn't enough light to get a solid visual index, I probably couldn’t be sure of my target. Playing around with these ideas on darkened to downright dark ranges pretty much confirmed my suspicions. Looked at in this light (yes, I worked hard to make that pun) my conclusion is that night sights don't have a lot of value.

- The importance of changing your mind: in the last few years it’s sunk into my thick head that if you are putting yourself out there, stretching your intellectual muscles and exposing yourself to new ideas and concepts, you are going to end up changing your mind about something. You have to, if you're intellectually honest! If one is to assume to any degree the appellation of 'professional' in regards to training, one has to be able to grow and progress intellectually. To grow, one must change; it can happen in no other way. Doggedly sticking to an opinion for no other reason than inertia (or dislike of the person presenting new information) is inherently unprofessional; it stifles growth. I've met people, some students and some instructors, who simply could not accept that perhaps there was an objectively better way of doing something, or a factual reason why another approach might be more relevant than their own. I've resolved not to be so intransigent - how about you?

So much for 2010! On Friday I'll have the weekly surprise, and next Monday I'll kick off a new year of what I hope will be even more illuminating, annoying, challenging, informative, entertaining, infuriating, and progressive blog posts. I hope you'll continue to tag along!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Probabilities and perspective.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas weekend!

Despite the holiday (or perhaps because of it), I got a lot of email this weekend. One of them asked a question that comes up every so often, and my answer to it has changed over the years.

The question is usually something akin to "I'd like a gun for protection against dangerous animals (bear, cougar) while out hiking. What do you suggest?"

In the past I'd have answered with a run-down of the best calibers for use against large animals, but over the years (and particularly after a stint doing search-and-rescue work) my answer has changed dramatically.

What do I recommend these days? A course in wilderness first aid, a course in land navigation, and a course in multi-environment survival. Those are a far better use of your limited resources than a frickin' "bear gun"!

The fact is that attacks from dangerous animals in the U.S. are quite rare (and unprovoked attacks even rarer.) Inhabitants of suburbia worry about bears in the woods, but fatal bear attacks are incredibly uncommon in this country. According to, there were two in this country in 2009: one occurred when a woman intervened in a fight between a couple of cubs (gross stupidity), while the other occurred when a 'pet' bear attacked its owner (more stupidity.)

How about 2008? There was one: an attack by a trained grizzly against its handler. 2007? Two. 2006? One.

Cougar attacks in the U.S. are
even rarer: one in 2008, none in 2007, 2006, or 2005, one in 2004, none between 2003 and 2000, and one in 1999.

In contrast, there were 21 deaths due to lightning strikes
in just the first half of 2010! I'd be willing to bet that most of the folks worrying about 'bear guns' haven't yet learned proper behavior during a thunderstorm.

Your chances of getting injured or lost in the woods are much higher than the risk of being attacked by bears or cougars. Learning how to use a map and compass (your GPS is useless without charged batteries and a knowledge of how to use it) or how to survive a night alone in the woods is far more valuable than spending hard-earned money on a gun with limited purpose. Learning how to treat injuries in the backcountry is incredibly important, because what amounts to an inconvenience when you're near medical facilities can become life threatening when you're miles from your car (or a reliable cell signal.) Knowing what caliber will stop a black bear pales in comparison to knowing how to treat shock.

It’s a good bet that most (if not all) of the people asking the gun question haven’t yet attended to these more likely and thus more important things. SInce everyone's resources are limited, doesn't it make sense to spend yours preparing for the most probable risks?

Don’t let armchair fantasies dictate your priorities.

That's how I currently answer the question of the best gun for vicious animals. In the future I may start asking for a training resumé and a survival kit inventory before I answer!

-=[ Grant ]=-

More on 'new' Dan Wessons.

I received a bunch of emails from
last week's story on the reintroduction of the Dan Wesson Model 715 by CZ-USA.

Some of them centered around the gun's MSRP, which is reported as being $1200. If the gun is of superb quality, that's not an unreasonable figure. Think of it this way: Freedom Arms has no trouble selling their high-end single actions, and the S&W Performance Center - despite putting out some embarrassingly bad examples - seems to sell all of the expensive revolvers they can produce.

If the new DW is of sufficient quality, the price should not be a barrier except to those who've grown accustomed to the cheap used examples that still abound in the market. A new DW would thus have to be substantially better than the best Monson guns available to justify their price tag. I'm not sure CZ is up to the task.

Another email came from someone who contacted CZ for more details. CZ reportedly said that they're making only 500 of these models, and that they couldn't make any more because they didn't have the blueprints!


The former Serva crew certainly had the plans, and if CZ-USA didn't get them in their acquisition of DW it would be a stupendous blunder. I suspect the truth is a little more pedestrian: CZ still has the former owner's run of 715 frames, which they realized could generate more revenue being sold than scrapped. If the writer of the email is correct in that they're only making 500 guns, this would tend to support my theory.

It wouldn't be the first time. When CZ-USA acquired DW from Bob Serva’s company they trotted out a few large frame models in the odd .460 Rowland chambering - coincidentally, the same chambering that Serva himself had hyped. CZ promised that other calibers would follow but the entire line quietly disappeared.

At the time I suggested the only guns CZ-USA had were those that were in process at the time of the acquisition, and that no others were likely to be made. The passing years seem to have validated that opinion, and I suspect the same thing is being done with this limited run of the 715.

All that aside there is still an opening in the market for a good quality double action revolver, and with the appropriate amount of work the DW could fill that space. As I've said before: it will take some re-engineering of certain parts of the gun, flawless construction quality, and a company that displays a solid commitment to the product.

So far CZ-USA has shown us all but three of those attributes.

I’m actually anxious to eat crow on this, as I'd love to see Karl Lewis' great design back on the market. I sincerely hope CZ-USA steps up to the plate and proves me wrong, but we now have a half-decade of history which suggests they're not going to.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Have I got a surprise!

Gosh, thanks for the tremendous response! I managed to divert a few more copies, so everyone who responded should get one.


Exactly a year ago I mentioned that I'd just finished a project with Rob Pincus, but I couldn't yet talk about it. Today I reveal all!

We collaborated on a DVD in his renowned "Personal Firearm Defense" series. Titled - what else? - "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", it features Rob and yours truly talking about and demonstrating a variety of issues related to the revolver in self defense. It turned out great!

The DVD has been released through the NRA's Personal Defense DVD Collection, and perhaps one other venue as well. I hope to have them for sale here at after the first of the year.

I managed to snag some extra copies for myself. I'm going to give a few lucky readers of my blog a chance to get their own copy for FREE! All you need to do is answer this question:What present does Ralphie Parker wish for?The first twelve (get it?) people to email the answer will get their very own copy of "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", autographed by me. (Just remember that comments here on the blog don't count - you have to email me in order to get in on this deal!)Good luck!

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: Those who know me, or have seen pictures of me, may be surprised that I'm not wearing my glasses in this DVD. The director's first question when setting up the lighting was "do you need those glasses for anything?" "Well, only if I want to see..." Apparently that wasn’t sufficiently important, and I ended up spending two days thinking "don't squint at the camera, don't squint at the camera!" Such is the price of stardom, I’m told.

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A great musician transcends boundaries.

Back in the '60s and '70s Maurice Andre was the preeminent trumpet player in the classical world. Those of us who seriously studied the trumpet held him in the highest regard for his light, airy tone and great technique, not to mention his promotion of the piccolo trumpet as a serious solo instrument. I had many of his records (yes, records - remember those?) and even attended his only Portland appearance. It was everything I'd expected from The Master.

When I got into college I gravitated to the record section of the library. There I was able to find obscure recordings that were unavailable from the record stores, even the massively stocked Tower Records. (Ahh, the good old days!) One of the records I found was an odd-sized LP from the Soviet Union featuring a trumpet player I'd never heard of.

Just to set the scene: this was 1979, and the Cold War was still raging despite overtures like '
Detente'. 'Glasnost' was still years away, and everything coming from the Evil Empire was viewed with a nationalistic revulsion.

(I can remember attending the 1974 World’s Fair and going through the Soviet Pavilion. Dad was curious to see it - no doubt influenced by the incredibly lovely young ladies that comprised their tour staff - but Mom wasn't as eager. There seemed to be more people outside the pavilion shooting pictures than at any other venue, and it wouldn't surprise me to find a shot of my family in some CIA file! That was the suspicion with which anything from the USSR was held.)

The recording I found was of the first chair trumpet in the Bolshoi Orchestra. His name was
Timofey Dokshizer, and despite the incredibly poor recording technology (seriously - didn't the Russkies have electricity in their studios?) it was clear that this was a musician of stupendous talent.

After the USSR broke up more of his recordings made their way into this country, and we could finally get a good feeling for what Dokshizer could do. He started making more international appearances, though I'm not aware of any in the U.S., as well as better recordings. Though he never achieved the star status of Andre, he was held in the
highest regard by those of us who knew the instrument.

Dokshizer was particularly known for championing the work of modern Russian composers. Beyond arranging solo parts for trumpet, he also commissioned many original works. One of his signature pieces was an arrangement of the haunting Concerto for Coloratura Soprano & Orchestra op.82 by
Reinhold Glière:

The comparison between Andre and Dokshizer couldn't be more stark: Andre always played his solos in a manner that left him still a part of the orchestra; Dokshizer played as a standout, proud of the trumpet's ability to rise above the rest of the instruments. Andre was subtle; Dokshizer was powerful. Andre's interpretations were prototypically French; Dokshizer bared his Russian soul.

Listening to Andre makes me happy; Dokshizer is the only trumpeter whose playing can bring me to tears.

Timofey Dokshizer was born during this week in 1921 and died in 2005. He left behind a fraction of the recordings made by Andre, and finding them is complicated by variants in the spelling of his name: you'll see Timofey and Timofei, as well as Dokshitzer, Dokshizer, and Dokshutzer. It's worth the trouble to find his works, as very few trumpeters are capable of his kind of musicianship.

I'll leave you with a live recording made during a Japanese concert tour. Enjoy!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wednesday Wanderings: Animal Farm.

Couldn't come up with anything topical for today, so I thought I'd talk about animals.

I now have a cat in the shop. My in-laws had a kitten they needed to give away, and it ended up in the shop with me. I'm hoping the little furball will eventually develop the skill to catch the mice that inevitably come in from the adjacent wooded area. This would be in stark contrast to our house cat, who runs screaming in terror at the sight of anything resembling feline obligation.

Speaking of stupid animals, you may recall a post almost exactly a year ago regarding our dog, who refused to sleep in his house. He spent the last two years sleeping (through rain, wind, snow and ice) simply curled up in front of our door. Miracle of miracles, he started sleeping in the doghouse this week! I have no explanation for his sudden change of heart, though he just celebrated his second birthday - perhaps he's getting smarter as he ages.

He now lays in his doghouse and looks out at the rain with an expression on his face that says "yup, I'm a smart dog! I sure am, yup yup yup yup yup..."

I remain convinced that he is a stupid mutt. Which, as I think about it, makes him eminently qualified to run for Congress.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Here we go again.

Got an email recently from a fellow who noticed that CZ-USA is once again illustrating new Dan Wesson 715 revolvers on their site. As you may recall, this is an old story; you can read it
here, here, and here.

When CZ-USA acquired Dan Wesson in 2005, the first thing they did was promise that revolvers would be an important part of their business. They even showed a prototype "new 715" at SHOT that season. Time passed and nothing more came of the 'new' 715, though they continued to show the prototype.

Fast forward to what is nearly 2011 and they're once again promising revolvers 'any day now'. Pardon my cynicism, but I'm not about to believe anything until I see the guns on dealer's shelves. Even then, if they're not perfect - and I do mean perfect in every way - they'll be too little, too late. CZ-USA dropped the ball, and it'll take a lot more than empty promises to get me back into their court.

Put up or shut up, CZ.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: In praise of the M-1965.

M-1965 Field Jacket, to be precise. Or, if you prefer, the ever-so-GI nomenclature of "Coat, Cold Weather, Field."

I'm not a general fan of, or expert on, military stuff. There are people who are, and more power to 'em, but I'm only interested in the gear to the extent that it benefits me. The M-1965, fondly called the "M65", benefits me greatly!

The M65 was the standard issue coat for the United States military from 1965 until 2009. It was the result of several redesigns to the original M-1943 field jacket that served our troops in WWII. The M-1943 got a makeover in 1950 and again in 1951, but in 1965 it attained the form we know and love today.

The M65 has four large pockets, all of which close with heavy-duty snaps. The cuffs close with Velcro tabs, which are my only complaint about the jacket. (You may recall me saying that I hate Velcro!) That's easily remedied by the installation of a couple of brass snaps, a modification to the original that I highly recommend. Other than the Velcro, the rest of the coat is pretty much bombproof.

I don't know how well it served our troops, but I can tell you that it makes the perfect knock-around farm coat. It's incredibly durable, wind resistant, and with the optional button-in quilted liner is very warm. The only real downside is that they're not terribly water resistant. The cotton in the fabric blend absorbs a lot of water, but a can of silicone waterproofing spray significantly improves the situation. This is especially important in the rainy climate of western Oregon!

One of the best things about the M65 is the freedom of movement it affords the wearer. I'm a short guy whose shoulders are broader than average for short guys, and I have trouble with arm movement on many coats. Extending my arms forward usually tightens the material on the upper back, while the sleeves slide up the forearms and the cuffs bind enough to severely limit the reach. This combination results in extremely uncomfortable movement, but the M65 is cut in such a way as to allow for that kind of athletic activity. If you have to actually do things outdoors, as opposed to standing around and looking pretty, the M65 is what you need.

The coat was originally made in olive drab, later in woodland camo, and finally in desert camo and the new digital (ACU) patterns. My favorite is the old OD color with the heavy brass zippers, though I have a couple of early woodland examples as well. I wear them for any dirty or rough outdoor activity, from building structures to cutting trees, and I have yet to wear one out.

The quilted liners, being of light and fluffy nylon construction, don't usually fare as well. That's not a problem, because liners are readily available on the surplus market and are cheap; I bought a very large box full a few years ago when my local surplus store had them for a buck apiece!

M65s are commonly available at your local surplus store and are still made and sold new on the civilian market by government contractor
Alpha Industries.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Striking a blow.

An area of defensive preparations where I've been quite deficient is in empty-hand techniques. I've been trained to shoot (obviously), to use a knife, and to use a Kubotan - but have learned precious little about using no tools other than what nature has provided.

The gun is an appropriate tool for encounters that happen beyond, say, two arm's reach. Inside that space, however, the handgun is probably not the correct first choice. (It may come into play at some point, but immediately going to guns within reach of the assailant is generally not a good initial response.) Empty hand skills come into play when you're in a non-permissive environment (no weapons allowed) or the incident occurs within two arm's reach. If we examine our lives and habits closely, I think many of us will recognize that those are very common situations - and that we've not done much to prepare for them!

A good introduction to empty hand striking techniques comes in the form of
an article from instructor Kelly Muir over at the Personal Defense Network.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Nothing to see here.

Not much to say right now. I'm in the midst of my annual push to get as much out the door for Xmas as I can, and today blogging takes the backseat.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Twenty years ago this week a major figure in American culture died. So important was he to the musical history of this country, and of the American people, that I think it worth a moment to reflect on the work of
Aaron Copland.

Whether you know it or not, you've heard Copland's music - from the opening ceremonies of political conventions to commercials for food products. Even if you've missed his actual works, you've probably heard his legacy through his many students, from Michael Tilson Thomas to Elmer Bernstein. Copland, it seems, is everywhere, even in death.

Why? Because Copland was at the forefront of a sea-change in serious music. Until Copland (and a few of his contemporaries) came along the symphony was a European property. We certainly had American orchestras and American composers of symphonic works, but their music sounded like that of their European peers. The symphony at that point was an elitist musical form, set on a pedestal and seemingly the province of only the cream of society.

Watch the full episode. See more Keeping Score.

These young lions approached the symphony form (and, by extension, all symphonic works) with a distinctly populist point of view. Together they’d forge what would become known as the "American sound" and bring music back to the people to whom it really belonged.

While a number of composers like Virgil Thomson were part of this movement, it would be Copland who would become most closely associated with it. His compositions were the most true to how America saw itself, because Copland’s style wasn't just about the American sound - it was about capturing the American

Copland's compositions are marked by an almost minimalist use of notes, in stark contrast to the comparatively florid works of his European contemporaries. He uses only enough instrumentation to convey the essence of the message, yet this sparseness is often incredibly powerful. His music is open, warm, and speaks to the large spaces and towering achievements that marked the United States of the 20th century.

His western ballets -
Billy the Kid and Rodeo - evoke the vastness and ruggedness of the American west in a way little else did. How was a kid from Brooklyn able to write music that so perfectly captured the spirit of the West? Copland once said something to the effect that it was because every American boy simply knew what the West was like, and he composed to match that collective consciousness.

(Rodeo's lasting legacy is probably due to a particularly rowdy clip used as background music in the "Beef - it's what's for dinner" commercials. You know the music, and even if you've never heard the full piece you picture cattle and the West when you hear it. That's why it was chosen for the commercials, and I doubt there's another piece of music that evokes such strong images.)

From his
Symphony No. 3 to Appalachian Spring to Lincoln Portrait to Fanfare for the Common Man, Copland's works are simple but never simplistic, stirring but not maudlin, patriotic but not nationalistic. I defy anyone to listen to any of his music and not feel the essence of this great country. Even if you're not be a fan of serious music, you'll find something in his work to stir your soul.

That's what music is all about.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Case Of The Locked-Up Rugers.

Over the years I've gotten a number of inquiries that sound something like this: "I was reading a forum about Rugers locking the trigger when shooting fast. What's with that - any truth?"

This is a question that comes up often enough that I've actually written a boilerplate answer that I paste into my email replies. I think it's worth discussing here.

First, the wording of the question (and the complaint that engenders the question) implies that the gun is somehow at fault. It's not! It's an operator issue, pure and simple: the shooter is not letting the trigger reset fully before commencing another cycle. If the trigger is reset all the way forward, the problem doesn't occur. It matters not how quickly the gun is fired as long as the trigger is properly reset.

If the trigger isn't reset on a S&W revolver, the common sequence is the cylinder rotating to the next live round but the hammer not being activated. This is called a 'short stroke' and results in a skipped round. The trigger then has to be reset and pulled again to get another round under the hammer and fire. If the same thing is done on a Ruger, the trigger locks in the forward position, not advancing the cylinder or firing a round, until - again! - the trigger is allowed to reset.

The net result with both systems is the same: if the shooter wants another shot, he/she must let the trigger reset fully before commencing another pull. The only difference is that the S&W will skip a round and the Ruger won't.
The cause and remedy are the same with both guns; only the symptoms are different.

(It's possible Ruger designed their action specifically to avoid the S&W 'short stroke' issue. Perhaps Ed Harris will read this and chime in as to the design philosophy behind the Ruger's lockwork.)

That having been said, there is a difference between the way that Ruger approaches the trigger reset sequence and the way that S&W does it, and it does have a small influence on shooter behavior. As the Ruger resets, at one point it transmits a unique and very discernible "click" through the trigger. At the point the 'click' happens, the cylinder bolt - the little thing at the bottom of the frame that pops up to lock the cylinder - hasn't yet reset, which means the cylinder is still locked and the trigger isn't yet be able to unlock it. The hand, which rotates the cylinder and is attached to the trigger, is trying to rotate something that's held solid. It's a little like trying to turn a doorknob that's locked, and that's what the shooter feels through the trigger.

Again, it doesn't matter how fast the trigger is operated as long as the operator allows the trigger to reset completely. This seems to be a particular issue with shooters who have a lot of experience with autoloading pistols, where it's commonly taught to feel for a click denoting trigger reset and immediately commence another trigger press. It works with autoloaders, but not with revolvers. (This is yet another example of autopistol techniques being inappropriately applied to revolver shooting, hence my saying: a revolver IS NOT a low-capacity autoloader!)

When I do action work on the Ruger guns I do some things to reduce that false reset indication. It's not possible to make it go away completely, but I can reduce it enough (and change the initiation point just a bit) that most shooters no longer notice.

Still, it's worth remembering that the Ruger 'problem' is only a problem if the shooter doesn't understand the idea of trigger reset. S&W has a problem too, but for some reason it's not a bone of contention to the same extent as Ruger's behavior. Both are a consequence of inadequately experienced shooters, not any design fault with the guns.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Speedloader heaven.

Last February I brought you the news that Bobby McEachern at Bobby Mac's had unearthed some NOS (new old stock) SL Variant speedloaders. Apparently Bobby has had his ear to the ground in Europe, because he now brings us news that the
Variants are back in production!

He's carrying the whole line - 5, 6, and 7 shot - for 'J' through 'N' frame guns. The SL Variant is unique for a couple of reasons: first, the spacing of the rounds can be adjusted to precisely fit the gun you're using, and second because each round is individually spring-propelled into the waiting chamber. They're fast and easy to use.

I've been hoarding my stash of them for the last couple of years, in fear that should I lose or break one I'd never find another. That fear is gone!
Head on over to Bobby's place and check 'em out.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: "...nothing can stop the Army Air Corps!"

That line may not be familiar to you, but if you replace "Army Air Corps" with "U.S. Air Force" and start with "Off we go, into the wild blue yonder..." you'll probably recognize the tune.

Yes, the Air Force Song was
originally written not for the Air Force but for the Army Air Corps, as what would become the fifth armed service was then called. (FIfth? Yes - or have you forgotten the men and women of the United States Coast Guard?)

I was reminded of this when reader Art Kramer passed along the link to
his website with reminisces of the 344th Bomb Group during World War II. It’s filled with great pictures and short but moving stories about his time in the service of his country. The site is well worth your time to visit.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part VII: the roller bearing system.

One of the features that Chiappa touts about the Rhino are the roller bearings used in the action. The Rhino has four such bearings, two each on the hammer spring lever and the return lever:

The picture shows the back (underside) of the two parts, because the rollers are not visible when installed in the gun. (Please refer to pictures from previous episodes showing these parts installed in the Rhino.)

Each lever has a captured roller bearing on which an arm of the mainspring rides. The other roller on each is on an open pin, and the rollers are easily removed. (They're also easy to lose when installing the parts in the gun, unless they've been greased ahead of time and thus stuck to their pins as they're assembled.)

The mainspring rollers ride along the surface of the wire torsion mainspring. As the parts move they slide up and down the mainspring; if the rollers weren't there this sliding would a source of significant friction. This approach isn't completely successful, however, due largely to how the rollers are constructed.

Because the surface of the rollers is flat the mainspring can ride from side to side. At virtually no time does the mainspring
not rub on the sides that contain the rollers, and this means friction. If the roller bearings are designed to reduce friction, they are only partially successful.

There is another potential downside to this design. Though I had no problems in testing, there exists the possibility - however remote - that the mainspring could "jump the tracks" and come off the roller. If that happened the gun would be non functional until disassembled. This is not dissimilar to a rare condition faced by the trigger return spring in the small frame Dan Wesson revolvers, which on occasion would slip off its saddle on the trigger, tying up the gun. Again, I haven't seen or heard of any problem, but having experience with a revolver which on occasion does exhibit such a weakness I'd prefer that Chiappa err on the side of prevention.

The solution found for the Dan Wesson may be useful in the Rhino: make the part with a groove in which the mainspring can ride. This would ensure that the mainspring is always following the most friction-free path, and would make it much less likely that the mainspring could be forced off track.

The other two rollers transmit the mainspring power to other operating parts. The hammer spring lever's roller rides in a slot on the hammer (clearly visible in earlier pictures.) The roller bearing is always pushing on the side of that slot to power the hammer, and sliding back and forth as the hammer moves. Were it not for the roller bearing, this sliding - under the full force of the mainspring - would make the gun much more difficult than it already is to cock in either single or double action.

The other roller, on the return lever, pulls the lifting lever (hand) back to the rest position as the trigger is released. This force is transmitted back through the action, working against the leverage of the parts, to reset the entire lockwork. Excess friction at this point could cause the trigger to stick during reset, and that's what the roller is designed to prevent.

Given their importance to the design, I was surprised to find that the machining quality wasn't as good as the rest of the gun. The operating surfaces of the bearings were surprisingly rough and no doubt generated more friction than they probably should. In addition the bearings were quite sloppy on their pivots, which raises the possibility of backlash and attendant friction losses. This sloppiness also contributes to the mainspring friction problem detailed above, as the rollers get pushed to one side and create a trough in which the mainspring rides.

Closely fitted bearings with perfectly smooth surfaces should result in small but noticeable changes to the operating effort that the Rhino requires, as well as helping to smooth the very gritty trigger return the gun exhibits. Though I haven't analyzed this from a strength of materials standpoint, replacement bearings carefully made from impregnated bronze might be an excellent choice to improve the Rhino's function.

I hope this teardown of the Chiappa Arms Rhino revolver has been useful to you! If you haven't listened to my ProArms Podcast interview about the Rhino
pop over to their site and listen - there's a lot to say about my shooting experience with this unusual revolver. If you're a United States Concealed Carry Association member, check out my review in the next issue of Concealed Carry Magazine. (Not a member? You should be!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Rhino Revolver. ProArms Podcast. Yours Truly. What could go wrong?

I recently recorded an interview for the ProArms Podcast, and
it's been released. The first half is the ProArms gang discussing the Rhino, and the second half is my discussion with Gail Pepin about the gun. If you've been waiting to find out what I really thought about the Rhino, have a listen!

-=[ Grant ]=-

New commenting format.

You may notice that commenting has changed. For the last several years I've been using HaloScan/ECHO/JSKit, and my account is up for renewal next month. The company decided that they needed to dramatically increase the cost of their service, do I've jumped ship to Disqus. The look is different, and it has a bigger choice of options for both you and me.

Unfortunately the existing comments from JSKit didn't import properly, so it looks like we've lost those. I'm still working on it, though!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: I need your help. No, seriously.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a little...anal-retentive about things. Like clothing, for instance.

I have my preferences about what I wear, and when I find something I like I buy several year's worth in various complementary colors. This way I don't have to worry about looking for something else I like (and spending money on stuff I don't like) for quite a long period.

For example, in this blog’s early days
I mentioned that I really liked the Riggs Ranger pants. I bought many pairs, in three colors, and wear them to this day. Other than a suit, I have no other pants - these suit me just fine, thank you!

I wish I could say the same for shirts, and this is where I need your help. For a while now I've been wearing Cabela's Sarengeti Safari shirts, and I'm not at all happy with them. I'm looking for a replacement, but haven’t found anything yet. You’d think this would be easy, but it’s not turning out that way!

The problem is that I have several requirements, all of which must be met for me to buy: the shirt
must have square-cut tails, two pockets with button closures, and be made of a medium to heavy weight cotton. Any other features are negotiable, but these are written in stone.

I want square tails because during the summer months I roll up the sleeves, unbutton the front, and untuck the shirt to wear over a short-sleeved Henley. The problem? I believe that contoured tails are meant to be placed inside of one’s pants. Wearing them outside seems somehow uncivilized!

I need the two pockets, because my iPhone goes in one and my ever-present notepad and pencil go in the other - and I need them to have button flaps so that neither falls out when I bend over. Why buttons? Because I cannot abide Velcro ("may it rot in hell") on pocket flaps! I might settle for a snap, but buttons are where it's at for me.

Finally I want it to be cotton of a heavy weight, for wear resistance, concealment properties during that untucked period, and overall comfort in a wide range of environmental conditions.

The winning shirt will be available in solid earth tones - tans, browns, greens - and preferably available online.

I've been looking, and I've found several products which meet two of my three requirements - but all three in one so far eludes me. The hardest part seems to be the square tails! I'm hoping that someone out there will have seen something suitable. If so, let me know.

Thanks for your help!

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part VI: the hand and cylinder rotation.

First let's take a look at the assembled action for some perspective:

The mainspring serves two functions. Through the Hammer Spring Lever, it powers the hammer to fire the rounds, and through the Return Lever it resets the trigger and all the internal mechanisms. This is not different conceptually than the single spring used in a traditional "V"-spring Colt, or the single coil spring used in the Ruger Redhawk - though it is substantially more complicated than either of those.

The Hammer Spring Lever and the Return Lever share a common pivot pin, and the mainspring is held under tension between them. The mainspring forces the Hammer Spring Lever to rotate counter-clockwise, while it simultaneously applies force to the Return Lever in a clockwise direction. Taking out the unnecessary parts for clarity, we can get a better look at how the Return Lever functions:

The Return Lever's force is clockwise, and as a result is always trying to pull the Lifting Lever (what everyone else calls a 'hand') downward. The Lifting Lever has a hook shape at its bottom end, which curls around a projection on the underside of the Return Lever. The Interlink Lever has a projection on its left end, which also has a peg on the underside. This peg fits into a hole in the Lifting Lever.

The Cylinder Stop Lever projects up through the frame and engages the notches on the cylinder, locking it in place so that the chamber is aligned with the barrel. As the trigger is operated, the Interlink Lever rotates clockwise; a rounded projection on its right side fits into a semi-circular recess in the Cylinder Stop Lever. As the projection moves downward it pulls the Cylinder Stop Lever with it, releasing the cylinder so that it can turn.

The Interlink Lever, connected to the Lifting Lever through the hidden pin on its backside, also transmits its clockwise rotation to the Lifting Lever, causing it to rise. The Lifting Lever has a finger that projects through the frame (in a more-or-less conventional fashion), engaging the unlocked cylinder and rotating it.

As the trigger completes its travel and the gun has fired, the shooter relaxes pressure on the trigger. The Return Lever - now under a fully tensioned mainspring - rotates clockwise, the projection on its right side engaging the large "C" on the Lifting Lever and pulling it back down to the rest position. The Lifting Lever pushes the Interlink Lever downward (counter-clockwise), which in turn pushes the trigger back to its home position.

If your head isn't swimming yet you may have a future as a Rhino gunsmith!

The mechanism is full of friction points, and the only way this guns works as well as it does is because of how those friction points are handled. In the final installment of this series, we'll look at what makes all this complication possible: the Rhino's unique roller bearing system.

Tune in next Wednesday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Support shooting shows on television!

The Outdoor Channel hosts a variety of shooting shows these days, and here's our chance to encourage them to show more!

Every year they have a contest, called the Golden Moose Awards (I know, I know) for the fan's favorite shows. Visitors to their site can vote in several categories, including Best New Series, Favorite Series, and Favorite Host. I encourage everyone to vote!

Why? (Other than the chance to win some cash?) Because the staple of most outdoor programming is the old fashioned huntin' and fishin' show. They dress them up with different hosts (why oh why do they always have southern accents?) but the format remains the same. It appeals to a specific demographic, one that despite a lifetime of hunting and fishing I just don't fit. (Fishing on television is substantially more boring than golf on television. Hard to believe but true.)

Outdoor Channel has taken some gambles by lessening their dependence on the blaze orange crowd and putting on some general shooting shows: American Shooter, Impossible Shots, Shooting Gallery, and more. The last couple of seasons they've taken bigger risks with dedicated tactical/training shows: SWAT Magazine TV, The Best Defense, and American Guardian. It's time to show them that we appreciate their programming!

The Revolver Liberation Alliance endorses specific candidates in the Golden Moose Awards. Please go to
Outdoor Channel's voting page and cast your ballots for the following:

Fan Favorite Best Overall Series: The Best Defense
Fan Favorite New Series in 2010: S.W.A.T. Magazine TV
Fan Favorite Hunting Series: - No Choice -
Fan Favorite Fishing Series - No Choice -
Fan Favorite Host(s): Rob Pincus

You only get one vote (even if you do live in Chicago), so make it count!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The President gets all the perks.

This week marked the 235th birthday of the United States Marine Corps! They've been around a long time, and by now we're all familiar with the rank and file as well as the various special units - RECON, Scout/snipers, FAST, MEU, SOC, and I'm sure I've forgotten a few.

One you may not know about, however, is assigned to the President of The United States. The members of this unit, constantly selected from the very best candidates from around the country, serve as a constant reminder of the dedication to excellence for which the Marine Corps stands. No, I'm not talking about the guards or pilots of the President's helicopter, or any of his security staff in or out of the White House.

The unit I'm referring to, one which you've no doubt been exposed to but have never really noticed, this elite group of seasoned professionals, is the official
United States Marine Band.

Now every Marine base has a brass band, but only one represents the Corps as a whole. Often referred to as "The President's Own", the United States Marine Band is America's oldest continuously active professional musical organization, having been formed by an act of Congress in 1798.

If you've never heard the United States Marine Band, you should. It defines excellence for the genre. I find it distressing to listen to even the best brass bands; there is always a certain percentage of players who are slightly out of tune or slightly off beat, and though most people would never notice these things bug me to no end!

The United States Marine Band, in contrast, is perfect. Every time. On pitch, on time - would you expect any less from a Marine? (Do you know how hard it is to play a
piccolo in tune? The Marines can do it.) They're a joy to listen to, and I envy the President for getting to see them live on a regular basis.

Getting into the United States Marine Band is not an easy task. I've seen their audition requirements, and there are some symphony orchestra tryouts which aren't as thorough. This really shouldn't be surprising - the Corps has always been tough on recruits, and they don't let down their standards for any of their jobs. They also field chamber ensembles and a chamber orchestra of the same high caliber.

Yes, they do play their share of marches, but that’s not their only forte. Listen to some of the mp3
recorded performances on their website. (I can’t resist pointing you to this rendition of the Marine Corps Hymn. You can even get ringtones!)

The United States Marine Band does a limited tour, every year traveling in a different part of the country. (They're sadly not scheduled for an appearance on the West Coast until 2014. Drat!) Tickets are usually hard to get, and they're often hosted as a fundraiser for a worthy cause. The typically reasonable admission is always a bargain for the quality of performance you'll experience.

Check their schedule, and if you get a chance to hear them live do so.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part V: double action lockwork.

As I mentioned last time, the Rhino's double action is a little more conventional - but not a whole lot!

First, we need to take a look at the left side of the hammer. It sits against the inside of the frame, and without seeing it you won't be able to grasp what's happening.

The 'hammer sear' is referred to by other makers as a 'double action strut'. In most revolvers a sear protrusion on the trigger sits under this piece, and when the trigger is pulled that protrusion lifts the strut upward, which rotates the hammer back. At some point the trigger extension slips out from under the strut, and the hammer falls. When the trigger is released, the strut (which is spring loaded) allows the trigger protrusion to slip back under the strut. The Rhino’s hammer sear does serves the same task in the same way.

(One thing about the Rhino’s hammer sear I found a little concerning: every other revolver manufacturer makes this part significantly larger and thicker, as well as orienting it to the sear extension at a nearly vertical angle of incidence. In the Rhino the part is smaller, thinner, and the force applied to it puts significant upward strain on the part’s bend. Given the generally good construction and material choice in the rest of the gun I suspect it’s not going to be a problem, but it does give one pause when considering what it’s asked to do!)

Anyhow, back to the action...

The operation on the Rhino is similar to what I’ve described, except the extension isn't on the trigger. Just as in single action, the trigger connects to the interlink lever via the connecting rod and the interlink lever is doing the actual work. Other than that, the operation is fairly close to what we're used to.

(I've removed the mainspring and some of the Rhino's parts so that you can see this a little more clearly.)

With the trigger partway pulled, you can see that the hammer is being pushed back. In the red circle (yeah, I know - it’s a poor excuse for a circle) you can see the extension of the interlink lever reaching back behind the hammer to engage the hammer sear. The hammer spring lever, which is usually under tension from the mainspring, wants to rotate counter-clockwise; a pin with a roller bearing rides in the wide slot milled in the hammer (previous picture), which gives the hammer it desire for forward movement. As the hammer is pushed back by the interlink lever, it rotates the hammer spring lever clockwise, against the mainspring tension.

The hammer is now back as far as it is going in double action, and is about to slip off the protrusion on the interlink lever.

The hammer starts to fall.....

...and hits the firing pin, igniting the round. The trigger is now ready to reset; where does it get the spring power to do so? We'll look at that next time, along with the hand - the two are linked together, and I can't talk about one without going into detail about the other!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A couple of blogs you have to read.

Two people I know have started new blogs in the last week or so, and I believe they're both worth your time to check out.

Fellow instructor Omari Broussard and I met at the Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development course
I recently mentioned. Omari's done a lot of training in armed and unarmed combatives, and he's kept a logbook (multiple logbooks, actually) of all the courses he's attended. His blog is called, appropriately enough, the Training Log Blog.

Keeping a training log is an idea endorsed by a wide range of instructors. Doing so gives you a legal record, a way of reminding yourself of lessons learned, a chronology of your development as a student, a chronicle of your evolution in thought, or perhaps just an opportunity to reminisce about good times and good people. A training log is all of these things, and more. So important is this process that Rob Pincus wrote the Training Log Book to make it easier to keep up with the task.

In my case I've been remiss about doing this. Despite my slightly OCD nature I've just not been as disciplined about this as I should be. Omari, however, has kept detailed logs over the past several years, and his blog is all about sharing those many entries with you. Expect to learn what's important to him, what he's changed his mind about, and how he's grown through what he's learned. Omari's blog stands a good chance of becoming
the must-read blog for those who are serious about their training and personal growth. He's off to a great start.

Speaking of Rob Pincus (what a segue!), you're probably familiar with him from his articles in SWAT Magazine - or perhaps his television appearances, his DVD instructional series, or maybe even his books (the aforementioned Training Log Book, and his essential
Combat Focus Shooting: Evolution 2010.) Rob's always in the public eye, but there's something you don't know about him.

He's homeless. By choice. He decided that would be a good name for a blog, and so it was born.

Homeless By Choice blog details Rob's life without a permanent residence. Rob travels more than three hundred days a year, and a while back he decided that it was silly to maintain a home base that he never saw. He put all his stuff in storage and resolved to live on the road as a preferred condition.

I know that doesn't sound so unusual, as many people live full time in motorhomes and have no fixed residence, but Rob doesn't have an RV - he lives in hotels with what he can carry on his back! The HBC blog covers his life on the road: where he goes, what he does, where he stays, the people he meets and the things he sees.

If you ever wanted to read a blog where you could actually live vicariously through someone else, HBC is definitely it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A fountain of information.

It has become something of a trend amongst the latest hipsters to declare an interest in the fountain pen. It might be said that I find this whole business a tad amusing, not because I think the fountain pen to be out of date but because my interest in them often goes back further than some of these newcomers have even been alive.
(Get off my lawn!) Wait long enough, and everything comes back into fashion.

I received my first fountain pen as a high school graduation gift in the late 1970s. It was a Cross Century and came in a set with a matching ballpoint and a pencil. What happened to the latter two pieces is a mystery, but I still have that fountain pen. In fact, I'm looking at it as I type this. I've added more to my collection as time has progressed, but I still have that one.

Over the years I'll admit to not being completely faithful to the fountain pen, but in the last few years I've gone back to it as my primary writing instrument. My handwriting these days is all in printed letters (I long ago forgot how to write in longhand), and I don't do as much of it, but I still scribble notes and fill notebooks with bits of information, ideas, the occasional drawing, and sometimes a shopping list. I have perhaps four pens that I use regularly, and several more in storage that I ink up and use only occasionally.

Why a fountain pen? For me, it's the fact that they require no hand pressure. The nib of the pen simply rests on the paper, and no additional force is needed to get ink to flow. As I near the half-century mark I find that the joints of my fingers are not standing up to the kind of abuse they used to, and anything which reduces the wear and tear on them is most appreciated!

There is another aspect to the fountain pen, though I fear putting too much emphasis on it lest I be labeled as a closeted environmentalist hippy. (
Tam and her eco-friendly bicycle currently have that schtick sewn up like a hemp shirt, and heaven forfend I should intrude!) The fact is, however, that disposable writing instruments are wasteful. A quality fountain pen is a lifetime purchase that needs only a supply of ink to keep working. Nothing ends up in the landfill or gets thrown away (except the ink bottle, which is usually glass and easily recycled.)

Of course, for a gadget freak like me the fountain pen provides limitless opportunities to indulge! There are perhaps a hundred (maybe more) fountain pen manufacturers around the world still making pens, with price points from a buck (I'm not kidding) to several thousand dollars. You can find nibs (the part that touches the paper) in sizes ranging from extra fine to broad; no matter how or what you like to write you can find a line width to suit. There is also a large quantity of vintage pens available should one prefer the ultimate in recycling with a retro flair.

Ink makers? There are probably fifty brands of ink that come in a literal rainbow of colors. I'll bet you never knew that black ink isn't just black, did you? Yes, black ink comes in shades. There must be a couple hundred different blue inks, more blue-black inks than you could probably ever use, forests full of various greens and browns, and reds that range from blood to fire - and everything in between. If you want the perfect ink to match your personality or mood, you can find it for your fountain pen.

There is, truly, something for everyone in the fountain pen world.

I'll leave you with some pen snapshots I did a few years ago. The first is a couple from the German maker Rotring (probably my favorite pens), the second is of a Duke (one of the better Chinese pen makers), and the last is a no-name pen that my wife likes (yes, she’s into them as well. Makes gift giving around our house easy!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part IV: single action lockwork.

One of the things that struck me when I first opened the Rhino is that the trigger doesn't directly
do anything. In every other double action revolver the trigger directly contacts the hammer in both single and double action, but not the Rhino!

In a traditional revolver's single action the sear (which is usually a pointed projection on the trigger) drops into some sort of notch on the hammer. When the trigger is pulled, the sear slips out of the hammer notch, allowing the hammer to be propelled by the mainspring and fire the cartridge. This system has persisted with only minor change for over a century. It's a simple, robust method that's easy to make and easy to maintain.

It's not nearly so simple on the Rhino.

Take a good look at the pictures, because this gets very complicated very quickly!

The Rhino is cocked, as we learned last time, by pulling back the external hammer, which pushes the cocking lever down, which pushes the hammer spring lever down against the tension of the mainspring. The hammer spring lever draws the hammer back.

At this point, the long extension on the front (right) side of the hammer slips past the spring-loaded single action lever (aka 'sear'); the single action lever springs back (counter-clockwise), trapping the hammer in the cocked position.

When the trigger is pulled, it pushes on the connecting rod which is connected to the interlink lever. (These are all official Chiappa part names!) The interlink lever and the single action lever share a common pivot point, and are separated by a phosphor bronze washer (not seen in these pics.) As the interlink lever rotates clockwise, a small pin on it contacts the downward-pointing extension on the single action lever, pushing the extension and causing the sear surface to rotate upwards and slip off the hammer extension. The hammer is now free to rotate clockwise, propelled by the mainspring through the hammer spring lever, which brings the top of the hammer into contact with the frame-mounted firing pin.

Got that?

It's an extremely complicated way to approach the function, though those familiar with high-end rifle triggers, which typically use a series of levers to do the same task, will recognize what the Rhino is doing. Those more familiar with handguns will be left staring at the pictures, scratching their heads, and saying "what the ****?" (It very much reminds me of the operation of a Hermle chiming clock, a mechanism with which I am intimately familiar. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that is good or bad.)

In the next installment we'll have a peek at how double action works. It's a little more conventional, but still unique.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday catch-up.

Whew! What a week I had! I’m actually glad it's Monday, as I might finally be able to catch my breath!

I spent a few days last week helping to teach a Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development (CFSID) course in Washington (as in 'state', as in WA.) We had a great group, all of whom were there to learn how to teach progressive, reality-based shooting in both the public and private sectors. Rob Pincus was the lead instructor, and I had the pleasure of interacting with three other Combat Focus instructors who were also there to help out. Teaching something is the best way to learn the subject, thus teaching how to teach makes one a better teacher. (Seems almost circular, doesn't it?)


One of the take-aways from this session was a new way of looking at the concept of precision in combat. You'll be hearing more about this as I flesh out my thoughts.


Speaking of Combat Focus Shooting, I've received a number of emails showing interest in booking classes for next year. Some of them have been from sunny or very scenic locations out of state, which is much appreciated, but I'm also looking to do more courses here in Oregon. If you'd like to see either Combat Focus Shooting or my Revolver Doctrine class come to your town, let me know - perhaps you could be the one to host it!

Here's something to consider: host a Revolver Doctrine class on a Saturday, followed immediately by a Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting class on Sunday. The former teaches you how to run your revolver properly, while the latter shows you how to use it efficiently to protect yourself. It's a great one-two combination!

If you're interested, email me for the details. (Remember that while I love teaching in Oregon, I will travel in the Western states to hold classes.)


Last week was particularly full because I was working feverishly to finish my Chiappa Rhino review for Concealed Carry Magazine. Deadline was Sunday, and I managed to slip in under the wire. The review turned out to be very long - over 3600 words - and I'm concerned that it will need to be heavily edited to fit into the magazine's allotted space. (Lots of pics, too.) My editor at CCM, Kathy Jackson, has her work cut out for her!

I'll be posting the next installment of the blog's series covering the technical features of the Rhino on Wednesday. Coincidentally, I'll be recording an interview about the Rhino with the ProArms Podcast folks that day. I'll certainly let you know when that gets released.


One of last week's frustrations was my outgoing mail server. It stopped accepting my login name and password, thus no mail went out for about four days. Qwest's technical support (the pride of Bangalore) was of no use: "I'm sorry that you're not happy with your service, Mr. Cunningham. First I'd like you to turn off your computer and turn it back on again." I swear that if you called them instead of dialing 911, they'd respond to your request for an ambulance by telling you to turn your computer off!

I tried valiantly to get them to escalate my call to someone who wasn't translating a script from Hindi to falsely accented Southern American English. I failed. The problem finally resolved itself sometime Saturday. For that I am grateful, even if a bit puzzled.


On a personal note, I'm very happy that tomorrow evening all of the campaign advertisements will cease. (How do you tell when a politician is lying? When his lips are moving!)

-=[ Grant ]=-



Todd Koonce is a very talented young gunsmith here in the Willamette Valley. His talent goes further than building great guns, however - he recently starred in a short film that has won an award!

Final Notice is a short film by Alex Castro starring Todd Koonce. It's the story of a utility worker (Koonce) who's fired for peeping in the windows of the houses he services. Earlier this week Todd told me that it won the "Best Emerging Artist" award at the Salem (OR) NW Film Festival.

Good job, Todd and Alex!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Training opportunities!

I'm starting to book teaching dates for next year. If you're interested in hosting a
Combat Focus Shooting or Revolver Doctrine class, drop me an email and we can discuss the details.

Of course Oregon is my preferred venue, but I'll travel anywhere in the Northwest and I could
possibly be convinced to go to California. (Since that's the only place to get Sparky's Root Beer, it might not be hard to get me down there!)

I also have some very limited dates for private instruction, which need to happen in western Oregon. Range facilities for private instruction can be less developed than for a class, as long as we have a safe area to shoot.

Check out the course descriptions, look at your calendar, call your friends, and get in touch with me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part III: the non-hammer.

Quick: is this Rhino cocked, or not?

As it happens, it is. The "hammer" that you see isn't a hammer at all. Since the gun fires from the bottom chamber of the cylinder, the hammer is buried deep within the frame. Since the hammer is inaccessible, to cock it for single action requires that something reach down into the works. That something is called the cocking lever, and it's connected to the thing that looks like a hammer but isn’t - but which, confusingly, is called the external hammer.

To cock the gun, the external hammer is pulled back; it pushes the cocking lever down, which certainly looks like it’s connected to the internal hammer - but it's not! The cocking lever actually works by forcing a piece called the hammer spring lever down. The hammer spring lever in turn rotates the hammer back, thereby cocking the gun. When the gun is cocked, a spring on the external hammer returns it to the rest position, pulling the cocking lever back up with it while the other parts stay in the cocked position. A red flag on the left top of the frame (which was cleverly not shown in the first picture) is pushed up by the hand (which they call a ‘lifting lever’ ) to let the user know the gun is cocked. You can see that part if you look carefully for the red line just under and to the right of the external hammer.

When the Rhino is cocked, the external hammer is held in the forward position under spring pressure. To decock the gun, it is pulled back and held while the trigger is pulled. Then the user allows the external hammer to slowly and carefully return to the rest position.

What's interesting is that the key to this whole operation is the cocking lever. If one wants to render his/her Rhino double action only, it's a simple matter of removing the sideplate and pulling out the cocking lever:

It simply lifts out of the works. The sideplate is replaced, and the gun is now DAO. The external hammer can still be manipulated (remember that it has its own spring to keep it in the forward position), but since there is nothing connecting it to any other part of the gun it performs no function. Actually, that's not quite true - since the rear sight is a notch machined into the external hammer, it still serves as the rear sight.

Next time we'll take a look at the Rhino's very different single action sear (bet you can’t spot it) and how it works. It’s anything but straightforward!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Ghost of the future.

One of my favorite PBS shows was "
Connections", the ten-part series from British science writer/historian James Burke. In it, Burke looked at the often surprising interrelationships of disparate discoveries and inventions that invariably culminated in something no one involved in the process could have imagined. From those connections (get it?) we see that even small changes in the past would have made huge impacts in the present. It's a concrete, approachable explanation of the butterfly effect.

What brought this to mind was last week's
surprisingly frank admission by John Sculley, the long-reviled ex-CEO of Apple Inc., that his tenure there was a "mistake." (As an aside, I gained new respect for Sculley for being able to judge himself so clearly.) While I agree with that assessment with regard to Apple, when I look further at the series of connections that occurred because of his position it's clear that something very good came of it.

You see, had Sculley not taken that job at Apple there would be no
World Wide Web. Certainly not as we know it today.

Follow me: when Sculley took over at Apple, he and
Steve Jobs clashed. A power struggle ensued which resulted in Jobs being forced out of the company he founded (and in which he held a majority of the stock.) Jobs spent the summer of 1985 contemplating his situation, and before the year was out had formed a new computer company: NeXT, Inc. NeXT's goal was to produce a very powerful personal computer that could be used in education and research, to simulate things like recombinant DNA laboratories.

Jobs put together a team of talented engineers who designed the hardware and software which would become the
NeXT Cube. The operating system, called NeXTStep, would combine parts of BSD Unix and the Mach kernel to produce a multitasking, object oriented operating system. While it never achieved the market success that they had envisioned (for a host of reasons, not the least of which was a retaliatory lawsuit from Apple-led Sculley) it did make significant inroads in research labs around the world.

It was in one of those labs, at
CERN in Switzerland/France, that a 35-year-old British physicist named Tim Berners-Lee came up with an idea: take the relatively new concept of hypertext and expand it beyond the single computer (or node of computers) to which it was then limited. His idea was to use the Unix Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) to allow computers across the internet to access each other's hyperlinks. That sounds dry to us today, but it was a breakthrough.

Hyperlinks and TCP are the basis on which the World Wide Web operates; without that combination, you wouldn't be able to click on the links in this article and go to other sites for more information - or even navigate Without them, the web as we know it simply wouldn't exist. No Revolver LIberation Alliance, no online shopping, and no porn sites. (Ya gotta take the bad with the good.)

The computer that inpsired Lee, and on which he did his development work? The NeXT, running the NeXTStep OS. WIthout NeXT's heavily object-oriented development environment, Lee wouldn't have been able to design the ubiquitous "www". Would someone have eventually come up with the idea? Maybe, maybe not. Even if they had, though, it wouldn't have proceeded on the same path that it did. The web, if it even existed, would be a profoundly different thing than it is today. That's the nature of interrelationships: change one, and every other one changes. Some may not happen at all.

Whether Sculley knows it or not, the (unintentional) consequences of his actions in 1985 led to you being able to read about his self-assessment on your computer screen today. Ironic, isn't it?

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part II: the extractor.

By now everyone knows about the Rhino's unique hexagonal cylinder, but it's unusual in more ways than the shape. The extractor (star or ratchet, depending on the maker) on the Rhino is quite different in execution than any S&W, Colt, Ruger, Dan Wesson, or Taurus.

The orthodox method of making an extractor is to cut half circles to accept the cartridges, and mill cam surfaces in the center so that the hand can rotate the cylinder. The extractor does double duty, as it were.

Those cam surfaces are responsible for both rotating the cylinder and locking it in a precise position when the gun fires. The extractor must stay in perfect relation to each chamber if barrel-chamber alignment is to be maintained. If the extractor rotates even slightly relative to the cylinder, the chambers won't come to the exact position for every shot, and in severe cases an out-of-time condition can be caused.

The common method of maintaining that alignment was to insert a couple of steel pins (very small pins!) into the web between opposite chambers, and drill the extractor arms to fit over those holes. That requires precise machining and fitting, two things which have become cost prohibitive.

In recent years S&W has approached the problem by simply machining the outline of the extractor, and the cylinder recess into which it fits, into something resembling a square. This is not an entirely satisfactory approach, as there is significant play between the two pieces. Ironically, that's what the machining is supposed to prevent!

Because of this sloppy fit, modern Smiths must be timed with fired casings in the chambers, which immobilizes the extractor. The downside is that if live ammo is undersized, the extractor is free to rotate and the problems come back.

Chiappa decided on a very expensive method to obtain barrel/chamber alignment. They took the alignment pin idea, and instead of using them to fix the extractor they inserted four more, and use those as cams to rotate the cylinder! The extractor is drilled to simply fit over the pins, and serves only to push empties out of the gun.

(This concept of separation of function will show up later when I detail how the double- and single-action sears work.)

Chiappa's method has the advantage of taking all extractor movement out of the equation. The disadvantages include a) they are not easily adjusted if chamber/barrel alignment is off, and b) the system is very expensive to produce.

The first disadvantage is evident in the gun I'm reviewing: two of the chambers are ever-so-slightly off, and a correction will not be easy. Keep in mind that the amount of discrepancy is very small, and doesn't apparently affect the accuracy of the gun to a great degree, but the error does exist. The first gun, which I sent back because of a very heavy trigger, did not have the error.

The second disadvantage doesn't seem to concern them, as we saw in the previous article on their breechface insert. Again, the machining is quite well done, despite the slight error noted.

If properly done, this design would make for very precise and repeatable chamber indexing, but if extreme care isn’t taken in execution that pursuit of perfection can result in a permanent deficiency. This is not unlike Colt versus S&W cylinder locking: the more precise Colt requires more care in manufacture and maintenance, while the sloppier S&W mechanism makes for a more tolerant system. Both have advantages and disadvantages that the gun designer balances to get the desired performance characteristics.

In the next installment we'll dive into the internals, starting with the hammer that isn’t a hammer - and you might be amazed at what it takes to render the gun double action only.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's not Monday; some more safety stuff.

Sorry for the lack of posting yesterday - I was occupied with more pressing matters. The series on the Rhino revolver will resume tomorrow.

I couldn't let this pass, however. Seems that
Alan over at Snarkybytes wants to do away with Traditional Safety Rule #1, "all guns are always loaded" (or variants thereof.)

Welcome to the club, Alan - I've been
saying the same thing for over three years now, and caught the same flak that you're now getting.

The comments over at his place are very similar to the comments that I got (and continue to get.) For whatever reason, people are convinced that the more 'rules' they have to follow, the safer they'll be. (Of course they'll argue the opposite about gun laws, the irony being lost on them.) They present all manner of convoluted arguments and frantic re-wording to avoid the very thought of doing with fewer gun handling guidelines despite the logical probability that those fewer guidelines would prove more effective.

(There is that rabid subset of Cooper acolytes who oppose any change simply because The Colonel didn't approve of it, but their numbers appear to be dwindling.)

I have a couple of nits to pick: "Keeping the finger off the trigger" isn't specific enough for my comfort level; I prefer "finger out of the triggerguard", as simply ‘off the trigger’ does nothing to prevent stumble/grasp accidents. Second, while I understand his argument (and even agree with it to a great degree) about knowing your target and what’s behind it, I believe there needs to be something that addresses things like aerial shotgunning and proper backstopping for dry fire practice. Hence my third rule, though I’m willing to consider that I’m being needlessly redundant.

My modest proposal is that safety rules should be taught thusly:

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.

Alan's chart is pretty good, though, and I wish I'd thought of it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Friday Surprise: Why didn't I find this earlier?

When I talked about tools a couple of weeks ago, a regular reader emailed and said that his father had owned a service station in the 1960s too. He asked what brand, and I told him Texaco. He then forwarded a link to this shot of an abandoned Texaco station somewhere in North Dakota.

The picture is hosted at a
site called, and that link encouraged me to spend the next hour looking at the historic photos that are Shorpy's raison d'être. Shorpy is sort of a cross between a photo album and a blog, and with thousands of photos in their archive I’m going to need a lot more spare time! All pics have a small preview like this one, and clicking on any of them brings up a high-res version. Neat!

Very cool site that has become one of the few on my "daily read" bookmark.

-=[ Grant ]=-

S&W Model 13, 3".

I've gotten the hint! People have reminded me that I've been neglectful in posting pictures. I remembered this as I was packing a gun up for shipment today, and decided you might like to see it. I stepped out the door, threw down a piece of corrugated aluminum, and took this quick snapshot.

The Model 13 with the heavy 3" barrel is one of my very favorite Smiths, and yet I've never owned one. This one came in with a gorgeous original finish, which the owner wanted changed to a Black Pearl finish. I talked him out of it (and cost myself some revenue), but it would have been a shame to destroy this beautiful, very shiny factory blue. There is a very small spot of holster wear at the front of the muzzle, but other than that it is nearly flawless.

The gun did receive a Super Action Job, along with chamfering the chambers and converting the gun to DAO. I had no problem with the conversion, as simply replacing the hammer - a common "K" frame part - is all that it would take to return the gun to a stock appearance.

I hope you like it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another interview!

I must apologize for being a bit late with this one. Last month I was interviewed on the "Meet the Smiths" segment of the Personal Armament podcast. I'd planned to put a note on the blog when the interview was published, but forgot about it until yesterday. That’s when I fired up iTunes for the first time in several weeks, refreshed the podcast list, and -- there it was!

The podcast is a good listen even when I'm not the guest. (Hmm. That sounded vaguely conceited, didn't it?) Rob Robideau is a solid interviewer; he asks great questions, and is flexible enough to pursue different lines of inquiry when they show promise. Most interviews are heavily edited, but he's polished enough that what you hear is pretty much how we recorded it.

As I find time I'm downloading and listening to his back episodes, and they are terrific.

You can
listen to my interview here, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Hope you find it interesting!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A Rhino update.

Today I’m starting my promised technical evaluation of the new Chiappa Arms Rhino revolver. This will be strictly an analysis of how the gun is constructed and how it functions; my full shooting review, including my evaluation of its suitability for self defense, will appear in an upcoming issue of Concealed Carry Magazine. (The review will be a must-read for anyone interested in the Rhino; I’ll be covering some aspects of the gun that you’re not likely to find anywhere else. If you’ve been thinking about
joining the USCCA and getting their superb magazine, now would be a good time!)

I received the Rhino some weeks ago, but had to return it and request another. There was a serious issue with the action on the first gun, as it had a pull that I estimated at 17 lbs. (I say estimated because my digital gauge only goes to 12 lbs, and it pegged out before the trigger even started to move!) An email to someone who I know had also gotten a Rhino for evaluation said that his example definitely didn't display that behavior. I concluded that the problem wasn't one of design but rather of production, and gave them a second chance.

The replacement arrived last week and is much better. I’m not holding it against the gun, as I’ve had out-of-the-box S&W and Ruger revolvers that displayed the same issue. In fact, I just recently sent a brand-new GP100 back to the factory for just that problem!

From a technical standpoint the Rhino is very interesting. The lockwork is complicated and very unusual, but that’s not all. The gun contains many examples of a decidedly unusual approach to building a revolver.

I’ll start my technical evaluation by saying that the engineering on the Rhino is typically Italian, and I mean that in a good way (as opposed to "typically British", which people usually take to mean the opposite. With good reason, I might add.) Having owned and worked on Italian cars and motorcycles I've grown used to how the Italians approach an engineering challenge, and while one can always find things to complain about, there are also things that make you smile and think “now THAT''S neat!" The Rhino is like that.

Take, for instance, the way the frame is constructed. The entire gun is made from an aluminum alloy, like a S&W Airweight. The breechface area of such guns, where the firing pin protrudes and the cylinder locks into place, is often subject to excessive wear (see
my article at the Personal Defense Network for a discussion.) In brief, the relatively soft aluminum wears prematurely, leading to headspacing, endshake, and cylinder lockup problems in guns that see a lot of use.

Chiappa came up with an interesting solution: make the breechface removable, and construct it from steel! Their breechface (red arrow) is polished smooth, nicely blued, and fits into the frame very precisely. It hangs off to each side of the frame, serving as the cartridge shields as well, and is quite thick - on the order of .300”.

The machining necessary to do this definitely adds to the cost of producing the Rhino, but it's a good way of ensuring that an aluminum gun will have a very long service life. I was surprised that they bothered, because no one else does and nobody would have thought twice if they hadn’t.

Next time we’ll take a look at their unique extractor star and the unintended consequences of precision.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A letter to the U.S. Postal Service.

Dear USPS:

I'm writing this open letter because I know you don’t read those that I send to you. How do I know this? I tried that already and nothing's changed.

Listen, I know you guys and gals are hurtin’-fer-certain these days, what with this newfangled email and all. The news tells me that your revenue is down, and because the unions won't let you do any commonsense cost-cutting your profit margins are getting squeezed.

I feel for you.

Well, I certainly
would feel for you if I had any confidence that the people in charge had an inkling of what to do to turn your mess around. They've given little indication so far that they do, but I'm going to help you out. I like the Postal Service, I really do, even if I do think the title “Letter Carrier” is less noble than the “Mailman” I grew up with.

Because we have such a longstanding relationship, I’m going to give you two simple, low cost (one of them is no cost) methods that will add dollars to your bottom line. Not enough to save you from your skyrocketing pension costs, but every little bit helps - right?

Here goes:

1) Follow federal law with regard to shipping firearms. As it stands, federal law allows any private citizen to ship a handgun across state lines, as long as the recipient holds an FFL (Federal Firearms License.) The USPS, however, has this strange idea that BOTH parties need to have an FFL, precluding the private citizen from sending his or her package (much more profitable than those letters you're fixated on) through your service. As it stands, Federal Express and UPS get that lovely business, and it's a shame because they charge three to four times what you do. With savings like that, people would be crazy not to use you!

All it would take to steal that business from them is a simple rewrite of your regulations to parallel federal law. That's it. It wouldn't even cost you any money, because you're already paying for those pencil-pushers to sit around in their offices. Might as well get them to do something useful for a change!

2) Your website sucks. I don't mean the design necessarily (though it does need some help in the usability and clarity departments), but its functionality. If I want to ship a package, it should be easy to do through Trust me on this: it's not.

First, you allow only specific browsers to work because you've used proprietary code that only they recognize. Hello, this is the twenty-first century! "This site optimized for Internet Explorer" is as passe as Motorola brick phones, no matter how cool you think Gordon Gecko is. Standards compliance is where its at these days.

The second problem is that printing a mailing label with postage requires the browser to download a little applet, which then requires a third-party program - namely Adobe Acrobat - to run the thing and print the label. Why? I have no clue, but it's what we call a kludge, and it's incredibly sloppy. FedEx doesn't mess around with nonsense like that to do the very same task, and neither does UPS. If your people aren't smart enough to figure out how to print from within the browser like those companies already do, fire them and hire someone who actually graduated from high school. (Oh, yeah, that pesky union thing makes it difficult to fire the deadwood. Sucks to be you.)

Why should you care? Listen, I use a Macintosh. Despite the fact that the Mac OS handles .pdf files internally, without the need for ANY third-party separate utility, your stupid website forces me to download Acrobat. The problem with that is that Acrobat is a buggy resource hog that tries to rewrite my system's preferences so that ALL .pdf files trigger Acrobat to start up. It's annoying, it's a security risk, it's not at all needed or welcome, and more than a few Mac users simply refuse to submit to such foolishness.

You're probably still asking why you should care. Well, Mac owners are now upwards of 15% of installed computers in this country, and the percentage online is a higher. Marketing study after marketing study shows that Mac owners are better educated, make more money, and utilize online services more than users of other systems. Like it or not (and Michael Dell most assuredly does not), those are the facts.

So, tell me how a business plan that involves pissing away the most affluent part of your market, those most likely to use your services, is a good idea? It's not, and it's yet another reason your volume is dropping. Redesign your site, make it standards compliant, get rid of the proprietary browser code and that Acrobat nonsense, and you’ll probably find people using it more. (I assume that’s why you have the site in the first place, amiright?)

Hey, if you like the way things are going, ignore everything I just said. Otherwise, start acting like the independent corporation you keep claiming to be and put your customers first. You can win against the other guys, but you have to bring your "A" game. Right now you’re not.

Two simple things, with my compliments.


-=[ Grant ]=-

"We have a situation at the food court."

Sorry about the outage on Monday. I ended up spending the day rescuing my wife from a malfunctioning automobile. Wife and car are doing fine; my hectic schedule is not. Such is life.

Since I don't have a lot of spare time this week I'm just going to point you to Snarkybytes, where Alan yesterday put out his
list of signs that you might be a Mall Ninja.

Funny stuff, especially the bit about HK.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The Wright stuff.

Whenever I buy a durable good, I make some hard decisions about what and where I buy. I start, as I've often mentioned, with quality; I buy not necessarily the most expensive, but not the cheapest either. I'm looking for value, that ill-defined but instantly recognizable point at which price and quality are optimized.

Of course there are other variables to consider. I'm growing more aware, with every passing day, of the social impact in the ways which I spend my money. No, I'm not talking about being a "green consumer" or other trendy tripe, but rather acknowledging that where my money ends up is important. The simple fact is that not all spending is equal in terms of economic or social value.

Assuming that I can get the level of quality that I seek, I prefer to buy American products wherever possible. Not just assembled here, but from American materials by companies whose home base is the United States. Perhaps even more importantly, I prefer to spend my money with the smallest possible company that can meet my quality, value, and origin expectations. That's not always possible, of course, but I'd rather have my money going to a privately held, family business than a faceless multinational corporation.

Why? Because I believe that such companies make better long-term decisions regarding their products and customers. I've witnessed, time and time again, the quality of a product decline precipitously (usually from being 'offshored') because a huge corporation is focused on quarterly profits and not on pleasing its customers. The social impact of lost jobs is an enormous problem, not to mention the decline in the real wealth that principally comes from making things.

Craftsman tools are a good example. Once the benchmark for decent U.S. made tools at an affordable price, in recent years Sears has cheapened the brand by importing more and more of their products from Asia. I've been in Sears stores where it was actually difficult to find an American tool, yet prices have not reflected the lower cost of the imported items.

Which, finally, brings me to the topic for today: I need some new tools. Not want, not desire, but actually need.

My general tool sets are a mish-mash of various manufacturers, conditions and levels of quality. I'm missing some pieces, and others I need but have just never bothered to pick up. I'm tired of wrenches that don't fit well and poorly made sockets that round nuts off instead of taking them off. It is an area of my life that is in stark contrast to what I insist on for my business, and it's time that changed. This summer I decided to finally use some of my savings to replace much of my crappy tool collection with quality examples, tools that I can use for decades to come. As I've said before, if I have to spend money I want to do it one time only.

Needless to say, I'm not spending any of that money at Sears.

I researched tool companies based on the principles I've outlined above. Quality first, American made wherever the quality is acceptable, and from a company who understands that their business comes from satisfied customers. As it happened, only one company met all of my criteria.

Wright Tools.

Wright has been in business in Barberton, Ohio
since 1927. It is still owned and operated by the Wright family, and they're proud of the products they produce in America, from American steel. No other tool company can make that claim, and their pride shows in the quality of their tools; they are simply superb.

Once I'd decided that this company truly deserved my business, I had to find a place to buy Wright wrenches and sockets and all the other stuff I need. I ran into a little problem: there isn't a stocking Wright dealer anywhere near me!

It was then that I found an online hardware company in Kansas City called
Harry J. Epstein Co. Like Wright they're a family owned business, and also like Wright they pride themselves on the quality of their product. For a retailer, that product is the service they deliver, and Epstein definitely delivers.

They have a neat retro-look website that clearly identifies the country of origin of all their products. (Love their animated/illustrated shopping cart!) The site has a very good selection of products that they keep in stock, but where they shine is how they handle special orders.

Most mailorder companies don't do special orders, and in fact it's hard to find a local retailer these days who will. Epstein's is the exception, and having used their service I can tell you that no one, and I mean do mean no one, gives the level of personalized service that they do. This is rare in today's world and should be celebrated!

Between Wright's products and Epstein's service my toolbox is slowly getting the makeover it sorely needs. For someone who doesn't like spending money, I'm a pretty happy camper.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Smith & Wesson mainsprings.

A recent email asked my help with a problem. The writer, who had purchased a new gun to compete in the IDPA revolver class, had taken the strain screw out of his S&W 686 and shortened it to reduce the trigger pull weight. When he put his grips back on, he found that the grip screw wouldn't go through the frame, and he could see that the mainspring was now blocking the screw's path.

He asked why this happened, and what could be done about the problem.

When the strain screw is shortened, the mainspring arch is changed. The strain screw is very close to the bottom of the spring, near the pivot point where the spring contacts the frame, and has tremendous leverage. Because of that leverage, small changes in the screw's length make big changes in the amount of arch the spring exhibits. This in turn lowers the pull weight.

The problem is that the grip screws are all positioned on an assumption of the mainspring remaining in the stock position. As the arch of the spring is decreased, it moves toward the muzzle of the gun and ultimately intrudes on the path of the grip screw. This is why reduced rate mainsprings are produced by Wolff (and one or two others.) These springs are designed to have a reduced weight while maintaining a close-to-stock arch profile.

The solution to this problem is to get a reduced power mainspring and a new strain screw (which will need fitting to achieve the desired pull weight.)

Changing the function of any part in a mechanism can have undesired side effects, and it is best to proceed cautiously unless you know with certainty the outcome.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday pot-stirring.

I've mentioned that my father was on a bomber crew during World War II. I didn't mention that a few years before he died he trolled the gun shows looking for a decent M1 Garand (I eventually found one for him, which my brother and I gave to him as a birthday gift.) I asked him why he wanted one, and he animatedly exclaimed "I carried one during the War, and it was the best weapon ever made!"

"Ummm, Dad?" I said, "you were in a bomber - they issued you a pistol, not a rifle!"

"Yeah, well...I carried one in basic training, and it was a great rifle!"

That didn't end the discussion. We talked about another legendary gun, one with legions of fans even more rabid than Garand lovers, and one with which he was very familiar: the M1911A1 pistol. He wasn't nearly as appreciative, calling it a "piece of junk that couldn't hit the broad side of a barn." My Dad was a pretty fair shooter with all arms, pistols included, but he hated the 1911.

When my wife got her heavily customized Springfield he looked it over, sniffed a bit, and offered that it sure looked nice and was probably more accurate than the one he'd been issued, but that no amount of work would ever fix what he called the "jamamatic."

I was reminded of this by a comment I heard recently, to the effect that the 1911 must be a great gun because the U.S. Government issued it for such a long time, and that fact somehow supported the belief.

The irony is that this same gentleman considers the current issue M9A1 (aka Beretta 92) to be a "piece of junk." Let me get this straight: if the Army issues a 1911 it's only because the gun is superior, but when it issues the M9 it's because...what, exactly?

That's the problem with the
appeal to authority. When the authority contradicts your view, you either have to change the view or abandon the authority, regardless of what the facts tell you. Doing neither just invalidates the opinion.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Mike Jarvi, a contemporary furniture maker from Michigan, is famous for his signature Jarvi Bench:

It's made of a single piece of wood, and the construction method is ingenious. A reader sent me this video of Jarvi in action:

Sadly I'm not nearly so creative. That doesn't stop me from appreciating the genius that conceived it and the craftsmanship required to make it a reality!

Have a good weekend!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Your point of view?

Head over to the
Personal Defense Network forum and check out the discussions on 'realistic' training. Feel free to jump into the discussion, as this is a topic which is important to all defensive training.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Recoil and reflexes.

video of a petite woman shooting a S&W .500 Magnum made the rounds last week. At issue was an uncontrolled (negligent) discharge, occurring as a rapid “double tap.”

Watch the video, and you’ll see that as the gun recoils from the first round, a second round is ignited. The barrel is nearly vertical when the second shot fires, raising all sorts of concerns about its eventual landing place.

The various comments made (not just on The Firearm Blog) indicate a lack of familiarity with the forces at play.

If one observes new shooters closely, it's very common to see them release the trigger immediately after the sear breaks. This is particularly true where the reset force significantly exceeds the pull weight, as it does on most S&W revolvers in single action (especially the X-frame .500.) The strong rebound spring quickly, almost instantaneously, sends the inexperienced trigger finger back into the battery position.

As the trigger/finger reach full reset, the recoil has caused the muzzle of the gun to arc backwards toward the shooter's face. The shooter, who has not expected this level of violent reaction to the cartridge firing, finds that the hand does not have a firm enough grip on the gun. The hand muscles - all of them - instinctively tighten to maintain a grip and control the gun.

The problem, of course, is that as those muscles tighten so do those of the trigger finger, which is now sitting on a trigger that has reset and produced a gun that is in battery. The hand squeezes and the trigger is forced back, firing the gun again.

It's not a gun problem, and having a longer trigger travel or a heavier trigger as some suggest won't prevent this from happening. What would prevent it is proper instruction from a teacher who understands the whole issue, and is smart enough to do a couple of things: first, have the shooter dry fire the gun so that he/she understands what the trigger is going to do. Second, put only one round into the gun until the shooter is comfortable with the recoil/muzzle blast/trigger control.

The most important thing to take away from this is that it is a predictable, and therefore preventable, occurrence - assuming that the person in charge has the knowledge base necessary to do so. Some time back I took heat for having the temerity to suggest that a good shooting coach needs to have a passing familiarity with physiology, psychology, physics, and engineering. This incident illustrates why that opinion remains unshaken.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Friday Surprise: Rooting around.

It occurs to me that I've yet to write about one of my favorite things: root beer. I don't drink much of it anymore, as I dislike what it does to teeth and waistlines, but on occasion I'll treat myself to a single bottle.

By now you should know that I'm a little on the anal retentive side about everything, more so with things I'm passionate about. Root beer is one of those things.

My all-time favorite root beer is
Sparky's. Brewed by a tiny company in California (one of the very few good things to come from our neighbors to the south), it's only sporadically available in these parts. It's worth seeking out because of the intense root beer flavor, perfect level of carbonation, and hints of mint in the aftertaste that covers up the normal sugar taste decay.

Because it's rarely available to me, I have to console my tastebuds with an excellent local brew,
Crater Lake Root Beer. It is reminiscent of Sparky's, but not nearly as intense. It could stand a little more carbonation, but it's a very good root beer.

I could go on forever, but luckily there are other people who share my affliction and have done the work for me. My favorite root beer review site, authored my someone whose tastes run almost parallel to my own, is
Anthony's Root Beer Barrel. Many people have done similar things, but my general rule is that a root beer reviewer who can't tell a corn-syrup-flavored drink from one made with cane sugar probably has no actual operational taste buds. I avoid them.

Hmmm....I just realized that I haven't had a root beer in a couple of months. Now I'm thirsty!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Excitement in Berkeley North.

Life is never dull in my part of the world.

Yesterday a gun shop in Portland was treated to a large police response because -
gasp! - someone was carrying a gun into the store. We're used to the law enforcement agency of our state's biggest city being in the news, as their overreactions are legendary around these parts, but what really got the chuckle meter going was that it happened at a store of which the local folks aren’t all that fond.

You may think that I’m making things up, but
here are a couple of threads on the regional gun discussion forum. Any of you have stores like this in your neighborhood?

-=[ Grant ]=-

What a day. And it’s not even lunchtime yet.

It's about 10:30am as I write this, and it's been a hectic morning. I've been on the phone since early today with suppliers, customers, and gun companies. Because I'm behind schedule, I'm simply going to leave you with
this little gem from The Firearm Blog. (Be sure to follow their link to the ARFCOM article that started it all.)

Happy Monday. I hope yours is less stressful than mine!

-=[ Grant ]=-


During World War II, my Dad was a flight engineer/2nd co-pilot on a B-29. He'd flown B-17s and B-24s, but loved the B-29 - and why not? It was a technological marvel, full of almost magical gadgets, and my Dad was - to the day he died - a serious gadget freak. There was more than enough interesting technology on a SuperFortress to keep a hyperactive 19-year-old mesmerized for his entire tour of duty.

Dad never stopped talking about Boeing's best, and in the mid-'90s the
Commemorative Air Force (then referred to by the more whimsical "Confederate Air Force") brought their crown jewel to a local airport: Fifi, the only flying B-29 in existence.

My father heard about it, and called me with uncommon enthusiasm to tell me the news. Of course I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see one, so I took Dad to the airport. They were giving tours of Fifi, and we joined the small crowd for a chance the crawl through the old bomber.

We were all crammed into the cockpit while the pilot was explaining the layout. Dad sat down at the engineer's station, his old post, and while the pilot/tour guide droned on Dad sort of looked around, shrugged his shoulders and started flipping switches. "One. Two. Three - that's the wrong kind of switch, it's a replacement. Four - they moved Five - there it is - Five."

By this time the pilot had stopped, his eyes got really wide, and he said "what are you doing?" Dad looked at him and said "prepping for flight, sir. Six. Seven." The pilot got a big grin on his face and he and Dad shook hands and exchanged the appropriate pleasantries. The pilot hadn't even been born when the B29s were decommissioned, so it was a treat for him to run across someone who remembered flying one. I was impressed that even after all those years, Dad remembered his job to the letter.

(He also made me crawl through the crew tunnel that goes over the bomb bays, just to get a feel of what it was like. He said "now imagine it in the dark, with a sadistic pilot rocking the plane just to make your life miserable.")

What brings this up? I stumbled across the news that Fifi recently got four new engines:

Last month she took to the air again, her first flight since 2006:

Happy landings, Fifi!

-=[ Grant ]=-


The FedEx guy was just here and dropped this into my lap:

I’ll be doing a technical analysis here, and a shooting review for Concealed Carry Magazine. Stay tuned!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wednesday wanderings.

I haven't done a Wednesday Wanderings post for a while, but since I took the holiday off what would have been posted Monday got shuffled to today.

So, what's going on in the world? Well,
Tam continues her slide to a greener lifestyle. She's almost to the point where she could move to Portland and lobby for more bike paths to further clog traffic. (I'll bet she's developed a taste for tofu, too.)

Firearm Blog recently posted a great old television commercial for the Mattel "Tommy Burst" gun. Someone I knew as a kid had one of these, though for the life of me I can't remember who it was nor do I remember the commercial. I do, however, remember the sound the bolt made as it was pulled back. Fun toy that would cause apoplexy of sold today. (Readers of a certain vintage will recognize the voice of the narrator and the face of the bad guy as both belonging to Hal Smith, the great character actor and voice artist.)

Gabe Suarez recently posted an interesting article of the value of
simplicity in training. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but his point about not having unlimited time to train is spot-on. That point alone deserves an entire article.

As if the Judge phenomenon couldn't get any sillier, I give you the
Tactical Judge. Make of it what you will.

Rob Pincus recently returned from a teaching stint in South Africa, where he made this video of a Glock suppressor that he (and I) didn't even know existed. Square (of course), made of plastic (what else?), and disposable (!!), it fits on a special barrel that Glock also sells.

Cool stuff, but why in 'repressed' South Africa are these things freely available, but here in the 'free' United States are they demonized and heavily regulated?

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: One more time.

Since this is a holiday weekend, the customary end of summer, I thought a little more music was in order. Why not celebrate with another Stan Kenton piece?

This one, recorded in 1977, features my favorite incarnation of the Kenton group - with a number of local (to me) connections.

Lead trombonist Dick Shearer, as I mentioned last time, retired to my hometown - where I'd gone to high school with the brother of Kenton's baritone sax player, Alan Yankee. Stan's drummer, Gary Hobbs, also settled in Oregon. The trombone soloist on this piece, Jeff Uusitalo, eventually made his home just across the river in the Vancouver (Washington) area - where the sax soloist, Terry Layne, grew up and went to high school.

Small world. But, as
Steven Wright reminds us, “I wouldn’t want to have to paint it.”

Have a good weekend, and don’t be surprised if I take Monday off!

-=[ Grant ]=-

You need to read this. Seriously.

One consistent theme amongst the less informed is that all you need worry about in a defensive encounter is that it’s a “good shoot.” Nothing else, according to these keyboard commandoes, matters - you can do anything, as long as the shoot is "clean."

The trouble is that neither you, nor they, get to decide what's "clean" and what's not. In my state, a Grand Jury makes the first decision, and if they say it isn't "clean" it then goes to a trial jury to make the final decision. They're the ones who will scrutinize any self defense shooting, and the pseudonymous self-appointed experts from your favorite forum will be conspicuously absent.

You see, what looks "clean" to you may not look "clean" to another person. Even if you explain it in detail they may still not see it your way, especially if it's a jury weighing your explanation against someone else trying to convince them of the opposite. Malicious prosecutions and lying witnesses exist, and they don't make that job any easier.

For those of you who still don't get this concept, I urge you to run over to the
Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network and read this month's Journal. It is devoted to the story of Larry Hickey, who just recently won his freedom after two trials that stemmed from a defensive shooting. His ordeal, recounted in complete detail, serves as a caution to all those who still believe in the myth of the "clean shoot."

Don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying that you necessarily need to indulge in some fearfully exaggerated lawyer-proofing of your defensive preparations, but you do need to understand that you can’t run around like Rambo, either. This article dramatically illustrates the the value of knowing how to interact with the police after you’ve been involved in a shooting, the need to be able to articulate why you did what you did, and how evidence can be ignored, lost, or even turned to your disadvantage.

The article runs twenty-two pages, and I believe it to be
invaluable for anyone who carries a gun for self defense - and should be required reading for anyone who pontificates about legal issues on gun forums. The Journal is in PDF form; here's a direct link to that file.

Don’t brush this off - go read the article.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Someone sent me
this link to a tale of a Ruger Redhawk whose barrel had parted company from the frame. It's an old story; not this particular occurrence, but the problem in general.


Seems that a certain Canadian manufacturer of simulated munitions now has some competition. I've always disliked the existing company's elitist insistence on only selling to police and military buyers, and Speer, the maker of the new product, looks to change that. Their new product,
Force On Force, will be sold not just to the public sector but to "professional instructors" as well. They've even got portable enclosed shoothouses available! Cool stuff from a solid, responsible AMERICAN company. (Thanks to Fear & Loading for the tip!)


DPMS was apparently the prime sponsor for a match called the "Tri-Gun Challenge", which was recently cancelled. What's interesting isn't the match, but rather
why it isn't going to happen this year. The range on which it was to be held was slapped with an order prohibiting the firing of handguns on the property. When the range/club was founded 30 years ago, they allowed all kinds of guns to be shot. In 1995 they were issued a conditional use permit for a trap and rifle range, and their neighbors apparently are alleging that the shooting of handguns violates that permit!

This is hardly unusual. My wife and I belonged to a gun club a few years back, a club which had been in existence since 1952. The conditional use permit under which we operated stated that no camping was allowed. Once a year, however, the Boy Scouts used the club facilities for a two day shooting party, with a sleepover the intervening night. The kids camped out in the classroom, but a couple of the den mothers brought camping trailers (for obvious reasons.) One particularly nosy neighbor, a recent transplant from another state, spotted the trailers and notified the county. We were hit with a similar order for violating the CUP.

People with an irrational fear of guns will always find a way to cause problems. Don't believe for an instant that because we won in the Supreme Court, the gun prohibitionists have been defeated.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Musical chairs.

When I was in high school my dream was to play trumpet in the
Stan Kenton band. Kenton's organization was for years the most progressive, innovative big band in all of jazz. Their sound was decidedly different than any other big band, and that alone attracted fans (of which I was one) and detractors (of which there were many.)

Narrow-minded jazz listeners complained that Kenton didn't "swing", that you couldn't dance to his music. Musicians, though, understood what he was doing and were the backbone of his fan base.

Kenton made it a point to seek out the most progressive composers and the most difficult music with which to demonstrate the sheer power of his orchestra. Over the course of nearly four decades, no matter what the prevailing jazz style was Kenton would turn it on its ear and make it sound fresh.

As a result of his uncompromising attitude toward the advancement of America's indigenous music, Kenton attracted the best and brightest musicians. A list of his personnel over the years reads like a who's who of jazz, and I hoped that I could someday make the grade.

Then, thirty-one years ago this week, Stan died - and with him, the legendary band that he led. My own dreams suddenly vanished. (Not that I would have made it; frankly, in retrospect I wasn't nearly good enough. Youthful enthusiasm served to mask that reality until well into adulthood.)

To give you a taste of what Kenton's band could do, here's a video from 1972 featuring a
Hank Levy composition titled "Chiapas." The musically inclined will notice the tune was written in 5/4; odd time signatures were something of a Levy trademark. (The trombone soloist is Dick Shearer, who ironically would retire to the small town where I had grown up listening to recordings of him with Kenton. He spent the last years of his life within sight of my childhood home.)

RIP, Stan.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Here we go again.

The blogs are alive with talk of women and guns (and not a single mention of the
excellent magazine, sadly.) Bane, Giddings, and Andrews have, amongst others, weighed in on the topic.

But there is something oddly...
familiar about this whole meme. Could it be because I covered this over a year and a half ago?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Becoming a gunsmith.

Over the years I've gotten a number of inquiries about becoming a gunsmith. I've dashed off short answers to some, but was forced to ignore many others simply due to the amount of information that the answer demands. Here in full (or as full as I'm going to get) is my advice on becoming a gunsmith.

First let's consider what kind of gunsmith we're talking about. Some "gunsmiths" are really nothing more than parts changers - people who can disassemble a gun, manage to figure out what part needs replacing, order one from Brownell's, and reassemble the gun with the new part. It might even run when they're done! At this level there is very little money to be made; most such people are employed at minimum wage, perhaps slightly better, by sporting goods and "box" stores. They'll usually spend most of their time mounting cheap scopes on cheap rifles - that is, when they're not stocking shelves and attending to other rather menial retail tasks. This is the kind of job that a mailorder "gunsmithing" course qualifies one to hold.

The next step up is the ability to fit ready-made parts and make minor adjustments to actions. If the timing of someone's S&W revolver is off, people at this level can drop in a new hand, do the necessary minor fitting, and hand the customer a gun which functions again. A person with these skills might be able to do simple action work, smoothing out the roughest parts of a trigger, do bedding jobs on hunting guns, or perhaps assemble an AR-15 from parts and perhaps have it function correctly. The money's a little better, but one is still spending a lot of time putting scopes on WalMart rifles. Such people are most likely working for someone else - perhaps a local gun store - because there isn't enough value in what they do to run a specialty shop.

This intermediate level MIGHT be learned via correspondence, IF the person is mechanically inclined, inquisitive about the results, and motivated to buy many broken guns and learn on them. It does require hands-on experience, but the driven person can probably learn on his/her own as long as enough reference materials are procured.

At the top you have true gunsmiths. These are the talented men and women who can make and fit stocks from scratch, who can fabricate metal parts when necessary, who can diagnose complex problems and correct them the first time, who can make a worn out and abused gun look and work like new again. These people can actually make a living as gunsmiths, sometimes a quite decent living, and virtually always work for themselves.

It takes a broad range of skills and interests to be such a gunsmith, though most (like me) specialize in one area. At this level the most important skills are not necessarily gun-specific: machining, welding, polishing and heat treating of metal, woodwork, and finishing for both wood and metal. These are skills that need a certain amount of equipment, and can't be learned from a mailorder course.

Many such gunsmiths acquired knowledge from one of the dedicated gunsmithing schools, though you'll find some very well-known gunsmiths either came from a related field and self taught the relevant firearms knowledge, or apprenticed to a Master in the trade.

I'll confine the rest of my comments to becoming a true gunsmith as I've defined the term. If you're serious about making a living, this is the level to which you need to aspire.

First off, understand that you'll need excellent mechanical aptitude, an inquisitive nature, and a drive to do nothing but the best in order to succeed. Without each of those, you simply won't make it in this field.

If you are starting from scratch, the best course of action is probably to attend one of the dedicated gunsmithing schools. There are perhaps a half-dozen around the country, but the two I'm familiar with are both in Colorado: Trinidad College and Colorado School of Trades. I've met graduates from both schools and have been impressed with their skill and professionalism. This isn't to say that the other schools don't turn out good graduates, only that these are the schools whose graduates are familiar to me.

If for some reason you can't make it to such a school, all is not lost. It will take a little longer, and you'll have to do it piecemeal, but it can be done with resources that are likely to be in your area. What follows will sound roundabout, but should serve to impress upon you the wide range of skills a gunsmith must have.

If you're not mechanically inclined, you'll need to be introduced to the principles of mechanical devices. Auto repair courses are available in every community college and are a great way to get used to seeing how parts interact, anticipating and diagnosing problems, and generally getting comfortable with complex mechanisms. (On a personal note, I find many people today surprisingly averse to getting their hands dirty. Gunsmithing can be a dirty job, and if you're at all squeamish about such things an automotive course would be a good attitude adjuster.)

Many adult education programs across this country feature courses in clock repair, usually taught as a hobby to retired folks by retired watch & clockmakers. These classes have most of the advantages of an auto repair class, along with getting accustomed to working with small parts. Starting this way will put you in good company: I learned my mechanical skills as a teenager when I became a clock and watchmaker, and another gunsmith you may have heard of - Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat - started out as a watchmaker, too.

The next step is to develop some relevant skills in metalwork. The best way to do this is by taking every machine shop and welding class your local community college offers. Learn how to work with metal: forming, machining, hardening and tempering, finishing. If you plan to do serious rifle work, you'll probably need to take classes in woodcarving and fine furniture building too. The things you'll learn in those classes are the things I do every single day, and without that breadth of knowledge I could never accomplish the work that I do. The "gun stuff" is relatively easy in comparison, as long as those basic skills are in place.

If a tool and die making course is available to you, it would be a great advantage to take it.

Once you have those skills in hand, you'll need to get some extensive firearm-specific knowledge. You have several avenues; first, you can attend some specialized (limited duration) classes at the aforementioned schools to learn how to apply those skills to guns. Another avenue is to take classes from a well-known gunsmith. Ron Power and Bill Laughridge, for example, both offer weekend classes on specific topics. Finally, you could apprentice to a master gunsmith and work for him/her on an occasional basis to pick up what you need. (Before anyone asks, no - I'm not currently interested in taking on an apprentice!)

An extremely talented and motivated person could, possibly, get this information from books, but not without the base skills discussed above, and certainly not without mechanical aptitude.

Because most of the good gunsmiths work for themselves you'll need to have some talent in business management and sales/marketing. Since this is a people business, those with unpleasant personalities or poor communication skills will be at a disadvantage. You have to like guns and you have to like gun owners! These days a working knowledge of using the internet as a business tool is almost a necessity, as is a good website.

To get started will require some capital investment on your part. You'll need a suitable lathe, milling machine, welding equipment, a wide variety of hand tools, air compressor, benches, tooling for the lathe and mill, and a seemingly endless list of specialized - and expensive - gunsmithing tools. A skilled machinist (which you should be if you've followed my advice) can make many of them, but there are many more that really need to be purchased. That runs into money!

How much money depends on what you plan to do and how good you are at bargain hunting, but you're unlikely to get in for less than $20,000 unless you run into a string of screaming good deals. (That’s on top of your schooling, of course.) I’ve heard from a couple of gunsmiths who’ve done it recently, and they tell me that two or three times that figure may be more realistic if you’re buying mostly new tools. What you specialize in will have a dramatic effect on your investment.

You'll need to have the resources to make that level of financial commitment, plus the additional resources to weather the inevitable startup phase. Plan on being without a solid income for at least a year as you build your business. Every truly capable gunsmith I've met has done it in a matter of months, but that's not a guarantee that you can or that your market can support such growth. Plan for the worst, and if it doesn't happen so much the better!

Finally, you'll find lots of failed "gunsmiths" in the internet forums who will be glad to tell you how hard the gunsmithing trade is: how expensive it is to get started, how you can't make a living at it, and so on. Keep in mind that you won't find too many successful gunsmiths hanging around those places, because we're frankly too busy to bother!

Yes, it's a tough business. Guess what? All businesses are tough. I've owned a number of business concerns in my life, and helped start several others, and none of them were easy. Gunsmithing is no different. Don't listen to the naysayers who got in thinking it would be a sure thing, who thought that they could succeed despite being ignorant and obnoxious. If you have the skills and the business acumen, if you like dealing with people, and finally if you like guns and shooting, you can be a successful gunsmith. All it takes is hard work!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Colored by a point of view.

In 1935, a fellow by the name of
Roy Stryker went to work for the federal government. Specifically, he took over the job of managing the Historical Section of Roosevelt's Resettlement Administration. Almost immediately the organization morphed into the Farm Security Administration, and his section became the Information Division.

Without putting too fine a point on it, Stryker's job was propaganda - to give the Administration what they needed to justify spending money that they didn't have. To further this aim, he came up with an idea: he'd send out a bunch of photographers to make pictures that would both tug at America’s heartstrings and provide support for Roosevelt's policies. He gathered a bunch of talented people from varied backgrounds - writers, painters, and budding photographers - and sent them over the country to make pictures.

While we can certainly debate the means of the program, the ends were spectacular. Stryker's team shot over 164,000 pictures, producing hundreds of iconic images and launching the careers of many talented photographers. So good was the group that they would later be transferred to the Office of War Information to document the country’s entry into World War II, though their tenure would last only a year.

Of those hundreds of thousands of images they shot, only 644 were in color. Color film was quite expensive, even for the government's pockets, but more importantly couldn't be reproduced in the newspapers of the day. Its use was therefore quite limited, and the photos somewhat rare.

Here are 70 of those 644, including some from a couple of my favorite FSA photographers: Jack Delano and Alfred Palmer.

(What happened to Stryker? In 1943 he went to work for Standard Oil, who foresaw the need to polish their own public image. Several of the FSA photographers, now unemployed after the OWI cut them loose, went to work to make Standard look good. They succeeded, and the Standard Oil photographs of that period still stand as supreme examples of industrial photography. It’s too bad that Stryker died in 1975 - I’m sure BP could use his services right about now.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Dealing with revolver malfunctions.

My latest article for the Personal Defense Network has just been posted! This time I detail a malfunction drill for the revolver.

It's fair to say that severe malfunctions with a revolver are much less common than with autoloaders. Balancing that out is that fact that the malfunctions that can occur are often more serious, in that they can tie up the gun enough to make it non-functional for the duration.

In this new article I present a non-diagnostic drill that will clear the vast majority of the likely revolver malfunctions as efficiently as possible.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

In the
Friday Surprise for the 6th, there were two bonus questions. A couple of people came close, but didn't get all the details. The Leopolds referred to in the title were Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, friends who happened to be professional musicians and amateur photo chemists. Their work in color film led directly to the invention of Kodachrome. The connection with Rhapsody in Blue? The song's composer, George Gershwin, had a sister named Frances - who was married to Godowsky.


It seems odd to me, but I get lots of inquiries about where to buy targets. My favorite source is
Law Enforcement Targets, which carries a huge line of paper and cardboard products. For defensive and "tactical" training, their stuff is the best. My other source, which carries more traditional targets (NRA, IPSC, and IDPA) is Alco Target Company. I've done business with both for years, and have never had a reason to complain.


I've mentioned this before, but do check out the forums over at the
Personal Defense Network. There are some great discussions there, and the only thing missing is YOU!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: It's fair to say.

I grew up a small-town farm kid, the son of parents who themselves had grown up on farms, and the major thrill of my summer vacation was always fair season.

Our county fair would come first, followed by the "big one" - the Oregon State Fair. (All the counties were pretty much the same, except
Harney County. Their fair inexplicably occurred after the state fair. Always has, as far back as I can remember, and they're awfully proud of that.)

The county fair was a place where citizens could gather, interact, watch the local talent perform, and show off their produce and handiwork. It combined socialization and competition, along with some entertainment, and was a vital component of farm and ranch life in the 19th and well into the 20th century.

People from all corners of the county would bring their livestock, produce, and the things they made to display and compare to the same from others. Those items found superior would win their owners/creators a ribbon and a year's worth of bragging rights, while those that didn’t make the grade would cause a stern resolve to win next year. It was always friendly competition, but there was definitely an undercurrent of antagonism when it came time to judge the pies and preserves!

What I remember most from my childhood were the tractor displays. The various agricultural equipment dealers would bring a large selection of the newest tractors and implements, while the local farmers would bring in their oldest equipment for a taste of the "good ol' days." For me, if there aren't tractors it just ain't a fair.

Today county fairs have become caricatures of their former selves, many looking like a cross between Cirque de Soleil and a college dorm beer bust. Our modern State Fair? Well, the less said about that the better; the last time I went it was nearly unrecognizable, and I haven’t been back.

The rural county fairs, thankfully, have managed to hold on to their noble ancestry better than those closer to the metropolitan areas. In the outlying fairgrounds you can still get a taste of what a county fair should be.

I plan to do just that this weekend. While folks in the cities mock the "rednecks" of this country, I'll be celebrating the worth and dignity of those who produce the food that fills bigoted stomachs.

Another of life’s little ironies.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Why I continually caution about off-body carry.

I’m busy as can be today, so I’m going to pull an
Uncle and tell you to go read this.

-=[ Grant ]=-

So, Grant, have you joined the Dark Side?

I get emails. Crazy, some of them. (Not that I'm pointing any fingers, but watch out for pharmacists.) After I said something nice about the
Steyr autopistols, some assumed that I'd somehow lost my bearings or that I’d been abducted and replaced by a lookalike with absolutely no taste in firearms.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As I've said more than once, I've been known to carry a high-capacity autoloader when the circumstances warranted doing so. I started my odyssey in defensive handgunning with an autoloader, and for many years competed with single-action autos. They are tools, just as the revolver is, that have their own set of attributes that are different from those of the wheelgun. A well-rounded shooter should be familiar with both.

It's worth revisiting that great scene from Quigley Down Under:

So, what autoloaders do I like?

Efficient, reliable, accurate - those are the things I look for in an auto. The Steyr impressed me because it possessed those attributes in a decidedly different shape, and threw in an advantage or two of its own. It owes its existence, though, to the phenomenal success of another Austrian import.

Someone once told me that one of his instructors said that all defensive handguns should be Glocks, and all Glocks should be Model 19s. I won't go quite that far, but the 19 is a superb choice. If you catch me with an auto on my belt, that's probably what it's going to be. It’s hard to imagine a better choice for the job of protecting life and limb, and I trust the Glock beyond any auto I’ve ever used.

It’s worth noting that the Glock isn’t the first autoloader I’ve ever used; I’ve carried and competed with a bunch of different autos over the years, and some are more memorable than others.

I have a soft spot in my hear for the HK P7, though it's awfully heavy for a low-capacity autoloader. It also gets unbearably hot after a few magazines have been fired, has a horrendously heavy recoil spring in the slide, and the version with the thumb-operated magazine release has a disturbing tendency to drop said magazine at inopportune times. On the plus side they have beautiful triggers, are phenomenally accurate, and the low bore axis (combined with the aforementioned weight) make for very pleasant shooting. I carried one for many years, but have long since moved on to more practical armament.

As I said, I competed for many years with cocked-and-locked autos. Of course I went through the obligatory 1911 phase, but mine was less protracted than most. My father, a WWII Army Air Forces vet, used to complain about the 1911: "you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with one of the things, but that's OK because they didn't work half the time!" That didn't stop me from lusting after one, but the affair was short-lived. Perhaps Dad had an influence on me after all!

After that I did the Browning/Saive Hi-Power thing but settled on the CZ-75 pattern for competition. My favorite incarnation was the 5" Magnum Research Baby Eagle, aka the IMI Jericho. It was, in my experience, the most reliable CZ clone as well as being the most comfortable to use. (I remember trading my last one for a S&W 625, which I later sold.)

Today, though, it's Glock all the way. They are a superb defensive tool for those times when a revolver isn't suitable.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The Leopolds have left the building.

Last year we learned that
the last roll of Kodachrome film had been produced at Eastman Kodak. This month, the Wichita Eagle informs us that final roll has been processed.

The roll was shot by photojournalist Steve McCurry, and the images on it range from New York to India to Parsons, Kansas - where the last Kodachrome processing line is located. It, too, will be going the way of the dinosaur this December, when the equipment will be shut down for good.

Bonus points: can you decipher the meaning of my title? Extra bonus points if you can do so without a search engine; super extra bonus points if you can tell me how 'Rhapsody in Blue' is related to Kodachrome.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Steyr rides again.

A few years back Steyr Mannlicher USA imported a batch of their M9 and S9 pistols. They were polymer framed, striker fired guns of the type popularized by their fellow Austrians at Glock, but that's as far as the similarities went.

The Steyr guns featured a steeper grip angle, more ergonomically sculpted grips, a lower bore axis, and better triggers. Like all Steyr products, they were superbly constructed of quality materials.

Sadly they've been unavailable in this country for a few years, the high cost of quality Austrian workmanship and the unfavorable exchange rates having combined to make them uncompetitive in the marketplace. Things have stabilized a bit and once again Steyr USA is importing the MA-1 and SA-1, which are the second generation versions of the original M9 and S9.

My wife routinely carries an S9, which is the compact version, and is very happy with the gun. It's proven to be reliable, accurate and a pleasure to shoot. The trapezoidal sights take some getting used to, but work well for their intended purpose. The original guns were criticized for the smoothness of their grips, which the second generation have changed to be "grippier."

Why am I writing about a plastic autoloader? Because it's a gun I believe deserves wider recognition for its unique attributes.
Available in both 9mm and .40 S&W at an MSRP of $649.

Thanks to
The Firearm Blog for alerting me!

-=[ Grant ]=-

In Oregon, we're used to rust.

That doesn’t mean that we like it, however!

A recent email from a reader asked about protecting guns from rust in long-term storage. There are many approaches to the problem, most of them involving some type of coating or oil.

I prefer wrapping the piece in a Volatile Corrosion Inhibitor (VCI) paper. VCI paper is coated with chemicals that vaporize to provide a protection layer against moisture and rust. Properly used in a sealed container (like a Zip-Loc bag), it can provide years of complete protection.

You can get it in sheets from Brownell's.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: "Your hand is staining my window."

Very busy this week, and I had a couple of articles I wanted to write but just didn't have the time. So today I'm just going to link to a site featuring images of abandoned hospitals and asylums across the country.

Creepy stuff.

(Bonus points for the person who can identify the quote in the title line without Googling it.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Reloaders take note.

Some time back I got an email from a fellow named Gavin who was thinking about starting up a reloading blog. I think I linked to it when he was just getting started, but In the intervening year or so he's really expanded his site.

Gavin's posted lots of instruction videos on various presses and equipment, including one on a product I'm considering: the
Hornady Case Prep Center. I was happy to see that, because I had some questions about its operation and construction. The excellent video he made answered my questions.

He's serious about his project: note the picture of his reloading bench, where he has a
lineup of all the 5-station progressive presses made!

(Holy cow. Look how clean and neat everything is. Not only am I jealous, I'm also embarrassed - my reloading bench bears no resemblance to the surgically clean facility he has. Mine is more akin to a junkyard that's really let itself go.)

Check it out:

-=[ Grant ]=-

Spring forward.

In the past I've mentioned that I don't spend much time on the various gun forums ('fora', to be excruciatingly correct.) My free time is too precious to spend wading through such drivel as "my instructor can beat up your instructor" or "the .45 is so powerful it knocks people off their feet!" The only time, in fact, that I look at a forum is when I'm eating breakfast or lunch and have nothing better to read.

It was at lunch last week that I came across one of my personal favorites: the statement that stacking (increase in trigger pressure toward the end of the stroke) is a function of the mainspring used. It's usually stated in the form "don't buy a revolver with coil springs - it causes stacking. Buy leaf spring actions to avoid stacking."

Hogwash, and what's more it's easily illustrated to be such.

S&W revolvers, particularly the 'N' frames, are known for having pretty linear trigger pulls. They use leaf springs. Colt revolvers such as the Python and Detective Special use leaf springs as well, yet are (in)famous for their stacking triggers.

On the other hand, the GP100 has a relatively linear trigger, similar in travel to an 'N' frame Smith. It uses a coil spring. Wait a minute, though - the earlier Ruger "Six" series (Speed-Six, Service-Six, etc.), despite having a very similar action design, stack noticeably.

What gives?

Simple. The type of spring, coil or leaf, has very little to do with the amount of stacking in a trigger. The real culprit is the geometry of the double action sear. The stacking on a Python, for instance, can be eliminated by changing the geometry of the sear surfaces. The Ruger "Sixes" can likewise be modified to produce a linear pull through the simple expedient of reshaping certain parts of the sear. If stacking were caused by the spring alone, this kind of modification wouldn’t be possible.

Of course this doesn't address the implicit assertion that stacking is bad and linear is good. Some folks prefer their triggers to stack and seek out those guns that do. The one thing they don't have to consider is the type of spring!

-=[ Grant ]=-


My Father was a child of the Great Depression, as well as being a farm boy. He learned early on how to make a penny squeak, which unfortunately meant that he was always looking for the cheapest way to do anything. This trait was passed down to me, but I've learned something: there is a big difference between being frugal and being cheap. Frugality means looking for the best value, not the lowest price.

Buying cheap tools, for instance, is actually the antithesis of being frugal. If it's something that will be used frequently, the lack of quality that almost always accompanies a small price tag is reflected in durability. A cheap tool will be replaced more often, and will also frequently produce poorer results with more frustration.

Spending some money up front to buy a good tool is almost always repaid in faster, easier, better work. It also costs less in the long run, as you don't have to replace it on a regular basis.

It took me a long time to acknowledge this reality of the universe, and though sometimes I veer from this truth I do my best to return. I also preach it to my wife, whose parents were also products of the Depression with the same habits as my Father.

Yes, there is a point to this story!

My wife was complaining about her garden hoe recently (we have a large garden and she makes extensive use of things like hoes.) It wouldn't hold an edge, and was starting to crack where it was spot-welded to the pathetically undersized neck that went into the handle. She needed a new one, and on a visit to the local home improvement store she did some shopping.

Most of the garden tools were made in China and were no better than the one she'd already tried. She looked at some made in USA examples from a well-known brand, but they weren't of significantly higher quality - certainly not enough to make up for their higher price. Maybe the local hardware store would have something better?

Nope. If anything, they were worse (if made in China tools could get worse!)

When we got home I did a little poking around, and found
a company in Missouri called Rogue Hoe. They make a HUGE variety of hoes, all crafted from discarded disc blades. Discs are made of top quality tempered steel, and Rogue cuts them into the proper shapes, solidly attaches them to quality handles, then sharpens them to a knife-like edge. My wife was very excited about their product range, and ordered a few to try out.

Rogue hoes are in a different league than those we saw in the stores. They're built hell-for-stout, with blades that are three times the thickness of your average hardware store variety. The designs are obviously the work of people who actually use these things on a daily basis, because they function well. They come super sharp and stand up to abrasive and rocky soils like nothing we've ever used.

These are tools for hard work, not ornaments to hang in a shed and admire.

Amazingly, the prices aren't much more than the lesser "made in USA" stuff we found in the store. They ship promptly, and I doubt there's a hoe you can't find in their vast selection.

My wife is already planning her hoe purchases for next year!

-=[ Grant ]=-

I’m busy right now, and it's my own fault.

I have a bad habit of picking something up, walking around with it, then putting it down in an inconspicuous place and forgetting about it. Causes no end of problems around my house!

For instance, yesterday I was working on someone’s S&W. I picked up a tool, then remembered something I needed at the other end of the shop. Instead of putting this tool down on my bench - which is where it came from - I carried it with me. Somewhere between my bench and my destination I managed to lose the thing!

It’s in there, somewhere, but after an hour-and-a-half of searching yesterday I still hadn’t found it. Today I’m going to tidy up the shop (a task I’m not at all fond of) and see if that doesn’t turn it up. If not, I’ll have to get another one.

This is why I have two of everything. I only know where one is at any given time, however.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The S&W lock issue just won't go away.

Several people emailed me about
The Firearm Blog's picture of Jerry Miculek's 627PC. It would appear that his gun has had the locking mechanism disabled, leading to much renewed discussion about the incidence of accidental lock activation.

When the locks first came out there were a few reported cases of locks self-engaging. The wisdom of the internet held that the locks were just fine, that S&W would never knowingly introduce something that would put people at risk, that the reports were fabricated, and so on.

As time wore on it became apparent that the issue was real, but seemed to mostly happen with lightweight guns shooting heavy recoiling loads. Then I started getting reports of lightweight guns shooting normal loads experiencing the problem, followed by the "big boomers" and hunting loads. Most recently I've heard first-person accounts of steel guns (all J-frames, so far) shooting sane cartridges having their locks self-engage.

I've collected enough of these accounts over the last several years that I simply won't carry a S&W with a lock. The incidents are numerous enough, and the consequences dire enough, that I simply don't trust the mechanism. I recommend that all my clients seriously consider carrying a non-lock gun; if you tuned in last week you found that my usual carry revolver was a Ruger, partly because they don’t have such a mechanism.

(Just for the record: I have no financial stake in this debate, as liability issues demand that I do not deactivate a safety device - no matter how questionable - from a gun. I'm not making any money by suggesting that you carry a S&W sans lock.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: I want, I want, I want!

I mentioned that last weekend I was on the range for a defensive rifle class. The range is not too far from a small airport, and it's common to see all kinds of interesting aircraft fly overhead.

The students were preparing to shoot another drill when an
autogyro passed overhead. I had to stop and watch it disappear behind the hills, because as a kid I was entranced by this movie:

Ever since then I've wanted an autogyro. It's not practical, but neither are 1911 pistols (that one's for you, Tommy.) I'm not sure what attracts me to the little machines, other than they're cheaper than a real aircraft and a lot more maneuverable than your average ultralight.

I also know that it wouldn't make me as debonaire as James Bond, but I could use all the help I can get!

-=[ Grant ]=-

What's in YOUR holster?

I get many emails asking what I carry on a daily basis. While my choices are mine alone, and aren't meant to be prescriptive for you, why I choose certain items may be of some help to you.

As most probably already know (or, from the picture above, have managed to guess) I generally carry a revolver. Not 100% of the time, mind you; there are instances when I carry an autoloader, and have done so for many years. A careful analysis of the likely risk of the environment determines what type of handgun I carry. Most of the time the risk profile favors the revolver, so that's what I carry. When I do carry an auto, it's virtually always a Glock 19.

Over the years I've carried many different revolvers. My favorite remains the Colt Detective Special for its combination of size and capacity. As I've lamented many times, it's a shame that the ultra compact 6-shot revolver is now a thing of the past. There is nothing on the market which has that combination of attributes.

I still occasionally carry a Colt, and sometimes I'll be found toting a S&W Model 42 or 642. The lightweight 5-shooters are great for pocket carry, and though I have belt holsters I rarely carry them that way. One of my favorite carry methods is a "belly band" holster worn so that the gun is under the armpit - much like a shoulder holster. With a dress shirt and tie on it is completely concealed.

Those are the exceptions, however. The majority of the time you'll find me carrying a Ruger SP101 or GP100 in a belt holster. The reason is simple: the Ruger guns simply have fewer failure points than any other revolver. There are no screws to back out, no extractor rods to come loose, they rarely develop timing problems, and firing pin breakages are virtually unknown. (I LocTite all screws and extractor rods on all revolvers as a general procedure, but sometimes even that doesn't work.) WIth a bit of work the Ruger's triggers are as good as can be found anywhere, and their reputation for strength is unmatched. The guns simply run, and in my mind that's A Good Thing.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Yet another reason I don't watch reality TV.

I spent this weekend assisting at a defensive rifle class with Georges Rahbani, and sometime during the weekend thought of a great article for today.

Then I forgot what it was.

My usual habit is to carry, in the left pocket of my shirt, a small pad and a mechanical pencil. When I have an idea I jot it down, thus preserving it for a time when I can make use of it. That's assuming, of course, that I remember to look at the thing!

The weather was pretty warm this weekend (about 90 degrees) and we were in the sun for most of the two days. I'd shed my normal pocketed button-front shirt for a more comfortable short sleeved Henley. My pad and pencil, of course, was in the regular shirt and when the aforementioned great idea struck, I was without a means to record it. Thus this morning's rambling version of "my dog ate my homework!"

Luckily Chris over at
The Anarchangel posted something worthy of commentary. Go read it, then come back for a little discussion.

I tuned in for the first episode of Top Shot, recognized it as yet another overblown social manipulation festival common to reality television, and promptly turned it off. My spare time is quite limited and I have to make hard decisions about what I do with it. Even with guns and shooting Top Shot didn't make my cut, so I didn't know what transpired until Chris filled me in.

Those who live in landlocked states probably have no concept of just what the United States Coast Guard does. Here in Oregon, where Coast Guard helicopters and rescue crews are a common sight, we have a deep appreciation for the sacrifices those men and women make. Despite being ridiculed (or even worse, ignored) they go out and do their job to the best of their ability every day of the week.

Those in the other services are only in danger when they've been activated and deployed, and their tours of deployment are limited in duration (a good thing, do not misunderstand.) The USCG is always on deployment, whether doing rescue work, interdicting smugglers, or protecting our Navy's operations in foreign ports. (That's right - when the U.S. Navy needs help, they call the Coast Guard!) When I was growing up it was widely said that you were more likely to be killed in the Coast Guard in peacetime than in the infantry during wartime. While that may not be literally true, it serves to illustrate the tough job USCG does.

Much of that is because the nature of their missions requires them to always be in harm's way. One of their primary duties is to protect lives in America's waters, and here in Oregon they do so constantly. The USCG's rescue swimmers and helicopter pilots are the best that can be found; until you've witnessed a Dolphin SAR helicopter hovering nearly motionless just feet away from a cliff face, in high winds and torrential rain, you have little appreciation for the skill of those crews. I don't know where one goes to recruit such people, but they must have ice water injected into their veins upon enlistment. They are amazing to watch, and when they appear on scene there is a very strong feeling of relief - even if you're not the subject of their attention.

So, to Caleb and all the other past and present members of the United States Coast Guard, and especially to those stationed here in Oregon, thank you. We appreciate your service, your sacrifice, and above all your professionalism.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Admit it - you've wondered about this too.

In 1791, the French Assembly decided that the purpose of capital punishment was to end a miscreant's life, not to cause him unbearable pain. A committee was formed for the purpose of devising a pain-free method of execution that was suitable for both upper and lower class undesirables. How egalitarian of them!

One of the committee members was a Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. While he was opposed to the death penalty, he believed that making it more humane would lead to its abolition. (The logic behind this escapes me, but apparently doctors often have this failing: one Dr. Richard J. Gatling, inventor of the gun that bears his name, believed that the creation of a terrible weapon would inspire people to no longer entertain the idea of war. Didn't work for him, either.)

The French committee eventually came up with a beheading machine, and because of the good doctor's promotion of the new "humane" method his name was associated forever with the contraption.

But just how humane is the guillotine?
This article at Damn Interesting raises all kinds of questions about just what happens at the instant one's head is separated from its support mechanisms. Personally, I hope to never find out!

-=[ Grant ]=-

What happens after the shooting?

It's easy to get preoccupied with in the shooting part of self defense preparations. Let's face it: shooting is fun!

If you take self defense seriously, however, at some point you have to ask about the "after part" - what happens after you've discharged your gun at an assailant. This is an area that is infrequently covered, or simply covered in misinformation.

Marty Hayes wants to change that.

Marty is the President of the
Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, which has just released his booklet titled "What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self Defense Law".

It's a very readable introduction to the considerations which should be made before you're involved in a self-defense shooting. It lays out, it easy to understand language, the legal ramifications of the use of deadly force and how to best prepare to navigate the legal system.

Marty has spent years studying the topic, first as a police officer, then a shooting instructor, and now as the possessor of a degree in law. Marty is in the unique position of knowing not just the theoretical application of the law, but how it it plays out in real life.

He told me that he wrote the 16-page booklet to counter "the oft times incredibly bad advice" that abounds in gunshops and on the internet. His goal is to "change the paradigm in which people receive their training in deadly force for self defense." It's a tall order, but this is a great start! It lays out a superb introduction to the legal realities of self defense. It's factual information that every gun owner needs to read.

You can
download your own free copy from the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. Just click on the image of the booklet and it will download as a PDF file. Print it out, read it, keep it handy.

I'll be giving a copy to everyone I know and everyone I teach. You should too.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Coolest video you'll see today.

Tam alerted me to this video which she found at New Jovian any case, it's great. I've seen big-budget Hollywood productions that weren't as realistic, even with a liberal charge account at the local prop gun emporium.

Good job CBE FIlms!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The lady in the lake.

Ronald Reagan was halfway through his first term as President when I took my first trip east of the Rockies. It was also my first trip via airliner, and though I'd flown quite a bit in small aircraft the view from 30,000+ feet was new to me. I was heading to Rochester, NY. Traveling from Portland to Rochester on Delta Airlines entailed a stop in Detroit, which also meant a trip over Lake Michigan.

If you've followed the story so far you'll deduce that I'd never seen any of the Great Lakes. Oh, I knew all about them; I'd studied geography in school. I knew that they were actually inland seas, that they had their own weather, that they were the largest group of freshwater bodies on earth. What I didn't know, or more correctly didn't fathom, was just how big they were.

As the plane crossed Lake Michigan I was struck by the fact that all I could see was water. I finally grasped the reality of the Great Lakes, and the stories I'd read about shipwrecks and lost souls suddenly became understandable. In that vast expanse of water, some of it nearly a thousand feet thick, it would be very easy to lose a vessel in one of the lake's infamous storms.

In 1898, that's what happened to the steamship L.R. Doty. She was carrying a load of corn destined for Ontario when a powerful storm armed with thirty-foot waves sent her to the lake floor. The 320 feet of cold, salt-free water that sat on top of her preserved her remains in almost perfect condition.

Those remains were just recently found, 112 years after her final trip.
Great story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; be sure to check out the photo gallery of the wreck.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Shameless plug for a great show.

The new season of
SWAT Magazine TV starts tonight - 8:00 Eastern time, on the Outdoor Channel!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Mil-dots. iPhones. It had to happen.

The Firearm Blog comes news about a new iPhone/iPod Touch app called Mil-Dot Rangefinder which claims to "take the math out of ranging targets.” Intriguing idea.

Sadly I have no mil-dot scopes in my inventory; several scopes with rangefinding reticles, but no mil-dots. This app is therefore useless for me, but looks pretty neat and will probably be of great value to those who do have appropriate optics.

I must admit that I feel my inner Luddite surfacing when considering things such as these. A huge benefit of the mil-dot is to allow rangefinding in the scope, without having to use externally powered systems or devices. Will the shooter become as familiar with his equipment as his technologically backward counterpart? What happens if he leaves his iPhone at home, or if the battery dies?

Not that I'm throwing stones, as my glass house (well, glass-faced iPhone anyhow) contains the superb
Ballistic FTE. I love that app, though it has come at the expense of memorizing my rifle's drop table at various distances. In the old days, which is now a scant five years ago, I'd tape the drop table to the stock for quick reference. Ballistic FTE has made me lazy, and I don't even have a table made for a couple of my rifles - let alone having one taped to their stocks. What happens if I leave my iPhone at home, or if the battery goes dead?

Miss, I suppose. My inner Luddite is laughing at me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Instructions without instruction.

Shooting Illustrated recently
posted an article about how to shoot a snub-nose revolver. I’ve generally found that shooting a snubby is exactly like shooting any other double action revolver, save for the shorter sight radius, but apparently I’m now in the minority. (That, or I just don’t know how to sell articles and classes effectively.)

The author suggests dry firing for 20 days as a good way to learn trigger control. Unfortunately, he never tells you just how to achieve said control, let alone what it is, asserting that dry fire will magically take care of those little details. You should already know
my feelings on this subject.

May I humbly suggest that you
read this article over at the Personal Defense Network instead? I think you’ll find it far more useful.

Now, about that "hip shooting" nonsense...

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Cameras I Have Known - the Pentax KX.

I'm fickle, in that my favorite things change frequently depending on what's in my hands at the moment. "This my favorite! No, THAT'S my favorite! Wait - that one is REALLY my favorite!" Fountain pens, .22 rifles, hats, revolvers (of course), and cameras.

Especially cameras. It's hard to pick just one.

What I do know is that I've shot more frames through one model than any other, by a wide margin: the Pentax KX. I'm not talking about the modern digital incarnation, but the original, all metal, mechanical, manually operated film camera. It was, to my mind, one of the best products ever to come from Asahi Optical and one of the best 35mm SLRs that I ever used.

Images courtesy of Turbof (

The KX is one of those machines that turned out to be a lot more than the manufacturer probably intended. Introduced in the mid-70s, during a time when many other legendary cameras were being manufactured, the KX proved to be a worthy "semi professional" camera of great durability and superb image quality. It was competitive with and contemporary to the Canon FTb, the Nikon Nikkormats, and the upper portion of the Minolta SR-T series.

The KX was a medium sized camera, and its features were common for the day: depth-of-field preview, mirror lock-up, 1/1000 second shutter, aperture display in viewfinder. What set it apart were a couple of things that its competitors didn't have: shutter speeds displayed in the viewfinder and a new, sensitive but linear silicon blue meter cell.

The only camera that really compared to the KX was the Nikon FM, introduced at the end of the KX model run. It was as if Nikon had taken direct aim at the KX, for their new model had features to rival the Pentax veteran (except, surprisingly, the mirror lockup.) The only advantage the new Nikon had was the MD-11 (later MD-12) motor drive. Even with that they were behind the curve, as Pentax had made a special edition of the KX that took a drive as well: the rare KX-Motor body.

Images courtesy of Turbof (

The KX-Motor was exactly like the plain versions, with the addition of the mechanics and circuitry necessary to run a slightly modified version of the attachable motor from the Spotmatic MD model dubbed the Motordrive II. There was no external indication, other than the baseplate, which indicated that this was a special-order-only camera. Since the entire KX model line was only made for three years, that makes KX-Motor one of the rarer Pentax products.

I owned a number of KX cameras, and was fortunate to count two KX-Motor bodies among them. At the time I knew they were uncommon but only now realize how rare they actually were!

KX bodies came in both chrome and black finishes. The black bodies were enamel over brass, which was the common construction method of the time. I once stripped the worn enamel off the brass pieces of one of the bodies, polished them until they were mirror bright, then applied clear lacquer to keep tarnish away. The result was stunning and I became known as "the guy with the gold camera." I later sold that body to a friend to fund my move to Olympus OM equipment...a story unto itself.

In use the KX proved to be a true photographer's tool. Controls fell perfectly to hand, everything worked smoothly, and the silicon blue meter was accurate down to ridiculously low light levels. Of course the quality of Pentax lenses was never in doubt, and the images produced by the combination of body and optics were always superb.

None of that would mean much if the camera didn't hold up. I admit to being rough on gear, to the point that the guy who repaired my cameras regaled his customers with stories about damage sustained by my cameras in various mishaps. Twenty years later he’s probably still telling them!

The KX was incredibly rugged even in my hands, and it's one of the very few cameras that I was never able to break to the point that it wouldn't function. I've broken many others, but despite the heavy use to which I put them never had a KX fail. (Wish I could say the same for Pentax's "pro" camera, the LX.)

KX bodies accompanied me on both personal and professional assignments, from standing in the middle of rivers to crawling around the dirty confines of a foundary and everything in between. I knew that I could always rely on them to bring back the images I needed. They weren't the flashiest or most impressive bodies (save for my special gold model), but they always delivered top notch pictures.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The worst part of my job.

Do you have a recurring task that you put off because it's just so...annoying? For many people paying bills falls under that classification; for others, doing the dishes. In my job, it's tracking down parts.

If I'm working on a gun of recent manufacture, it's just a matter of popping onto the website of one of the parts houses and ordering up as many as I need. For guns that are out of production, or are of a vintage when the parts were of a different configuration, I have to hunt them down. With Colts everything is discontinued, and the very small number of used parts that are available are hard to find and are often not serviceable. I have to hunt those parts down.

I hate parts hunting.

Hunting takes up a lot of time, especially because many of the better parts houses don't have their inventories online. I have to call them up, in some cases multiple times because their phones are always busy, ask for the part, wait for them to check if they have the right one, and if they don't I have to repeat the procedure with the next company.

It chews up a lot of time, time which I'd rather spend working. It's also often unproductive, so I end up making the same calls for the same parts over and over. Is it any wonder I put it off?

Today is parts hunting day, which I've been putting off for several weeks. Now I have even more parts to hunt down, which makes it worse!

Wish me luck. Not in terms of finding parts, but that I don't go stark raving mad in the process!

-=[ Grant ]=-

This has "bad idea" written all over it.

I got an email last week from a client whose relative was concerned that his new Glock "didn't have a safety." To remedy this perceived fault,
he's considering buying one of these.

So, let me make sure I understand the concept: a safety device that forces you to mess with the trigger in order to either put it on safe or take it off safe. What could possibly go wrong?

(Bonus question: how do you take the safety off if you're suddenly forced to use your weak hand?)

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Is it possible to stamp out philately?

When I was a kid my older sister, through the act of renting an apartment, made the acquaintance of a nice elderly couple. Mr. and Mrs. D had no children of their own and quickly adopted my sister (and the rest of our family) as surrogate offspring. They were what was known as "old money", but were devoid of pretension despite their wealth. It was always a treat to drive into the city to visit them.

Mr. D was an avid stamp collector. I'd never even known a stamp collector, and Mr. D was quite persuasive in his belief that it was the perfect hobby for a young boy. He gave me a number of books about stamp collecting, several large stamp catalogues, a couple of albums and a smattering of stamps to get me started.

I dutifully pasted my stamps into their albums, and for a short while made an effort to search through the letters in our attic for hidden gems. Adolescence eventually put an end to my collecting activities, though I must confess a certain lack of interest in the whole affair to begin with.

Perhaps if I'd found
really interesting stamps like these I wouldn't have given the hobby up!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Worthy of your time (and sometimes money.)

Though I’ve made reference to each of these in the past, it’s about time I actually plugged some of the people & organizations that have value to those interested in defense of themselves or their loved ones.

U.S. Concealed Carry Association's purpose is to educate responsible armed citizens. Members have access to their full website, online forums and one of the best "gun" magazines published today. If I were forced to recommend a single resource for the person who carries a gun for self defense, it would be the USCCA. (Disclaimer: I do write an occasional article for their magazine. Since it's only available with membership, you can't read them if you're not a member!)

Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network started a couple of years ago as a sort of "union" for gun owners. I've heard of many a self defense shooting in which the defendant was facing huge legal issues, and often wondered how they were going to get through the legal process and put their life back together. You've probably seen such cases in the online forums, accompanied by requests to donate to some legal defense fund. The ACLDN serves to pool member's strength to protect one another when one of them comes under scrutiny of the legal system. It's a unique organization, providing a unique service worthy of your consideration.

Personal Defense Network aims to be the premier source of self-defense videos and articles on the 'net. Less than a year old, PDN is growing rapidly and already has a lot of great content available. The forums are dedicated to self defense issues, keeping the clutter to a minimum. (Disclaimer: I also write articles for PDN.)

ProArms Podcast continues to have some of the very best in-depth interviews with people in the shooting world, usually focusing on self defense and training issues. If you missed their recent interview with Chicago cop Bob Stasch, a veteran of 14 gunfights, go listen. Now. It may be one of the best they’ve done.

It seems that every time I turn around I’m recommending Kathy Jackson’s website
The Cornered Cat. It deals exclusively with women, guns and self defense, and is the very best resource on the ‘net for women who have chosen to arm themselves. I’m not exaggerating when I say “the very best” - there is no other site I’ve seen which even comes close to Kathy’s creation. If you know a woman who is interested in self defense or in firearms in general, but is a bit apprehensive and doesn’t know where to go to find other women with the same interests and concerns, send her to Kathy.

Finally, my interest in shooting and self defense has allowed me to meet some of the best (and most interesting) people. One of them is trainer
Robb Hamic, who writes an interesting blog dealing with a wide range of self defense issues. In a recent post he had this gem, one I think that everyone with an interest in self-defense should take to heart:

“I walk around with a smile and I try to be happy but if someone crosses my path that wants to do me, my family or a person that I choose to protect harm; I will do whatever is necessary to keep us safe, based on my perception of danger. Up to and including taking another person(s) life. If it is the only option, I will exchange my life for my wife or children’s life. If I have to fight, I will use every once of aggression, decisiveness and intelligence in my body to overwhelm my attacker(s). ”

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday update.

I'm recovering from a BUSY weekend.

On Friday and Saturday I did my annual duty at a local high school's all-night graduation party. For several years I've volunteered as part of their security detail, making sure the kids stay safe from both internal and external threats. (This, despite having no children of my own! How did I get talked into this?) It starts every year at about 10:pm and goes until breakfast the next morning.

I usually get a long nap Friday afternoon before the event, but this year I couldn't do it. Not in the sense that I didn't have time, but because I just couldn't fall asleep in the middle of the day! The net result is that I ended up going 24+ hours without sleep, and I'm just not used to that kind of thing! After it was over I crawled into bed and dropped right off to sleep. Saturday was essentially toast.

Sunday I worked my way up to The English Pit range in Vancouver USA to help out at a Combat Focus Shooting/Advanced Pistol Handling class with Rob Pincus. Jeff Varner, one of my fellow Combat Focus instructors, hosted the course at what is his home range. Great class.

After class Randy, the club's owner, brought out his Mateba Unica 6. Rob thought the Unica to be mythical, but here is a picture of him shooting the .44 Magnum beast as Randy looks on in amusement:

(I have another pic of Rob which is far more embarrassing. I'm keeping that one in my files as "insurance"!)

Non-related note: the best arrangement of the tune "It Might As Well Be Spring" is on the 1961 Stan Kenton "Adventures in Jazz" album. I don't have the liner notes handy, but I believe it's a Gene Roland arrangement.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A tangled web we weave.

Listening to Steve Denney talk about this blog (commentary at the beginning of the
ProArms interview) reminded me that the Friday Surprise! has become somewhat less surprising of late. These off-topic epistles have started to be a bit predictable, and I feel the need to bring something new to the table.

Steve, this is for you!

On many of my bags and packs I have zipper pulls that I've made from paracord - that strong, cheap material often referred to by the name '550 cord'. I've got several favorite patterns, but
the square weave is a staple. It's easy to do, and once you have it mastered you can make variations with different colors, or even a spiral version that finishes with a rounder cross section.

These can also be used as lanyards for small flashlights, pocket knives and other such objects. I won't use the cliche "limited only by your imagination" (darn, I just did!), but that's literally true. Go find some paracord and have fun!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Hey, I made the ProArms Podcast!

Last year Gail Pepin interviewed me for the ProArms Podcast, and
it finally got released this week!

I'm pretty sure the delay was due to the amount of editing required. We were up at the
Firearms Academy of Seattle, and Gila Hayes had insisted that I try a dessert she'd made - some sort of brownie mocha torte. Near as I can tell it starts with a 55 gallon drum of concentrated chocolate extract which is somehow crammed into an 8" square cake pan. I usually don't eat such rich (and sugary and caffeinated) desserts, and it left me 'wired' for a couple of hours. You can actually hear me slow down toward the end as the effects wore off. My wife thought it was hilarious. Some of the sillier stuff was thankfully left on the cutting room floor (free tip: never do an interview while on a sugar high, unless you want to sound like a deranged chipmunk.)

Most common phrase not heard in the interview: “you can edit that out, right?” I’m sure I added immeasurably to Gail’s blooper reel!

Much as I like bragging about myself, the cool thing is that the other interview on this episode is with
Rob Pincus! Rob's interview was done a little over a month ago, just after I finished his Instructor Development class, and Gail thought the two interviews would make a good match. She's right as usual. (Thanks to the mocha torte, this is the only time you'll ever hear me able to talk nearly as fast as Rob!)


-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did on my days off.

I spent the weekend up at
FIrearms Academy of Seattle teaching a Combat Focus Shooting class with "the man", Rob Pincus. We had one bright, sunny day (got the sunburn to prove it!) and one exceptionally wet, cold, dark day. That's life in the Pacific Northwest!

We had a diverse group of just under 20 students, some of whom were "advanced practitioners" and some who were significantly less experienced. From the comments in the mandatory end-of-class debrief, everyone came away learning something about themselves and about how to survive a deadly encounters. How fortuitous that the course is designed to do exactly those things!

(If you're an instructor, one of the best things you can do is to teach with another instructor, preferably one who style is very different from your own. I learned as much about my ability to teach as the students learned about their ability to shoot. It pushes your limits, identifies areas where you need to improve, and gives you a different perspective on the art of teaching.)

One of the
best weekends I've had in a long time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A Poor SUBstitute for the real thing.

When I was a kid I dreamed of converting the fuel oil tank in our garage into a submarine. It was a 350 gallon flattened oval tank, no doubt familiar to millions of baby boomers whose furnaces ran on liquid fossil fuels, and I just waited for the day that I could get my hands on it.

I had big plans for my submarine: first I'd explore the depths of the pond on our 'back forty', then I'd take it down to the river and search the bottom for...I'm not sure what, but I just knew I'd find something. Little things like how I'd get air to breathe or how I'd see where I was going were mere trivialities. (After all, didn't
Seaview have windows? I'd have them too!)

Naturally nothing ever came of my plans, but that didn't stop me from being fascinated with small submarines. The Japanese mini-subs of World War II were particularly interesting, and I read everything I could about them. It was known that five had attacked Pearl Harbor, but only four had ever been recovered. The fate of the fifth remained a mystery.

Perhaps not any more.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Not showing good JUDGEment.

The Firearm Blog
alerts us to a company called Lightfield Less Lethal that is now selling rubber buckshot rounds for the Taurus Judge. (I'm sure someone will point out that a Judge loaded with .410 birdshot is already "less lethal" and thus has no need for this product. Can't say that I disagree all that much, either.)

I'm concerned that the Judge is already selling to people who profess to "not wanting to kill someone", but have a desire to protect themselves. (I've heard that phrase so many times regarding this gun that I've become numb to the stupidity of the statement.) We've been working hard over the last several decades to eradicate the concept of the warning shot, and along comes Lightfield with products intended to just "scare them off." (Read the company's statement at the link.)

Given the market segment which appears to be buying these guns, it's only a matter of time before Lightfield is sued because their "less lethal" ammo killed someone. No matter how you rationalize or justify the use of these things, to the legal establishment discharging a gun is still lethal force even if Lightfield doesn't understand the concept.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Memorial Day.

I hope everyone enjoys their three-day weekend, but do take a least a moment to reflect on why this holiday exists. Nothing maudlin, no overblown sentimentality, just a request that you think about it for at least a few moments as you fire up the grill.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Cameras I Have Known - the Kodak Retina IIIS.

At one time I was a devoted fan of Leica rangefinder cameras. I owned many of them over the years, culminating with a beat-up example of the much maligned M5 (2-lug) model. Like many photographers I held a special place in my heart for the legendary Leica M3, though mine was the less desirable (and thus cheaper) double-stroke version. One could say that I was something of a Leica snob, and that wasn't too far from the truth.

This makes my favorite rangefinder seem somewhat odd, because it wasn't a Leica.

At one point I picked up a Kodak Retina IIIS rangefinder for next to nothing, largely because I thought it would be a nice decoration on my bookshelf. Along with it came a 50mm f2.8 Schneider Xenar, a superb 35mm f2.8 Schneider Curtagon, and a 135mm Schneider Tele-Xenar. The camera and lenses were in near-mint condition, having been traded in on a more modern 35mm SLR with zoom lens.

The Retina series of cameras were made in Germany by the Kodak-owned Nagel Camerawerk. Most of them were small folding cameras, but the IIIS was unique: it was a solid body rangefinder with interchangeable lenses. It was a large, heavy camera compared to the Leicas (or the rest of the Retina series), but it boasted a large, bright viewfinder with automatically changing framelines and parallax correction!

Courtesy of the superb Retina IIIS article at

The viewfinder was terrific, but the really great thing from my perspective was the shutter. The IIIS had a between-the-lens leaf shutter sourced from Compur, which meant that it could flash synch at all shutter speeds. More importantly it meant that the shutter was quiet. Very, very quiet. Next to the IIIS, a Leica M3 sounded like a bomb going off. Those who know the Leica cameras and their reputation for stealth might be amazed, but it was true; even the photographer often couldn't hear or feel the Retina shutter fire.

This made it ideal for surreptitious shooting, but especially for such things as concerts and plays. While the lenses weren't terribly fast, thus limiting their indoor capabilities, it was possible to make very good available-light shots with the camera. I did so on many occasions.

I also loved the depth-of-field indicators. They were two red pointers on either side of the focus point mark, and as the aperture was changed they moved in or out (in sync, one moving left and one moving right) to indicate the zone of acceptable sharpness. This was similar to the way the lenses on the Hasselblad cameras worked, and to this day I miss that unambiguous display.

Over time I grew away from the rangefinder in general, finding the newer compact SLRs to easily take their place. Except for the noise, of course. Today I'd love to have a good digital rangefinder camera, but the only one currently being made is the insanely priced Leica M9. (A solid contender, the Epson RD-1, was recently discontinued and the prices have skyrocketed well past "reasonable." There are some others that boast add-on digital viewfinders, but they stink. The viewfinders, I mean!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Book Report: Combat Focus Shooting - Evolution 2010.

Rob Pincus' original book on
Combat Focus Shooting was published in 2006, and in a very few pages - 120, give or take - managed to present an entirely new way of looking at defensive handgun training.

Instead of forcing contrived techniques onto a fight, techniques that might not be appropriate or even effective, CFS offered a radically different perspective: pay attention to how the body reacts to a threat, base your techniques on what works well with those reactions, and train in those techniques as often and as realistically as possible. It was a concept-driven philosophy, and stood in stark contrast to the majority of training that was (and remains) technique-driven.

CFS sounds simple, and at its core it is. The concepts that back it up, however, draw from many fields, and explaining them in writing takes a bit of space. The brevity with which the original book it was written meant that some parts of the program didn't get the exploration or explanation they deserved.

At the same time the Combat Focus Shooting courses, which were the origin of the book, were evolving. Much new material was added, and there were changes to the way the program looked at certain aspects of defensive handgunning. It was time to update the book.

What an update Pincus has brought us!

"Combat Focus Shooting - Evolution 2010" is not just a simple edit. It's been greatly expanded, now over 210 pages and with very little fluff. Gone is the minimalist treatment of the concepts that underlie the program; the new book feels luxurious in comparison, with every facet of the Combat Focus philosophy explored and explained. The new edition makes it easier to understand what CFS is all about and especially why it's different from other courses. It's much more readable and closely follows the path of a live CFS class.

Of course
nothing beats taking a CFS course in person, but this book will give you a good grounding in the concepts and science behind intuitive shooting. If you want to develop defensive shooting skills that reflect the realities of actual encounters, "Combat Focus Shooting - Evolution 2010" should be on your reading list. It's a must-have for every serious student of defensive handgunning.

Of course,
it's available in my Amazon bookstore!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ruger go 'boom'.

And not in a good way.

My morning perusal of The Firearm Blog's RSS feed uncovered
this entry about a Ruger LCR that suffered a catastrophic failure. I generally agree with the concept of a timing error, though of course there are other possibilities.

I lean toward the timing theory because of my own observations. I've not yet been able to take an LCR apart, but I have handled quite a few. In this admittedly small sample I've noticed that the gun's timing is later than normal, meaning that the cylinder locks up very close to the point that the sear releases. Since I've not been on the inside of the gun I can't tell whether it's a design or assembly error, but it stands in stark contrast to the way Rugers usually time.

In a typical SP101 or GP100, the cylinder reaches lockup considerably ahead of the sear release. Timing problems with Ruger revolvers are unusual compared to a S&W or a Colt, which makes those LCRs that I've seen definitely stand out. It would not be outside the realm of possibility to get one that is actually out of time, perhaps enough to cause this kind of a failure.

With such a radical new design it's always prudent to proceed cautiously. My recommendation to those considering an LCR is to buy it in person, and check the timing before completing the transaction.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: The day the internet died.

Yesterday was a monumental day in the history of the 'net: Duke University, the birthplace of Usenet,
shut down its Usenet server some thirty years after it first came to life.

Citing diminishing use and rising costs as the reason for the shutdown, this comes as sad news for those of us who cut their teeth on newsgroups. While there are other servers still hosting Usenet traffic, the closure of the Duke server is a sign that the end is near.

I spent far too much free time on Usenet in the '80s and '90s. Before the World Wide Web, Usenet was THE source of information and interaction on the 'net. If you know what DoD stands for, you spent a lot of time on; if you know who the KoTL is, you spent
too much time there!

There are people I "met" on Usenet with whom I still correspond. I first encountered Ed Harris, whose name should not be unknown to readers of this blog, on rec.guns. That was more years ago than either of us care to recount, and despite never having been face-to-face we've exchanged ideas, shared projects and even collaborated a bit on a training manual for emergency communications. There are others whose names would mean nothing to you, but mean a great deal to me.

With so many ISPs dropping Usenet access, people for whom the WWW is the whole 'net don't see the loss. For those of us who remember FidoNet gateways and
bang paths it's like losing an old friend.

Virtually, of course.

-=[ Grant ]=-

You might have noticed something new.

Did you see the new "
Training" tab in the menu bar?

I've been teaching on a semi-private basis for some time now, but with the recent addition of
Combat Focus Shooting I decided to make the offerings a little more visible.

I’ve also added a new class, which I call
Revolver Doctrine. It is THE class to take if you want to learn how to run the revolver efficiently and accurately! (If you’ve taken one of my public or private Revolver 201 classes, ‘Doctrine’ is an expanded version of that course. While coming from a self-defense perspective, it’s not a dedicated defensive course like Combat Focus.)

Please explore, and if you'd like to book a class - public or private - just email me!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another company that apparently doesn't want your business.

Fear And Loading blog alerted me to this story from the Charlotte Gun Rights Examiner. Seems that with the NRA Convention in town, the local Marriott decided to take conventioneer's money and then slap them in the face for the privilege. Interesting read, and it looks like the Marriott manager has bitten off more than he can chew.

(This is in stark contrast to the
Virginia Beach Resort in which I stayed a few weeks back. Not only did they host the Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development course, the staff was completely at ease with a bunch of gun guys roaming the halls. I went so far as to store a gun in one of their safe deposit boxes, and the desk clerks didn't even blink. Great place.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

The Truth Is Out There: I've mentioned Kathy Jackson's CorneredCat site as the best resource on the web for those women who want to get involved in the firearms world. This week on the ProArms Podcast, Gail Pepin interviews Kathy about one of her all-time classic articles: "How to Make Your Wife Hate Guns." The interview is even better than the article, and is a must-listen for any man out there who wishes for his wife/significant to start shooting.

Guys, I'm not kidding - you need to listen to this podcast. Kathy's interview starts about 20 minutes in, preceded by Dr. Paula Bratich talking about concealed carry in Illinois.

Better Late Than Never: Prior to the SHOT show, The FIrearms Blog reported that Ruger was going to show a .357 version of the LCR. It was only slightly premature, as Ruger showed it off at last week's NRA Convention. Not for me, thanks, but I'm sure that there are those who will love it.

The Bad Guys Have An Advantage: An interesting article over at asks "Why do bad guys seem to do so well in gunfights?" Worthwhile reading.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: I'd like a Meatball Marinara please. Oh, wait...

...wrong subway!

I found this some time ago, and thought it was an intriguing site in the growing "abandoned things" genre. It's not just about subways, either - photographer Shawn Dufour has lots of cool sites pictured: factories, hospitals, even a railroad yard.

Have a look at

-=[ Grant ]=-

Hope for the terminally myopic?

The Firearm Blog alerted me to this post over at A new sighting enhancement, making use of a “zone plate" optic, is due to hit the market soon. The device makes it possible to focus on both near and far objects at the same time, without the penalty of large, expensive optical systems.

I'll be anxious to try one of these on a rifle. My eyes cannot focus on close objects without optical help, and I disdain scopes in general. While I can still shoot irons on rifles with long (22" and up) barrels, the shorter carbines are next to impossible for me to use. It is those short, handy rifles that I must scope, which obviously negates the value of a short, handy rifle!

If the MicroSight works, I've got several favorite rifles that might just shed their
pregnant guppy personas.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Winchester's top sellers: The Firearm Blog reports that Winchester recently released their top five (even though there are six listed!) pistol cartridges. The 9mm is not surprisingly in first place, and that favorite of law enforcement, the .40 S&W, is justifiably in the number two slot. Coming into third place is a bit of a dark horse - the venerable .38 Special.

What's most curious is the .380 ACP in fifth place. According to a Federal rep I talked with a few years back, the .380 wasn't a big seller. If I recall the conversation correctly, they only made a run of that caliber every other year, as they could easily warehouse enough for the intervening period. I suspect a combination of many new guns chambered for the round, and the big buying frenzy that resulted in widespread ammo shortages, conspired to create a pent-up demand. Once everyone has gotten their box (or two) of the
9mm Corto, then sales will drop back down to normal.

A little problem at Gunsite: According to, a man was shot in the abdomen at Gunsite a few days ago. If you’ve seen pictures of their facility, you’ve seen the shoothouse with catwalks above which allows observation of the proceedings. Apparently a man was on the catwalk and silhouetted by overhead lights; the student saw his outline and shot it. Luckily the man survived the incident and is recovering.

Gunsite says that students are instructed not to shoot toward the catwalk, but the excitement of playing searchg-and-destroy games often leads to instructions being forgotten. If you have a facility in which you've hidden shoot targets, then challenged someone to find and engage those targets (especially under any artificial time constraints), such forgetfulness should not come as a total shock.

Yes, the guy who pulled the trigger is responsible for his rounds,
and I am in no way excusing his behavior. However, it's the instructor's job to ensure that the benefit of any training outweighs the risks. I'm not sure what the benefit of having a live observer perched on a catwalk in view of the shooter is, but setting up a bank of monitors and some cameras with 2-way audio capability brings the risk to nearly zero. In this age of cheap, remote-controlled IP cameras, the practice of having people suspended above a line of fire is decidedly antiquated.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Water in the New World.

I found this on Digg a few days ago, and thought it was intriguing. There is much about the Mayan civilization's technology that we still don't know, and this is opens up another set of questions.

Makes the dream of time travel all the more tantalizing.

Maya plumbing, first pressurized water feature found.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A worthy cause!

On Monday I mentioned that my bore cleaner of choice is Ed's Red, the popular homebrew formula. I've used it for many years, and have been satisfied with its performance over a wide range of firearms.

If you don't regularly read the comments section, you may have missed a note from Ed himself. He's always coming up with something that's new to me, and this time he revealed that Brownell's carries Ed's Red in convenient bottles, all mixed up and ready to use!

I had no idea, but that's not the end of the story. Turns out that a portion of the sales of Ed's Red goes to support the Junior's programs of the Virginia Shooting Sports Association. That's reason enough to buy Ed's Red over any competing product. Well, that, and the fact that Ed's Red works!

If you're a Brownell's customer, put
a bottle of Ed's Red on your next order. If you're not a Brownell's customer, you should be!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On bore cleaners.

A recent email asked my opinion on bore cleaners, and to my surprise I found that I'd not written anything on the topic. It is, after all, unlike me to have no opinion - and it may be a bit of a surprise to learn that, on this topic, I don't have a strong opinion.

When it comes to bore cleaners, it's been my experience that everything works. Shooter's Choice, Hoppe's, Butch's, Break Free, it really doesn't matter - with one caveat.

I break cleaners into two basic types: general bore cleaners, and copper removers. Copper removers, such as Hoppe's Benchrest and Sweet's 7.62, usually contain ammonia to dissolve copper jacket residue. Ammonia compounds, if not thoroughly flushed, can pit steel. Pitted bores are not generally conducive to good accuracy! Those compounds are also hard on bronze bore brushes, which is why their makers often recommend nylon brushes wound on stainless steel cores. Regular use of a copper removing bore cleaner isn't recommended, and I only use them in rifles where accuracy reductions are likely to be noticed, and only when the jacket fouling gets to a point that those reductions show up. Other than that, I use a regular bore cleaner.

The bore cleaner I use most is the popular homebrew
Ed's Red formula. Originated by C.E. "Ed" Harris, noted engineer and certified firearms genius, Ed's Red is both economical and effective. I've found it to be as good as anything else in cleaning rifled bores, and a bit better than most when cleaning shotgun barrels. (The acetone in the formula makes it an ideal solvent for removing plastic wad fouling.) Since I use a lot of bore cleaner, being able to mix a gallon at a time saves me both money and effort.

If you're not the DIY type, anything will work. Many people like the smell of Hoppe's #9 (the distinctive odor comes, I believe, from amyl acetate), and I must admit a certain fondness myself. My first cleaning kit, for a Winchester Model 67 rifle, was from Hoppes. The smell takes me back to my childhood and summer afternoons sitting under a walnut tree, cleaning my rifle from a hard day of plinking.

Frankly, given the generally good performance of all of the bore cleaners I've ever used, that's as good a rationale for a choice as any!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Cameras I Have Known - the Minolta XE-7.

The XE-7 is one of the cameras I've admired from afar, but never actually owned. This wasn't because of any lack of the camera itself, or of the superb Minolta lenses, but simply because it had been discontinued several years before I got involved in photography. The XE-7's successors weren't nearly as interesting, and their lack of a reliable "pro" camera throughout their history meant that there was no upgrade path. That left the XE-7 sitting on its own little photographic island.

But what an island it was!

Photo courtesy of Stan C. Reade Photo,

The XE-7 was rumored to have been developed "in conjunction" with E. Leitz, the makers of the famous Leica line of cameras. I'm not sure that was the case, as a tear-down reveals significant similarities to the XK model, introduced in 1972, and both preceded the rebranded Leica R3 version by several years. That assertion does, however, give one a good feel for just how well the XE-7 was built.

The shutter, sourced from Copal, was quiet and accurate. Film advance was as smooth as anything ever made in the 35mm field. Metering was predictable and accurate (as long as the aperture follower, which coupled the meter to the lens, stayed clean - a common weakness of all Minolta MC/MD mount cameras.) The camera was just a joy to use, and those times I took to the field with borrowed XE-7s were magical. The camera was responsive and easy to adapt to; the images were clean, clear, and had wonderful contrast.

Part of the stellar performance was, of course, due to the Minolta Rokkor lenses. Minolta produced some of the very best optics to ever come out of Japan; to this day, knowledgeable photographers wax poetic about the color rendition of their designs. (They were good enough that Leica bought several Minolta lenses, with no change other than mounts, to round out the lens line for their SLR cameras.)

The camera proved to be fairly rugged, the aperture follower issue notwithstanding. One of my colleagues had a pair of them that he used extensively while working as a photojournalist, and they looked like they'd been through a war zone. They still worked perfectly despite the abuse.

Sadly, the XE-7 was discontinued in 1977 to make way for the more modern XD series of cameras. While the XDs were certainly smooth, nicely functioning machines, they weren't the photographer's tool that the XE-7 was. It was because of the lackluster XD that I generally ignored Minolta, despite their uncompromising optics.

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: Regarding Minolta "pro" cameras - yes, I know all about the XK and the XK Motor. I also know, far too well, how unreliable those cameras were in actual use. The XK Motor, in particular, was perhaps the least reliable "pro" camera I've ever seen, with many examples making multiple trips to Minolta for repeated repairs. I liked the XK, and to this day feel the XK Motor to be one of the nicest-handling large SLRs ever made, but they just didn't have what it took in the durability department. More's the pity.


Just got word from Rob Pincus - I passed my written and subjective teaching evaluations, and am now a certified Combat Focus Shooting instructor!


-=[ Grant ]=-

Better than I could say it.

One of the people in the
CFSID class last week was veteran trainer Robb Hamic. He posted a recap of the class on his blog.

Being fundamentally lazy (which I now realize to be 'efficient' - CFS students will get the joke), I'm just going to let you read his great thoughts while I attend to other matters.


-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did during Spring Break.

I just returned from a visit to Virginia Beach, where I attended the
Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development (CFSID) course. I've been searching my brain for a one-word description of what the class is like, and this is the only thing that even comes close:


We spent 4 days and just shy of 60 hours learning the ins and outs of Combat Focus Shooting so that we could accurately and efficiently communicate the program to students. We spent the first of those day on the, that's not quite right; for any other course it
would have been the first day, but for us it was roughly half of the first day, as the entire session ran well past 9pm. The rest of the week was spent not on becoming better shooters, but learning to be better teachers.

We studied a little of everything: anatomy, physiology, neurophysiology, psychology, philosophy, and more. By the end of the fourth day, which is when testing was done, my brain was fried. I don't even remember the final written test, but I do remember nearly passing out somewhere on page three (serious blood sugar drop, complete with tremors and sweating.)

Apparently I finished it. At least, I think I did!

This isn't like most other instructor courses. Most of the time, an instructor certificate is a matter of showing up, shooting well, and having your check clear. CFSID is different;
Rob Pincus is committed to producing good teachers, not just good demonstrators. That showed in the caliber (pardon the pun) of the people who were there, as I'd be confident in recommending any one of them as a competent and knowledgeable instructor.

There's a reason that, historically, less than 50% of Combat Focus Shooting instructor candidates pass the course. It's that tough, and takes a phenomenal amount of mental discipline just to make it through.


As it happens, my return trip routed me through Chicago, where I spent nearly three hours waiting for my next flight. Turns out that
Tam was in Chicago at the same time. Wish I'd known, I'd have loved to finally meet her.


We also got to study some (unintentional) modern art, courtesy of an ancient video projector that refused to hold a sync signal with Rob's new MacBook:

Yes, that's Rob Pincus getting all Warhol on his students.


I don't usually plug local businesses, but this one deserves it.

The day before I left, I discovered that my old camera had died. It powered up, but none of the controls worked. (It will still take pictures, but the exposure control is fried and the autofocus appears to be only sporadically active.) We had planned to upgrade our camera later this year, but this forced our hand: we needed it now.

I spent that day not packing, but running all over Western Oregon to find the camera I'd decided on. I finally found the body, but the lens I wanted wasn't in stock anywhere. I decided to pick up a used optic as stopgap measure, while I waited (and recovered financially) for the one I really wanted. Trouble is that none of the camera stores I called carried much (or any) used equipment. About that time I remembered seeing a yellow pages ad for a little one-hour photo place located in a small town fairly close to us. I had it in my mind that the ad said something about used cameras, and since phone calls are free I dialed their number. A pleasant young lady answered the phone and said that yes, they had used gear and that they had several suitable lenses for me.

What I found when I walked into
Focal Point Photography blew me away. This is a tiny shop, located in a small farming community in a rural area, and it is filled with photo gear. From Speed Graphics to the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, these folks have a little of everything. Piles of used gear (literally), a surprising selection of lighting equipment new and old, even darkroom stuff, all stuffed (literally) into a two-story building in little ol' Dallas, Oregon. It was like going back in time, to what camera stores used to be before the age of big-box homogenization. I don't know if they do mailorder, but they're so accommodating I suspect they would. If you're looking for just about anything photographic, particularly if it's out of production and now hard to find, give them a call: (503) 623-6300.

I have no affiliation other than as a satisfied, if somewhat amazed, customer.


Now, I'm back to catching up on your emails!

-=[ Grant ]=-

I may not blog at all next week. Then again, I may.

I'd like to try a little experiment next week (4/19-4/23), and do my updates on Twitter and Facebook via the iPhone. It's possible that I'll go stir-crazy and just have to fire up the blog software on the computer, but I'd really like to try a minimalist approach. If it works out I may pick up the software to integrate my blog's self-contained software (which the iPhone can't access) to Blogger (which the iPhone can use.)

Wish me luck, and watch my
Twitter and Facebook pages next week!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Cameras I Have Known - the ICA Universal Palmos.

You may recall that I spent some time as a commercial photographer (and general photographic genius) back in the '80s. During that period I used a wide variety of cameras and lenses, and probably spent an amount exceeding the economies of several Caribbean nations on my vocation/avocation.

Over the next few Fridays, I'll be talking about some of the cameras I've used extensively, or have had close contact with, during my career. For those who lived through the end of the film era, this will be a trip down memory lane. For those who came of age after the digital revolution, here's your chance to hear what things used to be like. (For your benefit, I'll work in a solid rant at the end of the series.)

The camera I've chosen to start is one which even hard core photographers won't recognize: An obscure ICA 9x12cm folding field camera called the Universal Palmos. ICA was one of the four European photography/optics concerns which, in 1926, merged to form Zeiss-Ikon. (Zeiss also marketed a model called the Universal Palmos, but it paled in comparison to the ICA model.) The Palmos utilized 9x12cm sheet film, which was sometimes referred to as "the European 4x5."

The Universal Palmos was reminiscent of the company’s better known “Maximar” model, but had a longer double extension track. The track had two focus knobs, one for the back and one for the front. They could be used singly, but in combination would extend the bellows to the full length of 16”, allowing satisfying closeup shots. Once focused, the knobs could be pulled out to lock the track(s) in place. Even with the tracks fully extended, the camera was still rigid. A better large format field camera one could neither want, nor find. The terminally curious can
download the 1925 ICA catalog and see a full description of the machine.

Courtesy of

Like all ICA products, it was superbly built. The range of movements on the front standard were greater than any "press" camera, and it had sported a real rotating back. The focus and sliding/rising front controls were gear driven, and machined to incredibly close tolerances. There was no backlash or slop in any of the controls. The metal was finished in a deep, glossy black enamel and the controls were nickel plated.

The 9x12 film was a bit of a problem. While not unknown here in the U.S., it wasn't available in the wide variety of our own 4x5" format. Luckily the two formats are very close in size, and I was able to fabricate a clever adaptor that allowed me to attach a Graflok back while retaining the rotating feature of the camera. I was even able to use a Grafmatic film holder for the ultimate in rapid-fire large format photography!

A slightly larger problem was the lens mounting plate. It was a circular sheet metal affair, which sort of bayonetted into three pegs on the front standard. I was able to demount the old lens and mount a slightly more modern optic, and an acquaintance with a metal shop was kind enough to fabricate a second for me. The small lensboard was serious restriction on the size and maximum aperture of the lenses I could mount, but this was a field camera, not a studio tool - the slower optics weren't a hinderance in the great outdoors.

I shot more 4x5" film through the ICA than through all of my other large format cameras combined. It was handy, compact, superbly constructed of fine materials, and boasted capabilities that no contemporary field camera could match. The fact that I got it for less than $20 was just icing on the cake!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The annual ritual.

I have a physical exam every year, complete with blood panel. When they take my blood, I always ask specifically for a lead test to show how much of that stuff has gotten into my bloodstream. Last week the doctor did my blood draws, and today I learn the results. I expect my lead levels to be at their normal lows, thanks to a few sensible precautions.

First, I always wash my hands after shooting. I carry a package of those pre-moistened towlettes with me wherever I go, and make sure to wipe my hands and face after shooting, or before I ingest any food or drink. The antibacterial (waterless) gels can also be useful, but only if you immediately wipe with a towel of some sort; allowing it to dry on the skin doesn't get rid of any lead compounds, it just moves the stuff around to a larger area of skin!

Never partake of food or drink on the firing line; smoking while shooting is also a good way to introduce lead into your bloodstream. Take a break, wipe your hands and face, then eat, drink, or light up as you see fit.

Handling lead bullets usually results in some of the metal being transferred to the skin. The very best protection is to wear gloves (latex or nitrile), but if you can't do that at least give your hands a very thorough washing.

There is lead residue on and in your gun after firing. When you clean your gun, those compounds are removed and deposited somewhere. They don't just disappear! Gloves are highly recommended for cleaning chores, and you should always use some sort of disposable or washable covering over the area where the cleaning is being performed. Keep those gloves on while you clean up after the gun maintenance is finished.

I recommend that the first thing down the barrel be a wet patch, followed by a dry patch. This tends to remove the bulk of lead residue, after which you may proceed with any brushing you feel necessary. Under no conditions do I run a dry brush down the bore first; that pushes the residue out the end of the barrel, where it floats into the air that you breathe. Start with a wet patch to trap as much of that stuff as possible.

Even small amounts of lead in your blood can pose a serious health risk. Be smart, take a few simple precautions, and your only worry about lead will be the escalating price!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Back To Work - Returned last night from a rare (for me) three-day weekend. I spent the time in the eastern half of the state (the desert part) to visit relatives and do some shooting. The last such trip was two years ago, and I'd forgotten what it was like to relax!

Somewhere Steve Wozniak Is Crying - The Firearm Blog brings us news that an Aussie company has developed a sniper moving target system using Segways as drones. I was pretty pumped about that - shooting a Segway would be almost as satisfying as perforating a Prius - but alas the little things are armored. Still, it's a neat concept. (I like the part where the Segways run for their lives at the sound of a gunshot!)

Shooty Goodness - One of the topics of discussion amongst my cousins this weekend was their desire to go to Knob Creek for the annual machine gun shoot. Turns out it was happening literally while we were talking about it, and Tam was there.

Pest Control - The shooting part of my trip involved helping to rid my cousin's ranch of the dreaded sage rat. Sage rat hunting has become a Very Big Thing out here in the West, and despite hundreds of thousands of the things being dispatched every season the population continues to outbreed the hunters. Damage to crops from sage rat infestations is staggering, and it doesn't look like the problem is going to end any time soon.

There are a couple of schools of thought regarding the hunting of sage rats. One school likes to set up a shooting bench and snipe the things from long range with a .22-250. The other prefers to use a .22 rimfire, and just get closer. I belong to the latter group, as using a rimfire is significantly cheaper and still quite challenging. (In a good field it's not unusual to go through 500 rounds a day, and I'm just not wealthy enough to afford to do that with a centerfire rifle!)

Another benefit of using rimfires is that it's easy to get kids involved. It's important that children learn early the necessity of responsible wildlife management. The reason we shoot the sage rat is because a) the population is out of control, and b) poisons aren't an option in areas with large raptor populations. (How many of you have actually seen a bald eagle hunting prey? I saw a half-dozen just this weekend, which is the case every time I go out there. With poison, that wouldn’t be the case.)

Happiness Is A New Gun - My nephew Roman came with us on this trip, and I presented him with his first “grown-up” rifle. Up to this point he'd been using one of the little Chipmunk rifles, and it was time for him to upgrade. I gave him a Glenfield Model 25 with some special touches: I shortened the barrel to a more kid-friendly (yet legal) length, tuned the trigger just a bit to get rid of the horrendous grittiness, floated the barrel, and mounted a 3/4"-tubed scope. It turned out to be a fast handling, accurate little gun which he quickly put to good use, making some excellent shots in very challenging (windy) conditions.

Some Thoughts On Equipment - It's normal to think that a beginner doesn't need top notch gear on which to learn how to shoot. My nephew reinforced my belief in the opposite view: the novice is more in need of quality equipment than the experienced shooter. It's hard to learn all the nuances of good shooting when one is fighting with substandard gear, and good quality guns and ammo don't stand in the way of skill development. Regardless of the age of the student, If one is just starting out it's important to buy the best equipment one can afford. It is only after the basics are mastered is one able to rise above his/her equipment, but poor equipment can keep one from truly mastering even the simplest techniques.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A shell of former glory.

I usually eat my breakfast in front of the computer. I check my personal email, look in at Twitter and Facebook, read George Ure's blog, look at all the blog feeds to which I subscribe, and maybe even check what's for sale on Craigslist.

One of the Facebook updates this morning was from
Rob Pincus, who is heading for Rochester (NY). That brought back memories, as in my former life I traveled to Rochester on an occasional basis, one time staying for the better part of two weeks. Astute readers will deduce that these trips had something to do with the Eastman Kodak Company (EKC, as it was known - Kodak was extremely fond of acronyms and abbreviations), and that deduction would be correct.

In the early- to mid-Eighties, which is when I visited, Kodak owned most of Rochester - and what they didn't, Xerox did. Kodak's facilities were huge even by Detroit standards, all based on sales of film and associated equipment and supplies. As digital photography eroded film's dominance, Kodak (which had been willfully dismissive of the digital threat throughout the period under discussion) saw their business decline precipitously.

Barely into the new century, Kodak was closing buildings at a rapid pace. They demolished a few, auctioned off some others, and sold what they felt they didn't need but which would still generate cash. One of the latter was a complex known as the Marketing Education Center, or - in EKC-speak - MEC.

MEC is where they held seminars, training sessions, and business meetings. Every time I went to Kodak, MEC is where I ended up. It was a gorgeous campus, looking more like a community college than a corporate office.

MEC sat next to the Genesee River, and featured a dining hall with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the river and a placid meadow. The view from the tiered seating was so perfectly New England, regardless of the season, that visitors joked the windows were actually Duratrans - Kodak's trade name for large, backlit transparencies. The food was't bad, either!

This little trip down memory lane got me to wondering: whatever happened to MEC? As it turns out, pretty much nothing. Kodak cleared out and sold it for about $3.5 million to an investment concern in 2004, and it appears to be sitting vacant today.
The campus, with 120 acres and four buildings, is currently for sale at an asking price of only $9.9 million.

(In researching this, I came across the blog of a Rochester ex-pat whose family worked for EKC.
She chronicles the decline of George Eastman's once-great empire.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: Speaking of one point Kodak decided to do some corporate reshuffling, and the technicians who serviced their large photofinishing and photocopying equipment were inexplicably transferred to the control of the newly renamed Consumer Equipment Service. At roughly the same time, those technicians were given the title of “Field Engineers.” The in-joke was that since they were now FEs, working for CES, that their corporate acronym was to be FECES. Upper management was not at all amused.

I couldn't resist.

I realize that I've been neglectful with regard to pictures, but I just haven't "felt it" lately. This gun, though, I just had to show you.

This S&W 686+ was treated to a Super Action Job, Satin Steel refinishing, etc. What makes it unusual is that it has the uncommon unfluted cylinder. I loves me some unfluted cylinders, and just couldn't resist taking a snapshot of the thing before shipping it back to its owner.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Holy cow!

I've completed the data entry for the reservation requests, and found that I had more than double the number of requests I expected! I find it difficult to convey my appreciation for your continued support of my work. It's heartening to have what I do resonate with so many people!

Some interesting things came out of the requests: Colt requests were WAY up this year. In the last couple of years most of the requests were for S&W work, second for Ruger, with Colt bringing up the rear. This year it was Colt by a huge margin, with S&W and Ruger darn near tied for a distant second place. Colt entries were double what the other two were.

Another oddity: Ruger "Six" guns (Speed-Six, Service-Six, etc.) showed up in numbers this year. I haven't had a "Six" in the shop for three or four years, and this time there were more than a dozen. I'm not sure how to explain that statistical anomaly.

Again, thank you to everyone who put in a reservation. It is most appreciated!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: It certainly was.

I woke up this morning, completely sure in my mind that it was Thursday. As everyone else knows, it's actually Friday, which means I owe you a blog post, late though it may be.

TIME recently ran
this great slideshow of old computer hardware, photographed in a way you might not expect. Very nice work, and some detail of a rapidly disappearing past. Enjoy, and happy Friday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Not today, thanks.

Have several deadlines and projects I'm juggling this week, so blogging has to take a backseat.

As someone once said, “today’s not your day. Tomorrow’s not looking good, either!”

-=[ Grant ]=-

Attack of the clones.

It comes as no surprise to long-time readers that I'm a fan of the 6.5mm rifle caliber. Though I've only owned a single such rifle - a 6.5-284 screamer - the ballistic advantages of this particular diameter intrigue me to no end. It seems to be a "sweet spot" in rifle calibers, where drag coefficients and sectional densities combine to make extremely efficient cartridges. Their stability in flight, ability to resist wind, and deep penetration are the stuff of legend.

I've wanted a 6.5 Swedish Mauser for the longest time, but I wouldn't turn my nose up at the modern short-action version, the .260 Remington. I'd love to have a Mannlicher in 6.5x54 (with the full stock for which Mannlicher is most famous, of course) but have never been able to justify the high tariff. If I see a rifle, nearly any rifle, in 6.5mm I usually salivate! (Well, perhaps not for a Carcano. It's not the cartridge I mind, it's the rifle in which it is usually encountered. Mr. Whelen would not have found it at all interesting.)

Given this fascination, it should not be a shock to learn that I relish the idea of a 6.5mm cartridge chambered in an AR-15. I actually considered buying a 6.5 Grendel upper not too long ago, but held back because of the high cost. The Grendel is a proprietary cartridge, for which barrel, rifle, and ammunition makers must pay a royalty to the owner: Alexander Arms.

I'm all for free enterprise, but that particular enterprise is far from free. The royalties necessary to use the Grendel cartridge have kept prices much higher than, say, the unrestricted 6.8SPC round. I wondered why someone didn't simply clone the Grendel cartridge and give it a different name.

Someone finally did.
As The Firearm Blog reports, Les Baer has cloned the Grendel cartridge and has released it as the .264 LBC-AR. (Who came up with that mouthful?) It is a functional equivalent of the 6.5 Grendel, and I hope it catches on. If it does, my AR may finally reach the 6.5mm nirvana I've long sought.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The waiting list is now closed - thank you!

The waiting list is now closed; thank you for all your support!

Those who sent in requests will receive an email from “the system” sometime this week.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Well, not quite, but
a single malt being billed as the "world's oldest whisky" is now for sale.

A full bottle of Mortlach 70-year-old Scotch will set you back more than ten grand, if you can find one; there are only 54 full-size (700ml) and 162 small size (200ml) bottles from the single cask avilable. That's for the entire world, mind you.

(Unlike wine, Scotch whisky doesn't continue to age once it's been bottled. There are older bottles of various brands offered from time to time, but this is currently the oldest vintage available.)

Mortlach is a distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland, home to a huge number of other distillers. Glenfiddich, a more recognized label, is a close neighbor. Most of Mortlach's production goes to blenders, who combine their single malt with others to make blended Scotch whisky. Very little Mortlach gets into the market as a single malt, making this a particularly unique occurrence.

Many people automatically assume that the older the Scotch, the "better" it is. This is not always the case. As whisky ages in oak barrels, it takes on the taste of the wood - and whatever was in the cask before. Most whisky is aged in used wine barrels, as the winemaking process tends to season or "mellow" the wood. This makes it preferable for the long whisky sleep, as it reduces the bitter tannins that will inevitably seep into the malt.

If you have a relatively mild whisky to start - such as those from the lowlands of Scotland - the barrels tend to impart a huge amount of that wood taste relative to the taste of the whisky itself. Such vintages taste more like the barrel than they do the whisky!

This is particularly true if the barrels once held a more flavorful wine, like sherry or port. When a whisky is exposed to an extended stay in such a barrel, it comes out tasting (in my opinion) more like candy than whisky. Such malts are quite popular in the marketplace, as they tend to mask the whisky taste for less experienced Scotch drinkers.

On the other hand, a very powerful whisky such as those from the island of Islay will usually benefit from an extended stay in the barrel. The same amount of time which might overpower the taste of a milder Scotch helps to mellow the stronger varieties. An 8-year-old lowland may be perfect for drinking, but an 8-year-old Bowmore is enough to remove nose hair! By the 16th year, that same whisky will have mellowed to the point that it's merely very strong, not disabling.

That's why I can't get too excited about tasting a Mortlach that's spent the better part of the last century in an oak cask. It's a somewhat bland whisky to start, and I can just imagine how much wood taste has infused itself into the liquid. Now, if there were a 70-year-old Lagavulin,
that would be interesting!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Supporting our own.

SWAT Magazine TV, hosted by the irrepressible Rob Pincus, has been nominated for a Telly Award at YouTube. It's not often that gun-related shows get the recognition they deserve, but in this case we can all help the cause.

Click here to go to the Telly Awards site where you can vote for SWAT Magazine TV. Share it with your friends, your family, and anyone else who has a stake in the growing public acceptance of firearms and shooting.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Got another one.

I get lots of strange emails, and sometimes a patten emerges in the subject matter. A year or so ago, I was getting frequent inquiries as to the cost of custom making a top-break revolver in .44 Magnum or .454 Casull. My stock answer was a) you don't have the kind of money it would take, and b) I'm not the guy to be asking. After a while even that became tedious, and I round-filed every subsequent one that came in.

Those emails finally stopped, but they've been replaced by emails asking if I can modify a S&W to have a gas seal mechanism like a Nagant. They invariably mention that they would like to be able to suppress such a gun.

The first couple I answered in the negative; after they started coming in every week or so (yes, from different people), I decided to go into “ignore” mode. There’s just something odd about such a request, particularly coming in quantity, and I rather not encourage continued dialogue.

Why the sudden interest? The only explanation I can come up with is that some video game or movie features such a gun, prompting the impressionable to send emails to the first few hits that Google gives them. (I should be checking my referral logs...)

Since I'm not of the sort that often goes to the movies, let alone plays video games, perhaps someone out there could tell me if they've seen such a thing in either of those venues?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Book Report: "Mistakes Were Made"

"Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)." By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

I learned of this book when
Dr. Tavris appeared on the "For Good Reason" podcast with D.J. Grothe.

(Quick aside: if you want to hear one of the better interviewers around, listen to D.J.'s show. He formerly hosted the critically acclaimed "Point Of Inquiry" podcast, where he built a reputation for his ability to intelligently discuss all sides of an argument regardless of his own position. His shows are as good as podcasting gets.)

Dr. Tavris is an expert on cognitive dissonance - the inability of the mind to hold two conflicting pieces of information without resolving the conflict in some way. (
I've talked about dissonance before, as it relates to commonly promoted safety rules.) Dissonance theory, as I learned, has a profound effect on how we make decisions and how we come to hold certain beliefs. Dissonance occurs when evidence contradicts firmly held conviction. The subconscious, in an effort to resolve the conflict between what it believes and what it sees, will go to astonishing lengths.

One way the mind resolves conflict is to devalue the incoming evidence by belittling its source. This is what we see in so many forum fights over shooting gurus. If what one instructor teaches is in opposition to another instructor, supporters often react by attacking the source: "he's a convicted criminal." "He's never been anywhere." "He wrote a porno script!" "He's a womanizer." "He drinks too much." All in an effort to avoid examining what we believe, lest it be proven to be wrong.

Human beings are incredibly reluctant to change their beliefs. Dissonance in action shows in the statements of crime victims: "I couldn't believe it was happening to me!" Dissonance theory explains this easily, and what is going through the subconscious looks more like this: "I'm a smart and successful person; being smart and successful means that I would never live in a slum where crime is rampant. If crime happens here, it must mean that I'm not smart or successful, so this attack isn't really happening!" The danger to effective self defense preparations should be obvious.

The chapter dealing with memory is probably the most interesting of the whole book. Dissonance is so powerful that it can cause people to remember events differently than they actually happened - sometimes, the exact opposite of the real event. Ever wonder why witnesses to something often have conflicting views of what happened? It's not because their physical sight was different; it's because what they saw is modified unconsciously by their prejudices.

This has implications for survivor interviews when they’re used to support a specific type of training. Is the subject’s subconscious desire to justify their pre-existing knowledge, or to support their self image, influencing their memories? Unless we have objective observational evidence, such as a videotape, we don't know. The lesson is clear: we must be very cautious when making decisions based on singular events, unless we know for a fact what actually transpired.

This self-delusion isn't something humans set out to do; no one does it consciously. This is a mechanism that the subconscious uses to reconcile what we believe with what we see, and it’s transparent to us. People who perceive past events as being the opposite of what actually happened aren't lying. They honestly believe their version of what happened, because their subconscious has told them the new version is correct. (The book chronicles the astonishing detail that the subconscious is able to construct to support its version of reality. It's an eye-opener, believe me!)

Mistakes Were Made is less a textbook than it is a collection of stories with explanations. The book is heavily geared toward a self-help audience (hence the cover blurb "Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts"), but the research behind it is solid. Tavris and Aronson are well regarded in the field of psychology, and their ability to explain difficult concepts in clear language goes a long way to helping us understand this powerful facet of our minds. While this knowledge won't make us immune, it will help us recognize that what we believe isn't always correct.

If you'd like to get a feel of the subject matter, listen to the aforementioned interview with Dr. Tavris.
Mistakes Were Made is a good way for non-scientists to get a grasp of what our minds actually do with conflicting information. Recommended reading, but only if you're ready to face the idea that your mind may not always be telling you the truth!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Space - the final frontier. But only if you market it.

While you may not be familiar with her work, Megan Prelinger has been busy chronicling America’s space initiatives, focusing on how they were sold to the public. She’s put together a great book: "
Another Science Fiction,” which is largely a collection of advertisements for space contractors during the Cold War.

SImultaneously recruiting employees while dangling the lure of space exploration to the masses, these ads ran in such magazines as LIFE and National Geographic. I remember many of them, but Prelinger's book is the first to collect them and show how vital they were in shaping a new vision of space.

this must-read interview at WIRED, Prelinger talks about the impact of space advertising, what could have been bigger than Apollo, and how countercultural utopias figured into the space race. Fascinating.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It happens all the time.

Monday's post several people emailed links to various threads on various forums, asking "is this the one you were talking about?" In each case I had to respond that no, it wasn’t; the incident in question was some months ago, and I was just getting around to writing about it.

(That’s the way things go around here. Sometimes the words flow easily, while other times I start writing but hit a brick wall halfway through. When that happens I step away and just let it percolate in my mind. Occasionally it will emerge as something coherent, but it might be weeks or months later.)

The reason for the apparent recognition of the thread is because those kinds of cyber-bashing exchanges are a constant in the gun forums. As my late father used to say, "you can't swing a dead cat without hitting one!"

I did find one or two of the links to be pretty amusing, however. Thanks for sending them!

Stay tuned - I'll have that book report for you next Monday.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: My dog has fleas.

Sadly, my dog's fleas aren't terribly talented, unlike the fleas chronicled in Dark Roasted Blend's
entry on Victorian flea circuses.

That, however, isn't the end of the story. In the aforementioned article I learned of a blog devoted to flea circus research.
No, I'm not kidding.

There are some really odd blogs out there. As I always say, though, “everyone needs a hobby!”

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: It just occurred to me that there may be even odder blogs floating around the intertubes. Post your strangest blog finds in the comments. (No extremely profane sites or
anything dealing with sexual fetishes. We want to see odd, not disgusting.)

School spirit.

Rivalries among neighboring schools are nothing new. They start in high school, and continue into college: here in my slice of heaven, it's the Oregon State University Beavers versus the University of Oregon Ducks. In Texas, it's the Aggies and the Longhorns. Alumni from the respective schools can get downright cantankerous when discussing the "other" team.

So too with shooting schools. Graduates of one school (or, more commonly, one instructor) hold their alma mater or guru to possess the "true way" and refuse to even acknowledge that others exist. In the worst cases, the arguments end up sounding an awful lot like "my Dad can beat up your Dad".

This came up the other day in a discussion I had with
AFGWWWTRA. The term that sparked the conversation was "disciples", and I think that conveys the thought quite nicely. Once one has invested time, effort, and money into an area of interest it's hard to accept that there are other, competing, interests in the world which might just have validity as well. The guru becomes infallible, because if he/she isn't the disciple has wasted time, effort, and money - and who is ever going to admit to that?

I'm not immune; I went through a mild episode of school spirit some years back, but since then I've progressed a bit. I'm open to new ways of thinking and new methods of doing, and my attitude has gone from "so and so says this and it is immutable" to "show me why." The litmus test of any technique or opinion is not the logical fallacy of argument from authority, but rather that it makes sense given an open and agreed-upon criteria.

In an odd coincidence, I just started reading a book that explains this behavior, and as it turns out the concepts involved may have profound implications for self defense. They go well beyond the guru, school, stance, grip, or anything else, and deal with our behavior at a surprisingly base level. In other words, discipleship in and of itself, irrespective of doctrine or dogma, may affect how one performs in a violent encounter.

I'll have more to say when I finish the book.

-=[ Grant ]=-

On flashlight output.

I'm too lazy to go look, but I think I've mentioned that I consider the high-powered flashlight to be the most important non-lethal self defense tool one can carry. When it comes to light output, I'm also of the opinion that more is better, and lots more is lots better. When I hit the switch, I want all the light I can get, and frankly anything under 200 lumens doesn't cut it as far as I’m concerned.

Not long ago it came to my attention that not everyone shares my predilection for light. Usually the contrary opinion is something like "that much light causes glare, which makes it impossible to see. Don't carry a really powerful light for that reason."

Poppycock. The issue with glare isn't in the amount of light being generated, it's in the nature of the beam.

If you pull out a flashlight (any flashlight, really) and shine it on your ceiling you'll notice two parts to the beam. The central part, where it's brightest, is called the 'hotspot'. The surrounding corona of dimmer light is called the 'spill'. The hotspot consists of light that is more collimated; that is, the rays are more aligned than the scattered rays of the spill. It's collimated light that causes glare, and since most flashlights have a hotspot most lights will cause glare if the conditions are right.

If something of light color, or of reflective nature, ends up in the hotspot the collimated light will be bounced back to your eyes, which is perceived as glare. This condition most certainly makes seeing things more difficult. The cure, which most people discover right away, is to illuminate such objects with the spill portion of the beam. Those scattered rays dramatically reduce, or even eliminate, the glare.

Most people think that glare reduction is due to the spill being dimmer than the hotspot, but that's not the case - it's because the spill is more diffuse, and less likely to reflect from the object.

If you try out a number of flashlights, you'll find some major differences in the beams they produce. The size of the hotspot varies, as does its definition. Some hotspots have very sharply defined edges, dropping abruptly into spill, while some are more gradual. There are even beams that have no really defined hotspot, in which the entire beam is a flood of relatively diffuse light. Those are the beams that are least likely to result in glare, and thus are preferred for a self-defense light.

A beam that is pure flood, that is to say with no definable hotspot, will light up an entire room with nice, even light. That's what we want to see! It doesn't matter how bright that flood is, as long as there are no collimated beams the incidence of glare will be reduced.

(All this will be old news to any experienced photographers in the audience. They know that you get more glare from a specular silver umbrella than a softbox, and that it's completely independent of the amount of light being generated.)

A flood beam makes it easier to spot threats, and it makes shooting with the flashlight easier as well. That's what "tactical" lights are supposed to be for, correct?

Sadly, the presence of the word 'tactical' on a flashlight's marketing blurb doesn't mean that it's suitable for such use. As it happens, there aren't a lot of flashlights with flood-like beam characteristics. When people look at flashlights they want to know how far it casts a beam, a desire which favors lights with very collimated and well-defined hotspots. A flood beam simply won't 'throw' as far, even though it's a better choice for the illumination of lethal threats. Bottom line: they don't sell as well.

I've been there; up to a couple of years ago, I too was more interested in how well the light illuminated distant objects than how well it illuminated things that actually posed a threat to me. I've learned since then, and today I look for the flood-iest beam that I can get.

Believe it or not, it's tough to find a light that is truly suitable for self defense, which favors a broad flood beam. Surefire used to have a couple of great candidates in the Lumamax L2 and L4 models. Their flood beams would light up an entire room from a doorway, but over the last couple of years the beams have changed a bit as the LEDs were upgraded. (I also suspect marketing had something to do with that, as we've already discussed.)

The L2 and L4 of today have a little bit of a hotspot and thus aren't nearly as good as the older versions, although they're still better than any other "off the shelf" light you'll find. They would be my first pick.

That is, unless you have a Surefire 6P (who doesn't?) or similar light. If so, all you have to do to make it into a first-class defensive tool is to replace the bulb with a
Malkoff M60F LED module. It will give you a pure flood beam that, as of this writing, is the best on the market. (It’ll fit the aforementioned 6P, as well as the 6Z, M2 and G2 and perhaps a few others.)

As always, having a bit of knowledge helps you make better decisions. Lumens aren't everything, and just because it's expensive, from a name manufacturer, and says 'tactical' on the side doesn't necessarily make it suitable for defensive use.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: When in Rome...

My fascination with old and abandoned things often leads to dreams of great discoveries. Though I've been to a few abandoned places - all of which are pretty well known, at least locally - I'm handicapped by geography. Here in rural Oregon, there just aren't many such places.

There weren't enough people here to have produced a large urban/industrial base a century ago, our technological history doesn't go back much more than 175 years in any case, and we've never exactly been a hotbed of military activity. Thus my dreams of being the first (or, at least, one of the very few) to visit such a site remain elusive.

Other people are more fortunate. A British film crew just last year found the remains of the Aqua Traiana headwaters, the beginnings of a lost aqueduct that once supplied Rome with fresh water. It's beautiful and amazingly well preserved, and all lying below a pig pasture near the village of Manziana, just northwest of Rome.

What gets me is that they found it - in the best Indiana Jones style -
by discovering a hidden door in an abandoned church.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another Day In The Life Of A Gunsmith.

Many people tell me that they'd love to have my job: "it must be fun to play with all those cool guns and get paid for it!"

Lest others be deluded into thinking that this business is all fun and games, allow me to supply a dose of reality: somedays it literally doesn't pay to get out of bed.

Last Thursday was just such a day. It started with the need to make a 'spud'. No, not a potato - a 'spud' is a metal pilot that aligns a cutter with a bore. They're used as guides for such things as chamfering chambers and crowning barrels.

You can buy them ready made, but they come in one size per caliber-specific application. The problem is that if the spud is even .001" off, the quality of the cut will be destroyed. They need to be fitted precisely to the hole in which they will be inserted, and the ready made variety never are. If good work is to be done, they have to be custom made to fit the work.

Over the years I've made a wide range of spuds in various sizes, and because of that selection I usually have one that will fit properly. Occasionally, though, I run into a situation where I need to make yet another one, which is what happened on Thursday. I needed a .216" spud, and the closest I had was .214" - not nearly good enough to properly crown the .22LR barrel on which I was working.

Not a problem! I picked out some appropriate metal and chucked it in the lathe. I made a couple of cuts to get close to finished size, but when I measured the diameter I found that it tapered by roughly .002" throughout the length of the piece! The spud is only a couple of inches long, so a .002" variance in that length is
huge. It renders the part unusable.

It's also not supposed to happen.

Annoying, but not insurmountable. I thought that the lathe probably just needed to be re-leveled, which hadn’t been done for a couple of years. I leveled the lathe (which takes a couple of hours if done very carefully), made a test cut, was still off!


The next step was to check the
lathe’s tailstock for alignment. The tailstock, which supports the end of work in a lathe, has to be precisely aligned along the lathe's longitudinal axis. Otherwise, it pulls the end of the piece left or right, which leads to a taper such as I was finding. I spent the time aligning the tailstock, and a quote from the movie "Ruthless People" poured from my mouth: "Now THAT oughtta do it!"

It didn't.

I went back, tweaked the lathe level, and aligned the tailstock again. The problem persisted.

Put yourself in my place: I've got a top-notch Austrian lathe, the best Swiss measuring instruments, and I'm making parts displaying precision more appropriate to a Kalashnikov clone produced in an unlit cave factory outside of Jalalabad. Something was wrong, and I had to find it. The only hitch was that it was now dinnertime, and due to skipping lunch I was as hungry as could be. The problem would have to wait until the next day.

Friday morning I came into work determined to find the cause. Double checking everything revealed no clues. I replayed the issues in my head, while at the same time resting my hand on the tailstock. I looked down, and it came to me: the live center in the tailstock must be the source of the problem. It was the only thing I'd not checked.

A live center looks like this:

The cone-shaped bit is inserted into a hole in the piece being machined, and the other end goes into the tailstock. The cone revolves on precision ball bearings, keeping the piece aligned as it's rotated by the lathe. Any rotational error will result in inconsistencies in the finished part.

A quick check with a quality (Swiss) test indicator confirmed my fears: .0025" wobble. I checked the piece I'd machined, in several orientations, and sure enough - not only was it tapered, it was also slightly oval, which is exactly the error a worn live center would produce. Bingo!

I ordered up a new live center from my favorite online tool supplier (, and on Monday the smiling UPS man delivered it to my door. The center quickly proved to be the answer; the rotational error was less than .0001", compared to the .0025" wobble of the old one.

With the new center a perfect spud was easily produced, the barrel was beautifully crowned, and the gun will soon be on its way back to a happy shooter.

It only took me a day and a half, plus a not insignificant amount of cash to find and fix the problem. So, want to tell me again how you wish you had my job?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

NEW ARTICLE UP - Check out my latest article, Dealing With The Double Action Trigger, at the Personal Defense Network!

COWBOY TACTICAL - Don't know if I learned of this from Tam or Uncle, but it's funny either way! From Cemetery’s Gun Blob:

GREAT INTERVIEWS - The ProArms Podcast recently featured interviews with Gila Hayes and Kathy Jackson, regarding their respective books: Personal Defense for Women and Lessons from Armed America. Highly recommended listening (and reading!)

A LITTLE RECOGNITION - Many people have asked about the site's redesign. The site is built in RapidWeaver; the theme is from Nick Cates Design. Last week I received an email from Nick, who said he was impressed how I'd used his template. He asked if he could feature in his Showcase, and of course I said yes! You can see it here.

HOUSEKEEPING - You may notice that the tag cloud has changed a bit. I wasn't happy with how I'd handled the tags, so I erased them and started over. Hopefully what you see now is an improvement in usability.

A LITTLE MORE HUMOR - I ran across this link in my archives, and couldn't resist posting it again: How Gun Magazines Write Articles.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Motor City throws a rod.

The decline of Detroit fascinates me.

For many years I've wandered the Northwest visiting ghost towns and abandoned settlements, and always in the back of my mind are the unanswered questions: why did people leave? What was is like to live in a dying town? When did people finally figure out that their town was destined for the dust bin of history? Did it happen suddenly, or was it a slow, agonizing extinction?

These questions come to the forefront as I watch the continuing downfall of one of America's proudest cities.

I'm not saying that Detroit is going to disappear like, oh, Bourne (Oregon) did. It might, it might not. But it's clear that the city's contraction leaves much doubt about its future, and the glorious past of the former powerhouse remains to confront and confound the present residents.

There are lots of great galleries of decaying Detroit around the 'net (I"ve linked to one or two of them), and
Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have produced some of the best.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Pincus on stances.

A while back I shared my concept of the shooting stance, about how it was really a type of scaffold - a device by which one can build skills, and of limited utility past that point.

Well, it turns out that I'm not alone at the Blessed Bovine Abattoir -
Rob Pincus has a new video up at the Personal Defense Network giving his take on the concept of the stance. Watch it with an open mind.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A uniform is scant protection from stupidity.

Today we have two tales of poor gun handling. Pharmacist Tommy sent me
this story about a police officer who shot himself in the head.

From Carteach's blog we get the tale of an Army soldier whose buddy shot him. The young man is quite lucky to be alive.

What do these two incidents have in common?
People do stupid things with guns they perceive to be unloaded. (The problem isn’t that the gun is or is not loaded, but that people are doing stupid things with them in the first place.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

The revolver is not a low-capacity autoloader.

Over the years, a number of 4x4 vehicles have come under fire for being "prone" to rollover accidents: the Suzuki Samurai. The Jeep CJ. The Ford Explorer. The Isuzu Trooper. While the government probes their safety and juries award inflated damages, one pertinent fact is conveniently ignored: a four-wheel-drive isn't a family sedan, and can't be driven like one. The results are predictable.

Guess what? The same relationship exists between the autoloader and the revolver.

In the last couple of decades, the revolver has become the red-headed stepchild of the shooting world. Since autoloaders became the dominant handgun platform, the necessary skills to efficiently run a revolver have fallen by the wayside. Many instructors, particularly in police service, have little to no experience with the wheelgun. This lack of familiarity has led to the wholesale adoption of handling and shooting techniques that work fine with autos, but don't work so well with revolvers.

Last week I linked to a little problem that Robb Allen experienced, and used the phrase which serves as today's title. The thumbs-forward grip that works very well on the autopistol is simply out of place on a revolver, as Robb painfully discovered. Robb's singed thumb is the perfect illustration of my contention: the auto and the revolver are different tools, and need to be handled differently.

Autoloader techniques imposed on the wheelgun lead to reduced efficiency, and sometimes more. For instance, trying to emulate the reloading techniques of the autoloader - shooting hand staying gripped on the gun while the support hand does the reloading - forces the revolver shooter to perform a complex, fine motor skill with the hand least suited to do so.

That's not all, though; leaving the cylinder unsupported can result in crane damage during the reload cycle, particularly on the newer light alloy guns. It's much better instead to use a reloading method that is designed from the ground up to work around both the shooter's and the revolver's weaknesses. (One such method, and the one I espouse because it has the fewest operational weaknesses, is the
Universal Revolver Reload.)

It's time that firearms training reflected the strengths and weaknesses of the revolver, instead of assuming it's just like an autoloader "except for that round part." I'll have more to say on this in the coming months.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

DRAW FAST, HOLSTER SLOW: Tam alerts us to a ND that happened at a Todd Green class. In his commendable reporting of the incident, Todd says "Never be in a rush to holster your pistol. We all know it, we say it, we teach it. Not all of us do it." So true.

As instructors it's easy for us to forget that reinforcement, and sometimes enforcement, are necessary parts of our job. Especially when we're dealing with "advanced" students, we tend to go easy on the reinforcement of fundamentals for fear that we'll be resented for belittling their ability or experience. We have to resist that tendency, and we need to do so consistently. When warranted, enforcement (up to and including ejection from class) has to happen.

The only instructor I've ever seen who is absolutely consistent in this regard is Georges Rahbani (
TBRIYNHO.) Even in his advanced rifle classes, which are invitation only and have stringent prerequisites, you will hear "safety on" and "finger in register" (index, if you prefer) commands at the end of a string of fire. He never wastes an opportunity for reinforcement at any level of training or ability.

When Georges encounters failures to heed commands or instruction, he has a way of bringing the point home to the student: he/she has to publicly deposit a dollar bill into a pot. (The students have a friendly shoot-off at the end of class to win the pot.) This has a non-confrontational, yet still very chastening, effect on both the offending person and the rest of the students; I've seen it work on countless occasions. I don't know where the idea comes from, but I'm giving Georges the credit.

THE PROBLEM WITH ELECTRONIC SCALES: I recently sat down to work up a new .308 load. I turned on my RCBS electronic scale, waited a couple of minutes, and starting weighing charges. Much to my surprise, the weight of the charges thrown by my powder measure increased each time! I'd forgotten that electronic scales need protracted warmup periods before accuracy and repeatability can be expected. After a half-hour of warmup, it settled down and gave correct readings. Word to the wise: keep your mechanical scales around to double check the electronic ones, or buy a set of check weights.

HERE COMES DA JUDGE: From The Unforgiving Minute comes this gem:

"The inexplicable success of the Taurus Judge still depresses the hell out of me. Taurus keeps cranking out new versions, each more grotesque, hideous and nonsensical than the last, and people KEEP BUYING THE GODDAMN THINGS. Just another sign that our culture is doomed, I suppose."

(The opinions of the contributor do not necessarily reflect the views of the Management of this blog. Then again, they just might.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

An exciting new personal defense resource!

This week is dominated by SHOT Show news, and in the midst of all the shiny new goodies it's hard to remember that self defense isn't just about hardware. Guns and ammo are easy to write about, so that's what most people concentrate on. As a result, you find lots of sites that deal with hardware, but precious few with the software so necessary for survival.

That situation is about to change: the
Personal Defense Network has gone "live"!

PDN is the new source for self defense articles, tips, and video lessons on the net. Rob Pincus, the Managing Editor, has gathered some of the best authorities from around the country to staff PDN, with a simple goal: PDN aims to be the leading destination of high-quality, personal defense content online, as well as a no-nonsense gathering place for those serious about arming themselves for defense in every aspect of their lives.

This isn't the same old "9mm vs. .45ACP" stuff you find in the magazines or on the gun forums - the information at PDN is at a higher level. You'll learn some new techniques, some refinements of your existing skills, and some vital topics that other sites just won't touch (check out "
Dealing with a Gun Shot Wound During Training Class".)

It isn't all about guns, either; self defense is more than simply shooting people, and PDN delivers vital information to help you expand your hand-to-hand and less lethal skills ("
Don't Bring A Gun To A Knife Fight" is a great introduction to why the gun isn't always the right answer.)

There's lots more, from fitness to legalities to tactics, all written by some of the best people in the business. You'll hear from master trainer Rob Pincus as well as such
renowned experts as Tony Blauer, Michael Janich, John Brown, Marty Hayes, Andy Langlois, Kent O’Donnell, and Paul Haberstroh. (Oh, and some guy named Grant Cunningham - anyone know who he is?)

Check out the site, watch the videos, read the articles, and
join the forum. Check in often, as there's a lot more great content coming at PDN.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Vintage gun ads.

The SHOT Show, that yearly orgy of all things that go 'bang', starts next Tuesday. The products shown there will be arriving on dealer's shelves over the coming months, but the ads will show up almost immediately. That's how commerce is done.

It was serendipitous, then, that I recently ran across a site called
Vintage Ad Browser. The site collects images of old ads for all kinds of products, including guns and ammo. Just like the SHOT Show, you'll find ads aimed at hunters, collectors, and those interested in self defense:

Take a look - how many do you remember from your youth?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Massad Ayoob's new gig.

I got an email from Massad Ayoob recently, in which he told me about his new venture: the Massad Ayoob Group (MAG).
He's got a great website where you can read the official announcement.

While the curriculum will be new, the principles he teaches aren't. No one knows more about the legal and ethical side of deadly force, and his updated classes will build on that expertise. I asked Mas about how the new curriculum will translate to his old courses:

"I'm trying to keep the new curriculum such that, say, an LFI-I in a previous course will be acceptable as a prerequisite for second level with [the Massad Ayoob Group.] The analog to JUDF, for example, will be MAG-20 Classroom, with the suffix indicating the hour number. The commonality goes two ways: just as I'll structure MAG-80 so it will be suitable for an LFI-I graduate, I'll make sure MAG-40 gives the student strong enough a foundation to be an acceptable prerequisite for an LFI-II."

For those not familiar with his work, 'JUDF' refers to 'Judicious Use of Deadly Force' - perhaps his best-known course and the gold standard on the topic. The live fire accompaniment to that will be MAG-20/Live Fire, and the two combined - what corresponds most closely to the old LFI-1 - in updated form will be called MAG-40.

The Massad Ayoob Group also signals a new emphasis on teaching lawyers how to handle self defense cases. In conjunction with the
Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, he's initiating his Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes. First in the new schedule is "Defending the Deadly Force Case", already on the calendar for Anchorage and Seattle this year. He tells me that more are in the works.

That's particularly important news, as it ensures that there will be more properly trained counsel to help you and me if we ever find ourselves in court. This is the kind of class that Mas is uniquely qualified to teach, and it's great that he's taken up the cause.

Check his site; if he's teaching anywhere near you, take advantage of the opportunity to learn from one of the good guys.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ruger announces new revolvers. Sorta.

Ruger let slip this week that the GP100 and Blackhawk will now be available chambered in .327 Federal Magnum. The GP100 will carry 7 rounds with a 4" barrel, and the Blackhawk will chamber 8 rounds behind a 5.5" tube. This is welcome news for people who, like me, see the .327 Magnum as not fitting its originally advertised role.

The first chambering of the .327 was in the SP101, as Ruger & Federal were touting it as a self-defense cartridge. The theory was that one could get the "stopping power" of a Magnum cartridge but with less recoil than the .357. My testing suggested that any recoil difference was negligible, while serious doubts remained about the round's effectiveness against an attacker. I didn't consider it a good tradeoff, and said so in print more than once.

I also said that I thought it would be great for hunting predators and other medium game, and I still believe this is where it will find a niche. The .327 offers a significant boost in power over the .32 H&R Magnum, which should measurably increase the effective range of the caliber. The longer barrels and adjustable sights of the GP and Blackhawk will bring it into the hunting field; all that remains is for Marlin to chamber their 1894 lever gun in .327!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2010 is finally here, and I'm still surprised about that. Back in 1979 the twenty-first century looked sooooooo far away that I thought I'd never see it. Here we are in the second decade already; where did the last ten years go? (So, this is what it's like to age....)

I took a four-day weekend for the New Year, though it wasn't really time off: I spent the time doing work around the farm, to the screaming protest of my muscles and joints. This brief respite reminded me that it's been many years since my last vacation (which, as it happens, I spent in a shooting class), and I think it's high time for another. I say so every year, but this time I'm going to do it. Of course, I say that every year too!

S&W GOES PRO: Remember a year or so ago, when I wrote about a limited run of no-lock Model 642? At the time S&W claimed that they'd "found" a stash of pre-lock frames and decided to put them together for sale. Apparently they were popular enough that the company has managed to "find" some more NOS frames, as they've brought out a couple of new editions: the "Pro" series 442 and 642. They're just like the non-Pro models, except they have no locks and have cylinders cut for moonclips. There are a whole lot of questions one could pose about the decision to bring these to market, but I'm glad to see them all the same.

(I do wish they'd get consistent with their naming conventions: they have the
642 PowerPort Pro Series revolver, which has a ported barrel AND a lock, but no moonclip capability. The only thing these models have in common is a matte black finish, which harkens me back to the days of selling high end camera gear: you could get many cameras in either chrome or black finish, the black models inevitably referred to as "professional". At least they're not calling them 'tactical'!)

SPEAKING OF MOON CLIPS: I get several queries per month regarding moonclips for a carry revolver, and I recommend to all that they be limited to range use. Yes, they are faster to reload (the margin depending on the cartridge) - but I don't believe that outweighs the fragility of the clips themselves, as even a small bend will tie up the gun. (There's always someone who writes back "well, I've carried moonclips in my pocket for years and have never had a problem!" I'm sure that's true, just as I'm sure that someone, somewhere has a perfectly reliable Colt All American 2000. I'm not willing to bet my little pink bottom on either one, however.)

MORE SMITH NEWS: The regular Model 642, along with the 637 and 638, will now be available with 2-1/2" fully lugged barrels instead of the 1-7/8" tubes. I always liked the .357 version of the Model 640 for its slightly longer barrel, and am glad to see it come to some other models. That little extra weight up front helps with control on the lightweight frames, as well as providing longer extractor travel. (Sadly, they are still afflicted with the silly lock.)

WELCOME TO OREGON: This holiday season saw three groups of people lost in the Oregon woods - thanks to an over-reliance on GPS navigation. This should serve as a cautionary tale: ceding your health and safety to something (or someone else) is an invitation to disaster. Take responsibility for yourself; make sure your brain is always engaged. You'll notice that these are consistent themes here at The Revolver Liberation Alliance, and they have application well beyond protecting yourself from human predators. (Oh, and buy a decent map when venturing out of the confines of the suburbs.)

-=[ Grant ]=-
© 2013 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!