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Kids are the future of the Second Amendment, but not if we treat their parents like pariahs.


We-The-People
I was teaching a Home Defense Handgun Skills class yesterday, and during the last hour or so of range time a fellow and his two teenage kids drove in and set up on the range next to us to shoot a very well-accessorized AR-15.
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You know what grinds my gears? YouTube videos where women suffer shooting big guns.


There’s a genre of YouTube videos consisting of women shooting guns with heavy recoil for which they’ve not been properly prepared. Those vids disgust me.
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Dick Metcalf has his Second Amendment beliefs; I have mine. They're not the same.


When it comes to the Second Amendment, there are idealists and realists. I’m a little of both.

The idealist in me says that the Amendment is quite clear, and that it should be sufficient in and of itself. “Keep and bear arms” should mean that we would not be prevented from possessing and carrying personal arms (as opposed to ordnance; I believe the founder’s use of the word ‘arms’ was specific for a reason, like everything else they put there.) Any restriction on that ability would seem to be an infringement of the type the founders specifically disallowed.

At the same time the realist in me understands that the courts have generally upheld the concept of ‘time, place, and manner’ restrictions on some enumerated rights. In general, as long as those restrictions were ‘reasonable’ and ‘nondiscriminatory’ they have been allowed to stand. This is probably why we have concealed carry permit laws instead of nationwide so-called constitutional carry: many people see asking permission to exercise what is supposed to be a right as reasonable.

It’s in this chasm between what the Second Amendment says and what the courts have interpreted that our fights happen. We in the shooting community generally believe that the time, place and manner restrictions in place already go further than necessary, to the point of infringement of our rights, while the gun prohibitionists believe they don’t go nearly far enough and aren’t infringements because they are both reasonable and non-discriminatory.

Do I believe we’ve actually been infringed? Yes, I do. The rights of gun owners have been infringed since at least 1934, and those infringements have almost always been allowed by the courts. Do I believe restrictions have always been reasonable? No, I don’t. Do I believe they’ve always been non-discriminatory? Most certainly not!

This is where pragmatism comes in: I’m deeply supportive of the meaning behind the Amendment, but smart enough to understand that there are political realities with which we must contend even if we don’t like them. While wild-eyed idealism is emotionally gratifying, it doesn’t always (in fact, rarely seems to) produce the results it seeks.

We have to deal with time, place and manner restrictions because they’re part of the legal system; with legislation of responsibilities, not necessarily because we always do something to deserve it but simply because the American people are used to it in all areas of life; and with a general disregard for the language and intent of the Founders, because no one these days really seems to care what they thought!

Whether we like it or not, we live in a political playground and our rights (all of them, not just the Second Amendment) are fodder for all manner of legislation and restriction — some proper, most not. In this environment, absolutists lose.

This is why my personal belief with regard to the Second Amendment has become “net zero”: for any attempted infringement that occurs, we should attempt to eliminate another. The reality is that infringements are here, and at some level they’re here to stay; I can’t imagine anyone really believing that we’ll ever be able to roll back the Gun Control Act of 1968, let alone the National Firearms Act of 1934. If we can chip away at them, however, at least we won’t lose in the aggregate.

This idea of net zero is not compromise! Compromise occurs when two entities have incompatible positions, and agree to modify their positions in order to reach a mutually desired goal. When we’re dealing with gun prohibitionists, their goal is to restrict or eliminate legal gun ownership; that’s certainly not a goal I share with them! My position is simple: the Second Amendment says certain things, and I want that to be respected today even if it wasn’t yesterday.

That doesn’t mean we should happily accept equilibrium with the prohibitionists, of course! If we have a position of strength, if we’re in a position to get something without any bargaining, we should use that opportunity to use incrementalism in our favor. The great thing is that when we make a gain, we have a new, better baseline for those times when we can only achieve net zero. Over time, using both gain when we can and net zero when we can’t, we’ll make positive progress.

This is what the gun prohibitionists have been doing to us for years, and we should do the same thing to them. We can’t, though, if we stick our heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge the social and political landscape. (More gun owners need to read Saul Alinsky.)

That’s the pragmatic view of the Second Amendment: it shouldn’t be infringed but it has been, and the likelihood is that it will continue to be unless we take an active role and play the political game to win - or at least to not lose. I don’t believe in just yelling ‘Molon Labe!’ and hoping that will impress someone, and I don’t believe in shirking the responsibilities that always accompany a right in order to make some misguided sociopolitical statement. I want us to win, and understand that in order to do so we have to play the game.

Does this make me less of a Second Amendment supporter than the absolutists? Hardly! My dream would be to take the Second back to the pure meaning the Founders intended — but I also know that it’s just a dream. I’ve got the dreams of the idealist, but understand that it’s the realists who will actually make progress in the direction I want to go.

A long time ago someone told me that you either acknowledge reality and use it to your advantage, or it will automatically work against you. I’ve seen that validated more times than I can possibly count. The more victories the realists make, the closer the idealists get to their goal. This is what works, as even a superficial reading of recent history will show.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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FRIDAY SURPRISE: What a woodstove teaches about life.


I've mentioned, I believe, that we heat our house with a woodstove. It's not a decoration or a supplement; we have no other source of heat. It's the woodstove or nothing.

Our woodstove is very efficient, and it's no problem to heat our house to the mid-70s at any time of the year. We've grown very accustomed, in fact, to that temperature range since we moved here some years back. After a while, 70 degrees seems downright cold!

Our previous home was a darling historic house in a charming historic neighborhood, a house which would never get over 73 degrees no matter how much natural gas we pumped through its furnace. It was old and drafty, and though we made upgrades over the years it was never going to be what you'd call energy efficient without a lot of extensive (and expensive) work. As a consequence we kept the thermostat at 68 degrees, because the drain our checking account was far more efficient than the furnace!

In our current house, however, keeping warm is simply a matter of effort: go to the woodshed, split some wood, build a fire. I know that if I'm a little chilled all I need do is put wood in the stove, and in a short amount of time I can make myself anywhere from cozy to sweltering. All at a whim, and all without worrying about the finances of the thing.

Why am I telling you this? Because the woodstove provides a direct link between effort and reward. If I want to be warm, I know how much effort I need to input to be warm. I have a woodshed, and I know how much effort I need to input to get that shed full of firewood. Everything has a direct relationship between what I do and what I get because the relationship is in real time.

This is different than how most people lead their lives (and how I used to lead mine.) We go to work, we toil, and then we go home. The trouble is that we generally have no immediate evidence or product of that work; it will be at least a week, maybe several, before our bank account shows a higher number than it used to. That’s it; we don’t have anything other than a number on a computer screen. As a culture we've divorced effort from reward; we've abstracted work.

The numbers in our accounts aren’t real, in the sense that we can touch them. We know we have bills, some recurring and some incidental, but there's no connection between what we give (spend) and what we get. There isn't really a feeling of control or mastery over our lives when we've abstracted work to that degree. This is why I've said for decades that I'm really not motivated by money. To me it's not real.

All that's needed to dispel those feelings of disconnection and alienation that come from abstraction is to bring effort and reward closer together. The more solid the intellectual and emotional bond between work and product, the greater the sense of accomplishment. It seems simple, but it works - ask anyone who's ever had a good vegetable garden.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, if you sense a lack of control over your life, I heartily suggest that you get a woodstove. Bring back the connection between your work and your reward.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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FRIDAY SURPRISE: Is it time to revisit the concept of a library?


Fast Company recently published an article about a best-selling author who believes that public libraries have outlived their usefulness. According to him, they waste taxpayer dollars and deprive authors of royalties.

As you might guess, I'm more than a little interested in this discussion due to having books currently in print myself. The article makes a good point: libraries are a drain on public resources and certainly do deprive authors of a certain amount of revenue. The question is whether either of those is sufficient cause to abolish libraries altogether.

My anarcho-libertarian side would certainly like to see publicly funded libraries eliminated and those services moved to the private sector. My tax dollars go to support a system which is all too often used to provide mindless entertainment instead of enlightenment, romance novels instead of astrophysics texts. The libraries in even medium-sized cities are often a dumping ground for people who just want to get out of the rain, rather than expand their minds.

The naive optimist in me, however, hopes that even the most uneducated bumpkin might some day be inspired to pick up a book on art history instead of another DVD of America's Funniest Home Videos. The human race progresses only through accumulated knowledge, and the library has historically been the vessel which holds that knowledge for easy access.

I can walk into the library and see kids engrossed in surfing the net, knowing full well that their parents choose to spend their discretionary funds on beer and cigarettes rather than a cheap computer and an internet connection for their children's development. Were the library to close, where would they be able to access the greatest mechanism yet developed to spread information?

The question is: should we feel obligated to provide those things? If so, how much are we collectively willing to pay in order to provide such opportunity?

The other side of the argument is not so confounding, at least for me. As an author whose books currently reside in library collections I concede that there are a certain number of people who are interested in what I write, but who will choose to read it for free rather than paying. The library certainly makes that easier to do, otherwise they'd need to find a friend from whom they could borrow my books!

At the same time, I know (because I've heard from them) that there are people who discover one of my books in their local library, check it out and like it enough to buy their own copy. How, really, is that different than the same book being leafed through at Barnes & Noble? I don't think it is, and I suspect that the library is at best revenue neutral (my publisher, on the other hand, might feel differently - perhaps I should ask?)

I don't see myself as losing a ton of money due to the library, but then again I'm not a bestselling author who makes his living from writing; perhaps if I were my opinion would change. Then again, I've never felt the need for a large house with a sauna and room for a pony. **

I welcome your discussion in the comments.

-=[ Grant ]=-

** - Bonus points for those who recognize the reference without Googling, Binging or asking Siri.
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Someone actually thought this was a good idea.


On
Monday I brought you the sad tale of a silly article in the Shooting Times Personal Defense 2012 Annual. The silliness doesn't stop with the content, however - the way that the article was presented casts a blot not just on Shooting Times and the author of the article, but on the shooting community as a whole.

The pictures for the article were taken by the author, one J. Guthrie. All of them - several pages worth - were of a youngish bikini-clad woman displaying her wares, along with the guns, in suggestive poses. There was even something for the foot fetishists in the audience: six-inch stiletto shoes. Black, of course, to match the bikini.

Now understand that I'm hardly a prude. I rather enjoy looking at the female form, and have been known to peruse pictures of scantily clad women from time to time.* I’m also not what you’d call politically correct, as my wife will readily attest!

Even with my barely submerged neanderthal tendencies, my first reaction when I saw the article was one of disbelief. Surely, I thought, no one could be that out of touch in this day and age. I was wrong.

I'm sorry to break this to the misogynists out there, but an article on defensive shooting in a gun magazine is not the place for bikini babe pictures. Those kinds of images are a throwback to gun rags of the '70s and '80s, where no effort was made to appeal to (let alone understand) the female shooters in this world. Depictions of women as mere ornaments for the gun are what I'd thought the industry had gotten away from, but the author and his editors at Shooting Times are apparently stuck in a time warp and haven't yet figured out that the rest of the world has moved on.

Now you may be thinking that I'm over-reacting. I thought about that possibility, so I shared this with some people in the industry. They ranged from famous to barely known, male and female, but everyone had the same reaction I did: they thought it was disgusting.

In an age where the industry is finally getting a large cadre of confident and competent women who are both good shooters and terrific spokespeople (think Jessie Duff, Julie Golob, and Randi Rogers - and there are lots more where they came from) the article in question is simply inappropriate. It's particularly ironic that in a self defense magazine (which women should be reading), in an article on .380 pistols (which women do tend to purchase in disproportionate numbers to men and thus need the education), the author and editor would go out of their way to do something so patently offensive to them.

The message from J. Guthrie and Shooting Times is clear: women and guns are okay, as long as they're paired in a superficial and stereotypical manner that trivializes their relationship and doesn't threaten the egos of the male readers. It's sad that the article was written and illustrated the way it was, and even sadder that it was published.

-=[ Grant ]=-

( * - I will admit to becoming more selective as I get older; bleached hair, tattoos and excessive makeup are not particularly attractive to me, but I certainly do enjoy the, uh, other parts.)
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Picking up the pieces, post RECOIL.


RECOIL Magazine
certainly took a heck of a beating last week. The editor, Jerry Tsai, resigned on Thursday after a long list of advertisers cancelled their support of the publication, and on Friday the publisher "suspended" Associate Publisher Joe Galloway - likely for his ridiculous spin attempts (and perhaps some alleged astroturfing that was tried on Facebook.)

Now what? They may survive, they may not; I don't think anyone can really predict their fate, at least not now. If they want to survive, however, the first thing they're going to need to do is to appoint a new editor who is both a young iconoclast AND a knowledgable defender of gun rights. It will need to be someone who the 20- and 30-something readers of RECOIL can accept as one of their own, someone who knows (and is known in) the industry, and someone who can retain the talent that actually put the magazine out. That's a tall order.

The publisher is going to need to come out with a strong commitment to the Second Amendment. Not a tepid, "we stand in full support" kind of statement that politicians everywhere spout, but a real, here-is-exactly-what-we-think-about-the-tough-issues statement. He's also going to need to come to grips with the internet and social media, which the whole affair (delayed statements, flip-flopping, alleged astroturfing, and leaked internal emails) showed not to be the case. They're a print entity and it seems they didn't quite understand how quickly things move in the electronic world, let alone how easy it is for people to find out if someone is lying.

Once those things are done the magazine is going to need to rebuild its advertising base. That's going to be a tough row to hoe, because the advertisers have been burned and are probably quite shy of any association. This is where the new editor is going to have to press the flesh and make the personal appeals necessary to woo those companies back into their pages. Any whiff of insincerity or suggestion of hesitation on their new mission, and those ad dollars will leave for good.

As a community we're going to need to support those advertisers if and when they return to RECOIL. A continued boycott won't do any of us any good, least of all the under-represented shooters for whom RECOIL was intended. It's time to put down the pitchforks, folks, and get busy putting RECOIL back on the newsstands - assuming, of course, they show that they're deserving of that support. The community will need to be both immediate and visible so that the advertisers understand they won't be penalized for going back to RECOIL.

Why? Because, as I’ve
already pointed out in this blog and on The Gun Nation, the magazine is important to the shooting community’s future.

The industry is just now getting their heads wrapped around the very place of RECOIL in the panoply of firearms publications. I don't think many people in the business yet "get" the purpose of the magazine (the online criticisms of their content are painfully hilarious to read), and very few consumers outside of their target market understand the new gun enthusiasts themselves.

As the story unfolded I wondered aloud about their political connections and ownership. I had the facts correct, but my concerns, I think, proved to be misplaced. It became very clear as the ship started listing to starboard that the magazine existed not as a tool of subtle political manipulation, but simply as an example of how people’s interests are not always going to be in line with our preconceived notions.

This weekend, for instance, I was listening to a gun talk show and the host couldn't understand how someone could be both an enthusiastic gun owner and in favor of gay marriage. (Apparently he is not aware that there is a significant, yet quiet, subset of gay gun owners whose passion for gun rights easily equals his.) These young shooters very often are supportive of both concepts, and it's something those people in leadership positions who see the political spectrum in black-and-white must face up to.

Here's the key to understanding the RECOIL reader: they are not one-issue people or one-issue voters; they are not gun rights activists first and foremost, whose points of view are shaped by that. And, though it may cost me some readers, I'm going to say for the record: THAT'S OK!

They don't have to be rabid gun rights activists to support the Second Amendment. They simply need to be educated as to what the Amendment means, why it's important to them, and how it is perfectly compatible with their desires for "social justice". We are not going to turn them into "conservative" voters, we're not going to stop them from voting the way they want to vote, and it would be hypocritical of us to try to do so or to abandon them because they won't. We have to accept that they're not going to vote gun rights exclusively, that they’ll consider them as one part of their whole world view, and that they're often going to support candidates who sport a "D" after their name.

If we as a community are serious - really serious - about broadening the support for firearms ownership in this country and ensuring the continuation of all that we’ve fought for, we have to accept the RECOIL readers for who they are. Our job is to move the Second Amendment up on their scale of importance, but we can’t do that if we can’t reach them. RECOIL was one very good way of reaching them.

There is a whole generation out there whose members like guns and would likely become the Second Amendment leaders of tomorrow, as long as we don't leave them blaming the "fudds" for taking away their voice. By taking an active interest in what happens over at RECOIL, we can ensure that there is a real outlet for those gun owners who are not well served (if served at all) by the existing publications and organizations.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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FRIDAY SURPRISE: Red flags. And blue ones, too.


For some reason, I recently found myself looking at a picture of our state flag (for those who don't know, that would be Oregon.) I've seen this flag my entire life, and today it dawned on me: our flag is ugly.

Ugly and boring.

Our flag is also the only one in these 50 states whose reverse side is different than the obverse side - and the back is even uglier and more boring than the front. As if that were even possible.

I know that not all state flags are so ugly and boring, so I went to Wikipedia to find out if we are saddled with the most ugly and boring flag in this Republic.

You know what? If we don't have the ugliest and most boring flag, all we have to do is turn it over - then we do. Yeah for us!

Our neighbor to the north, Washington, can't be accused of having a particularly interesting entry, but it's still more interesting than ours (and at least it's unique in having a green field.) Alaska's is simple - simpler than ours by far - but at least makes one think about the heavens. Nevada's isn't particularly inspiring, but at least it's the same on both sides. I'm not sure why, but I expected a better effort from Vermont - and they still outdo us. Texas is surprisingly lame for a state with such a large personality, but not as lame as Oregon's.

Some state flags are really cool. Maryland gets my vote for the neatest state flag, and Arizona's isn't far behind. I love New Mexico's minimalist design, while Rhode Island's appropriately small entry is bright and nautical. Ohio gets huge style points for being the only burgee (swallowtail pennant) format, a refreshing break from the quadrangles used by every other state. Florida's makes a bold statement with their red "X" and state seal, while Alabama uses just the "X" - they don't need no stinkin' seal on their flag.

Have a look at the Wikipedia entry, and ask yourself: is my state's flag as ugly and boring as Oregon's?

I doubt it.

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: You can also get the stories behind each state’s flag at http://www.netstate.com/state_flags.htm
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The Martin/Zimmerman case.


I've gotten a few emails and Facebook messages asking what I think of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman shooting. My answer is simple: I don't know the facts of the case.

The important thing to remember is that no one does. All we have is piecemeal information released by sources of varying veracity and - here's the important part - reported by the media, filtered through whatever biases they have at the time.

It's amazing to me that so many in the "gun culture" (regular readers know how I despise that term, and I use it here precisely because I do) are quick to believe anything the media tells them when it's in Zimmerman's favor, but not so when it's in Martin's. The opposite, of course, is true for those on the "other side".

Having dealt with media for many years and having relatives inside that industry, I know that they couldn't report the time correctly if you handed them a watch. Aside from the intentional misrepresentation or fabrication of fact (which happens so often it’s almost expected), there is also the unintentional skewing of information that comes from personal and corporate interests. In short, you can't believe anything you're told - and it doesn't matter if it's from NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, CNN, or anyone else.

Everything we “know” about this case has come through the media, and the media isn’t reliable. How can anyone have a fact-based opinion under those conditions?

I'll wait for the court case, thank you very much, where there are rules of evidence and people are held accountable for what they say. Zimmerman might be guilty as sin or Martin may have been evil incarnate, but right now I'm comfortable saying that I simply don't know.

One thing's for sure: I'm not going to decide this case based on what the media is telling me, because the one thing I do know is that they can't be trusted.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Respect the man, challenge the material.


I received a couple of critical emails in regard to
last week's post about the double tap and its applicability to realistic defensive training. The gist of both, and sadly predictable, was that I wasn't fit to polish the boots of Jeff Cooper, who was an advocate of the practice.

My reply: one can question an opinion without being insolent to the person who holds it. As individuals we
should do so, but as teachers we must.

I then referred them to
an article called "Respectful Irreverence" by Rob Pincus, which I first read in 2008 and which marked a turning point in my outlook on the training world. It's a classic that deserves a few minutes of your time to read.

Just because I happen to disagree with someone doesn’t mean that I don’t admire them or appreciate their contributions to the field. At the same time, I don’t engage in hero worship - it is not conducive to independent, critical thought.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Numbers don't say things. Words do.


A man is sent to prison. At night, after the lights have been turned out, his cellmate yells "number eight!" The whole cell block breaks out laughing. After things quiet down, someone else calls out "number eleven!" Again, everyone laughs.

The new guy asks his older cellmate what's going on. "Well," says the other prisoner, "we've all been in here for so long that we all know the same jokes. So to save time, we just yell out the number instead of repeating the whole joke."

Feeling like he's now a full-fledged part of this fraternity, the new guy yells "Number twelve!" No one laughs - not even a snicker. Confused, he yells out "number three!" Silence.

Dejected, he turns to his cellmate and asks "what's wrong? Why didn't I get any laughs?"

"Well," said the older man, "some guys just don't know how to tell a joke."


I've written before - many times - about how I abhor what I call "Traditional Rule One ("treat all guns as if they are loaded.") For those coming in late,
read this for the whole explanation.

It's obvious that my opinion has had only minor effect on the shooting fraternity as a whole, as I continually see that silly rule referenced in blogs, forums and articles. That's bad enough, but there's something else that gnaws at me: the use of a number as shorthand for the rule itself.

I see references all the time to "Rule One", "Rule Two" and so on. No explanation of what those numbers mean, just the number itself - as if everyone both understands and agrees. The problem with safety rules, obviously, is that not everyone understands them in the first place. If they did, we wouldn't have so many accidents!

Particularly when dealing with people who don't have a lot of experience with firearm safety, numbers obscure the meaning. Those folks don't know the rules terribly well to start with, and throwing shortcuts at them only compounds the problem. Have you ever taken a class where the instructor assumes that you already have every bit of the background he or she does, and refers to things with abbreviations and acronyms that you don't recognize? Frustrating, isn't it? That's what we as a community do by continually referring to safety rules with only numbers.

Even for people with solid backgrounds in a subject, abbreviations blur definitions over time. For instance, can you identify all of the words in the common acronym "NAACP" without Googling? You've seen it all your life, but I'll bet for many the words have long since been forgotten. The same, I believe, happens with the safety rules.

Right now, can you recite "Rule #2" perfectly and without hesitation? What if your version of "#2" isn't exactly the same as the next guy's? What are the safety implications? Don't you think that's something you should know?

Rather than agreeing on a number, wouldn't it be a whole lot safer to agree on the actual subject of the rule? What if your numbers don't even refer to the same concepts - how is that in any way promoting safe gun handling? It's not, and that's my point.

If you're an instructor, using numbers in place of words is a sign that you're not paying full attention to the safety of your students. If you're a blogger, it's an indication that - like our hapless con at the top - you're more interested in being part of the "in group" than of actually promoting gun safety.

Stop contributing to the problem: put safety in words that everyone can understand. Say what you mean instead of abbreviating. Even if people don't agree with you, at least they'll know what you’re talking about!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Monday Meanderings: holidays, old guns, my book.


I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving weekend - ours was filled with windstorm destruction and a blown head gasket on my primary vehicle. My spare time for the next couple of weeks will be filled with hauling debris and fixing an engine. Why can't these things happen in summer, when it's nice to be outside working?

---

Thanksgiving weekend seems these days to be filled more with thoughts of football than of peaceful coexistence with one's fellow man. Here in Oregon we had our annual Civil War Game - Oregon State University versus University of Oregon, the prize being the opportunity to play in another game of some sort. (No, I don't follow college football - does it show?) I personally find it rather sad that folks can tell you who's playing, why they're playing, who the head coaches are, and even the names of a couple of ousted coaches from a college clear back in Pennsylvania - but can't name five of the top physics programs in the country.

(Just for the record, this is not age-related curmudgeonliness - as my siblings will gleefully tell you, I had precisely the same opinion as a kid.)

---

Someone (could have been
Tam, but I’m not absolutely positive) recently turned me on to a cool gun blog: Forgotten Weapons. Lots of great stuff about guns you may not even know existed, presented with a decidedly scholarly bent. Immediately became one of the few in my daily RSS feed.

---

A couple of days ago I found out that my new book, The
Gun Digest Book of the Revolver, is being sold in the U.K. by Amazon. As of this morning the folks across the pond only had two copies left, which sounds as though it's a big seller over there. Then again, they may have only ordered three copies total - this realization serving to keep my ego in check!


-=[ Grant ]=-
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King of the road.


Over a year ago I read a review of a training course on one of the gun forums. It's been long enough that I don't remember what the course was, or who the instructor may have been, so I don't think I have any dog in the fight. Besides, it's not the particulars that matter in this story; it's the student's attitude that I find most intriguing.

The person in question had taken a weekend course at some gun school and was very critical of the instruction received. As I recall, it wasn't the material itself about which he was complaining - it was the instructor's attitude. The writer was upset because the instructor had insisted that his students perform the drills as he taught them, rather than as they were used to doing. According to the reviewer, the instructor took a "my way or the highway" approach to the material being taught. This, apparently, was a Bad Thing.

My thought was (and still is) that this illustrated not a poor instructor, but a poor student.

Why does one take a course? To learn a new skill, I should think. If all a student wants is validation of what they've already been taught, then he or she should simply repeat the courses already attended. Taking a new course will naturally expose the student to new material, and doggedly resisting that exposure is counter productive for both the individual and the other students.

If one is going to learn a new skill one must first be exposed to it and then take the time to practice. If someone goes to a class and decides immediately that they don't want to do that, what's the reason for being there in the first place? If you take a class, you do it the teacher's way - that is, after all, the whole point of the event, is it not?

Ultimately the student - not the instructor - is responsible for his or her own competence. The instructor's job is to present material competently, logically, clearly, and factually, but it's up to the student to take advantage of what is being provided. An instructor who insists that, while in the class, the student practice only what has been taught isn't arrogant. (As long as the material has been clearly presented and the students have been given an opportunity to seek intellectual clarity and comfort with that material, of course.) An unyielding commitment to structure provides the proper environment for the student to become competent if he/she so chooses.

Whether or not one "likes" new material is irrelevant, as we've all had the experience of disliking someone or something until we got to know them/it better. Part of the process is habituation, which only occurs with repeated exposure. If the instructor doesn't insist on that exposure, letting the students do it their own way, how are they going to really know if it's for them? What other frame of reference can one use to make any sort of a judgement?

Note that I’m not considering the quality or applicability of the material in this argument. If the student deems the techniques or processes are silly or illogical or superfluous relative to his needs, he is always free jettison them
after class has ended. During the class, though, they need to be done the way the instructor is teaching them - and he should insist on it.

(I am not addressing the very real instances where a physical issue prevents the student from doing something the way it’s been taught. That’s a separate issue, and the instructor should be willing and able to accommodate the student’s limitations.)

"My way or the highway", to me, is simply an instructor's insistence that a student pay attention and get in enough reps to at least start on becoming competent. I think a student should look for that attitude in a trainer, not complain about it!

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

It is time to revisit Taurus?


One of the most popular items on this site is the little essay
"Why I Don't Work on Taurus Revolvers". It generates a lot of commentary (and more than a little hate mail) because it points out the obvious: to produce a gun that sells for less than the competition, something has to give. If that something isn't on the outside, it's got to be on the inside. This is a simple fact of economic life.

Over the years I've tested several randomly chosen Taurus revolvers and generally found them to be seriously wanting in some important aspect. For instance, the model 445 (which was produced for a very short time, discontinued, and is apparently coming back) that I procured suffered from several serious issues, including a persistent ignition problem which required a huge amount of work to correct. Other examples showed other problems, including timing issues and accuracy woes.

Despite all that, I've said many times that if Taurus ever got their act together that they'd give Smith & Wesson a serious run for their money. I can't yet say that's happening, but a recent outing with a Taurus 856 shows definite promise. My first exposure to this model, shortly after its introduction, was not a pleasant one - the gun was out of time from the factory, sufficiently so that it was unsafe to shoot. That gun annoyed me to no end as I've been pining for a small-frame six-shot .38 Special revolver since the demise of the great Colt Detective Special (and the later Magnum Carry.) This is a category for which no examples other than the Taurus exist, and to have it prove to be a dog is a little like giving a glass of salt water to a man who is dying of thirst.

This most recent example, I'm happy to report, was much better. Not only was it in time, it also sported a decent double action trigger (for a small frame factory gun, you understand.) It shot to point of aim, was pretty accurate, and was generally pleasant to shoot.

All is not wine and roses, however, as the stock sights are awful. In fairness to Taurus this is not a situation unique to them, as many (if not most) of their competition's offerings suffer similarly. (I'm an advocate of the concept of using the sights when you
need to, and under that philosophy if you need to use your sights you probably need good ones.) That's a problem which can be rectified by a good gunsmith but I'm hoping for the day when it doesn't need to be.

Am I changing my stand about working on Taurus revolvers? I won't go that far, as one gun does not a sample make, but for the first time in years I was impressed with a Taurus product. They've always had potential, and perhaps now they're starting to live up to it. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Yeah, it's uncomfortable. That's not an excuse.


This week marked the 10th anniversary of my father's death. That's not tragic; what's tragic is that he didn't need to die.

You see, my Dad had colon cancer. By the time his symptoms appeared it had metastasized and was essentially untreatable, and it didn't take long before he was buried - along with tens of thousands of other victims that year. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in this country, and your chances of developing colon cancer are about 1 in 20. That's the bad news.

The good news is that colon cancer is incredibly slow to develop, and because of that it is the most treatable form of cancer. Caught early, the survival rate is better than 90%; caught in the pre-cancerous stage, it's damn near 100%. Because there are virtually no symptoms until it's too late, finding it early is the key to eradication. As my doctor says, it's the only cancer where the diagnostic tool is usually the cure.

That tool is the colonoscopy. A flexible tube containing a camera and a small scissors-like device is inserted into the colon; if any pre-cancerous polyps are found the scissors cuts them off and that's it! Having a colonoscopy every 10 years (twice as frequently if you have a family history or a propensity to develop polyps) is all it takes to keep you cancer free.

It's not a pleasant procedure, I'll give you that, but it's not painful nor terribly time consuming. It's uncomfortable, perhaps a little undignified, but it is the very best way to eliminate even the possibility of development.

If you're over 50, you should be getting regular colonoscopies. If you're under 50 but have a family history of colon cancer, you should get one too. It's quick, it's easy, and it can save your life.

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Relevance and role models.


A few weeks back I saw a picture of a defensive shooting instructor which bothered me. I couldn't put my finger on why, but something about it gnawed at my subconscious. I know the fellow only by what he's written (and by his association with a much better-known trainer), so it isn't anything that would stem from a personality conflict, and yet the feeling remained.

It finally hit me the other day. In the picture this fellow is wearing what is apparently his 'normal' complement of two autoloading pistols, both carried appendix style: one for the strong hand, one for the weak hand. Of course he had the requisite spare magazines and folding knife clipped in a pocket.

What's wrong with that? It's a free country and people should be allowed to carry whatever they want on their person. I agree wholeheartedly. The problem I have is role modeling, and it's one that I've become increasingly concerned with over the past few years.

Many instructors (and I'd say all of those with any reputation), to include yours truly, live the instructor lifestyle: we spend a lot of time around guns and shooting ranges. What we wear, what we can get away with wearing, is not what most of the people reading this blog can wear on a daily basis.

When you live on a shooting range you get to dress casually as a matter of course. Oh, there is the occasional donning of more 'dressy' apparel for an event, but such things are few and far between (and the 'gunny' is usually cut some slack for having a suit that is not of the highest quality nor properly fitted.)

Contrast this with what most people wear to their jobs everyday. I don't know many who can get away with wearing the untucked polo shirts that are all the rage amongst the appendix-carry crowd, let alone the IDPA vests and other accoutrement that a lot of folks in this industry wear on a constant basis.

In my own family there is a hospital administrator, a media anchor, and a speech pathologist -- none of whom can adopt the kind of weaponry and the style of carry that the majority of trainers espouse. My nephew could possibly get away with wearing an unbuttoned tropical shirt over a colorful t-shirt, but only because he works for a company famous for producing such tropical shirts. The rest of my family? Not a chance. My wife’s family? No. My huge extended family (over 30 first cousins on my mother’s side alone)? Less than a handful could. My neighbors? Not in their jobs. In fact, almost no one I know outside of the shooting industry could; their lifestyles, jobs, or environments just won’t permit it.

This is important because students tend to emulate their teachers, adopting not just their techniques but also their weapons and dress. The problem comes when they spend their weekends training with what I call 'guru gear' (I ought to trademark that) but switch to their actual daily carry equipment at the beginning of their week.

Training with ultra-fast appendix carry of a high-capacity autoloader on the weekend, but defaulting to a 'J'-frame in a pocket holster during the week, is not training in context: in the manner in which something will be used. Training courses are too often set up to reward the use of specific equipment, which gives the student a false sense of their abilities with the equipment they usually tote.

Walking around a range and showing students the kind of gear they can't carry, in a manner that they can't in their workday lives, isn't encouraging them to train in context. Doing so tends to influence them, through aspirational psychology, to train with gear that is different than what they'll actually be relying on come Monday morning.

I'm not sure that's terribly responsible, and it’s why the picture -- which could be of most instructors -- bothers me.

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Clothes don't make the man. Neither does the wallet.


Back in the late '70s and early '80s I was working in a camera store while waiting my chance to make it big as a commercial photographer (which, in turn, was my backup plan if I didn’t make it as a trumpet player. Good thing I had that major in accounting to fall back on! Ironically, I ended up doing none of those things. Life is like that sometimes.)

But I digress. The employees in the camera store would regularly hang their own work on the walls, giving a chance to showcase their talent while establishing a baseline of credibility with the customers.

One of the most common misconceptions was that our photos were good only because of the 'fancy cameras' we possessed. Despite the availability of photography classes (many of which I taught), people would routinely choose to spend gobs of money on expensive gear instead of a mere pittance on developing their skills with what they already had.

Often such people would wander back after a few months and complain that, despite spending all of their savings on the latest and greatest gear, they still couldn't get good pictures. "Why won't a good camera take better pictures?" Sometimes we could get through to them, most times not. The American belief in equipment over ability was, and still is, pervasive.

There are still folks today who do what my colleagues and I did: attempt to educate rather than encourage consumption. Over at Fstoppers, they've posted
a video about the making of some great photos using a camera many people have with them all the time: a cameraphone, in this case an iPhone 4. Watch it and see what they do with just a couple of reflectors and a cute girl.

(Think those reflectors fit the definition of ‘fancy gear’? You don't need a commercially produced item - a sheet of white foamboard, spray glue, gold foil from the craft store, and some aluminum foil from your kitchen will make a very serviceable two-sided substitute for a total investment of under $10. You can also use one of those reflective car heatshields, which come with silver on one side and gold on the other.)

The funny thing is that back in the '80s we did the same thing with a Kodak Disc camera. It wasn't about the gear then, and things haven't changed at all. Regardless of the topic at hand, opening a wallet is unlikely to make a person any better at anything -- unless the credit card is paying for an educational activity to help develop a skill.

Invest in yourself first. Always.

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

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 USPS.com. 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.

Sincerely,

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

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 ]=-
Comments

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!)

Enjoy!

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Living with your choices.


One-liners, sound bites, and witty retorts are often used to convince others to unthinkingly follow a certain path or belief. When the subject matter is of little import, they are simply amusing. When subjects turn more serious, they impede the flow of vital information necessary to make good decisions.

Such is the latest, a hearty "guns break!" when faced with evidence that one's choice in safety/rescue equipment might not have been ideal. Yes, guns are mechanical contrivances and do suffer failures; it is important, though, to understand the nature of failure before making such proclamations.

Any mechanical device - be it a gun or an automobile - is subject to failure from several causes:

- design flaw
- inferior materials
- construction irregularities
- improper maintenance
- suitability mismatch

Of these, only the last two are within our control - the others are beyond our control. That doesn't mean we're at the mercy of the fates, however; the end result can still be affected by the choices that we make.

In order to avoid failure, one would choose a perfect design, made with the best possible materials and showing the highest workmanship. Of course, that can only happen in La-La Land (or the internet!)

In the real world we have to make compromises at all of those points, and it is necessary that we understand those compromises going in. Nothing's perfect, that's a fact. From 'imperfect' to 'near perfect', though, is a continuum: we have bad choices, better choices, and - if we're lucky - superb choices.

Simply put, there will always be better choices than others for any given criteria. For instance, let's say that you were looking for a car to get you reliably back and forth to work - day in, day out, with as little down time as is possible. You might succumb to glitzy marketing and pick a Land Rover or a BMW, or perhaps something more pedestrian like a Toyota or a Honda.

Were you to look at reliability rankings for those brands over at Consumer Reports, you'd find the Rover and the Beemer were the least reliable over a large sample, while the Toyota and Honda are rated as the most reliable. (One example from each may be at the far end of the bell curve, but the probability of getting that one is not with you. A sample of one is just that: one.)

Of course, there are other aspects to the choice: comfort, amenities, performance, and (admit it) status which also might figure into the decision. Understand, though, that those cannot be transmuted to the primary criteria: reliability.

In this example, were you to pick one of the first two brands, the likelihood of a failure leaving you stuck on the side of the road increases dramatically. You might be able to fool yourself, but the data says that the Euro-rides will suffer more frequent failures than their Asian counterparts. That is a fact you just can't sound-bite your way around.

If your co-workers happen to point out that your fashionable wagon breaks down more often than their less ostentatious wheels, how intelligent would it be for you to yell "cars break!" at them? Yes, they know cars break, which is why they chose examples which break less often. Getting mad at them won't make your car's repair record any better.

The same is true for firearms and their attendant equipment. Like it or not, there are products which, over time, have proven to fail less often than others. If reliability and/or longevity is your primary concern in a gun-related purchase, you should understand that there is in fact a range from most to least, and make your choice accordingly.

Pretending that there is no difference between the alternatives because they all fail at some point is ignoring reality. As someone once told me: you either acknowledge reality and use it to your advantage, or it will automatically work against you.

Georges Rahbani,
'The Best Rifle Instructor You've Never Heard Of', has a great way of putting this in perspective: if you're buying a gun for fun (plinking, target shooting, hunting, competition, etc.), you can be far less demanding about reliability/longevity. A failure in those applications is of minor consequence, and thus you have leeway to factor other criteria into your decision.

If, however, your firearm is a serious tool upon which your life may depend, you need a relentlessly critical attitude toward your choice. Don't make it on the basis of one-liners heard at the gunshop.

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

On Taylor Throating


I recently received an email asking my thoughts on Taylor Throating - the procedure where a reamer removes the rifling for roughly a half-inch past the forcing cone, and the edges of the lands are chamfered to match. The concept is to make an area that allows the bullet to 'stabilize' after jumping the barrel gap, but before entering the rifling.

Taylor Throating is somewhat controversial, with some holding it to be the greatest thing since peanut butter, while others claim that it is pure snake oil. In the interest of full disclosure, I don't offer the service - even though I've invested in the equipment - simply because I remain agnostic regarding its value.

Reports of miraculous results seem not to have occurred under controlled conditions. By that, I mean tested on a gun without any changes other than the throating. The glowing reports tend to be from those who had a lot of other work done at the same time, including timing and forcing cone changes. It's hard to say if the positive reports are in fact due to the throating, to other work, or to something subconscious on the part of the shooter doing the testing.

I've experimented with Taylor Throating on a properly maintained Dan Wesson .357, using several 6" barrels, and shot by two different people (one of whom was your author); the results were inconclusive. When a barrel with just the throating was tested, there was a slight increase in accuracy - but it was not consistent, nor large, enough to rule out normal shooter performance variation. A barrel prepped with a proper crown and an 11 degree forcing cone (as pioneered by Ron Power) achieved a definite positive result, roughly equal to what is said to be expected by some Taylor advocates.

My preliminary opinion, based on my admittedly limited experience with the technique, is that a proper forcing cone and a perfect crown still produce the most noticeable accuracy improvement. Of course, this is assuming that the gun is in perfect condition (timing, cylinder/barrel alignment, etc.) to begin with.

There are a couple of specific conditions where Taylor Throating might prove useful as a salvage technique: when the barrel/cylinder alignment is just a hair off in the vertical axis, or where there is a noticeable constriction in the area where the barrel screws into the frame. In those cases accuracy changes in excess of what would normally be expected have been reported, and may be legitimate. There are also some indications that it may extend the useful life of a severely worn barrel, where replacement is difficult or economically unwarranted.

Some specific downsides have been identified, however. If the throated area is even a tiny amount bigger than the chamber throats (or the bullet diameter), lead bullets will suffer "blow by" and gas cutting - severely leading the barrel, and definitely decreasing accuracy.

In the end, it's your choice. I'm not ready to call it a fraud, but neither do I see a definite positive benefit to having it done. When I come up with solid evidence on either side, you can bet I'll report it here!

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

It's not often someone is willing to admit to doing dumb things

There are times that I feel I'm harping on the safety issue, but with the number of grievous injuries and deaths that occur I don't think it is unwarranted.

The latest, sent to me by an alert reader, is a self-expose (complete with pictures) of a nasty handgun incident. Short version: this fellow, in an attempt to test a recently installed grip safety,
pointed his gun at his leg and pulled the trigger. The sequence of events was predictable. (Warning - the pictures may be graphic for some people.)

Once again, I'm going to place the blame squarely on Traditional Rule #1: "All guns are always loaded", or any variant thereof. He felt free to do something blatantly stupid with his gun, because he was sure that he had unloaded it. Since he was sure that he unloaded it, in his mind the other rules obviously didn't apply. If they did, he wouldn't have pointed it at his leg as he intentionally pulled the trigger!

What bothers me most about this fellow's misfortune isn't that he was injured, but that he still doesn't get why it happened in the first place. He is so clueless about this, in fact, that he cites the classic Four Rules of Firearms Safety, starting with the offending Traditional Rule #1 in his article, and explaining to his readers that they should follow them. This is in fact the wrong thing to do, and is what caused his injuries.

It is my opinion that the more people who follow Traditional Rule #1, the more accidents like his will occur. Again, Traditional Rule #1 leads people to do dumb things with guns, because once they're convinced the gun is unloaded they feel at liberty to ignore the other three. In my opinion, we should instead be teaching people to follow the Three Commandments of Gun Safety religiously:


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.



Let's look at his accident: he violated the First Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

He then violated the Second Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

Finally, he proceeded to violate the Third Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

The result? A large emergency room bill. Lots of pain. All because Traditional Rule #1 allowed him to do stupid things with a gun once he was "sure" it was unloaded!

(It is worth noting that the gentleman in question, one Darwin Teague, is on Usenet record as declaring that he would never carry a Glock, as he considers them to be "unsafe." With all due respect, Mr. Teague, if you do stupid things with guns, loaded or not, all the safety features in the world won't stop you from shooting yourself - as you have found out. I wish you luck, as you seem to need it.)

-=[ Grant ]=-
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On safety


A reader alerted me to
this thread over at GlockTalk, where a debate about the first of Jeff Cooper's "Four Rules of Gun Safety" is raging. Specifically, the argument centers on the allowable "exceptions" to Rule #1: "All guns are always loaded" (or, alternatively, "Treat all guns as if they were loaded." Cooper himself said "All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.” That comes directly from an article he wrote in 2003.)

I feel entitled to comment, inasmuch as the observance of said rule by gunsmiths has been invoked as one of the "exceptions." I take exception to that exception, and in fact take exception to the very notion of exceptions! Allow me to explain, and perhaps start some exceptional controversy of my own.

To be blunt: I don't like Rule #1. In fact, I believe that it is not just unnecessary, but that it actually sets people up to have accidents. I don't believe it makes anyone safer - I contend that it has the opposite effect.

It boils down to this: people do stupid things with guns that they perceive are unloaded. (Re-read that line, focusing on the word "perceive.") Once people have convinced themselves that a gun is unloaded, they treat it differently. That is where accidents occur.

The trouble with Rule #1 is that it encourages such shoddy behavior.

Follow me here: "treat all guns as if they were loaded" tacitly admits that there are, in fact, two states for a firearm - loaded and unloaded. If there were not an unloaded state, it would not be necessary to admonish someone to treat a gun "as if" it were in the loaded state, would it? If unloaded guns did not exist, the statement would make no sense. Therefore, the phrase itself establishes that there exists such a thing as an unloaded gun. Clear so far?

While Rule #1 logically admits that there is such a thing as an unloaded gun, it asks us to pretend that it doesn't really exist. This is important, as the rule only makes sense if the state of being 'unloaded' exists, but it implores us to make believe that such a state doesn't really exist. This situation is called
cognitive dissonance: holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. It's a state of mind that humans don't tolerate all that well.

If one accepts the fallacy that an unloaded state doesn't exist, it becomes clear in the mind that the remaining three rules apply only to loaded guns. After all, the first rule says that there is no such thing as an unloaded gun; therefore, the other three rules can apply
only to loaded guns, because - remember! - unloaded guns "don't exist."

Here's where that cognitive dissonance thing comes back to bite us. The human mind cannot maintain two contradictory concepts ("there is such a thing as an unloaded gun, but it doesn't exist because all guns are always loaded") without resolving them in some fashion. The way that most (if not all) people apparently resolve this is to apply the rules to all guns,
unless they've convinced themselves that the gun in question isn't loaded.

In other words, to resolve the logical conflict that Rule #1 establishes, the mind translates it to say "treat all guns as if they are loaded,
unless you've verified that they aren't." The other three rules are tossed right out the window, because they obviously don't apply to unloaded guns! A statement that everyone knows is untrue, which this is, will simply be ignored.

See how this comes about? If not, re-read the preceding paragraphs.

That, gentle readers, is the crux of the problem! The sad side of Rule #1 is that it implies once you've verified a gun is unloaded, the rest of the rules don't apply to it; you may handle it differently. That's when the accidents come, and is why I say that people do stupid things with guns that they
think are unloaded.

Proof? Easy: it is axiomatic that all gun accidents occur with unloaded guns. Those are guns that people had convinced themselves were not in the loaded state, and therefore didn't fall under the rest of the rules. No matter what the experience or training level of the person involved, "I thought it was unloaded" is the first excuse out of their mouths when something bad happens.

Need more? Here's an interactive proof: go into any gun store, and watch as customers (and often the counter clerks) sweep muzzles over everyone in the store. Now complain to a clerk about the shoddy practice; I guarantee the first thing you'll hear from his or her mouth is "don't worry, it's not loaded."

Still not convinced? Ask Massad Ayoob to tell you the tragic story of a well regarded and highly experienced competition shooter who accidentally killed his wife - with an "unloaded" gun, of course. My contention is that he followed Rule #1 like most people, but that its logical failings caused him to treat the gun differently because he was sure it was unloaded. The result was sadly inevitable.

This is why the forum debate runs so many pages, and ultimately devolves into the attitude "of course, Rule #1 doesn't apply to
experienced shooters, who understand what the exceptions are." I'm sorry, folks, but I believe that any safety rule that implies or encourages "exceptions" - experienced operator or no - is a "rule" that should be thrown out.

One of the best shooting instructors I know - Georges Rahbani - has done just that. He acknowledged the problem and dealt with the issue by eliminating what I'll call "Traditional Rule #1" from his curriculum. Instead, he teaches that
any and all guns, loaded or unloaded, are treated to the same standards, which he calls The Three Commandments of Gun Safety:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.


There are no exceptions, and thus less chance for the accidents that usually result from them.

The big difference between his rules and Cooper’s is that if you forget everything except the first one, you’ll still be safe. With Cooper’s rules, if you forget all the others accidents will still happen and people will still get hurt. The goal of gun rules should be to prevent injury or death, to the shooter or others; if one follows these rules, whether the gun is loaded or not, it will reduce that risk to the lowest probability.

As you might guess, in my line of work the chances of a negligent discharge are somewhat higher than usual. Consequently, my interest in the safety rules is higher than usual! The online debate mentions that gunsmiths must, out of necessity, violate the Traditional Rule #1 and thus don't need to follow the other rules.

Not in MY shop, bunky!

I follow the Three Rules as codified above. I don't point a gun (any assembly capable of igniting a cartridge) at anything I'm not willing to shoot. That means, in my case, a solid concrete wall in the back of my hillside shop. Because of that, I know what my target is, and what the backstop is. Finally, I don't put my finger into the triggerguard until my sights are on target (the gun is pointing at that backstop.) Yes, all the time and every time; I'm rather fond of my various body parts, and desire to retain them in full operating condition!

I think that's enough pot-stirring for one day. Next time, we'll see how an ancient religious principle can help to reinforce the constant observance of the safety rules.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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On Revolver Aesthetics: Epilogue - My perspective on my own work

First, I'd like to thank everyone for reading this series, and for the terrific emails I've been getting. I'm gratified that many of you share my interest in good looking revolvers, and in what garners that appellation for each of us.

While not exactly part of the series, I'd like to take some time to convey my thoughts with regard to customization, and the kinds of work that adds to, or detracts from, the look of a wheelgun.

To start, I consider very carefully what I do to a revolver before taking file (or anything else) to metal. I think the project through; how will my work affect not only how the gun functions, but how it looks? In some cases the work helps (or at least doesn't hurt) the aesthetics of the gun, while in other cases it looks horrid.

For instance, let's take the act of bobbing a hammer. Not only does the result have to work correctly, but it has to serve the same visual function as that which it replaces. For the Colt and S&W guns, I've come up with two different approaches to the problem, which I believe look good on their respective marques. (Can you believe that I don't have a single picture to show? I've been quite negligent in documenting my own work!) Both are different than what most others do, and both are harmonious with the overall design of the guns.

In the case of the Ruger revolvers, I haven't yet hit on just the "right" modification. I do a lot of them, and have come up with something that isn't too bad, but it's no different than any number of people already have done - and I'm not really happy with the look. I've recently gone to the extent of scanning a Ruger hammer in to Photoshop so that I can "play" with the design - which I hope will lead me to the nirvana I seek. Wish me luck, as there isn't a lot to work with in their existing design!

Sometimes clients ask me to do things which I believe in my heart will look awful. A common request of late is to mill flats on the sides of barrels, ostensibly to shed weight. (I think the real motivation is a desire to make it look "modern" and "custom" and - dare I say? - "racy.") Sadly, in every example I've seen - and I've seen a LOT of them - the look is at odds with the rest of the gun. (Remember the concept of
unity we discussed in Part 3?) Consequently I shrink from the prospect of doing them, and gently steer the client to something else. (In some cases I've sent the most intractable to another gunsmith, rather than be the proximate cause of yet another ugly gun!)

Are there instances where that type of embellishment might be appropriate to the overall design, and where I might consent to doing the job? Perhaps - but off the top of my head, I can't think of one. (Save, perhaps, for the already-blocky Dan Wesson heavy barrel shrouds - but I think there is a better approach to that particular assignment.)

This is where the marketing and customer relations parts of my head chime in, no doubt in concert with a few readers: "it's your job to do what the client wants, not what you want!" Yes, that's true - but the selfish part of me wants to ensure that a decade from now, people won't be referring to my work as "butchery." I confess to giving in to my selfish side, though in this case I believe that it is in the best interests of the client to not butcher his/her gun!

On down the line the deliberations go, each part of the work carefully considered both on its own merits, and in tandem with the other parts of the design. It has to work well, and it has to look good; I can't bring myself to do either separately. Perhaps I'll never become a huge gunsmithing conglomerate with such an attitude, but at the end of the day I can look back at what I've done, and smile with the knowledge that I've contributed - in a small way - to making the world just a bit better looking.

Life is too short to shoot - or to make - ugly guns. We'll leave that to the autoloader brigade!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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On Revolver Aesthetics, Part 5 - Toward the future

If you're just joining us, I ask that you peruse the earlier parts of this Series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Now, on with the show!

The challenge of revolver design today is in how to bring the aesthetics up to date, to allow (or take advantage of) advances in material and manufacturing technology, while simultaneously maintaining the essence of just what a revolver is. At first blush this seems like an impossible task: make a modern looking traditional firearm. Some would say that it's akin to fitting a muzzle loader with LaserGrips!

I disagree. I think that the essence of the revolver isn't a traditional look, but rather a familiar operation; of simplicity, not complication. Don't get me wrong - I like a traditional revolver as much as anyone, but for me it's always about how the gun WORKS. I don't shoot, carry, compete with, train with, and work on revolvers because I'm a nostalgic Luddite; I'm a thoroughly forward-looking Luddite!

Heretical? Some might say so. Inconsistent? I don't see it. At the end of the day, it's the cylinder (and the way that it works) that makes the revolver, regardless of what the packaging looks like.

Let's take a look at efforts to modernize the wheelgun.

One of the more successful changes in the look of the revolver was the introduction of the Colt Python (which we've already covered) back in 1955. The lugged barrel, still debated (and despised) by some, was a real departure in revolver design.

Smith & Wesson has had their share of "pushing the envelope" designs too. Some of their more recent efforts are styling disasters, but they haven't all been - take the groundbreaking "hammerless" Centennial series, first introduced in 1952.


Photo courtesy of www.snubnose.info

The Centennial, with its fully enclosed hammer, was a sleeker, more modern approach to the small frame revolver. The design is much more forward looking than its "Bodyguard" stablemate; unlike some designs has aged very well and is still in production. Note the back end of the gun, where the hammer would normally be - the way that it comes down to integrate the rear sight and the top of the grip is so simple, yet so effective. Great design, and can truly be called a "modern classic."

Sometimes a design needs an iteration (or two...or three) before it really hits its stride. Take a look at the original Dan Wesson design:


Dan Wesson photos courtesy of www.notpurfect.com

The DW was an exciting revolver when first introduced in the late '60s. Combining modern materials and revolutionary features, it was sadly lacking in the appearance department. Karl Lewis, though one of the greatest firearms designers in American history, was not terribly adept at making his guns look as good as they worked, and the original DW design was proof.

Where to start? The ugly barrel retaining nut, the inelegant matching of the "L" shaped barrel shroud and the frame, the ungainly front sight, the the use of a traditional barrel shape on an otherwise modern frame all combined to make a look that can only be described as "horrendous."

A few years later, with some work on both the engineering and aesthetics, the DW Model 15 finally hit the mark:



The square-slab lugged barrel with vented rib (they learned from Colt!) finally combined to serve as a perfect match for the frame. It had a sort of industrial look to it that still looks good today. Even on this 6" example, it is visually balanced - a tough thing to do with a heavy barrel, but the DW pulls it off.

Ruger went through the same kind of evolution, but it took a little longer. Their original double action design was, like the Dan Wesson, groundbreaking in many engineering ways - modern materials, production methods, and the elimination of screws. These were combined to make the "Six" Series (Speed-, Security-, and Service-Six models):


Photo courtesy of www.landro.no

Now understand that I'm a big fan of the Sixes, but let's face it - they were pretty ugly. The barrel just didn't mesh well with the squarish frame (note the steep drop from the top of the frame to the barrel shank.) It looks for all the world like one of those cheap .22 revolvers from the various German makers that were common here in the '60s. The inelegant hammer spur didn't help matters, either.

They did significantly better with the GP100 - the lugged barrel balances the heavy frame much better - but the barrel still doesn't quite match the lines of the frame:


Photo courtesy of www.ruger.com

They kept at it, and finally hit a home run with the SP101 - a thoroughly modern design, in both construction and aesthetics. It is, in my humble estimation, the best attempt at a modern appearance of all of the currently available revolvers.


Photo courtesy of www.ruger.com

The barrel was a radical departure in profile; no longer constrained to rather simple combinations of basic geometric shapes, the SP101 barrel is instead a sensuous "S" curve, which mates to the lines of the frame exceptionally well. The barrel's "rib" fits right to the top of the frame, and the recoil shield is sculpted on the right side. It seems to grow from the frame wall, rather than being merely attached to it in the manner of the older Sixes. The ugly hammer spur remains, but it doesn't seem so bad on this gun - probably because the rest of the design works so well. (Yeah, the grips stink, but one can at least replace the cheesy plastic panels with aftermarket wood or micarta.)

How about really pushing the envelope? How about setting out to produce a radically different revolver? There have been attempts - the original Mateba designs, the MTR8 (and later 2006M and Unica) certainly tried:



Photo courtesy of www.worldguns.ru


These, however, were attempts to change the very nature of what a revolver is; how about if we take the accepted design envelope, and simply...update it? That, folks, brings us to the very radical, yet still familiar, Manurhin MR 93:


Photo courtesy of www.army-discount.com

The barrel shroud is square in profile, which compliments the distinctly angular frame. The cylinder - now something of a round peg in a square hole - is brought into the design with its squarish fluting. The recoil shield flares into the frame, in an extreme update of the SP101 we saw above. The triggerguard features the same sort of updating (though I could live without the faddish hook on the front.) Even the hammer spur was simplified, angled, and minimized to fit the overall theme. The very European grips complete the package by bringing the otherwise austere gun back to its roots - rounded so that the hand can comfortably grasp them, and wood to warm up what could have otherwise been a very cold appearance.

Remember what I said a while back about the difference between what you like and what you can appreciate? This is it. You may not like it; you may think it blasphemous. You may not wish to own it. All of that is fine and very normal; but you have to admire the elements, how they hold together and compliment each other, and how the design is unified, even if you wouldn't want it in your safe. The eye moves through and around the design very well, and even the choice of materials is "correct" from an aesthetic viewpoint.

Back on August 29 I wrote that this part of the series might put off more than a few of you. Here it comes: I think it's one of the best revolver designs ever. Yes, I'm serious. It pushes the envelope, but skillfully uses all of the design criteria we've learned about in this series. It is thoroughly, unabashedly modern, but manages to retain the essence of what a revolver is. All of the design elements work so well together, and the design as a whole is striking - but not in the way the Mateba MTR8 is. At its heart it is still that traditional machine we all appreciate, even if its clothing is of a different era.

You don't like it? That's fine! Don't ignore it, though, for how it looks can teach us much about revolver design, and may even help us identify just what it is we do (and don't) like.

I hope this series has exposed you to ideas and concepts that you might not have otherwise considered. If it has done so, I will have succeeded in my original aim to expand our wheelgun horizons. I welcome your comments!

Next week, the Epilogue: how I approach customization in relation to revolver aesthetics, and why I've chosen not to do certain things.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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On Revolver Aesthetics, Part 4 - Deconstructing a good design

As promised in the last installment, today we'll be taking a look at one iconic revolver and discover how it follows the design principles we've explored.

The Colt Python easily makes just about everyone's "top 5 revolvers" list. Much of its popularity is due to its gilt-edged accuracy and superb out-of-box action (though, of course, it can always be better. This has been an obvious plug.) However, it's drop-dead-gorgeous looks are no doubt a huge part of the reputation it enjoys.

So "right" is the look of the Python that S&W paid it the honor (though they'll deny it) of copying the distinctive barrel profile in their "L" frame guns. They couldn't get the rest of the gun, though, and that's sad - because, as we'll see, the Python's appearance is a function of the whole gun. (Before you shoot off that hate email, understand that the 686 series are pretty good looking guns in their own right; it's just that they don't achieve the high level of design excellence that the Python does. Keep reading, and hopefully you'll begin to understand why.)



We're using a typical 4-inch Python as our example, since it is not only the most common, but also the best looking of the various Python incarnations.

What do we see when we look at the Python?

The first principle we learned about is
proportion - the relationship of elements to each other, and of the whole design, in all measurable aspects.The 4-inch version is near ideal; the barrel, which often looks skinny on other guns, has sufficient volume to hold its own against the cylinder and frame; in fact, one gets the feeling that if the barrel were to be compressed lengthwise, its width would grow proportionally to end up the same dimension as the cylinder. The trigger and triggerguard are perfectly proportioned to each other, and the combination to the frame. Note the hammer tang; having a large pad for easy cocking could have made the hammer proportionally too large for the rest of the design. Through judicious thinning and shaping, the designers made a hammer that complimented the design rather than stood apart from it.

Closely related to proportion, we learned, is the concept of
balance, or of visual equilibrium. Here again the Python design simply shines. The Python's gripframe, often criticized for flaring too much, gives needed visual balance to the heavy lugged barrel and frame. The gun has a visual center of balance right in the center of the gun. Contributing to this is the barrel's vent rib; were that top rib solid, it wouldn't look as balanced as it does. Take, for example, the S&W copy:



Without the vents in the barrel, it simply looks front heavy compared to the Colt original; there is a feeling that it will tip forward, while the Python doesn't. (That huge front sight ramp doesn't help, either.)

Eye
movement in the Python design is almost classic. If we start at the muzzle, the lines of the barrel - repeating between the lug, the central portion, and the rib - serve to draw the eye toward the cylinder. Once there, the pointed ends of the flutes send the gaze to the cylinder release, whose shape directs the eye to the hammer tang. This is were the design shows a particular genius: the gentle curve and overall shape of the hammer directs the eye in a clockwise spiral to the grips, where their shape sends the gaze to the trigger. The strongly curved trigger - much more curved than on any other brand of revolver - is a sort of "ski jump" that propels the eye back to the barrel.

Note especially the cut of the frame under the barrel down to the triggerguard, and compare it to the S&W. Note how the Python has just a bit of an angular cut with just a hint of curvature, which serves to visually lighten the gun and give it a "flying" feeling. It also serves to help redirect the eye from the trigger back to the muzzle; the S&W, in contrast, looks "blocky", far less graceful, and stops the eye dead at that point. Design is often about such "minor" details!

Which brings us to
emphasis, or design elements that arrest the eye without causing visual fixation. It is a design touch that causes the gaze to linger, rather than stop. It's terribly easy for the eye to leave a revolver at the hammer or muzzle, because those are points to which the eye tends to be sent by the barrel and cylinder combination. That gorgeous Python hammer hammer begs to be looked at, but it isn't so overwhelming that the viewer's gaze ends at that point; it serves to slow the eye down, then redirect the gaze to the next element. Were it larger or smaller, it wouldn't serve the same purpose. It is a perfect example of design emphasis, as is the thumb latch that slows the eye down just enough to make sure it doesn't miss the hammer spur.

The front sight shape - and the barrel vents - tend to keep that from happening at the front. If we look back at the S&W picture, you'll notice that the front sight ramp tends to serve as a launch point unto itself, sending the eye right off the front sight into space. On the Python, the sight is enough to stop the eye from taking off into the hinterlands, but not so much that it becomes a stopping or launching point on its own. The vents are a point of contrast, being quite angular in comparison to the smooth curves of the rest of the revolver. That contrast is just enough to catch the eye, but not enough to look out of place or in conflict with the rest of the design elements. (As we'll see in the next part of this series, making a contrast without creating visual dichotomy is a tough task - and not always achieved.)

Finally, when we look at the Python we see an overall
unity, the feeling that every element is working to support the overall design. Achieving unity starts with the finish (which is a point of emphasis all by itself.) That deep, glassy "Royal Blue" finish for which the Python is famed is a strong component that ties together all of the elements. It's not the only unifying feature, however!

The shape of the thumb latch repeats the shape of the cylinder flutes, which themselves appear to be continuous from the barrel lug. (So good is that combination, when you look at the gun as a whole it almost seems to be one solid piece of steel from the muzzle to the end of that latch.) Note too how the barrel cross-section matches the frame contours where the barrel is attached, and how the contour of the frame under the hammer is reminiscent of the curve of the triggerguard. (Take a look at the S&W; note how that same curve is much shallower, and doesn't really recall that of any other part of the frame.) Even the points where the triggerguard meet the frame are identical front and rear, which augments that feeling of cohesion.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. One must look at revolver design not just as a series of parts, but also at how those parts work together to produce a design at which the eye can't seem to stop looking. The Colt Python is, in that regard, the
ne plus ultra of revolvers.

In the next installment, we'll look at designs gone awry, and find out why some guns are just plain ugly. Until then, always remember: life is too short to carry (or shoot) an ugly gun!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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On Revolver Aesthetics, Part 3 - Principles of design: Movement, emphasis, and unity

In Part 2, we looked at the ideas of proportion and balance as they relate to revolver design. Today, let's look at some more concepts of good design.

Movement seems like an odd concept for an inanimate object, but it doesn't really deal with the object itself - movement instead refers to the path your eyes follow as you look at the gun.

Movement is important to control in a design, because a designer doesn't want the viewer's eyes to fixate on on detail to the exclusion of the rest, nor to keep moving off of the design into space. Both can (and do) happen!

Movement can be directed by edges and lines, by shapes, and the skilled use of color and texture. For instance, a natural line on a revolver is the barrel; it naturally directs the eyes back to the cylinder, where the flutes further direct the eye along the frame. The same movement happens in reverse. However, that movement needs to be arrested at some point, so that the eye doesn't wander off the design into open space at either end of the design. At the barrel end, the front sight serves to arrest a redirect the eye back along the barrel; at the other end, the hammer can do the same thing.

Those points of focus or interruption comprise the principle of
emphasis. Points of emphasis are those which most strongly draw the viewers attention. There is usually a main point of emphasis, though there may be smaller points in other parts of the design. The eye should linger on a point of emphasis, then continue through the design. The idea is to hold the viewer's interest without causing fixation.

Emphasis can be achieved with repetition of color, shape, or texture; through contrast, again of color, shape, or texture; a change in scale or proportion; a position in a strategic location; or through intricacy, or the details of an element. The front sight is a good example of emphasis due to location, while a checkered cylinder release can be an example of intricacy.

Finally, all of the design principles should have as their end goal in
unity of design. Unity is the feeling of harmony between all parts of the design; it should create a sense of completeness, of wholeness, of a solidity in the design. There should be a sense that all of the parts are working together to achieve a common result.

Consistency is the watchword of unity, but that doesn't mean that there can't be a contrast - perish the thought! As we learned in the discussion about emphasis, there needs to be some contrast in a design; unity is not to be confused with sameness!

However, contrast for emphasis is a one thing, while contrast that disturbs the unity is quite another. Contrast that supports the function or underlying concept of the design is not the same as contrast for contrast's sake. For instance, a matte part where the others are polished; a checkered part where the others are flat; a round part where others are square, are all examples of contrast for emphasis. Combining all of those contrasts in one part, however, produces disharmony, as does using all of those types of contrast willy-nilly across the whole design. The former promotes unity, the latter does not!

Unity is obvious, and perhaps the first thing we see when looking at a revolver. In a small canvas like a revolver, attention to unity is extremely important. As we'll see later in this series, it isn't always followed!

There is nothing like learning through example, so in the next installment we'll take a look at one iconic revolver from the perspective of these principles.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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The case for DAO

In the Gunsmithing pages of this site, I endorse the practice of rendering defensive revolvers double action only (DAO.) Many people ask why, and I thought I'd give you my thoughts on the matter.

Let's start with the usual argument for retaining single action capability, which I call the "Walter Mitty scenario": the mythical need for making precise long range head shots. Let's face it, folks - this just never happens in real life!

However, let's say that you're having a
Jack Bauer kind of day and are now facing just this scenario. Mightn't that be just a tad bit stressful? Wouldn't that make you even more nervous, knowing that you'll be trying the toughest possible handgun shot under the worst possible conditions? With all that adrenaline now flowing through your system, is this really the time that you want a light, short trigger pull that is very easy to accidentally release? Not me, bunky!

This is the reason for DAO: light single action triggers are great on the calm shooting range, but pose a liability risk for unintentional discharges under stress. As Massad Ayoob says, single action triggers are great shooting tools, but lousy threat management tools.

Now I I know what you're thinking: "OK, but I promise I'll never use it!" I'm sure you mean that sincerely, but It's been well established over the decades that people tend to do in combat what they do in training.

It's human nature to practice what we're already good at, and to do that which is easiest for us. At the range, it's not uncommon to watch someone shoot a revolver at, say 50 feet and become disenchanted with their groups. At that point, they usually switch to the easier pull of the single action, and shoot that way. This imprints their subconscious to use single action when they are unsure of their abilities, and this may be what they revert to under stress.

Once that act of thumbing back the hammer has become habit, another problem crops up: the Hollywood-inspired (and reinforced) act of cocking the gun to show the bad guy that you "really mean it!" I'll refer you back to the second paragraph, with emphasis.

(Yes, I know you'll promise not to do that either. But if you've told your subconscious that cocking the hammer is accepted shooting technique, do you think it'll ask your conscious mind for permission when the time comes - especially if decades of TV and movies has told it otherwise? Of course not! "Besides", your subconscious thinks, "if
Tyne Daly can do it, why can't I?")

Removing the SA capability eliminates the chances of any of this happening. (If you make the conscious decision to carry a gun with SA capability, I recommend that you attend the
Lethal Force Institute's "LFI-1" class, where you will learn how to defend that choice - and counter any false claims that may arise from it - in court.)

From a gunsmithing perspective, I've found that eliminating the SA capability can, on some guns (Colt and Dan Wesson), give a bit more leeway in terms of honing the double action. Without the need to worry about the single action sear, the double action can be tuned far more radically than is otherwise possible. In S&W and Ruger guns, reducing the DA pull to the barest minimum (as some request) will result in an unconscionably light SA pull - often below 32 ounces. Eliminating the SA notches means that this ceases to be a worry.

Speaking for myself, I didn't start to shoot DA well until I'd gotten rid of the SA capability completely. True story:  one day (many years ago), shortly after transitioning to shooting only revolvers, I was participating in a match (Bianchi type.) I was having trouble with missing those little round steel plates they use for one stage, and it was making me madder and madder. At one point the buzzer sounded, and I drew the gun (a Python) and cocked it for each plate. I downed all of them, but my happiness was shattered by a taunting voice of a 1911 partisan that said "hey, Grant, I've got a gun that does all that for me!"

After that I removed the SA from my revolvers and started shooting DA exclusively. It wasn't long before I was beating the guys (including the loudmouth in question) who were shooting 1911s with crisp single action triggers. It can be done!

If you have any doubt as to how accurately a double action can be shot, go watch your local PPC match - there's one just about everywhere in the country. You'll see lots of folks shooting DAO revolvers at up to 50 yards and producing groups that can be covered by your hand. That should be good enough for any defensive use, and you too can do it with just a bit of practice!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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On Revolver Aesthetics, Part 2 - Principles of design: Proportion and Balance

As I mentioned in Part 1, there are some recognized design principles that are universal. Let's look at some of them.

Proportion is the relationship, in terms of size and scale, among the various parts of a design, and of each element to the design as a whole. Proportion is about measurements: length, width, etc. and how those measurements compare to

Remember that a revolver is a three-dimensional object: proportion is not just about length or width, but also volume. If we were to increase the barrel diameter of a revolver, even a small amount, its proportion to the rest of the gun would change dramatically - possibly more so than a simple increase in length. One could also alter the proportion my using visual tricks to make a part look more "3D" and increasing its visual volume - even if the part is essentially unchanged in physical size!

Proportion also applies to every part on the gun. If we were to increase the size of a hammer spur or triggerguard, it would change the proportions and alter the design. Maybe it would be better, maybe not - but each element has to be judged not just on how it relates to each other element, but how it relates to the entire object. Proportion is all about relationships!

Balance, on the other hand, is the concept of visual equilibrium. When balance is not present, the whole design looks as if it will "fall over" in some direction (if not literally) Achieving visual balance can be done symmetrically, where the elements are arranged equally on each side of an imaginary balance point, or asymmetrically, where the elements on each side of that point are arranged non-identically so that the whole looks balanced.

The latter is kind of a hard concept; imagine a teeter-totter. Balance is made when we have two children of equal size on each end of the beam (symmetrical), but could also be made with one really fat and two really skinny kids on opposite ends, of of one fat and one skinny kid, with the fat kid closer to the balance point and the skinny child at the end of the beam. These are examples of an asymmetrical balance, and the same principles apply to design balance.

The interesting thing is that balance is variable, because it relies on a visual fulcrum for your eyes to focus on, and can be very complicated, because there might be more than one balance point. Let's take an example of varying barrel lengths; radical changes in barrel length might change the visual balance of the gun depending on where your eye finds a fulcrum. In a good design, there might be several such points for your eye to rest on, resulting in good balance with a variety of barrel lengths.

What kinds of things can serve as visual balance points? The cylinder, the triggerguard, the cylinder latch, the recoil shield, and so on. Anything that can serve as a reference point on which to "arrange" other objects is a fulcrum.

Understand that this is distinctly different than physical balance, and it is important to separate the concepts. A great example is the Colt Python; while there are small visual changes in the earliest guns to the latest, the design was essentially unchanged from start to finish. An early 4" example has the same visual balance to a late model, yet the physical balance changed dramatically - because the lug on the earliest models was hollow, giving a distinct rearward weight bias. So, the guns had the same visual balance, but very different physical balances.

Next time, we'll examine some more concepts of design as applied to the revolver!

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

On Revolver Aesthetics, Part 1 - Introduction

What makes one revolver look better than another? Have you ever stopped to think about the design cues that make the difference between a classic and an eminently forgettable gun?

In this series, I'm going to relate my opinions and prejudices regarding revolver design, primarily (though not exclusively) from the standpoint of factory guns. All of the concepts, however, are equally applicable (perhaps "especially applicable") to custom guns.

One thing to keep in mind as you read that these are my opinions, nothing more. I don't claim to be a design guru like, say,
Jonathan Ive. What I can claim is to be a casual student of industrial design, and of art in the larger sense. (Growing up with a mother who was an accomplished artist and designer assured that I would understand such things, even if I wasn't terribly creative myself! I guess that's the best description of a critic.)

There exist well accepted design concepts, but that isn't to say that good design is carved in stone; if it were, we could just program robots to spit out our stuff and get some extra sleep! It is in the combination of design elements, with the occasional surprise or personal interpretation, that keeps the process of designing from becoming formulaic.

Some of what is people consider "good design" is really quality of execution. A great design, badly executed, is crap; a less grand design, but well executed, can be superb. Sometimes learning to recognize quality is a necessary prerequisite to appreciating good design.

(Engraving is a good example; I've been to gun shows where there was a good cross section of engraving quality. Invariably those guns with the most coverage get the most attention, but to the trained eye their lack of quality detracts from what might have been a great work of art. In my view, bad engraving is worse than no engraving.)

Finally, remember that 'popular' isn't necessarily the same as 'good'. I dare say that there are far more
Velvet Elvii floating around this world than works of Rembrandt, but that hardly makes them equivalent!

Stay tuned for more...

-=[ Grant ]=-
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One of my inspirations

I may have mentioned that I spent a period of time in the early 80s as a commercial photographer. Honestly, I didn't make it all that far; though a good technician, I wasn't creative enough on demand to sustain a career. I did learn a lot, though, and I took some of those lessons and put them to good use in other areas of my life.

One of those lessons - and one of the most important - came in the form of an article written by Ben Helprin. I have a copy of this hanging above my workbench, where it serves to inspire me. I don't know that I'm yet at the "master" stage of revolversmithing, but I work every day to get a little closer to that ideal.

While obviously photography-centric, this is a profound article for which you will no doubt find applications in your own life. Enjoy!

-=[ Grant ]=-


Expert or Master - What's the Difference?

by Ben Helprin

At the top of every craft, there are masters and experts. The difference between the two was defined by Will Connall (master photographer, photography teacher, and former head of photography at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California) this way:

"Let me", he said, "use the exacting art of platemaking as an example." (Platemakers are the skilled craftsmen who produce printing plates for books and magazines.) "If you ask an expert how he produces the negative for a fine plate, he'll answer: "that's easy. First I choose the correct size glass plate for the negative I want. Then, I compute the surface area of the plate and, holding it absolutely level, I pour exactly one ounce of emulsion for every 40 square inches of surface precisely onto the center of the plate. Then I rock the glass side-to-side and front-to-back, exactly the same amount each way, to spread the emulsion evenly. When the plate is dry, I load it into the copy camera, adjust my lights so that the original art work is absolutely evenly illuminated and, with the level of illumination that I use, expose the plate for 20 seconds. I develop the plate for precisely five minutes, process it normally, the end up with a perfect negative for reproduction.

"Now," said Connall, "let's ask a master the same question. He'd reply: Oh, that's easy. First I choose the correct size glass for the negative. Then, I compute the surface area of the glass and, holding it exactly level, I pour one ounce of emulsion for every 40 square inches of surface exactly onto the center of the plate. Well, no, that's really not true. Sometimes I use more than an ounce of emulsion per square inch. Sometimes less. It depends on the original copy. And sometimes I don't pour the emulsion exactly on center. I'll swirl it across to get a different spread. That also depends on the copy. Anyway, after I pour the emulsion, I rock the plate side-to-side and front-to-back, exactly the same each way, to spread the emulsion evenly. But sometimes, of course, I don't want the emulsion spread evenly. Again, it depends on the copy. I might want to rock the plate more to one side to get the emulsion heavier there, or rock it more to the front...anyway, I rock it, dry it, load it in the camera, and light the copy exactly evenly - unless of course I want to slightly shade a corner to knock it down, or highlight a portion of the copy to lighten it up. I'm not sure exactly how I'll light it until I do it. But after it's lit, I give it a 20-second exposure. Well, not always 20 seconds...."

And so it goes. Each step of the master's procedure depends, not on a set series of exacting rules, but on the interrelationship of the medium, the copy, and the desired final product.

What does this have to do with photography? Well to begin with, it doesn't mean that you can forget technique or be sloppy in your execution of it. As Will Connall noted, every master had first to be an expert. Without that initial perfection of technique, they could never advance to the master's stage.

Will's apocryphal examples were, however, meant to point out that technique is by no means the be-all and end-all of photography. Technique is the base from which you build. But the product itself, the photograph, must go beyond set rules of technique or composition, or anything else that says "this, and only this, is the correct way of producing a photograph."

Look at the work of master photographer Ansel Adams and compare it to the thousands of technical experts who attempt to imitate him. The large majority of Adams' imitators do not understand expressive content, they understand only technique. The do not trust their inner feelings, the trust only a rigorous set of technical rules.

A creative photograph is a very unique personal statement, and the technical aspects of that statement must depend on what you, as an artist, want to say. Thus, the perfect exposure isn't always one the reproduces the tonalities of a scene in exactly the same manner they originally appeared, but one that reproduces them in exactly the manner you want them to appear. Nor is the perfect print the one that always exactly matches the contrast of the paper to the density range of the negative, but the one that exactly matches paper and film to the contrast as seen by your inner eye. As Paul Klee said, "the purpose of art is not to reflect the visible, but to make visible."

So, look at your recent photographs. Are they technically perfect? If not, you still have a lot of work to do to reach the "Expert" stage. On the other hand, if your work is technically perfect and perfectly boring, if it is indistinguishable from everyone else's technically perfect work, then you have a lot of even harder work to reach the Master's stage.


Comments

Sight options

Much as it pains me to admit this, my eyesight is degrading with distressing rapidity. No, it's nothing out of the ordinary, nor is it anything serious - it's just that I'm getting older!

I'm close enough to the big "five-oh" to count the years left on one hand (with fingers left over), and the closer it gets the further out I need to hold the restaurant menu. Oh, yes, my prescription is current - but after wearing bifocals for the better part of the last decade, I'm now told I need trifocals. The indignity!

Sound familiar? It should, given the number of questions I field about sight options. Consistently, the two most common queries concern fiber optic front sights, and the "Big Dot" from XS Sight Systems (or whatever they're calling themselves this week.)

I have some personal experience with the fiber optic inserts, and frankly I'm not terribly impressed. Aside from their fragility (the encased ones are somewhat better in that regard), they don't really help the sight visibility all that much. Yes, their neon glow does attract the eye, but if your eyesight is like mine the resulting sight picture isn't all that crisp. The bright fiber tends to "bloom" - that is, it looks larger than it really is and develops a fuzzy corona. This makes precise shot alignment more difficult; it's very much like when someone turns on the bedroom lights in the middle of the night, and your eyes struggle to adjust to the situation - everything seems to be "flared." Squinting helps, but wasn't that what you were trying to avoid in the first place?

The "Big Dot" sights are another matter. The Big Dot is just what its name says: a very large, round front sight. The idea is to make the sight so big that even Mr. Magoo couldn't miss it. While I've never owned a set personally, I've test fired guns that carried them, and I've found the sights are so large that they just can't be shot all that accurately. Their sight picture (particularly with the companion "express" v-notch rear sights) is just too coarse for good shot placement.

I'm not alone in my opinion of the Big Dot; I've installed several of them on client's guns, and they have all elected to switch back to the original sights. If that isn't enough of a non-endorsement, I've watched one of the best handgun shooters I know - a police officer who has been a state IPSC and PPC champ - struggle to keep in the A-zone at 15 yards with the things, when at that distance he usually shoots single, ragged holes. Most people who aren't as good as he is do far worse. As you might guess, he doesn't like them either.

What works for those of us who are pushing 50 (or dragging it, as the case may be)? Well, for quite some time I've been told to simply use a wide rear sight notch - one big enough to have roughly one-third to one-half a sight-width of light on either side of the front sight. (I must admit that a very good friend has been preaching the widened rear sight for the past several years. Frankly, though he is one of the best instructors I've ever met and a phenomenal shot, I thought he was nuts. As the front sight got harder and harder to see, however, I grudgingly made room for the idea that he might be right.)

Recently one of my clients asked that I widen the rear notch on his sight to give "lots of light on either side." I did so, making the space on each side of the front sight appear to be roughly 1/3 of blade width. Surprisingly, it was definitely easier to shoot the resulting gun. It focused sharper and much cleaner, and the sights aligned a lot faster. It was a definite increase in shootability compared to my own guns.

Of course, now I need to find time to do the same to all of my sights....

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Allow me to elaborate...

In last Monday's post I mentioned that the Ruger Mini-14 demands factory magazines to work reliably. That statement may have given a bit of a wrong impression.

The point I was trying to make, and apparently didn't, is that the only reliable Minis I have seen were using factory magazines. I have actually encountered many examples that wouldn't run, and changing to factory mags made them work properly. All is not perfect in Ruger-land, though - in my experience, there is still a large percentage of Mini-14s that are not reliable, even with factory magazines.

The other side of the coin is that I have never seen a reliable Mini using aftermarket mags. Ever. Aftermarket Mini-14 magazines consistently cause Minis - every one I've ever seen - to choke.

Bottom line: factory mags alone will not ensure that any given Mini will run well. However, using non-Ruger magazines is a virtual guarantee that you will have trouble making the thing work properly. (I won't even get into their renowned lack of accuracy, but that isn't the fault of the magazines!)

I hope this clarifies things a bit.

(Oh, by the way - the cheapest I've been able to find Ruger factory 20-round mags is $55.00. That's three times the cost of good quality AR-15 mags. Wow!)

-=[ Grant ]=-
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"Bullshit Tenths"

Pardon my French!

This is a term used by tool & die makers to indicate unobtainable levels of (perceived) precision. Why do I bring this up?

Last week, I was advising a reader on selecting pin gages for use in measuring chamber throats. The discussion revolved around which gages to buy, and whether or not he needed both plus- and minus-tolerance gages (no, in case you're wondering.) He was concerned about their variance of .0002" (that's 2/10,000th of an inch, or 1/20th of the thickness of an average human hair. In machinist parlance, that would be "2 tenths.") As I explained to him, in practice it's not really possible to measure to that level.

As I thought about my answers to his questions, I flashed back to a conversation related to the posts I've made about measuring tools. A fellow who identified himself as a gunsmith contacted me to argue about my advocacy of quality measuring tools. "I don't need any of them overpriced tools - I use [
insert name of well known retailer of low end Chinese tools here], and I can measure down to a ten-thousandth!" I asked him if what he was measuring was under the same environmental conditions as the calibration on his micrometer, and he replied "my mic reads to a tenth - it don't need to be calibrated!"

Sigh.

When a measuring instrument is calibrated - that is, checked against known standards and certified as to accuracy - the environmental conditions of that calibration are recorded. The calibration is really only valid for those same conditions; if the temperature goes up or down, that accuracy is not guaranteed.

How much different does a change in temperature make? I did a little experiment. I got out my Grade 2 Brown & Sharpe gage blocks, and picked out the .125" block. (The tolerance for Grade 2 blocks is +/- .000002", or two-milliionths of an inch.) On the calibration certificate, it gives you the deviation from the nominal dimension in millionths of an inch for each block. In the case of my .125" block, it has no variance - in other words, it is guaranteed to measure .125000" at 68 degrees F. Coincidentally, that is the temperature that my shop generally maintains outside of the coldest winter and warmest summer months.

After checking the temperature, I pulled out my best Etalon (Swiss) micrometer and the .125 block. I handled the mic with gloves while I secured it in its stand; the block was handled with insulated tweezers (yes, there are such things.) I measured the block under these conditions, and not surprisingly it measured .1250" on the nose.

I took the block out of the micrometer, and held the non-measuring surfaces between by thumb and forefinger for about a minute, then remeasured. Guess what? Just that small amount of heat had caused the gage to grow to a bit more than .1251" (a typical mic only measures to a ten-thousandth, and this fell just between the .1251" and .1252" marks.) Had I held on to it longer, it would have grown a bit more. Had I held the mic in my hand while measuring, it too would have been "off."

That's why they're called "bullshit tenths" - because, without knowing exactly the temperature of both the micrometer and work, and at what temperature the micrometer was last calibrated, you really don't know to the ten-thousandth of an inch how big that part really is. In other words, until you've met all of the above, you can't measure to a ten-thousandth of an inch, no matter how optimistic you are!

Since pin gages are usually held in the hand, as is the piece to be measured, it would not be possible to get closer than several ten-thousandths. Factor in the other environmental variables, it's clear that a) the gages are more accurate than they need to be for the job asked of them; b) you can't measure to the limit of the gages, so you don't need both the plus and minus coverage; and c) worrying about their allowed +/- .0002" isn't at all productive. Save your stomach lining for more important things.

Hope this all makes sense!


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

On Virginia Tech

At first, I wasn't going to comment on the sad crime perpetrated on the campus of Virginia Tech this week. I figured that everyone, everywhere, was going to do so (with varying degrees of erudition and insight.) I decided there wasn't anything I could add. Until...

Listening to the news on the radio, I heard an interview with two students who said that they were in "the room where he was shooting." According to these people, students and faculty were hiding under and behind anything in the room that they felt would provide them some protection, or flat on the floor in the absence of same.

It's what they said next that prompted me to comment: as the gunman shot, he naturally ran out of ammunition, and had to stop to refill his magazines. After taking the time to refill then reload his weapon, he continued his unfettered spree.

He was out of ammunition, and had stopped to reload - why didn't someone,
anyone, in the room take that golden opportunity to tackle the murderer? At that point the criminal couldn't shoot anyone, and the risk even to the person who would choose that course of action would have been relatively minor compared to letting him get his firearm back up and running.

The answer is as obvious as it is sad: our society has fully inculcated the victimhood and helplessness mentalities into the last several generations of people. They didn't do anything because they have been taught their entire lives to rely on someone - anyone - else for their safety and well being.

This is what the nanny state has given us. This is what our Founding Fathers, I think, understood when they listed the natural right to keep and bear arms in their Constitution: yes, it's about the ability to resist tyrannical governments. More importantly, though, is the
choice inherent in the right.

You see, it's not the exercise of the right in and of itself that matters; it's the existence of the
choice to exercise the right that is so very important. Even if one chooses not to exercise the right, in making the choice one has experienced the self-actualization that leads to great inner strength and a heightened sense of self-worth. The very personal decision - no matter what the decision itself is - is what makes for citizens who are self reliant, who can think for themselves, and cannot be corralled like sheep.

When the "transaction cost" of the individual choice is raised - when the ability to decide for oneself is restricted or controlled in any manner - the choice is made not by the individual, but by someone else. The benefits of making the decision are denied the individual, and he/she learns (bit by bit) how to be a subject rather than a sovereign individual. Given long enough, an entire people is conditioned to be subordinate themselves to authority figures; when the "badge" of "authority" is the firearm, the people will prostrate themselves to anyone who wields one. Even a crazed killer.

Milton Friedman was right.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Measuring chamber throats: apparently, I have critics!

This is an expansion on an email I replied to recently. A loyal reader noted that my name had been brought up on one of the forums (sadly, he couldn't remember which one) regarding my blog article on measuring chamber throats.

Apparently, the gist of the discussion was that the forum's "expert" (every forum has one) opined that I was full of it for suggesting that throats couldn't be measured accurately with a caliper. What's more, someone expressed the thought that a caliper would show an out-of-round condition, whereas a pin gage wouldn't, and therefore anyone who didn't use a caliper didn't know what he/she was doing.

Sheesh! Let's start from the top.

A caliper - whether vernier, dial, or digital - is most assuredly not a precision measurement tool. Feel free to ask any tool & die maker the question: "how accurate is a caliper?" I have yet to meet one who would trust a caliper for anything less than 2/1,000ths of an inch (.002") For reference, this is the difference between measuring, say, .357" and .359". On a good day (meaning a very experienced operator) with good equipment (meaning not a Harbor Freight special) one might be able to do a bit better, but most people aren't all that experienced, and most do not possess the top-quality equipment necessary.

This is actually extremely easy to test: take a caliper to a local tool & die shop, and ask the owner if he'll let you measure his certified, calibrated toolroom gage blocks. If he lets you (he probably won't), you'll probably find that getting to within .002" with any consistency is not possible. I have a set of said blocks, and I can't do much better - even though I'm experienced, and have top-end Swiss Etalon calipers with which to work!

There's a reason watchmakers measure parts that must be fitted to incredibly close tolerances with micrometers, and not calipers. The same goes for precision machinists. Do I need to keep flogging this deceased equine?

(I haven't even touched on the need to hold the calipers perfectly perpendicular to the axis of the bore, and to get the jaws as close to centered on the inside surface as possible. It's darned difficult to do under the absolute best toolroom conditions, let alone at a kitchen table! Errors multiply under less-than-ideal conditions.)

Let's tackle the second criticism: that one can't measure an out-of-round condition with a pin gage, therefore the best way to do it is with a caliper. By now, the answer should be obvious: if a hole is, say, .002" out of round, and the measuring system can't get within that range to begin with, it follows that one can't measure the condition because it's within the amount of "slop" already present!

In other words, if a caliper indicates that the hole isn't round, we can't trust it because we don't know if what we're seeing is real or simply the result of the errors inherent in the device. Conversely, the absence of a round error doesn't mean that the throat is round - because it may be within the normal error of the caliper being used! (This is why one does not use imprecise instruments when one expects a precise result.)

The exception is if the condition is sufficiently severe that it exceeds the error of the tool - but if it's that far out, it can be easily spotted with the pin gage anyhow. While we can't
measure an out-of-round condition with a pin gage, we can certainly identify that an out-of-round condition exists, and elect to measure it with more accurate means.

Whew!

Now I'd like to expand on the recommendation in my earlier article. The reason I suggested using calibrated pin gages for measurement is because they're cheap (a set to cover, say, the range of a .357 cylinder costs less than $20), readily available, and last forever. There are other tools that can be used, but all are much more expensive and require occasional testing & recalibration, as well as a certain amount of technique.

The best choice is a "tri-mic", made by various companies, which measures holes at 3 points spaced 120 degrees apart. This is extremely accurate - the most accurate way to measure a hole - but that accuracy comes with a price tag of several hundred dollars for the least expensive example. That's why I didn't recommend them, though in hindsight I should have at least acknowledged that they exist.

Bottom line: there is no substitute for knowledge, experience, and the proper quality tools when one is doing precision work.

I hope this puts the matter to rest - though I somehow doubt it!


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

On pairing women with guns

This article in the Tennessean newspaper explores the "phenomenon" of women who choose to carry a gun for their own protection. It's an interesting read, and when I saw it I was reminded of my own wife's journey to self-empowerment (in the ballistic sense.)

I'm of the belief that women should always be proactive with regards to their own safety. Sadly, our current society has inculcated a fear of weapons into the collective conscious of the female half of the population. It takes real fortitude for a lady to swim against that tide and arm herself, and I salute those who choose to do so.

Drawing from my own wife's experience I've formed some very specific opinions on the topic of introducing women to shooting. Guys, if there is a woman in your life who has decided to travel down the road of self protection, I offer you
Grant's Rules For Helping Ladies Who Want To Shoot.

1) Don't try to teach her yourself. Aside from passing on bad habits that you have (I don't care if you did qualify as "expert" when you were in the Army), it's difficult to impart what you do right no matter how sincere your desire to help.

Women learn differently than men; precious few men understand this, and even fewer understand how to teach to it. It's not uncommon for women to become extremely frustrated under these conditions, and give up entirely. It may not happen until the lessons are over - you may never know of the damage you've done. Let someone else - someone who is experienced teaching women - do this for you. It doesn't mean you're any less of a man, and it just might save you some grief.

2) Rule #1 is increased by a factor of 10 if she is your GF or wife! Ignore this at your peril!
I am not kidding!

3) If possible, get her to a women's only class that is actually taught by a female instructor. (If you're on the west coast, I highly recommend that you take advantage of the women's only classes taught by
Gila Hayes at the Firearms Academy of Seattle. She's tops. Seriously.)

4) Don't pick her gun for her. So many times a woman, bowing to the desires of the man who proffers her shooting advice (solicited or otherwise), ends up with a lightweight titanium or scandium revolver that is incredibly ill-suited for her physical makeup. The recoil is brutal (hey, even I don't like shooting them), and their stock triggers can be difficult for petite forefingers to actuate. Yes, you could send it to me and have that problem eased, but let her decide if it is right for her!

(Listen, if you've read my blog for any length of time you know that I'm a rabid proponent of the revolver for personal protection. As far as I'm concerned, there isn't a problem extant that a good revolver can't solve. Even so, I acknowledge an autoloader is often the better choice for a woman.) The very best thing you can do is curb your own opinions and take her to a gun range that rents guns, where she can pick her own way through the models. If she picks an autoloader, it won't hurt my feelings. (Not for long, anyhow.) The important thing is that it be her own choice.

Following these simple rules will result in an excited new shooter and harmony at home (where appropriate.)

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

The Model 625 dilemma

So, you're in the market for a S&W 625, and you're torn between the "standard" 625 and the Jerry Miculek edition 625. Which to choose?

Well, you have to decide whether the "niceties" - such as the Miculek grips, interchangeable front sights, and the serrated trigger - are worth the extra money. There are some internal differences, though, which you may want to consider.

The Miculek edition is a little unusual, in that it uses a mix of MIM (metal injection molding) and forged parts. As you may know, S&W has been using MIM technology for several years now, and overall it's been a successful transition. However, in order to get the serrated trigger that Jerry specifies, they decided that to use one of their "old fashioned" forged parts.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, the interface of the forged trigger and MIM cylinder stop makes the trigger feel a bit rough at the very beginning of the trigger stroke - and it's difficult to get rid of this feeling. Second, the MIM hammer is given a flash chrome treatment to match the chromed finish of the trigger. Unfortunately, chrome applied to an MIM part doesn't seem to stick as well as it does to a forged part, and I've seen several where the chrome started flaking from the sear surfaces! As you might imagine, this makes the action quality degrade quickly, and the problem can only be fixed by replacing the hammer assembly with a non-chromed version, as comes on the "plain" 625.

Of the 625JM models I've worked on, all of them came in with a request to remove the trigger face serrations - one of the major features that Jerry insists on! It seems that serrated triggers, as much as he likes them, do not fit well with everyone.

Once the hammer has been replaced and the trigger face smoothed, you're left with the JM grips and an interchangeable front sight - and the grips are widely available as an accessory. I guess the whole thing boils down to this: how important are those interchangeable front sights?

To a person, every one of the JM model owners I've talked with said that if they knew ahead of time that they were going to put in the money for custom work anyhow, they'd have bought the "plain" 625 and saved themselves a few dollars. I agree!


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

"Stainless" doesn't mean "won't rust"

I hear the advice all the time: "buy a stainless gun, because they won't rust." This kind of comment is what prompted General Norman Schwarzkopf to say "bovine scatology!"

Yes, stainless will in fact rust under the right conditions. What are those conditions? Generally, if you get moisture trapped in a place where it doesn't evaporate normally (say, under a grip panel or inside the action), you have a situation that is ideal for corrosion. The situation is worse in very corrosive (salt water, perspiration) or very humid conditions.

That's not the only thing; even if the frame of your gun is stainless, there will be some parts in the action that aren't, or are made of a much less resistant stainless. It's not unusual to find springs, some screws, cylinder parts, and more that are made of plain carbon steel. These are just as susceptible to rust as they would be in a blued gun.

I see quite a number of stainless guns that have corrosion. One commonality of those I've encountered is that, since the rust is usually hidden (and less likely to be found because of the belief that stainless "doesn't rust) it usually does more damage. Stainless corrosion tends to be deeper, leaving surface pitting that is more serious than it might be on a blued gun.

If you live in a harsh environment - near the ocean, or in a very humid climate - or if you perspire heavily, you should treat your stainless gun more like a blued equivalent. Take the grips off every time you clean the gun and look for any signs of corrosion; use gun oil on the entire surface of the gun; clean the bore immediately after shooting; take the sideplate off occasionally and lubricate the interior; and always remember that the term is "stainLESS", not "stainFREE"!

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

It's time for someone else to make revolvers

Well, it's more precise to say that it's time for someone else to make double-action revolvers!

With Colt out of the revolver business, Taurus showing no signs of moving past the low end of the market, Dan Wesson functionally deceased, and Smith & Wesson producing mere shadows of their former greatness, it's time for someone else to step up to the plate. It's time for someone to take over the badly-served upper end of the revolver market.

It's time for Freedom Arms to branch out from making the best single actions to making the best double actions.

Why Freedom Arms? Because they've already proven their ability to make a high-grade revolver. They're used to producing and selling high-end guns, and they know how to make those guns both superbly accurate and incredibly durable. They have a well-regarded brand name, and an established dealer network.

They have everything it would take to introduce a top-flight double action revolver.

It is, admittedly, a small market. The best of anything is always a small market. That doesn't seem to stop Rolls Royce or Patek Philippe, and I don't think it would stop Freedom Arms. There are a lot of people who would have purchased Pythons were they still being made to their former standards, and those would be Freedom Arms' customers.

How about it, FA?


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

An unusual lubrication problem

I get the most interesting phone calls!

A client who works for a public agency in California contacted me with a problem. As you may know, California has pretty strict ideas about what constitutes a carcinogen. Management in his agency won't let him use any lubricants that contain "substances known to the state of California to cause cancer." That, ladies and gentlemen, excludes most anti-wear and anti-corrosion additives!

After some consultation with experts, I was able to come up with a recommendation. In general, if you need a "clean" lubricant with good protection against wear and corrosion, look no further than lubes made for the food service industry!

They have to be non-toxic and non-staining, and since food production often involves contact with acids and liquids, they have to be very resistant to those substances as well. They also typically perform very well in colder temperatures and almost invariably are superb at corrosion resistance.

If you've read my
article on lubricants, you know I'm a big fan of Lubriplate's SFL series of greases, which are designed and approved for food service. Another good choice is their FGL series, which is a bit easier to get in the small quantities shooters use. If you prefer an oil, their FMO-AW series of oils (available in a wide variety of viscosities down to 5W) are a superb choice.

These products should also be fantastic choices for those who have allergic reactions to the additives present in other oils and greases.

In this case, I recommended the FGL grade 00 grease to my client. This is a very light, almost fluid grease with superb anti-wear and anti-corrosion properties. It should pass muster with even the most strict requirements that he has to meet!


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

"Can you really conceal a revolver?"

Sorry to be late today, but my cable internet connection has been experiencing spotty outages lately. For the money I pay, you'd think they'd give me better uptime than this!

GRRRRRR! But I digress...

Anyhow, today's topic once again comes from that fountain of firearms misinformation, the local gun store. A fellow is looking at several guns, and asks to see a Ruger SP101. The clerk tells him that for concealed carry (ostensibly the prospect's use), a revolver is "just no good. Too hard to hide the cylinder."

"Odd," I think to myself - "I've been doing it quite successfully for some time now. In fact, I'm doing so right in front of your face!" I did not, of course, say that out loud. I wanted to, but I didn't. At least, I don't remember doing so.

That, however, seems to be the common perception. Many people think that a revolver just has to be more difficult to conceal, because the cylinder is so much thicker than an autoloader's slide. I'm here to tell you that it is just not the case!

The cylinder really isn't a big problem to hide. Yes, it sticks out from the body a bit more, but it really isn't all that much a concern. Why? Because it's a gradual bulge - there are no sharp edges to give away a profile under a garment. What's at or below the beltline just doesn't seem to make much of a difference; it's what sticks up above the belt that makes a gun difficult to hide!

An autoloader, for instance, presents a very angular profile above the belt. The top of the slide, where the rear sight is, comes to a sharp point relative to a revolver. What's more, that point sits farther above the belt than does the rear sight of a revolver. These two factors combine to make the back corner of the autoloader stick out more prominently than a revolver, and consequently more difficult to hide under a piece of cloth.

Of course, the disparity doesn't end there! The other end of the gun - in this case, the lower back corner of the magazine well - is (again) a sharp angle relative to the rest of the gun. Even an autoloader with a very rounded grip shape tends to come up higher - and stick out the back more - than a round-butt revolver. Again, this makes the auto more difficult to hide than our blessed companion, the double-action revolver.

Now I'm sure that some will argue with me; some will, in their misguided zeal to promote the self-shucking handgun, insist that I am being "partisan." To them I say: OF COURSE I AM! What the heck did you expect from someone whose blog is titled "The Revolver Liberation Alliance"??

(Of course, none of that negates the fact that I am right!)


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Triggers are three-dimensional

It's surprising how little attention is given to the back of a revolver's trigger. I recently came across a gun that had been worked on by another gunsmith (more on this in a future blog post), and one aspect of the gun illustrated the limited understanding of revolver shooting by many 'smiths.

The face of the trigger had been polished smooth, but done in such a way that the sides tapered to meet the back, leaving an untouched knife edge. For anyone with more meat on their bones than Nicole Richie, manipulating the trigger results in a very nasty "pinch" as the sharp edge traps flesh against the frame.

So, what should the trigger look like? The back edges of a proper double action trigger should be slightly rounded and polished, to prevent pinching. The larger the radius of the back edge, the less chance the trigger will trap flesh. This allows the shooter to concentrate on the act of shooting, not on avoiding pain.

This is similar to the "biting" problem that many shooters experience on a 1911 with the standard grip safety. On that gun, for some reason, everyone "knows" about the situation, and beavertail safeties are expected equipment. Sadly, this same level of knowledge has not yet filtered down to the revolver-buying public - perhaps this will help spread the word!


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Battle of the "J" frames?

The internet forums sporadically ignite with a common debate: what "J" frame is the best?

The disagreement seems to center around the fans of the exposed hammer models (who hold out the dream of needing to make a "precise, long range" single action shot) and those of the enclosed hammer Centennial models (who opine that the lack of entry points for dirt outweighs ever needing single action capability.)

I'm not going to talk about tactics, but there is one salient point that is missed in the crossfire: the Centennial models simply have better actions!

The enclosed hammer Centennial models have slightly different sear geometry than do the exposed hammer models, which gives them a pull that is more even - more linear - than the models with hammer spurs. For the savvy shooter it's a noticeable difference, making the Centennial a bit easier to shoot well.

The Centennials also have one less part than the other models: since they have no exposed hammer, they don't have (nor do they need) the hammer-block safety common to all other "J" frames. That part, which is quite long and rides in a close-fitting slot machined into the sideplate, is difficult to make perfectly smooth. Even in the best-case scenario, it will always add just a bit of friction to the action. Not having the part to begin with gives the Centennial a "leg up" in action feel.

(In fact, at one point in time a common part of an "action job" was to remove this safety, in the same way that some "gunsmiths" would remove the firing pin block on a Colt Series 80 autopistol. Today we know better!)

So, if your criteria is action quality, the choice is clear: the enclosed hammer Centennial series is your best bet!


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

"What revolver should I buy?"

If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked that question...!

On every forum, in my daily email, and in the phone calls I receive is a common query: "of the guns available at a dealer, which one should I buy?" These folks are looking for some guidance beyond the simple choice of caliber and barrel length - this is more along the lines of "who makes the 'best' revolver?"

The answer I give? Ruger. This, from an admitted revolver snob who's known for working on Colt Pythons!

The GP-100 and SP-101, which are the most popular models, are mature designs. Their design is simple and rugged, and their construction has not changed due to fashion or cost-cutting.

The actions respond nicely to gunsmithing work; a well tuned Ruger can have a buttery-smooth, perfectly linear double action pull that will rival any of its competitors. The SP-101, in particular, has an action that is many people feel is more "shootable" than its nearest competitor, the S&W "J" frame.

Speaking of the SP-101, it has another advantage over its competition: superb sights. The rear fixed notch is wide and deep compared to other guns, giving the little SP a much nicer sight picture.

The GP and SP guns, because of their stud grip frames, have trigger reaches that fit people with small hands very well; the GP-100, fitted with the "compact" Ruger grip, has a shorter trigger reach than a S&W "L" frame! This is great news for those of us with smaller-than-average mitts.

The downsides? Fit and finish on Ruger revolvers is not up to the level of, say, older S&W guns. (Of course, new S&W's aren't up to the old S&W's either, so that's hardly a condemnation!) Rugers have lots of sharp edges, and their finishes are not terribly pretty - but, if you're having custom work done anyhow, these are things that can be easily rectified.

Rugers don't get the credit they deserve; if you don't like the new MIM-internal lock S&W models, and want something of better pedigree than the Taurus line, take a hard look at Ruger. You might be surprised!


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Are we shooting more than we used to?

  • This thread at GlockTalk seemed oddly familiar to me. People routinely ask about the lifespan of a particular gun, while at the same time suggesting that somehow the guns of yesteryear would last longer under use than today's offerings. I'm not sure that this is the case.

Let's jump back to, say, 1935 or so. Someone has just bought a new .38 Special revolver (take your pick of quality makers) and a box of ammunition - a box that might last them for a decade or more!

What I've managed to decipher from the "old folks" I've talked with is that they just didn't shoot guns all that much. There weren't a lot of competitive shooting events back then, and even those that existed demanded less ammunition in a year than a typical IDPA match consumes in a weekend. A box of handgun ammo (50 rounds) per year was considered a "lot" of shooting by many of these folks; at that rate, our mythical revolver would be considered to have been heavily used, having only seen a total of 3500 rounds!

Flash forward to 2006, and a certain maker says that their gun has an "expected lifespan" of 6,000 rounds. Doesn't sound like much to us, but it may be two or three (or possibly ten) times the number of rounds that guns sold in 1935 would expect to see over their lifetime.

Perspective, people. There is a lot to complain about in the craftsmanship (or lack of same) coming out most of today's manufacturers, but one generally can't fault the durability of the guns.
There are exceptions, of course, but in the aggregate I suspect that your average GP-100 will last longer than the folks of 1935 could even imagine.

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

A bit of opinion about MIM parts

Heard about "MIM" parts? MIM is an injection molding process for metal parts, and it has been revolutionizing many industries. In the revolver business, both Smith & Wesson and Taurus have made use of MIM parts. Like any new process, however, there are those who decry the new technology; some gunsmiths spread the misinformation that MIM parts can't be worked on, and refuse to take in guns using MIM parts. Adding fuel to the fire are a few well-publicized parts breakages, most notably with 1911 autopistol sears.

Is there something inherently wrong with MIM parts? No, but the story is a bit more complex than that.

I have some experience with MIM parts in revolvers; I'm not at all averse to the use of MIM parts, where appropriate. Note those last two words!

MIM is just another metalworking method, like forging and casting. Like those well-established metalworking methods, it has strengths and weaknesses. Far too few engineers apparently understand them.

First off, a steel MIM part can be treated like any other steel part; it can be welded, soldered, blued, hardened, and tempered. This is important to understand, as there is a perception out there that the parts are not "real" steel. They are!

The advantages of an MIM part do not generally include raw cost; the material is expensive, and the molds are horrendously expensive. The benefits come in the area of post-fabrication. The MIM part, as noted, can be heat treated - the benefit is that they don't need to be, as the hardness of the part can be engineered in when the part is made. The parts come out ready to use; no additional surface finishing is generally needed. Finally, the parts can be made in shapes that would be extremely expensive or nearly impossible to economically machine.

The downsides? Cost, as already noted. Additionally, the tolerances for an MIM part generally need to be larger; it's hard to hold them to .001" in all dimensions (though they're getting better all the time.) Another problem is that the technology doesn't work all that well for parts that are more than about 3/8" thick (again, this gets better on an almost monthly basis), nor on stressed parts that are very thin.

There are other, less obvious pros and cons of MIM parts, but you get the idea - MIM, like anything else, is a balancing act.

Now here's the part that those of you who aren't fond of MIM should understand: the problem isn't with the technology, but with the engineering behind the part itself.

As noted, MIM on a per-part basis is pretty expensive, but since they can be engineered with specific traits they can eliminate some expensive secondary operations - hardening, for example. Here's the problem: let's say that you are building 1911 sears, and MIM seems a good method for producing them. You decide that the sear has to have a certain hardness (so that it doesn't wear), and since the surface finish is good "as produced" you think you're home free.

The trouble is that the MIM part is the same hardness all the way through, since that's how it was engineered. This is great for reducing sear face wear, but with hardness comes brittleness - and that thin edge is quite brittle. What you need is a surface hardening of some sort for wear resistance, with the underlying material left softer for strength. You COULD do that with an MIM part, but if you did you'd negate one of the primary benefits of the method: the elimination of secondary operations. So the company chooses to continue to use the MIM part as designed, and which is a poor choice for the application. No wonder some people don't like them!

The bottom line: if you have trouble with MIM parts, it's not the part's fault - it's the fault of the engineers in the company that designed the part. (Frankly, I wouldn't want to buy an entire gun from a company that botched the engineering that badly, regardless of whether or not I replaced the parts in question. I'm funny that way!)

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

On reliability...

Forgive my deviation from revolver centrism, but a recent rifle class in which I assisted brought to mind a topic which is just not understood amongst gun owners: "reliability."

What is "reliable"? You'll hear all kinds of definitions, all kinds of criteria. My definition is deceptively simple: the next time you pull the trigger, the gun will function perfectly. That means zero, zilch, nada, nyet failures. Every single time, regardless of how many rounds you've just shot. Not just "bang", but feed, fire, eject, and feed again.

Sounds like I'm easy to please, right? You'd be surprised at how few guns actually do perform to this standard. I expect a reliable gun to do this after a full weekend of shooting, regardless of the number of rounds I've shot, as well as right after cleaning. Every single time, without exception.

Note that I don't specify any particular number of rounds, because I've encountered instances where reliability was defined by some arbitrary round count, such as 500 - and when the gun crapped out on the 501st round, it was still deemed to be reliable since it had met the number! Sorry, not in my book.

One test I've heard (for autoloading rifles) is "six magazines of duty loads, fired as quickly as you can change magazines." Sounds great, right? I've seen an AR-15 which would only pass such a test one time, yet the owner decided it was reliable because it met the test criteria! The fact that it couldn't perform the feat again did not dissuade him in his opinion.

The only caveats are that 1) the gun be maintained according to the maker's recommendations and 2) fed ammunition which conforms to industry standards for that caliber. Anything else - such as the ever-popular mud wrestling test, making it into a popsicle, and other such activities - can be considered the ballistic equivalent of a Harlem Globetrotters game: entertaining to watch, but no indicator of an ability to win the NBA finals.

I've seen more than one gun which happily ate a magazine of ammo after being dropped into a mud puddle, but couldn't be counted on to function perfectly at any unannounced time. Mind you, it malfunctioned maybe once every 400 or so rounds, but sooner or later it would fail. Reliable? Not by my definition.

You'll run into many people who will tell you that this is "no big deal - I've got lots of guns that will do that." At the risk of offending someone - believe me, it's not my intention - I will quote Hugh Laurie, playing the namesake character in the TV series 'House': "everyone lies."

When I say "every time you pull the trigger", I mean
EVERYTIME. When I say zero failures, I mean ZERO. One fellow of my acquaintance is known locally for his promotion of a particular gun, which he insists is "absolutely reliable." This is a fellow with a good reputation, someone that other people consider honest and, presumably, look up to. Trouble is, he lies - I've seen his gun fail, and I know others who have witnessed it too. Yet, he continues to insist that his gun is "perfectly reliable." In one class, I met someone with an HK 91, supposedly the epitome of functionality; of course, the owner insisted it was "reliable". It suffered a FTF the first day, and an FTE the second. The owner continued to refer to it as "reliable".

If your gun will not function with ammunition that meets industry-standard specs, then it is unreliable. I had an encounter with a gunstore commando a while back; he was going to loan his "custom built" AR-15 to another employee. He gushed that his pride and joy was the most reliable gun he had ever seen - then, almost in the same breath, told the other fellow not to shoot Winchester ammunition in it, as "it won't feed Winchester all of the time." Even if it functioned 100% with everything else (though I doubt it), that it wouldn't work with one specific brand means that it simply wasn't reliable. (Back to revolvers - if your wheelgun won't fire every brand of ammunition in its caliber with zero misfires, it's not reliable!

My favorite rifle instructor, Georges Rahbani, always says that you are only as good as you are
on demand - the same goes for your gun!

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Let's talk about triggers...

I had an interesting email recently. The writer said that he'd contacted a number of gunsmiths to inquire about action work. In every case, he said, all he could get out of them was "we can make it lighter." Occasionally I'll get an inquiry from the other side of this phenomenon - someone whose only question is "how light can you make it?" Why this fixation on pull weight? I believe it's because people just haven't been properly educated!

If you've read my essay on "
What makes a good trigger?", you already know about the factors that go into a quality action job. (If you haven't read it, go ahead and do so now; I'll wait.)

Back already? OK!

When having action work done, there are three competing performance criteria: weight, reliability, and return.

Weight is self explanatory, and is what most people relate to. I've covered this in the article referenced above, so I won't go into more explanation - except to say that weight isn't the only thing you should consider, and if that's all your gunsmith can talk about you might want to re-think having him work on your gun!

The second performance criteria is reliability. When I speak of reliability, I mean the expectation that the gun will ignite primers from all common ammunition 100% of the time in both single and double action. That means even the hardest primers being made (currently CCI Magnum primers) will light off every time that the hammer falls; anything else is less reliable. A gun that fires off Federal primers all the time, Winchester most of the time, and CCI Magnums about half the time isn't reliable; it may be
acceptable for the use that the gun will be put to, but it is not reliable. (As it turns out, the more reliable the ignition, the more accurate the gun will be. There are a number of reasons for this, which I'll go into in a later article.)

Finally, there is return, or the action of the trigger resetting itself. In the article I referenced above, I talked about the
qualities of trigger return - but there is more to consider. One way of lightening the overall pull weight of the action is to reduce the spring tension that powers the trigger return. This can introduce a couple of undesired side effects; first, the return spring tension can be so low that the trigger "sticks" and doesn't return (most prevalent on guns where the quality of the trigger return, in terms of smoothness, isn't understood or is ignored.)

The second side effect is that the return speed is lowered. This results in the shooter being able to "outrun" the trigger, shooting faster than the trigger will reset itself. This can cause premature cycling of the cylinder (the cylinder rotating without the hammer being cocked and dropped) or action locking (requiring the shooter to stop his/her pull, let the action reset, and then restarting the pull - most common on Rugers.) In a competition, these side effects can lose points - in a self-defense scenario, they might cause you to lose something more precious!

Here's the "kicker": when getting action work done, you get to choose any two of the three performance criteria, but not all three. For instance, if you want light pull weight and good reliability, you're going to sacrifice return. If you want light pull and good return, you're going to sacrifice reliability. If you want reliability and fast trigger reset, you're going to have to learn to deal with heavier pull weights!

There is no free lunch, and there isn't a gunsmith in the world who can repeal the laws of physics; you get any 2, but not all 3 in the same gun. You have to make the decision as to what is best for your intended use!

Let me illustrate: I am starting work on a Ruger SP-101 that is to be shot by an older lady. She only shoots reloads that her husband makes for her, and only at the range (this is not a defensive or competition piece.)

The primary concern is ease of cocking the gun in single action; it won't be used in double action at all. So, the criteria that is important in this case is action weight; we don't care all that much about return (other than it actually do so - the speed isn't a consideration), and since the fellow can load the ammunition to shoot in this specific gun (he will use whatever primers necessary to make the gun run), reliability is not a concern. This is a great example of tuning the action to fit the use!

For a defensive gun, reliability is the first consideration, with return second. For a competition gun, say for ICORE or USPSA (or even IDPA), the speed of the action reset is paramount - followed by a light pull weight. The competitor will usually select or reload ammunition to suit the gun, which makes reliability (in the sense that I use the term) less a concern.

If all a gunsmith can talk about is how light he can make the action, he's ignoring fully two-thirds of of action performance. This is a two-way street, though - its not just gunsmiths who don't understand this stuff! Shooters raised on the typical gun rag articles never learn about this either, because all most writers know how to discuss is pull weight.

When I get an inquiry from someone whose only question is "how light", I try to educate him or her to make more informed choices. I hope I've been able to do that here!


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Fake Pythons?


Well, the guns are certainly real, in the sense that they were made by Colt. What's not real, though, is they way they came from the factory!

With the prices of collectible Colts going well north of a grand, some unscrupulous sellers have taken to faking the rarer, and more valuable, variations. The most commonly faked is certainly the 3" Python.

A number of years ago, Colt sold off their remaindered barrels to companies such as Numrich Gun Parts. Amongst the prizes were a number of 3" barrels - brand new, mind you - for the Python.

When prices started their ascent a few years ago, some enterprising people took more common 4" Pythons, stuck the 3" barrels on them, and sold them as the far rarer variant. It didn't take someone long to figure out that one way to overcome buyer resistance was to include a Colt box that had the 3" label on the end - of course, the label is a complete forgery, but enough to fool most people into parting with far more money than they should.

Well, the more astute buyers soon wised up to this scam, and started demanding factory letters to prove the provenance of the piece in question. In today's digital world, faking a Colt letter is as easy as faking the box label - so now there are 3" Colt Pythons running around with "original" boxes and "factory letters" to calm even the most jittery buyer!

It's gotten bad enough that I now recommend anyone contemplating the purchase of a 3" Python to call Colt and order their own factory letter. If the seller shows any reticence to letting you do this, you've probably just saved yourself a whole bunch of money!

(I have been approached by a number of people over the past few years to swap barrels on Pythons - replacing a stock barrel with a 3" tube to be supplied by the client. In each case, I've told the caller that I'd be happy to do so, but I would be stamping and indication under the grip panels that the gun was not original. Not too surprisingly, none have taken me up on my offer. I will not be a party - knowingly or otherwise - to fleecing Colt buyers!)

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Revolver grips: finger grooves or plain?


Many people ask me where to get finger grooved grips for various guns (often for the Colt Python, but the Ruger GP-100 seems to be a common request as well.) Personally, I usually try to talk them out of that style grip, and I'd like to share my reasoning.

First, the grooves rarely fit any given person perfectly; for my hands, for instance, every grooved grip I've ever tried required me to spread my fingers to an uncomfortable degree. If I didn't, my fingers would wind up on top of the separating ridges, making shooting far less comfortable and secure! Women, who often have hands that are significantly smaller than their male counterparts, are particularly sensitive to this problem.

Second, anytime you add spacing between your fingers the combined strength of your grip is reduced. You simply grip harder with your fingers together than apart. There's a reason that hammers don't have finger grooves!

Third, having grooves on your grips slows down your acquisition and draw. No less a personage than Jerry Miculek, in a television interview, eschewed finger groove grips. As he put it, "no one gets a perfect grip out of the holster every time." A smooth, non-grooved grip allows you to get a workable grip immediately, where a grooved model requires that you get perfect finger placement from the outset. That is not what you want on a self-defense firearm!

I could point out that another revolver shooter who was "pretty good" was Bill Jordan, and you'll note that the grips he designed and used don't have finger grooves.

It's possible that if one is accustomed to holding a revolver in a light target-shooters grip, finger grooves may help in control. (I don't, I don't know anyone who does, and it's not what most trainers teach today.) Outside of that, I think they are an abomination and suggest that you not use them!

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Measuring chamber throats - calipers vs pin gages


There is a huge amount of misinformation regarding revolver accuracy. Folks, assuming that you have a gun in proper repair - timing, lockup, chamber-to-bore alignment - the most important factor in accuracy is the chamber throat dimension.

What is the chamber throat? It is the slightly constricted opening in the chamber, just in front of the cartridge mouth, that the bullet passes through on its way into the forcing cone. The throat gives the bullet its first stabilizing guidance, and many people better than I have demonstrated that it is critical to good accuracy - perhaps more than the bore itself!

The best accuracy is obtained when the bullet diameter and the throat diameter are exactly the same; in the case of lead bullets, it can be up to .001" smaller than the bullet diameter with good results. If the throat is larger than the bullet, then the bullet sort of wallows through the throat and never does get that initial guidance. Accuracy will suffer.

It is therefore important to serious shooters to know what their throat diameters actually measure. Now, I took heat from some internet experts recently when I stated that one cannot get proper measurements of throat diameters using calipers - dial, vernier, or digital. One fellow wrote me that he'd been doing it for years with nothing more than a cheap dial caliper, and the readings were always "nuts on!" While I don't wish to argue with anyone, let me relate a little test I did.

I took a cylinder that happened to be on my workbench - a S&W Model 60 "J" frame cylinder - and measured its throats with calipers, then with a set of certified pin gages. There were three different calipers - a vernier, a dial, and a digital electronic - all of Swiss origin. The Swiss make the finest calipers on the face of the earth, and substantially better than the Chinese tools most stores sell. In addition, I've been measuring very precise watch and clock parts since I was a teenager, and have more experience using quality measuring devices than the vast majority of people you are likely to meet. In other words, I know what I'm doing and I've got the best tools to use!

I started by checking the throats from several angles, to eliminate the possibility that they were oval instead of cylindrical. Since this is a brand-new cylinder, the readings were identical, showing that the throats were indeed machined correctly.

What did I find? The vernier caliper indicated the throat diameter was .355+", the dial caliper showed .3560", and the digital read .3555". Now for the moment of truth: the certified pin gages, which are the most accurate method of determining a bore size, proved that the bore was in fact .3585" ! That is between .0025" and .003" discrepancy!

Precision machinists will quickly tell you that a caliper - even the best, like I have - are only good to a "couple of thousandths" (.002"), and not reliable at all for inside measurements under a couple of inches. (Frankly, I was surprised that I got as close as I did!) The verdict? One simply cannot measure throats precisely with a caliper, even using the best that money can buy - they aren't sufficiently accurate.

(It should not come as a surprise that I'm not a big fan of calipers; I don't use them for anything remotely critical. I consider them to be "ballpark" instruments at best, and rely on best-quality Swiss micrometers for about 90% of my work. What does your gunsmith use??)

-=[ Grant ]=-
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More about the FN Barracuda revolver


As previously mentioned, I acquired one of the recently imported FN "Barracuda" revolvers, and am in the midst of determining what to do to improve the action. I have to make a living, too, so this isn't on the top of my priority list....be patient!

In the meantime, I have managed to develop some information about the lineage of this gun. Some less-informed sellers have been insisting that the Barracuda was made in Belgium, and that the very similar Astra was either a rip-off or a licensed copy. To quote one internet 'expert': "The FN Barracuda was the only revolver FN ever made. They were made a little over 20 years ago and dropped as they never sold as FN thought they would. They are not Astra's nor are they copies, they are entirly FN made."

Trouble is, that is a complete untruth. If you have a Barracuda, pull the grips off; on the left side of the grip frame, next to the mainspring adjustment ring, you'll see the gun's proof marks. You'll note that the proof marks are all from Eibar, Spain - there are no FN Herstal or Liege (or any other Belgian) proof marks on the gun.

Serendipitously, I also have a cross-check: I recently came into possession of an Astra-badged version of this gun. Guess what? Same Spanish proof marks, in the same spots, as the FN version.

Conclusion: The FN Barracuda revolver was definitely NOT produced in Belgium, and was definitely NOT made by FN. It was in fact made in Spain by Astra, for it is their proof marks that adorn the gun. I hope this settles the controversy once and for all!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Why I don't work on Taurus revolvers


Occasionally someone will call or email: "I'm looking for a good gunsmith - do you work on Taurus revolvers?" When I politely inform the person that I do not, the result is often indignance, as if to say "how dare you decline to work on my fine possession! You have insulted me, suh!" (Delivered in the best antebellum manner, of course.)

Taurus revolvers possess many positive traits: they're available in a wide variety of calibers and configurations, they are usually fairly reliable, and they are priced right. Unfortunately, it's that last bit that gets me into trouble.

You see, the most expensive part of building a handgun, particularly a revolver, is the finishing work. You can't automate the polishing process, and Taurus revolvers are generally very well polished and finished. Given their low price point, this means that finishing is a large percentage of the purchase price. This means that they have to skimp somewhere, and the place that they do is in parts fitting.

Taurus guns have parts that simply do not fit as tightly - as precisely - as some other manufacturers. Yes, you can do a shadetree action job, maybe swap springs, and improve the action - but it will never be truly 'great' without rebuilding the gun.

I've purchased a couple of Taurus revolvers (Taurii??) to work on, to evaluate. While I like the guns (the now-discontinued model 445 is really neat, and I carry it occasionally) the effort to put a truly world-class action job on one results in huge labor costs.

Look at it this way: if you want a top-end wheelgun you have to pay for fitting parts at some point. With a Taurus, it doesn't happen at the time of purchase; it can only occur in the gunsmith's hands, which drives the cost up considerably. Like the folks who commissioned custom Norinco 1911s about a decade ago, what you end up with is a really expensive $300 gun that no one wants to buy.

I have a finite amount of time to spend, and I’d rather spend it working on revolvers that will actually see an increase in value after quality work has been done. That may sound arrogant, but I suspect their owners share my point of view. That value increase just won't happen with a Taurus, because after all is said and done it'll still be a Taurus: a good gun for the money you spend, just not a good candidate for customization.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Muckraking, Chapter 2: what's with Dan Wesson?


Poor Dan Wesson. The marque, famed for their switch-barrel revolvers, has suffered through more inept management regimes than your average banana republic (no, not the clothing chain!) Today you can ask ten random shooters about the company, and almost none will know that Dan Wesson is still in business. Their innovative revolvers - the work of the incomparable Karl Lewis - are no longer found on dealer's shelves.

How did we get to this sad state of affairs? To understand, we need to go back to the beginning of the Third Dynasty....

At the time, Dan Wesson was located in Palmer, MA. Production had reached new lows in both quality and quantity, and their strongest market - handgun silhouette shooters - were  tiring of their on-again, off again production history. Despite some interesting introductions (a line of fixed-barrel guns and a true small frame concealed carry piece, dubbed the "Lil' Dan",) the company was forced into bankruptcy. 

Into our story steps a fellow by the name of Bob Serva, who bought the company and moved it to Norwich, NY.

The problems surfaced almost immediately. The machinery included in the purchase was found to be "worn out", and supposedly incapable of making quality guns. (The irony of that statement will be revealed later.) You'd think that someone would have scrutinized a little thing like that out before writing a check, but no matter - the company invested in some new equipment, and then spent quite a long time resetting the new shop to produce guns.

Let's stop for a moment and review the revolver market at that point in history. Colt, stung by their association with certain anti-gun political elements and fresh out of bankruptcy, had all but abandoned the revolver market - and really didn't seem to care. Ruger was selling lots of guns, but their line was limited and had precious little to offer either competitors or the growing concealed carry market. Taurus was moving up in the market, but suffering from a reputation for having quality control problems (a perception which persists to this day.) The market leader, Smith&Wesson, had problems of their own: an apparently effective grassroots boycott, a persistent rumor that they were a hair's breadth away from bankrupcty, and being put up for sale by their British owners. 

The market was in turmoil; it was ripe for a quality product, particularly one with unique features not available anywhere else. With all the competitors preoccupied with their own problems, market share was there for the taking - and Dan Wesson was in a good position to grab some. They had a line of revolvers that was strong, accurate as all get-out, and far more versatile than anything the competition had to offer. In addition, they had the Lil' Dan, which with some attention could easily address the burgeoning demand for concealed carry guns, and a fanatical (though shrinking daily) customer base. (I oughtta know - I'm one of those crazies who loves his Dan Wessons!)

So, with a brand new acquisition, new machinery, and a market ripe for the picking what did the owner of Dan Wesson do?

Right - he introduced a line of 1911 pistols!

The introduction of the 1911 guns seemed to take the wind out of revolver production. During this time, Dan Wesson made only one run of frames for the world's most popular revolver caliber, the .357 Magnum. Quality was so poor that I personally had to return a gun - ordered in for a special client - because the sideplate gap approached .006" in places! The action was awful, and the hammer and trigger had been slapped into the gun with no finish work whatsoever. The production manager apologized profusely, and hand-selected a replacement - which was only marginally better. This is when I learned that all of the frames had been made in a single run in the first year of the company's revived production, and most (if not all) apparently suffered from this egregious fault. 

Remember the irony I alluded to? Even the much-maligned Palmer guns - the worst of the lot, made on that "worn out" machinery - had sideplates that fit correctly!

To their credit, they did try - sort of. Dan Wesson placed small black-and-white advertisements in relatively inconspicuous places in the gun magazines. The ads were pitiful: poor design, bad graphics, and too much room taken up with religious symbolism. (Before the hate mail comes in, understand that I have no problem with religious symbols in the right place and at the right time. An advertisement for a firearm in a gun magazine is neither the time nor the place.) The average small-town "nickel shopper" advertisement looks more professional than anything Dan Wesson was able to insert into glossy national magazines.

Magazines weren't the only marketing avenue, however. Recognizing the power of the internet, they put up a website - but it would be a couple of years before they bothered to procure their own domain name, instead using the site under the domain name of their ISP. The site was horridly designed, didn't work on anything other than a 17" monitor, and didn't even have much information. (Hey, I know their product line, and if it was difficult for me to figure out what was what, imagine what a new customer would go through!) They didn't understand what a website was really for: I saw a listing of various new grips that were available, but no pictures. An email to the company netted the information that the pictures were only available in their printed catalog, for which they charged $5! That's what we call "behind the times."

Things weren't much better with industry relations. Gunwriters, love 'em or hate 'em, are how the general public learns of, and forms opinions about, new products. I've heard first-hand stories of Dan Wesson management personally making multiple promises of test-and-evaluation samples to individual writers, but never delivering. With behavior like that, it's no wonder that Dan Wesson remained in a publicity rut.

Once the 1911s started rolling off the assembly line, revolvers took a definite back seat - way back. Parts became hard to get; Brownells even dumped the line, rumored to be tired of non-delivery. What little "innovation" centered around odd and useless chamberings. (Yep, I'm sure that the .460 Rowland - aka .451 Detonics Magnum rebadged to assuage someone's ego - was a big seller. I'm being facetious, in case you missed it.)

I suppose the argument for the switch to 1911 production was because revolvers "weren't selling very well." Of course, given the poor management of the whole mess, one would expect sales problems!

In my mind, the only saving grace during this period were some of Dan Wesson's employees. The aforementioned production manager was pleasant, honest, and seemed genuinely saddened that revolvers had been relegated to the back burner; the gal who essentially ran (and still runs) their parts and customer service operation has always been efficient and helpful (and has something of a following on the internet forums!)

That brings us more or less to the present. Roughly a year and a half ago, CZ-USA somehow acquired Dan Wesson and Mr. Serva took a job with the parent company. (He has since left CZ-USA.) So far, CZ doesn't seem to be all that interested in Dan Wesson revolvers - their website didn't even mention revolvers until just recently, and it's taken them over a year just to make their first .357 gun. Supposedly they are busy doing "market research", which to me means they still don't have a clue what to do with the wheelguns.

CZ, if you're reading this, here's some free advice:

1) Concentrate on building up to a standard, not down to a price. Saying you make high quality products, but not actually delivering high quality, doesn't count. If you need proof that this works, look at the company who took you main market from you: Freedom Arms. (If you need still more examples, Google "Tom Peters". Heck, Google him anyway - you need all the help you can get.)

2) What sells best? Historically, it's been mid-size guns in .357 Magnum. Start there; make 'em better than anything else on the market. Hunting guns in common calibers should be next (the .445 SuperMag, as neat as it is, isn't a common caliber.) You need a concealed carry piece; the market is crying for a good, small 6-shot .357 to fill the shoes of the late and much missed Colt Magnum Carry.

3) "Quality" means some attention needs to be given to the double action lockwork. They aren't smooth or consistent enough, they stack horribly, and their trigger return is sluggish. Spend some engineering money and fix those traits, and don't for a minute think that you can slide by with what you've got now.

4) Forget locks and MIM parts; make them the way the market wants them to be made, not the way some politician deems they should. (There's a big backlash against the built-in locks of your competitors; ignore this at your peril.)

5) You need a presence in competition; be visible in IHMSA, ICORE, USPSA, Steel Challenge, and IDPA. Revolver divisions are attracting more and more shooters; fInd people to sponsor, at all levels of ability. (Quantity counts in this game.)

6) You need actual marketing: proper advertising, editorial content, and a strong web presence. (Your current website doesn't cut it; if you plan to keep the Dan Wesson name, you need to establish a separate domain for it. You'll notice that the Mercedes website is separate from the Chrysler website for a reason.)

7) You'd better come up with an innovative dealer program. No matter how much you advertise, if it isn't on the dealer's shelves - and the dealers don't actively support you - you've lost a sale. (Hint: kiss up to the retail salespeople, not the boss. The guy sitting at the desk in the back room isn't who's selling the things.)

8) Don't ignore the growing women's market, but understand that pink grips and shiny finishes aren't what they want. They are sharp, savvy consumers who have different buying patterns and criteria than men. You need to learn what those are and supply products and services to match. (You have one huge advantage that no one else has, and it has never been exploited by any of the previous ownership. If you can't figure it out on your own, give me a call.)

9) Finally: if you're not going to do it right, don't do it at all - sell the revolver division to someone who will. Dan Wesson and Karl Lewis deserve it, and the legions of Dan Wesson enthusiasts deserve it. Don't let us down.

-=[ Grant ]=-

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The FN Barracuda revolver - initial impressions


A new toy just arrived at the shop: an FN 'Barracuda' revolver in .357!

The Barracuda was FN's only foray into the revolver market; they were produced for a few years during the 80's. Various "authorities" say the gun was made by Astra and marketed by FN, others hold that it was made by FN and later licensed to Astra. Frankly, from my examination of the construction techniques and general build quality, I'd venture to say that it was made by Astra - and that's not bad, as Astra is a good manufacturer in their own right. A small quantity of new-in-box specimens were recently unearthed and brought into the country.

The gun has a 3-inch barrel and fixed sights, the rear having a slightly unusual profile reminiscent of the Dan Wesson Model 14 - sort of "humpbacked." Surprise: the barrel is pinned and the chambers are recessed, just like Smith & Wessons of days past. Another S&W-like detail are the four screws holding one the sideplate, with a fifth screw in front of the triggerguard. The cylinder yoke is held in with a push-button arrangement, very similar to Korth practice. Size is somewhere between a "K" and an "L" frame, and uses "L" frame speedloaders (not "K" frame, as is usually reported.)

The grips, of very nice walnut, show a definite resemblance to the checkered wood grips Colt supplied with Detective Specials in the 1980's. The grips are well-fitted to the gun; my only complaint is that they're a bit shallow (front-to-back) for my tastes. Trigger reach, even for my small hands, is quite comfortable for a "service" sized arm.

One thing I could do without is the hooked triggerguard, but it does lend an interesting profile to the piece. I'm also not a big fan of the serrated trigger (Jerry Miculek notwithstanding), though I'll admit this one is less painful than most of its breed.

Fit & finish is pretty good, but the interior is quite crude - on a par with Rossi arms, at least in terms of parts fitting. Metallurgy, though, appears to be better than expected.

The action is fairly smooth for a factory gun, but not very consistent in its travel. Single action breaks with almost no creep and just a touch of overtravel; double action has near zero overtravel, similar to a Colt action. One nice touch is the user-adjustable pull weight; on my sample, double action weight could be varied from approximately 11-1/2 pounds down to 9-3/4 pounds. I might add that my analysis and measurements were done with the gun "as is", from the box - the action is bone dry, and I expect things to improve considerably with a little lubrication.

After I get the chance to range test it, I'll be getting into the internals to see what can be done to improve this gun.

Unfortunately I didn't find out about these in time to snag one from the distributor, so I had to content myself with paying retail. (Ugh. I feel so violated!) Still, for the $300 it cost, it really is a good deal - and with only 400 imported, it's not likely that another will show up next to you on the firing line!

Pictures and an in-depth test will follow in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Is the Colt Python "delicate"?


There is an assertion that comes up with surprising frequency, particularly in the internet age where everyone is an expert: the Colt Python (and all other Colt revolvers) are "delicate", "go out of time easily", or "not as strong/durable as a S&W."

Let's start with the construction: a Colt revolver, for any given frame size, is as strong as any gun with that frame size. Their metallurgy is absolutely the best, and their forged construction is of superior quality. They are superbly made, and their longevity is a testimony to that fact. You are never compromising when you choose a Colt!

How about the charge of "delicate" or "goes out of time easily"? In my work, I see a lot of Colts; I shoot them extensively myself. With proper maintenance, I've seen no tendency for any Colt to go out of time. Yet, the rumors persist!

Why do such opinions exist if there wasn't some basis to them? Is there some amount of truth? I think I can answer that!

Let's start with some facts: Colt revolvers have actions which are very refined. Their operating surfaces are very small, and are precisely adjusted to make the guns work properly. Setting them up properly is not a job for someone who isn't intimately familiar with their workings, and the gunsmith who works on them had better be accustomed to working at narrow tolerances, on small parts, under magnification.

Colt's design and construction is unique; it uses the hand (the "pawl" which rotates the cylinder) and the bolt (the stop at the bottom of the frame opening) to hold the cylinder perfectly still when the gun fires. The action is designed so that the hand - which is the easiest part to replace - will take the majority of the wear, and is expected to be changed when wear exceeds a specific point.

This is considered normal maintenance in a Colt revolver, which is not the case with any other brand. To get their famous "bank vault" cylinder locking and attendant accuracy, you have to accept a certain amount of maintenance; it goes with ownership of such a fine instrument.

I've often made the statement that a Colt is like a Ferrari; to get the gilt-edged performance, you have to accept that they will require more maintenance than a Ford pickup. Unlike gun owners, however, folks who own Italy's finest don't complain that they are more "delicate" than an F-150!

I truly think that the negative reputation that Colts have in some quarters is because their owners - unschooled in the uniqueness of the Colt action - apply the same standards of condition that they would to their more pedestrian S&W guns.

What standards? A Colt, when the trigger is pulled and held back, should have absolutely no cylinder rotation. None, zip, zilch - absolutely no movement at all! Not a little, not a bit, not a smidgen - zero movement. A S&W, on the other hand, normally has a bit of rotational play - which is considered absolutely normal and fine.

There's another measurement to consider: at rest, a Colt cylinder should move front-to-back no more than .003" (that's 3/1,000 of an inch.) This is - in the absolute worst case - about half of the allowable S&W movement!

Now, let's say a S&W owner, used to their looser standards of cylinder lockup, buys a Colt. He goes and shoots it a bit, and the hand (which probably has a bit of wear already, as he bought it used) is approaching the normal replacement interval. He checks his gun, and finds that the cylinder has just the slightest amount of movement when the trigger is back, and half of his S&W's longitudinal travel. Heck, he thinks, it's still a lot tighter than his Smith so it must be fine to keep shooting it.

WRONG! It's at this point that he should stop shooting, and take it to an experienced Colt gunsmith to have the action adjusted. Of course, he doesn't do this - he keeps shooting. The cylinder beats harder against the frame, compresses the ratchet (ejector), causing the hand to wear even faster, and the combination of the two leads to a worn bolt. If left unchecked, the worn bolt can do damage to the rebound lever. When it finally starts spitting lead and misfiring, he takes it in and finds to his astonishment that he's facing a $400 (or more!) repair bill, and perhaps a 6 month wait to find a new ratchet.

Of course, he'll now fire up his computer and declare to anyone who will listen that Colts are "delicate" and "go out of time easily" and are "hard to get parts for." That, folks, appears to be the true origin of these fallacies.

Colts do require more routine maintenance, and a more involved owner; that's a fact. But, as long as the maintenance is performed properly, a Colt will happily digest thousands upon thousands of rounds without complaint. The owners who take care of them will be rewarded with a gun that is a delight to shoot, wonderfully accurate, and visually unmatched. Those who don't will sell them off at a loss and complain on the internet.

I sincerely hope that you will choose to be the first type of Colt owner. If, however, you are the second, please drop me a note - I'm always in the market for Colt revolvers at fire-sale prices!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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