Not sure how I found this civil war blog (Uncle? Tam? Someone else?), but it has a great article on Moore’s Patent Revolver - the first revolver with a swing-out cylinder (though not quite of the kind we're used to.)
It's also interesting in that it was one of the many guns which violated Rollin White's bored-through cylinder patent. History buffs may recall that White was a Colt employee who first presented his idea to allow a revolver cylinder to chamber metallic cartridges to his boss, Colonel Colt. Colt rejected it out of hand. White knew he was onto something, and left Colt to market his patent.
Messieurs Smith and Wesson, enterprising and astute gentlemen that they were, knew a good thing when they saw it and licensed White's patent. This agreement was really the foundation of their new handgun company, and they used it to produce their first revolver - the Model 1. That patent made Smith and Wesson rich, allowed them to grow like crazy relative to Colt, and should have made White rich too. It would have, if he'd bothered to consider the fine print.
You see, the licensing agreement required White to pursue all litigation against infringers himself. Moore, like many others, used White's patent without license - and White was obligated to go after his revolver and his company. White would sue, win, and then Smith & Wesson would somehow end up acquiring the infringing guns - which they would sell themselves. (I've never read the licensing agreement, so I can't be sure exactly how that transpired, but Moore's case isn't the only example.)
Ironically, Moore's company survived and was purchased by White's old employer, Colt, in 1870. More ironically, while Moore survived White's fortune didn't; his defense of his patent cost him nearly everything he made in royalties.
I'm thinking of a writing a firearms industry soap opera: "As The Cylinder Turns."
I'll start today with what I didn't see: any big introductions from the major revolver manufacturers. Smith & Wesson had a couple of Performance Center variants (I'd not seen the Model 647 Varminter before), Ruger was showing the previously announced four-inch SP101 in .38/.357 and .22LR (the smallbore having vastly improved sights), while Colt didn’t show any double action revolvers - and probably won't any time soon.
I had a great chat with Brent Turchi, the head of Colt's Custom Shop. He said that new revolvers weren't in the cards for at least a few years yet, and if they ever do release a new wheelgun it will probably be something like a King Cobra or Anaconda, or possibly a lightweight concealed carry piece based on the SFVI/Magnum Carry action. It’s all just speculation at this point, he emphasized.
The Python is gone for good, he said - too expensive to make, and they no longer have the skilled workforce to do so even if they could justify it economically. In fact, the people who today work repairing Pythons are nearing retirement, and when they go a lot of knowledge and skill will go with them. On the plus side, 2011 was a very good year for Colt as they were able to sell tons of 1911s. Of course.
The big handgun news at SHOT was the official U.S. introduction of the Caracal pistol. This is a new polymer striker fired pistol made in (of all places) the United Arab Emirates. Apparently the UAE has decided that even their large oil reserves won't last forever, and have decided to get into manufacturing firearms. Their first products are full-size (think Glock 17) and compact (Glock 19-ish) pistols in 9mm (.40 S&W versions will come later this year.) The Caracal is the brainchild of Wilhelm Bubits, former Glock employee and designer of the Steyr M series of pistols. His new design borrows some elements from the Steyr, but most of it is new.
I first heard about the Caracal when Rob Pincus went to Italy last year and found a couple of his students armed with this unknown handgun. Apparently it's been sold in Italy and a few other places for almost two years, and the reports he got from those students were glowing. The guns were used hard during the three days of intense training, and there were no failures. That says a lot about the design.
The Caracal is unusual in that everything inside the gun is modular. The fire control group in the frame, as well as the striker assembly in the slide, are modules that are quickly and easily removed for service, and just as easily replaced. The bore axis is very low, approaching that of an HK P7, while the slide mass has been reduced. The result, I'm told from those who have fired them, is reduced recoil impulse and muzzle rise.
Ergonomics, even for my small hands, are superb. The Caracal fits me better than either the Glock or the Steyr, and I can even hit the magazine release without too much contortion! The trigger is very smooth, very linear (once you get past take-up, of course) and has a nice, jar-free letoff. It's very impressive.
What is also impressive is the construction quality. The machining, inside and out, is superb - the underside of their slide makes a Glock look like a gravel road. Everything is polished, there are no tool marks, and even the plastic castings are perfectly clean. This is top-notch quality, an amazing feat for a young company.
Caracal was all over Vegas; all of the buses for the convention had Caracal banners on their sides, their booth was large and set up for doing lots of business, and their marketing materials were big-league. The folks behind Caracal have invested a ton of money into both the product and the marketing, and it's obvious that they intend to be a big player in this business. If the product holds up to its promise, I think they will be. (Oddly enough, despite seemingly being on top of every little detail they still haven’t gotten their USA website up - even though the URL is printed on all their materials!)
I'm impressed with the gun, and so was nearly everyone I talked to who'd seen it. I think this might be one of the top autoloading pistol choices for defensive shooting, particularly when the sub-compact versions come out later this year. Caracal is worth watching.
In the past I've mentioned that I don't spend much time on the various gun forums ('fora', to be excruciatingly correct.) My free time is too precious to spend wading through such drivel as "my instructor can beat up your instructor" or "the .45 is so powerful it knocks people off their feet!" The only time, in fact, that I look at a forum is when I'm eating breakfast or lunch and have nothing better to read.
It was at lunch last week that I came across one of my personal favorites: the statement that stacking (increase in trigger pressure toward the end of the stroke) is a function of the mainspring used. It's usually stated in the form "don't buy a revolver with coil springs - it causes stacking. Buy leaf spring actions to avoid stacking."
Hogwash, and what's more it's easily illustrated to be such.
S&W revolvers, particularly the 'N' frames, are known for having pretty linear trigger pulls. They use leaf springs. Colt revolvers such as the Python and Detective Special use leaf springs as well, yet are (in)famous for their stacking triggers.
On the other hand, the GP100 has a relatively linear trigger, similar in travel to an 'N' frame Smith. It uses a coil spring. Wait a minute, though - the earlier Ruger "Six" series (Speed-Six, Service-Six, etc.), despite having a very similar action design, stack noticeably.
Simple. The type of spring, coil or leaf, has very little to do with the amount of stacking in a trigger. The real culprit is the geometry of the double action sear. The stacking on a Python, for instance, can be eliminated by changing the geometry of the sear surfaces. The Ruger "Sixes" can likewise be modified to produce a linear pull through the simple expedient of reshaping certain parts of the sear. If stacking were caused by the spring alone, this kind of modification wouldn’t be possible.
Of course this doesn't address the implicit assertion that stacking is bad and linear is good. Some folks prefer their triggers to stack and seek out those guns that do. The one thing they don't have to consider is the type of spring!
The 2010 SHOT Show is just getting started. I've compiled some of the more interesting (to me) tidbits about Day One from around the 'net:
S&W GOES TO THE DARK SIDE: I'm surprised that there's not more noise about the new Bodyguard .38. It's a real departure for S&W, having a cylinder that rotates clockwise like a Colt, an integral laser sight, and an ambidextrous cylinder release. There's a good picture of it at Massad Ayoob's blog.
A DARN SIGHT BETTER: S&W has introduced a version of the 640, one of my favorite guns, with very prominent tritium sights. While I'm relatively agnostic with regards to glow-in-the-dark feature, the large front and deep rear blades sights should erase one of the Centennial's few criticisms. Again, a good pic from Gunblast. (Are my eyes deceiving me, or is there no internal lock??!)
FLYWEIGHT SHOTGUN: Mossberg has introduced the Model 510, which is a very scaled-down pump shotgun chambered in .410 and 20 gauge. According to Mas Ayoob, it "weighs only five pounds, if that." As you may recall I'm a big fan of the 20 gauge, and I'll be interested in taking a look at this. (Mas' picture makes it look tiny, but the guy holding it isn't exactly a lightweight...)
UH-OH: It wasn't all milk and honey for S&W. The FBI arrested 21 people at SHOT, including a S&W sales exec, for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The indictments were handed down on December 11, but only unsealed yesterday. (Interesting choice of timing and venue, don't you think?) Note the second line of the Reuters story: "21 arrested at Las Vegas gun show" Naaah, no message being sent to the masses there...
COLT OPENS THE DOOR??: Check out this little tidbit, courtesy of Massad Ayoob:
"A Colt exec told me that rumors of a new double action revolver from this fabled old company are false…for now. He indicated, however, that both plans and equipment are in place for this to happen, somewhere down the road."
This doesn't sound like the Python is coming back, but it's intriguing nonetheless.
Here's a quick pic of a Detective Special I did a little while back. It has the "full Monty": Master Action Tune, Front Sight Mod, Black Pearl finish, polished trigger face, chamfered chambers, dehorning, custom Herrett's stocks - plus a neat "extra" that you can't see in this picture.
I hate to sound like a "secret squirrel", but I'm not at liberty to say more at this point. No intrigue, black ops or anything like that - simply that someone else has the rights to talk about it first. You'll see more of it in a couple of months; stay tuned.
Many people talk about the Colt Detective Special using the term "generation." I get emails asking which "generation" is best or which should be purchased. I recently got a nasty email from a potential client who asked if I could work on a certain "generation"; when I replied that I wasn't sure what he meant by 'third generation', he decided that I wasn't qualified to work on his guns because I "obviously don't know anything about Colts!"
Folks, here's Fact #1: The Colt factory, the people who made them, do not refer to any of the "D" frame guns by "generation." If you ask, they'll tell you that generations are something "the collectors invented" (their exact words!)
Fact #2: there is a lot of controversy, but not a lot of consensus, regarding the various incarnations of the Detective Special and into what "generation" any given one falls.
Some hold that there is a generation change between the square-butt (long) and round-butt (long) in 1933, but not when the "C" frame was changed to the "D" frame in 1947; some that the change from plastic stocks to wood stocks in the mid-50s was a generation, but the reintroduction (after a seven-year absence) in 1993 wasn't.
Like Colt, I prefer to refer to any given gun by its production date. This information is readily available through the Proofhouse site, and is a sure way to prevent miscommunication!
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!