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Ending 2012 on a bright note, or with a bang. Or both.

I was torn as to the topic of my final blog post of 2012. It needed to be topical, but I'm a little burnt out on the politics of gun control which currently dominate the shooting world. Not that it's unimportant, mind you, only that I've adopted a "wait and see" attitude: wait until Congress reconvenes and then see what it is we'll have to fight. I'm resigned to the fact that we will most certainly need to fight some kind of draconian gun control bill, but that's tomorrow.

Today, I want something a little lighter, something which illuminates some forgotten corner of firearms history. How about another one of those crazy gun combo things - you know, like the gun knife or the gun cane or the gun hat. How about a gun….flashlight!

From Gizmodo comes the story of the gun flashlight, a combination of a seven-shot .22 Short revolver and a battery operated torch (as Piers Morgan, the Brit ex-pat gun grabber we all love to hate, might call it.) (See how I worked current events into this seemingly unrelated story? That's the kind of scintillating writing that you can only find on my blog! Well, maybe a few others. OK, anybody could have done it. I'll just go sulk in the corner.)

Apologies for the digression. This circa 1920 contraption was supposedly made for security guards and night watchmen who presumably had need to illuminate things while simultaneously pointing a gun everywhere they looked. Today we recognize this for the very bad idea it was, but have we made any progress?

Only technologically. We have the same thing today, only the gun part is bigger and the flashlight part is a whole lot smaller. Think about this: if you were to attach a 'tactical illuminator' to the rail of your pistol, you’d have exactly same thing. More efficient, certainly, but the concept is the same. And, I dare say, just as silly for the majority of users.

(Don’t get me wrong - there is a place for the weapon-mounted light, but not on a handgun in the possession of someone who isn’t intimately familiar with both its application and its risks. In other words, it’s not a general purpose tool.)

On that note, I hope you enjoy your New Year's celebration this evening, and remember to do it safely! I'll see you on Wednesday with another exciting episode!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Reader request: my defensive flashlight choice.

A regular reader and Twitter user asked me about my favorite flashlight configuration for carry in non-permissive environments. I'll get to the specifics in a moment, but first a little recap on my reasoning for the flashlight as a self-defense tool.

There are many cases where carrying a lethal tool isn't possible - on an airplane, for instance. A Kubaton would normally be a possibility in such areas, but the powers-that-be have gotten wise to those innocuous little rods and they are now often verboten. A small flashlight, however, is still allowed everywhere despite making a pretty good impact tool. In addition the super-bright beams of today's lithium-powered lights make a good distraction device, one which I've personally used - twice - to interrupt the activities of would-be criminals.

The flashlight also makes a good tool for proactive safety, allowing you perform such tasks as checking the backseat of your car before getting in. Their powerful beams even make it possible to look under a car long before you get anywhere close, in case you're worried about someone waiting to grab your ankles (or trying to steal your catalytic converter, which is probably more common!)

For these reasons I'm a believer in the utility of the high-performance flashlight as an aid to personal safety, and my favorite carry light is the
Elzetta ZFL-M60. I've carried other lights from far more well-known manufacturers, but the Elzetta is simply the best-built flashlight on the market. It uses Malkoff LED modules, which are as close to bulletproof as you get in the lighting business. If you've ever blown an LED module in a "Brand S" light, you'll understand.

The Malkoff modules are built into a solid machined brass heatsink, then "potted" - the electronics are embedded in epoxy, a time-tested method of making a circuit darn near indestructible. The result is an LED module that is impervious to just about anything short of anti-tank munitions. Nothing in the lighting world, and I mean this to be declaratory, is built like a Malkoff. Or an Elzetta, for that matter!

Elzetta starts with the Malkoff module of your choice (Elzetta stocks standard and flood beam modules, and more are available direct from Malkoff) and machines their flashlight bodies to fit those modules precisely. The key to LED longevity is getting rid of the heat they generate, and the Malkoff's brass construction combined with a tight fit to the Elzetta body results in a combination that dissipates heat quickly. No other light that I've seen has the kind of heat sinking that the Elzetta/Malkoff combination does.

One of the great benefits of the Malkoff/Elzetta combination is that the module can be easily and rapidly changed. With LED technology progressing as rapidly as it does, the Malkoff solution means that you can always have an up-to-date flashlight. (There is actually a thriving second hand market for used Malkoff modules, as they last forever and fit into some "Brand S" light bodies. Those bodies don't have the heatsinking or build quality of an Elzetta, however.)

While Elzetta sells both 2- and 3-cell light bodies (using 123-type lithium batteries, of course) I prefer the 2-cell version. The 2-cell is small and light, surprisingly small if you're used to the Surefire 6P-size lights, and fits a belt holster or a pocket easily.

Elzetta makes several different bezels (heads) for those bodies: crenelated, standard, and compact. Many people pick the crenelated bezel for increased effectiveness as an impact weapon. While I have no doubt the crenelated version would be better as a defensive tool, how MUCH better is still an open question.

If there were no downsides to carrying the crenelated bezel I'd pick it just for that extra 'edge' - but there IS a downside: they're often frowned upon by TSA screeners. Given the cost of a good flashlight I'm unwilling to take the risk, and so choose to give up a little (theoretical) effectiveness in order to be able to actually have it on my person in all environments.

Their compact bezel is a relatively new product which was unavailable when I bought my Elzetta a few years ago. I haven't actually handled one yet, but were I to buy another light strictly for carry I might consider it just for compactness. The standard bezel, however, is good looking and is larger in diameter than the body; I believe that step-up from the body to the head helps keep the light from sliding in one's grasp when used as an impact weapon. The standard head also features prominent anti-roll geometry, another point in its favor. Those two attributes also aid in-the-dark identification of the working end, yet another reason I prefer it.

If the light is to do general duty (in the house next to the bed as well as carry) I much prefer the M60F module, which has a wide flood beam compared to the standard module. When used in a house the flood beam is far less likely to produce glare from smooth or light-colored surfaces, and lights up an entire room without needing to "paint" the area like you would do with a narrower beam. It's simply a better choice for an indoor light, and I’ll gladly give up a bit of distance capability outdoors for the better indoor performance.

However, if I had a dedicated house light with a flood module and the Elzetta was to be used primarily for carry, I might choose the standard beam to get the extra throw outdoors. (Then again, if I were doing that I might bite the bullet and special order an M61SHO module which puts out a whopping 385 lumens! Of course, I'd need a larger battery budget - making lots of light sucks batteries dry pretty quickly!)

Elzetta offers several tail caps with different switches. The two I recommend are the rotary (push to turn the light on momentarily, rotate to lock on) and the standard clicky switch (press for momentary, press further to the 'click' to lock the light on.) My personal Elzetta has a rotary cap, mainly for a) durability and b) non-surprising operation.

The rotary switch is simply constructed; there is nothing to fail. I've seen many "Brand S" flashlights with failed clicky switches, but I've never seen a rotary switch break. With most clicky switches it's also too easy to press the switch past the momentary on in the heat of the moment, resulting in a light that remains on when you remove your thumb pressure and expect it to turn off. A rotary switch can't do that - press for on, release for off, and nothing else.

My preference, however, may be changing. I've handled an Elzetta clicky tail cap and talked to the folks from the company. They tell me that their switches are significantly more robust than those used by their far-more-well-known competitors, and I've got to say they certainly feel that way. The click action is far more positive and noticeable, and has a great feeling of solidity. Their switch also has a much longer throw to the click point; it's nearly impossible to click on without considerable effort. That translates to a switch that couldn't be inadvertently activated during a stressful situation.

For those reasons my next Elzetta will probably have a clicky in it, which will be a big first for me! If it were any other manufacturer I probably wouldn't take the risk, but Elzetta has always delivered on their promises. If they say their switch is better than the competition's, I'll take them at their word.

(I didn't intend for this to be a commercial for Elzetta! I own lots of expensive flashlights because I'm something of a flashlight nerd, but the reader asked which one I carry on a daily basis and why. It's simple, really - my Elzetta is the light I grab when it absolutely, positively has to work under all conditions. They didn't pay me to say any of this, have never given me anything, and did not seek me out -
*I* found *them* and spent my own money because I wanted the best I could get. I've been happy with my choice, enough so that I will buy more of their products in the future.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did at SHOT Show, Part Three.

One of the booths I wanted to visit was Elzetta. I've mentioned before that my
flashlight of choice is their ZFL-M60 with a (discontinued) Malkoff MC-E module. This combination gives 500 lumens (!!) of pure flood light, enough to light up a room no matter which direction it's pointed. The beam is so soft that it has no hotspot and thus produces no glare when pointed at anything short of a mirror. It is, I contend, the ideal personal defense light.

The Elzetta light is also incredibly tough, more so than any other light I've owned. Here's a ridiculously over-the-top torture test between an Elzetta and a Surefire:

Having had (and witnessed) various Surefire failures, I can only say "that's why I carry an Elzetta!" If there's a tougher light on the market, I'd like to see it. This picture shows the light from the video (on left), along with the light that drove all the nails into the 2x4 on which it rests. Yes, it still works!

As I mentioned, the MC-E module was discontinued some time ago. This left a huge gap in the market, as there was no high quality flashlight with a flood beam available. This left me unable to wholeheartedly recommend any light when asked, as I truly feel the flood beam is a necessity in indoor environments. Turns out that Malkoff listened, and I learned that the Elzetta light can be had with the
Malkoff M60F module: 235 honest lumens with a very floody beam! It's not as pure a flood as my MC-E, but it's better than anything else on the market and the modified beam will probably be more versatile for more people. Elzettas are made in the U.S. and come from a fanatical company that takes their products seriously. Highly recommended.

There was an entirely new line of revolvers unveiled at SHOT, from a company called Sarsilmaz out of Turkey. I talked at length with their chief engineer, Mr. Oner Ozylimaz, and he told me that they made use of forged stainless frames, barrels and cylinders, but use MIM (metal injection molding) for most everything else - including, oddly, the cylinder crane. This gives the guns a two-tone appearance, as the MIM crane is black set against the stainless of the major parts.

The guns bear a superficial resemblance to the medium-frame Taurus, but I was unable to get him to let me look inside of one. The guns are all in .38/.357, are approximately of “K/L” frame size, and have rounded butts. Barrel lengths range from approximately 3" to 6", with all but the shortest having LPA adjustable sights curiously mounted on a plate that's screwed to the topstrap. The 3"-ish model had a simple drift-adjustable rear sight that I found oddly appealing. The guns are of roughly Rossi quality, both in terms of finish and action.

The guns themselves weren't all that exciting, though if properly priced they may be a solid alternative to brands like Rossi and Charter Arms. What
IS exciting is that a company outside of the U.S. decided that the revolver market was lucrative enough to justify the engineering and tooling costs (MIM molds aren't cheap) for a new line of guns. I don't think I'll own a Sarsilmaz, but I'm glad they're here!

Ithaca shotguns, if you didn't know, are a particular favorite of mine. Their Model 37 is a classic, an icon in the shotgun world. If you've never handled one you should; if you're used to Remington or (worse) Mossberg pumps, the Ithaca will make you smile the first time you operate the slide! Their actions are smooth, light, and are usually a cure for the person who has a tendency to short-stroke other pump guns.

Ithaca has gone through several owners and a couple of shutdowns over the last decade, but for the last few years has been making a comeback. Not only are they producing a full line of the traditional Model 37 in 12 and 20 gauges, this year they introduced an absolutely darling 28 gauge version - which none of their forebears, including the original Ithaca, ever did. It's made on a special small frame, and is light and very quick-handling. Fans of the '28' will want one, and I'm told they're being produced one at a time in their Custom Shop. The workmanship shows!

That's not the only new thing: they're now producing an over/under of their own design, which looks quite nice. (I'm not an O/U guy, it must be said, but the workmanship was solid.) They've also brought back an old favorite, the single shot single barrel Trap model. They've also spun off their home defense and police shotguns into an allied entity called Ithaca Tactical, and have quite a line of tough-looking door breachers and similar accessories to help them regain some of the police market they once dominated.

One product of Ithaca Tactical was sitting quietly on a back table but wasn't officially introduced: the Ithaca Tactical AR-15. This was the year of the AR-15 at SHOT, as you couldn't look in any direction without seeing some company declaring that they make the "best" AR-15 clones. The Ithaca version is at least different, being fully machined in their factory from aluminum billet instead of built on outsourced castings. Another AR is probably what the market doesn't need, but apparently they feel they need for one if Ithaca Tactical is to compete. OK, then.

I'm very big on keeping my knives sharp, and for the last decade or so have been using the Lansky system to do so. It's able to produce a decent edge, but I've never been happy with the quality of Lansky's components. I've looked at other sharpeners, but have never found anything that is as quick and easy as the Lansky - until this show!

Wicked Edge is a relatively new company out of Santa Fe, and their sharpening system combines easy operation with a wide range of quality stone, ceramic, and diamond hones, along with leather strops for a really polished edge. Pharmacist Tommy had with him a knife that he'd tried (with his Lansky) to get to a decent edge, without success. The Wicked Edge had no problem handling the odd shape and size of the blade, and in a few minutes it was shaving sharp (as proven by Tommy’s suddenly smooth forearms.) He's sold, and so am I. I'm going to order one as soon as I recover from the monetary impact of this trip!

Check back tomorrow, because there's more to tell!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Mixing units, or how not to make buying decisions.

This popped up on my radar this morning, and I was so annoyed by the misuse of scientific data that I bumped today's post to comment.

The advertisement, from a European maker of flashlights, claims that the sun produces 6,000 lumens; which, conveniently, is less than their flashlights at a claimed 10,000 lumens. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt (though as you'll see I don't think they deserve it) and accept that their product does in fact put out that much light.

Here's the thing: lumens are a non-directional measurement. In other works, lumens are used to measure the total output of a light source regardless of direction. If you hang a bare bulb from a cord in the middle of a white sphere and measure the light falling on the sphere, you can measure the total captured output in lumens.

So, if someone insists to you that the sun produces 6,000 lumens "when it reaches earth", they’re either ignorant or lying -- because the only thing we can measure here on earth is the luminance on a known area of our planet, which is expressed in lux. (Remember that the sun radiates in all directions and the huge, overwhelming amount of its output is going somewhere other than our little slice of heaven.)

Knowing that, however, we can calculate the output of the sun and find out if the claim holds water.

According to reference sources, the sun's illuminance at the equator maxes out at about 130,000 lux -- 130,000 lm/m^2. At our distance from the sun, the earth's orbit describes a circle with a radius of about 150 million kilometers, or 1.5x10^11 meters. If we imagine the earth's orbit as a sphere instead of a circle, it becomes an easy task to figure out how much total energy the sun is emitting -- all we have to know is the inside surface area of that sphere.

The surface area of a sphere is calculated as (4*pi*r^2), which gives us a figure of 2.827 x 10^23 square meters. (That's a whole lot of zeroes!) Multiply that by our 130,000 lumens per square meter figure, and we arrive at a total output for the sun inside of our imaginary sphere of 3.6751 × 10^28 lumens. Or, if you prefer: 36,751
trillion trillion lumens. This is within the ballpark of figures I found online, so I think my math is good.

That's just a
tad more than the 10,000 lumens that they're claiming for their product.

Lumens, lux, cadelas, and candlepower are not the same, and you can't mix them. If you already knew that, CenturioGroup, shame on you for trying to pull a fast one on your customers. If you didn't, perhaps someone in engineering needs to go back to high school physics...freshman year.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A tangled web we weave.

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

Steve, this is for you!

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

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

-=[ Grant ]=-

On flashlight output.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-=[ Grant ]=-