Range Report 13 August: a Litany of Failure- and Success!

I had several guns that needed testing this time out.  The Cherub had a new firing pin, The Dandy had a new cylinder, as did an 1860-based Avenging Angel sleeved for .38 S&W. There was also the new-to-me Dan Wesson Model 15 VH .357 Magnum, and of course I pretty much always want to shoot the Detonics.

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The Cherub- an 1849 Pocket sleeved and re-chambered in .22LR.

I started things out with the Cherub. It had had a problem with its firing-pin, and I had replaced it and was hoping it would fix the problem. It did… but a new problem manifested. The fired cases were jamming against the breech-face after a shot or two. Annoying, but it shouldn’t be too hard to fix; I already have some ideas.

Next up was the .38 Conversion.

 

As you can see in the photo this is a ‘long cylinder’ conversion; the cylinder is purpose-built rather than a converted cap-and-ball cylinder. I made the cylinder out of half-hard 4340, and made a thin breech-plate of the same material, pierced for the hammer-mounted firing-pin.

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This gun was more success than failure- it worked quite well actually. Every shot went off, and things didn’t jam up at any point. Two problems; accuracy was not good at all, and the firing pin was piercing the primers. I may re-line the barrel, and I’ll need to shorten the firing-pin. Call it a qualified success; the important thing was that the cylinder functioned just fine.

Moving on to The Dandy-

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This gun originally had a cylinder remade from a cap-and-ball cylinder and chambered for .44 Colt, but I made a new cylinder from 4340. The new cylinder is a five-shooter, chambered in .450 Adams. Once again the cylinder functioned fine and the gun worked well… until the sight-rib came off. I’ll need to solder it back on, and do a better job this time. Accuracy was quite reasonable- though the point of impact changed after the sight fell off…

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7 yards with a six-o’clock aiming point

I also shot The Outlaw- I did some repair work on it and wanted to see how it worked out. It seemed to- but I could only fire one shot at a time. It developed a bizarre new tendency illustrated below-

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I ‘d fire one shot and the gun  would jam up solid.  I broke the gun down and the empty under the hammer was stuck to the firing pin. This happened with both .45 Colt and .450 Adams. It’s never done this before, so I’m baffled. It wasn’t the loads, either; .450 Adams is very light, and the .45 Colt loads were very mild for that caliber.  The fourth time this happened it ejected the firing pin. I’m going to consult with the maker, Kirst, and see what they have to say.

Next up was the Dan Wesson Model 15 VH .357 Magnum. This gun has the 6″ barrel mounted; I’ll be looking for a short barrel and probably be making a set of custom grips for it. I’ve already ordered the barrel-wrench and tool kit.

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I had a 4″ Model 15 in the 1980s that I used as a carry gun, and I’ve wanted another since approximately two minutes after I sold it. When I saw this one on the shelf at Pinto’s at a ridiculous price I snatched it up.

It did not disappoint; while the sights may need a bit of adjustment the gun works a treat. Of course this wasn’t immediately obvious… Using a box of old hand-loads about 40% of the shells failed to ignite even when struck multiple times. The primer-strikes didn’t look light, but I was concerned. I bought a box of Fiocchi ammo at the counter, and they worked 100%. Not the gun- good to know!

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My initial 7-yard target. This was basically rapid-fire as I was having ammunition problems.
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My final target. I may need to adjust the sights slightly.

The gun is shooting consistently low and right, even with single-action slow-fire. I may adjust the sights if this persists in continued practice.

Last but not least I shot the Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master. As usual it functioned flawlessly and was a delight to shoot.

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Rapid-fire at 7-yards.

So- a day of ups and downs. There are some issues to deal with, but overall the important bits all worked out.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 13 August 2018

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Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45

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Around 1970 a fellow named Pat Yates yearned for a compact, accurate .45 Auto as a concealed carry piece. There were no commercial offerings that fit the bill, so he obtained several 1911s from a pawn shop and set to work, cutting, welding and probably making blood sacrifices to dark gods. In a short time he had achieved his goal. The grip was shortened 3/4″, the slide by 1-1/2″. The magazine held six rounds.  As his preference was to carry hammer-down on a loaded chamber he dispensed with the grip safety and manual safety, instead moving the sight and inch or so forwards and milling away the back of the slide to facilitate thumb-cocking, creating the distinctive profile of the gun.  He dispensed with the barrel-bushing, using a semi-conical bull-barrel. The recoil plug was inserted from the rear of the slide stirrup, and three springs circled the full-length guide-rod. Extra flat grips completed the package.

The gun functioned well with a variety of ammunition and had remarkably little felt recoil for such a small gun in such a large caliber.  Sid Woodcock was so impressed with the one-off gun that in 1974 he purchased the rights to produce it. Pat loaned them his prototype and did a series of design drawings to help patent the gun’s unique features. Pat later admitted he thought they were crazy- what kind of lunatic would want so much power in such a small package? Other than him, of course.

The original production guns were cut and welded just like the prototype, but before too long they were having bespoke slides and frames made by Essex.  The production guns also differed from the prototype in several respects, not the least being the addition of a conventional 1911-style manual safety. The also added a screw to the end of the guide-rod, making it a captured recoil spring assembly.

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The disassembled gun, showing the bull-barrel and captured recoil spring assembly

The bull-barrel is important; it doesn’t just allow the gun to dispense with the barrel-bushing. Whenever the gun is in battery the muzzle bears on the same two points, which makes for improved consistency and accuracy.

In addition to the Combat Master they produced several other models, all but one based on the 1911 pattern and using their bull-barrel system. I’m not going to give you the full history of Detonics; suffice to say that by 1986 they were out of business. A combination of a poor sales strategy and bad management decisions did them in.  They have been resurrected more than once since, but never with any great success.

I worked for Detonics in 1984, mainly assembling their Pocket 9 pistols- but that’s a whole different story. I had a few Detonics guns in the 1980’s and loved them, but always wound up parting with them, very much to my regret. Linda was well aware of this history, and for my birthday last month she bought me this gun- a Mk.1 Combat Master made in the 1980s. It’s fitted with custom grips and a Wolfe spring, but other than that it is quite stock.

Peter Dunn, who worked for Detonics for many years and is now the ‘go-to’ guy for all things Combat Master, now works at Ben’s Loans in Renton, WA. and gave it a good once -over. A tweak here and there and he pronounced it a good gun, and so it has proven to be. We’ve put several hundred rounds through it at this point, and I am quite happy with its reliability and accuracy.

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Two seven-yard rapid -fire groups.  This gun is brilliant!

Linda loves shooting it too. You’d think that a .45 this compact would have some serious recoil, but a lot of people find the Combat Master more pleasant to shoot than a full-size 1911! The slide is quite a lot lighter than a stock gun, so the slide velocity is quite high. While the muzzle jumps but it comes right back on target very quickly. The short duration of the stroke and the speed of recovery fools the mind, makes the recoil feel lighter than it is.

I remembered loving these guns, but over the years I had forgotten just how good they are; shooting this gun has been like coming home after being too long away. A friend recently provided me with several magazines, so after I make some appropriate leather this gun will become my main EDC.

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In these days of super-compact polymer wonder-guns the Detonics may seem like a bit of a dinosaur with its single-action mechanism and steel frame, but it was the first of its kind and even now, almost fifty years later, it has a lot to offer.

 

Michael Tinker Pearce  25July2018

 

Range Report 10 July 18- Hits and Misses

Tuesday at Champion Arms shooting range is Ladies Night, where women shoot free when accompanied by another shooter. We packed up quite a lot of ammo this time- two new loads in .45 ACP, a new load in .450 Adams and my first attempt at loading .32 ACP.

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The .32 ACP was so that Linda could try out a new gun- an NAA Guardian .32. Only slightly larger than most .25 autos, Linda was contemplating it as a replacement for her beloved Colt Jr. .25.  It’s a rather different beast than the Colt, being double-action only. The trigger pull is smooth and reasonably light but very long. I loaded some 73gr. FMC over 2.1gr. of Red Dot powder with a CCI500 primer, and we purchased a box of Fiocchi 73gr. ball for comparison.

Both types of ammunition functioned flawlessly, with my hand-loads having slightly less felt recoil- not that either load had much. This is not an easy gun to shoot well with it’s one-finger grip, DAO trigger and microscopic sights.  Groups at seven yards were not spectacular, but I am pretty sure they could be dialed in with practice. Many would correctly point out that this gun is designed for use at arm’s length distances and that the inability to print good groups is not really relevant to the mission.

The gun is very well-made, and came with a spare magazine. All-stainless construction makes it heavy for it’s size, but this is all to the good as it helps tame recoil. Also, heavy for it’s size is not damning- it’s seriously small. Recoil is practically non-existent, but it does want to jump around while shooting. This was a problem for Linda; something about the shape of the handle caused it to gouge her painfully, making it quite unpleasant for her to fire. Since I wasn’t particularly into it we’ll be shuffling this little gun along. Mind you there is nothing wrong with the gun, it simply doesn’t suit us.

Next up was the Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45. Linda loves shooting this gun, and ran several magazines through it.  This time out she was stringing her groups vertically- hardly tragic, but not what she was hoping for. She also did this with the Frankengun (my 1911a1.)  She’s had a bad back all day and was getting a headache, so we chalked it up to just an off day and she retired from the range.

I ran a couple boxes of mixed loads through the gun, which slurped them up with gusto and asked for more. The first of my hand-loads used a 200gr LRNFP bullet over 4.0gr. of Red Dot.  The other is a Montana Gold 185gr. JHP over 5.4gr. of Red Dot. Both used CCI 500 large-pistol primers. The 200gr. load was very pleasant to shoot from the Detonics.  The 185gr HP loads were a bit less laid back, but still easy enough on the hands.

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Two rapid-fire groups at seven yards
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Deliberate fire at seven yards with the 185gr. JHPs. The 9 was the target- Mission Accomplished.

After this trip I think this gun is ready for prime-time. I’ll need to make a good IWB holster and a mag-pouch for it.

On to the revolvers. When I switched from hollow-base bullets to conventional bullets the Webley RIC started key-holing shots, so I decided to produce some hollow-base bullets.  I built a set of simple tools to turn 200gr. RNFP bullets into hollow-base semi-wadcutters-

I loaded these over 4.0gr. of Unique with a CCI300 primer and tried them out. These actually produced more recoil than the previous 200gr LRN hollow-base bullets with the same charge and primer. Maybe this is a function of the much greater bearing surface? I don’t know, but in the future I’ll back down the powder charge a bit and see how that works out.

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Rapid-fire at seven yards. I’m pulling to the right… need to work on that!

I brought along a pair of .32 revolvers as well- a S&W m1903 (5th Change) .32 Hand Ejector and a Colt Detective Special in .32 Colt New Police. They both actually fire the same cartridge- .32 S&W Long- but Colt could not suffer the thought of writing ‘S&W’ on their gun, so they put a different bullet in and pretended it was a different cartridge.

Both guns are a delight to shoot- the Colt a bit more so because of it’s ample grip and better sights. For this trip I loaded 96gr. LFP bullets over 2.5gr. of Red Dot with the CCI 300 primer. This proved to be a nice, soft-shooting load in both guns, as I had hoped; I really wanted to entice Linda with these guns, but her back had sidelined her before we got to them.

 

Both targets were shot standing/unsupported using the double-action trigger. I was targeting the nine in the picture on the right. The sights on this gun are terrible, and the grip is not great in my big hands but I can make it work. Still, a set of target grips may be in this gun’s future…

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Much rapid-fire at seven yards

It was a shame Linda retired early, but other than that it was a great trip to the range. New loads tried, shot some guns I had been neglecting and got in some much needed stress-relief.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 10 July 18

 

 

 

The Iver Johnson Automatic Safety Hammerless Model 1

 

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A Gentleman’s Companions

THE HISTORY STUFF

Iver Johnson’s Arms and Cycle works was formed under that name in 1891 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. In 1894 launched the production of their ‘Safety Automatic’ revolvers, and shortly thereafter launched hammerless versions of these guns. The ‘Safety’ referred to the use of a transfer-bar safety, which allowed the gun to be carried with the hammer down on a loaded chamber. The Automatic portion of the name referred to the fact that it automatically ejected the cartridges when the revolver was opened.

They were nothing if not prolific; they made 100,000 revolvers in their first year of production, which sold, depending on the model, for $4-$8. In succeeding years they made inexpensive solid-frame revolvers and single-barrel top-break shotguns as well.  They advertised prolifically, with a strong emphasis on the safety of these guns.

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THE GUN

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The gun we are discussing is an Automatic Safety Hammerless Model 1. It’s chambered in .32 S&W and holds five shots.  It uses their famous transfer-bar safety, and additionally has a trigger-safety that would later see use on the uber-popular Glock semi-automatic pistols. The locking mechanism is very strong, using a single side-lever to turn a solid bar to disengage.  Both of these features were eventually discontinued; the trigger-safety was removed and the lock was replaced with a simple T-Bar lock similar to S&W revolvers of the period. I expect that this was done in the interest of cost savings; the original lock was stronger and more fool-proof.

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The 19th C. ‘Glock-Safe’ trigger

I found this gun at Pinto’s Guns in Renton, WA. marked $100. It was there for months but I had little interest because… well, because it was an Iver Johnson and when it comes to top-breaks I am a total S&W snob. Hey, acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step, right?  Anyway I eventually looked at it and was surprised and impressed at the quality. It locks up very tight and the trigger, while quite heavy, is very smooth. I have large hands but the grip is only slightly awkward for me; I may or may not remedy this with a custom grip.

The gun has a one-piece frame with no sideplate. All of the internals are accessed either from the bottom by removing the trigger-guard, or from the top by removing the hammer-shroud. The gun’s serial number indicates it was from the first year of production- 1894 or 95, depending on who you ask. The nickel on the frame is in quite good condition, the barrel rather less so, with significant loss of the plating in front of and above the cylinder. The bore is acceptable, with some light pitting, and the chambers are pristine.  I suspect that this gun was seldom, if ever, fired. Many arms of this type and period were bought, loaded and tucked in a drawer, then largely forgotten.

So, how does it shoot? Pretty well, actually. The smoothness of the trigger outweighs the heaviness, and the gun sits very low in the hand; this not only minimizes the already trivial recoil but makes the gun point very naturally.

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Not a large gun at all. Sits very low in the hand and points quite naturally.
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7-yard rapid-fire.  Slow, deliberate fire produced significantly better group. The gun does shoot slightly high, so a 6-o’clock hold should be used.

.32 S&W Centerfire

The cartridge this is chambered in is still available as a factory load. The original loading used black powder, and unlike other cartridges that switched to smokeless at the dawn of the 20th C., it continued to be loaded with black powder until World War 2.  Typical loads for this gun propelled an 85-95gr. projectile at about 700 fps. from a 3″ barrel. Modern commercial loads are rather slower than this, possibly to avoid liability issues in antique guns, but are adequate for target shooting and plinking.

There are many who insist that you only fire Black powder in this and guns of similar vintage. While this is not necessarily true it is the safest path, with the next best, in this caliber at least, being commercial ammo. This is available as round-nose lead only, and in a modest load carefully balanced not to damage antique- or poorly made- guns.   The original ammo for this gun was no powerhouse, but the modern loads are even more anemic. Of course any antique firearm should be carefully examined by an expert before firing, and if the gun is judged safe to fire at all, commercial offerings are liable to be safe.

SELF DEFENSE?

This gun, and literally millions of similar guns, were designed for self-defense. At the time many, perhaps even a majority, of households kept a small revolver around for this purpose. These small inexpensive revolvers were the gun of choice for people who weren’t into guns. They were sold across the counter in hardware stores or by mail-order through Sears and Montgomery Ward with little or no formality.  Most of them were never used on anything more serious than tin-cans if they were even fired at all.  But they were designed, marketed and made for self-defense, and there was a time when an awful lot of people relied on them.

So is this a suitable gun for self-defense? Yes, and at the same time very much no. Most people, when shot, give it up as a bad job and either run or sit/fall down. But the only way to stop a truly determined attacker is to break something they can’t function without, and your odds of accomplishing that with a gun firing the .32 S&W cartridge are less than average. This cartridge falls in the same category as pocket-guns in .22 and .25 Auto; better than nothing, but far from ideal. Using such a marginal caliber requires greater proficiency; something you will be unlikely to attain given the expensive and often hard to find ammunition. You can hand-load this cartridge, and I do, but for the time and effort required you’d be better off with something else to fill your self-defense needs.

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IN THE END…

This gun and guns like it can be a lot of fun. They’re generally inexpensive to purchase, often mechanically interesting and fun to shoot.  But bear in mind that these guns were meant to spend a whole lot of time in a pocket or night-stand drawer, and are not designed to shoot thousands of rounds. They may well wear out more quickly than you expect if fired excessively. Best to shoot them occasionally and enjoy them for what they are- a tiny window into a particular era of modern history.

Ladies Night- Range Report 26 June 18

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Detonics Mk1 .45 and the Frankengun

In 1984 I worked for a little company in Bellevue, WA. called Detonics. They were the makers of the first mass-produced sub-compact .45, the Combat Master.  I owned a couple of these guns back in the 1980s and loved them.  I’ll be doing a post dedicated to this gun so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say I have always regretted parting with them, and this year Linda bought me this one for my Birthday. She got it off of Gunbroker and actually got a very good deal.  We picked it up last week and I ran a box of factory ball through it to test the gun and my six magazines and it worked very well indeed. I was much more concerned with function than accuracy that time out, but it seemed quite decent. This week we took it to the range to wring it out and for Linda to shoot it for the first time. We also took the Frankengun, Linda’s beloved Kahr E9 and her Colt Junior .25.

For reference purposes: the range has a no rapid-fire rule, and they suggest you limit yourself to one round per second. When I refer to ‘rapid-fire’ in the context of my range report I mean a bit faster than that but not full-on-as-fast-as-you-can-pull-the-trigger. Maybe three rounds every two seconds.

Tuesdays are Ladies Night at Champion Arms, so Linda got to shoot for free which is always nice. We started the festivities with the Detonics.  I loaded a bunch of 200gr. HG68 LSWCs over 4.0gr. of Red Dot for the trip, and these functioned flawlessly in the Detonics 6-round magazines. I also bought two Shooting Star 10-rounders, and these were a bit less happy; on two occasions rounds failed to fully feed from these magazines. More experimentation will be needed to determine if this if the specific load or a general problem of compatibility between these magazines and the Detonics.

The gun shoots dead to point-of-aim, which is always nice. At close range accuracy is excellent, but falls off with range. I don’t think this has to do with the gun itself, but rather the somewhat imprecise three-dot sights.  Hopefully with practice I’ll learn to use them better, but I can manage to keep the rounds on paper at 25 yards at least.

Linda has always like .45s, and this one is no exception. She had no difficulty with the recoil or sights at seven yards, though she’s a bit out of practice so she tends to throw a flyer now and again. I expect her consistency will improve the more she shoots.

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Linda at 7 yards- the tiny holes are from her Colt Junior .25

Linda found the gun quite pleasant to shoot. People expect these little guns to kick like a mule, but because of the way they are engineered and the loss of velocity from the shorter barrel they are surprisingly mild; many people experience less felt recoil than they do in a full-sized 1911.

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Here’s a ten-round seven yard group I shot using one of the ten-round magazines. Linda isn’t the only one that needs to work on their consistency…

We also shot Linda’s Colt Jr. She really loves this little gun, and I have to admit there is a lot to like for such a little gun.  The tiny single action puts rounds on target like a champ.

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Linda had no difficulty putting these rounds on target at 7 yards in a timely manner…
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…and it worked for me as well.

The highlight of the trip was not necessarily the shooting though; while we were shooting the Detonics the young fellow in the lane next to us asked about it, and Linda indicated that I should let him shoot it, which I did. He was awestruck; he found it remarkably easy to shoot and really enjoyed it. This led to his buddy shooting it, then the Colt and my full-size 1911, which also amazed him. He’d never shot a well-tuned 1911 before, and he was impressed with how smooth mine is, and how easy it was to shoot.

This led to me shooting his Canik TP9v2- I love those guns and had one until Linda’s BFF fell in love with it.  I also produced the S&W ‘Steampunk Snubby’ .38 and let them have a go. They were impressed with how smooth the trigger is and loved the grips.

At least one of these fellows will be looking into a Detonics, and they both had their horizons broadened significantly.  What I doubt they appreciated was that as much as they enjoyed themselves it was just as much fun for me. As much as I enjoy shooting and modding guns, having them appreciated and drawing young people deeper into the hobby is really satisfying.

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Seven yard rapidfire with the Frankengun

Michael Tinker Pearce,  a rather belated 01 July, 2018

 

Dr.Watson, Your Revolver is Here!

Some (most?) of you may be unaware that my wife and I are novelists. A couple of years back Linda had a character that was enamored of the trappings of the Victorian Era and a Sherlock Holmes fan. Linda asked me what sort of gun she would have and I responded, “A Webley RIC. that was DR.Watson’s gun.”

These were a solid-frame fixed-cylinder gun double-action revolver, often with a short barrel. In 1868 they were adopted by the Royal Irish Constabulary, giving the gun it’s name- RIC.   These were initially available in .442 Webley, but were later offered in .450. In 1883 the model was given a longer, fluted cylinder and other minor improvements.

This month is my birthday, and in honor of the occasion Linda bought me an RIC in .450 Adams.  She found it on Gunbroker and paid far less than these revolvers usually go for.

The gun is in quite good condition mechanically, and has all of the proper proofs, markings, and with matching serial numbers.  Mechanically it is in in good shape; the lock-up would do credit to a brand-new revolver. the trigger is not light, but it is not too heavy and is extremely smooth. The chambers are in excellent condition, and the bore is not bad. The one-piece Walnut grip fits my hand like it was made for it, and the gun points very naturally.

This is a Model 83 (obviously) and after careful examination- and cleaning 130 years of gunk out of the works- there was no obvious reason not to fire it. As I already reload .450 Adams this was not a problem.

…except it was. Event though I had thinned the rims of my brass down for the British lion revolver many of them were not thin enough. I made a new run of brass with thinner rims and loaded them up and we were off to the range.

The gun is a good shooter with it’s smooth pull and unusually good sights for a gun of it’s age. The new ammo worked but the gun experience malfunctions where it would not rotate the cylinder on it’s own. Presenting any resistance to the cylinder (which some of the cartridges did) could cause this. Typically this would be a symptom of a weak hand spring, a common failing on old guns and relatively easy to fix. (The hand is the piece that pushes on the ratchet on the back of the cylinder to make it rotate.)

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Fired quickly at five yards

I had the British Lion bulldog along, and two new loads to try out- both used the 200gr. RNL bullet and Unique powder. One load used 3.2gr and the other 4.0gr, and both had a heavy roll-crimp. Loads were test-fired in the British Lion first, then in the RIC.

The 3.2gr. load worked fine, but was a bit lackluster. The 4.0gr. load was the real deal, with an authoritative bark and notably more recoil. Not in any way unpleasant, mind you- and this load shot closest to point of aim. I think this load closely replicates the original load and later cordite loads, but really this is just an educated guess.

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The Webley RIC (top) and the British Lion

Altogether a satisfactory outing; both weapons shot well, we’d found a good load to use in the weapons and the only issue was an easy fix. Yeah, sure it was.

The next afternoon I got the Webley apart and examined the hand-spring. Huh… it looked fine and seemed to be doing it’s job. I reassembled the gun and checked by applying light resistance to the cylinder- only two of the chambers were a problem. OK, the malfunction is happening because the hand is failing to engage. The tip of the hand seems nice and sharp, so… yep.  Two of the teeth on the sprocket are slightly rolled over at the top. Empty and with no resistance it works fine- apply resistance and the hand slips. The conventional solution would be to weld up the sprocket and re-cut the teeth. I can’t do that. Another solution would be to cut the teeth deeper to allow more engagement.

OK then- deepening the teeth won’t prevent it from being welded and re-cut if need be, so I decided to try that. Using a 1.5mm conical carbide burr in my engraver ( which spins it at 400,000 rpm) and some magnifying lenses I carefully went to work. Nerve wracking, but not particularly difficult.   Shortly I remounted the cylinder and tried it. All chambers now rotated, even against resistance. Success!

So I loaded some of my homespun brass for a function check… and those two cylinders were once again a problem. Took the brass out, no problem. Put it back in- problem. Hmmm… I had some original balloon-head cartridges, so I got them out and examined them. The rim is much thinner than my home-spun brass. I put them in the cylinder for a function-check- no problems. I put my own brass back in and, with the aid of a powerful flashlight, determined that the hand was hitting the thick cartridge rims, which raised it just enough to keep it from engaging on the dodgey ratchet teeth. Eureka! I just needed thinner rims.

Except that the rims were already so thin I had to be careful not to bend them using the hand-primer. Bugger.  Linda the research goddess rode once again to the rescue. She found new .450 brass and reloading dies at Buffalo Arms, which are winging their way to my door as I write this. Hopefully this will remove any issues… at least until I decide it’s time to have the job done properly by, you know, someone that actually knows what they are doing.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 14 June 2018

 

 

 

Concealed Carry Decision.

I find that I am carrying outside the home a lot more these days, and the venerable S&W .38 DASH is occasionally feeling a little… light. A 5 shot .380 equivalent. Yes, it will take a J-frame speedloader, but I mostly carry a single speed-strip.
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Yeah, I’ve occasionally packed my 1911A1 or other, um, less practical (arguably goofy) choices, but usually I just drop the old Smith in it’s pocket holster and go. It’s easy and comfortable, and while it may lack power I can put rounds where I want them in a surprising hurry. But still…
A deciding factor was that Linda has said she really wishes I would carry something a bit more potent. Now when it comes to carry guns I suffer from an embarrassment of riches. But most of them are revolvers, and most of them are even less practical than the old Smith. They are also oddball enough that they might raise serious questions in the mind of a Prosecuting attorney. Like if I was trying to live out some bizarre fantasy, for example.
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It was a major struggle not to pick my Detective Special, but again, the caliber leaves something to be desired- It’s a .32 S&W long. My reloads are pretty stout and I have no doubt they posses adequate penetration but they are non-expanding SWCs. The Fitz Special is a purpose built carry gun and will handle +P loads all day long (Colt said at the time the original gun was issued that it could handle .38-44 loads.) I also shoot it quite well, but again it’s esoteric enough that it might bring my motivation into question in the unlikely event that I needed to use it. Also I have to admit the cut-away trigger-guard gives me pause…

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So, something in a potent caliber. Something practical, easy to reload, a gun that I shoot well and am comfortable with. Ideally something not too large. “Something semi-automatic,” Linda suggested. “Preferably something we don’t have to buy…” OK, that narrows it down… In the end it came to two choices:

Carry choices

The top gun is a Para-Ordinance LDA .45. The other is Linda’s Kahr E9 (which she loves but never carries.)  Both guns are single-stacks with semi-DA triggers.  Both are flawlessly reliable and easy to shoot fast and accurately. Their footprints are virtually identical.  But for all of their similarity they are very different guns.

The .45 is heavier, but not enough to bother me. It has a shorter, lighter trigger pull and a manual safety.  Importantly it has the hard-wired manual-of arms of the 1911. I like the big, soft shove of .45 ACP recoil, and in this gun the combination of the bull-barrel, multi-spring recoil system and the short, high-velocity slide-stroke brings double taps in on target in a way you wouldn’t expect unless you were familiar with Detonics Combatmasters. It only carries 6+1, but a pair of ten-round mags will help that right along.

The Kahr adds two rounds to the .45’s 6+1, and I have no issues with a 9mm with modern defensive ammunition. The sleeker profile allows me to get three fingers on the handle, and the wrap-around rubber grip is very comfortable and secure. The alloy frame makes it noticeably lighter- though the weight is not a deal-breaker. The trigger pull is longer but it’s like a super-light, super-smooth revolver trigger. So much so that double taps are no problem. As familiar as I am with revolvers these days the long reset bothers me not at all. Our spare mags hold 8 and 9 rounds, so the overall count is basically the same.

Both guns have a lot going for them, and I was having a hard time choosing…

“Carry them both,” Linda said.

“That seems a bit excessive,” I said.

“Not at the same time, you muppet! Alternate until you decide.”

Oh. Uh, OK.

Don’t get me wrong- the venerable Smith will remain on pocket-drop duty, and I’ll undoubtedly throw a revolver of one sort or another into the mix now and again as the mood takes me. I expect though that I will find myself carrying one of these guns more than the other and the decision as to my primary EDC will be made.

In the meantime I guess I had better get busy making some holsters and mag-pouches…

 

Michael Tinker Pearce  4 June 2018

.450 Boxer

This is reprinted from a Facebook post.  It’s a bit repetitive/redundant here, but I want to document the process.
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My latest reloading adventure has been .450 Boxer/ .450 Adams (also known as .450 Corto, .450 Colt and .45 Webley. In 1868 this became the first metallic cartridge to be officially adopted by the British Military. Even at the time of it’s adoption it was acknowledged to be somewhat under-powered, but it was felt that it’s logistic advantages offset this. It was replaced in service in 1880, but remained a ‘second standard’ issue item through WW2.
 
The standard load for this was a 225gr. RNL bullet over 13gr. of FFFFg powder. This gave a velocity in the neighborhood of 700 fps. in a service-length gun- rather less in the compact ‘Bulldog’ style guns it was commonly used in. For that application- police and civilian self-defense- the cartridge was viewed as quite satisfactory and it was widely used throughout the latter half of the 19th and well into the 20th C. in small concealable revolvers. Since the early 20th C. it has been loaded with smokeless powder.
 
This cartridge is now almost entirely out of production, though Fiocchi seems to still do a run of it occasionally, packaged as .450 Corto. There have been reports that this ammunition has been unreliable, resulting in damage to some guns. It is usually advised to view this ammunition as a source of primed brass- pull the bullets and reload it.
 
I planned from the first to ‘roll my own,’ so the first hurdle was brass. I was able to look up the cartridge dimensions and the rim thickness. I started with .45 Colt brass. The first thing was to grind off the headstamp on de-primed brass. This left a rtim approximately .040″. I had intended to use a primer-pocket reamer to deepen the primer pocket, but this proved unnecessary. Then I shortened the brass to an overall length of 17mm.
 
For bullets I first turned to my standby, a 200gr. RNFP lead. But what to do for a load? All I could find were black powder loads, which were all basically the same. I decided to try Trail Boss, which is designed for mild loads in black-powder cartridges. It has a high volume-to-weight ratio, so it’s difficult to dangerously overload a cartridge. Following the manufacturer’s recommended methodology for developing a load- which amounts to filling the case to the base of the loaded bullet, measuring that and them backing off a little to start. This yielded a load of 2.0 gr. of Trail Boss. Huh.
 
I was a little dubious but took them to the range for a trial, firing them out of a SAA clone. There was virtually no recoil and ignition was somewhat inconsistent; there were a few rounds that went *Pamph!* rather than *bang* and scattered some un-burned powder, but everything cleared the barrel and went downrange. Accuracy was reasonable and none of the bullets key-holed.
 
For the second trial I used the same load, but this time with a heavy roll-crimp. This made a difference- ignition was consistent, the report was notably louder and sharper and recoil was noticeably increased (though still mild.)
 
The gun I was loading for arrived along with a couple of hundred 200gr. Hollow-base RNL and some brass, so I loaded these over 2.0gr of Trail Boss with a CCI 300 Large Pistol Primer, again with a heavy roll-crimp. When fired from the antique Bulldog revolver these performed quite satisfactorily as a range load.
 
I have to guess at the velocity as I do not have a chronograph, but I know that the paper targets I am using tear when hit with projectiles travelling less than 500 fps. Even before using the roll-crimp that wasn’t happening with these loads. I am guessing that I am currently getting 550 fps. or so.
 
They fly straight, they are reasonably accurate and they all get out the barrel, which is good enough for a range load for an antique gun.
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I’m also going to work up some loads using Unique and Red Dot- but very, very carefully! I’ll let you know how that goes.

Range Report, 25 May 2018

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Not a great night out for the .38 conversions…

First up was testing the two .38 S&W conversion revolvers, and it was not a great success. Goldie, the brass-framed gun, fired a cylinder-full as nice as you please. It was her first-ever firing so I had no expectations. Despite two key-holed bullets I was pleased enough…

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…but on the second cylinder she locked up tight. With no tools on hand there was nothing for it but to retire her for the evening. I have no idea what is happening, but it has something to do with the breech-plate.  The other gun was doing fine- but after four shots it launched it’s firing-pin. Totally my fault, too; I apparently did not stake it in adequately.  OK then, moving on.

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Last time out the Forehand & Wadsworth British Bulldog .38 was spitting lead from the cylinder-gap. Spitting is a nasty habit and naturally I wanted to correct the little guy’s manners. I accomplished this by removing the trigger and taking a bit of the curve out of the hand and twisting it slightly to give is more positive engagement with the ratchet on the back of the cylinder.  This seems to have done the trick- the cylinder locks up much better, and test-firing saw no lead exiting the cylinder gap.

Targets were shot at five, seven and ten yards, all double action. No lead exited from anywhere but the muzzle, so the timing is fixed. Again with the key-holing though… I put a full box of .38 S&W reloads through the gun and it’s a fun little critter to shoot.

The load used in all of the .38s tonight was a .361 diameter/150gr. LSWC over 2.5gr. of Unique with a CCI500 Small Pistol Primer.  This load does not keyhole out of my S&W top-breaks.

 

Last but not least was the Abilene .44 Magnum.  I’m not pleased to report it, but this gun and I do not get on at all. I love single actions, this gun feels great in the hand, has a good trigger and sights… and I simply cannot wring anything like decent accuracy out of it. I bought this gun specifically for hunting, but if I cannot learn to shoot it well it was money wasted.

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The gun is also shooting low even with the elevation cranked as far as it will go- or perhaps I am shooting low.  Whatever the case I would be sorry to see this fine revolver go, but go it will if I cannot master it. I’ll keep after it for now.

 

Michael Tinker Pearce, 25 May 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheap Guns and Self Defense

According to statistics reported to the FBI annually there is about a 1/1,000,000 chance that a given person will need to use a firearm to shoot a criminal within a given year. Honestly that isn’t a very big chance. It is true that the odds that you may use a firearm for self-defense without shooting someone are much greater- such incidents are not reliably reported however, so it is not certain how frequent this is. Estimates vary from about 1/5,000 to about 1/100,000. These incidents aren’t the focus of today’s blog though- today we are concerned with the odds of your life depending on your firearm to function.

Your gun does not need to function to defend you; while the statistics are debatable it is clear that most instances of defensive use do not involve shots being fired. What we are talking about is how reliable your gun needs to be for legal, justifiable defensive use in which the gun must fire.

On a personal note, and excluding use in a professional capacity, I have used a firearm to defend myself without firing on 3 occasions. None of these incidents were reported to law enforcement.  Interestingly for the last twenty years I have lived in a ‘bad neighborhood.’ Only one of the three incidents occurred during the last twenty years- and it did not occur in my own neighborhood.

Back to the point- there is approximately a 1/1,000,000 chance that you will need your firearm to function to save a life, either your own or another innocent’s.  Now, the odds that you will need a firearm to avert crime without firing are, as stated, much greater. We purchase insurance to protect us from circumstances that are comparably unlikely, so carrying a gun for self defense is arguably not ridiculous- and much less expensive than insurance. While it can be argued that carrying a gun is maybe a bit over-cautious it’s not actually silly- statistically speaking.

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No really, I’m fine- he shot me with a cheap gun!

So what brings this up? Online gun snobs. A fellow in one venue asked to hear from people that routinely carry and practice at the range with ‘economy-priced’ revolvers, and this prompted a number of people to respond that they wouldn’t bet their life on an economy revolver, but would save up to spend twice as much for a ‘reputable’ product.

Over the course of a few decades I’ve gotten a feel for how often guns fail. I’ll grant that a Charter Arms is more likely to fail than a S&W- maybe twice as likely. Of course that’s still not bad- S&W revolvers almost never fail in use so how bad is ‘twice as bad’ really?  If you have a modern revolver in decent condition and it fired the last time you pulled the trigger then the odds are astronomically high that it will fire the next time you do as well.

OK, if I were to carry a revolver I would certainly fire it quite a bit, to insure both my accuracy and the gun’s reliability. That’s just sensible. If the gun goes bang when I pull the trigger and the bullets go roughly where I want them to I’m good to go- I’m not going to worry that I don’t have the right logo on the gun, nor am I going to worry about how much I paid for the gun. A Taurus, Charter Arms, Rossi or Weireacht that has proven itself to me is good enough. Given the literally 1/1,000,000 odds of a life depending on the gun working I think it is reasonable to anticipate that a proven gun will remain in working order.

So why would anyone spend more money on a gun than they, strictly speaking, needed to? Well, there are a lot of reasons. More expensive guns are very often nicer to shoot than inexpensive guns- more comfortable grips, better triggers etc.  Let’s face it, if practicality were the only measure we’d probably all own Glocks. But whatever we might tell ourselves, for most of it it’s about more than merely practical measures.  The supreme tacti-cool piece with all the right bells and whistles might win our admiration, but it’s the beautiful that garners the ooohs and ahhhs.

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“I’ll take it- just let me sell my house… what? That’s won’t be enough?!

There is a tactile pleasure in handling a high-quality firearm. The precise fit and finish, the grain and shaping of the wood handle, the clever mechanical bits… pleasure in ownership should not be discounted as a reason to spend more than is strictly needed for practical purposes. But this should not be conflated with need; let’s be honest with ourselves at least!  Yes, there is a fair chance that the more expensive gun will be more durable in the long run, and that is a practical consideration… for those of us that actually shoot enough for that to matter at least.

These are all good reasons to own a more expensive firearm, but all too often on the internet we encounter a less positive motive.  In all seriousness you will likely go your entire life as a civilian and never need to fire your gun in deadly earnest- but you can go online and rub other’s noses in your superiority every day. Given that day-to-day utility spending twice as much for your gun is a bargain!  Heck, if your primary philosophy of use for your gun is to use it to bludgeon others with their inferiority even a Korth is sensibly priced!

Yeah, we’ve all met That Guy, and for every person that agrees with him there are twenty that wish he would just go away.  The reality is we don’t all drive BMWs and Bentleys even if we can afford them; we may have other priorities or even preferences. Mind you I’m not saying that all you should buy for your EDC is a cheap gun; far from it. But if the best someone else can do is a cheap gun cut ’em some slack.

When it comes to cheap guns and self defense ask yourself this- will you really feel better if the bad guy is pointing a Taurus or Charter Arms gun at you than you would if it were a Colt or S&W?

Yeah. I didn’t think so.

Michael Tinker Pearce,  22 May 2018